A critical ruling made by the Michigan Supreme Court has effectively overturned a long-standing doctrine in premises liability law. The implications of this ruling in Kandil-Elsayed v. F & E Oil, Inc. and Pinski v. Kroger Co of Michigan are profound and could significantly impact property possessors.
The open and obvious doctrine, formerly a vital shield for property owners, has been a common defense in premises liability claims since the ruling of Lugo v. Ameritech Corp in 2001. It excused landowners from their duty to warn or protect visitors from hazards that an “average person with ordinary intelligence” could reasonably spot on casual inspection. Think of an easily discernible pothole.
Yet, on July 28, 2023, the high court deemed this interpretation of the doctrine as no longer the case. The Court declared that even if a condition is open and obvious, land possessors are still obliged to exercise reasonable care towards invitees. The Court further clarified that whether a landowner has breached this duty is a matter to be decided by a jury.
This ruling is undoubtedly a game-changer and carries three significant implications.
Firstly, it is anticipated that Michigan will experience a surge in premises liability lawsuits as this decision opens the door for more cases to be brought forth. Secondly, the likelihood of getting these lawsuits dismissed during the summary disposition stage has dramatically decreased, making a trial much more probable. Lastly, unless otherwise stated, this opinion applies retroactively to all cases currently pending, including those on appeal.
What does this mean for property owners and operators? It’s a call to action. This ruling should serve as a wake-up call, urging them to re-examine the safety of their premises meticulously. In an era where the open and obvious doctrine can no longer serve as a reliable defense, preventive measures are more crucial than ever.
In conclusion, this ruling has dramatically changed the landscape of premises liability law. We encourage land possessors to take this ruling seriously, redoubling their efforts to ensure the safety of their invitees. As always, we at OnderLaw stand ready to assist and advise in navigating the nuances of these changes. We strive to provide legal clarity amidst complex situations, and this ruling is no exception. Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation.