In Michigan, many slip and fall accidents occur due to snow and ice. In this case, you could be entitled to damages from the property owner. However, these claims are very difficult to file under state law. As a result, working with a Michigan lawyer can be crucial for your claim.
Cases based on weather conditions can be challenging in most instances. State court rulings have significantly limited the ability of injured parties to recover damages in cases involving winter weather conditions. Therefore, consulting a hardworking attorney could be essential in determining whether you have grounds for any legal claims as a result of your injuries.
Can I Sue for a Slip and Fall on Ice in Michigan?
Your ability to sue for compensation after a slip and fall on ice in Michigan often depends on the location of the fall. For example, if your fall occurs on public property, like a sidewalk or school, you cannot pursue a claim. If it occurs at a business, like a gas station or restaurant parking lot, you may be able to file a lawsuit.
Generally, the owners of both commercial and residential properties owe a legal duty to others to keep their property safe. If hazardous conditions exist and injuries occur, landowners could be liable for those injuries through a personal injury claim. However, the law is different for falls on ice and snow.
Settlement payouts in slip and fall cases include compensation for your pain and suffering, disability, medical expenses and lost wages. The injuries are often severe and require surgery, especially for bone fractures. As a result, the settlement amounts are often substantial.
Falls on Ice at Apartment Complexes and Rental Properties
Under Michigan Compiled Laws § 554.139, landlords are required to keep their properties in reasonable repair and maintain all common areas. Courts have determined that this statutory duty applies to cases involving the natural accumulation of snow. Therefore, you may be able to sue the apartment complex for your fall.
However, liability is limited to falls that occur on porches, landings, and sidewalks throughout the complex. In general, you cannot sue for a fall in the parking lot except if you can prove that the condition was unavoidable at the time.
What is The Open and Obvious Defense?
In Michigan, one who owns or legally possesses land owes a duty “to undertake reasonable efforts to make its premises reasonably safe for its invitees. This means the legal responsibility” to exercise reasonable care to protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.” However, a premises owner is not liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the alleged dangerous condition that caused those injuries was “open and obvious.”
A danger is open and obvious if an average user with ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover the danger upon a casual inspection. Basically, if you could see it and could have avoided it then there is no liability. State courts frequently dismiss many slip and fall lawsuits based upon the “open and obvious defense.”
What are the Exceptions to the Open and Obvious Defense?
The open and obvious defense is a very harsh judge created law that has caused thousands of slip and fall victims to go uncompensated for serious injuries. In fact, some lawyers and law firms are so afraid of this defense that they will not even accept fall injury cases anymore. However, there are some legal exceptions to this law. Our our attorneys have been very successful in winning large settlements for our clients even when the defense lawyers raise the open and obvious defense in court.
For an exception to apply, you must show that there were “special aspects” to the condition. This means that there was something so inherent about the danger that even though it could be seen upon casual inspection, the property owner can still be held liable.
The first type of “special aspect” is if the open and obvious condition is “unreasonably dangerous,” then the defendant cannot avoid liability. This makes sense because the law should not reward property owners who make no little or no effort to make the property safe for visitors. The goal of many laws is to protect innocent people from harm by making others accountable for their negligence and dismissing a case because a condition was so dangerous is illogical. Property owners would have no incentive to provide a safe premises if the law protecting them from the most serious dangers.
The second exception is when a dangerous condition is “effectively unavoidable.” This exception is more difficult to overcome because courts have held that if a person could have taken an alternative route to avoid the hazard, then there is no liability. For example, in the case of Hoffner v Lanctoe,the Michigan Supreme Court held that ice leading up to the only entrance of a fitness center was avoidable because the plaintiff was not “absolutely compelled” to confront it. As a result, the court agreed with the lower court that her case should be dismissed.
However, there are certainly situations in which there was no possible way to avoid a snow and ice danger. In those situations, the claims have been allowed to proceed by the courts.
Does the Open and Obvious Defense Apply to Cases Involving “Black Ice”
Black ice—otherwise known as clear ice—is a small coating of ice often found on roads or walkways. In many fall cases, the injury victim was unable to see the ice even though carefully looking down before stepping on it. As such, the open and obvious defense often does limit the ability to bring cases for falls on black ice.
Your ability to sue for a fall on black ice is based upon a number of factors, including the location and the condition of the area where you fell. If you fell on black ice on a porch or sidewalk in your apartment complex, you can likely still sue because there is an exception to the defense under a landlord and tenant scenario. Or, if there was no other visual indications of the presence of black ice, such as snow piles in the area, then you may still be able to file your lawsuit. And again, if the ice was completely unavoidable you still may be entitled to compensation.
In the Hoffner case, the court held that although “wintry conditions, like any other condition on the premises, may be deemed open and obvious,” the important question remained “whether the individual circumstances, including the surrounding conditions, render a snow or ice condition open and obvious such that a reasonably prudent person would foresee the danger.” Essentially, the court was refusing to find that every situation involving a fall on a slippery winter condition should be dismissed as a matter of law. Rather, it was necessary to examine the specific facts of each case to determine whether the property owner could be held liable for the injury.
Our premises liability attorneys have won substantial settlements in black ice lawsuits. Many of these cases were for clients who had their cases rejected by other law firms. We will listen to your story and then advise you if you can pursue a slip and fall on black ice case in Michigan.
What to Do After a Slip and Fall on Ice?
There are several things that you should do after a slip and fall on ice. If possible, you should immediately take photographs and video of the icy or snowy condition that caused you to slip and fall. This is best way to prove that a hazard existed and was not cleared away by the property owner. If you wait too long, the ice will melt or the snow may be cleared by maintenance people, especially if your report that you were injured due to the condition. Without photographs or video of the hazard, you may not have the proof needed to win your case.
You should also report your fall to the business owner or apartment complex management office. A written report is the best way to document the incident happened so that it cannot be disputed by management at a later date. Make sure to get the name of the person who took your report. Also, ask for a copy of the incident report or even take a photograph of it in case the insurance company later claims that no report was filed.
Finally, try to get the names and phone numbers all eyewitnesses to the incident. You may need their help later on to prove that the fall happened due to a winter hazard. If you live in an apartment or condominium complex, you may find out there other tenants had complained about the hazard to management in the past and nothing was ever done. For example, if a tenant in your same building requested that salt be placed on the sidewalk several hours before your fall and maintenance never did it, this would be very helpful to your case.
Get Help from a Michigan Slip and Fall on Ice and Snow Attorney
State law has restricted slip and spill cases based on weather conditions to a large degree. Nonetheless, you still have legal options if you suffer injuries under these circumstances. After tripping and falling on ice or snow in Michigan, you should consult a lawyer to assess your situation and explore all options available to you.
Working with experienced legal counsel can remove some of the stress that you are experiencing as a result of your injuries. We can help you.
We charge no legal fees unless you receive a settlement check. To get started, call today to schedule your free, no-obligation case review.
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