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What is Premises Liability?

March 18, 2016

A slip and fall injury can often warrant legal remedy, oftentimes under the law of premises liability. However, the line dividing premises liability and general negligence is not always clear under Michigan common law.

Generally, a business owner in control of the premises owes a duty to those entering the property (called invitees) to inspect the premises for hazards that might cause injury. The owner’s duties include warning of known dangers and making the premises safe. The owner must inspect the premises and, depending upon the circumstances, make necessary repairs to make the premises safe. When repairs have not yet been completed, or are not possible, the property owner must warn the invitees of all discovered hazards.

Exceptions to the owner’s duties exist when the dangers are known to the invitee or are so obvious that the invitee might reasonably be expected to discover them. In those limited situations, a premises owner/controller owes no duty to protect or warn the invitee unless harm is anticipated despite the invitee’s knowledge of it. In other words, when a potentially dangerous condition can be discovered by a reasonable person’s casual observation, the premises owner owes no duty to warn of the danger’s existence.

To determine whether a dangerous condition was “open and obvious,” Michigan courts have applied the following test: Would an average person of ordinary intelligence discover the danger and the risk it presented on casual inspection? Currently, courts focus on the objective nature of the condition of the premises rather than the subjective degree of care used by the injured invitee. The question is not whether this invitee could or should have discovered the danger, but whether the danger was observable to the average, casual observer.

Oftentimes, dangerous conditions such as the presence of black ice or an improperly maintained walkway cause preventable injuries. The courts decide on a case by case basis whether the failure to rid a property of these conditions falls under the laws of premises liability or general negligence, and then may pursue remedies based on this decision. 

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