Michigan courts use the theory of comparative negligence to decide most personal injury claims. If a court finds someone else’s negligence led to you being injured, you will usually get compensation, but the judge will reduce the payout by any percentage they consider you were at fault.
Take a car crash – the court finds the other party was speeding but it also finds you were a little distracted and calculates your distraction played a 20% role in the crash. You will get 20% less compensation than if they found you were entirely blameless.
If, however, a court finds you are over 50% to blame, you won’t get a thing, because it has decided you are more at fault than the person you are claiming against.
For 20 years, courts have handled premises liability cases differently
The 2001 court case of Lugo vs Amertitech Corp.Inc. set a different precedent for how courts handled premises liability cases. Instead of applying the comparative negligence law as courts would in most injury claims, the judges ruled that if the hazard that caused the injury was “open and obvious” then there was no case to answer.
So, if you were injured after walking into a pothole in a parking lot that was there all along and not hidden by anything, you would get nothing, because the precedent states that you should have noticed it and avoided it.
Sadly that left many people unable to claim compensation for injuries that were more a property owner’s fault than their own. You might also argue it removed the incentive for property owners to remedy particular hazards on their property. They knew they could argue that anyone injured should have noticed them and avoided them.
Now the Supreme Court has overruled that precedent
The Michigan Supreme Court recently overturned the precedent set by Lugo vs Amertitech Corp.Inc. by coming to a different conclusion when looking at two cases combined: Kandil-Elsayed v. F & E Oil Inc. and Pinskey v. Kroger Co. of Mich, the Michigan Supreme Court.
Whether or not a hazard is open and obvious still matters – but it’s no longer an automatic reason to dismiss a property owner’s duty to you. Rather, it is something to be considered along with the other factors when deciding the comparative negligence of the property owner and the injured party.
To bring a claim against a property owner you will still need to show they had a duty of care toward, you, just as you need to show you were injured as a result of their breach of that duty of care. However, it’s now up to a jury, rather than a judge to decide if the property owner breached their duty of care toward you.
Under the Lugo vs Ameritech Corp.Inc. precedent, if the property owner could show the hazard was open and obvious, then the law automatically considered the owner had fulfilled any duty of care toward you and you could not claim they had breached it.
This new ruling should increase the chance you can claim compensation if injured on someone’s property, but premises liability claims are still complex and best handled with appropriate legal advice.