What is Michigan’s Open and Obvious Doctrine?

Imagine you are doing some shopping in your local supermarket and slip over as you pass the deli. You crack your head on the floor and dislocate your shoulder. You would not only be in a lot of pain, you would be wondering how you are going to cope with paying the bills because you will not be able to go back to work for a few weeks and will no doubt receive a rather large bill from the hospital.

You may be wondering if you can claim compensation from the supermarket. You recall noticing a rather slippery looking liquid on the floor near the deli at the time. In fact, you have some proof of it because the stuff, whatever it was got all over your clothes and in any case a friend who was with you saw exactly what happened. Surely, the supermarket was to blame as it shouldn’t have allowed the stuff to lie around on the floor without making sure it was cleaned up?

As you were not an employee of the supermarket, but a customer, you only have recourse to a personal injury claim against the supermarket. This does require proving that the supermarket’s negligence caused your accident and therefore your injuries. However, personal injury cases are always unique and never completely straightforward. Insurers are rarely keen to settle insurance claims if they can wriggle out of it and certainly don’t like to set a precedent in the case of slip and fall accidents in their client’s supermarkets.

The open and obvious doctrine as it applies to slip and fall accidents

Michigan has what is called an ‘open and obvious’ doctrine which may be used by the supermarket to deny liability in the case of a slip and fall accident occurring on their premises. Basically, a property owner does not have to admit liability if a hazard was ‘open and obvious.’ Exactly what this definition means in Michigan law is not easy to work out. The legal test is whether “an average user with ordinary intelligence would have been able to discover the danger and the risk presented upon casual inspection.” In the case of the supermarket deli floor spillage, were you aware of the potential hazard before you stepped on it? Could you have easily avoided it? Was it only obvious after you landed on the gooey stuff on the floor? Was there a sign put up warning of the spillage?

Spillages are quite frequent in supermarkets and grocery stores so you might expect managers of such places would make sure that their workers kept an eye open for potential hazards. However, if the staff at the supermarket had discovered the spill and placed a sign to warn customers about it, yet you still proceeded across it and slipped over, you would unlikely be able to claim that the supermarket was behaving in a negligent way.

Michigan’s premises liability laws have made it a little more protective of property owners in recent changes in the law. Previously, it was necessary for property owners to ensure that if an open and obvious hazard existed that they had a duty to warn invitees (anybody who is legally able to use the area owned by the property owner) of the hazard, despite it being ‘open and obvious.’ As the law now stands, there is no legal requirement to do so unless the hazard is ‘unavoidable’ or presents a ‘uniquely high likelihood of harm or severity of harm.’

Contact a personal injury attorney after a Michigan slip and fall accident

As can be seen, obtaining compensation after what might seem to be an open and shut case of poor management practice in a store can be quite complicated and difficult to prove liability. If an accident similar to the one described above has happened to you, you are strongly advised to consult an experienced Michigan personal injury attorney before filing a claim for compensation. A personal injury attorney at Abood Law can be contacted in Birmingham at 248.549/0000 or East Lansing at 517.332.5900.