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In Michigan, a premises possessor owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by dangerous conditions on the premises, including snow and ice conditions. However, liability does not arise for open and obvious dangers unless special aspects of a condition make even an open and obvious risk unreasonably dangerous. This may include situations in which it is "effectively unavoidable" for an invitee to avoid the hazard posed by such an inherently dangerous condition.
Charlotte Hoffner had a paid membership to a fitness center, Fitness Xpress, one of several tenants located in a commercial building in Ironwood, Michigan. She drove to the building with the intent to exercise. The Lanctoes, who maintained the building, sidewalk, and parking lot, had already cleared and salted the parking lot and sidewalk earlier that day, by the time Hoffner arrived she observed that the sidewalk was icy at the entrance to Fitness Xpress. Notwithstanding her awareness of the conditions, Hoffner formed the opinion that the ice "didn't look like it would be that bad" and decided to enter the building. Unfortunately, she fell on the ice, injuring her back. Hoffner subsequently brought a premises liability suit against the Lanctoes, as well as Fitness Xpress and its owners and operator. All defendants moved for summary disposition, arguing that Hoffner was barred from pursuing her claim of premises liability because of the open and obvious doctrine, given that the ice was plainly visible, which she recognized before confronting it. The trial court denied defendant property owners summary judgment in Hoffner's premises liability action. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Michigan affirmed. The property owners appealed.
Did the trial court err in its denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment?
The court held that the trial court erred by failing to grant the property owners summary judgment in the customer's premises liability action because there was no dispute that the ice constituted an open and obvious danger, as the customer saw the ice and admitted that she knew it posed a danger, and she failed to prove that the icy conditions fell within the "special aspects" exception to justify imposing liability on defendants. The danger was not unavoidable, as the customer was not forced to confront the risk and she presented no evidence that the risk of harm associated with the ice patch was so unreasonably high that its presence was inexcusable. The fact that the customer had a business interest in entering the premises due to her membership with the fitness club did not make the hazard effectively unavoidable. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of summary disposition in favor of the property owners.