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Ice and Snow Should Concern Property Owners

Ice and snow on publicly accessed property should be of concern to property owners. A decision in 2014 by the Michigan Court of Appeals brought clarification to what has been known as the open and obvious doctrine which applies to parties that are injured when on the property of another. With certain exceptions, the open and obvious doctrine held that a party cannot collect for damages when they are injured as a result of a property defect that was “open and obvious” to that individual. For example it would be difficult to collect for injuries sustained when one steps into a pothole in a parking lot when that pothole was clearly visible to the injured party before they walked across the parking lot.

Over the years Michigan Courts have been taking the approach that snow and ice on a parking lot would be open and obvious and therefore injured parties could not sue for injuries sustained when they fall on snow or ice. In 2014 the Michigan Court of Appeals clarified the issues regarding snow and ice in the case Attala v Orcutt. In that case a tenant in an apartment complex was injured when crossing the parking lot maintained by the complex owners for the tenants to park their cars. According to the facts of the case, the parking lot was covered by a thick layer of ice but no snow was in the lot. The facts also showed that there was no way for the tenant to get to her car without crossing the parking lot covered with ice.

In this case the Court of Appeals held that the open and obvious doctrine would not apply to the facts of the case because the hazard presented by the thick ice was effectively unavoidable. The Court concluded that where, as in that case, ice covered the entire parking lot making it impossible to access a tenant’s car without crossing that field of ice, the property owner would have an obligation to clear that ice or face liability when someone is injured trying to make his or her way to a vehicle parked in that lot.

Although a property owner might still be in a position to argue regarding the point at which snow or ice become effectively unavoidable, the prudent approach would be to establish an effective snow and ice clearing process. An effective snow and ice clearing program would put a property owner in the best possible position with respect to defending against claims for injury resulting from snow or ice on their property.

If you are a real estate owner we would be happy to sit down and discuss the liabilities associated with inviting the public to access the property. Contact the attorneys at Penzien & McBride by calling us directly at (586) 690-4400.