Michigan will bend slip-and-fall rules to make it a bit easier for plaintiffs to win their case.
Michigan’s Supreme Court is working on modifying a legal doctrine that has historically made it difficult to win slip-and-fall lawsuits. In doing so, the justices considered the case of Donna Livings.
Livings fell on an icy parking lot while working as a waitress at a metro Detroit restaurant, Dimitre’s in Eastpointe, and needed three surgeries for her injuries. According to follow up interviews, it was determined that employees were instructed to park in a rear lot, which both Livings and a fellow employee indicated was unsalted and use the back door to enter.
Six years later, in 2020, she passed away. Now Livings’ estate is serving at the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the eatery’s property owner (after the court ruled her family can continue to pursue its case). The suit is set to return to Macomb County.
“Livings’ fall on the snow and ice occurred as she attempted to enter her workplace,” Justice David Viviano wrote for the majority. “She has raised an issue of material fact as to whether the conditions of the parking lot were effectively unavoidable.”
In 2001, however, the state’s Supreme Court was made up of mostly conservatives, which at the time, ruled according to Michigan’s “open-and-obvious” legal standard that required a plaintiff to demonstrate there were “special aspects” in order to have a shot at winning a slip-and-fall case.
The state’s “shared fault” regulation have limited a person’s right to recover compensation if it can be proven that the injured person had some responsibility for the fall. Also, Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805 states that “the period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury for all actions to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property.”
If a slip-and-fall case does make it to court, the state’s “modified comparative negligence” rule determines how much compensation the property owner is responsible for, and any damages received will be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault that’s determined to be the plaintiff’s.
“No other state has such a threshold,” said current Chief Justice Bridget McCormack. “The result is fewer cases find their way to Michigan’s juries. Tort liability, like much of law, regulates risk; a rule that effectively prevents liability isn’t managing risk efficiently.”
Michigan’s high court acknowledged that some slip-and-fall situations make it easier for an individual to simply go home and rest than others. “A person who encounters an icy lot at a fitness club can skip a workout,” the court wrote. “But not a reasonable alternative for Livings to turn around and miss work under similar conditions.” In other words, it may not always be possible to care for the injury properly.
The decision was determined by a 4-2 majority vote, and in dissent, Justice Brian Zahra said, “the court now has shifted liability law toward someone’s job status instead of solely the hazardous conditions.” He wondered “who next will receive special protection.”