Whom Do You Owe a Duty? Michigan’s Premise Liability (AKA the Slip and Fall Claim)
As a land or business owner, you owe a duty to people that enter your property. Your liability to those people depends on their classification. So, what are your different duties?
• The unknown trespasser: a trespassing plaintiff is an unforeseeable occurrence, and therefore you owe them no duty of protection. Why? Because to sue in negligence, the injured party generally must be a foreseeable party, which a trespasser is not.
• The anticipated trespasser or discovered trespasser: this is where things can get a little more complicated. If you have reason to believe that someone is trespassing on your land, or you should have known that people are entering your property, then there is a duty that you owe them. This class of peoples must be protected from:
1. Artificial conditions; and
2. That are highly dangerous; and
3. Are concealed; and
4. That you, as the owner, knew about or should have known about.
In Michigan, if you invite a recreational user (i.e. someone hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, etc.), they are considered an anticipated trespasser (in terms of the protection you owe them) and they can only sue you for negligence if they encounter your dangerous, artificial condition that’s concealed, which you know about.
• The licensee: these are your social guests, or the person that comes to your door to sell you a vacuum, or your mailman. You have to protect a licensee from all concealed dangers you know about. This is like black ice that you didn’t want to put salt on, or a faulty step that you figured you’d fix some other day. All known traps fixed.
• The invitee: this is the highest duty of care you owe someone. An invitee is someone that confers an economic benefit to you. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, you owe them a greater duty of protection. More protection than that of an invitee:
1. Concealed conditions trigger your duty;
2. And they can either be known dangers or dangers that a reasonable person would have known about.
If you want to remove some of your liability to people that enter your property, then simply make warning signs. Don’t rely on arguing that a hazard was open and obviously dangerous. Warn the people.
Goodwin & Scieszka is a Southfield, Michigan person injury firm that’s been handling Michigan tort, or civil, cases for over 30 years. Premise liability is a form of negligence. These claims are often referred to under the umbrella term: slip and fall.
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