Menards Loses Appeal in Parking Lot Accident Lawsuit
Parking lots can be very dangerous places. With so many vehicles and so many people walking around, it’s very easy for accidents to happen and for people to get hurt. But what happens when a person is injured because of a dangerous condition of the parking lot?
Many types of personal injury lawsuits involve the concept of premises liability, which is when injuries are caused by unsafe conditions on property owned by another person. When it comes to parking lot accidents, business owners will often try to claim that the hazard was “open and obvious,” meaning they shouldn’t be held responsible because it was something that should have been easy to see or was the sort of thing you could reasonably expect to exist in a parking lot. This defense is used to shield themselves from liability over everything from slip and fall accidents to damage caused by loose shopping carts.
The case of Folwer and Rawluszki v. Menards has challenged the notion of “open and obvious” dangers and questioned the level of responsibility commercial property owners have to visitors. In 2011, Virginia Jane Rawluszki was visiting a Menards location in Bay County, Michigan. While she was walking through a pedestrian crosswalk, the was hit by a carelessly-driven pickup truck, causing her to suffer a traumatic brain injury, which she later died from.
Rawluszki’s daughter, Denise Fowler, filed a lawsuit against Menards claiming that the store should have done more to warn drivers about pedestrians in the crosswalk. Menards tried to argue that they weren’t negligent because the possibility of being hit by a car in a parking lot is an open and obvious hazard, but the Fowler insisted that this crosswalk was unreasonably dangerous.
When the case went to trial, the court ruled that although Menards had no legal obligation to have a crosswalk in their parking lot, if they’re going to have one, they need to make sure it’s safe for people to use. Menards appealed the decision and their appeal was denied, keeping the ruling in favor of Fowler. Menards took their appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court and in January 2017, the court listened to the arguments in the case. However, the court recently also denied their appeal, keeping the ruling in favor of Fowler.
From here, the case will be heard by a jury in the Bay County court system. A separate case against the driver that hit Rawluszki has already been handled through the driver’s insurance company. What the court will be deciding is whether or not Menards has any liability in the accident. Since so many owners of commercial properties try to use the “open and obvious” defense for accidents that happen on their properties, this case could potentially change the way similar cases are decided in the future.