Court Considers Obligation of Property Owners To Ensure Safety of Guests

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It is not often that cases involving casual holiday parties and relatively minor injuries make their way to state supreme courts. However, that is exactly what has happened in Michigan where the Supreme Court has now heard arguments about what occurred during a 2013 office holiday party. Though the particulars are not of interest to the court, the case is being used as a vehicle to explore the legal obligations property owners owe to ensure the safety of invited guests.


old-stairs-Charlotte-Divorce-Lawyer-Mecklenburg-Lake-Norman-Domestic-Attorney-271x300The incident at issue in the case occurred back in December of 2013. Hosting a holiday party for colleagues at work, Dean and Debra Franchi invited guests over for dinner at their home. One of the invited guests, Susan Blackwell, showed up and was looking for a place to hang her purse. She walked through the house and entered the Franchi’s mudroom. When she did, she failed to notice that there was an eight inch drop off (a deep stair) between the hallway and the entrance to the mudroom. Blackwell then fell, which resulted in injuries.


According to Blackwell, the room was unlit and she had no way of knowing that there was such a sharp drop from the hallway. She says the danger posed by the deep stair was not at all obvious and that she had no way to anticipate or prepare for the risk of harm. Instead, she argues that the Franchis, who were fully aware of the step and the fact that the room was dark, further obscuring the danger, should have warned her of the potential hazard.


The personal injury case was initially brought before a local county court, which dismissed the lawsuit. Blackwell then appealed and the state appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision, saying that the case should have been presented to a jury. The appeals court said that there were facts in contention and that there was disputed testimony which needed to be resolved. The case was then appealed again, eventually landing on the desks of the state Supreme Court justices.


Though such a case may be seen as trivial compared to some important issues decided by state high courts, the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed. He explained that the case is absolutely worth the time of the High Court, noting that lower court judges have to deal with lawsuits like this all the time and could use consistent direction for how they should be handled.


The legal question before the Michigan Supreme Court will turn on whether Blackwell should have assumed that there was a potential hazard in the unlit room, thus putting the onus of any harm on her shoulders, or whether the Franchis are to blame. If the Franchis are found responsible, it will be because the deep stair will be deemed a hidden hazard that they had a responsibility to warn invited guests about. If Blackwell is to blame, it will be because the hazard is deemed open and obvious.


This open and obvious standard is applied across Michigan and many other states and says that if a risk is apparent, even to invited guests, then the property owner owes no legal duty to warn of its existence. If the hazard is instead hidden, like a loose floorboard, then the property owner will be required to warn guests or face liability for failing to do so.


Though the case revolves around a small office Christmas party, other outside interest groups are already chiming in with their thoughts. The Michigan Manufacturers Association has issued statements on the case, urging the Supreme Court to find in favor of the Franchis. The broader concern is that a case like this, if decided in favor of the plaintiff, could lead to tremendous liability for all property owners, not just homeowners. That means the owners of retail stores, office buildings and manufacturing plants could all be required to warn guests of potential harms.


If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.







The skilled personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to maximizing the financial recovery and obtaining justice for every personal injury client injured by another party’s negligence. The issues our personal injury clients may be facing include, but are not limited to, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, product liability, catastrophic injuries, dog bite claims, car and truck accident injuries, motorcycle injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), nursing home negligence, spinal cord injury, boating accidents, and defective medical device injury. Our personal injury attorneys understand the devastating impact such an injury can have on a person’s life, and that the effects so often go beyond physical pain and suffering. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to helping clients determine the strength of their claims, and to aggressively pursuing the means necessary to achieve the best possible end result for each client’s particular situation.





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