In January of 2008 Plaintiff slipped and fell on ice on a patio near the front entrance of Trinity Continuing Care Services nursing home.   She had driven her three-wheeled bicycle to the building to donate clothing.   She parked her bike on the uncleared and unsalted patio which was next to the main entrance walkway.  The main entrance walkway did not have any ice and snow on it, but the patio did.  The main walkway was covered by an awning.  There was a sign posted nearby which said:  “Sidewalks, Parking Lots and Common Areas may be wet, snow covered and slippery.”  As she walked across the patio, she slipped on ice.  She testified that she did not see the ice.  It was undisputed that the plaintiff took a path across the patio rather than the cleared walkway.

        The plaintiff filed suit against Trinity under various theories of liability, including ordinary negligence.  The trial court denied Trinity’s motion to dismiss.  The Court of Appeals reversed.  First, the Court of Appeals held that the suit was a premises liability suit and thus, the plaintiff could not make an ordinary negligence claim.  Courts are not bound by the labels that parties attach to their claims, and must read the complaint as a whole to determine the exact nature of the claim.  If a claim is premised on a condition of the land, it is a premises liability claim only and only the rules of law in that arena apply.  Here, the plaintiff’s injury occurred when she slipped and fell on ice, which she alleged was a dangerous condition on defendant’s land.    It was a premises liability claim only, and the trial court erred in not dismissing her ordinary negligence claim.

      Next,  the plaintiff claimed that the  trial court erred in holding that the condition was open and obvious and dismissing her claim on that basis.  The Court of Appeals disagreed. Where the dangers that exist are known to the invitee or are so obvious that the invitee is expected to know of them, an invitor owes no duty to protect.   Generally, the hazard represented by ice and snow is open and obvious, and the landowner has no duty to warn or to remove the ice and snow.  A landowner’s duty to invitees is to take reasonable measures within a reasonable period after snow to diminish the hard only if there is some special aspect that makes the snow unreasonably dangerous.  Here, there was not.

       The question is whether the ice and snow was visible to the plaintiff or whether there were other signs of a hazardous condition which would impute knowledge of it to her.  The Court of Appeals held that there were.  Evidence showed that it rained and snowed the day before.  The plaintiff admitted that she saw the ice after she fell.  The maintenance man testified that he saw the ice. The plaintiff  testified that she knew that water fell from the awning onto the patio and she had seen the caution sign.   The fact that the plaintiff strayed from the sidewalk/entranceway does not cause liability to be imposed on Trinity.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that she had a cause of action under a Michigan Administrative Code provision requiring nursing homes to maintain the premises in a safe and sanitary condition and in a manner consistent with the public health and welfare.  Further MCL 125.471 in the Housing Law, which imposes on owners of dwellings an obligation to maintain the roof and to drain rain water, does not apply as the duty is imposed to “avoid dampness in the walls and unsanitary conditions.”


What This Means For Plaintiffs:  If your injury results from a condition of the land on which you visit, your case will be analyzed under the rules of premises liability, not ordinary negligence.   This limits the possible theories of recovery that an injured plaintiff can use.  In addition, the Court of Appeals continues to deny recovery to persons who slip and fall on ice, and  continues to deny claims that recovery should be found based on statutory provisions.

 You can read the entire opinion here.

Authored by Barbara A. Assendelft