Whether you’re looking forward to the first snowfall or longing for spring before the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone, ice and snow are an inevitable part of the season.
As a result, more Michigan residents are likely to be injured in fall accidents during the winter months.
Falls are a leading cause of fatal and serious injuries such as broken hips and traumatic brain injuries. Even broken arms or ankles and other minor damage can be debilitating. If you are injured in a fall, you can file a lawsuit against the owner or landlord. If so, here are some key facts about this complicated area of Michigan law.
Not every fall accident is a cause for a lawsuit. Most of these claims fall under the legal concept of ‘liability for premises’, which is based on an owner’s obligation to keep the premises safe and free from danger. Therefore, a claimant must demonstrate that his injuries resulted from a fall caused by a dangerous condition on someone else’s property.
In addition, a claimant must demonstrate that he has suffered harm from the owner’s failure to maintain a safe environment. It is in vain to bring a lawsuit for minor injuries such as pain, bruising, or scraped knees and elbows.
The “open and obvious” doctrine poses a major hurdle in any case of slips and falls. This law protects property owners when the danger and associated hazards are apparent to an average person “with occasional inspection”. Unfortunately for the victims, most dangerous conditions meet these criteria.
However, as in many areas of law, there are exceptions to this rule that can allow plaintiffs to prevail in a lawsuit. The first is when a condition is “inappropriately dangerous” such as a 30 foot pit in the middle of a parking lot. Since falling into a hole of this size would undoubtedly cause serious damage or death, the overt and overt defense does not apply.
The second exception concerns hazards that are “practically unavoidable,” meaning that the victim has no viable options for avoiding the dangerous condition. This concept usually applies to victims who fall down an icy path or step while exiting a building, otherwise they would be trapped inside.
Since Michigan winters are synonymous with ice and snow, the courts generally rule in favor of the owners as the conditions are slippery. In some cases, even black ice, which by definition is invisible, has been viewed as overt and obvious.
However, ice-related slips and falls can be won, especially if the fall occurs in a public area of an apartment complex with several residential units. Landlords are required by law to keep an area “fit for purpose” and pedestrians cannot use an icy sidewalk or sidewalk without endangering their safety.
The law allows a landlord or owner a reasonable amount of time to clear snow or ice, but this varies depending on the individual situation. Some plaintiffs have recovered damage after falling on ice two hours earlier.
“Determining whether the landlord has had enough time to remove the threat can mean the difference between dismissing a case and winning a sizeable settlement,” said Mark Bernstein of the Sam Bernstein law firm.
Another interesting aspect of Michigan law is that, unlike sidewalks, parking lots are not intended for pedestrians. As a result, if a person slips and falls on the way to or from a car in a parking lot, landlords are typically not liable.
According to Bernstein, victims should avoid these three basic mistakes after a fall accident:
Filing a written incident report is not required by law and could actually be used against you in the future. While an owner or landlord may request it, you are not legally required to provide a written statement. Without a thorough understanding of the law of slip and fall, you can inadvertently offer information that may harm your case. If you want to report the accident, do so orally and only provide the time and place of your fall.
Never speak to an insurance provider or sign any forms. When contacted, simply confirm that you fell and refer the caller to your lawyer. Don’t discuss your injuries or how you are feeling. If the person asks for permission to record the conversation, say no.
Photos are not recommended. A photo of the danger that caused your fall can be used by the defense to claim that the condition was overt and obvious.
The following steps will increase your chances of success if you end up pursuing a lawsuit:
Get medical treatment immediately, either in an emergency room or an emergency room. Describe the circumstances of your fall, including your pain level and any injuries you have sustained. If possible, you will receive a copy of the ER report when you are discharged.
Call a reputable personal injury attorney who specializes in falls. If you receive calls or written inquiries from the owner or their insurance company, contact your lawyer.
Contact your doctor to create a treatment plan for your injury. This may include other diagnostic tests such as MRIs or special x-rays. If physical therapy is recommended, make an appointment and attend each session.
“Because of the complexity of the law, incidents of slips and falls in Michigan can be challenging,” Bernstein said. “However, with an attorney who is knowledgeable in the field, you have the best chance of obtaining compensation for your injuries.”
For more information, please contact Sam Bernstein law firm or 1-800-CALL-SAM for free, no-obligation remote advice from the security of your home.