June 12, 2019
Premises Liability Update--Court of Appeals Expands Defenses for Landlords to Statutory Slip-and-Fall Claims
York v Berger Realty Group, Inc.
The Open and Obvious Doctrine is not a defense to a statutory claim brought under MCL 554.139. However, MCL 554.139(1)(a) only requires that a common area be fit for its intended use by the parties. The intended, primary use of a parking lot is parking cars while walking is a secondary use.If there is evidence that at least one other vehicle was parked in a parking lot at the time that an individual is injured, then there is evidence that the parking lot is fit for its intended use.
Simply put, this case expands the potential defenses to a statutory claim for premises liability between a tenant and landlord where the insured landlord’s parking lot is used for primarily parking vehicles.
Brief Synopsis of the Rule / Holding
York v. Berger Realty Group, Inc. involved a tenant who slipped and fell in their landlord’s parking lot when she stepped from the sidewalk to the lot that was covered in ice and snow. Subsequently, the tenant filed a statutory claim pursuant to MCL 554.139(1)(a). The Court, citing Allison v. AEW Capital Management the seminal case in this area of law, held that the intended use for a parking lot is for parking vehicles, not walking which is a secondary use, and there was evidence that at least one (1) other vehicle used the parking lot around the time that the Plaintiff fell. Therefore, the parking lot was fit for its intended use and summary disposition was affirmed.
In this case a tenant for a slipped and fell in a parking lot. The tenant brought an action pursuant to MCL 554.139 against the landlord for the landlord’s failure to keep the parking lot “fit” for walking. However, the Michigan Supreme Court has stated that a parking lot’s primary purpose is for parking vehicles, and not walking. The Court of Appeals rejected the tenant’s argument that walking was a separate purpose for handicap accessible spaces in a parking lot under MCL 554.139 finding walking to be only a secondary purpose or use.
The Court of Appeals confirmed that the open and obvious doctrine did not apply to statutory causes of action, but it also found that the handicapped parking area was “fit for its intended purpose,” under MCL 554.139.
The Court explained that an action under MCL 554.139 requires a showing that the complained about area was not “fit for its intended purpose.” MCL 554.139(1)(a) does not require that a parking lot be maintained “in an ideal condition or in the most accessible condition possible, but merely requires the lessor to maintain it in a condition that renders it fit for use as a parking lot.” Further, Michigan case law has explained that the purpose of a parking lot is to park vehicles, not walking. Because the primary purpose of a parking lot is for parking vehicles, a landlord owner of a parking lot can only be liable if he or she in some way inhibits the ability for vehicles to park. MCL 554.139 does not require the parking lot to be “fit”for walking. While Plaintiff tried to narrow the issue to handicapped parking areas, the Court rejected this narrow construct explaining that it was a“distinction without a difference,” and handicapped parking spots are “fit” if they allow for parking, not walking.