Hoffner v. Lanctoe, Docket No. 142267.

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtYoung
Citation821 N.W.2d 88,492 Mich. 450
PartiesHOFFNER v. LANCTOE.
Docket NumberDocket No. 142267.
Decision Date31 July 2012

492 Mich. 450
821 N.W.2d 88

HOFFNER
v.
LANCTOE.

Docket No. 142267.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued Dec. 7, 2011.
Decided July 31, 2012.


[821 N.W.2d 91]


Cossi law Offices, (by A. Dennis Cassi) for Charlotte Hoffner.

Dean & pope, P.C., Ironwood (by Michael K. Pope), for Richard and Lori Lanctoe.


Young, C.J.

[492 Mich. 454]Michigan, being above the 42nd parallel of north latitude, is prone to winter. And with winter comes snow and ice accumulations on sidewalks, parking lots, roads, and other outdoor surfaces. Unfortunately, the accumulation of snow, ice, and other slippery hazards on surfaces regularly traversed by the citizens of this state results in innumerable mishaps and injuries each year. This case tests the extent of a premises owner's liability for one of those winter-related accidents. In this case, plaintiff recognized the danger posed by ice on a sidewalk, yet chose to confront the hazard in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to enter the premises. Plaintiff claims that the premises' owners [492 Mich. 455]should be liable for her injuries, while the premises' owners argue that they are not liable because plaintiff's accident occurred as the result of an ordinary, open and obvious condition.

In many regards, this case is unremarkable both in its simplicity and its frequent occurrence in Michigan. Yet there has been some confusion surrounding the application of the open and obvious doctrine to wintry conditions. In Michigan, a premises possessor owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by dangerous conditions on the premises, including snow and ice conditions. However, liability does not arise for open and obvious dangers unless special aspects of a condition make even an open and obvious risk unreasonably dangerous. This may include situations in which it is “effectively unavoidable” for an invitee to avoid the hazard posed by such an inherently dangerous condition.

[821 N.W.2d 92]

We reject plaintiff's argument that the hazard in this case was effectively unavoidable because plaintiff had a business interest in entering the premises. Neither the caselaw of this state nor the principles underlying the well-established “open and obvious” doctrine support plaintiff's theory of an expanded “business invitee” exception to the open and obvious doctrine, whereby invitees frequenting a business open to the public have an unassailable right to sue in tort for injuries caused by open and obvious conditions. Instead, longstanding principles governing the law of premises liability apply with their traditional force to this case, and exceptions to the open and obvious doctrine are, and are intended to be, limited. The touchstone of the “special aspects” analysis is that the condition must be characterized by its unreasonable risk of harm. Thus, an “unreasonably dangerous” hazard must be just that—not just a dangerous[492 Mich. 456]hazard, but one that is unreasonably so. And it must be more than theoretically or retrospectively dangerous. Similarly, an “effectively unavoidable” condition must be an inherently dangerous hazard that a person is inescapably required to confront under the circumstances. In this case, the fact that plaintiff, a business invitee, had a contractual right to enter the premises does not mean that she was unavoidably compelled to confront the icy condition.

We reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the circuit court for entry of summary disposition in favor of defendants Richard and Lori Lanctoe. The ice on the sidewalk was open and obvious, and plaintiff has not provided evidence of special aspects of the condition that justify imposing liability on the Lanctoes despite the open and obvious nature of the danger.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Charlotte Hoffner had a paid membership to a fitness center, Fitness Xpress, one of several tenants located in a commercial building in Ironwood, Michigan.1 There is only one entrance to Fitness Xpress, which is serviced by a sidewalk that runs along the length of the building and connects the building to its parking lot. The building, sidewalk, and parking lot are all owned and maintained by defendants Richard and Lori Lanctoe. Under the lease agreements between the building's business tenants and the Lanctoes, the Lanctoes are responsible for snow removal from the parking lot and sidewalk, although some tenants occasionally salt the sidewalk in front of the building.

[492 Mich. 457]At around 11:00 a.m. on January 28, 2006, plaintiff drove to the building with the intent to exercise. Although the Lanctoes had already cleared and salted the parking lot and sidewalk earlier that day, by the time plaintiff arrived she observed that the sidewalk was icy at the entrance to Fitness Xpress. Plaintiff stated that she could “see the ice and the roof was dripping.” Notwithstanding her awareness of the conditions, plaintiff formed the opinion that the ice “didn't look like it would be that bad” and decided to enter the building. As plaintiff explained, “it was only just a few steps,” and “I thought that I could make it.” Unfortunately, she fell on the ice, injuring her back.

Plaintiff subsequently brought the instant premises liability suit against the Lanctoes, as well as Fitness Xpress and its owners and operator. All defendants moved for summary disposition. Relevant

[821 N.W.2d 93]

here, defendants argued that plaintiff was barred from pursuing her claim of premises liability because of the open and obvious doctrine, given that the ice was plainly visible, which she recognized before confronting it. The Gogebic Circuit Court denied all of the defendants' motions for summary disposition, reasoning that there was a question of fact regarding whether the icy hazard was “effectively unavoidable” in part because a jury could find that plaintiff had a right to access the building to get value for her membership. The circuit court explained, “So with one entrance, and the fact that [plaintiff] not only had a good reason to go in there, had business to go in there, contractually [plaintiff] had an interest in the activities and equipment that were inside there.”

Defendants sought leave to appeal, and the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in [492 Mich. 458]part.2 The Court reversed the trial court's ruling with regard to Fitness Xpress and its owners, holding that they were entitled to summary disposition because they did not have possession and control of the sidewalk where the slip and fall occurred. However, the Court affirmed with regard to the trial court's ruling that the open and obvious doctrine does not bar plaintiff's claims against the premises' owners, the Lanctoes, because the dangerous condition was effectively unavoidable. Similar to the reasoning employed by the circuit court, the Court of Appeals reasoned that

Hoffner had contracted to use Fitness Xpress and may have needed to use it for health reasons. Because there was only one customer entrance to the facility that was fronted by the icy sidewalk, ‘the objective nature of the condition of the premises at issue’ reveals that the icy sidewalk was effectively unavoidable as it related to the use of the premises.3

In short, the panel believed that because there did not exist an alternative route by which Hoffner, as an invitee with a contractual right to use the facility, could enter the building, the open and obvious doctrine did not serve as a bar to plaintiff's claim.


The Lanctoes filed an application for leave to appeal in this Court, and we directed the clerk to schedule arguments on whether to grant the application for leave to appeal or take other action.4

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The circuit court denied the Lanctoes' motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10), [492 Mich. 459]which the Court of Appeals affirmed. A motion made under MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of a claim, and when the proffered evidence fails to establish a genuine issue of material fact, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This Court reviews de novo the grant or denial of summary disposition.5

III. ANALYSIS
A. PRINCIPLES OF LAW

The law of premises liability in Michigan has its foundation in two general precepts. First, landowners must act in a reasonable manner to guard against harms that threaten the safety and security of those who enter their land.6 Second, and

[821 N.W.2d 94]

as a corollary, landowners are not insurers; that is, they are not charged with guaranteeing the safety of every person who comes onto their land.7 These principles have been used to establish well-recognized rules governing the rights and responsibilities of both landowners and those who enter their land. Underlying all these principles and rules is the requirement that both the possessors of land and those who come onto it exercise common sense and prudent judgment when confronting hazards on the land. These rules balance a possessor's ability to exercise control over the premises with the invitees' [492 Mich. 460]obligation to assume personal responsibility to protect themselves from apparent dangers.

The starting point for any discussion of the rules governing premises liability law is establishing what duty a premises possessor owes to those who come onto his land. With regard to invitees,8 a landowner owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from unreasonable risks of harm posed by dangerous conditions on the owner's land.9 Michigan law provides liability for a breach of this duty of ordinary care when the premises possessor knows or should know of a dangerous condition on the premises of which the invitee is unaware and fails to fix the defect, guard against the defect, or warn the invitee of the defect.10

Perfection is neither practicable nor required by the law, and “[u]nder ordinary circumstances, the overriding public policy of...

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466 practice notes
  • Bredow v. Land & Co., Docket No. 315219.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • October 30, 2014
    ...efforts to protect the safety of those on the property, although not to the extent of guaranteeing that safety. Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). However, any hazard that is “open and obvious,” meaning “it is reasonable to expect that an average person with ordin......
  • Estate of Goodwin v. Nw. Mich. Fair Ass'n, No. 333963
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • July 3, 2018
    ...dangerous condition poses an "unreasonable risk of harm" sufficient to support a premises-liability claim, see Hoffner v. Lanctoe , 492 Mich. 450, 460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012), it is challenging to see how a parent could not be considered negligent in allowing a six-year-old to confront this d......
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, Docket No. 144055.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 30, 2013
    ...of the landowner, and has consequently lost some aspect of his ability to protect himself.4 In [494 Mich. 640]Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459–460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012), this Court explained the precepts of this “well-recognized” common-law duty: The law of premises liability in Michi......
  • Blackwell v. Franchi, SC: 155413
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 25, 2018
    ...premises liability law is establishing what duty a premises possessor owes to those who come onto his land." Hoffner v. Lanctoe , 492 Mich. 450, 460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). "Michigan has recognized three common-law categories for persons who enter upon the land or premises of another: (1) tr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
471 cases
  • Bredow v. Land & Co., Docket No. 315219.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • October 30, 2014
    ...efforts to protect the safety of those on the property, although not to the extent of guaranteeing that safety. Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). However, any hazard that is “open and obvious,” meaning “it is reasonable to expect that an average person with ordin......
  • Estate of Goodwin v. Nw. Mich. Fair Ass'n, No. 333963
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • July 3, 2018
    ...dangerous condition poses an "unreasonable risk of harm" sufficient to support a premises-liability claim, see Hoffner v. Lanctoe , 492 Mich. 450, 460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012), it is challenging to see how a parent could not be considered negligent in allowing a six-year-old to confront this d......
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, Docket No. 144055.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 30, 2013
    ...of the landowner, and has consequently lost some aspect of his ability to protect himself.4 In [494 Mich. 640]Hoffner v. Lanctoe, 492 Mich. 450, 459–460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012), this Court explained the precepts of this “well-recognized” common-law duty: The law of premises liability in Michi......
  • Blackwell v. Franchi, SC: 155413
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 25, 2018
    ...premises liability law is establishing what duty a premises possessor owes to those who come onto his land." Hoffner v. Lanctoe , 492 Mich. 450, 460, 821 N.W.2d 88 (2012). "Michigan has recognized three common-law categories for persons who enter upon the land or premises of another: (1) tr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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