Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Kandil-Elsayed v. F&E Oil, Inc., marked a pivotal change in premises liability law. The ruling clarified that the “open and obvious” doctrine would not entirely preclude liability claims regarding dangerous conditions. Instead, this doctrine would factor into comparative negligence assessments when a duty of care is established. This interpretation was recently applied in a significant case involving a community association.
In Gabrielson v The Woods Condominium Association, et al., the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed premises liability in the context of a tenant’s injury at a condominium complex. Gabrielson, the tenant, sustained injuries from a fall on a carpeted landing outside her unit. The fall was allegedly caused by a poorly adhered rubber strip on the carpet covering a limited common element exterior landing area. The single step and landing led to the unit entry doors for four individual condominium units. The carpet was added as a modification to the Limited Common Element area, and it was the four co-owners’ joint responsibility to maintain, repair and replace the carpeting. It was known that the rubber strip would curl up and away from the step on hot days. The court’s analysis focused on the responsibilities of various parties, including the condominium association, its management company, and individual co-owners, in maintaining common areas and ensuring safety. While the Association was not responsible for the cost of maintaining the carpet, “the association was responsible for ensuring the safety of the landings and insuring against claims of bodily injury.”
An “invitee” is a person who has been invited onto a property for the property owner’s benefit, such as a customer at a business. Property owners owe invitees a duty of reasonable care to protect them from dangerous conditions. This standard typically applies between the landlord and tenant. A “licensee” is a person who has permission to be on a property but is there for their own purposes rather than the property owner’s benefit, such as a social guest at someone’s home. Property owners must warn licensees about known dangerous conditions but don’t have an affirmative duty to inspect and make safe.
In Gabrielson’s case, the court found a potential breach of duty by the co-owner/landlord, as Gabrielson was an “invitee” in relation to them. However, the association and management company were not found to have breached their duties. The plaintiff, considered a “licensee” to these entities, was owed only a warning of known dangers, a criterion met since Gabrielson knew about the conditions and never complained about the step. As such, the association and its management company did not have a duty to warn of or guard against the known danger.
The case did establish Kandil-Elsayed’s retroactive application to court actions currently pending, altering how the open and obvious doctrine pertains to breach and comparative fault rather than absolving the duty to remedy hazards. This decision emphasizes the evolving nature of premises liability law and the duty of care owed to residents and visitors. The ruling underscores the necessity of diligent maintenance, routine inspections, and immediate action in addressing hazardous conditions for which they are responsible.