What is the “intended use” of an apartment complex parking lot and what statutory duty does the landlord owe to clear ice and snow from the lot to make it fit for tenants’ use?
Attorneys from Zausmer recently addressed these questions in their defense of a premises liability case, securing an appellate victory for our client, Farm Bureau Insurance.
The plaintiff, a tenant in the defendant’s apartment complex, slipped and fell on a patch of snow-covered ice as she crossed the parking lot to dispose of trash in a nearby dumpster during a snowstorm. She filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court claiming that the defendant breached its common law duty to keep the parking lot in a safe condition, and a statutory duty to maintain the parking lot so that it was fit for its intended use.
Zausmer shareholder Cinnamon Plonka and associate Nicholas Assenmacher moved for summary disposition on both counts, arguing that the accumulated snow and ice was an “open and obvious” condition that the plaintiff should have been aware of, and that the defendant properly maintained the parking lot consistent with its statutory obligation. The court granted the motion relative to the common law duty, but denied summary disposition on the remaining count, prompting Cinnamon and Nick to ask Zausmer shareholder Amy Applin to file an interlocutory appeal.
Amy argued before the Michigan Court of Appeals that the parking lot was fit for its “intended use” because tenants were able to get to their vehicles in the parking lot, to enter and exit the lot, and to access the dumpster. Although the plaintiff countered that because the tenants needed to cross the parking lot to reach the dumpster the area should be maintained to a standard for walkways, the appellate panel determined that the defendant and its maintenance person “took reasonable steps and measures to maintain the parking lot in a condition fit for its tenants to be able to access the parking lot and dumpster.” Finding that the plaintiff did not present any evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding the parking lot’s fitness, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erred in denying summary disposition of the statutory duty claim.
Because interlocutory appeals seek appellate review before the final resolution of the trial court proceedings, rulings favorable to the appealing party are quite unusual. Congratulations to Amy, Cinnamon, and Nick for securing such a rare decision!