Woman Who Slipped and Fell at Holiday Party Takes Case to State Supreme Court

A Michigan woman who slipped and fell at a friend’s holiday party is taking her case to the state Supreme Court to clarify the responsibilities of property owners when they welcome guests into their home. Susan Blackwell, the plaintiff in the case, missed an 8-inch step when she stepped into an unlit room at a coworker’s home on December 14, 2013. She arrived at the home of Dean and Debra Franchi for a dinner party they were hosting. When she entered the home and proceeded to the mudroom to hang up her purse. An approximately 8-inch drop-off exists between the hallway and the mudroom. Unaware of the step, Blackwell fell, which resulted in injuries.

A Pending Decision Regarding Liability

The justices of the Michigan Supreme Court are deciding whether the homeowners should have informed Blackwell about any risks when she arrived at the party. Her original lawsuit was dismissed by an Oakland County judge, but the state appeals court reversed the decision, stating that a jury should determine whether the danger at the home was “open and obvious.” The “open and obvious” doctrine holds that if a dangerous condition is open and obvious to a reasonable person when the plaintiff was injured, then the defendant is not liable warning the plaintiff because the plaintiff could have discovered the condition and avoided it. The defendants’ attorney argues that Blackwell should have presumed danger when she saw an unlit room. The plaintiff’s attorney said it was the step that was dangerous, not the darkness, claiming that the plaintiff would not have been able to see the step even with the light on.

Determining Homeowner Liability in Georgia

This case raises interesting questions over homeowner liability to social guests. In Georgia, social guests such as the plaintiff in the above case are considered to be “licensees,” meaning that they are permitted by the property owner to go onto the premises merely for their own interests, convenience, or gratification. Contrast this classification with “invitees,” who are generally considered to be people who are invited onto the landowner’s property for a business purpose. For licensees, the property owner merely owes them the duty to refrain from willful or wanton injury. This includes failing to warn of damage to the property that makes it unsafe, or hazards in the home that the licensee may not be aware of.

Property owners are not liable for injuries resulting from clearly marked or visible hazards that the guests could have seen before the injury. Thus, the question of whether an 8-inch step down into a darkened room counts as an “open and obvious” danger will be for the court to decide.

Contact an Atlanta Premises Liability Attorney

Even when you’re visiting a friend on their property, accidents can happen. If you have been injured by a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404-255-6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Columbus, Fort Benning, and Covington.

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