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February 28 2017

New Law Reduces Municipal Liability for Sidewalk Injuries

By: Bradley A. Fowler

Governor Snyder recently signed legislation to further shield municipalities from lawsuits filed by people who trip and fall on sidewalks.  Enacted on January 4, 2017, Public Act 419 of 2016 (“Act 419”) specifies that in a civil action, a municipal corporation may assert any defense available under the common law with respect to a premises liability claim, including, but not limited to, a defense that the condition was “open and obvious.”  

The general rule with regard to premises liability is that the owner of a premises has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect an invitee from any unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land.  Private property owners have long enjoyed protection from liability if someone suffered an injury as a result of a dangerous condition on their property that was “open and obvious.”  Simply put, the basis for the defense is that an “open and obvious” danger serves as a warning to self-protection.  This defense has been routinely considered as a first line of protection in personal injury cases brought against private businesses.  

Act 419 now extends that same protection enjoyed by the private sector to public bodies.  While the Act does not prevent an individual from suing any municipality for a sidewalk defect, it will make it much easier for municipalities to prevail in such actions if the sidewalk defect was seen or should have been seen and avoided by the injured party.  Further, it is expected that the Act will extend cost savings already enjoyed by the private sector to taxpayers in the public sector and save money for governments that are targeted by nuisance lawsuits.  

If your municipality has questions regarding its liability for sidewalk defects, or is involved in premises liability litigation, we recommend consulting with your municipal attorney at Mika Meyers to discuss the implications of the new protections granted by Act 419.