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Prudence and the Signage
by Ron Davis

A claim that a hazardous distraction was the reason for a shopper’s pedestrian injury that occurred at a Michigan shopping center has not proved convincing in a resulting lawsuit.

The shopping center is Great Lakes Crossing Mall in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, and the shopper suffered her injury while on the premises of Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World, a mall tenant. As she and her husband were walking from the tenant’s store, she tripped and fell over the base of a display sign.

The sign consisted of a large advertising placard secured to a heavy rectangular base. But she said she did not see the sign because her attention was focused on taxidermy displays on the sides of her pathway from the store.

Evidence in the case showed, however, that the placard was very large, at eye level, and clearly visible to anyone walking past. Moreover, at the spot where she fell, the color of the sign’s base sharply contrasted with the floor. In fact, the woman’s husband said he saw the sign and veered to walk around it.

The woman nevertheless contended that the distraction created by the taxidermy displays was a “special aspect” that made the aisle unreasonably dangerous. She therefore sued the tenant. Under Michigan law, a “premises possessor is not required to protect an invitee from open and obvious dangers.” But if there are special aspects that make even an open and obvious risk unreasonably dangerous, the premises possessor has a duty to protect invitees from that risk. The injured woman contended that the display was in fact one of those special aspects.

A Michigan court rejected the woman’s argument and ruled in favor of the shopping center tenant. She appealed.

A Michigan appellate court agreed that the woman presented no evidence that neither the sign nor the aisle was dangerous. Explained the judges, “We reject the injured woman’s contention that the ‘distraction’ created by the taxidermy mounts was a special aspect making the store’s aisle unreasonably dangerous.... Store display signs are an everyday occurrence that ordinarily should be observed by a reasonably prudent person.” (Miller v. Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World, 2005 WL 3556164 [Mich.App.])

Decision: December 2005
Published: March 2006



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