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A Lot of Obvious Danger
by Ron Davis

A pedestrian who was struck by a motor vehicle at a Michigan shopping center has raised the controversial issue of who is liable for such pedestrian injuries: the vehicle driver, the pedestrian–or the shopping center’s owner.

The suburban Detroit shopping center where the accident occurred is owned by Rockwood Center, L.L.C., and the pedestrian at the time was walking from a drug store to his car. As he started across the traffic lanes separating the center’s stores from the parking area, a sports utility vehicle ran over him. The driver claimed that she didn’t see him because a bright sun temporarily blinded her.

The accident resulted in serious injuries to the pedestrian, and he sued Rockwood Center as well as the driver of the vehicle that struck him.

At trial, the principals of Rockwood Center claimed that they are not duty-bound to protect such pedestrians. They pointed out that the location of the accident involved only a reasonable risk of harm, that the site was simply an “open and obvious danger,” and that they therefore needed no warning signs to alert pedestrians to vehicular traffic.

In response, the injured pedestrian contended that the open-and-obvious-danger argument did not apply because the danger of being struck by a vehicle there is so great. In fact, the spot where the accident occurred requires a person going to or leaving a store to negotiate two unmarked and uncontrolled vehicle travel lanes. He therefore blamed the center’s owners for failure to take “reasonable precautions for invitee safety,” since the vehicle traffic lanes “imposes a uniquely high likelihood of harm or severity of harm.”

A Michigan appellate court, in a split decision, ruled in favor of the shopping center, explaining, “A lack of warning signs or other traffic control devices or markings does not constitute a special aspect that would remove this case from an application of the open and obvious danger doctrine.... A pedestrian in a parking lot should look both ways before crossing the driving lane to ensure that he is not about to be struck by a vehicle. The injured party points to no special aspect of this parking lot that prevented him from seeing the moving vehicle, that prevented the driver from seeing him or prevented the driver from stopping her vehicle when she was unable to see. Thus, to the extent that the parking lot presented a danger, that danger was open and obvious.” (Richardson v. Rockwood Center, 2007 WL 1110752 [Mich.App.])

Decision: April 2007
Published: May 2007



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