In Estate of Brenda Bowman and Derick Bowman v Larry Walker, et al, No. 355561 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2022), the Michigan Court of Appeals considered whether a hazard (snow-covered ice in front of front and back doors of tenant’s apartment) was effectively unavoidable when she was required to confront it for purposes of employment.
Background on Bowman
On February 8, 2019, Brenda Bowman exited her apartment on her way to work. However, both exits led to snow-covered pathways. When she stepped outside her front door, she slipped on ice that was covered by snow and fell. As a result, she sustained injuries.
Several months later, Bowman and her husband sued Larry Walker, the owner of the apartment complex, and Lauderdale, the property manager, under the theories of negligence, premises liability, loss of consortium, and MCL 554.139. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Walker and Lauderdale, and the Bowmans appealed.
The Court of Appeals’ Ruling
On appeal, the Bowmans argued that the hazard was effectively unavoidable because both exits from the apartment were covered in snow and Bowman had to leave the apartment to go to work.
The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Bowman provided sufficient evidence establishing that she left her apartment to go to work. The Court relied on the Supreme Court decision in Estate of Livings v Sage’s Investment Group, LLC, 507 Mich 328, 968 NW2d 397 (2021), in which it held “it is reasonable to anticipate that a person will proceed to encounter a known or obvious danger for purposes of his or her work. Accordingly, an open and obvious hazard can become effectively unavoidable if the employee confronted it to enter his or her workplace for work purposes.” Id. at 345.
Next, the Court determined whether alternative paths were available and would have been used by a reasonable person in Bowman’s circumstances. However, the front and back doors of Bowman’s apartment led to snow-covered pathways. As such, the Court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the hazard was effectively unavoidable, since Bowman left her apartment for the purpose of going to work and both exits from her residence were covered with snow.
Bowman reminds us to consider a two-part test when determining whether the hazard was effectively unavoidable: (1) the practical purpose that one is required or compelled to confront the dangerous hazard and (2) whether alternatives paths are available and would have been used by a reasonable person in the same circumstances.
It would be practical for one to meet the first element if he/she is leaving the residence for the purposes of work. However, the next element would need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.