Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeals’ Ruling Property Owner Maintained Nuisance In Fact and Negligent Nuisance

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the Michigan Supreme Court issued an order in this premises liability case against a commercial property owner directing the Court of Appeals to adopt the dissenting opinion of Judge Murray and reversing the damages award of $223,000 against the property owner.  However, I wrote the Court’s reversal constituted a reversal in toto of the Court of Appeals opinion.  That was incorrect, because the Supreme Court only reversed the Court of Appeals on the negligent nuisance claim, not the public nuisance claim, which continues.

In Veremis v. Gratiot Place LLC, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car involved in a traffic accident at an intersection in a shopping center plaza.  Plaintiff claimed a row of mailboxes and a newspaper stand created a blind spot for motorists entering the intersection, which distracted the driver of the car in which she was riding.

Plaintiffs (the injured passenger and her husband, who brought derivative claims) sued the commercial property owner, lodging claims of premises liability, nuisance, public nuisance, nuisance in fact, and negligent nuisance.

The trial court denied the property owner’s request for a directed verdict on the premises liability and nuisance claims.  A judgment was entered against the property owner for $223,000 for the injuries suffered by plaintiffs in the motor vehicle accident.

In a 2-1 opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision denying the property owner’s motion for a directed verdict in its favor on the premises liability claim.  Concluding that the plaintiff was a “licensee” on the property, and that the record showed she and the driver knew or should have known of the danger posed by the obstructions at the intersection, she was not entitled to pursue a claim for damages under a premises liability theory.  The record produced at trial demonstrated the plaintiff’s and the driver’s awareness of the danger at this particular intersection.

As to the nuisance claims, however, the Court of Appeals affirmed, thus upholding the judgment against the property owner.

Judge Murray dissented from that part of the majority opinion concerning plaintiffs’ nuisance claims.  Judge Murray points out that there was no evidence in the record that the obstructions at the intersection posed a general threat to the public at large.  Judge Murray explained there was no other evidence of incidents at the intersection except those that had occurred due to the motorist’s own negligence or error.  This plaintiff admitted to as well.  As to the “negligent nuisance” and “nuisance in fact” claims, Judge Murray noted that the record showed there was no “hidden danger” at the intersection and therefore no duty on the part of the property owner to to warn others.  Since plaintiff had testified she was aware of the dangerous nature of the intersection, her claims failed as a matter of law.

The Supreme Court directs reversal for the reasoning set forth in Judge Murray’s dissent.  This means that the case is effectively reversed in toto, i.e., that judgment for the property owner should enter and the damages award reversed.

Here is the Court’s order:

For more information about this and other similar cases contact Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP, a Birmingham law firm serving clients since 1912.  Mr. Tucker can be reached at (248) 283-0763.

For more information about Lacey & Jones, click on the following practice area company pages on Linked In.

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Insurance Coverage and Recovery Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Civil Litigation Group

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