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Municipalities Now Granted Open & Obvious Defense

Mike McNamara, Esq.

The open and obvious defense, commonly used for private businesses in premise liability claims, can now be used as a defense for municipalities.

House bill 4686 became Public Act 419 of 2016 after being signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder earlier this year. The bill had been sitting dormant for nearly a year before it was approved by lawmakers.

Under the new act, municipalities will not be liable for a breach of duty to maintain the sidewalk in reasonable repair "unless the plaintiff proves that, at least 30 days before the injury, death, or damage occurred, the municipal corporation knew or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known that the sidewalk defect existed."

Fiscally, the new act is expected to save municipalities money by reducing the cost of settlements, judgements, and litigation expenses by adding defenses against a 'slip and fall' lawsuit on public sidewalks.

Plaintiff lawyers are concerned that this new legislation will make premise liability cases even worse by essentially making municipalities immune from lawsuits. Many also believe that the new act will discourage municipalities from fixing sidewalk problems by taking away their incentive to do so.

Plaintiff attorney also suggest the acts questions morality as a majority of those affected in 'slip and fall' cases are the young, elderly, and persons with disabilities.

Defense attorneys suggest that the act is only fair as it provides municipalities the same immunities as private businesses. Numerous attorneys also believe that the money saved from the new act will help assist citizens as the financial burdens saved from the court cases will be used to otherwise contribute to the municipality.

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