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155413 - Susan Blackwell v Dean Franchi

Susan Blackwell,
Kevin S. Oliver
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Oakland – O’Brien, C.)
Dean Franchi and Debra Franchi,
Steven M. Couch


Plaintiff Susan Blackwell was invited to a holiday dinner party at the home of a work colleague, defendant Debra Franchi. She was told to put her purse in a room down a hallway. This room, identified as the home’s “mud room,” was connected to the garage and was not lit at the time. Plaintiff entered the unlit room, not noticing an 8-inch step down into the room. She lost her balance and fell. Plaintiff filed suit against defendants on a theory of premises liability. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of defendants based on their argument that the allegedly dangerous condition was open and obvious. The Court of Appeals reversed in a split published opinion, holding that the alleged danger posed by the step must be evaluated in its unlit state, and that plaintiff had established a question of fact whether the danger posed by the step in the unlit room was open and obvious. The dissent concluded that the potential danger confronting plaintiff was not the step, but rather the darkness of the room, and it was this condition that was open and obvious. The Supreme Court has directed oral argument on defendants’ application for leave to appeal to address whether they owed a duty to warn plaintiff of the condition on the premises, given the general rule that “[a] landowner owes a licensee a duty only to warn the licensee of any hidden dangers the owner knows or has reason to know of, if the licensee does not know or have reason to know of the dangers involved,” Stitt v Holland Abundant Life Fellowship, 462 Mich 591, 596 (2000).