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Negligence Cases in the News: Black Ice and Slip-and-fall

Negligence Cases in the News:

Personal Injury — Black Ice and Slip-and-fall


It’s a common occurrence in Michigan. In the winter time frequently pavement will become encased in invisible “black ice.” Due to its invisibility, black ice is a leading cause of winter time personal injury from car crashes to slip-and-falls.
Generally, in Michigan a premises owner does not have a duty to warn a shopper or even clear off snow or ice if it is visible upon a casual inspection. The Courts in Michigan have held that it is the pedestrian or shopper’s duty to avoid such hazardous conditions or to accept the consequences of a slip and fall if the lot is visibly snow covered.
On the other hand, black ice has become a recognized exception to this general rule.
In Slaughter v. Blarney Castle Oil Company, the business visitor, Mrs. Slaughter, injured her back when she slipped and fell at the Defendant’s gas station. The court of Appeals affirmed (agreed with) the decision of the trial court that black ice was an exception to the open and obvious doctrine. The Court reasoned that by definition black ice was “not open and obvious.”


     “Plaintiff contends that under the circumstances of this case, she had no warning of icy conditions on defendant’s premises and that, the condition therefore was not open and obvious. Further, plaintiff contends that special circumstances existed because the condition posed an unreasonable risk and was unavoidable.


     To determine whether black ice is open and obvious, one must consider the logic behind the open and obvious danger doctrine, which, as stated earlier, is that “an obvious danger is no danger to a reasonably careful person.” Novotney, supra at 474. We are asked to determine whether “an average user with ordinary intelligence” would be able to discover black ice “upon casual inspection,” absent the presence of snow. Id. at 475.


     Perhaps the best way to ascertain whether black ice is open and obvious is to examine the characteristics of black ice. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed), p151, describes black ice as “a thin, nearly invisible layer of ice on a dark surface (as a paved road or a body of water) that is difficult to see.” The American Heritage Diction of the English Language (4th ed) p191, defines black ice as “[a] thin, nearly invisible coating of ice that forms on paved surfaces.” The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed), p172, describes it as “a transparent coating of ice, found esp. on a road or other paved surface.” The American Century Dictionary (2005), p60, defines it as a “thin layer of invisible ice on a road, etc.”


     The Overriding principle behind the many definitions of black ice is that it is invisible or nearly invisible, transparent, or nearly transparent. Such definition is inherently inconsistent with the open and obvious danger doctrine. Consequently, we decline to extend the doctrine to black ice without evidence that the black ice in question would have been visible on casual inspection before the fall or without other indicia of a potentially hazardous condition.”


If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a slip and fall or car accident related to black ice, you may have a remedy in court for monetary compensation. Guy Vining of the Vining Law Group, PLC has represented many victims of slip and falls. Please feel free to call Guy Vining for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights.


[Guy Vining practices personal injury law from his Metro-Detroit office in Taylor, Michigan. He has represented clients in personal injury actions for over 25 years in such areas as: car, boat, motorcycle, and truck accidents; slip, trip, and falls including black ice and defective design; medical and dental malpractice, denial of insurance benefits for wages, medical and home assistance to automobile accident victims.]