Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

December 28, 2012

Michigan in Brief: 12/28/2012

Slip-and-fall cases tough in courts

DETROIT — Francisco Garces stopped at a grocery store in western Michigan but left with injuries after falling in the icy parking lot. When he sued, he didn't get sympathy from the state appeals court: The judges said he could have shopped elsewhere.

Slip-and-fall lawsuits, once a staple for injury attorneys, have become extremely difficult in Michigan courts, especially after another strict standard was set last summer by the state Supreme Court. Feet flying in the air because of water, ice or snow? Case dismissed — unless someone absolutely can't avoid the hazard.

Lawyers acknowledge that not every lawsuit is going to be a winner when someone seeks money for lost wages or medical bills. But the decision should be left to a jury at trial, they say, not a judge or a higher court.

"I have to turn cases down every single day" because of the tougher threshold, said lawyer Mark Bernstein, whose family's Detroit-area firm is widely known because of its "1-800-CALL-SAM" TV ads. "These aren't trespassers who got hurt or somebody who climbed over a fence. When you invite a person onto your property, you owe them a responsibility that your property is safe."

He said slip-and-fall cases tied to weather now represent just 2 percent of the firm's work, compared to 20 percent in the 1990s.

The number of slip-and-fall cases is hard to come by; Michigan court statistics don't break down lawsuits that way. But Nelson Miller, who teaches tort law at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, said there has been a significant decline, based on his expertise in the field and conversations with lawyers.

I-96 shooting suspect arraigned by video

HOWELL — A man suspected in a shooting spree that targeted motorists along the Interstate 96 corridor in four southeast Michigan counties has pleaded not guilty to fresh charges, including terrorism.

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