Key point 7-20.1. In most states, whether a church is liable for injuries occurring on its premises will depend on the whether the victim is an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Churches, like any property owner, owe the highest degree of care to invitees, a lesser degree of care to licensees, and a very minimal degree of care to trespassers. As a result, it is more likely that churches will be liable for injuries to persons who meet the definition of an “invitee.”
* A Michigan court ruled that a church was not responsible for injuries sustained by a woman who tripped on a speed bump in the church parking lot. A woman (the “plaintiff”) tripped on a speed bump in a church parking lot. It was dark and the plaintiff was in a hurry. Although she had driven over the speed bump several times in the past and knew it was there, she did not see it on the evening of her injury because of the darkness. The plaintiff sued the church, and the church responded by asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the speed bump was open and obvious and that it did not create an unreasonable risk of harm. The plaintiff insisted that she was not arguing the speed bump was unreasonably dangerous, just that it was not open and obvious because it was not painted in a contrasting color and the lot was too dark for her to see it. A trial court agreed with the church and dismissed the case.
A state appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. It concluded: “A premises possessor owes a duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by dangerous conditions on the premises unless the dangers are open and obvious. Where the dangers are known to the invitee or are so obvious that the invitee might reasonably be expected to discover them, an invitor owes no duty to protect or warn the invitee unless he should anticipate the harm despite knowledge of it on behalf of the invitee …. Plaintiff admitted she knew the speed bump was there. She was aware of the darkness. Under the current case law, the condition was therefore open and obvious to her.” Rorie v. St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, 2010 WL 877545 (Mich. App. 2010).
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