By a 55-51 margin, today the State House passed HB 4686. This bill seeks to effectively give all cities, townships and other municipalities full immunity from civil liability due to defective sidewalks.
Under current law, to prove a sidewalk defect case the plaintiff must show the defective sidewalk had at least a 2 inch vertical differential compared to the adjacent sidewalk slab. This is knows as the “2 inch” rule. As I explained in a prior blog post, the new law allows municipalities to utilize the open and obvious defense in sidewalk cases, thus making it virtually impossible to bring any sidewalk claim.
Under the open and obvious law, landowners are not responsible for hazards or defects on their premises if the hazard is considered “open and obvious” and there to be seen. Currently, the open and obvious defense can only be used by private landowners. House Bill 4686 seeks to change this by allowing cities and townships to use the defense as well.
In reality, if HB 4686 becomes the law, municipalities will be completely immune from any and all lawsuits due to injuries caused by a sidewalk.
The reason is simple. Cities and towns are already protected by the 2-inch rule. This 2-inch variation is inherently open and obvious. A 2-inch vertical difference is there to be seen by the average person. Therefore, it would be impossible to prove both a 2-inch differential, yet claim this differential is not open and obvious.
The result is tragic. Everyday citizens will not be able to seek any compensation for injuries sustained due to a city not properly maintaining its sidewalks. If passed by the state Senate and signed by Governor Snyder, cities and townships throughout the state of Michigan will have no incentive to make necessary repairs. Private health insurance carriers, Medicaid or Medicare will not get paid back for claims it paid on behalf of their injured beneficiaries.
The entire proposal is a financial money grab by state municipalities and the City of Detroit in particular. Instead of paying out rightful claims to its own citizens, cities will simply hoard over taxpayer money.
The bill that passed the House will now move onto the Senate. I’m hopeful the Senate takes a more deliberative approach. The House Bill solves no problems. It only rewards decades of incompetence by the City of Detroit.