September 03, 2008 Editor's note: The fol-lowing guest column was written by Tom Janicki. Tom and his wife Mary Ann have lived in the Allenton/Almont area for the past 40 years. Tom, who also farmed part time, is retired from a 36 year career with Warner Lambert/Parke Davis in Rochester. He and his wife enjoy hiking the national parks and spending time with their grandkids.
A bill to expand the right to sue property owners has been introduced by Bob Constan (D Dearborn Heights HB 6351). Currently, if a person is injured due to a condition that is "open and obvious," for example ice in a parking lot, a person cannot recover damages against the owner or person in possession of the premises. This bill would overturn that doctrine, and allow individuals to sue and recover damages.
I spent the last 12 years of my working career as the Manager of Facility Maintenance for a 300-acre pharmaceutical complex, and plant safety was a major part of my job. I came to the conclusion that you cannot protect people from accidents who are not cognizant of their surroundings. Protecting from falls on ice is one of the most difficult. Despite thousands of tons of salt and hundreds of overtime hours of salting we still had falls. Employees that are late for their shift will run across winter weather parking lots; some slip on the ice and some even slip on the salt. People on cell phones fall and are injured. People should also take responsibility for their safety. I don't believe any home, business, or property owner can ensure 100% safety for anyone on their property.
Jurists award damages to people who spill hot coffee in their lap in their own car. A woman in a Philadelphia restaurant was awarded $113,000 when she slipped on a spilled soft drink; she threw the drink at her boyfriend during an argument. How much will it cost the property owner to defend themselves against these frivolous lawsuits and judgments? Every property owner in this state will be vulnerable to any con-artist who fakes an injury for personal gain. Land owners will be more reluctant to grant permission for sportsmen to hunt their property.
Our forefathers must have been made of better stock than we are. When settling this country they risked their lives every day from attacks, disease, blizzards, forging rivers, crossing deserts and mountains to a new life in the wilderness. They survived because they had to be aware of their surroundings. Now we have people like Bob Constan thinking we need a lawyer looking over our shoulder every time someone crosses a parking lot, buys a cup of hot coffee or has dinner in a restaurant. Bob is a past president of the Dearborn Area Bar Association and should have an idea of how this bill will overload our court system.
How many more lawyers will be advertising on radio and TV begging to take on any perceived injury case? What do you want to bet our insurance premiums will go up? Think about it, are you more apt to sue or be sued? Call or e-mail your state rep. in Lansing and ask them how they will vote on this bill and how they think their vote will benefit you.
Please don't think that common sense will prevail and this bill will eventually die. That's what I thought about the bill increasing interstate highway truck speed; our lawmakers passed it something like 135 to 8 votes! In Lansing common sense is as plentiful as $2 a gallon gasoline.