Archived Story

Supreme Court hearing oral arguments at LMC

Published 8:36am Thursday, April 1, 2010

LANSING  – A man washing his car on a cold March day at a Genesee County car wash slipped and fell, breaking a wrist.

Is his claim against the car wash one for negligence – or is it a premises liability claim that could be barred under the “open and obvious danger” doctrine?

That’s the question the Michigan Supreme Court will consider when it hears oral argument in Kachudas v Invaders Self Auto Wash Inc. on April 15 at the Mendel Center on the campus of Lake Michigan College.

The plaintiff in Kachudas sued the car wash, contending its owner was negligent.
A heating system, designed to keep ice from forming on the car wash floor, was not working when the plaintiff began washing his car.

The plaintiff claims that, although the owner knew that the heating system was malfunctioning at the time, he failed to warn the public or close the car wash.

But a circuit court judge found that the case was not about negligence, but about premises liability, specifically whether a dangerous condition existed at the car wash.

Under the “open and obvious danger” doctrine, the car wash was not liable because the hazards of an icy floor on a cold day should have been “open and obvious” to the plaintiff, the circuit court concluded in dismissing the case.

But the Court of Appeals reversed, with two of the three judges holding that the case was really about the car wash owner’s conduct, not about a condition on the property. The Supreme Court has ordered oral argument in the case.

While the Supreme Court normally hears oral argument at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, it also holds hearings at communities throughout Michigan as part of its “Court Community Connection” program, which is aimed principally at helping high school students have a better understanding of Michigan’s judicial branch.

The Berrien County event is the sixth oral argument that the court has held off-site as part of “Court Community Connections.”

Students from Berrien County high schools will attend the 1 p.m. session at the Mendel Center auditorium on the campus of Lake Michigan College.

Students and teachers will study the case in advance with help from local attorneys.
Following the argument, the students will meet with attorneys in the case for a debriefing.

Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly thanked the organizers.

“Many Berrien County groups have helped make this educational opportunity possible,” she said. “The court thanks Lake Michigan College, Berrien County judges and staff, Berrien County Bar Association, Berrien County Regional Education Service Agency, Berrien Community Foundation and community educators and students for supporting this event. My colleagues and I are honored to hear this case in Berrien’s beautiful lakeside community.”

Berrien County 2nd Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Alfred Butzbaugh said the opportunity for students to experience the appellate courts first-hand will help them better understand Michigan’s judicial system.

“Most citizens have some understanding of what goes on in a trial court; fewer understand the appellate courts,” he said. “By inviting the Michigan Supreme Court to Berrien County, we hope students, teachers, parents and community alike will have a better grasp of the courts and the justice system in everyday life.”

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