Supreme Court takes to the road once again

The Michigan Supreme Court normally hears oral arguments at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, but it also holds hearings throughout Michigan as part of its “Court Community Connection” program.
The effort is aimed at helping high school students gain a better understanding of Michigan’s judicial branch.
On Thursday, April 15, Berrien County high school students will attend argument, study case and meet the justices at the Mendel Center Auditorium on the campus of Lake Michigan College.
One case the court will be hearing involves one in which a man washing his car on a cold March day at a Genesee County car wash slipped and fell, breaking a wrist.
The dispute centers on whether  his claim against the car wash involves negligence or rather a premises liability claim that could be barred under the “open and obvious danger” doctrine?
The plaintiff in Kachudas v Invaders Self Auto Wash, Inc. sued the car wash contending that 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.
However, in an opinion handed down last September, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, sending the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings.
Two of the judges on the three-judge appellate panel concluded that Kachudas’ case “is not based on the alleged existence of a dangerous condition on the premises … [but] concerning conduct that sounds in negligence.”
The third judge concurred that the lower court’s decision should be reversed, but for a different reason: “In my view, plaintiff pleaded a premises liability claim but that claim should not have been dismissed because there was no evidence of any open and obvious danger for a reasonable person to casually observe.”
In preparation for the justices’ visit, the Berrien County students and teachers are studying the case with help from local attorneys. Following the argument, the students will meet with attorneys in the case for a debriefing.
Berrien County Circuit Court 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.”