Law, Real Estate, and Retail

Retailer loses appeal in personal-injury case

July 6, 2017
TAGS Menards
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Months after hearing arguments, the Michigan Supreme Court has decided to stay out of a personal-injury case at a big-box store that could have consequences for retailers statewide.

The court said it will let an appeals court decision stand against Menards, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based home improvement chain, which was sued after a shopper was struck by a pickup truck while pushing a cart outside a Bay City store in 2011. Virginia Rawluszki died from her injuries two years later at age 72.

Her family said Menards should have installed stop signs to slow down traffic at a crosswalk. The retailer, however, said the risk of being hit in a parking lot is open and obvious — a key legal standard in Michigan that often protects property owners from liability.

"You've got a square building with a square, rectangular parking lot. There's nothing else around," Menards attorney Alan Sullivan told the Supreme Court in January. "There's nothing else that is different, unusual…at all when you're out there."

But two courts declined to dismiss the lawsuit. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous order Friday, said it won't get involved, leaving an appeals court decision in favor of Rawluszki's family and sending the case back to a Bay County judge for trial or possible settlement.

"It doesn't have the strongest precedent of a written opinion, but it's the second-best thing the Supreme Court could have done: Let a jury decide," said attorney Philip Ellison, who argued on behalf of the family, on Monday.

In a court filing, Sullivan said the presence of vehicles moving in a parking lot should be obvious to "an average person with ordinary intelligence."

The Supreme Court's newest justice, Kurtis Wilder, didn't participate. He was on the panel that heard the case at the appeals court. He wrote in favor of Menards in that 2-1 decision.

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