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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 92559
Experience:  JA Mentor -Attorney Labor/employment, corporate, sports law, admiralty/maritime and civil rights law
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I live in grandville, Michigan and last Thursday I experienced

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I live in grandville, Michigan and last Thursday I experienced an automotive flooding accident. After arriving home around 11 am I borrowed my mother in law's car (1996 Saturn) to pick up something to eat. As I drove down Chicago Drive, I noticed there were a few inches of water in the road but it was passable. The only place that I found open was a McDonald's restaurant and picked up an order in the drivethru. As I was about to leave I noticed that the parking lot was covered with water. I drove around the store and observed that all exits were covered with water - it was like an island (the entrance was dry but was only one way and had a lot of traffic going by). I had heard that some flooding occured in the area but thought this to have affected areas further away. There were no signs or anyone from the restaurant directing traffic and I looked for the safest exit. When I tried to follow that route, the car apparently struck something underwater and the car could not move either forward or backward. The water turned out be a lot deeper than I expected and I feelt the water starting to enter the cabin and quickly rose to the seat level. I immediately turned the car off and waded out of the car and called a wrecker. He towed it to the shop and it is now being evaluated for repair costs which apparently will be well over $1,000.

Although I know the flooding itself is an act of God, it would seem to me that the restaurant being open in that flooded situation (no other stores or restaurants were open in that area which normally were open at that time) "drew" me in to that situation and then provided no direction to safely exit and therefore would be at least partially responible for my accident. According to the manager, out of 500 cars that came there that night, only two got stuck. He does not feel that they have any responsibility for what happened and are not financially liable.

Is this true? Are there any legal actions I could take to force them to help pay for the damages?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking.

I am afraid that because the flooding was a "superseding intervening cause" of your damage, the property owner would not be liable for damage occurring on their property. The fact is that a property owner is liable for only known dangerous objects on their property that cause harm. The property owner here would argue that had there been no flooding, over which they had no control, the object you struck would have been readily visible and you would have had notice it was there.

The fact that the store remained open in dangerous conditions does not make them liable I am afraid, you have to prove that they knew of the danger that was present in the lot and it was concealed (not by some intervening act of God) and they failed to provide adequate notice or warning of the hidden danger. This is the premise of premises liability law, the owner's duty to protect from known hazards. Of course, in negligence law, a superseding intervening cause of harm can negate the property owner's liability and that is what has happened here, the flood waters intervened to make something that was ordinarily visible invisible and that is not the fault of the owner of the property.

In addition, in a court suit, the store will argue that because of the hazardous conditions of flood waters as a driver you should have been using extra caution, which would include not driving in such hazardous conditions where you could not see the road or the ground because of the flood water and they will turn the liability around on you for not exercising proper caution.



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Customer: replied 1 year ago.


Just to clarify, are you saying the restaurant has no legal liability to its customers even though they were open under flooded conditions and provided no safe direction or assistance to the customers after enticing them to enter the flooded area? Legal or not, does it not seem logical that since I would not have entered their flooded area if they were not open, I would not have been "endangered" and experience the costly accident?


 


If I invited someone over to my home to have a meal with me and as he later left my property, he slipped on something on the steps and seriously hurt himself, I am sure he could sue me and I would be considered liable. Why should it be different for a business?

Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your follow up.

What I am saying is that given the superseding intervening factor, the flooding which was an act of God, the owner has no liability for the damage. In your example, if someone slipped and fell down your steps at your home, you are not automatically liable. You are only liable if there was some defect in the steps or you left ice on the steps and did not properly remove the ice or did not properly warn the person of the ice being on the steps. You can be sued, but people can sue for anything and that does not mean just because they sue you that they would win as they still bear the burden of proof you knew of a hidden danger and failed to warn or fix the danger.

Not every accident that occurs on the property of another makes the owner of the property liable, this is not a strict liability tort in MI. You have to prove that the owner knew of the defect and failed to warn, but again in this case there was another factor that intervened to relieve them of liabilty. I am not saying that absent the flooding the store might or might not have been liable, I am saying based on the intervening factor, they are not going to have liability.

Furthermore, you made a conscious decision to be driving in a flood, you cannot blame them for being open for your conscious decision to drive in flood water I am afraid. They will use this against you in court and it generally will be one of (not the only) the prevailing factors in their defense.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.


You discuss the water as a kind of "visible obstacle" and I see it as the real threat. The car was damaged much more by the water than the underwater obstacle. I did not know there was a flooded condition around the restaurant or in that area. I only saw a couple of inches of water on the road on the way to the restaurant. I could not see the water in the parking lot until I had pulled in and ran through the drive through.


 


I just feel that the restaurant should not have been open to entice the customers into a potentially dangerous situation and provide no effort or means to ensure the customers safe exit. I am sure they knew the restaurant was surrounded by the water and to me that should make them negligent and financially liable.

Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 1 year ago.
The water is a real threat, one that is visible and also one that is out of the control of the owner of the property who you are looking to blame for you driving through standing water you could not see to the bottom of.

The liability is no more your intentional fault than it is the owner's fault. You drove through standing water that you misjudged the depth of and did not know what was underneath and the owner of the property did not put the flood water there either.

Thus, legally neither party is at fault for this damage, it is damage that occurred, but not all damage that occurs is the actual fault of anyone and if you cannot prove causation and knowledge of the hidden defect in court you cannot win on a claim.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 92559
Experience: JA Mentor -Attorney Labor/employment, corporate, sports law, admiralty/maritime and civil rights law
Law Educator, Esq. and 10 other Legal Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 1 year ago.


Thank you for your clear counsel. It was not quite what I was hoping for but at least I feel I have pursued this path as far as I need to.


 


I will keep this service in mind for any future legal issues I might have.

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