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Mich Sup. Court: Woman Can Sue Over Toilet Paper Dispenser Injury

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 07, 2010 11:46 AM

On the face of it, it sounds like one of those decisions that leads to ridiculous warnings like: "Caution, Contents Hot" on a cup of coffee. However, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who was injured by the toilet paper dispenser in a restaurant bathroom will proceed to a jury trial.

On New Year's Eve, 2007, Sheri Schooley and her husband were at the Texas Roadhouse in the suburbs of Detroit. When she went to the restroom, the toilet paper dispenser fell onto Schooley's hand, reports the Associated Press.

Schooley says her hand was broken and years later, she still has lost most of the use of her hand. She has had to give up her job as an administrative assistant because she can no longer type and the injury has also impacted some of her ability to crochet and bowl.

The court focused on the actual knowledge the restaurant owners had of the condition of the dispenser. In other words, since the restaurant was shown to have known of the condition, that may have impacted the actions they should have taken next, i.e., fix the container or warn of the problem. Questions like these will be left for a jury to decide.

In a sarcastic dissent, according to the AP, the court's more conservative justices thought the liability for the risk posed by a toilet paper dispenser outside the bounds of reasonable jurisprudence. As Justice Stephan Markman wrote for the dissent, "apparently [the restaurant] also had a legal duty to inspect for hazards that could not reasonably have been anticipated, such as a toilet paper dispenser opening unexpectedly."

On the one hand, it does sound unreasonable to call "something as innocuous as a toilet paper dispenser as a dangerous condition," as the restaurant's attorney Scott Feuer told the AP. On the other hand, Sheri Schooley is still living with the consequences of her injury including the effect on both her work and play. Schooley told the AP she still bowls, but was forced to switch to her left hand.

"My average used to be 140. Now it's 95 to 100," she said. "Quite a drop."

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