The Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order, has refused to throw out Sheri Schooley's lawsuit against Texas Roadhouse in suburban Detroit. Liberal justices were in the majority in a decision that raises questions about what businesses need to do to protect themselves from liability in strange situations.
Schooley, 58, acknowledged it's a "bizarre story." She and her husband were out for dinner on New Year's Eve 2007 when she visited the restroom.
"I reached and the cover of the toilet paper dispenser fell down on my hand," the South Rockwood woman told The Associated Press on Monday. "It looked like the dispenser was up but it wasn't latched. At first I thought I was all right. I thought it was just bruised."
But the pain didn't fade, she said, and her husband had to cut her steak. When Schooley returned to work, she couldn't use a stapler. Diagnosis: broken bone.
Three years later, "I still cannot use the hand. I have no grip," said Schooley, who had to quit her job as an administrative assistant because she couldn't type.
A Wayne County judge and the state appeals court have refused the restaurant's request to dismiss the lawsuit. The Supreme Court has twice followed the lower courts, most recently in an order released Saturday.
There is no evidence that restaurant employees inspected "toilet paper dispensers to see if they were closed," Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote.
"It is not for this court but rather for a jury to decide if the dispenser that harmed her constituted a dangerous condition," she said.
The court's three conservative justices said the liberal majority was overreaching. In a biting dissent, Justice Stephen Markman noted that the restroom was checked for wet floors and other obvious problems every 15 to 30 minutes.
Texas Roadhouse "apparently also had a legal duty to inspect for hazards that could not reasonably have been anticipated, such as a toilet paper dispenser opening unexpectedly," Markman wrote sarcastically.
Restaurant lawyer Scott Feuer was disappointed with the decision.
"If the court is going to find something as innocuous as a toilet paper dispenser as a dangerous condition, then what wouldn't be?" he said.
Schooley said 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."