If you are injured in a fall on a business owner’s premises, a crucial question will be whether the dangerous condition was “open and obvious” to you. The open and obvious doctrine can be a difficult hurdle to overcome for injured victims seeking damages for their injuries, but a case earlier this year may have made that hurdle a little lower.
What is Open and Obvious?
As the name implies, an open and obvious condition is one which is out in the open, and readily observable to anyone demonstrating due care. Generally, we all have a duty to look out for our own safety. This includes avoiding dangerous conditions that are open and obvious.
A bunch of boxes negligently left on a floor may be open and obvious. A spill involving a clear liquid may not be.
There are many cases denying recovery for injuries where victims fell over open and obvious conditions. It is a powerful defense. Fortunately however, one Florida Court has said that just because a dangerous condition may be open and obvious may not be the end of the inquiry.
New Case Still Makes Negligent Businesses Responsible
The case in question involves an experienced trucker who fell on a large oil spill. The trucker acknowledged seeing the spill (and cones blocking the area) even before falling on it. Hearing this, the trial court dismissed the trucker’s case, based on the open and obvious doctrine.
But the appellate court disagreed. The appellate court pointed out that a landowner owes two duties to those on its property lawfully: 1) A duty to warn of dangerous conditions, and 2) A duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition.
The Court agreed that because the spill was open and obvious, that there could be no claim under #1. There is no need to warn someone of something that’s obvious.
But that does not mean that the landowner isn’t liable under #2. Even with open and obvious conditions, there is still a duty to maintain the premises safely. The Court overturned the trial court, and sent the case back for further litigation on whether the land owner maintained the property safely.
Decision Benefits Injured Victims
The case is important for injured victims. Property owners cannot simply neglect their premises and allow dangerous conditions to exist, just because they’re obvious.
This makes common sense. Otherwise, a business owner could completely neglect a dangerous situation just because it’s obvious. Can you imagine a grocery store allowing a wine spill to sit for hours unattended, just because the wine is bright red and obvious? Or allowing a ladder to sit smack in the middle of a shopping aisle for days just because the ladder is easily observable? Any ruling other than this one would allow such absurd situations.
Victims who can prove that a business owner had improper procedures, or failed to clear or fix a dangerous condition, now still have an avenue to recover damages. And, defendants no longer can hide behind the open and obvious doctrine as a shield to protect themselves from liability for their negligent actions.
Slip and fall injuries can be more complex than you may think, and small facts may have big legal ramifications to your case. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury or malpractice case.