Look Before You Leap: Open and obvious hazards

What you need to know about Open and Obvious Hazards

Slip and fall injuries are common in Ohio, but if a hazard is “open and obvious,” the property owner may not be responsible for your injuries.

open and obvious, personal injury, premises liability
Property owners are generally not liable for injuries caused by open and obvious hazards. Photo Credit: Jonathan Pendleton / CC BY 2.0

Proving negligence in a slip and fall case

To better understand the open and obvious doctrine, let’s start with the basics of negligence. Generally speaking, Ohio property owners are not responsible for injuries to their guests unless they know of a dangerous condition and fail to provide an adequate warning.

To prove negligence in Ohio, an injury victim must prove the following:

Elements of Negligence Definition Example
1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a “duty of care” A legal obligation to prevent harm to visitors Store owners  must keep their store “in a reasonably safe condition” and warn customers of hidden dangers
2.They breached that duty The property owner did (or didn’t do) something they should have An employee failed to put out a caution sign after he mopped the floor
3. The breach caused the injury Their failure to maintain the property or warn you about something dangerous was the reason you got hurt You didn’t notice the danger, slipped on the wet floor and broke your arm

 

Unfortunately, in many instances, even where each element of negligence has been met and a slip and fall accident has caused serious injuries, no legal claim exists. One of the many ways a property owner may defend a premises liability claim is to use the open and obvious defense.

Open and Obvious

In Ohio, courts have repeatedly held that property owners have no duty to people entering their premises regarding dangers that are open and obvious. The basis of this legal concept is that any obviously dangerous hazard serves as its own warning (like an enormous hole in the ground.) Therefore, a property owner may reasonably expect their invitees to notice the danger and do what is needed to protect themselves. As a rule, since open-and-obvious doctrine removes the duty to warn, it acts as a complete bar to any negligence claims.

Related post: Negligence Per Se Lawsuits

Latent Dangers

In addition to owing invitees a duty of ordinary care in maintaining their property, an owner or occupier of property also has a duty to warn an invitee of dangerous hidden conditions. That means if the property owner purposely hides a dangerous condition or fails to warn invited guests of a hidden danger, the owner may be responsible for a victim’s injuries.

But I didn’t see it!

It is important to remember that the dangerous condition itself does not actually have to be seen by the plaintiff to be an open and obvious condition under the law. In a premises liability claim, generally, your conduct is usually immaterial. That means if you got hurt because you were looking at your phone and not paying attention, the property owner is not responsible for your injury. However, even if a condition was open and obvious, the property owner could still be liable if he or she created “attendant circumstances” – unusual situations that distracted you at the time of your fall.

Do I need a lawyer for my slip and fall case?

Premises liability claims can be difficult to prove. If you were hurt in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately to review the merits of your case. An attorney can help collect and preserve evidence; negotiate with insurance companies and help recover compensation for injuries, missed work, and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.

 

 

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