You’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident, or perhaps another type of accident. At some point, you may come across the term “open and obvious.” While property owners do have an obligation to maintain a safe environment on their property, there are defenses they can use to avoid liability.
Learn more about the open and obvious defense, and to discuss your claim in greater detail, call Reeves & Mestayer at 228-374-5151.
Claims Involving the Open and Obvious Defense
The open and obvious defense comes up in premises liability cases. These include:
- An object falling on you
- Slipping and falling in a business or in someone’s home
- Slipping and falling in someone’s driveway, parking lot, or outdoor steps
- Snow and ice accidents
- Accidents involving poorly maintained or defective properties
- Elevator and escalator accidents
Defining Open and Obvious
When someone is on a property owner’s property—with the obvious exclusion of trespassers, to whom other rules apply—the owner has an obligation to avoid hazardous conditions. If the hazardous condition is considered “open and obvious,” the property owner may not be liable for the injuries suffered by the victim.
Laws vary between states. Per the Mississippi Supreme Court, an open and obvious hazard can still be dangerous enough that the property owner is liable for subsequent injuries. A claim of an open and obvious hazard is not enough to waive liability.
Determining Whether an Obstacle is Open and Obvious
What makes an obstacle open and obvious? This largely comes down to the determination of the court. To determine whether something is obvious, the court may look at the obstacle and ask whether an average person of average intelligence would notice the obstacle and avoid it.
One reason that these matters vary between states is because of the difference in weather conditions. For example, those who live in Michigan are presumed to be familiar with ice, snow, and the dangers they pose. As a result, obvious snow and ice conditions typically do not require the property owner to notify visitors. In Mississippi, where ice and snow are less common, an owner might be expected to alert visitors to the potential hazard.
You’ve noticed “Wet Floor” signs and “Falling Debris” signs at retail stores and construction sites. These are often in place to make those hazards open and obvious. If a shopper slips and falls on a wet floor, but the business can prove that they had a properly placed “Wet Floor” sign, the business may not be held liable.
Exceptions to the Open and Obvious Defense
Whether or not the open and obvious rule works for a defendant depends largely on the circumstances of the case. In some cases, the court may simply find that the obstacle was not open and obvious, despite the property owner’s indications otherwise. Consider again the example of a “Wet Floor” sign. In this case, the “Wet Floor” sign was placed off of the main path, behind a rack of clothes. A shopper would notice it if they were looking for it, but they’d be unlikely to see it when walking on the wet floor. In this case, the store may be liable.
An open and obvious hazard may still create a liability issue for the property owner if the hazard is unavoidable. Consider a store with only one exit. The exit has an uneven step down to the outside of the store. Even if someone should be able to see the uneven step and avoid it, the owner may be liable if the visitor could not have avoided the uneven stair.
Premises liability cases are not always cut-and-dry, which is why it’s important to discuss your case with a personal injury attorney. It may seem obvious to you that an obstacle was not visible and could not be avoided, but that doesn’t mean your claim will be successful. Your attorney will be able to analyze the evidence and determine the possible outcomes for your claim.
Contact Reeves & Mestayer to Discuss Your Case Now
Hiring an attorney should be your first priority after a slip and fall accident. Our team is here to guide you through this process and fight for the compensation you’re due. Get started now by calling us at 228-374-5151 or contacting our team online.