What Does “Open and Obvious” Mean in a Slip and Fall Claim?

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Slip and fall accidents are responsible for over one million ER visits annually in the U.S. They can often lead to broken bones, spinal cord injuries, and brain trauma, leaving victims with medical expenses and a loss of enjoyment of life.

Like most states, Florida has premises liability laws for businesses and landlords that hold property owners liable for injuries to visitors if they fail to maintain a safe environment. However, property owners often use the “open and obvious” defense to avoid responsibility and put the blame on the injured party.

If you were hurt in a slip and fall accident, the open and obvious doctrine could impact your right to seek compensation. Working with a Florida slip and fall injury lawyer can help you fight against this defense and get a fair settlement for your injuries.

What is the Open and Obvious Defense?

The open and obvious defense is a doctrine that property owners often use to avoid liability. It says that a property owner may not be held liable for injuries if the dangerous condition was so obvious that the visitor could reasonably be expected to notice and avoid it. Situations where the defense might be used include:

  • A puddle of water on the floor with “Caution: Wet Floor” warning signs placed around it.
  • Uneven flooring with conspicuous markings or barriers indicating the hazard.
  • Clearly visible debris or obstacles in a pathway with ample space to navigate around them.

Florida courts have consistently supported the open and obvious doctrine as a valid defense for property owners. For instance, in Trugreen Landcare, LLC v. Lacapra (2018), Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the defendant. In this case, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries after stepping off a sidewalk into a planter bed and falling.

The court found the planter’s uneven ground to be an open and obvious hazard, relieving the property owner of the duty to warn. This shows how the doctrine can be used to reduce property owner liability.

Are There Exceptions to an Open and Obvious Hazard?

While the open and obvious defense is a strong argument for property owners, there are exceptions that can still hold them liable for injuries, including:

  • Property Owner Knowledge: This covers cases where the property owner either knew or should have known about the potential for visitors to get injured by a hazard on their property. Even if the danger is apparent, the property owner has an obligation to prevent harm. It emphasizes that owners must act to reduce foreseeable risks; simply because a hazard is visible doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to ignore it with no effort to remove or mitigate the danger to visitors.
  • Negligence Per Se: This involves cases where the injury occurred due to the property owner’s violation of a health or safety statute. Essentially, if a property owner breaks a specific law designed to protect safety, their failure to comply can be considered negligence in itself, regardless of the hazard’s visibility.

In Carroll v. Carnival Corp. (2020), the plaintiff tripped over a lounge chair leg in a narrow walkway, her view obstructed by her husband. As she admitted to not looking down, the trial court dismissed her claim. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned this decision, emphasizing the cruise line’s duty to maintain safe walkways beyond just warning about obvious dangers.

This case illustrates that property owners may still be required to exercise reasonable care in preventing foreseeable harm, even when hazards appear open and obvious.

How an Attorney Can Help You Overcome This Defense

Slip and fall claims can be especially hard to prove, even more so when the other party uses the open and obvious defense. A Miami personal injury lawyer from Aigen Injury Law can help you overcome this defense by:

  • Investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident to determine if any exceptions apply.
  • Gathering evidence to demonstrate that the hazard was more dangerous than it appeared or that reasonable alternatives were unavailable.
  • Presenting arguments and case law to challenge the open and obvious defense application.
  • Negotiating with insurance companies or representing you in court to secure fair compensation for your injuries.

Get Qualified Legal Representation for Your Slip and Fall Case

At Aigen Injury Law, we protect the rights of South Florida accident victims. Our legal team has years of experience with premises liability laws in the state and can help you refute any claims that you were responsible for your injuries in a slip and fall.

We can investigate your claim, gather evidence, and present a solid claim to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a no-obligation, free case review.