To prevent injuries on their land, landowners must inform guests of any hidden dangers they might encounter. However, property owners will often try to escape liability by claiming the danger is open and obvious and, thus, they do not need to warn others about the hazard. The open and obvious doctrine provides that if a dangerous condition is so obvious and apparent to a reasonable person, the owner does not need to tell guests about the danger and is not liable if a person is injured after failing to notice the hazard.
A recent state supreme court case discussed whether a church was negligent after the plaintiff was seriously injured after tripping on the top step of the stairs. The plaintiff, despite previously using the steps a few minutes before, fell while carrying a casket out of the church. The plaintiff brought a premises liability lawsuit against the landowner, alleging the dangerous condition of the property caused his injury.
However, the defendant asserted that the condition of the top step was an open and obvious condition, meaning the church was not liable under a premises liability theory. The court relied on the specific facts of the case to make its determination: the top step was composed of a different material than the other steps, and the top step was an extra four inches higher than the others. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the top step’s look was different from the others, and the plaintiff had already used the steps before, the danger was open and obvious. Therefore the defendant was not liable for failing to warn the plaintiff.