What Is an “Open and Obvious” Hazard in a Florida Premises Liability Case?

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.

In Florida, the open and obvious doctrine provides that a landowner is not liable for injuries caused by the dangerous condition of the land when the danger is known or obvious, unless the owner would anticipate those injuries. This is because the landowner may presume that by using their own senses, the guest will perceive the hazard, and there is no need to warn them.

However, there are still ways to hold landowners accountable for on-site injuries, even when the hazard was open and obvious. While the open and obvious doctrine means landowners need not warn guests of dangers in particular circumstances, they still have a duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition. Florida courts have previously ruled that while an obvious danger means the landowner does not need to warn others, they can still be at fault for failing to maintain a safe premises. Even when the circumstance is open and obvious, property owners should anticipate others will encounter the hazard, and can still be found negligent for failing to maintain the premises. Although this likely means the plaintiff could be found to have partially contributed to their own injuries, the landowner can still be apportioned blame.

Because defendants will often try to use the open and obvious argument as a defense for their actual negligence in maintaining a property, potential plaintiffs should consult an experienced premises liability attorney experienced in overcoming these common defenses.

Have You Been Injured on Another Person’s Property?

If you or someone you know was injured while on another’s land, contact the dedicated Florida premises liability attorneys at Friedman, Rodman Frank & Estrada, P.A. We will help hold the responsible parties accountable while getting you the compensation you deserve. Our experienced attorneys handle all types of Florida personal injury cases, including premises liability, car accidents, and wrongful death claims. To discuss your legal matter, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation.

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