What is Florida’s “Obvious Danger” Doctrine?

In Florida premise liability cases, the obvious danger doctrine allows a landowner to avoid liability where the condition that caused the injury was known or obvious to the person who was injured.

In a recent case, a woman sued a market after tripping on a mat outside the public entrance to the store. The woman and her husband went to the market to buy groceries. The couple couldn’t remember if the mat was present at the entrance when they entered the store. However, the woman did remember that she’d seen the mat in front of the door on prior trips to the store.

After they were done shopping the man took the shopping cart of purchases to the car while the woman stayed inside to buy some additional items. The man noticed that an employee was laying the mat at the door as he left. The mat was not perfectly flat.

When the woman left the store, she tripped on the mat and fell, injuring her neck, elbows and knees. Later the husband would testify that a representative of the store claimed they were at fault at the time. The woman filed a premises liability complaint against the store, alleging that it failed to warn of a dangerous condition.

The market responded that the mat was open and obvious and the woman was negligent for not avoiding the mat. It moved for summary judgment on this basis. The trial court granted the summary judgment motion.

The woman argued on appeal that the open and obvious nature of the danger could remove a duty to warn, but it did not remove the market’s duty to maintain its property in a safe condition. A summary judgment is granted only when there are no triable issues of material fact. The woman argued that whether the property was maintained in a safe condition where she fell was a triable issue of fact.

The appellate court explained that the obvious danger doctrine prevents liability from attaching to a landowner where an invited person is injured by a danger that is known or should be obvious to the injured party, unless the owner should be able to anticipate the harm. The court clarified that what must be obvious for this doctrine to apply is not whether the object itself is obvious, but whether its dangerousness is obvious.

The appellate court reasoned that in this case, both the man and woman knew a mat was present. Both knew the mat was not secured. The fact that the mat was not flat or secured was not concealed or hidden from the plaintiff. Therefore the mat was an open and obvious danger.

On the other hand, the appellate court explained, full summary judgment was not appropriate. A landowner must (1) maintain the premises in a safe condition and (2) warn of concealed dangers. The landowner here did not have a duty to warn, but that did not mean it didn’t have a duty to keep the premises in a safe condition. Because there was an issue of material fact regarding whether the store should have expected that invitees would trip over an uneven mat, the appellate court reversed the entry of summary judgment.

Slip and fall cases can be difficult for Florida personal injury lawyers to prove. Therefore, it is important to retain a plaintiff’s attorney with a track record of success in this area who can make sure you get the most favorable outcome possible. Call the experienced South Florida premises liability attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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