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What is an open and obvious danger for premises liability?

In July, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided a premises liability case that dealt with open and obvious dangers. In general, a property owner is not liable if the danger is easily spotted.

The Mercedes-Benz dealer in Oklahoma City hosted a catered event. A woman working the event had to cross grass and a sidewalk coated in ice. Precipitation was not the cause and the roads were not slick. The dealer’s sprinkler system had been activated overnight while the temperature was below the freezing point causing the ice. Even while walking carefully down an incline, the woman slipped, fell onto her back and suffered injuries.

When she told a dealership employee about the accident, the employee said, “[y]eah, I should have [put salt down] when I got here.”

A landowner’s duty of care varies based on the entrant’s status. When an individual is invited onto a property, the landowner owes the highest duty to keep the premises “in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of conditions which [are] in the nature of hidden dangers, traps, snares or pitfalls.”

The Supreme Court held that Mercedes-Benz owed a duty to protect from the icy conditions caused by its own sprinklers. This was not the open and obvious-type danger that might occur with a natural condition, such as an ice storm. The dealership knew about the condition and it was foreseeable that employees of a catering company would encounter the dangerous condition.

To be successful in a tort (negligence) claim, an individual must prove that a duty was owed, the other party breached that duty, and the breach caused damage. Here, the court held that Mercedes-Benz owed the employees of the catering company a duty to take precautionary measures. Whether Mercedes-Benz breached the duty was, however, left for a jury to decide.

As this case demonstrates, premises liability cases are complex. Guidance from an experienced personal injury attorney is often the only way to recognize whether you might have a claim.

Source: Findlaw, Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma CityOklahoma Supreme Court, July 16, 2014.

 

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