What Does “Open and Obvious” Mean in Premises Liability Cases?

Slip and fall accidents are often an issue of premises liability. To put it simply, property owners and those who live or work on a property have an obligation to keep visitors and customers safe from harm. This obligation extends to homeowners, commercial businesses, stores and restaurants that are open to the public, nonprofit organizations, and essentially anyone who allows other people on their property. When someone is injured on your property, you may find yourself on the hook for their medical bills, and other expenses.

The “open and obvious” defense is one way for property owners to protect themselves from premises liability claims. Learn more about this option, and to discuss your premises liability case, call Peake & Fowler at 803-788-4370.

A Property Owner’s Obligation to Visitors

Under South Carolina law, property owners have different levels of duty to different types of visitors. This determines how far you must go to protect them from harm on your property. The categories include invitees, licensees, trespassers, and minors.

Invitees include those who enter property after implied or explicit invitation from the owner of the property. Property owners owe the highest level of care to invitees. Licensees include those who are permitted to be on the property because of the owner’s consent. The licensee is the party that primarily benefits from being on the property. There is a slightly lower duty of care to licensees.

Trespassers are those who enter someone else’s property without invitation, authority, or permission. Property owners do not have a significant legal obligation to trespassers, but they cannot intentionally cause them harm. Children who trespass are a separate category, and property owners are often liable for injuries if their property is considered attractive to children.

Open and Obvious Dangers Are an Exception

There are several defenses for premises liability cases, but the open and obvious defense is one of the most well-known. If a danger is considered open and obvious, the duty to avoid that danger falls on the visitor—not the property owner.

Consider, for example, a large concrete planter on a store’s sidewalk. This should be obvious to anyone approaching it, and as a result, someone who is injured after running into it is unlikely to be successful in a lawsuit against the property owner. A ladder in a retail store that goes up to the highest shelf is obviously there for trained employees to use, not customers. A customer who got on the ladder and hurt themselves on it may or may not be able to get compensation from the property owner.

Determining Whether or Not Something is Open and Obvious

Of course, the tricky part is determining whether or not a specific danger truly is open and obvious. There is no cut-and-dry list of which dangers are open and obvious and which aren’t, so it truly comes down to each claim and how well each side makes their case. This is where it is important to talk to an attorney, whether you are on the receiving end of a premises liability claim or you are the victim of a slip and fall accident.

When You’re Still Liable for Open and Obvious Dangers

The complexity around these cases grows. Even if a danger is considered open and obvious, case law in South Carolina shows that the property owner may still be liable for damages suffered by a victim.

In Creech v. South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Creech fell off of a dock that did not have a safety railing. Initially, the court noted that the dock obviously did not have safety rails, creating a dangerous situation. As a result, it would have been Creech’s responsibility to avoid this danger. However, the case eventually turned in Creech’s favor.

Evidence came out showing that the property owner had been warned of the dangers of a dock without safety rails. Since the owner had reason to believe that the danger could cause harm to a visitor, they were liable.

Find Out How Peake & Fowler Can Help You

If you’ve been injured because of another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation that helps you with medical bills, lost wages, and other accident-related expenses. Let us help. Schedule a consultation with Peake & Fowler now by calling us at 803-788-4370 or contacting us online.