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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

What Is the Open and Obvious Doctrine in Ohio? – Understanding This Defense

Any person who owns, occupies, or manages a property or land is legally responsible for keeping those premises free of hazardous conditions that could harm visitors.

However, accidents and injuries can occur at any time. In these cases, property owners can be found responsible for the damage that victims sustained. To avoid this, many use the open and obvious defense, stating that the hazard was blatant and inevitable.

When defendants successfully use the open and obvious doctrine, this argument can take the blame from the negligent party and place it unfairly on the injured person. Therefore, victims should understand this defense and work with an experienced personal injury attorney to counter these claims and prove that the property owner was at fault.

What Is Premises Liability?

What Is Premises Liability?

Before taking legal action against the owner of a property where the accident occurred, victims should understand what premises liability is.

Under premises liability law, property owners are required to make sure all buildings or spaces they own, control, or occupy are reasonably safe.

If this duty is breached and someone is injured as a result, victims can file premises liability claims to recover compensation for their damages and losses.

Most premises liability cases involve the following:

  • Slippery floors

  • Uneven surfaces

  • Negligent security

  • Poor maintenance, especially when related to stairways and railings

  • Insufficient lighting

  • Parking lots and outside walkways that aren't treated for ice or snow

  • Dog bites or animal attacks

  • Slipping, tripping, and falling on unsafe surfaces

  • Swimming pool accidents

While property owners have a duty to alert visitors about these hazardous situations, Ohio law recognizes that if there is an "open and obvious" danger, their responsibility is lessened.

What Is the Open and Obvious Doctrine?

Essentially, the open and obvious doctrine is used as a defense to a premises liability claim. It indicates that the defendant isn't responsible for the injuries the victim sustained because they knew about the dangerous situation and should have avoided that unhidden risk.

In this regard, the open and obvious doctrine seeks to place the blame on the victim, considering them liable for failing to avoid the danger they should have recognized.

What Ohio Law Says About the Open and Obvious Doctrine

Ohio courts have made it clear that property owners have no duty to visitors regarding an "open and obvious" hazard because it serves as its own warning if it's apparent and out in the open.

In this scenario, the open and obvious defense suggests that the property owner may have reasonably expected guests to notice the danger and do what was necessary to protect themselves.

Also, the open and obvious doctrine withdraws the duty to warn visitors of dangers and protect them. Therefore, it acts as a complete bar to a negligence claim.

Does the Open and Obvious Rule Always Favor Property Owners?

Property owners can use the open and obvious doctrine as a defense in many ways. However, that doesn't mean that it will always favor them.

In some premises liability cases, risks were apparent and qualified as an "open and obvious" condition, discharging the duty to warn. However, courts have determined that those open and obvious hazards did not discharge the property owner's responsibility to make sure the property was safe. As a result, plaintiffs still had valid personal injury claims.

Proving Negligence in a Premises Liability Case

It's important to understand that Ohio property owners aren't always responsible for visitors' injuries unless they fail to warn them about a known and obvious hazardous condition.

In this regard, according to negligence per se laws, victims must prove the following elements in order to establish liability in these cases:

Duty of Care

The plaintiff should demonstrate that the property owner (defendant) owed them a duty of care, which is their legal obligation to avoid hurting others.

Keeping a property in a safe condition and warning visitors of hidden hazards is an example of this element of negligence.

Breach of Duty

Victims must also prove that the property owner breached the duty of care, meaning that they failed to avoid harming others by doing or not doing something they should have done.

When an employee fails to post a sign to inform customers of a potential hazard after mopping the floor, they're breaching the duty of care.

The Breach Caused the Injury

Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the injury resulted from the property owner's breach of duty of care. That means they must demonstrate that the other party's failure to keep the property in a safe condition or to inform them about a hazard caused the harm they suffered.

If a store owner fails to warn customers about a liquid spill on the floor, and they fall and sustain an injury, victims could prove this element of negligence, for example.

However, it's important to understand that proving all elements of negligence does not mean victims will win the case. Many end up fighting their cases in the Court of Appeals because it was first ruled that there was no claim.

This often happens when the defendant uses the open and obvious doctrine as a defense to argue that the victims are liable for the accident and their injuries.

Do Victims Need Help from a Premise Liability Lawyer?

Do Victims Need Help from a Premise Liability Lawyer?

Victims may need help from a slip and fall lawyer at any time throughout the case, but this becomes essential when the defendant uses the open and obvious doctrine as a defense.

Premises liability cases can be difficult to prove. However, an attorney specializing in this area can help victims gather the evidence they need to prove that they were not responsible for the accident that injured them.

Additionally, an experienced premises liability attorney will go the extra mile to recover fair compensation for victims, including awards that cover their physical harm and non-economic damages. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also answer questions like What is the slip and fall law in Ohio?

Call Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys Today!

Anyone who needs help handling premises liability claims can contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys today, especially if it involves the use of the open and obvious doctrine, and getting their cases reviewed.

We know the rules established by the Ohio Supreme Court and handle premises liability cases as part of our practice areas. Furthermore, we're ready to go to war for victims. Call us today!


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