When we go to a business or a store, we expect that the owner has taken reasonable measures to ensure our safety. We expect that the floors are clean and dry, the products are well-organized, and the aisles are free of clutter. However, accidents can still happen, and sometimes, they are not the fault of the store owner. In some cases, the “open and obvious” doctrine applies, which means that if the hazard is apparent to a reasonable person, then the owner is not responsible for any injuries that occur.
The “open and obvious” doctrine is a legal principle that applies to premises liability cases. Premises liability is an area of law that deals with the duty of care owed by property owners to the people who enter their property. In Illinois, landowners owe business invitees a duty of care to keep their premises reasonably safe. This duty of care includes a duty to warn of hidden dangers and to correct any hazardous conditions that the owner knows or should know about.
However, the open and obvious doctrine can relieve the owner of this duty if the dangerous condition is “open and obvious.” A condition is considered open and obvious if it is one that is visible and apparent to a reasonable person, and the person should be expected to discover it and protect themselves from it. If a hazard is open and obvious, then the owner does not have a duty to warn the person or take any further action to prevent injury.
An example of the open and obvious doctrine in action is the case of McCarty v. Menards. In this case, Robert McCarty and his employee went to a Menard’s home improvement store to purchase materials for a renovation project. They needed sheets of oriented strand board (“OSB”), which are similar to plywood. They found the OSB behind the display signs in the store’s lumber shed. The OSB piles were stacked side-by-side, and the display sign at issue was knee-high with protruding wooden legs.
McCarty moved a few of the top boards from a central OSB pile over to the right side onto an adjacent pile while searching for undamaged boards. Parks did the same on the left side. After McCarty moved a few boards from the middle stack to the right, he tripped over a piece of wood that was part of the display sign in front of the right-hand pile. The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment in favor of Menard based on the open and obvious doctrine.
The district court concluded that a reasonable person in McCarty’s position, who saw that there were signs, chose the stack he wanted by looking at the signs, walked right up to the signs, was working within a few feet of the protruding sign, and either repeatedly stepped over it or turned toward it, would have noticed the large sign and legs as a tripping hazard. On appeal, McCarty argued that the sign was not open and obvious as a matter of law because he was unaware of the display sign prior to tripping. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, stating that the display sign was open and obvious and that even if McCarty was unaware of the sign, a reasonable person in his position would have noticed it.
The open and obvious doctrine is not absolute, and there are exceptions to its application. For example, if the owner should have anticipated that the person would be distracted or prevented from noticing the hazard, then the open and obvious doctrine may not apply. Additionally, the doctrine may not apply if the hazard is not readily apparent or if there is evidence that the owner created the hazard or made it worse.
In conclusion, the open and obvious doctrine is a legal principle that applies to premises liability cases. If a hazardous condition is open and obvious, then the duty of care owed by the property owner or occupier is reduced because a reasonable person would be expected to notice and avoid the danger. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and the application of the open and obvious doctrine can be complicated in some cases. It’s always best to consult with a qualified attorney who can assess the specific circumstances of your case and provide guidance on how to proceed.
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