If you recently slipped and fell and suffered serious injuries, you may wonder about your compensation rights. While you can typically bring a claim against a negligent property owner under Louisiana’s premises liability laws, the “open and obvious” doctrine could be a factor in determining the validity of your claim.

This legal concept suggests that if a hazard was clear and avoidable to an ordinary person, property owners might not be held liable for any resulting injuries. While this defense has been treated inconsistently in Louisiana courts, property owners can still try to use it against liability claims, affecting your ability to get a fair settlement for your losses after an accident.

Learn more about the state’s open and obvious doctrine and how our Louisiana slip-and-fall lawyers at Dudley DeBosier can help you prove your case and get compensation.

What Is the Open and Obvious Doctrine?

The “open and obvious” doctrine is one factor in determining fault in premise liability cases. This follows from the intuitive idea that if a danger was so clear that the injured party should have seen it, the property owner shouldn’t be at fault for the injured person failing to avoid that danger.

Examples of what may be considered open and obvious dangers include visibly wet floors with prominently placed warning signs and big curbs or steps that you can easily see.

Is the Open and Obvious Defense Always Applicable?

While the open and obvious doctrine can limit property owner liability, it is ultimately a factual determination and may not apply or completely bar recovery in some instances. For example, if a hazard is in a place where people must walk and there’s no alternative route, the property owner might still be held responsible.

It also doesn’t apply in cases where the property owner was negligent and the hazard was not obvious, including:

  • Water spills without warning signs
  • Sudden drop-offs without barriers or signs
  • Poorly secured rugs leading to trips and falls
  • Debris or items blocking walkways and camouflaged by the environment
  • Staircases with broken or missing steps

However, the determination of whether a hazard was open and obvious can quickly get complicated. For instance, in Farrell v. Circle K Stores, Inc., a woman slipped and fell while trying to cross a pool of water in a Circle K parking lot. When she sued for damages, the defendants argued the hazard was open and obvious, but the trial court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Ultimately, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the denial, but the court did clarify that the open and obvious defense was only one factor of several, in determining whether a property owner breached their duty of care.

Still, property owners often try to use the open and obvious defense to limit their liability in accident cases. They do this to shift responsibility to the injured person, suggesting they could have avoided the hazard if they had been more cautious.

How Our Attorneys Can Help You Combat the Open and Obvious Doctrine

If you were injured in a slip-and-fall accident, you need an experienced legal team on your side. Our attorneys at Dudley DeBosier can help you build a strong case against any potential open and obvious defense, to win you fair compensation. We can do the following:

  • Gather Solid Evidence: Our attorneys collect and analyze evidence to challenge the open and obvious claim, including photos of the accident scene, witness statements, and maintenance records, to demonstrate that the hazard was not as apparent as claimed.
  • Engage Expert Testimony: We engage experts in fields such as safety engineering to testify that the hazard, while possibly visible, was not necessarily obvious to a reasonable person, undermining the property owner’s defense.
  • Highlight Property Owner Negligence: We focus on proving that the property owner failed to maintain a safe environment, such as not providing adequate warning signs or fixing known hazards contributing to the accident.
  • Argue the Severity of the Hazard: We emphasize the dangerous nature of the hazard, regardless of its visibility, to argue that it posed an unreasonable risk that the property owner should have mitigated.
  • Demonstrate Limited Avoidance Options: Our team can show that you had limited or no alternative options to avoid the hazard, countering the argument that you could have simply walked around or avoided the dangerous area.

In slip-and-fall cases, the open and obvious doctrine can impact the outcome of legal proceedings. While property owners may use this defense to avoid liability, you have options for challenging it and seeking damages.

At Dudley DeBosier, we can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a free case review and let us advise you on the next steps for your claim.

Disclaimer: This content has been reviewed by Chad Lederman, Director of Legal Operations at our New Orleans office.

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