The Obvious Danger Doctrine

One defense that a property owner can make in a premises liability case is that the dangerous condition which caused an injury was such an open and obvious danger that the injured person should have known to avoid it. As stated in Aaron v. Palatka Mall, 908 So2d 574 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005), the obvious danger test is not whether the object is obvious, but whether the dangerous condition of the object is obvious. This test was recently applied in the case of De Cruz-Haymer v. Festival Food Market, Inc. 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1581a, when the defendant store owners filed for summary judgment based on obvious danger doctrine.

In De Cruz-Haymer v. Festival Food Market, a patron slipped and fell on a mat in front of a store that was not lying completely flat. The mat was not fastened down in any way and was lying in such a manner where there were “humps” raised in the mat. The patron injured her neck, back, elbows, knees, and had cut over her left eye when she tripped on the mat. The patron then filed suit against the store alleging negligence, failing to maintain its premises, and failing to warn of the dangerous condition. The store filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the mat was an open and obvious danger as a matter of law and under the obvious danger doctrine, the store was not liable and the case should not even be allowed to go to the jury. Their argument was that because the patron saw the mat and knew it was there (open and obvious), it was her fault that she didn’t avoid the “humps” in the mat and that she caused her own injuries by failing to step over the “humps.” The patron and her attorney argued that the obvious danger doctrine may relieve the store of a duty to warn customers about the mat itself; it does not discharge the store’s duty to maintain its property in a safe condition, like ensuring that mats are laid out in a safe manner. Ultimately, the appeals court agreed with the patron and decided that the case must go to the jury for them to decide whether the patron’s knowledge that the mat was there raises any issue of comparative negligence on her part. This case stands for the fact that just because a customer of a store knows about an object (like a mat on the floor), it does not mean they know of any and all potential dangerous conditions of the object (like the mat having humps in it that could cause someone to trip).