Premises liability refers to a specific type of personal injury claim where a property owner’s negligence leads to the injury of a person who is lawfully entitled to be on the premises. While property owners are not required by Ohio law to absolutely guarantee the safety of their invited guests, they must take reasonable steps to identify and correct any dangerous conditions. However, an owner may escape liability if it can prove the dangerous condition was so “open and obvious” that the victim should have been able to discover the problem on their own and “take appropriate measures to protect themselves against it.”

Building Owner’s Actions Negated “Open and Obvious” Defense

But merely saying a dangerous condition was “open and obvious” does not make it true. Consider this recent decision from the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals. In this case, Rashid v. McClymonds Building Enterprises, Ltd., the plaintiff was injured when he fell down a staircase. He subsequently sued the defendant, the building’s owner, for damages.

To go into some more detail, the plaintiff actually had signed a lease to rent part of the building in question for the defendant. The plaintiff planned to reopen a sports bar previously owned by his uncle. At the time of the accident, the defendant was in the process of renovating the building.

One evening around 8 p.m., the plaintiff was working on his leased space when he went thru a rear exit that led to a staircase. The plaintiff had used this staircase many times in the past, and he always used the handrail. But as it turned out, the defendant had replaced the entire staircase and there was no longer a handrail. The plaintiff was completely unaware of this, so when he reached for the non-existent handrail, he fell.

At trial, the defendant argued it had no legal duty to protect the plaintiff under the terms of his lease–and even if that was not the case, the missing handrail qualified as an “open and obvious hazard.” The trial judge held that the lease did not apply here, as at the time of the accident the plaintiff was a “licensee” rather than a tenant. The case proceeded to a jury, which ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him over $212,700 in damages.

On appeal, the Fifth District declined to toss out the jury’s verdict. With respect to the defense’s argument regarding an “open and obvious hazard,” the appeals court noted there is an exception to this rule for “attendant circumstances.” That is, even if a hazard may be open and obvious, the defendant can still be held responsible if there was a factor that “diverted” the plaintiff’s attention and “significantly” enhanced the hazard.

Here, the attendant circumstances were the fact the defendant replaced the staircase and removed the handrail without informing the plaintiff. In addition, when the plaintiff opened the back door to the staircase, the door itself “obstructed” the plaintiff’s view, meaning there was no way for him to see there was no handrail until it was too late. Under these circumstances, the Fifth District said the jury was entitled to find the defendant was negligent.

Contact a Cleveland Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Like most personal injury cases, premises liability claims often require a detailed investigation into all of the facts surrounding a given accident. An experienced Cleveland personal injury lawyer can assist you in conducting such an investigation and holding the responsible parties accountable in court. Contact Tittle & Perlmuter at (216) 438-9647 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.

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