Homeowner May Be Liable Despite ‘Open and Obvious’ Drop-Off

Under the so-called “open and obvious danger” doctrine, it’s
generally understood that if you encounter a hazard that was plainly visible,
decide to proceed and then get hurt, you’re responsible for your own injury and
can’t blame anyone else. But if you get hurt due to what may seem to be an open
and obvious danger, it’s important to talk to an attorney anyway. That’s
because what appears at first glance to be open and obvious may, in fact, not
be.

For example, Susan Blackwell of Michigan was attending a dinner
party in someone’s home. She headed down the hall to put down her purse in the
host’s “mud room.” The lights were off and Blackwell couldn’t see that there
was an eight-inch drop from the hallway into the darkened mud room. She fell
and injured herself. When she tried to take the homeowner to court, the trial
judge dismissed the case, calling the danger “open and obvious.”

But the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and
reinstated the case, relying on testimony from other guests that they didn’t
realize there was a step down either and that the drop-off was hard to see,
even with good lighting. This created a question as to the obviousness of the
hazard — a question that should have been determined by the jury.

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