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Dueling Duties: Look vs. Care
by Ron Davis
The mere presence of water on the floor of a retail store does not in itself mean that the store’s owner is negligent in caring for the safety of customers. So ruled an Ohio court in a negligence lawsuit against a Meijer, Inc., store in Dayton.
A woman visiting the store claimed that while walking along an aisle, she slipped and fell when she stepped into a puddle of water that employees there should have noticed and mopped up. As a result of the fall, she suffered a bruised tailbone.
Ohio law requires that a person charging a landowner with negligence must show a “breach of duty” on the landowner’s part. And where an “open and obvious” danger exists on a property, the landowner “owes no duty of care” to visitors.
The reasoning behind that law is straightforward: An open and obvious danger serves as its own warning to visitors. In fact, a visitor does not actually have to observe an open and obvious danger. It merely has to be “observable.”
In the lawsuit against the Dayton Meijer store, the injured woman admitted that she was not looking at the floor when she fell. She added that only when she was on the floor did she notice the puddle of water. She also said that when she got back on her feet, she had no problem seeing the water on the floor.
Based on her testimony, an Ohio court dismissed the lawsuit against Meijer. The injured woman appealed.
An Ohio appellate court agreed that the puddle that caused the woman’s fall was an open and obvious danger, relieving Meijer of any duty to warn her of its existence. Explained the court, “The woman’s testimony makes clear that she would have been able to discover and avoid the puddle if she had exercised ordinary care in watching where she was going. She testified that her view of the floor was not obstructed. She said she saw the puddle after her fall, establishing that it was visible to an ordinary observer looking directly where she was walking. By looking elsewhere, she abandoned the duty imposed to look. Had she not done so, she would have seen the puddle.” (Brant v. Meijer, Inc.,2006 WL 3461966 [Ohio App. 2 Dist.])
Decision: December 2006
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