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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

What Is the Open and Obvious Doctrine in Tennessee?

The open and obvious doctrine is a defense in personal injury cases. It is the idea that property owners should not be liable for victims' injuries if there were obvious dangers that would indicate a person should exercise reasonable care.

This defense is common in Tennessee court. Victims should understand the open and obvious doctrine if they rightfully deserve compensation. Comparatively, defendants can use the argument if they feel they are accused unjustly.

Nevertheless, trusted attorneys can assist either side with applying or defending the doctrine. Continue reading to learn more about it. They also have information on who's at fault in blind spot accidents.

Types of Premises Liability Cases

Types of Premises Liability Cases

A premises liability case holds a property owner responsible for injuries or damages incurred by someone on their grounds. When a person is injured on someone else's property, they could file a claim or lawsuit based on the conditions.

There are several cases in which a premises owner could be liable. Some common causes of premises liability claims include:

A property owner has the responsibility of exercising reasonable care in upkeeping their premises. If invitees on the property are injured, they are more likely to see a premises liability claim.

However, a case of trespassing is different because property owners do not expect someone to be present, waiving their liability.

How Does the Doctrine Affect a Premises Liability Case?

The open and obvious defense helps protect a property owner from being responsible for any injury that takes place on their premises. Without it, they could be liable for anyone getting hurt on their property.

Open and obvious conditions in a premises liability claim indicate there was potential harm posed to the victim. However, they should have exercised reasonable diligence to avoid the dangerous condition, indicating that they could apply alternative conduct.

The injured victim should have understood the danger posed to them and actively avoided it, thereby removing fault from the property owner.

Each case is different. Often, there is no quick, easy answer to determine what is open and obvious. Tennessee courts often define what is considered to be reasonably avoidable.

As such, a solid open and obvious defense aims for the court to rule in favor of the property owner. It should explain the dangerous condition well and transmit that the victim could have avoided it.

However, some cases can end in summary judgment when there is no reason for it to move forward. This happens when one side is more obvious than the other. Speaking with a reliable slip and fall lawyer can help plaintiffs understand if their premises liability case can successfully proceed against the open and obvious defense.

What Is Considered an Open and Obvious Danger?

The open and obvious rule applies to Tennessee law. However, the plaintiff's case works to dispel its effect in court, so they can recover compensation.

Understanding an open and obvious danger can help defendants alleviate some of the compensation they may owe.

An obvious hazard can include a dangerous condition that a reasonable person can visibly see. Ice on the sidewalk is one example.

Additionally, a property owner obtains less liability if there are posted signs informing visitors of the potential danger. If these are visible, some of the liability can fall on the plaintiff.

An obvious danger does not include a condition that is unreasonably hazardous or unavoidable. If a victim encounters harm through these conditions, the open and obvious doctrine becomes ineffective.

How to Argue Against the Open and Obvious Doctrine

How to Argue Against the Open and Obvious Doctrine

To disprove the open and obvious rule, the victim must display evidence of the property owner's negligence, which includes confirming the following:

  • Their duty of care and safety

  • The breach of their duty

  • Causation of the injury

  • Causation of any damages

Additionally, the plaintiff must prove the owner caused the accident. Alternatively, they should demonstrate the defendant did not cause it but was aware of the dangerous condition and did nothing to remedy it or make invitees aware.

Example Cases

The open and obvious doctrine can come into play in many premises liability cases. A trial court sometimes grants summary judgment because one side is clearer than the other. However, certain defenses are so strong that the case ends up in the hands of the Tennessee supreme court.

Overall, to better understand this doctrine, it is best to examine past cases that applied it.

Applying the Open and Obvious Doctrine Successfully

Jones v. Publix Supermarket, Inc. is a case that demonstrates the successful application of the open and obvious doctrine in court. The plaintiff turned a corner and slipped on a clear liquid. She proceeded with filing a claim.

Upon presentation of evidence, the defendant showed a video that proved a toddler had spilled their cup in a cart which dripped on the floor. The court explained the defendant would have had no knowledge of this hazard in time to protect the plaintiff. As such, the court found the defendant not at fault.

Applying the Open and Obvious Doctrine Unsuccessfully

The case Beverly v. Hardee's Food Sys., LLC is another display of the open and obvious doctrine in real time. A child vomited on the floor near the entrance of a Hardee's restaurant.

However, the child and the mother left without informing the staff of the condition. A couple of minutes later, the plaintiff entered the restaurant, slipped, and injured his ankle. He moved forward with a premises liability case.

Initially, the court sided with the defendant. However, upon appeal, it determined the defendant was at fault because they had enough time to identify the hazardous condition and either remedy it or make customers better aware of it.

The Bottom Line - Contact a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney

Premises liability cases are a serious matter. However, courts almost always consider the open and obvious doctrine to determine who is at fault for the accident. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can provide insight on questions like, "What is the slip and fall law in Tennessee?"

Therefore, a plaintiff should have a trusted lawyer on their side to defend the rule. Likewise, a defendant should utilize the expertise of a lawyer to solidify their argument that they are not liable for the accident.

Contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys in Nashville, Tennessee, for the most trusted team of legal experts. This law firm goes to war for its clients!


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