‘Open and Obvious’ Hazards and Premises Liability Cases in Louisiana

A New Orleans woman suffered a significant leg injury when she fell on the property of the apartment she rented. The woman’s landlords sought to escape liability for her injuries by arguing that the hole that felled the tenant was “open and obvious” to all. The Louisiana Court of Appeal‘s recent decision upholding a trial court’s refusal to grant summary judgment in favor of the landlords provided an insightful recitation regarding what a property owner must show to succeed on a claim of “open and obvious danger” in a premises liability case.

The case pitted a tenant, Jennifer Hooper, against her landlords, Val and Mary Brown. The apartment Hooper rented, located off Canal Boulevard, had a wooden front porch that, according to the tenant, contained at least one board that was rotten, leaving a hole in the porch. The landlords allegedly promised numerous times to fix the porch, but they did not. In September 2013, the tenant, who temporarily required the assistance of crutches, fell while attempting to enter the apartment, breaking her leg.

The tenant sued the landlords and their insurance company, claiming that the landlords failed to maintain the premises adequately and failed to warn her about the danger lurking in the porch. The landlords and the insurer sought summary judgment in their favor, arguing that the hole was an open and obvious danger, meaning that the landlords owed the tenant no duty with regard to it.

The landlords lost in the trial court and again before the appeals court. The landlords’ case for summary judgment had several problems, and the appeals court pointed out several potential factual disputes. First, there was uncertainty within the evidence regarding whether the tenant fell when she placed her crutch in the hole (which may or may not have been obvious) or when she placed the crutch on a rotting board that gave way (which would not have been an obvious hazard).

Second, even if the tenant placed her crutch directly in the hole, the landlords’ case still had a problem. The evidence showed that many people had entered and exited the apartment, and not all of them noticed the hole in the porch. In fact, three of the five people who testified regarding their personal knowledge of the porch professed ignorance of the hole’s existence. In order to avoid liability under the “open and obvious danger” theory, the “hazard should be one that is open and obvious to all.” Given that the hole had gone unnoticed by some of the visitors to the apartment, a factual dispute existed regarding whether the hole was truly “open and obvious to all.”

The witnesses who testified also could not agree regarding the hole’s size. Given that “obviousness and apparentness” is an important analytical factor in deciding whether a danger is “open and obvious,” this too was a relevant fact in dispute. As a result of these factual disputes, the landlord was not entitled to summary judgment.

A landlord or other property owner is required by law to assume certain duties for ensuring the well-being of those who come onto the property. If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property because they failed to maintain it, get in touch right away with the Louisiana injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. Our injury attorneys have the skills and the means to offer you top-quality legal representation.

For a confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

Louisiana Shopper Loses Slip-and-Fall Case Because She Couldn’t Prove Store Knew About Hazard, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, March 16, 2015

The Theory of Respondeat Superior, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Jan. 9, 2015

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