Can an Indiana Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff Recover Even if the Hazard that Caused Their Injury Was Open and Obvious?

Under Indiana tort law, landowners have an obligation to ensure that their property is safe for the people they host, either as social guests or business invitees. In general, a property owner must exercise reasonable care when maintaining their property to discover and eliminate any hazards. If a hazard cannot be remedied, a landowner should warn guests of the hazard’s existence.

Thus far, the focus of the discussion has been on the knowledge and actions of the landowner. However, Indiana premises liability cases also consider the knowledge and conduct of the victim. For example, if a hazard is open and obvious, the law generally holds that a plaintiff should recognize such dangers and use necessary caution. In these cases, a landowner may not be liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the jury determines that most of the fault is attributable to the plaintiff. However, it is typically not a court’s job to determine whether a plaintiff was negligent; that task belongs to the jury. A recent case illustrates the importance of this distinction.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she tripped and fell over a broken sidewalk at her condo complex. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had lived in the complex for ten years, and regularly crossed the broken sidewalk without incident. She admitted that she knew there were safer paths to take, and that she knew about the broken sidewalk.

After her fall, the plaintiff sued the condo complex claiming it was liable for her injuries under a premises liability theory. The complex filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that because the plaintiff knew of the hazard but continued to use the sidewalk, she assumed the risk of any injury. The trial court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to throw out the plaintiff’s case. The court explained that, while the complex did not have a duty to warn the plaintiff of the hazard because she already knew of the hazard, the complex was not off the hook for failing to maintain the sidewalk. The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s knowledge of the hazard and decision to traverse the sidewalk notwithstanding that knowledge is relevant; however, it cannot preclude recovery at the summary judgment stage. Instead, such information should be used by the jury to determine the extent of the plaintiff’s comparative negligence. If, and only if, the jury determines that the plaintiff was greater than 51% at fault, could the plaintiff be completely precluded from recovering for her injuries.

Consult with an Experienced Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or someone you care about has recently been injured in an Indiana slip-and-fall accident, the dedicated injury lawyers at the Indiana law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse can help. The experienced Indiana slip-and-fall lawyers at our firm have extensive experience handling a wide range of personal injury cases, and aggressively pursue compensation for every one of our clients. To learn more, call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.