It is well settled in Missouri that a property owner is not liable for injuries that occur as a result of an “open and obvious” danger on the property. But what is “open and obvious”? A recent ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals in Anslinger v. Christian Hospital Northeast-Northwest clarified and narrowed when a trip hazard on a walking surface is “open and obvious.”
Premises Liability in Missouri
Property owners owe a high standard of care to invitees—those whom the property owner specifically allows to enter the property. Under this standard, property owners have a duty to warn invitees of dangers on the property that they know of or have reason to know of. Additionally, property owners have a duty to inspect the premises for potential dangers. A defense to this high standard exists where a danger is “open and obvious” such that the invitee could reasonably be expected to see and avoid the danger.
Anslinger v. Christian Hospital Northeast-Northwest
In 2019, Patricia Anslinger tripped and fell at Christian Hospital when her foot caught a fold in one of the rubber mats that covered the hospital entrance. She subsequently brought a claim against the hospital, alleging that the hospital breached its standard of care when it allowed an unsafe condition (the floor mat) to exist without warning her of the potential trip hazard.
The case went to trial in October 2022. The hospital, relying on an open and obvious defense, presented evidence that the fold was visible to Ms. Anslinger. In fact, during cross-examination, Ms. Anslinger even conceded that she would have seen fold had she been “looking straight down.”
However, the Court ultimately disagreed with the hospital’s arguments, finding that the fold was not open and obvious despite Plaintiff’s concession. In rendering its decision, the Court initially noted that whether a condition is open and obvious is a matter of law and, therefore, that stipulations or concessions as to this question are not binding. Further, it distinguished the facts at hand from Crow v. Kansas City Power & Light, Co., a case on which the hospital relied, where an overhead power line was found to be open and obvious. The Court of Appeals found that Crow was inapplicable to the facts at hand because the hazard at issue in Crow was a “regular condition of land and… a large physical structure” which “lends itself to a finding of open and obvious as a matter of law.” The Court noted that a fold in rubber floor mats, like many other trip hazards, is neither a regular condition of the land nor a large physical structure, and therefore, that it cannot be open and obvious.
In Anslinger v. Christian Hospital, the Court of Appeals stated that for a condition to be open and obvious it must be either a regular condition of the land or a large structure, and cited numerous Missouri cases in which trip hazards on walking surfaces also were not found to be open and obvious. Thus, the Court seems to narrow the open and obvious defense’s applicability for a common group of premises liability cases: trip and falls.
A win for RDM
Recently, Rasmussen Dickey Moore achieved a favorable result for an RDM client sued by a customer for injuries that resulted from a trip and fall over a curb entering the client’s business. The case was resolved during mediation for less than ten times the Plaintiff’s initial demand, saving our client the expense and uncertainty of litigation.
As always, it remains important to work with a team that tracks recent court opinions and understands how they may affect your case. The attorneys at RDM have broad experience in the field of premises liability and can assist your business in defending against claims. Contact RDM today to discuss your premises liability case.