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Oklahoma Supreme Court Rejects Open and Obvious Doctrine When Owner Causes Slip and Fall Hazard

Oklahoma attorneysOn July 16, 2014, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling rejecting the argument that the “open and obvious doctrine” functioned as an absolute ban to a plaintiff’s premises liability claim.

The open and obvious doctrine has generally eliminated a landowner’s duty to the plaintiff when the danger was so apparent that he could have detected it himself. At issue was whether the open and obvious doctrine extended to situations where the defendant landowner created the danger.

Plaintiff, Erica Wood brought a claim against Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City after suffering injuries from slipping on a patch of ice that had accumulated in front of the entrance of the dealership. The ice was from an automatic sprinkler system, which had run during freezing temperatures overnight. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mercedes-Benz without specifying grounds for its decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision on the grounds that Mercedes-Benz owed no legal duty because “Wood readily acknowledges the ice presented a known danger.”

Citing previous slip and fall cases resulting from the accumulation of ice, the Oklahoma Supreme Court vacated the Appellate court’s decision and held that Mercedes-Benz did owe a legal duty to Woods. The Court focused on the fact that the accumulation of ice was the result of Mercedes-Benz own actions and not a natural condition.

Further, the court noted that the dealership had notice of the condition and was aware that Woods, who was catering an event at the dealership, would utilize that particular entrance. Finally, the court ruled that it was foreseeable that Woods would encounter the dangerous, icy condition to carry out her duties. Mercedes-Benz’s duty, therefore, continued even though Woods was aware of the hazardous condition before her.

Read the full text of the July 16, 2014 opinion in Wood v Mercedes Benz of Oklahoma City 2014 OK 68 here.

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