Mann Decision a Win for Injured Plaintiffs

May 15, 2014

Last month, the Supreme Court of Ohio decided the case of Mann v. Northgate Investors, L.L.C., a case involving what is known as the open-and-obvious doctrine.

Although a somewhat technical legal concept, the open-and-obvious doctrine is fairly easy to grasp.  For our purposes, a basic overview will suffice.  In a negligence case, every plaintiff must first establish that the defendant owed a duty to particular person to do or refrain from doing something.  If the defendant did not owe a duty to the plaintiff, then the negligence action will fail.  The open-and-obvious doctrine deals with whether such a duty is owed.  If a dangerous condition on a landlord or business’s premises is open and obvious, i.e., it was discoverable by the injured party, Ohio law says that there is no duty owed and the landlord/business may avoid paying for the injuries that they caused.

In Mann, however, the Supreme Court of Ohio reaffirmed that the open-and-obvious doctrine does not apply when there is a specific, statutorily created duty.  This is called negligence per se, and the Court’s reasoning makes sense.  If there is a duty created by law, then defendants cannot argue via the open-and-obvious doctrine that there is no duty.

Importantly, Mann extended the scope of who can prevent careless landlords from claiming that their unsafe conditions were open and obvious.  The lawsuit in Mann arose after a guest of an apartment building tenant was injured due to the landlord’s failure to light a dangerous stairwell.  At least one lower court had previously held that landlords did not owe guests of tenants any duty when the unsafe condition on the premises was open and obvious.  If that were the case, then the plaintiff in Mann would not have been entitled to compensation for her injuries.  The Supreme Court, however, noted that the landlord’s failure to maintain the common area of the apartment building was in direct violation of the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act.  This meant that there was a statutorily-created duty owed to anyone in the common areas, including guests of tenants.  Because the landlord’s failure to light the dangerous stairwell was thus negligence per se, the landlord could not escape liability by way of the open-and-obvious doctrine.

This is great news for premises liability and slip-and-fall accident victims.  Landlords have a legal responsibility to maintain common areas, and now fewer of them will be able to escape civil liability for the consequences of their carelessness.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to unsafe conditions on commercial or residential property, call the experienced Cleveland personal injury lawyers at Lowe Scott Fisher Co., LPA for a free telephone consultation.

Back To Blog