When someone slips and falls in Washington, D.C., they may believe that they are the only ones at fault for their accident and resulting injuries. They may be embarrassed to tell anyone, or to complain about a hazardous condition that caused them to fall. But Washington, D.C. law protects plaintiffs who fall under these circumstances by allowing them to file a civil negligence suit against a property owner if they are negligent or reckless in maintaining their property. This is true for landlords who own commercial apartment complexes or business owners maintaining a shop for the public. While not liable in every situation where someone is harmed on their property, these individuals have a duty to ensure that dangerous conditions are remedied or handled in such a way as to minimize the chance of injury.
Nevertheless, Washington, D.C. plaintiffs should be aware that not every injury on a property is the fault of the owners. There are many cases where a court may determine that the condition that caused the fall was “open and obvious,” such that the plaintiff should have reasonably seen it and avoided it. For example, a state supreme court recently held that a plaintiff was not entitled to relief when they tripped over a yellow speed bump in the defendant’s parking lot. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff admitted she saw numerous yellow lines on the parking lot and that, since she had been in that parking lot many times, she must have previously noticed the speed bumps. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff had not provided evidence that there was a hazardous condition in the parking lot, a requirement for her claim to succeed. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that a speed bump is inherently dangerous and is only considered “open and obvious” if it is properly designed and maintained and it is marked with signs warning the public about its existence. According to the plaintiff, the speed bump was not properly designed because it was the same color as the lines marking individual parking spaces, and there were no warning signs. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the speed bump was open and obvious and the plaintiff could have reasonably been expected to be aware of its existence and avoid tripping over it. Ultimately, the court did not find any evidence suggesting that the bump constituted a dangerous condition under the meaning of the law, and the plaintiff’s suit was dismissed.