Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that was brought against a hardware store after the plaintiff slipped and fell in the garden section. The case required the court to discuss what it termed the “distraction doctrine,” which may excuse a plaintiff’s failure to notice an open and obvious hazard.
The case is important to Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall victims because courts have routinely held that a plaintiff’s failure to notice an open and obvious hazard will preclude recovery. Thus, although the plaintiff’s argument, in this case, failed to persuade the court, the example illustrates when a plaintiff’s failure to take notice of a hazard may be excused.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a frequent customer of the defendant hardware store. One day, the plaintiff visited the store to pick up a sprinkler timer. The plaintiff approached an employee in the garden section to ask where the timers were located. The employee told the plaintiff to follow him, and the plaintiff began to follow the employee.
Evidently, within a few steps, the plaintiff slipped on wet pavement. The pavement was wet because the store had recently watered the plants, and the excess water drained onto the concrete floor. The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant hardware store.
The hardware store presented post-accident photographs showing that it had placed several “caution” signs along the wet area. The plaintiff acknowledged that the signs were present after viewing the pictures, but claimed he did not see them on the day of his fall because he was distracted by the employee whom he had asked for assistance.
The Court’s Opinion
The court began its analysis by noting that, in general, a plaintiff’s failure to notice an open and obvious hazard would preclude the plaintiff from holding a landowner responsible for any injuries caused by the hazard the plaintiff failed to see. However, the court acknowledged that under the “distraction doctrine” a plaintiff’s failure to take note of a hazard may be excused if he was distracted by the defendant (or an employee). The court explained that a plaintiff might not perceive an otherwise obvious “danger in moments of stress or excitement or when [their] attention has been necessarily diverted.
Here, however, the court held that the plaintiff’s attention was not “necessarily” diverted. The court noted that the employee whom the plaintiff claimed distracted him was only responding to a request from the plaintiff. Thus, the court found that it was the plaintiff who initiated the events leading up to his alleged distraction. As a result, the court held that the plaintiff’s distraction, if any, was not caused by the defendant or its employee.
Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. Premises liability law in Washington, D.C., however, can be extremely complex, and is best left to those who have experience handling these claims. At the Washington, D.C. personal injury law office of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC we have decades of combined experience handling a wide range of injury claims arising in and around the Washington, D.C. area, including in Maryland and throughout Virginia. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Rejects Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Claim Against Big-Box Retailer in Recent Personal Injury Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 16, 2018
Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Premises Liability Case Stemming from Slip-and-Fall at Doctor’s Office, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 23, 2018