Homeowner May Be Liable Despite ‘Open and Obvious’ Drop-Off

Under the so-called “open and obvious danger” doctrine, it’s generally understood that if you encounter a hazard that was plainly visible, decide to proceed and then get hurt, you’re responsible for your own injury and can’t blame anyone else. But if you get hurt due to what may seem to be an open and obvious danger, it’s important to talk to an attorney anyway. That’s because what appears at first glance to be open and obvious may, in fact, not be. For example, Susan Blackwell of Michigan was attending a dinner party in someone’s home. She headed down the hall to put down her purse in the host’s “mud room.” The lights were off and Blackwell couldn’t see that there was an eight-inch drop from the hallway into the darkened mud room. She fell and injured herself. When she tried to take the homeowner to court, the trial judge dismissed the case, calling the danger “open and obvious.” But the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and reinstated the case, relying on testimony from other guests that they didn’t realize there was a step down either and that the drop-off was hard to see, even with good lighting. This created a question as to the obviousness of the hazard — a question that should have been determined by the jury.

About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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