Premises Liability in Ohio
Premises liability cases involve injuries caused by a dangerous condition on another person’s property. These cases are the most common personal injury cases in the United States. They are known as “slip and fall” cases but can be caused by different situations such as:
- Slipping and/or tripping on spilled liquid or an uneven floor;
- Falling hazards, such as holes or deep drop offs;
- Overhead dangers like old branches or store inventory;
- Exposed electrical wire or faulty equipment.
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Liability for Premises Injuries Under Ohio Law
To attach liability, Ohio requires a relationship with the property owner. In essence, the property owner must owe a duty to those people who come unto the property. Once that duty is created, negligence principles apply. In negligence cases, a person must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the premises owner owed a duty, breached that duty and injured someone. Ohio law recognizes three relationships between property owners and people that visit their premises: invitee, licensee, and trespasser.
An invitee is someone who comes unto the property by invitation. That invite is usually for the benefit of the premise owner. An invitee might be a construction company adding a room to the home. They are afforded the most protection under the law. Under the invitee scenario, the property owner must exercise ordinary care for the protection and safety of the invitee. It includes a duty to warn of dangers on the property that the invitee cannot reasonably expect to discover by themselves. In the construction example, a small hole in the grass hidden and not marked, may hold the property owner liable if a construction worker walks into the hole. The main exception to the invitee duty is the “open and obvious” doctrine.
The Open and Obvious Doctrine
A danger is “open and obvious” when an invitee can reasonably be expected to discover the danger and protect themselves. A premises owner owes no duty with respect to that danger. Generally, if that “open and obvious” danger exits, the courts will dismiss the case. This exception also applies to licensee and trespassers. A second exception is the recreational users. Under O.R.C. 1533.181, nonresidential premises owners, lessees, and occupants of nonresidential premises have no duty to the recreational user to keep the area safe. This statute usually applies to recreational parks.
Trespassers v. Licensees
A licensee is a person who enters the premises by permission or consent for their own pleasure or benefit. Using a parking lot on Sunday would create this relationship. The duty owed is to refrain from willfully, wantonly, or recklessly causing an injury. If the premises owner knows the licensee is on the property, she must use ordinary care to avoid injuries to the licensee and warn of any dangers. A trespasser is a person who enters the property without permission for her own purposes or convenience. The premises owner usually owes the same duty to a trespasser as to a licensee.
The Attractive Nuisance Doctrine in Ohio
Since 2001, Ohio has recognized the “attractive nuisance” doctrine. This doctrine protects children who trespass. It gives increased protection to them who are attracted by an artificial condition on the premises. In 2001, the Ohio Supreme Court applied this doctrine in a swimming pool case, where a 5 year old boy drowned in his neighbor’s pool while looking for frogs. The court attached a duty to the neighbor, as the pool was unattended, unmaintained, and unprotected.
Dennis P. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Georgia
Christopher A. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Michigan