“Open and Obvious” Hazards in West Virginia Premises Liability Cases – Scaggs v. U.S.

A property owner in West Virginia is required by negligence law to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition and to warn visitors of any hazards that the owner knows about or should be aware of through reasonable inspection. That obligation doesn’t apply to “open and obvious” dangers, however. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia recently explained that visitors assume the risk of these types of hazards.

mail-1549151Mr. Scaggs was injured in an accident in which he tripped over a flower pot while visiting a post office in Peach Creek. He’d gone to the post office to pick up some packages and was carrying them with both hands at the time. Scaggs said he couldn’t see the flower pot, which was placed just outside the front door and used to discard cigarette butts, because of the size of the package he was carrying. He knew the pot was there somewhere and lifted his leg in an attempt to avoid it. Scaggs lost balance after stepping in the pot with his left foot. He fell to the ground and struck his head, arm, wrist, and knee. He later sued the government for negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

In response, the U.S. argued that the flower pot posed an “open and obvious hazard.” As a result, the government asserted that it wasn’t responsible for any injuries caused by the pot’s placement outside the front door. The District Court agreed. “Under West Virginia negligence law, a plaintiff must show that (1) defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care, (2) defendant breached that duty, and (3) the breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injury,” the Court explained. A property owner owes no duty, however, to warn visitors about dangers that are open and obvious or to eliminate those dangers from the property. Instead, the invitee assumes the risk related to those dangers. “There is no liability for injuries from dangers that are obvious, reasonably apparent, or as well known to the person injured as they are to the owner or occupant,” the Court said.

In this case, the Court said Scaggs failed to respond to the government’s claim that the flower pot was an open and obvious danger. Although he referred to postal service guidelines stating that post office staff should keep walkways clear, the Court said he didn’t allege that he wasn’t aware that the flower pot was there or that the pot was less obvious to him than to the post office staff. “Though plaintiff claims he was unaware of the pot’s exact location on the day of the incident, he admits that he knew the pot was usually in the area in front of the building, and that he had even used it to dispose of cigarette remains,” the Court noted.

As a result, the Court granted summary judgment to the government.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on another’s property, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia premises liability lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Visitor, Trespasser, Invitee: Why Labels Matter in West Virginia Premises Liability Cases – Ragonese v. Racing Corporation of West Virginia

Conflicting Stories and “Obvious” Danger Don’t Keep Injured West Virginia Worker from Jury Trial – Kruis v. Allmine Paving

Injured on the Job? If You Want Workers’ Compensation Benefits in West Virginia, You Have to Prove It – Price v. Saunders Staffing