Washington Case Law Update: Whether Ottoman in Store Aisle was “Open and Obvious” a Jury Question
From the Desk of Kyle D. Riley: Generally, businesses are not liable for harms caused by open and obvious hazards on their property unless the business should anticipate that the condition may harm customers even if they are aware of it. In this case, the Washington Court of Appeals held that whether a business should have anticipated that an ottoman blocking a store aisle could cause physical harm to a customer was a jury question despite its open and obvious nature. Read on to find out why.
Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a customer tripping over an ottoman, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment to the business, despite the ottoman being in plain view. The case is stands as a reminder of the courts’ strong preference to adjudicate disputes on their merits.
Jonson v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., No. 33869-0-II, Washington Court of Appeals, Div. II (September 27, 2016) (unpublished)
Patricia Jonson (Jonson) was shopping for shoes in Sears when she tripped over an ottoman. A man helped her up and guided her to some chairs so she could sit and collect herself. Afterwards, she tried on a pair of shoes but did not buy them.
She admitted in an interrogatory that she did not look downward into the aisle where the ottoman was located because she was focused on a banner advertising the shoes she wanted that hung above the merchandise. Additionally, her doctor recorded in the chart note that “she wasn’t watching where she was going.”
Jonson sued Sears for negligence, alleging that the ottoman blocking the aisle was an unreasonable risk of harm to its business invitees and that Sears should have expected invitees would not discover or protect themselves from an obstruction existing below eye level. Additionally, she filed a declaration and report of her expert witness, a human factors engineering...