As a general rule, land possessors owe a duty to invitees to discover unreasonably dangerous conditions on the land and to either correct them or warn of them. However, the open and obvious doctrine states that land possessors cannot be held liable to invitees who are injured by open and obvious dangers.
While transporting a critically ill patient, a paramedic tripped on a protruding wide curb ramp used for wheelchair access suffering a fractured hip and sprained wrist. She sued the hospital for her injuries stating that although she transported patients on said curb without problem but on this occasion she tripped, because she was focused on the patient’s health. The hospital moved for summary judgment under the open and obvious doctrine but the trial court denied the said motion. Ultimately, the jury found the hospital liable and awarded damages to the paramedic. On appeal the hospital argued that the trial court should have granted its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict because the open and obvious doctrine barred the paramedic's recovery. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial stating that the paramedic when treating a critically-ill patient could be distracted to remember or notice the protruding curb.
Did the open and obvious doctrine bar the paramedic’s action against the hospital?
The supreme court held that the open and obvious doctrine did not obviate any duty on the part of the hospital and did not bar the paramedic's recovery. The hospital had reason to expect that a paramedic's need to focus on her patient necessarily meant taking attention away from other tasks. Thus, even though the curb that caused the paramedic's fall may have been open and noticeable, the hospital had reason to expect that the paramedic's attention might have been distracted. The hospital had good reason to believe the paramedic's attention would focussed on her patient, not to each step she was taking. The hospital owed a duty to the paramedic, given that her injury was foreseeable. The paramedic, in turn, had a duty to act reasonably to ensure her own safety, heightened by her familiarity with the location and the arguably open and obvious nature of the danger. Thus, there were genuine issues of material fact that were properly submitted to the jury.