Open and Obvious Doctrine in Missouri
Missouri law acknowledges and implements the “open and obvious” doctrine in premises liability cases, but with some notable particulars.
In Missouri, the doctrine asserts that property owners may not be liable for injuries occurring from an open and obvious hazard — a danger so apparent that a reasonable person would recognize and avoid it. The principle here is that individuals are presumed to perceive and avoid clear dangers, negating the duty of the property owner to warn about or rectify such conditions.
However, Missouri courts don’t view the open and obvious doctrine as an absolute defense. Rather, it’s a factor considered in determining comparative fault. Missouri adheres to the rule of pure comparative fault, which means that the court will apportion liability between parties based on their respective degrees of fault, irrespective of the plaintiff’s degree of fault.
The application of the “open and obvious” doctrine was exemplified in the Missouri Court of Appeals case Harris v. Niehaus. The court stated that if a dangerous condition is open and obvious to a plaintiff, the defendant has no duty to warn the plaintiff, but the defendant still has a duty to maintain a safe premises.
What’s considered “open and obvious” applies a reasonable person standard — an average, reasonable person should have recognized and avoided the hazard. Therefore, it’s not about the subjective understanding of the injured person.
Missouri also recognizes the “distraction doctrine.” This rule posits that if the victim was legitimately distracted, and thus didn’t recognize the open and obvious danger, the property owner could still be held liable. However, the plaintiff must prove the distraction was not self-induced and was enough to divert attention from the obvious danger.
In conclusion, while the “open and obvious” doctrine is a significant aspect of Missouri’s premises liability law, it’s not an absolute shield for property owners. Liability is determined through a combination of the open and obvious doctrine, the distraction doctrine, and the principle of pure comparative fault, reflecting the state’s nuanced approach to premises liability.