Man Loses Slip and Fall Lawsuit Due to the Open and Obvious Doctrine

54Slip and falls are one of the most common accidents in the United States.  Though some slip and falls may only lead to a sense of embarrassment, others can lead to permanent and serious damage to the body. Thus, it makes sense that an establishment owner should ensure that his or her establishment is safe. However, it is also important that people who visit an establishment should be responsible and not behave recklessly. In order to achieve this through law, Louisiana has an “open and obvious” doctrine, which states that an establishment is not responsible for people who were injured due to an open and obvious defect at the establishment. 

While out for some exercise at the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette, Wilson Trahan slipped and fell on a sidewalk, fracturing his right fibula. Trahan apparently slipped on a buildup of algae while trying to avoid a surface of water on the sidewalk. Trahan sued Acadiana Mall, but the district court dismissed his lawsuit. Trahan appealed, and the Court of Appeal ordered the district court to retake Trahan’s case for further proceedings. However, the district court ruled in favor of Acadiana Mall, holding that the algae buildup was open and obvious and that Trahan did not have a legitimate claim. Trahan appealed once more to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that the district court erred in using the open and obvious doctrine to rule in favor of Acadiana Mall. 

Under Louisiana law, an owner or custodian is responsible for a thing under his or her control and that an owner or custodian is responsible for any damage that the thing causes due to the negligence of the owner or custodian. La. C.C. art. 2317.1. For a plaintiff to successfully prove their claim, he or she must show: (1) that the defendant owned the thing that caused the damage; (2) that the thing had a defect and presented an unreasonable risk of harm; (3) that the defendant should have known about the defect; (4) that the defect could have been prevented if the defendant had taken reasonable care; and (5) that the defendant did not take reasonable care. Riggs v. Opelousas Gen. Hosp. Trust Auth., 997 So.2d 814 (La. App. Ct. 2008). However, if the defect is open and obvious, there is not an unreasonable risk of harm. Broussard v. State ex rel. Office of State Bldgs., 113 So.3d 175 (La. 2013)

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the substance Trahan slipped on was open and obvious, emphasizing that it did not matter whether Trahan believed the substance he slipped on was open and obvious. Instead, the Court looked to see if the district court record established that a fact-finder could reasonably determine if the substance was. Because the district court judge was the fact-finder in this case and the evidence could reasonably point a fact-finder to determine that the defect was open and obvious, the Court agreed with the district court’s decision.  

Though Trahan lost his case due to the open and obvious doctrine. we should realize that the open and obvious doctrine exists because it encourages people to be responsible and not act recklessly.

Additional Sources: Trahan v. Acadiana Mall of Delaware

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Peter Lee

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on the Open and Obvious Doctrine: Is An Unmarked Pole in the Middle of a Sidewalk “Open and Obvious?” LSU Student’s Lawsuit Answers that Question