The “Open and Obvious” Defense in Maine Premises Liability Lawsuits

Under Maine premises liability law, landowners and occupiers generally owe a duty to ensure that their property is free from dangerous conditions that could result in unreasonable harm to lawful visitors. Unlike other states, which rely on the classification-of-status approach to premises liability, Maine determines liability based on the injury victim, the cause of the injury, and if the property owner did anything to prevent the damage. This framework applies to landowners, retail stores, some recreational areas, and private individuals. It does not apply to trespassers except if an attractive nuisance is involved. Further, Maine law provides landowners with specific defenses to liability that may limit a plaintiff’s recovery.

Maine’s comparative negligence principles allow plaintiffs to recover for damages even if they were partially responsible so long as they were less than 50% responsible. Defendants will frequently assert comparative negligence defenses by claiming that the dangerous condition was so “open and obvious” that the landowner should not be liable. However, exceptions exist in circumstances where the landowner should anticipate the harm despite the obviousness of the danger. Determinations regarding open and obviousness require a thorough and in-depth analysis of the specific condition.

For example, a state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a case hinging on whether a hole in a parking lot of a shopping center was an open and obvious danger. In that case, a woman parked in a parking spot next to a landscape island that was surrounded by a curb. As she exited her vehicle, she noticed that someone left a shopping cart partially on the island, and she walked around the island to get the cart. As she was dislodging the cart, she stepped back, and her heel went into a pothole, which caused her to lose her balance and fall backward, resulting in serious injuries. The woman filed a lawsuit against the shopping center alleging negligence and wantonness because they failed to warn invitees of hidden dangers. The trial court found that the risk was open and obvious and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

The appellate court held that these cases typically require the premises owner to prove that the danger was open and obvious, and these issues can rarely be resolved on a motion for summary judgment. Exceptions generally only include situations where the plaintiff admits carelessness and knowledge of the danger, the condition is so obviously dangerous, or no reasonable jury could find that the danger was not open and obvious. The court ultimately reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding that the case did not fall into any of the enumerated exceptions.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Maine Slip and Fall?

If you or someone you know suffered serious injuries in a Maine slip and fall accident, you should contact the attorneys at Peter, Thompson & Associates. The Maine injury attorneys at our law firm have extensive experience handling and overcoming the challenges that many personal injury cases present. We have recovered substantial compensation through settlements and litigation on behalf of Maine injury victims. Compensation in these cases often include damages related to medical expenses, psychological treatment, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. Contact our office at 800-804-2004 to schedule a free consultation with a Maine injury attorney.