Legal Memorandum: Open and Obvious Doctrine in MN

Issue: Are the elements of the ‘open and obvious’ doctrine in Minnesota for the trier of fact to determine?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Open and obvious doctrine; trier of fact
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 144 N.W.2d 555; 45 N.W.2d 395; 58 N.W. 832
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A(1), 343A
Date: 03/01/2010

Whether an open and obvious condition, such as ice in an uncovered parking lot, that was known to the plaintiff but is later concealed or forgotten, nonetheless remains open and obvious is a question to be determined by the trier of fact.

Under Minnesota law, “[a] possessor of land is not liable to his invitees for physical harm caused to them by any activity or condition on the land whose danger is known or obvious to them, unless the possessor should anticipate harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.”  Peterson v. W.T. Raleigh Corp., 144 N.W.2d 555, 557 (Minn. 1966) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343A(1)).  The Minnesota Supreme Court has emphasized that this “unless” language ensures that there is no “improper inference that [a property owner] owed plaintiff no duty whatever if plaintiff merely knew of the icy condition.”  Adee v. Evanson, 281 N.W.2d 177, 180 (Minn. 1979). 

The following cases are illustrative:

·         In Gearin v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 53 F.3d 216 (8th Cir. 1995), a customer slipped and was injured in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  After a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Wal-Mart appealed claiming it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the customer’s trial testimony established that she saw the patch of ice before stepping on it, making it open and obvious.  Citing Peterson and Adee, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Wal-Mart’s appeal because “it is proper to let the jury […]

Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)