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What does open and obvious mean in West Virginia?

Under West Virginia premises liability laws, property owners have an obligation to take certain reasonable steps to protect people from hazardous conditions on their property. West Virginia has its own set of laws that address the legal options for a person who suffers injury because of a dangerous property condition. These laws are broadly similar across the country, but each state has its own nuances in the law.

What are the contours of West Virginia's premises liability laws? This is a big question, and the answer can be found in specific pieces of legislation and the way that the state's courts have interpreted those laws. One specific area of note in West Virginia's premises liability laws is the "open and obvious" doctrine.

The open and obvious doctrine provides that a property owner is not liable, if a person on the property gets injured from a dangerous property condition that is obvious. This is true even if the dangerous condition violates state law or local regulations.

The law has been the rule in West Virginia for nearly a century until the state's supreme court overturned it in a 2013 case. That case arose from an accident in a commercial parking lot, where a man fell down a staircase that had no railing. The fall resulted in a severe head injury. The property owner argued that the lack of a handrail was an obvious danger, and thus, it should have no liability, even though a local ordinance required handrails.

The case made it to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which struck down the open and obvious rule, and the Court decided that the injured man could sue the parking lot owner. Following that court case, the West Virginia legislature specifically overruled the high court by passing a law that reinstated the open and obvious doctrine.

Although the law favors property owners, it does not mean that they can escape all liability for injuries on their property. The open and obvious doctrine is just one premises liability rule, which applies only to a narrow set of circumstances. Anybody who suffers an injury on someone else's property should look into all of their legal options.

Source: WV.us, "Senate Bill No. 13," accessed on April 4, 2015

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