Controversial slip-and-fall case raises business owners’ exposure

Q&A with Jason McVicker

published in The Oklahoman | August 5, 2014

Until recently, Oklahoma business owners had a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for customers and warn them of any hidden, dangerous conditions, such as wet floors that potentially could be slick. That duty, however, did not include protecting people from open and obvious dangers.

Trial lawyer Jason McVicker was interviewed by The Oklahoman about a controversial decision recently handed down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in which the court ruled 5-4 that businesses could be liable for open and obvious conditions if the business had some role in creating the condition. In the case of Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City, the plaintiff, a caterer hired for an event at the dealership, slipped on an icy sidewalk early one winter morning. While there was no dispute that the condition of the sidewalk was an obvious danger, the court ruled the dealership played a part in the sidewalk becoming icy because it failed to turn off its sprinkler system overnight.

“This decision severely weakens the open and obvious defense, making it more difficult to secure summary judgment or prevail at trial in slip-and-fall cases,” said McVicker. While he acknowledged that this may cause litigation costs and insurance premiums for business owners to rise, he noted that slip-and-fall plaintiffs do not automatically win under this new decision. “Wood can be distinguished on its ‘peculiar’ facts, and plaintiffs still have to sell their stories to a jury.”