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Jones v. Clyde Spinelli, LLC, C.A. No. N14C-12-159 PRW (Del. Super. Ct. July 8, 2016)

Delaware Superior Court grants Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that space heater that caused Plaintiff’s injuries was “open and obvious”. 

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this case alleging negligence against her landlord for failing to offer seating and for negligent placement of a space heater in the landlord’s office.  The Plaintiff was in the rental office, along with three acquaintances, to pay her overdue rent.  Two of the individuals that were with the Plaintiff left to obtain a money order to pay the rent while the Plaintiff remained in the rental office.  The Plaintiff remained standing in the rental office for a total of nearly 40 minutes. 

At the time, a small space heater was located on the floor in the middle of the landlord’s office.  At some point, one of Plaintiff’s acquaintances allegedly hit her foot on the space heater and tripped.  The Plaintiff reached out to stop her from falling, but ended up on the ground herself.  The Plaintiff fractured her right elbow, which required surgery, as a result of the fall. 

During the Plaintiff’s deposition, she admitted that she had observed the space heater and that it was placed in the middle of the room.  She further admitted that the space heater was not partially hidden or difficult to see.  The record further reflected that the Plaintiff and her acquaintances had successfully maneuvered around the space heater while they waited in the landlord’s office. 

The landlord filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it did not breach any duty of care to the Plaintiff.  Specifically, the landlord argued that the “dangerous condition”, i.e. the space heater, was open and obvious.  The landlord further argued that there is no recognizable claim for failure to offer seating and that claim must also be dismissed. 

In granting the landlord’s motion for summary judgment, the Court noted that typically a land owner owes its business invitees a duty to protect them against both dangers known to exist and those which with reasonable care might be discovered.  The Court, however, stated that there is no duty to warn of or protect invitees from an open and obvious danger.  The Court defined “open and obvious danger” as one that creates a risk of harm that is visible, is a well-known danger, or what is discernible by causal inspection to those of ordinary intelligence.  It is a danger that is so apparent that the invitee can reasonably be expected to notice it and protect against it, because the condition itself constitutes adequate warning.  The Court ultimately held that, assuming the space heater was a “danger”, it was so open and obvious that the landlord did not owe the Plaintiff a legal duty and granted summary judgment in its favor.  The Court further noted that while it may have been rude for the landlord not to offer seating to the Plaintiff, it was not negligent.  As such, summary judgment was also granted on this claim as well.  

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