In Ohio, there is one undeniable truth: winter is harsh. Ohio residents face hazardous weather conditions often 5-6 months out of the year. Snow, ice, and plow trucks do significant damage to roads and parking lots alike. For that reason, people traversing these surfaces must look where they are stepping.
In a recent decision, Ohio’s 12th Appellate District validated this viewpoint. Ludwigsen v. Lakeside Plaza, LLC, 2014-Ohio-5493 held that a hole in a parking lot less than 2-inches deep is a “minor defect” incapable of imposing liability. The Court reasoned that it would be unfair to expect Ohio business owners to eliminate all of these small imperfections.
Like many slip-and-fall cases, Ludwigsen involved a plaintiff who was not looking where she was going and stepped into a hole. The accident occurred while Plaintiff was leaving a convenient store. While walking across the parking lot – pizza box in one hand, beer in the other – the plaintiff’s 1-inch heel went into a 1-inch hole. She tripped, fell, and injured her elbow.
The plaintiff sued the owner of the shopping plaza. She alleged that the hole was a tripping hazard and that the parking lot was negligently maintained. In defense, the defendant emphasized the hole’s open and obvious nature. Ultimately, the trial court agreed with the defendant and granted summary judgment.
On appeal, the 12th District did not address whether the hole was open and obvious. Instead, the Court focused on whether the hole was a “minor defect.” As the Court explained, “no liability rests on the owner or occupier of private premises for minor imperfections which are commonly encountered and are to be expected.” Id. at ¶28. The Court called them “trivial departure[s] from perfection.” Id.
The triviality of a defect depends upon the surface. For example, the Court made a clear distinction between sidewalks and parking lots. Parking lots, especially those in Ohio’s harsh winter conditions, take significant abuse. Therefore, “[a] pedestrian may not expect the same flat surface found on a sidewalk in a parking lot.” Id. at ¶29.
Because of the nature of parking lots, the Court applied a 2-inch benchmark. If a defect in a parking lot is less than 2 inches in height, a court may deem it a “minor defect.” Because the plaintiff admitted the hole was likely 1 inch deep, the Court determined that it was a “minor defect.”
The only way a plaintiff could recover for tripping over a minor defect is to point to attendant circumstances. Such circumstances must have (1) diverted her attention, (2) significantly enhanced the defect’s danger, and (3) contributed to the fall. The plaintiff pointed to the pizza she was carrying, the vehicle traffic, and ongoing snow plowing. As an Ohio native, Judge Michael Powell did not find any of those circumstances unusual or uncommon. Judgment for the defendant affirmed.
You can read the full opinion here.