Slip and Fall Update: Yockey v. Best Buy Co., Inc.

Posted on November 17th, 2014 by sutteroconnell

Ohio’s 9th Appellate District published a decision applying the open and obvious doctrine.   On its face, the open and obvious doctrine seems simple and straightforward.  If a reasonable person could have seen the condition, it is open and obvious and the plaintiff cannot recover.  However, this recent decision demonstrates that the open and obvious determination is becoming highly fact-sensitive.

Yockey v. Best Buy Co., Inc., 9th Dist. No. 13CA0027, 2014-Ohio-4330 involved a trip-and-fall that occurred at Best Buy. The plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Yockey, visited Best Buy to return a printer.  As soon as Mrs. Yockey entered through the AUTOMATIC doors and stepped into the vestibule area, she immediately tripped over a rug and fell.  The rug was not completely flat and had “ripples.”  Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Yockey saw the ripples prior to the fall.

At the trial level, Best Buy was granted summary judgment on the grounds that the rug was open and obvious. Id. at ¶3.   It was undisputed that nothing visually obstructed the rug or the “ripples.”  Mrs. Yockey testified that she was not looking at the ground as she walked in the vestibule area, and, instead “was looking at signs.” Id. at ¶12.

The 9th District Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision. The Court held that the trial court erred in concluding that the hazard was open and obvious as a matter of law. Id. at ¶14.  As the Court stated, “[t]he fact that there was nothing obscuring the rug or that the rug itself would have been visible if the Yockeys had been looking down is not dispositive of whether the ripples in the rug would have been observable to Mrs. Yockey as she was walking in the store.” Id. at ¶16.

Instead, the Court of Appeals considered the totality of the circumstances, including the fact that Mrs. Yockey fell when she took her first step into the vestibule. A jury could determine that because of the automatic doorway, she did not have enough time to observe the ripples.  In addition, the glass of the Best Buy entryway was tinted.  As such, it was not clear whether the ripples would have been open and obvious to Mrs. Yockey.  The Court did not list the fact that Mrs. Yockey was looking at signs as one of the reasons for reversal.