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Balancing Risks: Understanding How Obvious Dangers Shape Legal Decisions

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Recently, the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted a Motion for Summary Judgement in favor of defendants for a trip and fall incident that occurred in a Sam Club, captioned: Nura Ziadeh v. Walmart Inc. a/b/a Sams East Inc. d/b/a Sam’s Club Store No. 8175.

The crux of the matter boiled down to a fundamental act: using one's eyes. In the backdrop of this case, Ziadeh found herself injured while perusing the aisles of her regular shopping haunt, Sam's Club. As outlined in the court's memo, Ziadeh, engrossed in examining towels, suddenly collided with an obstacle, causing her to tumble to the ground.

That obstacle? A two-meter-long pallet, conspicuously occupying half of the aisle.

Ziadeh claimed negligence against Sam’s Club. Sam’s Club moved for summary judgement, on the basis that Ziadeh failed to provide facts supporting her claim because she failed to avoid an open and obvious condition. Ziadeh disagreed, mainly on the basis that there was an issue of genuine material fact of her subjective awareness of the danger.

The Court had no problem granting the MSJ in favor of Sam’s club. Relying on Moknach v. Prese Isle Downs (2021) from the Third Circuit, the Court distinguished between the “open and obvious” danger doctrine, which is an objective test, from Ziadeh’s claim that this was an “assumption of the risk” issue, which requires subjective knowledge. Further citing to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the Court noted that a possessor of land is not liable to invitees (i.e. there is no duty) for physical harm done to them by dangers “known or obvious”. Knowledge in this definition is an objective, rather than subjective question; in other words, the Court asked: “would a reasonable person, in Ziadeh’s position and exercising ordinary caution and judgement, apprehend the danger of walking into a pallet lying on the floor?”

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