In the case of Davis v. Target Corporation, the plaintiff alleged that the Target store allowed a dangerous condition to exist in its store in the form of bean bags and a soft chair left in one of the aisles. As a result, the plaintiff claimed that she was caused to fall. The defendant denied notice of the condition and also argued that the condition was open and obvious and not dangerous.
The plaintiff was a 25-year-old female who was shopping in the defendants Springfield, Pennsylvania Target Store. She testified that she left her shopping cart at the top of an aisle and obtained a large box of shelving. As the plaintiff was walking back to her cart with the large box, she testified that she observed an older lady approaching her from the opposite direction. The plaintiff testified that she stepped sideways to allow the lady to pass, but the edge of the box she was carrying caught on a display shelf to her right, she tripped over a bean bag which was in the aisle and fell to her knees. The plaintiff was diagnosed with chondromalacia of both knees as a result of the fall. Her physician testified that future knee surgery is recommended.
The defendant argued that the plaintiff had seen the bean bags on her way to pick up the shelving and that she was aware of their location. The defense also maintained that there was no evidence as to who had moved the furniture into the aisle or how long it had been there before the plaintiff's fall. The defense contended that it had a reasonable policy of store inspection and cleanup and that it was not negligent.
The jury found the defendant 90% negligent and the plaintiff 10% comparatively negligent. The plaintiff was awarded $ 150,000 in damages, reduced accordingly. The defendant has filed a motion for new trial based on the court's preclusion of evidence that the plaintiff was arrested at the scene for possession of marijuana.
Assumption of the risk via "open or obvious" arguments is a prime defense raised in almost all premises liability lawsuits. Pennsylvania looks to Sections 343 and 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts for guidance. These Restatements of the Law preclude liability for a land owner where an invitee is injured as a result of a condition whose danger is known or obvious to the invitee, unless the owner anticipated the injury despite the invitee’s knowledge or the obviousness of the condition. Arguably, where a danger is “open or obvious,” the possessor of land does not owe the invitee a duty to take precautions against or warn of open or obvious dangers.
Under Pennsylvania law the assumption of the risk doctrine applies to absolve the landowner from liability for injuries sustained if the plaintiff: (1) knows of the risk or hazard, and (2) voluntarily proceeds in that activity.
There is substantial uncertainty as to the status of the assumption of the risk doctrine in Pennsylvania. Which party bears the burden to establish these elements is currently the subject of debate in Pennsylvania courts. Uncertainty arises as to whether assumption of the risk is part of the duty analysis, therefore making it a question of law and placing the burden of proof on the plaintiff or a question of fact for the jury. Traditionally, assumption of the risk was viewed as an affirmative defense placing the burden of proof on the defendant.
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