If you are a property owner who is looking to reduce premises liability, understanding the “plain view” doctrine is a must. Most commonly, any premises liability claim involving a static defect will also invoke the plain view doctrine.

According to FindLaw, the plain view doctrine describes a situation where a potentially hazardous condition is in “plain view,” and thus a person who is exercising ordinary care for his or her own safety can avoid danger.

How does the plain view doctrine work with static defects?

In the eyes of the law, a static defect or condition is something that exists but is not dangerous of its own nature. Static defects and conditions are often found in places where a reasonable person would expect to find them. For instance, cracks in the sidewalks are static defects. Another potential static condition is a flight of stairs.

Another common example of the plain view doctrine applies to boxes of product placed in the aisle at a store. It is legal for a merchant to have product out on the floor in preparation for stocking, but the merchant must have the boxes in plain view in order for them not to present a legal hazard to shoppers.

What about warnings?

In terms of static defects and conditions, typically warnings are not required. There is a legal responsibility for property owners to alert others to latent dangers: a good example of these are “wet floor” signs that custodial staff must put out if they are mopping and the floors are slippery. However, it is not a landlord’s responsibility to mark out static defects: if a brick wall or a flight of stairs exists, the landlord does not need to mark these are potential hazards.