Hawaii Supreme Court Rules ‘Known or Obvious Danger’ Defense Not Viable

December 27, 2011

The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled the “known or obvious danger” defense is no longer viable under state law as a complete bar to an injured plaintiff’s premises liability claim.

Michele R. Steigman sought to recover damages after suffering a slip-and-fall accident while she was a guest of Outrigger Enterprises’ Ohana Surf Hotel. The case went to trial, and a jury found that Outrigger was not negligent.

Steigman’s appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals resulted in an affirmation of the trial court’s final judgment.

Steigman’s attorneys argued that the ruling goes against a comparative negligence law passed by Hawaii’s legislature in 1969 and modified several times.

The statue states: “Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action by any person or the person’s legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if such negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person or in the case of more than one person, the aggregate negligence of such persons against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage or death recovery is made.”

Therefore the court ruled the traditional “known and obvious danger defense” conflicts with that statute.

“Steigman contends that the traditional known or obvious danger defense conflicts with the Legislature’s intent behind the comparative negligence statute. We agree,” the court stated in its ruling. “We therefore hold that in Hawaii, the known or obvious danger defense is no longer viable as a complete bar to an injured plaintiff’s claim in the context of premises liability.”

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