OPEN AND OBVIOUS – A DEFENSE UNDER MARITIME LAW

By Caitlin Morgenstern of Koch & Schmidt posted in Maritime Law on Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Under maritime law, a boat owner does not owe a duty to warn passengers of open and obvious conditions.

In Schade v. Clausius, four boats were rafted together on Lake Michigan for a Fourth of July outing. One of the boats was a 52-foot Sea Ray, whose owner was giving rides to guests visiting from the other boats. The Sea Ray’s swim platform was lowered and was in use by guests. The plaintiff, who was visiting the Sea Ray from another boat, asserted she slipped and fell on her right hand as she was attempting to walk across the swim platform.

The plaintiff alleged the Sea Ray’s owner was negligent because the owner failed to ensure and remove water that accumulated on the platform as well as warn guests about the accumulated water. The plaintiff also claimed the platform was overcrowded. The Sea Ray’s owner moved for summary judgment arguing that the condition of the swim platform was an open and obvious condition and therefore required no warning.

The court held that “both the number of guests on the platform and the potential for the swim platform to be wet were open and obvious conditions.” The plaintiff knew that the swim platform was close to the water, and the fact that it might be wet “was discernible through common sense.” While vessel owners must warn passengers of dangers that are known to the owner but neither apparent nor obvious to passengers, owners have no duty to warn passengers of open and obvious dangers. As a result, there was no duty to warn of these conditions