Alabama Appellate Opinions Released August 23, 2019
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Alabama Appellate Opinions Released 
August 23, 2019
Alabama Supreme Court
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
Court Reverses Grant of Summary Judgment Motion on Premises Liability Issue

Pittman and Pittman Jr. v. Hangout in Gulf Shores, LLC

Under Alabama law, a premises owner owes an invitee the duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition and must warn of hidden defects. However, a premises owner has no duty to warn an invitee of open and obvious defects which the invitee is aware of, or should have been aware of, through the use of reasonable care. At issue in this case was whether Sherri Pittman’s fall on a single riser step resulted from an open and obvious defect on Hangout of Gulf Shores’ (“Hangout”) premises. 

The Pittmans filed a Complaint in the Baldwin Circuit Court against Hangout alleging that Ms. Pittman’s fall on the single riser step on Hangout’s premises resulted in her injury and the loss of consortium to Mr. Pittman. The Hangout filed a motion for summary judgment and argued that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the step, which it contended was adequately marked with yellow paint, was an open and obvious defect due to the difference in color between the painted step and the floor.

In its motion, Hangout relied on Sheikh v. Lakeshore Foundation , 64 So. 3d 1055 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010), which involved an invitee’s trip and fall over connector cables that enabled the use of an exercise machine by wheelchair bound patrons. It contended that Sheikh stands for the proposition that, as a matter of law, a defect that “contrasts distinctively” with its surrounding area “is open and obvious, regardless of evidence relating to other aspects of the premises.” The trial court agreed and granted Hangout’s motion. The Pittmans timely appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which transferred the case to the Court of Civil Appeals.

On appeal, the Court disagreed that a reading of Sheikh results in this conclusion. It emphasized that although the Court did remark on the contrast between the color of the cables and its surroundings, it also discussed the reasonable actions expected of a person using a gym for its intended purpose. Thus, the Court concluded that the environment in which a particular hazard appears is only a factor in determining whether the hazard is obvious to an invitee.

Ultimately, after considering both the intended use of an entertainment venue such as Hangout and the environment where the stair at issue appeared along with the offered testimony, the Court concluded that a genuine issue of material fact existed for the negligence and loss of consortium claims. However, the Court concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact on the wantonness claim because Hangout did attempt to make the change in elevation more noticeable.  
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