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"Obvious" May Be In The Eye Of The Beholder


A recent decision involving an injury caused by a treadmill highlights the fact that what is "obvious" to one person may not be obvious to another.

The case involved a 10-year-old girl who was staying overnight with a friend. She fell off of a treadmill belonging to her friend's parents and suffered a severe hand injury when her hand got caught in the machine.

The girl's parents sued, claiming that the presence of the treadmill was a dangerous condition, and that the friend's parents should have made sure that the children could not use it. The owners of the treadmill responded that the danger of a motorized treadmill is so obvious that a 10-year-old child should have known to stay away from it. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit. On appeal, this decision was reversed.

In its opinion, the Illinois appellate court reaffirmed the general rule that a person is not liable for injuries caused by an "obvious danger," which is defined as a danger that is apparent to, and which would be recognized by, a reasonable person using ordinary perception. Examples of dangers that are obvious even to children include dangers presented by water, heights, fire, and even trampolines.

However, the court found that the danger posed by a treadmill could not be determined as a matter of law. It noted that a treadmill may be dangerous because of the speed at which it operates, its machinery, both of these things, or something else entirely. It also noted that treadmills differ, and that the safety features on one machine may not be present on another.

These different dangers and features make it impossible to articulate exactly what danger should be obvious to an average 10-year-old child confronted with a particular treadmill. This lack of an identifiable generalized danger means that it was not proper to conclude that the danger was so obvious to a child that the case could be decided by a court, not by a jury.

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