Premises liability law holds a property owner accountable for injuries that occur on that individual’s or entity’s property. Victims often bring a personal injury claim alleging negligence on the part of the owner, as the plaintiff did in Watson v. J.C. Penney Corp., Inc. (D. Md. Nov. 30, 2015). In Watson, the plaintiff was visiting the defendant’s store when she fell shortly after walking inside. The defendant moved for summary judgment, and the motion was considered by the U.S. District Court, applying Maryland law.
In Maryland, a property owner owes a duty to an individual who comes in contact with the property, the scope of which is dependent upon the individual’s status. In Watson, the plaintiff was a customer in the store for a business purpose and thus had invitee status. The defendant therefore had a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep its premises safe and protect against an unreasonable risk of injury that the plaintiff would be unlikely to perceive in her exercise of ordinary care. When, as in Watson, the fall was caused by a foreign substance on the floor, the burden is on the plaintiff to produce evidence that the defendant created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive knowledge of its existence.
In Watson, the plaintiff testified that after she fell, she noticed a film of slippery, soapy residue covering the entire floor. After reviewing the evidence, the court found that the plaintiff’s declarations could not prove that the defendant had actual knowledge that the floor was hazardous or that it was aware of the residue prior to the plaintiff’s fall. Nevertheless, the court explained that constructive knowledge may be imputed to a defendant if the plaintiff can demonstrate the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient period of time to permit the defendant, exercising reasonable care, to discover it. In Watson, the court ultimately found that the plaintiff could not establish constructive knowledge, since the residue on the floor was not readily apparent, and employees may not have observed the condition on a day that was during the height of the Christmas shopping season.