Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Accidents can happen anywhere, but when they are caused by a careless person or business, the victim may be able to pursue compensation through a negligence claim.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland decided a July 14, 2017 appeal involving a plaintiff who had been injured in a retail store.  The plaintiff in the case was shopping in the defendants’ department store when a cast iron griddle fell from a bottom shelf and landed on her right foot.  She brought negligence claims against the store owners, based on the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur.  Following trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.  However, after the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff brought the current appeal.bottles

In a negligence action, the plaintiff must present evidence tending to show that the defendant was legally responsible for her injury, although direct proof of negligence is not required.  The plaintiff may instead invoke res ipsa to rely on an inference of negligence to be deduced from all of the circumstances.  In Maryland, this requires the plaintiff to establish that the accident was (1) of a kind that does not ordinarily occur without negligence on the part of the defendant, (2) caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff.  If and when a plaintiff satisfies these three elements, res ipsa permits but does not compel the jury to infer a defendant’s negligence without the aid of any direct evidence.

On appeal, the court explained that, to satisfy the latter two elements of res ipsa, the plaintiff had the burden of proving that the falling griddle was more likely than not a result of the negligence of the defendants.  The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the combined likelihood that her own negligence or that of a third party caused the griddle to fall was less than 50%.  As a result, the court focused on whether there was evidence to demonstrate the defendants’ exclusive control of the griddle.

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In many personal injury cases, the plaintiffs seek compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses caused by the careless acts of another person or business.  In an important decision issued on May 31, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a jury verdict that found in favor of the plaintiffs on their negligence claim against the general contractor that built their home.  The plaintiff in the case was injured after a safety guardrail in his home failed, causing him to fall 12 to 13 feet onto the concrete below.wheelchair

After a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $1,306,700 in damages, which was reduced by the statutory cap on noneconomic damages.  The defendant subsequently appealed the verdict.  On appeal, one of the defendant’s primary arguments was that it owed no duty to the plaintiffs to ensure the proper construction of the guardrail because the responsibility for its construction had been delegated to its sub-contractor.

In general, Maryland follows the rule that the employer of an independent contractor is not liable for physical harm caused to another party by an act or omission of the contractor or its employees.  However, there are many exceptions to this rule, most of which fall into three categories:  (1) negligence of the employer in selecting or supervising the contractor; (2) non-delegable duties of the employer; and (3) inherently dangerous work.

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Businesses, as well as individuals, can be held accountable by law for injuries caused by their negligence.  In a March 22, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case involving the plaintiff’s exposure to lead pursuant to a study conducted by the defendant.  Some of the claims against the defendant were dismissed by the lower court before trial, and a jury found in favor of the defendant on all of the remaining claims.  The plaintiff brought an appeal, arguing several grounds for reversal.old paint

The defendant’s study, conducted from 1993 to 1999, was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants that were provided to evaluate and reduce lead-based paint hazards in housing.  The study involved research on the effectiveness of lead abatement measures in reducing lead contamination in homes, measured by the blood lead levels of minor children living in the homes that were part of the study.

A property group that, at the time, owned and managed approximately 200 low-income rental units in Baltimore City agreed to provide houses to be used for the study.  The plaintiff’s mother lived in one of the units and had signed a consent form that allowed the plaintiff (with whom she was pregnant at the time) to participate in the study.  Before the study commenced, the unit had tested positive for lead-based paint.  The defendant and property group paid for lead remediation work to be completed in the unit, which was intended to reduce but not completely remove all of the exposure to lead.  The unit did, however, pass Maryland’s post-abatement clearance standards at the time.  The plaintiff’s blood lead level rose steadily from when he was 11 months to three and a half years old while living in the unit and participating in the study.

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In many personal injury cases, procedural rules may require the plaintiff to produce specific types of evidence to prove his or her legal claim.  In an opinion released on April 17, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the plaintiffs could proceed with their negligence claims against an amusement park on the theory of res ipsa loquitur.  The plaintiffs were injured on a river ride during a visit to the defendant’s amusement park in 2011.  The incident occurred after a raft on the ride became stuck for an unknown reason and collided with the raft occupied by the plaintiffs.  The matter was brought on appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.amusement park

Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to present a prima facie case when direct evidence of the cause of an accident is not available or is available solely to the defendant, and circumstantial evidence permits the jury to infer that the defendant’s negligence was the cause.  Under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the factfinder may draw an inference of negligence if the plaintiff proves three elements:  (1) the plaintiff suffered an injury that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence; (2) the injury was caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control; and (3) the injury was not caused by any act or omission by the plaintiff.  Typically, the common knowledge of jurors is sufficient to support an inference or finding of negligence on the part of a defendant.  However, in some cases, expert testimony is required to establish negligence and causation.

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Lead-based paint injuries are common in Maryland, and they often result in litigation against negligent landlords and property owners. In an April 5, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a lower court’s order granting summary judgment on the plaintiff’s personal injury claim against several property owners. The plaintiff in the case brought suit against the defendants for damages allegedly caused by exposure to lead-based paint while visiting or residing at properties they owned from 1992 to 2007. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence that their property substantially contributed to his elevated blood levels. After the circuit court granted their motion, the plaintiff appealed.hands

At the time of the plaintiff’s birth through the first seven months of his life, the plaintiff and his family lived in property with chipped paint around the walls and windows, and they regularly visited another property in the same condition. Testing subsequently conducted during the lawsuit revealed that the two properties contained lead-based paint. When the plaintiff was almost three years old, he attended daycare at a property owned by the defendants, which contained chipping and peeling paint. Subsequent testing also indicated the presence of lead-based paint. The plaintiff visited the defendants’ property regularly for approximately two years. At some point, while he was still attending the daycare, he moved to another property, which contained chipping and peeling paint, but he was never tested for lead.

In Maryland, when a plaintiff alleges negligence based on a violation of a lead-based paint law, he must prove that there was a violation of the law and that the violation caused his injuries. Causation requires that the plaintiff present either direct or circumstantial evidence showing that (1) the defendant’s property was a source of the plaintiff’s lead exposure, (2) the exposure contributed to the plaintiff’s elevated blood lead levels, and (3) the plaintiff’s elevated blood lead levels substantially contributed to the injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiff. In the case at hand, the plaintiff relied on circumstantial evidence to establish his claim. Accordingly, he had the burden to produce circumstantial evidence that, if believed, would rule out other reasonably probable sources of lead.

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A negligence claim can arise out of any number of circumstances, including accidents that occur on the property of individuals or businesses due to their carelessness.  These are specifically known as premises liability claims.  In a relevant decision issued on February 23, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed whether a lower court properly granted summary judgment against the plaintiff on his premises liability claim against a hospital.snow

In 2007, the plaintiff had visited the hospital to participate in a sleep study.  Early the next morning, the plaintiff left the hospital and walked toward the bus stop.  The plaintiff noticed that the sidewalk outside the hospital was wet with sleet, ice, and mud, but he proceeded to walk through it.  He eventually reached a section of the sidewalk where, beneath the mud and slush, two concrete slabs were joined together unevenly.  Unaware of the differential, the plaintiff tripped over the elevated slabs and fell, suffering a fractured leg and a broken ankle.

The plaintiff brought suit against the hospital, alleging that it had negligently breached its duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in maintaining the hospital grounds.  The hospital contended that, although it maintained the area of the sidewalk on which the plaintiff fell, it didn’t own it or owe a duty to the plaintiff.  The trial court held that since the hospital did not own the sidewalk at issue, it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff that would render it liable for his injuries.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the hospital’s admission that it maintained the sidewalk created an issue of fact regarding its ownership.  The appeals court disagreed, explaining that the hospital did not waive the issue or concede ownership of the sidewalk when it answered the plaintiff’s interrogatory.

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To establish a successful negligence claim, the plaintiff must present evidence in support of her case.  The plaintiff may even have to argue her claim before trial, in an opposition to a motion for summary judgment, as in Davis v. Realty (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 25, 2016).  In Davis, the plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, alleging that she suffered lead paint poisoning while residing in the defendants’ properties as a child.  The defendant-owners of one such property filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence of flaking, chipping, or peeling paint while she lived there.  The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.doorway"

In Davis, the defendants supported their motion for summary judgment with the deposition of the plaintiff’s mother.  In that deposition, the plaintiff’s mother was never asked, nor did she volunteer, any testimony as to the flaking, chipping, or peeling paint in the house at issue.  When asked generally about the condition of the house, she stated that the walls had been freshly painted.  In response to the defendants’ motion, the plaintiff attached an affidavit of her mother.  The plaintiff’s mother stated in her affidavit that although the house at issue was freshly painted, the paint was very lumpy on the walls, and there was chipping, peeling, and flaking paint on the doors, doorframes, baseboards, steps, banister, and handrails.

The defendants moved to strike the affidavit pursuant to Rule 2-501(e), which requires the court to strike any part of an affidavit to the extent that it contradicts any prior sworn statements of the witness.  The plaintiff argued that the testimony was not contradictory, since her mother had lived in Baltimore City all of her life and regarded chipping, peeling, and loose paint as a normal thing to see in the kind of house she could afford to rent.  Furthermore, she had not been specifically asked about flaking, chipping, or peeling paint.

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The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury claim involving exposure to lead-based paint, ultimately ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.  In Murphy v. Ellison (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Aug. 23, 2016), the plaintiffs sued the owners of a building in which they resided from 1992 through 1995.  They alleged that the defendants failed to keep the property free of any flaking, loose, or peeling lead-based paint, and the lead-based paint exposure resulted in permanent brain injuries to their children.  The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to produce direct or circumstantial evidence of any lead-based paint hazards at the property.  The plaintiffs subsequently brought their appeal before the higher court.lead exposure

In Baltimore, the housing code establishes minimum standards for building maintenance, and it provides that all walls, ceilings, woodwork, doors, and windows must be free of any flaking, loose, or peeling paint to protect children from lead-based paint poisoning.  In negligence actions based on the housing code that involve lead exposure, as in Murphy, the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated the code and that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s injury.  Specifically, the element of causation requires evidence that the property at issue contained lead-based paint, and it was a substantial contributor to the victim’s exposure to lead.  This can be proven by either direct or circumstantial evidence.  In a typical circumstantial case, as in Murphy, the plaintiffs attempt to show that they had elevated blood-lead levels while living at the property, and there were no other reasonably probable sources of their exposure to lead.

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People who are hurt on the property of another business or individual may be able to hold a negligent party responsible for their injuries, as long as that party owed them a duty of care.  In Woods v. Dolgencorp, LLC (D. Md. Oct. 21, 2016), the plaintiff suffered injuries after tripping on a buckled mat in front of an ice cooler at a general store.  The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against the general store as well as the business that provided and maintained the ice cooler, alleging it was negligent in properly placing the mat.  The ice cooler defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff because it did not own, control, or manage the store at which the accident occurred.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland heard the motion.ice

In Maryland, the elements of a negligence claim are:  (1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered an actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty.  In premises liability actions, the defendant’s duty is dependent on the status of the plaintiff on the property.  In Woods, as a patron of the store, the plaintiff was an invitee on the premises.  An owner is responsible for harm caused by a natural or artificial condition if the owner knew about or could have discovered the condition through the exercise of reasonable care, or the owner should have expected that invitees would not discover the danger or would fail to protect themselves against it, or the owner invited entry upon the land without making the condition safe or giving a warning.

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In some lawsuits, plaintiffs can seek to hold careless business owners responsible for their negligence. In a recent case, Reyen v. Jones Lang Lasalle Americas, Inc. (D. Md. Sept. 7, 2016), an injured plaintiff filed a negligence claim against the owner of a bus company and the property manager of the bus station after she fell on an escalator. The matter was brought in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, which decided a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants.personal injury

In Reyen, the plaintiff purchased a bus ticket from the defendant to travel from New York to Virginia on an itinerary with several bus changes. Due to a disability that required her to walk with a cane, the plaintiff notified the bus company in advance that she would need help with moving her luggage and getting on and off the buses. The bus company indicated that she would have assistance walking from one bus to the next. During one of the scheduled stops, the plaintiff looked for an elevator she could use but was unable to find one at the station, although they were in fact available. The plaintiff felt that she had no other choice but to ride an escalator, and as she took a step onto it, she fell backwards and sustained injuries.

A plaintiff alleging negligence must prove the applicable standard of care, a deviation from that standard by the defendant, and a causal relationship between the deviation and the injury. Generally, common carriers owe different standards of care to passengers and non-passengers. For passengers, common carriers must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, including protecting passengers against assault, interference with the peaceful completion of their journey, and in certain situations, negligent acts of third parties. However, a common carrier owes no special duty of care to non-passengers, other than the general duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid injury.

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