Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Childhood lead paint poisoning litigation can be complicated.  In an August 31, 2018 Maryland personal injury action, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland discussed the complexities of proving causation in lead paint cases.  The plaintiff in the case had resided in a house owned and managed by the defendants from his birth in 1997 until 2001.  He filed suit against the defendants alleging injuries resulting from lead paint poisoning.  At the conclusion of a five-day trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them over 2 million dollars in damages, which was ultimately reduced to approximately 1.5 million dollars.

The defendants appealed the verdict on multiple grounds, one of which was that the trial court erred by not granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s negligence claim.  The defendants argued that, at the time of their motion, there was no evidence that the plaintiff had been exposed to any lead-based paint hazards while residing at the defendants’ property.

In Maryland, when a plaintiff alleges negligence based on a violation of a lead paint statute or ordinance, the plaintiff has the burden to present sufficient facts to demonstrate that there was a violation of a law that was designed to protect a specific class of people that includes the plaintiff, and that the violation proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  A violation of certain sections of the Baltimore City Housing Code enacted to protect children from lead paint poisoning satisfies the first requirement.

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In Maryland, a person who suffers an injury due to the negligence of another individual, business, or entity may seek compensation for their losses in a personal injury suit.  If the case goes to trial, the jury will usually decide whether the defendant was negligent based on the proof presented.  In an August 28, 2018 Maryland personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, who was injured during an event hosted by the defendant.  After the plaintiff won her case, the defendants appealed to the higher court.

The defendant in the case was the city board of school commissioners.  The board hosted a retirement party, where the plaintiff was one of several retirees being honored in the cafeteria of a local school.  To provide the retirees with celebratory “red carpet” treatment as their names were called, one of the board’s party organizers placed a red felt aisle runner on the cafeteria floor.  The runner began to bunch up after the first few retirees walked or danced down the aisle, and party organizers attempted to straighten out the runner.  The plaintiff was the seventh person to walk down the aisle.  As she reached the end of the runner, she stopped to take a slight bow.  The plaintiff then stood back up and attempted to continue walking, but fell to the ground.  The plaintiff suffered significant injuries to her hip, which required surgery and a lengthy hospital stay.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging negligence claims against the board and the individual party organizers.  After a three day trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.  The defendant appealed arguing several grounds for reversal, one of which was that the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence at trial for the case to be submitted to the jury.  Specifically, the defendant contended that the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that the party volunteer who provided the aisle runner was negligent, including evidence that the volunteer was informed or had knowledge of any trip hazards associated with the aisle runner.

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An individual who has suffered an injury caused by negligence may have legal recourse against the liable party, as illustrated in an August 17, 2018 case.  The plaintiff in the case was inside a retail store when a motorist lost control of his car and crashed through the fire doors of the building.  The plaintiff suffered serious injuries in the accident, which resulted in the amputation of his leg.  Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a Maryland negligence claim against the corporate owner of the nationwide store chain, arguing that it failed to take reasonable steps to protect customers against the foreseeable risk of vehicle-building crashes.  After trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded approximately 6.5 million in damages.

The defendant appealed to the Court of Special Appeals on several grounds, one of which was that the plaintiffs asserted facts that were not in evidence while cross-examining the defendant’s witnesses.  During discovery, the plaintiffs had obtained information from the defendant regarding three prior vehicle-into-building crashes that had occurred at the defendant’s other store locations between 2008 and 2013.  The plaintiff questioned the defendant’s corporate representative about those incidents, as well as a dozen other incidents the plaintiff had discovered.

In general, questions that assume facts that are not supported by evidence already admitted are objectionable.  The appeals court explained that the admissibility of the plaintiff’s questions regarding the prior vehicle-into-building crashes depended on whether these incidents had actually occurred.  Without any proof in evidence verifying that the incidents had occurred, the incidents were not relevant to the case, and therefore, were inadmissible.

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The plaintiff has the burden to prove each element of a negligence claim arising out of lead paint exposure.  In many cases, the plaintiff in a Maryland personal injury case will have an expert testify to assist the jury in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue.  In a July 31, 2018 lead paint case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland considered whether a medical study cited by an expert provided a sufficient factual basis for his testimony.  The court also addressed whether an expert could offer an opinion on specific causation by relying on medical study data along with an individualized analysis of the plaintiff’s injuries.The plaintiff in the case sued the owners of a residential property, alleging that his injuries, including mental and attention deficits, were caused by exposure to deteriorating lead paint at the property.  At trial, the parties agreed that, due to the defendants’ negligence, the plaintiff was exposed to lead paint and that the exposure was the cause of the plaintiff’s elevated blood lead levels.  The remaining questions for the jury were whether the lead exposure caused an injury to the plaintiff and, if so, the amount of damages.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded approximately $1.3 million in damages.  The defendants subsequently filed an appeal, arguing that the plaintiff had not sufficiently proven that his alleged injuries resulted in any damages.  The plaintiff contended that the testimony of his expert witnesses satisfied his burden of proof.

In Maryland, an expert’s opinion must be based on facts that sufficiently indicate the use of reliable principles and methodology, which thus support the expert’s conclusions.  The expert must also have a rational explanation for how the factual data led to the expert’s conclusion. On appeal, the court examined the medical studies used by the plaintiff’s experts.  The first expert used medical studies that examined the relationship between ADHD and lead exposure.  The court found that the studies indicated an association between the two, but not causation.  This was significant, since it led the court to conclude that the expert’s testimony suffered from an analytical gap by overstating the known effects of lead exposure.  Lacking a scientific basis, the expert’s testimony was therefore inadmissible.

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In some Maryland negligence cases, it is difficult to determine exactly how the victim’s personal injury occurred.  Legal recourse may nevertheless be possible under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur if the jury could infer that negligence on the part of the defendant was more probable than not responsible for the victim’s injury.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied in a June 25, 2018 case involving an escalator injury.

The plaintiff in the case was using the escalator in a department store in the mall.  She was injured when the escalator stopped suddenly.  The plaintiff brought suit against the companies which owned, operated, and/or maintained the escalator.  However, the lower court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff failed to designate an expert witness on the issue of liability.  The plaintiff appealed, contending that, as she had met her burden to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, expert testimony was unnecessary.

In Maryland, a plaintiff seeking to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must establish that the accident was one that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence, that the accident was caused by an instrumentality exclusively within the defendant’s control, and the accident was not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff.  If the plaintiff can prove these elements, then the issue of negligence may be presented to a jury, which may then choose to infer a defendant’s negligence without the aid of any direct evidence.

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An accident victim who asserts a Maryland negligence claim against another person or business has the burden of establishing certain legal elements.  A May 10, 2018 decision by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland discussed the requirements necessary to survive a summary judgment motion by the defendant in a premises liability case.  The question for the court was whether the evidence was sufficient to prove that the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s injury.

The plaintiff in the case was injured at the defendant’s gas station convenience store while buying food and gasoline for her car.  After she had placed a food order from the made-to-order counter, the plaintiff walked toward the exit to proceed with filling her gas tank.  On her way out the door, her foot caught on the rubbed edge of a rug that was upturned, causing her to fall and sustain injuries.  The plaintiff alleged that the employee behind the food counter told her that the rug was up a little bit.  The plaintiff subsequently filed suit against the owner of the convenience store, alleging negligence.

In Maryland premises liability cases, a property owner owes a duty of care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.  An owner is only liable for injuries caused to invitees by a condition on the property if he or she knows of the condition, or would have known by exercising reasonable care, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm, should also expect that the invitees will not discover or realize the danger or will otherwise fail to protect themselves against it, and furthermore fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.  However, the owner is not required to insure the invitee’s safety or constantly patrol the property to discover potential hazards.

In Maryland, careless landlords may be liable for the damage caused by their negligence, including some lead-based paint injuries.  In an April 2, 2018 case, the plaintiff filed a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against his landlords for increased blood lead levels and developmental disabilities suffered as results of exposure to lead-based paint while living in the defendants’ apartment building.  After a six-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded damages in the amount of approximately 1.6 million dollars.

The defendants then filed a motion for the court to enter a judgment in their favor or, in the alternative, for a new trial, and they also moved to reduce the non-economic damages.  The trial court reduced the non-economic damages to $1,173,000 but denied the defendants’ other motions.  The defendants appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff in the case had lived in the defendants’ property from the time he was born in 1997.  His blood was tested eight times for lead between 1998 and 2012, and tests revealed elevated blood levels four times while he was residing at the property.  After the lawsuit was filed, the property was tested for lead-based paint.  An expert report revealed lead paint in the door and window casing of the property.  On appeal, one of the defendants’ arguments was that the evidence was not sufficient to support the verdict.

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The lasting effects of lead exposure can be difficult to manage, and even more so when a child has elevated levels of lead in their system.  If the lead exposure was due to the negligence of another person, such as a property owner or landlord, the victim may be able to recover compensation for their injures in a Maryland personal injury claim.  In a March 14, 2018 lead-based paint case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed whether the lower court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.  The issue of causation was complicated by the fact that the plaintiff was born with cognitive impairments.

While living at a property owned by the defendants, the plaintiff was diagnosed with elevated blood-lead levels.  However, the plaintiff had been born with a certain medical condition, which caused autism-like cognitive impairments.  This complicated the issue, since the cognitive effects of the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition were also the same sort of impairments that can be caused by childhood exposure to lead.  The plaintiff’s mother brought a lawsuit on his behalf against the defendants then, but the claim was dismissed without prejudice.  In an unusual process, the court left open the possibility that the plaintiff could bring the claim again as an adult.  The case at issue was the plaintiff’s second lawsuit against the defendants.

The plaintiff alleged that the additional exposure to lead at the defendants’ property aggravated his medical condition, resulting in a diminished quality of life and cognitive functioning.  He had the support of a medical causation expert, who opined that the lead exposure had aggravated the plaintiff’s existing conditions and reduced his cognition.  Furthermore, the expert stated that the lead exposure substantially contributed to the additional loss of the plaintiff’s cognitive ability, constituting an injury over and above the condition with which the plaintiff was born.  After the lower court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion, the plaintiff appealed.

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People who have been injured in a retail store or other business may be able to recover their medical expenses and other losses if the accident was caused by negligence.  In a March 14, 2018 Maryland premises liability case, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed an injury claim filed by a plaintiff against a retail clothing store.  After the circuit court had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff in the case was injured when she tripped and fell in the defendant’s store.  She alleged that her flip flop sandal became caught on an unsecured transition strip of rubber, which separated a carpeted section of the store from an uncarpeted aisle between departments.  The plaintiff contended that the transition strip was damaged and detached from the ground, creating a dangerous condition for store patrons.

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was an invitee of the defendant’s store.  In Maryland, there is an assumption that the defendant, a retail establishment, will exercise reasonable care to ascertain the condition of the premises.  In light of this assumption, the defendant has a duty to warn invitees of known hidden dangers, a duty to inspect, and a duty to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers.  In a premises liability case, the evidence must show not only that a dangerous condition existed, but also that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of it, and that that knowledge was gained in sufficient time to give the defendant the opportunity to remove it or to warn the plaintiff.

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With the state’s abundance of older buildings and housing structures, many Maryland residents have suffered from exposure to lead-based paint. Some Maryland lead paint victims have pursued a negligence claim against their landlords and property owners to recover compensation for their injuries. A December 18, 2017 decision by the Court of Appeals of Maryland is relevant to consider when bringing a claim arising out of lead exposure, particularly against out-of-state insurance companies and property owners.

The matter was brought before the Maryland court by the U.S. District Court, before which was pending a lead paint case. The District Court sought an answer to the question of whether the pollution exclusion contained in the defendant’s Georgia insurance policy, which excluded coverage for bodily injuries resulting from the ingestion of lead-based paint, violated Maryland public policy.

The plaintiffs in the case had been exposed to lead-based paint at a property owned by the defendant in Maryland. The plaintiffs brought suit against the defendant and the defendant’s insurance company, claiming that the insurance company was obligated to indemnify the defendant. The insurance company contended that it was under no such obligation, since the defendant’s general liability insurance policy, which was purchased in Georgia, did not cover injuries resulting from pollutants such as lead-based paint. The plaintiffs argued that the exclusion, although valid under Georgia law, was against Maryland’s public policy and could not be enforced in the state.

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