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Articles Posted in Premises Liability

In Maryland, a property owner generally is under no duty to protect another person from criminal acts of a third party that occur on the property.  There are exceptions, however.  In a July 2, 2021 wrongful death case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals explained the kinds of circumstances that would be necessary to hold a property owner liable for crimes committed by a third party against a tenant leasing the premises.

The decedent in the case was killed during a robbery that took place at a retail store while he was working as the manager.  The store was in a Maryland strip mall, where there was a long history of criminal activity on the parking lot, including a murder committed the month before.  The decedent’s family brought wrongful death claims against the owner of the shopping center, alleging that it knew of the dangerous criminal activity and negligently failed to take security measures to protect the occupants of leased premises from foreseeable criminal acts of third persons committed inside those stores.

The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, ruling that, as a matter of law, the shopping center did not owe a duty to protect the decedent from the criminal acts of third persons committed on a store’s leased premises.  An appeal followed.

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When a tenant is injured as a result of a defective condition on the property that they are leasing, they may have legal recourse in certain situations.  In a June 15, 2021 negligence case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals considered whether the circumstances were enough to hold a landlord liable for alleged injuries caused by a defective staircase.

The plaintiff in the case was a resident and lessee of a townhome owned by the defendant.  On the day of the accident, the plaintiff was walking down an interior wooden staircase of the property to the basement, which she had typically done about six times a week.  The plaintiff alleged that the staircase suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed.  As a result, the plaintiff fell and allegedly suffered severe personal injury.

The plaintiff filed a negligence suit against her landlord, alleging that they were responsible for the inspection, maintenance, care and repair of the premises, including the basement steps.  After the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff appealed the decision.

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In some situations, homeowners may be liable for a personal injury that occurs on their property.  The care they must take to avoid liability depends on the status of the injured party.  In a May 3, 2021 case, the plaintiff filed a Maryland negligence suit against her neighbor after falling down the steps of her neighbor’s porch.  The issue before the Court of Special Appeals turned on the legal status of the plaintiff at the time of her injury.

The plaintiff in the case had returned home from work that day and found she was unable to open her front door.  She walked to her neighbor’s house and her neighbor’s grandson, who had answered the door, lent the plaintiff a metal knife.  After successfully unjamming her door, the plaintiff went back to her neighbor’s house later that day to return it.  After handing the knife to her neighbor, the plaintiff turned to leave down the staircase descending from the front porch.  She lost her balance and fell, suffering serious injuries to her leg.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability suit, alleging that her injuries were caused by her neighbor’s negligent maintenance of the premises.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding that the plaintiff was a bare licensee and that the defendant had not breached any duty to the plaintiff.  The plaintiff appealed that decision to the higher court.

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Defective, negligently maintained street infrastructure such as broken water meters or crumbling sidewalks can result in serious personal injuries to pedestrians.  In a March 12, 2012 case, the plaintiff in a Maryland injury lawsuit sued a city for negligence after falling on a broken storm drain grate and injuring her leg.  The case came before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland after the trial court entered judgment in favor of the City.

The plaintiff in the case was returning to her car after attending a professional football game.  As she walked among a crowd of fans, the plaintiff stepped onto a broken storm drain grate that was missing one of its metal bars.  The plaintiff’s foot and leg fell through the gap in the storm drain, causing her to fall.  After a fan helped her dislodge her leg from the storm drain grate, the plaintiff was transported to the hospital and underwent surgery on her leg.

The plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the City, alleging that it had been negligent in failing to properly maintain a storm drain and that was part of the street.  At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case at trial, the City moved for judgment, arguing that there was no evidence that it had actual or constructive notice of the defective storm drain.  The trial court granted the motion, and the issue was presented to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

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In Maryland, the liability of a property owner for a personal injury depends upon the standard of care owed to the injured person.  The standard of care, in turn, depends on the person’s status while on the owner’s property.  In a March 25, 2021 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a premises liability claim against a restaurant that was brought by one of its patrons.

The plaintiff in the case had dined at the restaurant with her husband and son.  Unable to find a parking spot in the restaurant’s designated lot, her husband parked in an adjacent parking lot.  The adjacent parking lot belonged to an unrelated limited liability corporation whose tenant had recently vacated the premises.  Upon entering the restaurant, the plaintiff testified that they asked the hostess whether they could park in the lot, and she stated “yes, we don’t have any problems” and “everyone does.”

After dining at the restaurant, the plaintiff and her husband headed towards their car.  Bypassing the paved portions of the lots and sidewalks, they cut across a grassy area of the property owned by the LLC.  After taking a few steps onto the grass area, the plaintiff’s foot landed in a hole that caused her to lose her balance and fall.  The plaintiff filed suit against the restaurant, alleging that they knew or should have known of the condition that caused her to fall when she walked across the grassy area.  The plaintiff did not file a claim against the owner of the adjacent lot and grassy area.

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Business entities may be liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on their property.  In a March 26, 2021 Maryland personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether an unpainted rollover curb constituted an unreasonable risk to a student.  The issue was appealed after the lower court ruled that, as a matter of law, the unpainted curb was not a dangerous condition.

The plaintiff in the case was injured when she tripped on an unpainted rollover curb in the parking lot of a university student center.  A rollover curb consists of a gradual incline from street level up to the sidewalk.  Some of the curbs on the perimeter of the parking lot were painted yellow to delineate fire lanes, areas in which parking was prohibited to allow access for fire trucks and emergency vehicles.  The plaintiff stated that she tripped over an unpainted section of a rollover curb near or adjoining a yellow-painted curb.

The plaintiff brought a negligence action against the university, claiming that it breached its duty to protect against latent, unreasonable risks.  The university moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not breach its duty of care.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment for the university, the plaintiff appealed.

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Depending on the circumstances of a Maryland personal injury accident, negligence may be alleged against an employer based on a theory of vicarious liability.  In a February 25, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the defendant, a supermarket owner, could be held vicariously liable for injuries allegedly caused by a third-party vendor.  The matter came on appeal after the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her nearly $400,000 in damages.

The plaintiff in the case was injured while shopping at a supermarket owned and operated by the defendant.  The injury occurred in the frozen-foods aisle.  The plaintiff testified that as she turned to put an item in her basket, she was struck in the back, which caused her to fall to the ground.  The plaintiff believed that she was struck by the stock cart of a delivery man whom she had noticed prior to her fall.  The man, who was not an employee but a third-party vendor delivering soda products to the supermarket, denied striking the plaintiff.

The plaintiff alleged that the supermarket was liable as a result of negligence based on alternative theories of premises liability and vicarious liability.  After the close of evidence at trial, the circuit court granted judgment for the defendant on the issue of premises liability.  The remaining issue was submitted to the jury, which found that the defendant was vicariously liable for the negligence of its vendor.

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In some situations, an employer may be liable for a personal injury caused by one of its employees within the scope of their employment.  This type of negligence suit is based on a theory of vicarious liability.  In a March 3, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a case involving an alleged battery that occurred at a bar.  The plaintiff claimed that the owner of the bar was liable for her injuries, which she alleged were inflicted by one of its employees.  The matter came before the court on an appeal filed by the plaintiff following a jury verdict in favor of the defendant.

The plaintiff in the case was attending a New Year’s Eve party with some friends at a bar operated by the defendant.  She had been a customer of the bar for several years and knew many of the employees.  One of the people she recognized as an employee approached her and grabbed her arm, causing her to fall to the ground.  The plaintiff suffered ankle injuries as a result of the fall.

The plaintiff sued the bar for her injuries, alleging that the person who grabbed her was an employee, agent, or servant of the bar and was acting within the scope and during the course of his employment.  The defendant, however, claimed that it had fired the person identified by the plaintiff approximately seven months before the incident.  After a three-day trial, the jury determined that the person was an employee of the bar on the date in question, but that his actions were not within the scope of his employment.  The jury ultimately found the defendant not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

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To defeat a motion for summary judgment in a personal injury suit, the plaintiff must show sufficient evidence exists to support their claim.  In a February 1, 2021 opinion, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland considered a summary judgment motion filed by the defendants in a personal injury case.  The plaintiffs in the case brought their Maryland negligence claim in federal court against the owners of a restaurant after allegedly suffering injuries in a slip and fall accident.

The plaintiffs in the case visited a Maryland restaurant known for having peanuts on the floor.  Complimentary peanuts were served during all hours of operation, and customers were permitted to discard peanut shells on the floor of the restaurant.  While waiting to be seated, the plaintiffs made their way to the restrooms.  Before reaching the restroom, the plaintiff fell on the hardwood flooring and landed on her right hip, with her right foot twisted behind her.  The plaintiff testified that she had oily stains on the right side of her clothing, leading her to believe that she fell in peanut oil.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the restaurant was negligent by failing to protect her from a dangerous condition that allegedly caused her injuries.  To succeed on their Maryland negligence claim, the plaintiffs must establish: (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 actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty.  Insofar as the plaintiff was a business invitee, the restaurant was required to use reasonable care to protect the plaintiff from from injury caused by an unreasonable risk that she would be unlikely to perceive in the exercise of ordinary care for her own safety, and about which the restaurant knows or could have discovered.  

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Property owners generally have a duty to exercise care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions on the premises.  In a January 28, 2021 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland explained the circumstances under which a property owner may be held liable for the criminal acts of a third party.

The lawsuit was brought by the estates of two teenagers who were shot and killed by an unknown assailant while standing outside of an apartment building owned by the defendant.  Prior to the teens’ deaths, the defendant had known of prior violent crimes occurring outside of the apartment buildings, common areas, and parking areas.  The plaintiffs claimed that in light of the history of crime at the apartment complex, the defendant was negligent in failing to take sufficient security measures to protect them from criminal activity at the complex.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs appealed.

In a negligence action in Maryland, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss as a proximate result of the defendant’s breach of that duty.

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