Injured plaintiffs may hold individuals, businesses, and entities liable for their negligence in a Maryland personal injury suit. When the defendant is the county, city, or government, however, the issue of governmental immunity may arise. In a November 1, 2018 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether a local County was immune from a negligence claim brought by an injured pedestrian. The County appealed the issue after the plaintiff won her suit and was awarded over $50,000 for her injuries.
The plaintiff in the case was injured when she stepped on a water meter lid that flipped open, causing her leg to fall into the hole. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the County, alleging that her injuries resulted from its negligence with respect to the construction, installation, and maintenance of the water meter lid. At trial, the plaintiff introduced evidence that the County had ignored the requirements of its own design manual regarding the selection and installation of the water meter lid. The jury determined that the County was negligent, and found in favor of the plaintiff. The County subsequently filed an appeal, arguing that it was protected from suit by governmental immunity.
While the state of Maryland has absolute immunity from claims with few exceptions, counties are immune only when performing governmental functions, as opposed to proprietary. Generally, the government’s obligation to maintain and keep streets, sidewalks, footways, and adjoining areas in a reasonably safe condition has been treated as proprietary, whereas the maintenance of public parks and the like has been treated as a governmental function. In the instant case, the water meter at issue was located on a grassy strip at the end of a sidewalk, but not on a paved location.