Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

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.

Slip and fall claims often involve nuanced issues, and plaintiffs may benefit from the representation of an experienced Maryland premises liability attorney in such cases.  In an October 11, 2017 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed a Maryland negligence claim brought by the plaintiff against her condominium association after she slipped and fell on ice in the parking lot of the building.  The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury by walking on obviously visible ice next to her car.  After the trial court granted the defendants’ motion, the plaintiff appealed to the higher court.

In February 2014, a series of snowstorms covered the area with 18 inches of snow and sleet.  After the storms subsided, the parking lot of the plaintiff’s condominium building was plowed.  However, a foot of snow had been pushed behind the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The plaintiff emailed the defendants about the problem, but two days later, the snow remained piled around her vehicle.  The plaintiff paid a neighbor to dig out her car so that she could drive to the store.  When he finished, the plaintiff approached the driver side door of her vehicle, slipped, and fell.  The plaintiff fractured her forearm in the fall and underwent two surgeries as a result.

In Maryland, “assumption of the risk” is an affirmative defense that completely bars a plaintiff’s recovery.  The defense is grounded on the theory that a plaintiff who voluntarily consents, either expressly or impliedly, to exposure to a known risk cannot later sue for damages incurred from exposure to that risk.  To establish the defense, a defendant must prove that the plaintiff had knowledge of the risk of the danger, the plaintiff appreciated that risk, and the plaintiff voluntarily confronted the risk of danger.  Maryland courts assess whether a plaintiff had knowledge and appreciation of the risk using an objective standard.  Accordingly, when it is clear that a person of normal intelligence in the position of the plaintiff must have understood the danger, the issue is for the court to decide.

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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.

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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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.

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 a victory for the plaintiff, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reversed summary judgment in a personal injury case, allowing her to proceed with her suit against the defendant. In Smith v. Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 19, 2016), the plaintiff suffered injuries after falling over a tote box on the floor of the defendant’s store. An employee had placed the box next to the checkout counter and against the candy and magazine rack to unload magazines. After checking out, the plaintiff was looking straight toward the exit to leave when she tripped over the box.

The defendant argued in its summary judgment motion that it had no duty to warn the plaintiff of an open and obvious condition. The circuit court granted summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff had seen totes in the store on previous occasions and was not looking where she was going when she fell. The plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision of the lower court. The appeals court ultimately held that the grant of summary judgment was in error for several reasons.

In Maryland, a business owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect customers from an injury caused by an unreasonable risk, about which the owner knows or that the owner could have discovered in the exercise of reasonable care. This duty includes not only inspecting the premises and warning customers of any known hidden dangers, but also taking reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers. A customer also has a duty to exercise due care for her own safety, including a duty to look at her surroundings. Accordingly, a business owner ordinarily has no duty to warn a customer of an open, obvious, and present danger.

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In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case in Butler v. Abbett (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 5, 2016). In Butler, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on behalf of their eight-year-old daughter after she was injured while climbing a tree on the defendant’s property. After a trial, the jury found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial, arguing that the evidence showed that the defendant was negligent, and it did not prove that their daughter was contributorily negligent or had assumed the risk of her actions.

In Maryland, the duty owed to a social guest is to exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe or to warn the guest of known dangerous conditions that cannot reasonably be discovered by the guest. The parental duty of supervision includes protecting a child from known or obvious dangers. If a condition is open and obvious, no greater duty is imposed upon a host of a child under parental supervision than would be owed to the parent. On appeal, the court found that the tree was an open and obvious condition, and the defendant was not acting unreasonably in supervising the plaintiffs’ daughter.

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The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently ruled on an appeal in a personal injury claim that was halted when the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. In Geibel v. Z Best Limousine Serv., Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Mar. 3, 2016), the plaintiff was a passenger in a limousine operated by the defendant. The interior floor of the limousine was hardwood, over which a custom-made carpet with rubber backing was cut to fit the floorboard of the limo. When the plaintiff exited the limousine, the carpet slipped, and she fell to the ground outside of the limo. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant for injuries she sustained as a result of the fall.

After discovery was complete, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that there was no evidence that the carpet runner in the limousine was in an unsafe condition or that the defendant had any knowledge of an allegedly unsafe condition. In addition, there had been no other accidents in the limousine in which other passengers had slipped on the carpet, or reports of any other problems with the carpet not being secure. The trial court granted the motion on the basis that there was no evidence that the defendant was aware or had reason to be aware of any defect in the carpet.

In Maryland, the duty that an owner of property owes to persons entering onto the property varies according to the visitor’s status as an invitee, a licensee by invitation (i.e., a social guest), a bare licensee, or a trespasser. The highest duty is owed to a business invitee, defined as one invited or permitted to enter another’s property for purposes related to the landowner’s business. In Geibel, the plaintiff was an invitee, and as such, the defendant owed her a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the limousine safe, and to protect the plaintiff from injury caused by an unreasonable risk, which the plaintiff, by exercising ordinary care for her own safety, would not discover.

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The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently reviewed a verdict in which the jury found in favor of the plaintiff in a personal injury claim. In Univ. Specialty Hosp, Inc. v. Rheubottom (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Feb. 10, 2016), the plaintiff brought a negligence action against a hospital, seeking damages for injuries she suffered when she slipped and fell while exiting the hospital. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering. The hospital moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, contending that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the evidence presented at trial. The trial court denied the motion, and the hospital appealed.

To establish a negligence claim in Maryland, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed her a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, the defendant’s action caused the plaintiff’s injury, and the plaintiff suffered damages. In premises liability cases, the duty owed to a plaintiff depends on the circumstances of the parties’ relationship. A business invitee is defined as one invited or permitted to enter another’s property for purposes related to the property owner’s business.

In Univ. Specialty Hosp, Inc. v. Rheubottom, the plaintiff was a business invitee of the hospital. Accordingly, the hospital owned her a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep its premises safe and protect her from harm caused by an unreasonable risk that the plaintiff, by exercising ordinary care for her own safety, would not discover. However, no presumption of negligence on the part of the property owner arises merely from a showing that an injury was sustained on the premises. The plaintiff, therefore, bears the burden of producing evidence from which the jury could infer that the hospital created the dangerous condition or had actual or constructive knowledge of its existence.

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In a recent slip and fall case, Zilichikhis v. Montgomery County, Md. Ct. Sp. App. (2015), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals had before it a case arising out of an 82-year-old man’s slip and fall inside a parking garage owned and operated by a governmental agency.

The plaintiff had been attempting to walk to his car, which was parked in a parking garage. As he approached his vehicle, he slipped and fell twice. Shortly thereafter, he started complaining of a severe headache. He was taken to the hospital to seek emergency medical treatment, where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma that required immediate surgery. The plaintiff continues to suffer various impairments as a result of his traumatic brain injury.

After he filed suit, the county claimed immunity from suit as a governmental agency, and also a lack of liability due to the fact that it was not on actual or constructive notice regarding the presence of the alleged oil. They cited to the fact that the plaintiff had claimed he had not seen the oil on the ground the night before, when he parked his car, and also that he claimed it smelled fresh when he fell and he had gotten it onto his hand.

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In a recent wrongful death claim a Missouri police officer allegedly caused an accident that resulted in four deaths. A settlement was reached for $ 2.25 million to the surviving family members of the deceased parties. The driver, a police officer, was apparently intoxicated at the time of the collision and had significant blood alcohol levels in her blood even three hours after the accident. Read more about wrongful death cases here.

Bus accident
12/08/2011 09:35:27 AM

A jury in New York recently awarded 7.5 million dollars to two women who were involved in a bus accident. Apparently, the bus ran a red light and struck an automobile, thereby causing significant injuries to the two women. The bus company was offered a settlement of $ 3 million but declined. Now they are exposed to the 7.5 million verdict. Bus accident can be particularly catastrophic because of the size of the bus and the inability to stop a bus as quickly as an automobile. If you or a loved one is involved in a bus accident, call the Law Firm of foran & Foran, P.A. Continue reading

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