Court Clarifies Duty Owed to Guests of Condominium Complex in Maryland Personal Injury Case

In general, a business may be held responsible for known dangerous conditions on its property that injure another person, if the business owed that person a duty of care.  In a Maryland premises liability case, the standard of care is determined by the status of the victim.  As a result, the question of whether the victim is an invitee, social guest, or trespasser may make a difference in the outcome of a negligence claim.  In a November 21, 2019 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered this issue as a matter of first impression, as it related to an eight-year-old child injured in the common area of a condominium complex.

At the time the injury occurred, the child and his younger brother were visiting their grandparents, who resided in one of the condo units.  While playing in a common area of the complex, the children climbed atop of a community sign made of large stones.  As they dismounted, they held onto one of the stones, which dislodged and caused the boys to fall to the ground.  The stone fell on top of the eight-year-old child, who suffered serious injuries as a result.

The plaintiff brought a negligence suit against the owner of the condominium complex and the condominium association on behalf of his eight-year-old child.  After the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff appealed.

Premises liability is based on common-law principles of negligence.  Accordingly, the plaintiff must establish the four elements of negligence: (1) the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the plaintiff suffered an injury, and (4) the injury was caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.  The duty of the landowner to a person who was injured on their property depends on the person’s legal status at the time of the incident.  In Maryland, a landowner owes the highest duty of care to an invitee, and to a lesser degree, a duty of care to a social guest.  With few exceptions, a landowner generally owes no duty to a trespasser.

In the case, one of the primary issues on appeal concerned whether the child was a social guest or an invitee.  Noting the lack of Maryland case law on the issue, the court held that condo unit owners and their guests occupy the legal status of invitee when they are in the common areas over which the condominium association maintains control.  As such, the defendants owed a duty to protect the child from an unreasonable risk of danger that was known or should have been known to the defendants, and that the child would not discover when exercising ordinary care for his own safety.  Ultimately, however, the court concluded that, based on the evidence of record, the defendants could not have known that the stone sign was likely to fall from its framework, and without actual or constructive notice of the danger, they were not liable.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., we can help victims of negligence and their family members evaluate their options after an accident.  Our Maryland personal injury attorneys represent plaintiffs who have been hurt as a result of automobile and motorcycle collisions, premises liability accidents, medical malpractice, and many other situations.  Request a free consultation to discuss your injury with an experienced negligence lawyer by calling Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.