Court of Special Appeals of Maryland Reverses Jury Verdict in Slip and Fall Case

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.

On appeal, the question for the court was whether the plaintiff produced evidence at trial from which a jury could draw reasonable inferences connecting the dangerous condition to the hospital’s actions. After reviewing the evidence on record, the Court of Special Appeals found that the evidence was not sufficient. The court explained that the plaintiff’s premises liability theory depended on the presence of a slippery condition that the hospital at least plausibly created. However, the plaintiff testified that she did not see any water or substance on the floor, and she was unable to articulate what exactly she slipped on. Although the plaintiff stated that she saw a hospital employee with a floor cleaning machine nearby, the court noted that the sighting did not take place in the area where she slipped, nor did she actually witness a hospital employee mopping or wetting the floor. The court also noted that the hospital produced undisputed evidence that the machine seen by the plaintiff is used to shine floors and does not leave any liquid behind.

The court concluded that the evidentiary record left nothing from which a reasonable juror could infer that the hospital dampened the floor on which the plaintiff slipped, and therefore the hospital was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a premises liability accident, discussing your case with a qualified attorney can be beneficial in pursuing compensation for your damages. The personal injury lawyers at the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. provide skilled and aggressive representation to victims of slip and fall accidents, car collisions, medical malpractice, and more. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys, call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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