Governmental Immunity at Issue in Maryland Negligence Suit for Injuries in County Park

In Maryland, most individuals and entities may be held liable for personal injuries caused by their negligent conduct.  However, in situations involving alleged negligence on the part of the government or state officials, the concept of immunity may be a consideration.  Recently, the Court of Special Appeals decided whether or not governmental immunity applied to a local county in a September 16, 2019 Maryland negligence case.

The plaintiff in the case had enrolled her son in youth swimming lessons offered by the County at a public park.  After dropping her son off for his lesson, she walked through the park with her younger child strapped to her front in a baby carrier.  As she traveled through a blacktop, gravel area in the park, her foot came into contact with a water pipe that was reportedly protruding above the gravel.  She fell forward onto her hands and knees, injuring herself and her child.

The plaintiff then brought a lawsuit against the County, claiming that its negligence in maintaining the park caused the injuries to her and her child.  The County filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from suit for any injuries resulting from its maintenance of the park due to governmental immunity.  The circuit court agreed and granted the motion based on case law establishing that the maintenance and operation of a public swimming pool by a local government is a governmental function.  The plaintiff appealed that decision to the higher court.

In Maryland, a local county generally enjoys immunity only when performing governmental, as opposed to proprietary functions.  A function is governmental where it is sanctioned by legislative authority, is solely for the public benefit, with no profit or emolument inuring to the municipality, and tends to benefit public health and promote the welfare of the whole public, without the element of private interest.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that providing swimming lessons to paying customers was not a governmental function.  The court explained, however, that the reason they went to the park, i.e., the swimming lesson, was not the relevant question.  Rather, the issue centered on the alleged cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries, which the plaintiffs had asserted was the County’s allegedly negligent maintenance of the park grounds.  The appeals court then noted that Maryland has long recognized that the maintenance of public parks and swimming pools is a governmental function for which a local government enjoys immunity.  Accordingly, and as the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by conditions relating to park maintenance, the appeals court held that governmental immunity shielded the County from liability for the plaintiffs’ injuries.

If you or your child have been injured in an accident, you may be able to recover your medical expenses and other losses in a Maryland negligence suit.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our lawyers represent plaintiffs in a range of legal matters, such as medical malpractice claims, premises liability actions, truck and motor vehicle collisions, and other personal injury cases.  Arrange a free consultation with an experienced negligence attorney by calling Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.