Injured Shopper Files Negligence Suit Against Maryland Supermarket

Depending on the circumstances of a Maryland personal injury accident, negligence may be alleged against an employer based on a theory of vicarious liability.  In a February 25, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the defendant, a supermarket owner, could be held vicariously liable for injuries allegedly caused by a third-party vendor.  The matter came on appeal after the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her nearly $400,000 in damages.

The plaintiff in the case was injured while shopping at a supermarket owned and operated by the defendant.  The injury occurred in the frozen-foods aisle.  The plaintiff testified that as she turned to put an item in her basket, she was struck in the back, which caused her to fall to the ground.  The plaintiff believed that she was struck by the stock cart of a delivery man whom she had noticed prior to her fall.  The man, who was not an employee but a third-party vendor delivering soda products to the supermarket, denied striking the plaintiff.

The plaintiff alleged that the supermarket was liable as a result of negligence based on alternative theories of premises liability and vicarious liability.  After the close of evidence at trial, the circuit court granted judgment for the defendant on the issue of premises liability.  The remaining issue was submitted to the jury, which found that the defendant was vicariously liable for the negligence of its vendor.

Although the employer of an independent contractor generally is not liable for physical harm caused to another by an acts of the contractor, there are multiple exceptions to this rule under Maryland law.  One is that liability may be imposed on an employer who has retained control over the details of the contractor’s work.  On appeal, the court explained that general control over an independent contractor’s work is insufficient to extend liability to an employer for their actions.  Rather, the defendant must have retained control over the methods and operative details of the vendor’s job.

The appeals court concluded that the defendant, by requiring the vendor to check in and out, prohibiting powered jacks, and reviewing the vendor’s work, did not have sufficient control over him so as to extend liability.  Rather than supervisory acts, the court found that the defendant was exerting its general rights as a possessor of the premises and owner of its business.  The court therefore held that the evidence was insufficient to submit the vicarious liability claim to the jury, and that the circuit court erred in denying the defendant’s motion for judgment.  Accordingly, the verdict for the plaintiff was reversed.

If your injuries were caused by the negligent actions of another person, you may be able to seek compensation.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our injury attorneys can provide legal advice and representation after an accident.  We handle personal injury cases based on premises liability as well as medical malpractice, negligence, and more.  Call our office at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with a skilled accident attorney.

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