Maryland Court Orders New Trial in Premises Liability Claim Against Grocery Store

In some personal injury cases, it can be difficult for the plaintiff to identify the facts leading up to the accident and explain exactly what caused the injury that he or she suffered.  In a recent Maryland slip and fall case, the plaintiff’s testimony did not directly implicate how the defendant was at fault for her injury.  However, the matter was decided her favor on appeal.

Upon entering a grocery store owned by the defendant, the plaintiff in the case asked a store employee where the rice was located.  The employee, who was re-stocking shelves in one of the aisles, pointed to an upper shelf.  A surveillance video captured the scene, showing that multiple boxes were lined along the right side of the aisle in which the employee and plaintiff were standing.  The video also showed that after the plaintiff got the rice from the top shelf, she turned around and appeared to trip over a stack of boxes.

The plaintiff brought a personal injury suit against the grocery store and the employee, alleging negligence.  The case went to trial, where the plaintiff testified that she fell after catching her foot on something, although she could not identify what it was.  At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that the plaintiff failed to present a prima facie case of negligence.  The plaintiff appealed the decision to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

In a negligence case, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:  (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 injury, and (4) that the injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty.  As the owner of a grocery store, the defendant owed its customers, including the plaintiff, a duty of reasonable care to keep the store safe and protect them from injuries caused by an unreasonable risk that customers, by exercising ordinary care for their own safety, would not discover.

On appeal, the question was whether the defendant had created an unreasonable risk by leaving knee-high stacks of boxes sitting on the floor in an aisle while consumers were shopping, thereby breaching its duty to keep the premises reasonably safe.  The appeals court concluded that the question was an issue of fact for the jury to decide.  The court went on to find that, despite the plaintiff’s testimony, there was evidence that the plaintiff had tripped on the stack of boxes, namely the surveillance video and the employee’s testimony.  The appeals court therefore ruled that the trial court erred by entering judgment for the defendants and withdrawing the case from the jury.  The case was remanded for a new trial.

At Foran & Foran, our Maryland negligence lawyers can handle any personal injury case, from car and truck accidents to premises liability actions.  We have represented individuals who have suffered injuries as a result of medical malpractice, and the family members of victims in wrongful death actions.  If you are seeking experienced legal advice, call Foran & Foran today at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and request a free consultation.