Maryland Court Rules Jury Did Not Err in Finding Child Contributorily Negligent

In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case in Butler v. Abbett (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 5, 2016). In Butler, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on behalf of their eight-year-old daughter after she was injured while climbing a tree on the defendant’s property. After a trial, the jury found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial, arguing that the evidence showed that the defendant was negligent, and it did not prove that their daughter was contributorily negligent or had assumed the risk of her actions.

In Maryland, the duty owed to a social guest is to exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe or to warn the guest of known dangerous conditions that cannot reasonably be discovered by the guest. The parental duty of supervision includes protecting a child from known or obvious dangers. If a condition is open and obvious, no greater duty is imposed upon a host of a child under parental supervision than would be owed to the parent. On appeal, the court found that the tree was an open and obvious condition, and the defendant was not acting unreasonably in supervising the plaintiffs’ daughter.

The plaintiffs also contended that their daughter was too young to be considered contributorily negligent. The court disagreed, explaining that the only consideration for the court is whether the child is of sufficient age, intelligence, and experience to understand the risks of a given situation, at which time she is required to exercise such prudence in protecting herself, and such caution for the safety of others, as is common to children similarly situated.

In addition, the plaintiffs argued that their daughter was too young to assume the risk. In Maryland, in order to establish the defense of assumption of risk, the defendant must show that the plaintiff had knowledge of the risk of the danger, appreciated that risk, and voluntarily confronted the risk of danger. The doctrine rests upon an intentional and voluntary exposure to a known danger, as well as consent on the part of the plaintiff that relieves the defendant from a particular duty of conduct. A child, however, may not be taken to assume a risk if, due to her age or lack of information or experience, she does not comprehend the risk involved in a known situation. After considering the record, the appeals court found that the evidence supported the fact that the plaintiffs’ daughter had knowledge of the risk and voluntarily confronted it when she climbed the tree. As a result, the court affirmed the jury’s decision.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a premises liability accident, it may be beneficial to discuss your case with a qualified attorney in order to determine your legal options. The personal injury lawyers at the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. have substantial experience representing victims of slip and fall accidents, car collisions, medical malpractice, and more. To speak with one of our skilled attorneys, call Foran & Foran, P.A at (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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