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Maryland Plaintiff Alleges Negligence Claim Against University After Trip and Fall Injury

Business entities may be liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on their property.  In a March 26, 2021 Maryland personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether an unpainted rollover curb constituted an unreasonable risk to a student.  The issue was appealed after the lower court ruled that, as a matter of law, the unpainted curb was not a dangerous condition.

The plaintiff in the case was injured when she tripped on an unpainted rollover curb in the parking lot of a university student center.  A rollover curb consists of a gradual incline from street level up to the sidewalk.  Some of the curbs on the perimeter of the parking lot were painted yellow to delineate fire lanes, areas in which parking was prohibited to allow access for fire trucks and emergency vehicles.  The plaintiff stated that she tripped over an unpainted section of a rollover curb near or adjoining a yellow-painted curb.

The plaintiff brought a negligence action against the university, claiming that it breached its duty to protect against latent, unreasonable risks.  The university moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not breach its duty of care.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment for the university, the plaintiff appealed.

To hold a property owner liable for negligence, one of the elements an invitee must prove is that the property owner breached its duty of care.  In Maryland, the duty of care owed to invitees is a duty of ordinary care to maintain the property in a condition that does not pose an unreasonable risk to invitees.  The duty is breached only if the landowner knew of a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of harm, knows or should know that an invitee would not discover the danger, and fails to prevent or warn of the danger.  Unreasonable risks are those that are latent, concealed, or extraordinary conditions on the property.

On appeal, the court explained that a condition does not constitute an unreasonable risk if it is common, conspicuously located, and easily discoverable.  In addition, pedestrians must exercise care to protect themselves from ordinary or obvious obstructions on the ground.  The appeals court found that the section of the curb that the plaintiff tripped over was in good condition, it was a common feature in commercial parking lots, and did not pose any unreasonable risk.

The court went on to find that any risk that could exist was discoverable.  The plaintiff had argued that a blending effect between the sidewalk and unpainted curb, as well as the distraction of the surrounding yellow curb, caused it to be undiscoverable.  The court disagreed, concluding that both conditions are expected and normally found within parking lots.  The court therefore held that the university did not have a duty to warn of the curb and affirmed summary judgment.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland attorneys can provide legal advice following an injury or accident.  We handle a range of personal injury and negligence cases, including premises liability and medical malpractice actions.  Schedule your free consultation by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or by contacting us online.

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