Accidents can happen anywhere, but when they are caused by a careless person or business, the victim may be able to pursue compensation through a negligence claim. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland decided a July 14, 2017 appeal involving a plaintiff who had been injured in a retail store. The plaintiff in the case was shopping in the defendants’ department store when a cast iron griddle fell from a bottom shelf and landed on her right foot. She brought negligence claims against the store owners, based on the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur. Following trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. However, after the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff brought the current appeal.
In a negligence action, the plaintiff must present evidence tending to show that the defendant was legally responsible for her injury, although direct proof of negligence is not required. The plaintiff may instead invoke res ipsa to rely on an inference of negligence to be deduced from all of the circumstances. In Maryland, this requires the plaintiff to establish that the accident was (1) of a kind that does not ordinarily occur without negligence on the part of the defendant, (2) caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff. If and when a plaintiff satisfies these three elements, res ipsa permits but does not compel the jury to infer a defendant’s negligence without the aid of any direct evidence.
On appeal, the court explained that, to satisfy the latter two elements of res ipsa, the plaintiff had the burden of proving that the falling griddle was more likely than not a result of the negligence of the defendants. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the combined likelihood that her own negligence or that of a third party caused the griddle to fall was less than 50%. As a result, the court focused on whether there was evidence to demonstrate the defendants’ exclusive control of the griddle.
The appeals court went on to find that although griddles do not ordinarily fall without negligence, it would not be fair to infer that a single item of merchandise on a customer-accessible shelf remained in the store owner’s exclusive control, absent evidence suggesting otherwise. The court noted that the plaintiff was struck by the griddle about six hours after the store opened on a busy Memorial Day holiday, and there was a strong likelihood a customer had picked up the griddle and placed it back down on the shelf. The court concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish that the griddle was in the defendants’ exclusive control and that the fall was more likely than not caused by the defendants’ negligence. Accordingly, the court held that she was not entitled to rely on the res ipsa inference and affirmed the circuit court’s decision.
If you have been injured in a store or other business, you can learn more about your potential legal options with advice from an experienced premises liability attorney. The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have represented plaintiffs seeking compensation for injuries suffered as a result of negligence, including automobile collisions, medical malpractice, and other accidents. Schedule a consultation with one of our dedicated lawyers by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or submitting our online contact form.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Orders Insurance Company to Cover Loss for Wrongful Death Claims Arising Out of Car Accident, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 17, 2016
Maryland Plaintiffs Defeat Summary Judgment Order on Appeal in Personal Injury Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published January 24, 2017