In a victory for the plaintiff, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reversed summary judgment in a personal injury case, allowing her to proceed with her suit against the defendant. In Smith v. Rite Aid of Maryland, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 19, 2016), the plaintiff suffered injuries after falling over a tote box on the floor of the defendant’s store. An employee had placed the box next to the checkout counter and against the candy and magazine rack to unload magazines. After checking out, the plaintiff was looking straight toward the exit to leave when she tripped over the box.
The defendant argued in its summary judgment motion that it had no duty to warn the plaintiff of an open and obvious condition. The circuit court granted summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff had seen totes in the store on previous occasions and was not looking where she was going when she fell. The plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision of the lower court. The appeals court ultimately held that the grant of summary judgment was in error for several reasons.
In Maryland, a business owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect customers from an injury caused by an unreasonable risk, about which the owner knows or that the owner could have discovered in the exercise of reasonable care. This duty includes not only inspecting the premises and warning customers of any known hidden dangers, but also taking reasonable precautions against foreseeable dangers. A customer also has a duty to exercise due care for her own safety, including a duty to look at her surroundings. Accordingly, a business owner ordinarily has no duty to warn a customer of an open, obvious, and present danger.
In Smith, the appeals court first addressed the issue of whether the tote box was an “open and obvious” danger. The court explained that customers have an expectation that store aisles and floors will be relatively free of hazards, and they are entitled to rely to some extent upon the presumption that the store will provide passageways that are unobstructed and reasonably safe. Observing that the height and location of the tote box was not necessarily in the plaintiff’s line of vision as she was walking away, the court could not find that it was an open and obvious condition. In addition, the placement of the tote box was against the company’s policy, since a store employee testified that the totes are never put by the front where the customers stand, but they are kept behind the register. The court went on to state that questions of contributory negligence and assumption of risk on the part of the plaintiff are to be determined by the jury. Accordingly, the court held that the lower court erred in granted summary judgment, and it reversed the decision.
At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A., we understand that your personal injury case deserves individualized attention and aggressive representation. Our premises liability attorneys assist victims of slip and falls and other accidents in seeking compensation from the responsible parties. To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced injury lawyers, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Rules Jury Did Not Err in Finding Child Contributorily Negligent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 5, 2016
Maryland Court of Special Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015