Under Maryland premises liability law, a property owner generally owes a duty of care to most people who are on their property. The extent of that duty is largely determined by the legal status of that person and reason for being on the property. This can make a difference in the outcome of a Maryland personal injury case, as illustrated in a February 20, 2020 appeal.
The plaintiff in the case was an active septuagenarian, who typically walked her dog two or three times per day through a shopping center and business park owned by the defendant. One day, while on her usual route, the plaintiff suffered a fall in the parking lot. The impact shattered the bones in her right knee and elbow.
The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the defendant. In her complaint, she alleged that she tripped over a thin metal rod that was projecting out of the surface of the asphalt parking lot. The lower court concluded that the plaintiff was a bare licensee on the property, as she did not intend to purchase anything from the shopping center, and as such, the defendant was not liable for her injury. After the circuit court dismissed her case, the plaintiff appealed the issue to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that she was an implied invitee.
In Maryland, the duty owed to a plaintiff injured on the defendant’s property is determined by the plaintiff’s legal status at the time of the incident. For bare licensees or trespassers, the defendant only has a duty to refrain from willful misconduct or entrapment. The highest duty is owed to an invitee, and requires that the defendant use reasonable care to keep the premises safe and protect the invitee from an unreasonable risk that the invitee may not discover. Invitee status may be based on an implied invitation, arising from the owner’s acquiescence, the apparent holding out of the property for a particular use by the public, the design of the premises, and other circumstances.
On appeal, the court observed the open-air design of the public shopping and business park, which was on over eight acres of property. The court also noted that several individual shop owners and employees brought their dogs to work and set out water bowls for others who were walking dogs on the property. In addition, there was evidence that for many years, nearby residents have been allowed to walk their dogs on the premises. Based on these facts, the court held that a reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff was an invitee, and accordingly reversed the ruling of the lower court.
If your injury was caused by the carelessness of another person or business, you may be able to pursue compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. A qualified Maryland injury lawyer can help you evaluate your options and provide legal advice you can trust. At Foran & Foran, we can assist with premises liability claims, medical malpractice actions, and many other personal injury lawsuits. Arrange a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys by contacting Foran & Foran online or by phone at (301) 441-2022.