Plaintiff Brings Maryland Injury Claims Against Restaurant for Trip and Fall in Adjacent Lot

In Maryland, the liability of a property owner for a personal injury depends upon the standard of care owed to the injured person.  The standard of care, in turn, depends on the person’s status while on the owner’s property.  In a March 25, 2021 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a premises liability claim against a restaurant that was brought by one of its patrons.

The plaintiff in the case had dined at the restaurant with her husband and son.  Unable to find a parking spot in the restaurant’s designated lot, her husband parked in an adjacent parking lot.  The adjacent parking lot belonged to an unrelated limited liability corporation whose tenant had recently vacated the premises.  Upon entering the restaurant, the plaintiff testified that they asked the hostess whether they could park in the lot, and she stated “yes, we don’t have any problems” and “everyone does.”

After dining at the restaurant, the plaintiff and her husband headed towards their car.  Bypassing the paved portions of the lots and sidewalks, they cut across a grassy area of the property owned by the LLC.  After taking a few steps onto the grass area, the plaintiff’s foot landed in a hole that caused her to lose her balance and fall.  The plaintiff filed suit against the restaurant, alleging that they knew or should have known of the condition that caused her to fall when she walked across the grassy area.  The plaintiff did not file a claim against the owner of the adjacent lot and grassy area.

The circuit court granted the restaurant’s  motion for summary judgment.  The primary issue on appeal was whether the restaurant owed the plaintiff any duty of care.

In Maryland, the standard of care owed to individuals by the owner of property depends on their status while on the property.  While the owner must use reasonable care to keep the premises safe for an invitee, defined as one permitted to remain on the premises for purposes related to the owner’s business, no duty is owed to a trespasser, except to refrain from intentionally injuring or entrapping them.  A trespasser is one who willfully and without consent or privilege enters another’s property.

On appeal, the court concluded that because the plaintiff had no intention of conducting business upon the property owned by the non-party LLC, and had no permission from the LLC to be walking across the property, she was owed only the minimal duty owed a trespasser.  The court also disagreed with the plaintiff’s argument that the restaurant was the occupier or possessor of the adjacent lot and/or grassy area, finding no evidence to support the contention.  The appeals court went on to affirm summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

If you have been injured as a result of a negligent property owner or business, you may have legal recourse.  At Foran & Foran, our Maryland lawyers handle a range of personal injury cases, from premises liability actions to medical malpractice claims.  Call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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