Under Maryland laws, a business owner has a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep their property safe for customers. In turn, each customer has a corresponding duty to exercise care for their own safety. In some negligence cases, the assumption of risk may be a factor in determining the liability of the business owner. In a December 16, 2020 the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the jury was properly instructed on the issue of open and obvious dangers and the assumption of risk. The suit was filed by the plaintiff on behalf of her minor son, after he suffered a slip and fall injury at an amusement park operated by the defendant.
The minor in the case was ten years old at the time of the accident. During his visit to the defendant’s amusement park, he was injured after he fell while crossing a wet wooden pedestrian bridge near a water ride. The minor’s mother brought suit, alleging that the defendant allowed water from the ride to accumulate on the wooden walkway, which the defendant knew or should have known created a dangerous slipping hazard. The defendant argued that the wet and slippery condition of the bridge was open and obvious, and therefore, it had no duty to warn or cure the alleged dangerous condition.
After the close of evidence at trial, the defendant requested that the court present its open and obvious defense to the jury on the verdict sheet. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury was asked to determine four issues: whether the defendant was negligent, whether the minor was contributorily negligent, whether the minor had assumed the risk, and damages. The jury ultimately found that the defendant was negligent and awarded $45,000 in damages to the plaintiff.
In Maryland, the trial judge is required to give a requested jury instruction that correctly states the law and has not been fairly covered in the other instructions. The jury instructions at issue provided that, under Maryland law, there is no obligation to warn or protect an invitee against conditions and dangers which are so obvious and apparent that one may reasonably be expected to discover them.
On appeal, the court held that two of the defendant’s proposed jury instructions regarding open and obvious conditions were accurate statements, and that the issue was not covered by the instructions on contributory negligence and assumption of risk. Moreover, the court found that the defendant had demonstrated probable prejudice as a result of the trial court’s decision. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the verdict and ordered a new trial.
The accident attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can provide guidance after an injury caused by the negligent or wrongful conduct of a business or individual. We pursue compensation for our clients in a range of personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, premises liability, motor vehicle collisions, and more. If you have questions about your legal recourse after an accident, contact Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or online and request a free consultation with an experienced injury lawyer.