Plaintiff’s Assumption of Risk of Injury Leads to Dismissal of Maryland Negligence Claim

As a general rule, people may be held liable for damages arising from an injury caused by their negligence.  The injured party may pursue a legal action against the negligent party by bringing a Maryland personal injury claim.  In rare cases, however, the defendant may be relieved of their legal responsibility for the plaintiff’s injury, if the plaintiff exposed themselves to the risk of harm.  The issue of assumption of risk was explored in detail in a July 11, 2019 case before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff in the case operated a restaurant inside a business plaza owned by the defendants.  To reach the back door of her restaurant, the plaintiff had to enter through the loading dock behind the building and walk through a common hallway shared by other businesses.  On the day of her injury, the plaintiff was holding a twelve-pack of soda in each hand and had her handbag on her shoulder as she entered the common hallway to reach her restaurant.  She observed sheets on the floor and deliverymen moving mattresses on the right side of the hallway.  Reportedly, the plaintiff proceeded walking on the right side of the hallway when her foot caught on the sheeting and she fell, breaking her knee.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants, alleging negligence.  The defendants the moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff assumed the risk of walking over the sheet as a matter of law.  The plaintiff asserted that she had no knowledge that the sheet, although irregular and lumpy, was dangerous or hazardous.  The lower court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Assumption of risk applies when a plaintiff has actual knowledge that a situation poses a risk of personal injury, and nevertheless intentionally and voluntarily exposes themselves to the danger.  The plaintiff’s acceptance of the risk of harm operates to relieve the defendant of their responsibility to the plaintiff.  To establish the defense of assumption of risk, the defendant must show that the plaintiff: (1) had knowledge of the risk of the danger; (2) appreciated that risk; and (3) voluntarily confronted the risk of danger.

On appeal, the court noted that the plaintiff testified in her deposition that she noticed both the mattresses and the sheet prior to proceeding down the hallway.  The court reasoned that, when a person has the option to take a reasonable and safe alternative out of the way of danger, but deliberately chooses a more dangerous route, it may be established that the person assumed the risk.  The court went on to hold that as a matter of law, by walking on this clearly observable sheet, when she had the option to walk on the concrete on the other side of the hallway, the plaintiff had assumed the risk.  Accordingly, the court affirmed the summary judgment order.

If you have questions regarding your legal recourse after an accident, a Maryland personal injury attorney can help you evaluate your options.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., we have significant experience representing victims of negligence and their family members in premises liability actions, wrongful death claims, medical malpractice and healthcare lawsuits, car accident cases, and more.  Schedule your free consultation with one of our injury lawyers by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.