Court Discusses Parties’ Respective Burdens in Premises Liability Summary Judgment Motion

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman whom had slipped and fallen on some icy steps outside a restaurant. In the case, Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, the court took the opportunity to clarify each party’s burden when a defendant seeks summary judgment in a premises liability case. Ultimately, finding that the plaintiff presented insufficient evidence of her claim, the court determined that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment.

Slick StepsThe Facts of the Case

Lowrey was leaving Woody’s Diner, an establishment owned and operated by the defendant, when she slipped and fell on a set of icy stairs. Lowrey filed a premises liability case against the owners of the restaurant, claiming that they knew or should have known about the icy steps but failed to do anything to remedy the danger or warn patrons of the slippery condition.

Before trial, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the case against it, arguing that Lowrey did not provide any evidence suggesting that the defendant knew the dangerous condition existed. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the case.

The First Appeal

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendant. Specifically, the appellate court held that it was the defendant’s burden to show that it did not have knowledge of the dangerous condition, and since the defendant failed to present such evidence, it was not entitled to summary judgement. The defendant appealed.

The Final Appeal

On appeal to the state’s highest court, the case was reversed yet again. The court explained that when a premises liability plaintiff faces a summary judgment motion filed by the defendant, the plaintiff must establish some issue of material fact that is unresolved by the pleadings. If the plaintiff can show an issue of material fact exists, the motion for summary judgement should not be granted.

The court explained that in order to establish an issue of material fact, the plaintiff cannot rely solely on mere allegations, and at least some evidence should be presented. Specific to premises liability cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the plaintiff’s fall. Here, the court held, the court of appeals got it backwards by requiring the defendant to show that it did not have such knowledge. This amounted to an unfair shifting of the burden. Thus, the court reversed the court of appeals’ decision and reinstated the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you recoup the costs associated with the accident. Crucial to any personal injury case is an in-depth investigation consisting of site visits, evidence gathering, interviews, and depositions. These sources are where the evidence necessary to prove a plaintiff’s case can be found. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience handling all kinds of personal injury cases, including premises liability claims, and are familiar with the level of investigation necessary to gather favorable evidence. Call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated attorney from the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen today.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Slip-and-Fall Case against Apartment Complex Not Barred by Immunity Statute, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 15, 2016.

Court Holds Department of Motor Vehicles Is Not Liable in Car Accident Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 8, 2016.

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