Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Personal injury suits are incredibly important for those who injured in a Maryland accident. The lawsuits can help to ensure that those hurt get compensated for their medical bills, future care needs, lost wages, and more. While many Maryland personal injury cases settle before trial, some will go to trial. However, a recent state appellate case illustrates that obtaining a favorable jury verdict may not be the end of the case—sometimes, a losing party can appeal and request a new trial if they believe there was a legal error in the trial.

According to the court’s written opinion, the case arose from a tragic accident in a daycare facility. In September of 2015, an unsecured television fell onto the victim—who was not yet two years old—while he was sleeping at the daycare facility. Part of his skull was crushed, and he was put on a ventilator for nine days. Years later, the victim continues to suffer from severe developmental issues. At five years old, he could not talk or control his bowel movements and frequently had mood swings, fits, and outbursts. It was believed that he would need 24-hour-care for the rest of his life. Because of the severe injuries, the victim’s parents filed suit against the daycare, alleging negligence in their care.

The parents won the case in the trial court, and were awarded $30.3 million in damages. However, the defendants appealed, asking for a new trial. Evidently, there had been an instance of jury misconduct during the original deliberations, and the defendants believed that it was significant enough to demand a new trial. According to the court, the misconduct occurred when one juror used his cellphone to google the meaning of a word that came up in conversation. The specific word was not disclosed in the record. The trial court investigated the incident, asking each juror what happened, if they were aware, and if it affected their decision in the case. By law, the jury is not allowed to search for or consider any additional information other than what was offered during the trial, so this incident could have resulted in a new trial.

When someone slips and falls in public in Maryland, they may feel embarrassed and try to pretend that it never happened. Often, they will just assume that it was their fault, and go about their day. Even if injured, they might think that it is their fault because no one pushed them or tripped them, and they were the only ones around when they fell. While sometimes people fall or trip for no reason, oftentimes, falls are the result of a hazardous or dangerous condition. For example, people may fall because of a sticky or slippery substance on the floor, the floor not being even, or different heights between steps. In these cases, it may not be their fault at all, but rather the fault of those who own or maintain the property.

Maryland law allows those injured in such cases to file a certain type of negligence lawsuit against the owner of the property: premises liability. To be held responsible, a court must find that property owners either knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, but yet did not fix it or warn you about it. Additionally, a court must find that the plaintiff was not a trespasser on the property—a property owner does not owe a duty of care to those who are on their property illegally.

For an example of a premises liability claim, take a recent appellate case concerning a plasma donation center. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a donor at the center and was walking into the bathroom when he fell, hit his head on a sink, and suffered severe injuries. According to the plaintiff, when he was laying on the floor he noticed that there was liquid on it, and some of that liquid got onto his shirt. He also stated that he noticed dirty footprints in the liquid. He filed a premises liability suit against the plasma donation center, alleging that they either knew or should have known about the liquid on the floor, and that it created a dangerous condition. Evidence presented in this suit included testimony that the employees of the center used separate bathrooms, and that the bathrooms were generally not cleaned by the center until after 7 p.m. each night, meaning the center would not have known about the liquid.

Going on a cruise is supposed to be a fun, relaxing, and rejuvenating experience. Many Maryland residents choose to go on cruises to relax and spend time with family and loved ones. However, just as they can onshore, accidents can happen on cruise ships, leaving passengers seriously injured. When this happens because of a cruise line’s negligence, passengers may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the cruise line to recover for the injuries they suffered. These types of suits are often referred to as premises liability, because they are a way of holding owners responsible for accidents that occur on their premises.

For example, take a recent federal appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was a passenger on a cruise ship and was walking with her husband to one of the restaurants on board the ship. To get to the restaurant, the passengers had to walk through a narrow opening between some lounge chairs on the deck and the ship’s railing. While walking, the plaintiff’s foot got caught on a leg of a lounge chair, causing her to slip and fall. She suffered serious injuries as a result of this incident, and so she sued the cruise ship line to recover for her medical bills and her pain and suffering. The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the cruise line knew or should have known about the dangerous condition on the ship, and was negligent in not warning passengers about it. In response, the defendant cruise line moved for summary judgment, arguing in part that they did not know and should not have known about the condition. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, but the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the appellate court considered whether the defendant cruise line had notice or should have had notice of the condition, and determined that they did. Importantly, the plaintiff presented evidence that the cruise line took corrective action to make the situation less dangerous, by requiring the lounge chairs to be set up in the upright position, thus protruding less into the walkway. The cruise line also had employees monitor the area and put the chairs back upright if they were lowered by passengers. This evidence was sufficient to defeat summary judgment, as it is not clear that the cruise ship definitely did not know about the condition. The court reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the case back to the trial court. This ruling allowed the plaintiff to move forward with the case and, hopefully, to receive monetary compensation from the cruise line responsible for her injuries.

Expert testimony can be helpful in certain claims to explain evidence to the fact finder. In Maryland accident cases, expert testimony may be admitted if the court decides that the testimony will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or decide a fact at issue. Yet, expert testimony is required only if the issue is beyond the knowledge of a layperson. Expert testimony is not required “on matters of which the jurors would be aware by virtue of common knowledge.” A recent decision from a state supreme court is an example of a case in which the court found expert testimony was not required.

In that case, a child was allegedly assaulted on the playground during recess at her elementary school. The student and her mother filed a claim against the city and the Board of Education alleging negligence. The trial court found in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that the school provided inadequate supervision at the time. The trial court found there were 3 or 4 staff members and 1 student intern, which was insufficient to supervise over as many as 400 students. An appellate court reversed the decision, stating that the court should not have found the defendants breached their duty without expert testimony on the issue.

However, the state’s supreme court reversed again. The court held that expert testimony was not necessary in that case. The court explained that expert testimony is required generally in cases amounting to professional malpractice. Expert testimony is not required in cases where the negligence is so extreme that it is clear to a layperson and it is not required where the alleged error is within the common knowledge of a layperson.

In Maryland, landlords are not automatically responsible for injuries that a tenant sustains at a rental property. Typically, Maryland landlords are only liable when their tenants or their guest’s injuries were the results of the landlord’s careless action or inaction. Maryland personal injury lawsuits against landlords generally involve accidents that occur in common areas, or as a result of defects in the property when the rental agreement was executed, or from conditions that the landlord agreed to remedy. Lawsuits that fall outside of these parameters present additional challenges.

For example, recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a tenant’s lawsuit against her landlord. The court addressed issues that frequently arise in personal injury lawsuits against landlords in Maryland. The tenant suffered injuries after she opened a storm door, and a gust of wind knocked her into a railing. The railing broke, and the tenant fell to the ground, injuring her ankle. During pretrial proceedings, the tenant argued that the porch was in disrepair and did not meet building code requirements, she also conceded that she knew that the railing was broken. The defendants argued that the court should grant summary judgment under both the state’s residential landlord-tenant act and common law theories of negligence. The appellate court found that the tenant knew of the defect and failed to remedy it. Therefore, the defendants were not liable under both the state’s landlord-tenant act and common law theories of negligence.

This case exemplifies common impediments that Maryland tenants may encounter when filing personal injury lawsuits against their landlords. However, there are many instances where Maryland landlords may be liable for injuries that their tenants suffer on their property. First, the landlord may be responsible if they had control over the dangerous feature, such as in the common area of the property. For example, a landlord may be liable if a tenant suffers injuries in a shared laundry facility on the property. Next, Maryland landlords may be responsible if they knew of or hid a concealed danger.

Maryland is known to have some of the harshest laws when it comes to determining which accident victims are able to recover for their injuries. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence rule, plaintiffs who are found to have even the slightest role in causing an accident or bringing about their own injuries are completely precluded from recovering for their injuries. That being said, there are some situations where Maryland law protects an accident victim’s ability to recover for their injuries.

One of the situations where an accident victim’s “negligence” cannot be used to defeat their claim against a defendant is when, at the time of the injury, the plaintiff was not wearing safety equipment that could potentially have reduced the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, a defendant may attempt to argue that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a motorcycle helmet or seat belt in a Maryland traffic accident was evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence. However, in these circumstances, Maryland courts have held this evidence is inadmissible. A recent state appellate decision helps explain the rationale behind this rule.

In that case, the plaintiff was helping the defendant cut down some trees on the defendant’s property. The agreement between the two men was that the plaintiff would use a chain saw to cut the trees and the defendant would watch out for any potential hazards. However, as the plaintiff was using the chainsaw to take down a tree, a dead limb came loose and fell on his head, resulting in serious injuries.

Under Maryland premises liability law, someone who is injured while on another’s property may be able to hold the property owner liable for any injuries they sustain as a result of the landowner’s negligence. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule. One exception is the “firefighter’s rule.”

Maryland’s firefighter rule “generally prohibits firefighters and police officers from recovering tort damages from those whose negligence necessitated their services.” The rule and its history are described in depth in a 2011 opinion authored the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In that case, a police officer was injured in a high-speed chase. Evidently, the police dispatcher gave the officer incorrect information that the officer relied upon when deciding to engage in the high-speed chase. The injured police officer filed a Maryland personal injury claim against the state based on the dispatcher’s negligence. The state claimed that the police officer should be prevented from recovering for his injuries under the firefighter’s rule. The case allowed the court to discuss the state’s firefighter rule and in what circumstances it should be applied.

Skiing is the favorite seasonal pastime of many Maryland recreationalists. However, skiing can be a dangerous sport, especially when the ski resort does not take the necessary safety precautions. While the winter ski season has passed, now is a good time for those who were injured in a Maryland skiing accident to consider whether they may have a claim for compensation against the resort where their injuries occurred.

In general, ski resorts – like other landowners – have a duty to ensure that areas accessible by guests are safe and well maintained. This includes not just the resort’s skiable areas, but also restaurants, restrooms, locker rooms, and parking lots. When management is negligent in the operation of the resort, they may be held liable for any injuries that occur as a result of that negligence.

One issue that frequently comes up in ski accident cases is whether the injured skier gave up their right to pursue a claim against the ski resort by signing, or otherwise acknowledging, the resort’s release of liability. A recent case illustrates how courts review cases in which a defendant ski resort relies on a printed release of liability.

Frequently, this blog discusses cases in which a defendant landowner faces liability for injuries that occur on their property. These cases, referred to as Maryland premises liability cases, are brought under the general theory of negligence. Thus, to succeed in a Maryland premises liability case, an accident victim must show that the defendant was somehow negligent and that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of their injuries.

While the general rule states that a landowner is liable for a guest’s injuries that were the result of the landowner’s negligence, the Maryland recreational use statute provides landowners immunity in certain limited situations. Under Maryland Code section 5-1104, a landowner who permits others to use their property for “any recreational or educational” purpose without charging a fee is not liable for guest’s injuries. This applies to both public and private landowners. The law’s stated purpose is to “encourage any owner of land to make [their property] available to the public for any recreational and educational purpose by limiting the owner’s liability.”

The recreational use statute does not afford protection to landowners who willfully or maliciously failed to guard or warn against a dangerous condition. A recent state appellate opinion illustrates how courts interpret recreational use statutes, as well as the “willful or malicious” exception.

Local governments, like other property owners, have an obligation to keep public spaces safe for visitors. While the procedures involved in filing a case against a government are slightly different from those required in a Maryland premises liability lawsuit against a private individual or corporation, in each of these situations a plaintiff must be able to prove that the landowner’s negligence in maintaining their property resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

To prove that a landowner was negligent, a plaintiff must first show that the landowner knew of the hazard that caused their injuries. Once the defendant’s knowledge is established, the plaintiff must show that the landowner was somehow negligent in failing to remedy the hazard or warn of the hazard’s existence. Finally, a plaintiff must prove that their injuries were the result of the landowner’s negligence. This is referred to as “causation.” In a recent case involving a slip-and-fall injury that occurred at a cemetery, the court discussed the plaintiff’s burden to prove causation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was visiting the gravesites of several family members in a cemetery that was owned by the defendant city when he stepped in a hole that was covered by grass. Evidently, the hole was deep enough such that the plaintiff fell down to his knee, folded over at the waist, and struck his head against the ground.

Continue reading ›

Contact Information