Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

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Maryland landowners owe a duty of care to those who are on their property. The extent of the duty that a landowner owes to a visitor depends on several factors: primarily, whether the visitor was welcomed onto the land by the landowner and the purpose of the visit.

In Maryland, there are three classes of visitors: trespassers, licensees, and invitees. A trespasser accesses another’s property without permission. A licensee is most commonly a social guest. And finally, an invitee is someone who is on a property for business purposes, such as a customer. Not surprisingly, a landowner owes a trespasser less of a duty than she owes a licensee or an invitee. In fact, in Maryland, a landowner owes a trespasser no affirmative duty of care, and must only refrain from willfully causing them injury.

When it comes to trespassing children, however, many courts across the United States apply the attractive nuisance doctrine. The attractive nuisance doctrine allows for a landowner to be held liable for injuries that are caused to a child by some aspect of the landowner’s property that attracted the child onto the land. Typically, the landowner must know the danger as well as the fact that children may have access to their property. In addition, courts require that the child’s age be such that it prevented them from fully understanding the risk of entering the property.

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Most people have signed a liability release waiver at some point. Often, release waivers are included on the back of concert or sporting event tickets. While the language in these agreements may not be clear to the reader, they are generally enforceable and can prevent an accident victim from holding a company liable – even for their own negligent actions.

With that said, there are limits to the enforceability of Maryland liability release waivers. For example, courts will not enforce a waiver that purports to waive the right to pursue compensation based on a party’s willful, wanton, or reckless negligence. A recent state appellate opinion illustrates how this situation may arise.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed after she was run over by a tow-truck on the Daytona International Speedway. Apparently, employees of the facility directed the tow-truck driver to back up into a restricted non-spectator area. However, as the driver was backing up, he ran over the plaintiff.

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Each year, there are thousands of Maryland sports injuries, ranging from the relatively minor to the life-threatening. For the most part, when someone decides to take up a sport, they should know that certain risks are inherent in the sport. However, at the same time, participants should also be able to expect that the league that organizes the sport has created a set of rules that protects the players from unnecessary risks that are not inherent to the sport.

In a recent case issued by a federal appellate court, the court discussed a plaintiff’s claim that was brought against a youth water polo league. The plaintiff claimed that the league’s lack of rules regarding concussion-management and when an injured player should return to play resulted in her daughter’s serious post-concussion syndrome.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was the mother of a student who suffered severe post-concussion syndrome after competing in a three-day water polo tournament put on by the defendant organizers. Evidently, the plaintiff’s daughter was a goalie and, during the first day of play, was struck in the head with the ball. The plaintiff’ daughter was “dazed” as a result of the injury, and swam poolside to talk to her coach. Having no experience or training on concussion-management for young athletes, the coach allowed the girl to continue playing. Throughout the remainder of the tournament, the girl was struck in the head several more times.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against a public university should proceed toward trial. The case presents interesting issues that frequently arise in Maryland premises liability cases. Specifically, the duty a school owes to its students. Ultimately, the court concluded that the school owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that the plaintiff’s case should proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the plaintiff’s claim, a student with a documented history of mental health issues attacked the plaintiff with a knife during a chemistry lab. Evidently, the student who attacked the plaintiff had evinced paranoia-type symptoms to several university staff members and as a result was seeing a school psychologist at the time of the attack.

The plaintiff claimed that the school was liable for her injuries because the administrators failed to take action to protect her (and other students) from foreseeable threats of violence. The school argued that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, and even if it did, by providing mental health services to the student the school fulfilled its duty.

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In Maryland, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. Generally, a property owner must take care to remedy known hazards on their property. Of course, a plaintiff’s own negligence can act to defeat their claim against a landowner, if the plaintiff fails to exercise reasonable care themselves.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a maintenance worker’s claim against a property owner should proceed to a jury trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that it should, holding that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to maintain the property in a safe condition.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was hired by the defendant property owner to change the lightbulbs atop four 30-foot metal poles surrounding a tennis court. The plaintiff had previously successfully changed the bulbs by attaching two ladders to reach the top of the pole.

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In a recent wrongful death case before a state appellate court, the court allowed a case to proceed against a property owner for the alleged defective condition of a building built in 1990. The plaintiffs filed a Maryland wrongful death case against the owner and property manager of a shopping center. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to warn a HVAC repairman that there was no roof access from a wall when he fell from the wall back in 2012. The worker was severely injured as a result of the fall, and died 12 days later from his injuries. The defendants argued the claims were barred by the statute of repose, because there was a 20-year limit on claims, as the building was completed in 1990.

Here, the statute stated that a claim cannot be filed for an injury “resulting from the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property” if the injury occurs more than 20 years after “the date the entire improvement first becomes available for its intended use.” However, Maryland Code of Courts and Judicial Proceedings 5-108 states that the section did not apply “[i]f the defendant was in actual possession and control of the property as owner, tenant, or otherwise when the injury occurred” in certain causes of action, in certain causes of action involving asbestos, or in a cause of action for injury to real property resulting from a defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property under certain conditions.

The plaintiffs contended the claim fell under an exception, and the defendant argued that the exceptions only applied in asbestos cases. The court found the possession-and-control exception applied in non-asbestos cases, as the first time the exception was created, the court did not reference asbestos. Therefore, the court applied the exception to cases against anyone in possession or control of real property, and the plaintiffs’ claims were not barred by the statute of repose.

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