A state supreme court was recently tasked with deciding whether the owner of a church could be held liable after the plaintiff was injured on the stairs outside of the building. While Maryland landowners often have to warn visitors of any danger, they do not need to if the dangerous condition was an open and obvious hazard that a reasonable person would recognize. Ultimately, the court concluded that the dangerous condition was open and obvious, and the church owner was not liable for the plaintiff’s injury under a premise liability theory.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was hurt while carrying a casket down the church’s outdoor steps. Although the plaintiff had previously used these steps, he tripped near the top, falling into the church building and injuring himself.
While landowners generally have a duty to keep their property safe, in Maryland, they do not need to warn others if the hazard is “open and obvious” to a reasonable person. When the dangerous condition is open and obvious, the landowner cannot be held liable under a premise liability theory. In this case, the court needed to determine whether the top step outside of the church was an open and obvious hazard that a reasonable person would have taken appropriate care to avoid. The court noted that the set of stairs the plaintiff tripped on had five steps, with the top step an additional four inches higher than the others. Additionally, the top step was composed of red bricks while the other steps were made of gray concrete. Finally, the court took note of the fact that the plaintiff walked down the stairs a few minutes before the accident. Because of these factors, the court concluded that the differences between the top step and the other four would be readily apparent to most people.