Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that may arise in Maryland premises liability cases. The court was tasked with determining whether a clause in a residential lease agreement that included limiting the statute of limitations was enforceable. Ultimately, the court concluded that the clause was enforceable, and thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case as untimely.

Walking on SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell after stepping on a curb that crumbled under her weight. The curb was located in a common area of the apartment complex where the plaintiff lived.

In the jurisdiction where the case arose, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is two years. However, the residential lease agreement signed by the plaintiff prior to moving into her apartment contained a clause requiring she bring any lawsuit within one year of when the cause of action accrues. Specifically, the clause stated that any case “must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.”

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When someone is injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident occurring on government property, or any other accident involving a government defendant, the accident victim may be entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries. However, when naming a government employee or agency as a defendant, the plaintiff must take additional steps to comply with the relevant laws governing these claims.

Crack in PavemenrIn Maryland, an accident victim naming a government actor as a defendant must provide notice to the Maryland State Treasurer of the accident. This notice must include the names of the people involved, a description of the accident, and the location and date of the accident, as well as other pertinent information. Accident victims have one year from the date of the accident to provide this notice. Otherwise, a court is likely to determine that the case is time-barred.

The notice requirement allows for the government agency to investigate the claim. If a plaintiff’s notice is insufficient, a court may reject the plaintiff’s claim. A recent case illustrates an example of insufficient notice provided by a plaintiff following a slip-and-fall accident.

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Maryland landowners have a duty to those whom they invite onto their property to keep the property safe and to warn visitors of potentially dangerous conditions. If a landowner fails to live up to this duty, and someone is injured as a result, the victim can pursue a claim for compensation against the landowner through a Maryland premises liability lawsuit.

Wet Floor SignHowever, in order to establish liability in a premises liability case, a plaintiff must present evidence to prove each element of the claim. One of these elements is the requirement that the defendant had knowledge, or should have had knowledge, of the hazard causing the victim’s fall. A recent case illustrates how courts interpret this requirement, and also what it means if a plaintiff is unable to present sufficient evidence of a defendant’s knowledge.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a customer at a Walgreen’s store. As the plaintiff approached the cash register, she slipped and fell, landing on her knee. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and filed a premises liability claim against Walgreen’s.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff’s conflicting testimony, requiring the court to determine which version of the plaintiff’s testimony to credit. The case presents a valuable lesson for Maryland slip-and-fall accident plaintiffs in that it illustrates how courts analyze cases in which a party offers two versions of the same event. Ultimately, in this case, the court concluded that the version of the facts that least favored the plaintiff should be credited, resulting in the court granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Wet FloorThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an office manager at a tax-preparation business that was located in a business owned by the defendant. One day, the plaintiff arrived to open the store and went toward the back office to turn on the lights. As the plaintiff approached the rear of the office, she slipped after stepping in a puddle of water that had accumulated on the floor.

When asked in a pre-trial interrogatory, the plaintiff explained that it was not raining on the day of her accident. She also explained that she was aware of previous flooding and, in fact, knew that the office flooded the night before her fall. However, an employee had cleaned up the water by the time the plaintiff had left.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a woman who suffered a brain aneurysm while in her room at the defendant hotel. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant hotel voluntarily assumed a duty of care to assist her but failed to provide the necessary level of assistance. The appellate court determined that the plaintiff did show sufficient evidence to raise an issue of fact that should be resolved by the jury.

Hotel RoomThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff planned to stay in the defendant hotel. Before she left, she informed her husband that she would be at the hotel and told him that she would call him when she arrived. The plaintiff arrived at the hotel and checked in to her room but never called her husband.

The plaintiff’s husband called the hotel, looking for his wife. He spoke to the front desk employee and asked if she could call the room to check on the plaintiff. The front desk employee called, but there was no answer. The front desk employee then asked a maintenance worker to conduct a wellness visit to the plaintiff’s room.

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Most personal injury cases involve concepts that the average juror can grasp. For example, when two vehicles are involved in a Maryland car accident, a jury is normally capable of listening to the testimony from each party, weighing the evidence, and coming to a conclusion on their own.

WheelchairMedical malpractice cases, however, often present complex scientific concepts that are beyond the common understanding of most jurors. Because of this, Maryland medical malpractice cases require expert testimony to establish that the defendant doctor’s conduct fell below the generally accepted standard of care. In Maryland, this requirement is embodied in the form of a mandatory pre-suit expert affidavit.

Not all cases that arise in the medical context, however, are considered medical malpractice cases that are subject to the additional requirements. A recent appellate opinion involved a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall claim against a doctor. In that case, the court determined that the plaintiff’s case was not a medical malpractice case.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued an opinion in a slip-and-fall case illustrating several important principles relevant to Maryland personal injury cases. The case presented the court with an opportunity to discuss what a plaintiff must establish in order to survive a summary judgment challenge by the defense. Here, the court held that since the plaintiff did not present any evidence that the defendant knew or should have known about the black ice that caused the plaintiff’s fall, summary judgment in favor of the defense was appropriate.

Icy RoadThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured as he got out of his car on the top level of a parking garage at the defendant hospital. The testimony at trial established that it had snowed several days that week and that there was visible ice and snow underneath some of the cars. However, the ice that caused the plaintiff’s fall was not visible. After his fall, hospital employees came to the plaintiff’s aid. One of the employees testified that she too had difficulty keeping her footing while on the icy pavement.

The hospital presented evidence that a security guard patrolled the area approximately every two hours. When the security officer noticed a snow or ice hazard, he was to call the hospital’s engineering department and remain on scene until an engineer arrived to clear the hazard. Evidence was presented that the area was patrolled that day about an hour and half before the plaintiff’s fall. Additionally, as per hospital policy, salt had been spread across the upper level of the parking garage to melt any ice that might have been present.

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Most Maryland personal injury lawsuits are resolved through pre-trial settlement negotiations, rather than through a trial. The reasons why parties enter into settlement agreements vary, but most often they include a desire for certainty in the case’s outcome. Indeed, many Maryland personal injury plaintiffs may wish to accept a negotiated settlement amount rather than risk taking the case to trial and receiving nothing. Defendants in personal injury cases may also be interested in agreeing to settle for a known amount, rather than risking a much larger jury verdict should the plaintiff succeed in proving their case at trial.

Manhole CoversSettlement agreements are essentially contracts whereby the plaintiff agrees to withdraw the case against the defendant, and the defendant agrees to compensate the plaintiff for doing so. Since settlement agreements free up valuable judicial resources, courts generally favor settlement agreements and permit parties to openly negotiate the terms of an agreement. For example, a plaintiff may choose to settle with one of the named defendants but proceed toward trial against another defendant.

When it comes to excusing parties from a Maryland personal injury lawsuit, plaintiffs should take care to ensure that the party that is being excused is not necessary for some other reason. A recent opinion issued by a Mississippi appellate court illustrates the difficulties one plaintiff had establishing her case against a utility commission after settling a case against two other named defendants.

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Maryland state and local governments face a significant number of Maryland accident lawsuits each year. In many cases, the government named as a defendant may concede liability and offer a settlement agreement to an accident victim in return for the victim agreeing not to pursue the case in court. However, before a government entity can make the determination of whether the accident victim’s case is meritorious, the government entity must first learn about the plaintiff’s injury.

Manhole CoverTo help expedite the process, anyone considering filing a personal injury case against a Maryland government entity must first file notice to that entity, providing certain information, including the nature of their injury, where it occurred, and what the accident victim is asking to receive. An accident victim who fails to file this pre-lawsuit notice, or files a notice that does not comply with the requirements, risks the early dismissal of their case. This is what happened in a recent premises liability case out of Georgia.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when he stepped in a manhole that was not covered. The plaintiff initially reported the open manhole to the police department and provided the address of 425 Chappell Road, which was at the intersection of Chappell Road and Mayson Turner Road.

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Last month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by a tenant of an apartment complex who slipped and fell on a patch of black ice in the complex parking lot. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case against the complex’s management company, before the case was presented to the jury, the trial judge granted the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The appellate court was tasked with determining whether the trial judge was proper to decide the case as a matter of law rather than submit the case to a jury for a factual resolution of the plaintiff’s claim.

Winter RoadThe Appellate Court’s Decision

In the above case, the appellate court determined that the lower court was improper to decide the case as a matter of law. The court explained that there was evidence presented by the plaintiff indicating that the defendant may have been negligent. Specifically, the plaintiff testified that the defendant would plow any fallen snow in the parking lot to an area that was slightly above the level of the parking lot. Thus, when the snow melted, water would run onto the parking lot, where it could later re-freeze, creating a hazard. Indeed, the plaintiff also presented evidence, through his wife’s testimony, that he had complained about these ice patches on numerous occasions.

Judgment as a Matter of Law in Maryland Courts

In Maryland personal injury cases, it is the judge’s job to rule on all legal issues. For example, a judge will often determine which evidence the jury is able to consider and instruct the jury on the law that pertains to the case. The jury’s job is to then apply the law as explained by the judge to the facts of the case, resolving any factual disputes.

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