Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

When someone slips and falls, causing injuries, they may be entitled to bring a personal injury lawsuit against whoever owns the property or was responsible for leaving it in a hazardous condition. Maryland slip and fall accidents are frequently brought against cleaning companies for failing to post “wet floor” notices, or against grocery store owners who fail to notice or remedy a leak that causes a customer to slip and suffer injuries. However, Maryland residents should be aware that not every slip and fall case leads to a successful personal injury suit.

For example, take a recent slip and fall case decided in a state appellate court. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was working in an airport when the accident occurred. One evening, after completing her shift, she went to an office elsewhere in the airport to turn in some paperwork and money. As she got off of an escalator, she noticed a man cleaning the airport was to her left and a “wet floor” sign. She turned right and walked towards the office when she slipped and fell. Unfortunately, she landed hard on her right side, striking her head and briefly losing consciousness. When she regained consciousness, she noticed that her clothes were wet. As a result of her fall, she suffered neck and spinal injuries that required surgery.

The plaintiff brought suit against the independent contractor responsible for cleaning the area. Her suit was based on the defendant’s negligence, claiming that they had knowledge of the danger that she did not have but failed to warn her of the hazard of the wet floor. The defendant moved for summary judgment and to have the case dismissed, arguing that the plaintiff also had knowledge of the hazard. The trial court granted their motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

There are certain personal injury cases where there is no specific evidence tying the defendant to the accident, but it is clear that the defendant caused the accident and should be held liable. In these instances, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur can often be utilized. Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for the “thing speaks for itself” and allows a jury to infer the defendant’s negligence without needing direct evidence. While not often used, res ipsa loquitor can be extremely beneficial to help Maryland plaintiffs recover for their injuries, who might not be able to so otherwise.

In a recent state appellate case, a plaintiff was injured leaving his doctor’s office. Stepping onto the elevator, the plaintiff did not notice the floor of the elevator was two feet below the landing. The plaintiff sued the property owner, arguing the owner was negligent by not fixing the elevator. Among other claims, he argued the defendant was liable under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Although the defendant had sole control over the elevator, and was in charge of its maintenance, the court granted summary judgment for the defendant. During the appeal, the plaintiff chose not to raise the issue of res ipsa loquitor, meaning a jury would not hear this claim.

When a plaintiff asserts res ipsa loquitor in a Maryland personal injury case, they are claiming that negligence may be presumed from the circumstances of the accident. Unlike a traditional negligence claim, a plaintiff relying on res ipsa loquitor does not need to establish the traditional requirements of negligence, nor do they need to provide direct evidence linking the defendant to the accident.

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.

Generally, landowners owe a duty of care to people who come on their land, the extent of which depends on the relationship between the parties and the circumstances of the incident. Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute is an exception in that, when the statute applies, a landowner owes no duty of care to others, allowing them to escape liability in a Maryland premises liability case.

A recent case is an example of how landowners may avoid liability in such cases. In that case, a woman was injured while she was attending a free concert at a university. As she had been leaving the concert, she fell on a staircase with no handrails. She sustained serious injuries and died as a result. Her estate and her children filed a wrongful death claim against the university.

The university claimed that it was immune from suit under the state’s Recreational Property Act. Under the state’s law, a landowner does not have a duty to keep premises safe if others are using the land for recreational purposes. The concert took place at a county park, but the university had a permit to use it for the concert series. The woman’s family agreed that attending the free concert was a recreational activity. However, the family argued that the purpose of the concert series was mostly commercial. They noted that there were food and drinks available for purchase, that sponsors had tents and logos, and that it provided the university with a branding opportunity.

Most Maryland residents know that when someone else causes them to be injured, the state’s law protects them by allowing them to file a personal injury lawsuit. For instance, if Driver A runs a red light and hits Driver B, Driver B can sue Driver A to recover for their injuries. If a manufacturer sells a defective product to a customer that causes them to get hurt, the customer can sue the manufacturer. Most of these cases have a clear cause and effect — the defendant (negligent party) takes some action that causes the plaintiff to get hurt. Recovering may be complicated, however, for those who are injured in a Maryland slip and fall accident. Unlike many other personal injury lawsuits, these are often caused by a defendant failing to do something, rather than some action that they took.

Take, for example, the facts of a recent state appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff, a grandmother, was staying at the defendant’s hotel with her four grandchildren, whom she took to the hotel pool one evening. At some point, she left the pool to escort her youngest grandson to the bathroom, walking along the sidewalk from the pool to the hotel room. According to the plaintiff’s testimony, the sidewalk was shiny, wet, and looked slick. The plaintiff told her grandson, who was dripping wet and walking in front of her, to slow down. While walking, she slipped and fell, suffering multiple injuries to the left side of her body.

Under Maryland premises liability law, the injured plaintiff, in this case, may be able to hold the hotel owner responsible. State law requires hotel owners, and other landowners, to take reasonable care in maintaining their property, and to warn guests of any known dangers. For instance, if the plaintiff could show that the hotel knew that the area in question was prone to getting very slippery and dangerous, and yet decided not to put up a sign warning of said fact, they may be successful in their personal injury suit.

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.

In a Maryland premises liability case based on a dangerous condition, a plaintiff must establish certain elements. Specifically, a plaintiff must prove 1.) that a dangerous condition existed on the defendant’s premises; 2.) the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition; 3.) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff; 4.) the defendant knew about the dangerous condition for long enough remove the condition or to warn the plaintiff; 5.) the plaintiff suffered an injury; and 6.) the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injury. A recent case before a state appeals court is an example of a situation in which the plaintiff failed to sufficiently show the existence of a dangerous condition.

In that case, the plaintiff went to a Dollar General store one morning. After completing her purchase, and on her way back to her car, she became distracted by a display rack on the sidewalk and by other customers walking in and out of the store, and stepped off of the sidewalk onto the parking lot, hitting a concrete parking abutment. She tripped over the parking abutment, fell forward, and suffered injuries to her knee, head, and elbow, which required her to undergo surgery and physical therapy. The plaintiff claimed that the store owner breached its duty to keep the premises safe. She claimed that the parking abutment was a hazardous condition because it was unpainted and slanted and because the display rack was a distraction.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, reasoning that even if the parking abutment was a hazardous condition, the plaintiff was aware of the hazard and failed to exercise ordinary care to protect herself. First, the plaintiff testified in her deposition that she had been to the store 20 or 25 times before and knew that there were parking abutments in the parking lot. She knew that they looked like and was aware of them. Second, she testified that she had crossed the same area about ten minutes before the fall when she had entered the store. She failed to exercise ordinary care in failing to pay attention to the display rack instead of looking where she was walking. Third, the display rack did not block her view of the area where the parking abutment was situated. She had also seen the display rack and had walked around it on her way into the store. Therefore, the parking abutment was open and obvious, and “any hazard presented by it could have been avoided by [the plaintiff] in the exercise of reasonable care.”

When filing a legal claim against an independent contractor after a Maryland accident, an independent contractor may claim that they cannot be held independently liable. Maryland courts have recognized that there are times in which independent contractors are also agents of another, often reliving them of independent liability. However, that is not always the case, and the party that claims there is a principal-agent relationship must prove the existence of such a relationship.

In a recent state appellate case, the court considered whether a personal trainer was an agent of a gym. In that case, the plaintiff was using a weight machine when she fractured a bone in her hand, requiring her to undergo two surgeries. She was under the direction of a personal trainer at the time she injured her hand, and she claimed the personal trainer improperly instructed her on how to use the machine, thereby causing her injury. The plaintiff brought a claim against the gym and the trainer, who had been contracted by the gym. The trainer argued that she was an agent of the gym, and could not be held independently liable because the gym had hired her to teach there. In contrast, the plaintiff argued the personal trainer was not an agent of the gym because she was an independent contractor there.

The court explained that there are circumstances in which a person may be an independent contractor and an agent of the principal. It explained that these circumstances exist where a contractor is a fiduciary that owes the principal loyalty and obedience. Examples of this include attorneys, brokers, and collection agencies. But in cases in which an independent contractor claims to be an agent, the independent contractor must establish the characteristics of the principal-agent relationship, including the principal’s right to control the physical conduct of the agent. In this case, there was not sufficient evidence that the trainer was an agent of the gym to dismiss the case against the trainer. Therefore, the court held that the case should continue against the trainer and that a jury would be required to resolve the issue.

Movies and television may have people believe that most civil lawsuits end in a dramatic trial. While this does sometimes happen, most Maryland personal injury lawsuits actually do not make it this far. Sometimes the parties settle with each other prior to trial, or sometimes a judge will find that there is no need to go to trial because one party cannot win. Many cases are decided at what is called “summary judgment.” Before trial, both parties can file a motion for summary judgment, which is basically asking a judge to rule in their favor. Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact, such that there is nothing for a jury to decide and a trial is inappropriate.

For an illustration of how summary judgment can work, take a recent state appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the accident occurred while the plaintiff was cleaning out her daughter’s car in a cleaning area of their apartment complex. As the plaintiff stepped from the paved parking lot up to a landscaped area that had a car vacuum, she slipped and fell backward, resulting in substantial injuries. The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the apartment complex, alleging that she had slipped on a foreign substance. During her deposition for the case, she testified that she did not know what caused her to fall, and that there was no water on the ground, but that the rocks were smooth and slippery.

According to the plaintiff, the defendant apartment complex was negligent in maintaining the complex’s premises. However, the defendants filed for summary judgment, arguing that the suit had to be dropped because there was insufficient evidence of any hazardous condition. While the lower court denied the motion, on appeal the court found that the defendants were correct. The court reasoned that summary judgment was proper in the case because the plaintiff had not offered evidence that the area she slipped on was actually wet or otherwise hazardous, and in fact testified that there was no liquid in the area and that she did not know what made her slip.

When someone is injured in a Maryland accident, state law allows them to file a civil lawsuit against the responsible party. In order to be successful in a negligence claim of this type, the plaintiff must prove four things. First, the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff to act in a way to protect them from harm. Second, the defendant breached this standard. Third, the breach was the proximate cause of the injury. Finally, the plaintiff was injured and suffered actual harm as a result. In a straightforward negligence case, proving these four things will be enough for victory. However, many negligence cases get complicated, and there are some common barriers that bar plaintiffs from recovery. One of these barriers is the assumption of risk doctrine.

The term “assumption of risk” refers to when the plaintiff unnecessarily exposed themselves to the harm that was done to them. For example, a recent state appellate case considered the issue. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was helping the defendant dismantle an old building and noticed that there were skylights on the roof. The plaintiff volunteered to go up on the roof and remove the screws. Since the roof was so dirty and weathered, he was unable to see the skylights. While working on the roof, the plaintiff fell through a skylight and onto the concrete below, suffering multiple severe injuries. The plaintiff then sued the defendant, the owner of the building, for negligence.

Under Maryland laws, situations like this become more complicated than a straightforward negligence case because the defendant can argue that the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injuries by going up on the roof, knowing that there were skylights and that he could not see them. In these cases, the defendant can raise this defense by proving three things. The plaintiff had knowledge of the risk, the plaintiff understood that the risk could lead to serious harm, and the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk anyway. In the case described above, for example, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff was aware of the skylights on the roof and understood that they were fragile and that falling through them would cause harm, yet he volunteered to go up on the roof anyway. If the defendant can do that, Maryland law would allow him to escape liability for the plaintiff’s injuries.

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