Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

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.

It has often been said that the best offense is a good defense. Thus, it is essential for those who have been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident to understand the common ways that a defendant will try to defeat a plaintiff’s claim. There are two basic arguments that Maryland premises liability defendants use to evade accountability.

At its most basic, a Maryland premises liability claim requires the plaintiff to establish that the defendant landowner was negligent in the maintenance of their property. It may be that a landowner failed to warn visitors of a known hazard or that the landowner failed to remedy a hazard that, given the circumstances, the landowner should have known about. In either case, to prove a landowner’s negligence, the plaintiff must show that the defendant landowner knew or should have known about the hazard.

One common tactic is for a defendant landowner to argue that he did not have knowledge of the hazard. Importantly, Maryland premises liability law does not require a plaintiff to prove that a landowner had actual knowledge of a hazard. Indeed, most Maryland slip-and-fall cases proceed on the theory that the landowner had constructive knowledge of the hazard.

As we have discussed in other posts, the legal doctrine of contributory negligence precludes personal injury victims who are found to be partially at fault for their injuries from pursuing a claim of financial compensation. While Maryland’s contributory negligence law, in most people’s eyes, is outdated and overly harsh, for now, it governs how courts determine liability in Maryland personal injury accidents.

Contributory negligence is often discussed in the context of auto accidents. However, the doctrine also applies in Maryland slip-and-fall cases. A recent state appellate decision illustrates why contributory negligence is so harmful to Maryland premises liability plaintiffs.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff owned property in the defendant condo complex. One day, the plaintiff was walking along a sidewalk in the complex when she tripped on a section of uneven cement. The plaintiff frequented the area where she fell. Evidently, the cement area had been marked by complex management with blue dots, indicating it to be an area that needed to be repaired.

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A common concern in many Maryland personal injury cases is the spoliation of evidence. Spoliation refers to the “destruction, mutilation, or alteration” of evidence by a party who is involved in the case. Typically, spoliation occurs when a party is in possession of evidence that the party believes is unfavorable to their case (and thus, favorable to the opposing party).

When it comes to the destruction of evidence, Maryland courts operate by the maxim “Omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatem” which translates to “all things are presumed against the spoliator.” Thus, courts can impose a variety of sanctions against a party who is found to have spoliated evidence. To do so, the party seeking the imposition of a sanction must establish the four elements of a spoliation claim:

  • The other party destroyed, mutilated, or altered the evidence;
  • The fact that the evidence was discoverable;
  • The intent to destroy the evidence; and
  • The evidence was destroyed at a time after a case had been filed or when the destroying party knew that a case was imminent.

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Whenever someone is injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, the injured party is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. However, based on longstanding constitutional principles, government agencies enjoy immunity from some of these lawsuits. Thus, one of the most important considerations after a Maryland accident is whether any of the defendants are government employees and, if so, whether they may be entitled to immunity.

Under Maryland case law, government agencies are entitled to immunity when carrying out discretionary duties. A discretionary duty, as the name implies, is one which involves the exercise of discretion. If an act is not discretionary, it is ministerial, meaning that it does not require the judgment of a government employee. A recent case illustrates how courts approach the distinction between ministerial and discretionary acts.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a young girl was planning on attending a field trip to a pool that was located in a government-owned park. Because the young girl could not swim, her mother spoke with the playground coordinator, who reassured her that the girl’s ability would be assessed in the shallow end of the pool. The mother agreed to let her daughter go on the field trip. Tragically, however, the young girl drowned in the pool as staff members were changing in the locker room.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case raising an interesting issue that all Maryland slip-and-fall injury victims should be aware of. The case discussed the potential liability of third-parties who may not initially be thought of as responsible parties.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was an employee at a restaurant. While working, the employee was asked to empty a grease trap into a dumpster in the rear of the restaurant. While the plaintiff was walking the trap back to the dumpster, he stepped in an open water meter, causing him to spill hot oil on himself.

The plaintiff initially named his employer and several related parties (the employers) in his lawsuit. In response, those parties named the defendant maintenance company (the defendant) in a third-party complaint. The employers argued that the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s injuries under a contract the defendant had to perform maintenance of the parking lot area. The plaintiff then named the defendant in his lawsuit, as well.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the defendant, the owner of a car repair shop, could be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The court ultimately concluded that the defendant’s duty to maintain the shop in a reasonably safe condition was a non-delegable duty, and thus, the jury’s decision to hold the defendant partially responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries was proper.

The case is important for Maryland slip-and-fall accident victims in that it discusses what a property owner’s non-delegable duties are and under what circumstances they may be transferred to another party.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant owned an auto repair shop. He leased a portion of the shop to another mechanic but maintained an office on location and continued to use the shop. The defendant was the only one with keys to the shop, and the mechanic could not enter or use the shop without the defendant being present.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a casino could be held liable for the injuries sustained by an independent contractor when he fell from a ladder while working on the building’s roof. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to show that the defendant casino was in “operational control” over the plaintiff’s actions.

The case raises an important issue that frequently arises in many Maryland personal injury cases involving claims filed by independent contractors or claims based on an independent contractor’s negligence.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked for a maintenance company that was contracted by the defendant casino to clean the casino’s air ducts. The air ducts were located on the roof of the casino, and prior to the beginning of the contract the casino specified where the maintenance workers would access the roof.

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As a general rule, the law requires that all land owners maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition, and warn their guests about hazards that may not be evident. Under Maryland premises liability law, the duty a landowner owes her guest depends on several circumstances; however, Maryland businesses owe their customers the highest duty of care.

While premises liability law may seem straightforward, it can often get complicated in its application. For example, while it’s beyond question that a business owner is responsible to maintain their store in a reasonably safe condition, what about the approach to and from the store?

A recent state appellate opinion discusses a plaintiff’s case against a store for an injury occurring in the store’s parking lot.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by a woman who tripped on a raised portion of the sidewalk that was maintained by the defendant city. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s evidence was sufficient to prove that the city should have been aware of the defect’s existence.The case discusses the concept of “constructive notice,” which is important in Maryland personal injury cases. Generally speaking, a Maryland slip-and-fall plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant landowner knew or should have known of the hazard that caused their injuries. However, establishing that a party had actual knowledge of a hazard can be difficult because it would require the plaintiff to be able to see inside the mind of the defendant.

Thus, courts allow for plaintiffs to circumstantially establish knowledge of a hazard through other relevant facts. This concept is called constructive knowledge. Essentially, the idea is that courts are comfortable imputing knowledge when a reasonably attentive person would have noticed the hazard.
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