Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

Many Maryland accident victims do not have direct evidence of a defendant’s negligence. That is, the plaintiff does not have direct proof of the cause of the accident. In these cases, accident victims must prove the case through circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s fault, relying on inferences of the defendant’s fault.

In a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff must generally show that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and the loss or injury was proximately caused by the defendant’s breach of its duty. Proof of causation may rest on direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or a combination of the two. A negligence claim can rest solely on circumstantial evidence. However, the circumstantial evidence must create “a reasonable likelihood or probability rather than a possibility” that supports a “rational basis of causation” and cannot be based solely on speculation.

In a recent case before a state appeals court, the court considered whether there was sufficient evidence of causation in a case that rested on circumstantial evidence. In that case, the plaintiff went to a medical center to visit a patient. As she was walking to the patient’s room, the plaintiff slipped and fell in front of a utility-room door and fractured her kneecap. She alleged that the floor was wet and sued the Medical Center for negligence. The case went to trial, and a jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her more than a million dollars. The defendant appeal, arguing in part that there was insufficient evidence of a wet floor or that the medical center knew of a wet substance on the floor.

Health care facilities, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient treatment facilities owe a duty of care to their patients and visitors. The duty of care is a facet of the facility’s obligation to prevent hazards and unreasonable risk of harm to those on their property. Hospital injury cases tend to fall under Maryland medical malpractice or premises liability laws. In contrast, hospital visitor injury claims are a bit more convoluted but generally fall under premises liability theories of negligence.

Maryland premises liability claims may apply in cases when a person suffers injuries because of a dangerous condition at another’s public or private property. The law provides property owners and occupiers to keep their land or business reasonably safe for individuals they can reasonably expect will enter their property. Challenges often arise when the property owner asserts that they did not owe a duty to the injury victim, based on their visitor status.

There are four types of visitor classifications for Maryland premises liability purposes. These classifications include invitees, licensee by invitation, bare licensee, and trespassers. Invitees are usually business guests or customers. Property owners have the duty to keep the property safe by engaging in inspections, protecting the visitor from foreseeable dangers, and warning them of any potentially dangerous conditions. Licensee by invitation is social guests, such as a guest at a party. In these cases, even though they are invited, a property owner must only warn the licensee of dangerous conditions the owner knows about, but they don’t need to inspect the property. Bare licensees are those who enter another’s property with consent and knowledge, but for the visitor’s purpose or interest. This may include solicitors or possibly hospital visitors. In these cases, the property owner must refrain from purposefully injuring the bare licensee or creating new dangers without warning. Finally, trespassers are those that enter another’s a property without permission. In these cases, the owner must only refrain from intentionally hurting the individual.

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitor relates to the plaintiff’s burden of proving a negligence case. Generally, the fact that an accident or injury occurred is not evidence of negligence itself. However, in cases where the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor is applied, a plaintiff may be able to show that the type of accident itself signifies that negligence can be inferred in that case. In a Maryland car accident case, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor can be applied if the accident is one that would not normally occur in the absence of the operator’s negligence, and the facts make it clear that there should be an inference of negligence. For example, a car rolling down a hill shortly after it is parked may be a situation in which the doctrine would be applied, and negligence could be inferred.

The doctrine permits a plaintiff in a Maryland accident case to establish a prima facie case of a defendant’s negligence. To invoke the doctrine under Maryland law, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the injury is one that would not normally occur absent negligence; (2) the defendant had exclusive control of the instrument that caused the injury; and (3) the injury was not caused by the plaintiff.

In a recent case, a state appeals court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor could be applied in the case of a gate at a county that closed on and injured an attorney. The plaintiff (the attorney) went to meet a client at a county jail, and the interior gate at the jail closed on her unexpectedly, injuring her. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the county. The plaintiff requested a jury instruction on res ipsa loquitor, explaining that the jury could find that the incident was such a type that it would not have occurred without negligence on the part of the defendant. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.

If a person is injured on property owned by a business, the business might be liable for the person’s injuries, depending on the circumstances. Business owners owe customers and guests a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition. To prevail on a Maryland premises liability claim, a plaintiff must prove that a dangerous condition existed on the defendant’s premises, the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition, the defendant’s knowledge existed for long enough that the defendant had the opportunity to remove it or to warn the plaintiff, and the defendant’s failure to act caused the plaintiff’s injury.

A plaintiff must demonstrate that a defective condition existed for long enough that the defendant had a duty to inspect to discover the defect and remedy it. The purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the dangerous condition existed for long enough that the defendant should have discovered it and to determine the amount of time the hazards were present between inspections.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court held that a business owner may be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries after she fell on a tree root outside the business. In that case, the plaintiff was walking to the Chick-fil-A restaurant and tripped on the partially-exposed root, injuring two bones in her leg. The plaintiff had walked to the restaurant from her job nearby many times before by walking across a dirt area she and other pedestrians used to access the restaurant’s parking lot. According to the evidence, the root stuck out about two inches and was not in this condition four days prior, when a landscaping crew had inspected the area for tripping hazards.

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.

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