Articles Posted in Slip and Fall

Each year, thousands of people are injured in Maryland slip and fall accidents. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of these accidents occur in the winter months, when the presence of ice and snow makes navigating parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways a potentially dangerous experience.

When it comes to determining who is responsible for clearing snow or ice, Maryland law does not provide clear answers. Under general premises liability law, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they allow onto their property. This duty requires a property owner to take reasonable care in maintaining their property and that they warn guests of known dangers. Maryland does not have a law directly discussing a property owner’s duty to clear snow and ice. Thus, the extent of a landowner’s duty, if any, will be determined by considering the following:

  • Did the landowner know about the snowy or icy conditions?

Filing a Maryland injury lawsuit can be more complicated when the state government is the defendant in the case. One potential complication is that a plaintiff must first provide notice when filing a claim against the state of Maryland in a personal injury claim.

Under section 12-106 of the Maryland Tort Claims Act (the Act), a claimant cannot bring a claim under the Act unless the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer within one year after the injury. The Treasurer then must deny the claim before the claim can be filed in court. The claim also must be filed within three years after the cause of action arises. There are some exceptions to the rule, for example, if the state has actual or constructive notice of the injury or of the defect within the year following the injury. The notice must comply with the requirements detailed in section 12-107 of the Act, which include a statement of facts and specific damages.

A recent case demonstrates how strictly notice requirements can be construed. In that case, an appeals court considered whether an estimate of damages in a notice to a city complied with the notice requirement. The plaintiff sent her notice to the city, notifying the city that she broke her leg after she stepped in a hole on a city crosswalk. She claimed that the city was negligent because residents had notified the city about the hole, and the city failed to repair it. In the notice, the plaintiff stated that “to the extent that [she] was require[d] to provide a dollar value,” she believed the value of the claim “may exceed $300,000.00.” She also stated that if the letter did not provide sufficient notice under the state, the city should advise her immediately in writing, and that she would correct any deficiencies. The woman subsequently filed suit in court. The city then responded to the notice, stating that the city denied liability. In response to the lawsuit, the city argued that the plaintiff had not complied with the notice requirement.

Maryland slip and fall accidents occur under a range of circumstances and can result in serious injuries or even fatalities. According to recent statistics compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one million people suffer injuries after a slip and fall accident every year. Additionally, over 15 thousand people die every year related to injuries they sustained during a slip and fall. In many cases, slippery surfaces or broken steps cause slip and falls. When an individual suffers injuries in a Maryland slip and fall accident, they must understand their rights and remedies.

Maryland premises liability law establishes when a property or landowner is responsible for damages that a person suffers when they are injured on the property owner’s land. Generally, all Maryland property owners owe their visitors a duty to keep them reasonably safe from harm. Specific responsibilities vary depending on the type of property owner and visitor. Maryland distinguishes visitors into four categories, trespassers, bare licensees, invitees, and licensees.

In Maryland, trespassers are those that enter a property without permission. Generally, landowners do not owe trespassers any duty except to avoid willful or wanton misconduct. Similarly, bare licensees are those that enter a property for their own gain. Bare licensees are people such as door to door salespeople. Property owners owe bare licensees the duty to warn of any known dangers.

Parking lots are riddled with potential hazards, from potholes, to shopping carts, to inattentive drivers. It is not surprising, then, that there are thousands of people who are injured in Maryland parking lots each year. A significant number of these injuries are the result of slip-and-fall accidents. Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit arising out of a parking lot trip-and-fall.

As the court described the facts leading up to the filing of the case, the plaintiff was injured while she was returning a cart after shopping at the defendant grocery store. The plaintiff finished shopping and entered the shopping cart corral without issue, however, as the plaintiff was leaving the corral, she tripped on a raised crossbar connecting the ends of the corral. Evidently, the corral was hit by a delivery truck several months prior to the plaintiff’s accident, which bent the frame of the corral. As a result, the crossbar of the corral lifted off the ground by a little over an inch. It was this raised crossbar that caused the plaintiff to trip and fall.

The plaintiff initiated a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant. In response, the defendant argued that the plaintiff should not be permitted to recover for her injuries because the hazard that caused her injury, the raised crossbar, was open and obvious. The defendant explained that it had called to have the crossbar fixed, but hadn’t scheduled a day to have the repair completed. The defendant also noted that the plaintiff was able to safely enter the corral, suggesting she knew that the crossbar posed a potential hazard. The lower court agreed, and dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff appealed.

When an accident victim wants to initiate a Maryland personal injury case, they must file a complaint. A complaint is a legal document that commences a lawsuit. In Maryland, a complaint must contain the legal justification for the plaintiff’s claim, including the essential facts and legal justification for what the plaintiff requests. Additionally, Maryland law requires that a plaintiff identify each party by name, rather than file the claim against a “John Doe” defendant.

One of the most important aspects of the complaint is the legal justification for the plaintiff’s claim, including the statement of facts that support the plaintiff’s justification. While the federal system allows for the more relaxed form of notice-pleading, Maryland is a fact-pleading jurisdiction. In Maryland, a plaintiff must present a “simple, concise, and direct” explanation of their claim.

If a plaintiff fails to properly plead their complaint, the defendant can move to dismiss the case. A recent case illustrates the importance of correctly pleading a case.

All Maryland landowners owe a duty to those whom they invite onto their property. The extent of the duty owed to guests depends on the relationship between the parties. Maryland business owners owe the highest duty to their customers and other visitors who are on their property to conduct business. If a company fails to provide for the safety of its customers, it may be held liable for any injuries through a Maryland premises liability lawsuit. A recent state appellate decision discusses the duty business owners owe to their customers.

The case arose when the plaintiff was injured while shopping for a gift at a large exposition center. Evidently, the center required shoppers obtain a security badge and go through a security gate before entering. The plaintiff and her husband were issued a security badge and were approaching the security gate when the plaintiff tripped and fell on a rubber mat that was underneath the security desk. The plaintiff later testified that she did not see the mat before her fall.

A security guard that worked for a company that was hired to provide security services for the expo center was sitting at the desk when the plaintiff fell. The guard testified that she saw the plaintiff approach with a limp, but did not see her fall. Photographs taken shortly after the plaintiff’s fall showed that the rubber mat was slightly curled up at the edges.

As summer approaches, those who have swimming pools on their property will soon be getting the pool ready for the hot Maryland summer. While swimming is an important skill for children to learn, and can be an excellent way for older people to engage in a low-impact workout, both of these groups are at a high risk of drowning. Understanding this reality, Maryland lawmakers have heavily regulated the placement and operation of swimming pools in hopes of reducing the number of Maryland swimming pool accidents.

The most common cause of accidental drowning deaths in Maryland swimming pools is a lack of adult supervision. Most of these tragic accidents occur when a child has been unsupervised for less than five minutes. Thus, while supervision is the best preventative measure, additional safety precautions must also be taken.

Under Maryland’s swimming pool regulations, pool owners must obtain a permit to construct, alter, or replace a residential pool. The permit application requires prospective pool owners to obtain detailed plans of the pool, and comply with certain safety features. One of the most important requirements is that the pool is surrounded by a fence that is at least six feet tall and has no opening, other than through an open door, greater than four inches. Interestingly, however, a ladder to get out of the pool is not required under Maryland Code.

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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