Court Allows Premises Liability Plaintiff to Seek Punitive Damages

Earlier this month, a federal court of appeals issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who was seriously injured when a glass shower door at the defendant’s hotel shattered, covering her naked body in shards of glass. In the case, the court reversed a lower court’s decision that denied the plaintiff the opportunity to seek punitive damages from the hotel chain. The court held that the issues that needed to be resolved in order to determine whether punitive damages were appropriate should have been determined by the jury, rather than the trial judge.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her sister were staying at one of the defendant’s hotels. The plaintiff was exiting the shower when the glass shower door exploded, causing her serious injuries. After the accident, a hotel employee came to the room and told the sisters that several rooms had this problem, and it was caused by the shower door coming off its runners. The employee explained that the room was on a “do not sell” list, and the sister should check and see if her shower door had the same problem. The sister checked, and indeed, her shower door was also off its runner.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hotel chain, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Evidence was presented showing that the hotel knew about the problems with the doors, and had at one point taken the rooms off the list of available rooms. However, for an unknown reason the sisters’ hotel rooms ended up back on the available room list. There was also evidence presented that the door in the plaintiff’s room had previously shattered and been replaced.

The hotel chain conceded that it was negligent, and the only issue at trial was the amount of damages that was appropriate. The court did not allow the jury to consider the issue of punitive damages. After a jury trial, the plaintiff was awarded $12,000 in compensatory damages. She appealed the judge’s decision to not allow the jury to consider punitive damages.

On appeal, the court determined that she should have been permitted to seek punitive damages. The court explained that punitive damages are only appropriate when the defendant engages in “fraud, actual malice, deliberate violence or oppression, or when the defendant acts willfully, or with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard of the rights of others.” Here, the court explained, the only potential ground for punitive damages was that the hotel acted with “a wanton disregard of the rights of others.” However, it was not the trial judge’s place to make that determination; it should have been left up to a jury to decide. Thus, the woman’s case was remanded back to the trial court so that she can proceed with her punitive damages claim.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of any kind of Maryland accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the facts surrounding the accident and your injuries, you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to those designed to reimburse you for the costs associated with your injuries. A skilled premises liability attorney at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers can provide you with preliminary advice as well as assist you in the preparation of your case in hopes of maximizing your award amount. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Reversed $1.2 Million Verdict in Wrongful Death Case, Based on Plaintiff’s Untrue Statements, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2017.

Plaintiff Unsuccessful in Car Accident Case Due to Failure to Establish Causation, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 2, 2017.

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