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.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff tripped and fell on a sidewalk that was maintained by the defendant city. The area where the plaintiff fell was where two segments of concrete met. There was about a two-inch height differential between the slabs.
The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city, seeking compensation for her injuries. The city filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not have knowledge of the hazard.
The plaintiff presented a photograph of the sidewalk, arguing that the crack was such that it likely had existed in that condition for a significant amount of time, and even a cursory inspection of the sidewalk would have revealed it was a hazard. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and denied the city’s motion. The defendant appealed.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the city. The court first noted that the plaintiff presented no evidence, other than the photograph, showing that the city knew about the raised portion of the sidewalk. The court then explained that, while photographs “may provide some basis for inferring age, without context or explanation, any conclusion as to the age of the alleged defect in the roadway would be mere speculation.”
Here, the court held that the plaintiff failed to present any other evidence to contextualize the photograph. Thus, the court was unwilling to find that the city was on notice of the hazard’s existence.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured after tripping on a public or private property, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Maryland premises liability lawsuit. At the Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, we help victims pursue fair compensation for the injuries they have sustained. We work diligently to secure fair settlement offers when possible, and we will not hesitate to take your case to trial if the other side refuses to engage in fair negotiations. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Premises Liability Cases Involving Known and Obvious Hazards, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 16, 2018.
Maryland Court of Appeals Allows Premises Liability Case to Proceed Based on Defective Condition of a Property Built in 1990, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 2, 2018.