D.C. District Court Ruling Upholds Assumption of Risk Defense to In-Home Construction Accident Lawsuit

A recent District of Columbia federal district court case, Bell v. BUILDERS, Dist. Ct., Dist. Col. (2013), gives a helpful overview of the concept of Assumption of Risk as it relates to personal injury claims.

Construction had begun in February of 2009, and plaintiff elected to remain in her house during the construction. One morning in May of 2009, the plaintiff went down stairs in order to investigate a loud sound she had heard. She turned on the lights and walked through her kitchen to look out the sliding glass door into her backyard. Seeing several possums in the backyard, she decided to retrieve her camera from the living room to take some pictures. When she returned with her camera and opened the sliding glass door, she leaned out to take a picture of the animals, when her left ankle became twisted up in the drop cloth on the floor, causing her to fall out the door, and to suffer, “severe, painful, and permanent injuries.”

The plaintiff’s lawsuit stemmed from her assertion that by covering her kitchen floor with a drop cloth, the defendant construction company created a “dangerous and defective condition” that caused her to slip and fall and sustain her injuries. The defendants motioned for summary judgment, asserting the defenses of contributory negligence and assumption of the risk.

In the District of Columbia, a successful assumption of the risk claim bars recovery in a negligence action.

The analysis regarding whether the plaintiff assumed the risk, whether the risk was reasonable or unreasonable, requires that: (1) the plaintiff had knowledge of the danger; and (2) the plaintiff voluntarily exposed herself to that known danger.

To establish the first element, the court must find that the plaintiff had a full comprehension and appreciation of the danger. Merely being “simply aware” of the risk is insufficient to meet this standard.

In this case, the court discussed, the plaintiff knew that the drop cloths had been in place in her kitchen for several days. Further, she appreciated their potential danger, as she referred to them as “tripping hazards” in court pleadings.

Regarding whether she had a full appreciation of the risk, the court looked to the relevant standard which looks to age and mental capacity, and found that the plaintiff was of the age and experience that she could appreciate the risk.

As to the second factor, the court found that the plaintiff’s decision to walk through the area, not once, but twice, met the voluntary aspect of the exposure.

Therefore, the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted, effectively ending the plaintiff’s personal injury lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has sustained a personal injury as a result of someone else’s negligence in Maryland or Washington D.C., consult the experienced negligence attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers. Our Maryland personal injury accident attorneys have extensive experience in helping victims who have suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence recover the damages to which they are entitled. Contact us today in order to schedule your free initial consultation. You can reach us through our website, or by calling 1-800-654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Affirms Necessity of Certification in Medical Malpractice Claims, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published December 3, 2013
D.C. Court of Appeals Upholds Jury Decision for Consumer in Baseball Mask Product’s Liability Case, Maryland Accident Law Blog, published November 25, 2013

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