How Courts Deal with Obvious Hazards in Maryland Slip and Fall Cases

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.

In Maryland premises liability cases, it does not matter what danger the plaintiff recognized but rather whether a reasonable person would have seen the danger. For example, in this case, the top step sat a few feet off the ground, visible to someone walking toward the steps. Thus, the court concluded that a reasonable person would recognize the potentially hazardous condition of the top step and know he had to step up a little higher. Although the plaintiff acknowledged that he kept his eyes on the doorway and did not look at the steps when walking in, the court stated that a reasonable person would have been aware of the condition and taken greater care. Because of this, the court held that the condition of the step was open and obvious, and thus the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the step.

Have You Been Injured on Another Person’s Property?

If you or a loved one has been injured on another person’s property, let the dedicated attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers help. We have extensive experience handling all types of injury claims, including Maryland slip and fall accidents and other premises liability cases. Our attorneys will work tirelessly to help you pursue the compensation you deserve. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, contact us at 800-654-1949.

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