In Maryland, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. Generally, a property owner must take care to remedy known hazards on their property. Of course, a plaintiff’s own negligence can act to defeat their claim against a landowner, if the plaintiff fails to exercise reasonable care themselves.
Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a maintenance worker’s claim against a property owner should proceed to a jury trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that it should, holding that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to maintain the property in a safe condition.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was hired by the defendant property owner to change the lightbulbs atop four 30-foot metal poles surrounding a tennis court. The plaintiff had previously successfully changed the bulbs by attaching two ladders to reach the top of the pole.
Evidently, the second time the plaintiff was asked to change the bulbs he requested the defendant pay for a scissor lift because of the height of the poles. However, the defendant refused, and the plaintiff agreed to change the bulbs using the same ladder set-up he had previously used. As the plaintiff was at the top of the pole, the pole snapped at the bottom, sending the plaintiff falling to the ground. The plaintiff died as a result of his injuries.
The plaintiff’s loved one filed a wrongful death case against the defendant landowner. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court determined that the plaintiff had equal knowledge of the hazard and, thus, the defendant could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to maintain a safe premises and the fact he was hired to change the lightbulbs did not change the duty that he was owed. The defendant argued that, by the very nature of the work requested, the plaintiff should have been aware of the risks involved.
The court rejected the defendant’s argument and reversed the lower court’s decision. The court first noted that the defendant did have a non-delegable duty to provide a safe premises. The court acknowledged, however, that there is a “hired worker/independent contractor liability exception” that can eliminate a property owner’s duty for risks that are “incidental to the work” a contractor undertakes.
Here, the court determined that the risks the plaintiff was exposed to were not incidental to the job which he was hired to complete. The court explained that, had the plaintiff been hired to fix the pole itself, the exception may apply. But because the plaintiff was merely hired to replace the bulbs, the exception did not apply, and the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty.
Have You Been Injured While Working as a Contractor?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while working as an independent contractor, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. Establishing liability in a Maryland workplace accident, however, can be tricky based on a number of factors, including the nature of the work and the agreement between the parties. The dedicated Maryland personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience serving injury victims across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation against the parties responsible for your injuries, call 410-654-3600 today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Permits Medical Malpractice Case to Proceed Despite Lack of Expert Affidavit, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 8, 2018.
Plaintiff’s Medical Malpractice Case Dismissed for Failure to Provide Sworn Expert Testimony, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 23, 2018.