Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving the question of whether a retail store violated a duty it owed to a customer when it failed to provide the customer with a staged shopping cart. Ultimately, the court concluded that the store’s duty was not defined by its internal operating procedures, and that the store had no obligation to provide the plaintiff with a staged shopping cart. Thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.

The case presents an important issue that frequently arises in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases. Specifically, whether a landowner has a duty to a visitor, and if so, the extent of that duty.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was an older man who required a cane and an oxygen tank. One day, the plaintiff’s wife dropped him off at the front of the store. The plaintiff went to obtain a shopping cart from the corral of carts near the store’s entrance. Because the shopping carts were stuck together, the plaintiff placed his cane and oxygen tank inside a cart as he tried to separate the carts. However, the plaintiff slipped and fell while trying to separate the carts, sustaining serious injuries as a result.

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In a recent case, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia premises liability lawsuit addressing a previously unanswered question regarding the duty a vacation home owner owes to short-term guests. The case may prove instructive to homeowners dealing with Washington, D.C. premises liability cases. The court in this case ultimately concluded that the arrangement to rent a vacation home, even for a short period of time, more closely resembles the relationship between a landlord and a tenant than it does an innkeeper and a guest.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendants owned a home in Virginia Beach. The defendants would rent the home out to vacationers between May and October. During those months, the defendants used a property management company to handle the day-to-day duties associated with maintaining the home, including cleaning the house which was only done in between stays. The home was rented fully furnished.

The plaintiff’s family rented the defendants’ vacation home for a week. The plaintiff checked in at the property management office and was provided linens. As the plaintiff was carrying a bin of linens through the house, she tripped on a raised strip of wood that was used as a transition between carpet and tile. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff seriously injured her elbow, which later required two surgeries.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important doctrine of law called res ipsa loquitor. The court’s discussion of res ipsa loquitor is important for Maryland personal injury victims to understand because Maryland also employs the doctrine in certain situations.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she was exiting an elevator. Evidently, the elevator doors unexpectedly and repeatedly closed on the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the condo association where her injuries occurred, relying on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor.

The Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitor

Res ipsa loquitor is a Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” The legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor allows for a fact-finder to infer negligence against a party that is in sole control of an instrumentality that malfunctions and causes injury to another. Thus, when res ipsa loquitor applies, a plaintiff can rely on the inference of negligence rather than presenting evidence on what caused their injuries.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a ski resort could be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries that occurred while she was snowboarding. The case presents interesting issues for Washington, D.C. accident victims who have been injured while engaging in a recreational activity such as skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, bicycling, or any other outdoor activity that takes place on another’s property with their permission.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a season-pass holder at the defendant ski resort. Prior to obtaining her season pass, the plaintiff signed a liability-release from, acknowledging certain inherent risks associated with skiing and snowboarding “posed by variations in terrain and snow conditions, . . . unmarked obstacles, . . . devices, . . . and other hazards whether they are obvious or not. . . collisions with natural and man-made objects, including . . . snow making equipment, snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles.” The waiver also contained a clause agreeing not to hold the ski resort liable for injuries caused by its own negligence.

Evidently, on her last run of the day, the plaintiff collided with a snow-cat, which is a large vehicle that grooms ski runs, making them smoother and more enjoyable to ski on. The plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the collision and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the ski resort.

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In a recent opinion issued by a federal appellate court, the court permitted a plaintiff’s slip-and-fall case to proceed against a grocery store after a lower court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. The case involved the application of the summary judgment standard, requiring the court to determine if the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that the defendant grocery store had knowledge of the hazard that caused his fall.

Finding that the plaintiff’s theory of what caused his fall was more plausible than the grocery store’s proposed alternative, the court reversed the lower court and allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed. The case illustrates important general concepts of defense motions for summary judgment, which frequently are filed in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was shopping at Wal-Mart when he slipped and fell after stepping in a puddle of slippery liquid. The store’s surveillance camera caught the incident, and showed that, at 6:56, an employee using an automated floor-cleaning machine came down the aisle and the employee operating the machine paused at a particular spot where the floor changed from white vinyl to brown tile. While the store had a written policy to place “wet floor” signs in areas that were to be cleaned, no signs were present.

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With summer underway, crowds have begun to flock to the several large amusement parks surrounding the Washington, D.C. area. For most, these parks offer a break from the daily routine, and a chance to spend some quality time with the family. However, each year hundreds of people are injured in Washington, D.C. amusement park accidents.

There are many types of amusement park accidents, ranging from the minor to the catastrophic. A few examples of the more common types of accidents are:

  • neck and back injuries as a result of whiplash;
  • injuries related to slip-and-fall accidents;
  • heat stroke related injuries; and
  • cuts, bruises, and broken bones.

An amusement park will not be held liable for all accidents that occur within the park grounds. One reason for this is that many amusement park injuries are minor. Additionally, most parks provide a liability waiver (usually on the back of the ticket issued to each guest), and by entering the park and using the facilities, the park assumes guests agree to not hold them liable.

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While it is true that landowners have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for all invited guests, the mere fact that someone was hurt on another party’s property is not enough to establish that the property owner is responsible for the victim’s injuries. In order to succeed in a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff must establish certain elements.

The duty of care owed to a guest by a landowner is determined by the relationship between the two parties. For example, a social guest is owed a greater duty of care than a trespasser. Similarly, someone visiting a property for commercial purposes (i.e., a customer) is owed a greater duty of care than a social guest. Customers are considered invitees under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, and they are owed the highest duty of care.

In order to establish that a landowner is liable for a plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew or should have known about the hazard that caused their injuries. A recent opinion shows how courts view these claims, as well as common arguments made by landowners.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a defendant grocery store’s claim that it could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because it did not have knowledge of the hazard that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The case is important to Washington, D.C. accident victims as well because this type of defense commonly arises in Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was at a grocery store shopping for garden supplies when she slipped and fell in one of the store’s aisles. While the plaintiff did not notice anything on the floor initially, when she got up, she noticed that she had stepped in a puddle of water. Neither the plaintiff nor the store employee who came to assist her could locate the source of the water initially, but it was later determined that the water came from a carpet-cleaning machine kiosk.

The kiosk was owned and operated by the company that rented the machines. The agreement between the grocery store and the carpet-cleaning machine rental company allowed for the placement of the kiosk, and in return, the grocery store would be entitled to a share of the revenue brought in by the rentals. While other grocery stores with similar kiosks asked to be trained in how to operate the kiosks, this particular grocery store never asked to receive any training.

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When someone is involved in a Maryland accident due to another person’s negligence, they may consider filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party. There are many procedural rules that must be followed when pursuing a case of this nature. One of the initial issues a potential plaintiff must consider before filing a lawsuit is whether they are in compliance with Maryland’s statute of limitations.

In Maryland, a plaintiff’s claim must be filed within three years of the date the claim “accrues.” In many cases, the case “accrues” when the accident occurs; however, “accrual” is actually a complex legal term that is often the subject of much litigation. This is where Maryland’s discovery of harm rule comes into play.

Maryland Discovery of Harm Rule

While accrual may refer to the date when the plaintiff’s injury actually occurred, this is not necessarily the date of the accident. This situation may arise when the plaintiff’s injury could not have reasonably been discovered until sometime after the accident. In these cases, the statute of limitations does not begin until the injury was discovered.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case presenting an interesting issue for those who have a child who has been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident. The case required the court to determine if a parent’s responsibility to keep their child from playing on and around the heavy metal stanchions precluded the defendant store owner from being held liable. Ultimately, the court concluded that the parents did have a responsibility to protect their children and keep them from playing on the stanchions.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs visited the defendant coffee shop with their two sons. After placing their order, the family went upstairs to use the restroom. As they were exiting the store, the parents heard one of their sons screaming. As they turned around, they saw that a metal stanchion had fallen on their son’s hand.

The young boy’s finger ultimately had to be amputated, and the plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the coffee shop, claiming that the shop failed to maintain a safe area for customers and that minor children would not be able to recognize the dangers of the stanchions.

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