Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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.

Dangerous Roller CoasterThere 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.

Produce AisleThe 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.

Grocery Store AisleThe 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.

Chemical PlantIn 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.

Espresso MachineThe 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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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that presents an important issue that comes up often in Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuits. The case required the court to discuss the plaintiff’s own knowledge of the hazard that caused his injuries, and whether the plaintiff’s knowledge of the hazard should defeat his claim against the defendant. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff should have known about the dangers involved in moving a piece of broken glass, and it dismissed his claim.

Broken GlassThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was a homeowner who hired the plaintiff to perform some handyman work around his home. The defendant asked the plaintiff to remove a mirror from the basement that had been glued to the wooden framing along the wall. The defendant and the plaintiff decided the best way to remove the mirror would be to use a pry bar to pry the mirror off the wooden boards.

As the plaintiff pried the mirror from the boards, the mirror broke into several sharp pieces. The plaintiff was moving the glass shards out to the trash when the glass sliced his wrist, severing his ligaments.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a student who died while the teacher was out of the room. The case required the court to determine if the teacher – acting as an official government employee – was entitled to immunity. Finding that the school’s policy regarding the supervision of students left room for the exercise of discretion, the court determined that the teacher was entitled to immunity and dismissed the plaintiffs’ appeal.

ClassroomThe case is important for Washington, D.C. personal injury plaintiffs because it illustrates the type of analysis in which courts engage when reviewing cases filed against a government official, employee, or agency.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young boy who died while attending school. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the boy fell to the ground while roughhousing with another student. At the time, the teacher had stepped out of the classroom and was not present. However, she asked a teacher in a neighboring room to keep an eye on the students before she stepped out.

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In some Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, there may be a lack of evidence regarding the cause of the accident victim’s injuries. However, in some of these cases, the fact that the accident occurred at all may give rise to an inference that the defendant was in fact negligent. This doctrine is known as res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.”

Trailer HitchThe classic example of a res ipsa loquitur case is when a patient finds out there is a medical instrument in their body after undergoing a surgery. In this situation, the patient would have no way of knowing who left the instrument in their body, but the fact that the instrument was present in their body – which would never be there absent some explanation – may be evidence that the doctor was negligent.

In Washington, D.C., there are three elements that must be met in order for a judge to give the jury a res ipsa loquitur instruction. First, the event must be one that does not normally occur in the absence of someone’s negligence. Second, the accident must have involved an instrumentality within the sole control of the defendant. Finally, the plaintiff’s injuries must not have been a result of their own conduct. A recent case illustrates how the court applies a res ipsa loquitur analysis.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Mississippi issued an opinion in a personal injury case involving a slip-and-fall accident that occurred at a fast-food restaurant. As is often the case in Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents, this case required the court to determine if the evidence presented by the plaintiff was sufficient to survive a summary judgment challenge by the defendant restaurant.

HamburgerUltimately, the court concluded that the evidence gave rise to several factual issues that, if resolved in the plaintiff’s favor, could result in the restaurant being liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, the case was permitted to proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was dining at the defendant fast-food restaurant with several family members. After he placed his order, the plaintiff began to walk back toward his table. On the way, the plaintiff thought he heard an employee call his name, and he turned around. As he did so, he tripped on the leg of a highchair that was obscured by a “half wall.” Restaurant employees came to the plaintiff’s aid and noticed that his legs were tangled in the legs of the highchair.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued an opinion in a wrongful death case that illustrates an important issue that often arises in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases. Specifically, the case discussed the doctrine of “assumption of the risk” and how it can prevent a plaintiff from recovering compensation for their injuries.

TractorThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a farm worker who died after a tractor tire fell on top of him as he was attempting to remove the tire on his own. Prior to the accident that claimed the worker’s life, he was asked to remove the tire by his employer, the farmer. The farmer specifically told the worker, however, not to remove the tire on his own.

After the accident, the worker’s family filed a wrongful death case against the farmer, claiming that the farmer did not provide the worker with the proper tools and created an unreasonably dangerous situation. The farmer argued that the worker assumed the risks involved in changing the tire by proceeding to do it by himself. The court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff’s case.

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