Do Washington, D.C. Landowners Have a Duty to Fix Obvious Hazards on Their Property?

The basic principles of Washington, D.C. premises liability law provide that landowners may be liable for a visitor’s injuries in certain situations. Typically, a plaintiff must establish that the landowner was negligent in maintaining the property to successfully recover compensation. There are several common ways plaintiffs can prove that a landowner was negligent.

In a recent state appellate decision, a court discussed two claims brought by a plaintiff who was injured while walking on the sidewalk in the condominium complex where she lived. Evidently, the plaintiff lived in the complex for about ten years. For a good portion of that time, the sidewalk in one specific area was cracked. As time went on, the crack grew larger. One day, the plaintiff tripped and fell while walking over the broken sidewalk.

The plaintiff filed two claims against the condo complex; first, that the complex was negligent in allowing the crack to exist without fixing it. And second, that the complex was negligent for failing to warn residents about the presence of the crack. In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the court dismissed both of the plaintiff’s cases, finding that she knew about the crack and chose to traverse that specific area of the sidewalk nonetheless. The court held that the plaintiff’s decision to do so constituted an “assumption of the risk.”

The plaintiff appealed, arguing that notwithstanding her knowledge of the hazard, the condo complex still had a duty to repair the sidewalk. Again, the defendant argued that the hazard was “open and obvious” and that the plaintiff should have known to avoid that area.

The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s failure-to-warn case, but held that the plaintiff’s failure-to-maintain case should proceed towards trial. The court first reasoned that the plaintiff’s actual knowledge of the hazard relieved the association of warning her of its existence.

Regarding the plaintiff’s failure-to-maintain claim, the court noted that a landowner is not liable for a guest’s injuries that are “caused by a dangerous condition on the premises when the danger is known or obvious to the injured party, unless the owner or possessor should anticipate those injuries.” However, the court went on to explain that there is still a question as to “whether the association should anticipate that condominium residents would use the sidewalk … notwithstanding that the condition was obvious.” In other words, the court reasoned that the mere fact that the plaintiff knew about the dangerous condition did not relieve the condo association from taking steps to remedy the hazard.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Fall?

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience representing injury victims in premises liability cases throughout Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 410-654-3600 today.

Contact Information