Most personal injury law firms receive a large volume of calls about falls. Maryland has some of the most restrictive rules on fall cases in the United States. There are different types of falls, notably slip-and-falls (a slip on liquid, ice, or other slippery substance), and trip-and-falls (a trip over wires, broken up concrete, uneven steps). Most lawyers refer to them all generally as slip-and-falls.
Deadline to File a Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit
Every state, including Maryland, has deadlines to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of injury and other factors, but it is generally three years after the date of the accident. Any lawsuit filed after that point may not protect an injured person’s rights.
One important caveat is that some entities, for example, cities, counties, state and federal governments, have notice requirements. These are deadlines to provide certain information to the governmental property owner within a certain amount of time after the injury. Sometimes it can require notice within 180 days of the accident. If you have any questions, contact a lawyer immediately.
Proving that the Property Owner is Responsible
Property owners owe a duty to people on their property. The level of duty depends on the relationship between the property owner and the visitor. In Maryland, there are four general classifications:
- Invitee: An invitee is permitted to enter property for a purpose connected with the owner’s business. For example, a customer shopping in a grocery store is an invitee. The owner must use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the property safe, and to protect the visitor from unreasonable risks that the visitor could not discover by ordinary care.
- Licensee by Invitation: The visitor here is best described as a social guest. For example, a man invited to his friend’s house for a birthday party is a social guest. The owner must use reasonable care to warn the visitor of dangerous conditions known to the owner which are not easily discoverable.
- Bare Licensee: A bare licensee is a person who enters a property for his own purposes, but with knowledge and consent of the owner. The owner must refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the visitor and from created new sources of danger without warning. A door-to-door salesman would oftentimes be a bare licensee.
- Trespasser: A trespasser is a person who intentionally enters property without consent of the owner. There only duty owed by a property owner to a trespasser is to not willfully or wantonly injure or entrap the trespasser. A burglar is an example of a trespasser.
For all of that legal jargon, most slip-and-fall cases boil down to notice. The issue is simply whether the owner knew or reasonably should have known about the dangerous condition. It doesn’t matter if the dangerous condition is ice in the parking lot, a banana peel left on the floor, or too much floor wax. The person who files the lawsuit must prove that the owner had knowledge before the injury (for example, that the owner or his employees saw but passed by a spilled drink without cleaning it up); or that the owner or his employees should have known about the dangerous condition (for example, a refrigerator that had repeatedly malfunctioned and leaked water, which was never repaired).
Notice can be difficult to prove because so often the evidence is in the hands of the property owner. A business owner usually has some degree of control over his employees, security cameras, floor sweep logs and maintenance logs. Employees often don’t want to admit that they saw a dangerous condition for fear that they could lose their jobs. Also problematic is that witnesses usually don’t stick around to testify about what they saw.
Defenses to Proving Responsibility in Slip-and-Fall Cases
There are usually two main defenses to slip-and-fall cases:
- Assumption of the Risk: Assumption of the risk basically means that a person voluntarily accepted a known risk. In the slip-and-fall context, one example would be where a person sees an icy path, and chooses to walk down that path, knowing it might cause him to fall. This defense was typically insurmountable in ice cases, until recent court cases (see below, Inclement Weather).
- Contributory Negligence: Contributory negligence basically means that the injured person was also negligent. For example, a store owner may have allowed a defective machine to leak water in his store, but the plaintiff might have also been negligent because he was walking down the aisles blindfolded. In Maryland, any amount of contributory negligence means that the injured person cannot recover for his injuries.
Obviously, many falls happen in bad weather. Rain collects at the entrances of businesses, and ice forms in parking lots. People often fall in those conditions, and seek experienced Maryland personal injury lawyers to tell them if they have a case.
The rule until very recently was from a case called Allen v. Marriott. That court basically held that when there is bad weather, we all know that there can be black ice. If we go outside for almost any reason at all, we are voluntarily accepting the risk of injury (assumption of the risk).
But last year, a new rule emerged in the cases of Thomas v. Panco Management, and Poole v. Coakley Williams Construction. The court basically overruled Allen v. Marriott, and held that it is typically for a jury, not a judge, to decide whether a person should have known that there might be black ice present. Maryland lawyers all over are now once again accepting some bad weather slip-and-fall cases.
What to do if you have a Slip-and-Fall
- Stay calm. If you need immediate medical treatment, get it.
- Get names and phone numbers. Make sure you write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of any employees who were on duty (if you fell in a business), and any witnesses who saw the fall or the dangerous condition before you fell.
- Take pictures. If you can, get pictures of the defective condition. If not, be sure to remember exactly where it happened, how big the defect was, and how the defect occurred (for example, did the water come from a leaking machine?).
- Be careful what you sign: Business owners often want victims to sign statements about what happened. If you do, make sure it is in exactly your own words, and make sure you get a copy before you leave. It’s fair to agree to a brief written statement in exchange for the names of all employees who were in the vicinity. But you don’t need to sign a statement to have a claim.
- Save your receipts: If you have evidence that you were in a store or on a property, keep it.
Do You Have a Slip-and-Fall Case?
If you have been injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, call us at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free consultation.
For More Information
- Sample Slip-and-Fall Complaint
- Premises Liability Settlements and Verdicts
- Response to Motion for Summary Judgment in Slip-and-Fall Case
- More Information About Premises Liability Cases