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Maryland Slip and Fall Case Involving Injury On Black Ice

Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on Dec 09, 2008 in Personal Injury

Our law firm handles Maryland slip and fall cases (also known as premises liability cases) involving very serious and catastrophic injuries, and we therefore do our best to stay on top of the law in that particular practice area. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis, Maryland (Judge Moylan) recently issued a disappointing opinion (filed December 8, 2008) affirming the Circuit Court for Montgomery County's (Judge Rubin) grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants (Marriott, Residence Inn and Brickman Group). The name of the case is Allen v. Marriott Worldwide Corporation, et. al. The trial court granted summary judgment based on the affirmative defense of assumption of risk.

The case involved a slip and fall on black ice that could not be seen by the plaintiff at a Residence Inn (owned by Marriott Corporation) in Ellicott City, Maryland (Howard County). On February 5, 2004 Mr. Allen stepped off the curb to get into the car his wife was driving when he fell on a patch of black ice that he could not see. The Court of Special Appeals found that the plaintiff (a customer of the hotel-in legal jargon an "invitee") had assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law because under the facts of this case, the plaintiff knew that it was cold outside, was aware of the possibility of black ice, and he knew that parts of the parking lot were slippery for driving in the days leading up to his fall.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided that as a matter of law (not a matter of fact which would be for the jury to decide) the "bits and pieces of information about the appellant's risk came together, they were enough, objectively, to achieve critical mass." the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial Court's grant of Summary Judgment in favor of the defendants. The defense of assumption of the risk is essentially that When a plaintiff enters voluntarily into a relation or situation involving obvious danger, he may be taken to assume the risk, and to relive the defendant of responsibility.

I disagree with this holding and think it is extremely unfair to bar an innocent plaintiff from having his day in Court when he could not see the danger that he was confronted with (in this case, "black ice"). The Court essentially found that because the plaintiff was aware of the possibility of a dangerous condition (the possibility of slippery black ice), he has assumed the risk as a matter of law and is not even entitled to his day in Court.

The Court explained that "When the issue is that of the assumption of the risk, moreover, any question about the negligence of the defendant becomes utterly immaterial. "Court opinions like this one shift the burden of creating a safe environment from the business owners to the consumers and users of the business/premises. This makes for bad policy, and will certainly lead to more accidents and greater Medical Expenses for the Citizens of the State of Maryland. If businesses are not legally responsible for damages caused as a result of dangerous conditions that they create for their customers (aka invitees), then they will not take reasonable measures to have a safe environment."

Marriott had a legal responsibility to keep its parking lot free of slippery ice, and it clearly did so in this case. It should have inspected for black ice and unseen dangers, and treated the property with salt/sand/chemicals and removed the ice in a timely matter. A jury should have been permitted to decide whether or not Mr. Allen should be entitled to compensation from the Defendants. The issue of whether Mr. Allen assumed the risk of his injuries, along with whether the defendants were negligent, should have been decided by the jury -the finder of fact-rather than by the Court-as a matter of law.

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