Slip & Fall Basics for Property Owners
Old man winter is here and it’s that time of the year again. I’m talking about all sorts of inclement weather that could lead to accidents like rain, sleet, and snow. One type of accident the people tend to overlook is slip and fall situations. If you are a business owner, a homeowner or a landlord, you should be concerned about potential liability from slip and falls during this time of the year in Maryland. Liability may attach to you if a person, through no fault of theirs, is injured from a slip on your premises – indoor or outdoor. The question most are asking themselves right now is am I liable if my friend, guest or customer slips on my icy or snow-covered driveway and suffers an injury? It all depends.
Maryland slip and fall law is based on a fault system: That is, businesses and property owners are not automatically responsible if you fall and injure yourself on their property. Under Maryland slip and fall law, property owners are only responsible for dangerous conditions that they knew about (or should have know about if they had been paying attention) but did not correct or warn you about.
Injuries: A stumble down the stairs or a feet-out-from-under-me moment on a city sidewalk can lead to significant physical harm. Unobserved risks due to poor lighting or hazards on the ground, such as ice or snow, and unsafe premises caused by uneven flooring are all factors that can contribute to this type of accident. Some of the more common incidents of slip and fall trauma can include but are not limited to Broken bones, Brain Injuries, Spinal cord injuries, Neck injuries, Back injuries, Shoulder injuries, Knee injuries, Muscle and ligament injuries.
Property Owner Liability: Maryland law requires private property owners to take “reasonable” steps to provide safe premises for visitors. There are 2 classes of visitors namely invitees (customers or your guests) and trespassers. Invitees are owed the highest level of care whereas you are only obligated to make sure that your premise does not have conditions that will intentionally injure trespassers. Regardless, the property owner is only liable if you can prove that he or she knew or should have known of the problem that caused the slip. A key factor is the duration of the existence of the problem: a banana peel that lay on the ground for 1 minute before a slip will likely NOT result in the property owner’s liability compared to a situation where the same banana peel stayed on the floor for 3 hours. Suffice it to say that witnesses are key to proving liability in most cases.
Property Owner Defenses: Various defenses exist for property owners including lack of notice, contributory negligence and assumption of risk. Lack of notice of the defect and/or an inability to correct the defect in time was discussed above. If a victim’s negligence contributed towards their slip/fall or injury or if the victim, through their conduct assumed the risk of injury, a court could rule that the property owner is not liable. For instance, if a property owner such as a condominium association or even a private homeowner failed to clear the snow within the time prescribed by the law and a person (customer or guest) knows that the ground is snow and/or ice-covered and chooses to exit the property through that door knowing of the dangerous condition, then they may be found to have assumed the risk of injury or even contributorily negligent. If an injured person is contributorily negligent in Maryland, then they get nothing.
Statute of Limitations: Generally, victims have up to three years to file a claim but in the interest of preserving evidence and otherwise reducing litigation challenges, victims are advised to consult with legal counsel as soon as reasonably possible.
If further information is needed on this topic, do not hesitate to contact us.