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.
Fall claims arise inside and outside. They occur on public property and on private property. They have many causes.
These are some of the most common causes of INDOOR falls. . .
- sticky substance on the floor.
- slippery substance on the floor.
- wet floor.
- floors that are not level.
- torn carpeting.
- raised carpeting.
- worn carpeting.
- poor lighting.
- narrow stairs.
- different heights between steps.
- different depths of steps.
- defective escalators.
- obstructions, such as cords.
These are some of the most common causes of OUTSIDE falls. . .
- cracked, broken or uneven sidewalks and pavements.
- snow and ice that is not removed or treated.
- inadequate lighting.
- absence of handrails.
- holes and depressions.
Those of us who focus on Maryland slip and fall law usually describe slip and fall claims as having two components which we commonly call “liability” and “damages.”
Liability means “Who caused the accident?”
If you fall and injure yourself on someone else’s property, the property owner is NOT automatically responsible, or liable, for your injuries.
That’s right. Not automatically responsible.
In lawyer lingo, these are called “premises liability” cases.
The general rule in this area of the law is that property owners or occupiers (such as a tenant in a shopping center) must take reasonable steps to provide a safe “premises” for visitors.
Property owners owe a higher duty to protect “invitees” (that are on the property for the benefit of the property owner — such as a customer in a store) and “social guests” than they owe a “trespasser.” In fact, the only duty owed to a trespasser under Maryland slip and fall Law is to not intentionally injure the trespasser.
When property owners violate the duty they owe you, they are responsible, or liable, for your fall.
Cases are stronger if the property owner actually knew of the defect or clearly should have known of it.
Some defective and dangerous conditions are long term or permanent conditions. Examples include poor lighting, abrupt changes in floor levels, or a gap or a hole in the flooring. These conditions obviously have existed long enough for the property owner to know about them. Falls because of these types of defects are usually strong cases under Maryland slip and fall law.
Other types of defects may be temporary or short term. Examples of this include slippery or sticky substances on the floor of a store. These cases are harder to prove under Maryland slip and fall Law. You have to be able to prove that the dangerous condition existed long enough for the property owner to know about it and have a fair chance to correct it.
To distinguish between these two situations, let’s look at two examples.
Suppose you are walking in a grocery store and slip on an ice cream spill that you didn’t see. Assume also that the spill occurred 1 minute before you slipped, was caused by another customer and had not yet been seen by employees of the store.
In this example, the store did not have a fair chance to know about the spill and do anything about it. The store is not liable for your fall under Maryland slip and fall law.
On the other hand, assume the same facts except that the ice cream is still on the floor, say, 6 hours after it was spilled. Under these facts, the sticky and slippery substance was on the floor long enough for the store to know about it, or, at least, long enough that the store should have known about it if it was doing periodic inspections as it should have. In this situation, under Maryland slip and fall law the store is liable for your fall.
Especially if you expect the cause of the accident to be challenged, your first concern after you fall is to nail down the evidence of what happened.
After you fall, do as many of these things as you can . . .
- If there were witnesses, get their names and contact information.
- If possible, make photographs of the scene of your fall as soon as possible.
- Write down all of the details of your fall. Exactly what happened? When did it happen? Why did it happen? What caused your fall? If you fell on a substance, what was it? Exactly how did you fall? What part of your body did you land on? How was the lighting? If you fell outside, what were the weather conditions? What did the property owner — or employees of the property owner — say to you? It is especially important to note anything that they said which indicates that they knew of the defect.
- Safeguard the clothing that you were wearing, especially your shoes. The defense may claim that your shoes were the problem. Keep them, without using them further, for as long as you are considering making a claim. Keep the clothing that you were wearing, too.
If you decide to hire a Maryland slip and fall lawyer, you should do so as soon as possible to give your lawyer time to investigate and evaluate your claim. If you hire a Maryland slip and fall lawyer later, give your lawyer the evidence that you have saved to help your lawyer catch up to the “Bad Guys” who have been investigating the claim from the time that it happened.
Defenses To Liability Claims
The insurance company for the property owner may deny that their policyholder did anything wrong.
Instead, or in addition, the insurance company may raise defenses to your liability claim such as “contributory negligence” or “assumption of risk.”
The alternative to contributory negligence that exists in most states is called “comparative negligence,” a much better and more fair rule.
Under comparative negligence, which varies slightly among the states that have this rule, the fault of the two parties is “compared” and the one who is more at fault pays while the one who is less at fault has his or her claim reduced by the percentage of their fault. For example, if Jones is 90% responsible for causing an accident and Smith is 10% at fault, Smith can recover from Jones for her injuries, but Smith can only recover 90% of full compensation.
Unfortunately, Maryland is one of only 4 states that has a very harsh rule called “contributory negligence.” If it exists, contributory negligence defeats your claim.
This means that if you contributed in any way to causing your fall, you have no claim against the property owner who was the primary cause of your fall. In theory, if you were only 1% responsible for causing your fall and someone else is 99% responsible, under Maryland slip and fall law you are not entitled to recover from the other person or company!
So, under Maryland slip and fall law, if you can prove that the other party caused your accident and that you did nothing to contribute to causing the accident, there is ‘liability.’
Assumption of Risk
In Maryland slip and fall law, assumption of risk means that you willingly and voluntarily assumed a known risk. If you did, you have no claim if the risk you assumed injured you. An example is walking on a snowy or icy surface. Since you knew it was slippery, with limited exceptions, you cannot recover from the property owner or occupier if you slip and hurt yourself. You assumed the risk that would happen.
If the property owner is at fault, and you did not contribute to causing your fall or voluntarily assume a known risk, there is “liability” and you can recover your “damages.”
“Damages” is the term that refers to the consequences of the other party’s carelessness. In other words, “What harm did the carelessness cause?”
Under Maryland slip and fall law, damages include economic losses and noneconomic losses.
The economic losses that you can recover include . . .
- all medical bills you incurred treating injuries that result from the accident,
- any loss of income, such as employment income, and
- any other economic losses that result from the accident.
If Maryland slip and fall law merely required the careless person to pay for your financial losses, you would not be fully and fairly compensated.
The economic losses are not what you will remember years later about this experience. What you will remember more is the pain of your injuries, the mental uncertainty, the sleepless nights (or whatever your symptoms were) and the disruption to your life that the careless property owner caused.
Because you did nothing to cause these losses, fundamental fairness — and Maryland slip and fall law — require the one who caused your injuries to compensate you in money damages for such noneconomic losses as . . .
- physical pain
- mental anguish
- physical impairment
- damage to your marital relationship.
To be able to prove these losses, keep a diary which answers this question: How has this accident affected my life?
If you hire a Maryland slip and fall lawyer, your lawyer will help you gather and develop the evidence of your noneconomic losses.
How Much Are You Entitled To Recover For Your Injuries?
The amount of compensation you are entitled to receive for your injuries depends on the circumstances of your case. Obviously, that determination will depend on such things as . . .
- how seriously you are injured
- how long you suffer with your injuries and
- whether you recover fully
What you want is a full and speedy recovery from your injuries. If that happens, you will still have a claim against the responsible property owner or occupier, but it will be for less than the claim that you will have if you do not recover quickly or completely.
Fair compensation for your injuries under Maryland slip and fall law includes the full amount of the medical bills that were caused by your auto accident, the full amount of the income that you lost as a result of your auto accident and an additional amount for pain, suffering, inconvenience and the like.
The end result could be as little as about 1 1/2 times your out-of-pocket losses for your medical bills and loss of income to an amount 10 times your financial losses, or more, if your injuries are very severe and permanent.
Here’s a rule-of-thumb to keep in mind: the more seriously you are injured, and therefore the more you are entitled to recover as damages, the more the “Bad Guys” will resist you. If you have been seriously injured and have substantial losses, you should have an experienced Maryland slip and fall lawyer on your side protecting your interests.
Defenses To Damage Claims
You must be able to prove that the property owner’s negligence caused your injuries and damages.
Often, the defending insurance company will raise the defense that something other than their policyholder carelessness caused your damages. They may claim that the “real cause” (their term, not mine) of your damages was an earlier accident, a later accident, the normal aging process . . . or anything else they can think of.
Normally, you will defeat these claims with expert testimony, such as your doctor’s opinion that your injuries are the result of your car accident.
One final, but important, point about Maryland slip and fall law.
Even if there is no liability, you may be able to recover the amount that you spent to treat your fall-related injuries.
Many businesses, and private property owners, have a kind of “no-fault” insurance called “medical payments” coverage. It pays for medical bills incurred as a result of an occurrence on the property, no matter who caused the occurrence.
Medical payments coverages, if they exist, are usually limited to five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) or less.
To learn more about Maryland slip and fall law, contact us.