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Assumption Of Risk Defenses In Maryland Slip And Fall Accident Cases

Please note: the following is not legal advice. Do not assume the facts herein are applicable to your case without talking to a lawyer. Each case is unique and results depend on a variety of factors. For more information see the full disclaimer below the article.

  • Under the law in Maryland, the doctrine of assumption of risk can have a profound effect on an injured victim’s ability to succeed and recover in a personal injury case.

  • Assumption of Risk is a doctrine of law that is asserted as a Defense to negligence claims, in certain types of personal injury actions. The idea is basically that if the injured victim knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of injury by choosing to act in a particular manner, he should be barred from recovering for his injuries, even if he is blameless, because he 1.) Knew of the potential risk and 2.) Voluntarily encountered that risk.
  • For example, if Passenger A gets into a vehicle in which driver A was intoxicated and Passenger A knows Driver A is intoxicated but gets into the vehicle anyway, because he needs a ride home…Passenger A may be precluded from recovering money from the negligent intoxicated driver even though the Driver’s drunken negligent driving was the cause of the accident. The reason this doctrine would apply in this case is because 1.) The Passenger knew there was a potential risk of danger of being driven by an intoxicated driver and 2.) The passenger voluntarily engaged that risk by abandoning his position of safety or not choosing some safter alternative like calling a taxi cab to drive him home.
  • Since Assumption of Risk is a Defense, it must be asserted by the Defendant in a negligence action, and if proved sufficiently to a judge or jury, then it is a complete bar to recovery for the Plaintiff.
  • This type of defense is most commonly raised is in slip and fall cases in Maryland. For example, suppose a person is walking through a parking lot and while walking, notices some large potholes and cracks in the parking lot with cones all around it. The person even though they see these warnings tries to walk across them anyway and gets injured as a result.  If the assumption of risk doctrine is applied here, the Plaintiff will usually not be able to recover money for his injuries in Maryland even if the premises owner or occupier was negligent in failing to properly maintain the premises in a reasonable and safe condition. Indeed, even if the premises owner was negligent, the Plaintiff in this type of case will most likely be held to have assumed the risk of his injury and therefore is barred from any sort of recovery from the negligent property owner.
  • This has been a hurdle to recovery for many personal injury victims that are injured in snow and ice cases.  Defendant Premises owners in Maryland have even gone so far as arguing that victim’s who were injured by slipping and falling on invisible or “black ice” without actual knowledge that the ice was present, should be held to have assumed the risk of falling simply because they were walking outside in the cold and under the circumstances of cold weather, it is foreseeable that ice might be present.
  • In the Maryland case of Allen v. Marriott Worldwide, the Plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice while leaving the hotel to walk to the parking lot which had black ice.  The courts determined that the Plaintiff assumed the risk because she should have know that there was a possibility that the water would freeze and form black ice and by walking in the parking lot she assumed that risk.
  • Fortunately for Plaintiffs, this case was largely overturned in the Maryland Court Of Appeals giving renewed hope and rights for injured slip and fall victims in Maryland. In Poole v. Coakley Williams Construction the injured party claimed that he slipped and fell on black ice in a parking lot in Montgomery County behind his workplace and blamed the construction company who had caused the black ice to form. The court essentially decided that Allen v. Marriott Worldwide was decidedly incorrectly and that it cannot be assumed that the Plaintiff should have had the knowledge that there was black ice and if the Plaintiff did not have that knowledge, then there can be no assumption of risk.
  • Assumption of Risk is a tricky hurdle for Plaintiff’s in Slip and Fall Cases. Indeed, each case must be looked specifically and analyzed specifically within the framework of the Maryland law. It is not always easy to determine whether or not a Plaintiff assumed the risk of his or her injuries in Maryland and in fact, many times, such a determination is left for the Jury to decide.
  • An experienced Maryland Slip and Fall Lawyer should always be consulted with to determine whether a viable negligence claim exists against a premises owner in or occupier Maryland and what, if any, defenses may operate as a bar to such negligence claims. Further, as the law is dynamic and constantly changing, what was an applicable assumption of risk defense two years ago may not be applicable today. The only way to know for sure is to consult with a knowledgeable Maryland injury lawyer.
  • Justin Katz has litigated multiple slip and fall claims throughout the State of Maryland and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.