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Maryland Court Of Appeals Affirms “Statutory Duty” To Trespassers

Posted on: July 28, 2014

Shopping at a business, going to work, or visiting the house of a neighbor or friend – each of these activities involves entering land that is owned by another person. Under Maryland premises liability law, special rules apply to persons who are injured on the land of another. In some instances, premises liability law gives the landowner a duty to protect visitors. In other instances, the law absolves the landowner of such a duty. Perhaps the most common example of premises liability is a “slip and fall” case. However, premises liability extends beyond slip and fall cases to a wide variety of personal injury lawsuits.

A recent case by the Maryland Court of Appeals has clarified one particular area of premises liability law. When a Maryland statute gives a landowner a duty to protect visitors to his or her property, that “statutory duty” takes precedent over a conflicting common law rule. This new ruling, discussed in greater detail below, may offer help for some persons who are injured while on the property of another.

Often the outcome of a premises liability case depends on what purpose the person who was injured had in being on the property. Under Maryland law, visitors to property fall into one of three broad categorizations: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. The duty that a landowner owes to a person on their property depends on which of these categories the person falls into. It is the job of an experienced Maryland premises liability attorney to make the best case possible that the landowner breached this duty.

Invitee – An invitee is a person who is on the premises for a purpose related to the owner’s business. Under Maryland common law, landowners owe invitees 1) the duty to use reasonable care to keep the premises safe and 2) the duty to protect the licensee from dangers that the licensee might not discover on their own.

Licensee – Licensees include social guests and other persons who have permission to be on the landowner’s property but are not invitees. Although the landowner does not necessarily owe a duty to licensees to keep the premises safe, he or she must warn licensees of dangerous conditions that are not easily discoverable.

Trespasser – A trespasser is someone who intentionally enters the premises without the permission of the land owner. Under Maryland common law, landowners owe no duty to trespassers except to avoid willful or wanton conduct that may injure the trespasser.

Maryland Court of Appeals’ Decision in Blackburn Limited Partnership v. Paul

Blackburn Limited Partnership v. Paul involved a three-year old boy who almost drowned and suffered severe injuries in a pool in his parents’ apartment complex. Although the pool had a fence and gate around it, Maryland law requires that such a fence have no gaps that are greater than four inches wide. This is because small children are often able to squeeze through wider gaps. However, the fence surrounding the pool in the apartment complex had a gap that was six-inches wide.

The family of the young boy brought a personal injury lawsuit against the apartment complex and argued that, by violating the statute, the apartment complex had breached a duty of care to the young boy. The apartment complex argued that because the boy was a trespasser inside the fenced-in area, they did not owe him a duty of care.

The Maryland Court of Appeals held that, when a statute clearly exists to protect a class of persons (in this case young children), that statute places a duty on landowner that modifies the common law duty. Because of this, the apartment complex had a duty to build a fence with gaps no greater than four inches and had breached that duty.

Justin Katz is a personal injury lawyer who represents injury victims in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC
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