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Is a Condominium Association Liable When a Guest is Injured in a Common Area?

As the holidays approach, friends and families look forward to gathering together to celebrate, often in one another’s homes. The excitement of these gatherings can quickly deflate, however, when an injury occurs. When a friend or family member is injured in a common area of a condominium – like a hallway or a lobby – questions arise as to the condominium association’s liability. If you have questions about injuries that occur in a Maryland condominium’s common area property, contact The Law Office of Robert R. Castro.

Premises Liability and Negligence

Generally, Maryland state law requires condominiums to have insurance coverage in the event of an accident. Whether liability will be imposed in the first place, however, depends on whether the condominium association owes a duty to the person who is injured. Whether a duty exists, and what the extent of the duty is, depends on principles of premises liability and negligence law.

In appropriate circumstances, negligence law allows an injured party to recover from another party based on the other party’s oversights, failures to act, negligent acts, or omissions. In any negligence case, including a premises liability case, the plaintiff must establish, among other things, that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury. In premises liability cases, the extent or scope of the duty owed to the plaintiff, if any, depends on the relationship or status of the injured person with respect to the premises or location.

Legal Status of Individuals When on Property of Another

In general, individuals who come onto the property of others in Maryland fall into three categories — trespassers, social guests (or licensees by invitation) and invitees. Generally, the highest duty of care is owed to invitees; this duty is to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep to protect invitees from injuries caused by unreasonable risks that the invitees, using ordinary and reasonable care, would not discover.

Condominium Owners and their Guests in Common Areas

In Macias v. Summit Management, Inc., the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that condominium owners and their guests, when in the condominium’s common areas, are invitees. In this case, an 8-year-old boy who was visiting his grandparents’ condominium complex was playing outside with his siblings. The boy and his brother climbed on top of a sign for the complex that was made of large stones. The brothers held on to a flat stone as they climbed down. The flat stone broke off and fell on top of the boy, who sustained serious injuries to his legs and chest.

The court stated that its decision that condominium owners and their guests, when in the condominium’s common areas are invitees was consistent with a principle long recognized in Maryland landlord and tenant cases – it is the landlord’s control over common areas that gives rise to a duty.  Importantly, however, even with invitee status, a plaintiff must still show that the condominium association had notice of the dangerous condition, or could have discovered it by using ordinary care.

In the Macias case, the court rejected the condominium’s argument that they boy’s status changed from invitee to trespasser when he climbed on the sign. The court noted that the boy and his siblings had often played on the grassy area adjacent to the sign, and that they had climbed on the sign before. However, because the court also found no evidence to support a conclusion that the condominium should have known or discovered that the sign was likely to break, summary judgment in the condominium’s favor was affirmed.

If you have questions about an injury that has occurred in a condominium’s common areas, or questions about premises liability in other locations, contact The Law Offices of Robert R. Castro today.

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