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How “Constructive Notice” Works in Maryland Slip and Fall Accident Cases

If you are injured in a slip and fall accident while shopping at a store, the owner may be legally liable for your economic losses. This is known as premises liability. Under Maryland law, however, a defendant is liable only if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew about the dangerous condition that caused their fall–and failed to take action–or that the hazard could have been discovered by the “exercise of reasonable care.”

This requirement is commonly identified by the phrase “actual or constructive notice.” Actual notice is fairly easy to understand. But constructive notice often proves trickier. After all, how do you prove that a store owner should have known something was wrong?

A number of states have adopted what is known as the “mode of operation” rule in such cases. This rule basically eliminates the requirement to prove actual or constructive notice by shoring that the property owner “could have reasonably anticipated” a particular hazardous condition would regularly arise. Unfortunately, Maryland courts have expressly rejected this rule.

Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Walmart Over Loose Hanger on the Floor

A recent decision from a federal judge applying Maryland law, Poe v. Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust, provides some additional context. In this case, the plaintiff was shopping at a Walmart. As she was browsing some items in the clothing section, she “walked between two circular displays containing clothes hung on hangers and slipped and fell,” according to court records. The plaintiff subsequently sued Walmart, alleging it was negligent in failing to notice and remove the empty clothes hanger that caused her fall.

As the judge overseeing the case explained, the plaintiff did not present any evidence that Walmart had actual notice that the hangar was on the floor prior to her fall. Instead, she maintained that “because Walmart’s employees were all responsible for inspecting Walmart’s floors for dangers at all times, and for cleaning them throughout the day, Walmart had constructive notice of the hanger.”

The judge rejected this argument, explaining that this was simply a restatement of the “mode of operation” rule previously rejected by Maryland state courts. Basically, the mere fact that a store’s employees failed to follow their own policy for inspecting and cleaning the store does not–in and of itself–establish “constructive notice” under Maryland law.

Constructive notice typically requires proof of how long a specific dangerous condition existed, not whether employees followed a particular policy. This still requires evidence of some sort as opposed to mere guesswork or speculation. Since the plaintiff in this case could not offer such evidence, the judge granted Walmart’s motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing the lawsuit without sending it to a jury.

Contact Waldorf Accident Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 870-1200.