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Is a Business Owner Liable for Accidents on the Sidewalk?

A Maryland business owner can be held legally responsible for slip and fall accidents on their property. If the injured party is an “invitee,” such as a customer, the law imposes a duty on the property owner to exercise “ordinary care and caution” to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition for that invitee. This duty also extends to areas “abutting” the building and under the owner’s control, such as a parking lot used by customers.

Court Dismisses Personal Injury Claim Arising From Broken Gate

But what about a public sidewalk that is adjacent to a business? Can a store owner be held liable if someone slips and falls on that sidewalk, even if it is legally owed by a municipal authority? A recent decision from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Cole v. Auto Dent Care Inc., helps to explain the law in this particular area.

In this case, the plaintiff was walking down a sidewalk when he saw a car advertised for sale in the defendant’s parking lot. The plaintiff said the car was located “close to the sidewalk area.” The plaintiff decided to take some photos of the car. As he did so, he stepped backwards and his foot got caught in a broken metal grate. The plaintiff fell and sustained injuries. The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

Before the trial court, the plaintiff alleged the metal grate was part of the defendant’s parking lot and not the sidewalk. The defendant, in contrast, insisted the metal grate was part of the public sidewalk owned by Montgomery County. Indeed, the defendant filed its own third-party complaint against the county, seeking indemnification against the plaintiff’s lawsuit.

The county’s own site maps showed the metal grate belonged to the county and not the defendant. The trial court accordingly granted summary judgment to the defendant. The judge held there was no disputing the “material fact” that the metal grate was located on a sidewalk not under the defendant’s control. The Court of Special Appeals later affirmed this ruling.

The appellate court noted that there are circumstances where a property owner could be held liable for a hazard on a public sidewalk. Specifically, if the defendant created some sort of “special hazard” on the walkway that caused the plaintiff’s fall. For example, if a business owner installed something on the sidewalk that created a hazard, it could be held responsible for an invitee’s injuries.

For example, if the car the plaintiff was looking at was parked in such a way as to cover or obstruct the grate, that might constitute a special hazard. But in this case, the Court said the plaintiff failed to present any evidence of something along those lines. The trial court correctly concluded this accident was caused by a “defective grate within the public way.”

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.