With the recent snows come the inevitable calls from Maryland residents who suffer a personal injury because they fell on snow or ice. Usually this occurs in a poorly maintained parking lot or walkway to a business. Unfortunately, Maryland law is largely (but not totally) against them. And this is true regardless of the negligence of the landowner.
If you fall on visible snow or ice in Maryland and suffer a personal injury, you probably do not have a case. If you fall on invisible black ice in Maryland and suffer personal injury, you may have a case. But you are going to get a lot of questions about the specific facts of your case in order to convince someone to take it. Maryland personal injury law simply does not favor these claims. (But there may be one thing you can do to recover your losses – see how at the end of this post.)
Maryland personal injury law has always been against snow and ice slip and fall cases. I remember a case when I was a law clerk, over 20 years ago, where the Maryland Court of Appeals (Maryland’s Supreme Court) said anyone who walks over visible snow or ice is prohibited from making a personal injury claim, even if there was no other way they could have walked to get to their destination. If they made the conscious choice to walk on snow or ice, regardless of any other circumstances, they assumed the risk of a fall. I remember thinking that was harsh even then.
The reason for this is a legal doctrine called “assumption of the risk.” It means just what it says – you assumed the risk of your injury because you decided to voluntarily encounter a known risk. This is the evil twin brother of the legal doctrine known as “contributory negligence” which means you cannot sue if you were partially negligent and had even a small part in causing your own accident. Both of these doctrines prevent lawsuits from personal injury plaintiffs in Maryland, regardless of the negligence of the owner of the land on which they fell.
Assumption of the risk is usually applied to visible ice and snow. The law always said that in order to assume the risk of ice and snow, you had to be able to see it, and you either knew it was there, or you should have known it was there. There was still a right to sue for slipping and falling on black ice, which, by definition, you cannot see.
In 2008 that changed and the situation got much worse for plaintiffs. The Court finally took the next step and applied all of this ice and snow personal injury law to invisible black ice. Even if you had no idea the black ice was there, you could be charged with that knowledge based on the idea you “should have known” black ice could be there.
In that case, there was melting snow, wet patches, and the temperatures were low enough to freeze. The court said given the weather conditions, the plaintiffs in that case should have known there could be black ice, and their case was denied.
Practically, that ruling ended almost all snow or ice based slip and fall cases in Maryland. The Court essentially said if the conditions exist for black ice, you should be on the watch for it and you cannot sue if you slip on it. I had one client at that time with an ongoing personal injury case from slipping on black ice. I had to tell her the law changed and she suddenly had no case.
In 2011 the Maryland Supreme Court backed off this very harsh ruling. They said you could sue if you were injured on black ice, but only if you truly had no knowledge there was black ice. If you knew it was there, you could not sue.
There were two cases that set this new standard. One involved a lady walking on “wet patches” who did not know they had frozen over. The other involved a man walking in a stream of water amidst visible snow and ice specifically because he was trying to avoid the visible snow and ice. The Court said their “actual” knowledge was the important thing – not the argument they “should have” known or “could have” known the black ice was there.
So, here is my overly simplified summary of Maryland’s snow and ice personal injury law: If you fall on visible ice or snow, you have no case in Maryland. If you fall on black ice, you may have a case, but only if you can honestly say you did NOT know the black ice was there.
Your slip and fall case will have to meet the narrow factual requirements of the 2011 cases. And you can almost guarantee the insurance company will make you file suit and win it in Court. They won’t likely roll over and give you a settlement. It will cost time and money to win any case like this.
That means your lawyer is going to be picky about the type of case they decide to take. You should expect a lot of questions and investigation before a lawyer agrees to take your snow and ice personal injury case. Don’t blame us. Maryland law just happens to be against you.
Addendum: There may be one way you can recover some of your losses if you slip and fall at a business, even if you have no right to sue them. Many businesses have insurance polcies that provide for medical payments coverage to people injured on their property, regardless of who is at fault. You should ask the business if they have such a policy, and find out how to make a claim. At least run your out of pocket costs (co-pays and the like) through that policy to get reimbursed for your out of pocket expenses. And call us for some free advice if you have any questions about this.
Conclusion & Next Steps
If you fall on visible snow or ice in Maryland and suffer a personal injury, you probably do not have a case. If you fall on invisible black ice in Maryland and suffer personal injury, you may have a case.
Want to know more? Discover what you need to know about car accident cases in Maryland. Click here to see our Free Legal Consumer Guide to Maryland car accident cases and get answers to your questions today. Know your options. Be informed. Protect yourself.
Need a Personal Injury lawyer? Please contact us for a consultation today if you need a Maryland personal injury lawyer for your personal injury case.
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