Premises Injury and Death cases in Maryland. What is a property owner's duty?

At Clark and Steinhorn, we see a wide variety of cases and one unique variety are so-called premises liability cases. These encompass matters from criminal attacks at hotels, malls and apartment complexes to tragic swimming pool drowning cases. There are a host of other such cases but the one thing they all have in common is that the victim is not on their home property.

Many of those injured or the families of those who are killed, wish to file a law suit for compensation against the party responsible. We often have to tell them that the legal analysis is not that simple.

The fact is that different people have different rights under Maryland law. Maryland, the District of Columbia and virtually every jurisdiction in the country, distinguish between the duties property owners owe individuals depending upon those individuals legal status when they are on the property owners premises.

An easy example involves the duty owed to trespassers on a property. I advise a neighborhood that has an old rock quarry situated in it. The homeowners are often concerned about being sued by the families of teens in the area. The notion is the teens sneak into the quarry to go swimming despite a fence and many no trespassing signs. If one of the teens were to become injured or drown, the concern aside from the tragedy of the death or injury, is that the neighborhood might be legally responsible.

I have advised the neighborhood that Maryland law regarding trespassers is the following: "The only duty owed to a trespasser is to refrain from willful injury nor entrapment." Which is to say that you can't trap trespassers or intentionally injure them.

Thus, the neighborhood is in the clear. Overall the duty of any property owner stems from whether they are inviting the injured victim on their property or not. Obviously, businesses that invite users on their premises for profit are held to a higher standard of care.

In our next blog on this topic we will discuss the four categories of property visitors and the duty owed them. 
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