In a recent unreported decision by the Appellate Court of Maryland, Arrow Parking Corp., et al. v. Cade, a civil action stemming from a premises liability claim sheds light on pivotal legal doctrines, including the duty of care in negligence, jury instructions, evidence admissibility, and the preservation of issues for appellate review.
This case offers a comprehensive overview of how appellate courts approach these legal concepts, especially in the context of negligence and premises liability.
Facts of Arrow Parking v. Cade
Cade sustained injuries from falling while exiting an elevator at a parking garage operated by Arrow Parking Corp. and others (collectively, “Arrow Parking”).
Cade claimed that she stumbled and fell as she was leaving an elevator on the seventh level of a parking structure situated at 210 West Baltimore Street in Baltimore, Maryland Following her fall, Cade observed, “looked back [and] noticed that the elevator had not leveled properly.” Before stepping out of the elevator, Cade had not checked the floor beneath her (a point the defense tried to exploit).
Cade filed a personal injury lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court, alleging negligence in the operation and maintenance of the elevator. The jury found in favor of Cade, awarding:
|Past Medical Bills
|Past Lost Wages
|Future Medical Expenses
|Non-Economic Damages (Adjusted)
*The jury actually awarded over $1.1 million for noneconomic pain and suffering damages but it was reduced to the cap at the time.
Arrow Parking appealed, raising several issues, notably regarding jury instructions on “open and obvious” conditions and contributory negligence, the exclusion of certain evidence, and the denial of a motion for judgment on the grounds of insufficient notice of the hazardous condition.
There were three big issues. Let’s take each one of them in turn:
Jury Instructions and Legal Standards
The appellate court’s analysis on jury instructions, particularly regarding the “open and obvious” condition and contributory negligence, underscores the nuanced interplay between state law, judicial discretion, and factual circumstances.
There were four instruction Arrow Parking wanted which I will paraphrase:
- There is no obligation to protect an invitee against conditions or dangers which are known or which are so obvious and apparent that one may reasonably be expected to discover them.
- The owner or occupier of land has no duty under the law to warn an invitee of an open, obvious, and present danger, and it is well established under Maryland law that an invitee harmed by an open and obvious condition is ordinarily not entitled to any recovery for her injuries.
- “An ‘open and obvious condition’ is where the condition and risk are apparent to and would be recognized by a reasonable person in the position of a visitor, exercising ordinary perception, intelligence, and judgment.”
- The question of whether there is an open and obvious condition is not dependent on the subjective knowledge or age or mental status of the invitee; rather, there is an objective standard: whether a reasonable invitee would know or should have known of the condition and risk given its open and apparent nature.
Cases Cited by Arrow Parking for Open and Obvious Jury Instruction
Three cases were cited to support these instructions:
1. Six Flags America, L.P. v. Gonzalez-Perdomo, 248 Md.App. 569 (2020), cert, denied, 474 Md. 206 (2021)
Summary: This case involved a plaintiff who was injured at a Six Flags America theme park. The appellate court examined whether the danger that led to the plaintiff’s injury was open and obvious. The ruling emphasized that property owners are not obligated to warn visitors about dangers that are readily apparent, reinforcing the principle that individuals are expected to take note of and avoid obvious risks.
2. Tennant v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Md. Corp., 115 Md.App. 381, 393 (1997)
Summary: In this case, a customer at Shoppers Food Warehouse sustained injuries and argued that the store failed to warn about a dangerous condition. The court discussed the open and obvious doctrine, stating that if a danger is so apparent that a reasonable person would notice it, the property owner may not be liable for injuries caused by that condition. The decision underscores the responsibility of individuals to be aware of their surroundings and the limits of a property owner’s duty to warn about clear and apparent dangers.
3. Casper v. Charles F. Smith & Sons, Ind., 316 Md. 573, 582 (1989)
Summary: This case revolved around an injury that occurred due to a condition on the property of Charles F. Smith & Sons. The Maryland court considered whether the condition was open and obvious and therefore whether the property owner needed to warn visitors. The ruling supported the idea that when risks are evident and could be reasonably noticed by a visitor, the property owner’s duty to provide warning is diminished or negated.
Each of these cases illustrates the legal principle that property owners are not required to warn visitors about hazards that are clearly visible and could reasonably be expected to be noticed by them.
The “Open and Obvious Condition” jury instruction derives from these rulings, emphasizing that a property owner’s obligation to ensure safety does not extend to conditions that are plainly visible and should be avoided by a reasonably attentive person.
How the Court Ruled on the Jury Instruction
Maryland law, similar to other jurisdictions, requires that a requested jury instruction must accurately reflect the law and be relevant to the case’s facts. This decision reiterates the judiciary’s role in ensuring jurors receive guidance aligned with the legal and factual matrix of the case, avoiding instructions that might not be supported by evidence.
In premises liability, the “open and obvious” doctrine serves as a critical determinant of liability, potentially barring recovery if a danger is so apparent that the injured party could have avoided harm through ordinary care.
The appellate court’s stance signals a stringent threshold for deeming conditions “open and obvious,” aligning with broader trends emphasizing property owners’ duty to ensure safety.
Furthermore, the refusal to instruct on contributory negligence — absent clear evidence the plaintiff failed to exercise due care — aligns with evolving legal norms prioritizing equitable considerations over strict fault allocation.
Evidence Admissibility and Discovery Violations
During the legal process, both sides found out that someone else had an accident when she was leaving an elevator at the same location. However, there was no clear evidence provided to show that the accident happened before Cade’s accident.
Because of this, before the trial began, Arrow Parking asked the court to not allow any evidence, witness stories, or discussions about other accident. They argued that since there was no proof that the fall happened first or that Arrow Parking knew about it, her accident shouldn’t be used to claim that Arrow Parking knew about any dangers or problems.
Eleven days before the trial, Arrow Parking’s lawyers were told for the first time that Cade’s lawyers had audio recordings from phone calls Arrow Parking made to the Otis Elevator Company on the day of the accident. These recordings helped Arrow Parking’s claim that Cade’s fall occurred before this other fall. As a result, Arrow Parking added more information to their request to the court to exclude any evidence about this accident.
On October 14, 2022, Benjamin Greenwald, the president of Arrow Parking, rediscovered an email he had originally sent on February 15, 2018, concerning a particular incident. He then forwarded this email to the legal team representing Arrow Parking. The email, which was sent just two days following the incident in question, detailed how Cade had an accident while leaving the elevator, followed by the other fall a short time afterward.
Upon finding this email, Mr. Greenwald shared it with Arrow Parking’s attorneys, who in turn, sent it to the legal representatives of Cade on the same day, October 14, 2022. Following this, Cade initiated a Motion in Limine, seeking to prevent the introduction of the email, which was produced two days before the trial, along with any testimony or arguments hinting at or explicitly referring to any documents or records not disclosed by the defendants during the discovery phase (E213-E309).
The trial court excluded the email and the Maryland Appellate Court was fine with the exclusion. The appellate court’s support of the trial court’s discretion in this matter – an incredibly high hurdle to claim – echoes broader legal standards emphasizing fairness and the avoidance of trial by ambush. This reinforces the necessity for litigants to adhere to discovery obligations, promoting a transparent and equitable legal process.
Constructive Notice and Premises Liability
Constructive notice, in the context of premises liability, refers to a condition where a property owner or operator is deemed to have knowledge of a dangerous condition or defect on their property if it existed for a sufficient length of time that the owner should have discovered and corrected it through the exercise of reasonable care.
Court’s Ruling on Constructive Notice
In the case at hand, the court was tasked with determining whether Arrow Parking had constructive notice of the hazardous condition (the mis-leveled elevator) that led to Cade’s fall and injuries. The evidence presented during the trial indicated that another individual, prior to Cade’s incident, had fallen in the same elevator under similar circumstances on the same day. This prior incident was crucial in establishing a timeline that suggested Arrow Parking could and should have been aware of the elevator’s condition in time to take corrective action before Cade’s fall occurred.
The court found that the sequence of events and the rapid reporting of the first fall provided Arrow Parking with sufficient opportunity to become aware of the elevator’s dangerous condition. Therefore, the court concluded that Arrow Parking had constructive notice of the hazard. This conclusion was supported by testimony and evidence showing that Arrow Parking’s employees were notified of the first fall and had been actively responding to it, further strengthening the argument that Arrow Parking had a reasonable opportunity to discover and remedy the situation before Cade’s incident.
Premises Liability Analysis
In premises liability cases, the plaintiff must prove that the property owner or operator owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, that the duty was breached, and that the breach directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The court’s determination that Arrow Parking had constructive notice of the hazardous condition directly impacts the analysis of these elements. By establishing that Arrow Parking had constructive notice, the court effectively found that Arrow Parking breached its duty of care to maintain safe conditions on its property and that this breach was a direct cause of Cade’s injuries.
This ruling emphasizes the importance of property owners and operators in promptly identifying and addressing potential hazards on their premises. It serves as a reminder that the concept of constructive notice operates to hold owners and operators accountable for dangers that could reasonably have been discovered and corrected within an appropriate timeframe.