After having her case thrown out at the trial level, a Montgomery County lady received a second chance at justice when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reinstated her case on Monday, January 24.
Tracy McQuaid sued homeowners Steve Kane and Anita Iverson after she fell and was injured at their home. Ms. McQuaid alleged that she fell on either black ice or slippery moss. The homeowners denied liability and claimed they were not responsible for her injuries. The homeowners filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding that they had no duty to inspect the property and that the dogs, not dangerous conditions on their property were the cause of Tracy’s fall.
On appeal, Ms. McQuaid raised two issues: (1) whether there was a genuine dispute as to the homeowners’ knowledge of the slippery patch; and (2) whether a juror could reasonably conclude that the slippery patch was the cause in fact of Ms. McQuaid’s injuries.
Initially, the trial court held that (1) McQuaid was a social guest and the homeowners did not owe her a duty to inspect; (2) there was no evidence that the owners knew of the slippery patch on the day of the incident; (3) if there was a slippery condition, it was in plain view in the daylight to be seen; and (4) there was no dispute that the cause of her fall and injury was being bumped by the dogs, not due to the slippery patch.
The court held that there was some evidence presented that Mr. Kane had knowledge of the slippery patch. He made a remark in deposition in the case that the “area can get slippery. I’ve been meaning to clean that patch up.” Looking at the facts in the light most favorable to Ms. McQuaid, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that this meets the threshold sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment.
The court also held that since the hazard was described as “black ice” it was not, by its nature, readily perceptible to Ms. McQuaid. It ruled that the question of whether the ice was visible upon a reasonable inspection was a question of fact for the jury, rather than a question of law for the judge. The court held that “a jury could reasonably find that Ms. McQuaid did not, nor could she reasonably have discovered the patch of ice.”
The court also rejected a defense argument that the ice was a “natural hazard” for which they could not be held liable. Because it was private property, the court stated, the owner must warn a social guest when the property is aware of the danger, even if it is a danger that is naturally occurring. Here, the court stated that there was a question of fact as to whether the homeowners knew about the slippery patch. That question must be decided by a jury, not the court.
There was also a question of whether the homeowners’ dogs bumped into Ms. McQuaid causing her fall, or whether she would have fallen independently of being knocked into by the dogs. The court ruled that summary judgment was inappropriate because a jury could find that it was “more likely than not” that the homeowners’ negligence was a substantial factor in producing Ms. McQuaid’s injuries.