How Do I Prove Fault in a Slip-and-Fall Accident?

A Maryland personal injury liability primer

By S.M. Oliva

Accidents happen every day in Maryland. Many are nobody's fault. But when an accident is the result of a property owner's negligence, the injured person may be entitled to compensation for their medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering, among other damages.

The term “slip-and-fall” accident is often used to describe a wide variety of accidents that occur on commercial property. The common example is a customer shopping in a store who slips on a puddle of water and falls to the ground. If the customer can prove the store was negligent in failing to clean up the puddle prior to the accident, she may recover damages in a civil lawsuit against the store's owner.

How Maryland Law Makes Personal Injury Cases More Difficult for Victims

Of course, slip-and-fall claims are rarely that simple, particularly in Maryland. For one thing, a property owner is not liable merely because an accident occurred. Indeed, even when the owner invites members of the public onto the property—as is usually the case with a store and its customers—the owner is not legally required to guarantee their safety against all possible hazards. Generally speaking, the owner is only liable under one or more of the following circumstances:

  1. The owner, or one of its employees or agents, created the hazard. For example, a store employee spilled the water on the floor and neglected to clean it up before the customer fell.
  2. Even if the owner or its employees did not cause the hazard, it knew of it but failed to do anything about it.
  3. The owner did not have actual knowledge of the hazard prior to the accident, but it should have known there was a problem had it exercised reasonable care. This is known in legal terms as “constructive knowledge.”

Beyond proving liability under one of these theories, however, Maryland also requires the victims to be completely blameless for their accident. Unlike the majority of U.S. states, which allow a personal injury plaintiff to recover some damages even if they are partially at fault, Maryland is among a handful of states that continue to follow the older rule of “contributory negligence.” In plain English, this means that if a judge or jury determines you were even 1 percent at-fault for the accident, you are entitled to recover nothing from the defendant.

An Attorney Can Give You the Best

Contributory negligence certainly makes it more difficult for slip-and-fall accident victims to receive compensation in Maryland. But keep in mind, contributory negligence only comes into play if the case goes to trial. Many slip-and-fall claims are settled out of court. Many property owners—and more importantly, their insurance companies—will agree to a negotiated settlement rather than take their chances with a jury. This is why you should always contact an experienced Maryland personal injury lawyer following a slip-and-fall accident. Having an attorney represent you in settlement talks can significantly improve your chances of a favorable resolution. And if you do need to go to court, a skilled attorney can put you in the best position to refute a contributory negligence defense. 

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