Maryland Court of Appeals Addresses Tresspassing Toddler Case

As this blog has discussed before, although swimming can be a great way to relax on a hot summer day, it is important for people to appreciate the risks associated with this activity. These hazards have been highlighted by a lawsuit filed by the family of a toddler that was injured in a swimming accident that was recently considered by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In Blackburn L.P. d/b/a Country Place Apartments v. Paul, CoA No. 55, Christopher Paul, a 3-year-old child, allegedly entered the pool area of Country Place Apartments through a gap in the fence in June of 2010, fell in the pool and suffered brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. Christopher’s family filed a complaint against Country Place, alleging that it had negligently failed to maintain the pool in a reasonably safe condition. The Complaint further alleged that Country Place was negligent per se by failing to comply with pool regulations set forth in the Code of Maryland Regulations and the Montgomery County Code.

Under some circumstances, certain conduct constitutes a special form of negligence known as “per se” negligence. Normally, Maryland law allows individuals to recover for injuries suffered as the result of the negligence of another when the victim is able to show that the offender failed to exercise “ordinary care” in their course of conduct. To prove a claim for negligence, the plaintiff must prove three elements:

• The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to exercise ordinary care;
• The defendant breached his or her duty to the plaintiff; and
• The defendant’s breach of his or her duty resulted in injury to the plaintiff.

As stated, however, under certain circumstances, a plaintiff may establish his or her claim by showing the defendant’s conduct was negligent per se. Per se negligence is a legal doctrine that states that a person’s violation of a particular statute constitutes an act of negligence. To establish a claim for per se negligence, a plaintiff must prove:

• That the defendant violated the statute;
• That the defendant’s violation caused the kind of injury to the plaintiff that the statute was designed to prevent; and
• That the plaintiff was a member of class of individuals covered by the statute.

In this case, the family claimed that Country Place had violated certain state and county regulations on pool fences. The trial court determined Country Place did not owe a legal duty to the trespassing child. The Court of Special Appeals revived the lawsuit, holding that the state and county regulations imposed a duty on the landlord “for the protection of the swimming public.”

In affirming the decision to revive the lawsuit, Maryland’s High Court opined, “The fundamental danger of a pool is posed by its water. And it hardly needs saying that, without a fence that bars entry by a three-year-old child, the pool, located in the midst of 300 residential apartments, poses a risk which jeopardizes the health or safety of such a child, who might accidentally access the pool unsupervised. The quality and compliance of the fence is simply crucial to safety.”

The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing individuals that have been injured as a result of negligence. If you or someone you know has been injured, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.