The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed a $3.49 million award for Dimas Chavez, who prevailed in a trial against Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. The court found that a primary witness for the defense faced questions on cross-examination that were based on unproven information and that a new trial was appropriate. Chavez was a patron at Sam’s Club in Gaithersburg when a vehicle suddenly crashed through the wall, entered the store, and struck him. There were no safety barriers in place to stop or slow down the car.
Subinoy Mazumdar, age 77, was driving his Buick and witnesses say it suddenly accelerated, nearly struck a woman with two children, and was propelled through an exterior store wall. The vehicle was slowed down slightly when it struck a heavy pallet filled with beverage products. Chavez was struck near the store’s food court area and taken by helicopter to a trauma center in Baltimore to be treated for a severe leg injury.
Thann Buithan, age 33, was also struck by the vehicle, but incurred only minor injuries. Captain Tom Didone of the Montgomery County Police Department explained that the scene could have been significantly worse. Two current military members who are also medical students came to the aid of the victims.
Severe Property Damage
The vehicle entered a wall of the store next to a service door in the vicinity of the main entrance. The store was forced to close for the remainder of the business day for the investigation and necessary repairs. A tourniquet device was placed on the leg of the injury victim to stabilize it.
Premises Liability: Classifications of Injured Party
Cases such as this one are within the realm of premises liability. Maryland law has four distinct classifications for those upon the property of others when they are injured as follows:
- Invitee: Is invited to the property by the owner such as the customers of a store
- Licensee: May include someone on the property for reasons other than business, such as a social guest
- Trespasser: Is an individual on the property without permission from the owner and is afforded no duty to care except intentional actions that cause an injury
- Bare Licensee: The owner is aware that the individual is on the property; however, they are present for their own business purposes. They are not afforded an extremely high level of care, yet should be warned of existing hazards.
Premises Liability: Duty Owed
Property owners or controllers are tasked with properly maintaining their property clear of any hazardous conditions for invitees and licensees. When a dangerous condition exists the property owner is to properly warn visitors. One example of negligence is failing to remove a hazard, such as a spill on the floor in a retail store. Examples of failing to warn would be not alerting the visitor about the presence of an aggressive dog. The owner or controller of the property does not have a responsibility to maintain safe conditions or warn of potential dangers as it pertains to trespassers.