Friday, December 27, 2019

Claimants May Recover Damages for Household Services as a Pecuniary Loss with Evidence of Duration of Services

Choudhry v. Fowlkes, No. 1148, Sept. Term, 2017 (filed Nov. 1, 2019) (Judges Meredith, FRIEDMAN & Eyler (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned))

In 2013, 22-year-old Yenita Owens died from complications related to a severe infection in her leg. Owens' mother, Lolita Fowlkes, whom Owens lived with before her death, filed a wrongful death action against various medical providers who treated her daughter, including Dr. Shabbir Choudhry.  Fowlkes sought both economic and non-economic damages for the loss of her daughter's services. These services included various household chores performed by Owens, such as washing dishes, vacuuming, and running errands. At trial, Fowlkes testified that Owens would perform these tasks for roughly 2 hours per day, that she had raised Owens as a single mother, and that she planned to live with Owens forever.

Choudhry moved three times for judgment as to Fowlkes' claim for damages for the loss of Owens’ services. The trial court denied all three motions. After deliberation, the jury found in Fowlkes’ favor and awarded her $500,000 in non-economic damages and $500,000 in economic damages for Owens' loss of service.  

Choudhry appealed and argued that: (1) the household services that Fowlkes testified Owens performed do not constitute a recoverable pecuniary loss; and (2) even if such household chores can be recovered as a pecuniary loss, Fowlkes nonetheless presented insufficient evidence to support any non-speculative damages award. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Choudhry and reversed the trial court's decision.

Under the wrongful death statute, a covered beneficiary may recover for both pecuniary (i.e., economic) and non-pecuniary (i.e., non-economic) damages resulting from the wrongful death of a family member listed in the statute. See Spangler v. McQuitty, 449 Md. 33 (2016). To recover economic damages for the loss of household service, a beneficiary must: (1) identify domestic services that have a market value; (2) have reasonably expected the decedent to provide the identified services, which—absent the decedent's legal obligation to provide the services—will typically require evidence showing that the decedent was regularly providing the services in the past; and (3) present some evidence concerning the duration the decedent would have likely provided the services. See United States v. Searle, 322 Md. 1, 7 (1991); Balt. & O. R. Co. v. State, 63 Md. 135, 145-46 (1885); Emp'rs Liab. Assurance Corp. v. Balt. & O. R. Co., 173 Md. 238, 244 (1937).

In this case, the Court of Special Appeals found that Fowlkes failed the meet the third element required to prove economic damages for the loss of household services. While Fowlkes did testify that Owens performed various household chores for 2 hours a day, she failed to specify the length of time that Owens had been engaging in daily household chores. She also failed to provide evidence to support her assertion that Owens planned to live with Fowlkes indefinitely and would, therefore, continue to provide household services daily. Thus, while Fowlkes may recover both types of damages that arise from the wrongful death of Owens, she failed to provide sufficient evidence to submit her damages claim to the jury.

            --Jahnee Waller, Law Clerk

Monday, December 23, 2019

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Expands Premises Liability Duties to Condominium Associations

Damien A. Macias v. Summit Management, November 21, 2019 (Court of Special Appeals of Maryland)

Maryland Courts have traditionally imposed a legal duty on landlords to inspect, maintain, and keep safe the common areas of their properties for the benefit of invitees and social guests.  The Maryland Court of Special Appeals expanded that duty to condominium associations in a recently published opinion in Damian A. Macias v. Summit Management Inc.

This issue giving rise to the case originated on July 6, 2013 when eight-year-old Damien Macias (“Damien”) accompanied his mother and two younger siblings to the Waters House Condominium complex (“Waters House”), which was managed by Summit Management (“Summit”) (collectively, the “Condominium”), to visit his grandparents who owned a unit at Waters House.  While playing outside on the grounds of Waters House, Damien and his brother climbed on top of a community sign made of large stones.  While dismounting from the community sign, one of the large stones dislodged.  Damien fell to the ground and the stone fell on top of Damien, causing him serious injuries.  There was no sign or fencing surrounding the community sign indicating that it was off-limits.

Damien sued asserting negligence claims against the Condominium.  The Condominium filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, in part, that Damien’s legal status was that of a trespasser and was owed no duty except to refrain from “willful or wanton misconduct and entrapment.”  Damien countered arguing that he was an invitee because the community sign was located in the common area of the complex, and was therefore owed a duty by the Condominium to use reasonable care to ensure the sign was safe.  The trial court ruled Damien was a bare licensee (i.e., here, that Damien was only owed the same duties as a trespasser), but that even if Damien was an invitee, there was no evidence that the Condominium was on notice of the unsafe condition giving rise to Damien’s injuries.  Damien appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, asking the appellate court to find that Damien was an invitee when he played on the community sign and, therefore, owed a duty of care by the Condominium.

After looking to other states’ precedents on the issue and applying the Maryland landlord-tenant premises liability paradigm, the Court of Special Appeals held that condominium associations owe condominium owners and their social guests the same duty of care landlords owe to their tenants and social guests.  This holding was accompanied by a caveat, namely that condominium association may avoid liability in a negligence action by including an appropriate exculpatory clause in their condominium agreement.

The Court of Special Appeals also considered whether Damien’s legal status changed from an invitee to a trespasser when he climbed onto the community sign.  The Condominium argued that Damien lost his legal status as an invitee because there was nothing about the community sign that suggested, implied, or induced Damien (or the general public) into thinking that children may play on or climb the community sign.  The Court of Special Appeals disagreed, pointing to the fact that there was no evidence that the Condominium placed any signage, fencing, or other limits on which children could play in the common areas, which included the community sign.  The appellate court also dismissed the argument that the act of climbing a climbable object transformed Damien’s legal status, opining that it is conceivable that children, such as Damien, would climb a stone sign that blends naturally into the grounds of the common areas of the complex.

Although the Court of Special Appeals overturned the findings of the trial court with respect to Damien’s legal status on the property, the award of summary judgment was upheld on the ground that the Condominium lacked the requisite knowledge of the dangerous condition or defect in the community sign that caused Damien to fall and sustain injuries.  Accordingly, the Condominium prevailed on appeal.

The precedent set by this new opinion will undoubtedly impose additional liability concerns for condominium associations and their respective liability and casualty insurers.  In order to best defend future claims, such as Damien’s, condominium associations should consider taking two preemptive steps.  First, condominium associations should consider increasing or amending the signage and fencing in the common areas of their properties to expressly delineate areas that should not be accessed by the general public.  Second, condominium associations would be wise to supplement or revise their condominium agreements to include strong exculpatory clauses to have their condominium owners release and hold harmless the condominium association from negligence actions for injuries claimed by invitees and social guests occupying the common areas of the condominium complexes.

-Benjamin Beasley, Associate Attorney 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Congratulations to RSRM’s 2020 Maryland Super Lawyers!

It is with great pride that RSRM announces that three of its attorneys have been selected among Maryland’s 2020 Super Lawyers.

Managing Partner James Andersen was selected as a 2020 Super Lawyer in the area of Personal Injury. Mr. Andersen has nearly 30 years of litigation experience and has served as the Firm’s Managing Partner since 2014. He handles a variety of litigation matters including transportation, products liability, premises liability, construction litigation, and insurance coverage and defense. He has been selected to the Maryland Super Lawyers list in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.  

Partner Paul Donoghue was selected as a 2020 Super Lawyer in Workers’ Compensation. Mr. Donoghue has served as a Partner at RSRM since 1998 and handles workers’ compensation and general litigation/liability matters. He has been selected as a Maryland Super Lawyer in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020.

Associate Rima Kikani was selected as a 2020 Rising Star in the area of Civil Defense Litigation. Ms. Kikani will be a sixth-year associate in 2020 and works on premises liability, products liability, and insurance coverage and defense matters. She has been named as a Maryland Rising Star Attorney in 2019 and 2020.

Each year, approximately five percent (5%) of Maryland attorneys are selected as "Super Lawyers" and two-and-a-half percent (2.5%) are selected as "Rising Stars.”

Congratulations to our 2020 Super Lawyers!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

RSRM Welcomes Associate Letam Duson!

Letam Duson graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in 2013, and graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with degrees in Government & Politics and Psychology in 2010.

During law school, Ms. Duson served as a Rule 16 Student Attorney in the Appellate and Post-Conviction Advocacy Clinic, an Articles Editor for the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, and as a member of the school’s National Trial Team.  Ms. Duson also interned for Judge Lynn Stewart Mays in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City as well as for the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office. She was a Rose Zetzer Fellow in the Women, Leadership & Equality Program and a recipient of the school’s 2013 Litigation and Advocacy Award.

After graduating from law school, Ms. Duson clerked for the Honorable Broughton M. Earnest in the Circuit Court for Talbot County. Thereafter, she joined the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office where she served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for four years, concluding her tenure in the Violent Felony Division. Prior to joining RSRM, Ms. Duson worked at a civil defense litigation firm handling auto tort and complex premises liability matters involving toxic exposures. 

In her spare time, Ms. Duson enjoys spending time with friends and family, attending concerts, and cheering on the Terps, Orioles, and Ravens.