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In the 2008 case of Allen v. Marriott, the Court of Special Appeals came down with a frigid decision for plaintiffs who are injured when falling on black ice. The Court of Appeals denied cert. which means the case is the current law in Maryland.

The facts of Allen v. Marriott are as follows:

David Allen and his wife were guests of a Marriott hotel from Feb. 3 -5. On the morning of Feb. 5, the parties checked out of the hotel. Mrs. Allen went to the hotel’s parking lot to retrieve their car, while Mr. Allen was checking out. She drove the car close to the front entrance of the hotel. Mr. Allen walked out of the main entrance, and then proceeded to walk along the (salted) sidewalk toward their vehicle. As Mr. Allen stepped off of the curb, pulling a wheelie suitcase, he slipped and fell on what turned out to be unseen “black ice.”

The issue the presented to the Court was whether a reasonable person under an objective standard, knowing what the Plaintiff knew, would have been aware of the risk and therefore assumed the risk.

In reaching its holding, the Court discussed the following:

The Maryland law on the defense of assumption of risk in cases involving slipping and falling on ice or snow is totally contained within the three decisions of Schroyer v. McNeal, ADM Partnership v. Martin, and Morgan State Univ. v. Walker. In all three cases, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs, as a matter of law, were aware of and voluntarily assumed the risk, based on the circumstantial evidence of their surroundings.

• In Schroyer, the plaintiff injured herself when she walked out onto a parking lot covered with ice and snow. She was aware that ice and snow were slippery, and therefore was aware of the danger posed by an ice and snow covered parking lot. By voluntarily choosing to traverse it, albeit carefully, she intentionally exposed herself to a known risk.

• In ADM, the plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on an ice and snow-covered walkway as she returned to her vehicle. The Court of Appeals said that, although it had snowed some 19 hours earlier and the precipitation had ceased, ice and snow surrounded the building, particularly the parking lot directly in front of the building and the entrance walkway. The plaintiff was aware of the ice and unplowed snow surrounding the building, but she felt that she could safely enter the building. The Court stated that “there are certain risks which anyone of adult age must be taken to appreciate: the danger of slipping on ice” is one of them. A person of normal intelligence would have understood the danger, therefore the issue is for the court.

• In Morgan State, the plaintiff went to visit her daughter on the campus of MSU several days after a heavy snowstorm. After driving across a snow and ice-covered parking lot, the plaintiff walked across the ice, fell, and fractured her leg. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff “knowingly and voluntarily walked across a snow and ice covered parking lot and injured herself, she assumed the risk of her injuries as a matter of law.” The Court reiterated that the danger of slipping on ice is one of the risks which any one of adult age must be taken to appreciate.
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Next to contributory negligence, no defense is raised more in a Maryland personal injury case than assumption of risk. It is well-established in Maryland that in order to establish the assumption of risk defense, the defendant bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff: (i) had knowledge of the risk of the danger; (ii) appreciated that risk; and (iii) voluntarily confronted the risk of danger. The majority of the cases turn on the issue of voluntariness.

In order for a plaintiff to have voluntarily exposed himself to the risk of a known danger, “there must be some manifestation of consent to relieve the defendant of the obligation of reasonable conduct.” ADM Partnership v. Martin, 348 Md. 84, 92, 702 A.2d 730, 734 (1997).

As the Maryland Court of Appeals has explained: