Condominiums in Maryland have a duty to exercise reasonable and ordinary care to keep the common area safe for residents and their guests. Where there is a dangerous condition on the property which the condominium board or manager knew or should have known about, the condominium may be liable for the injuries caused by the dangerous condition.
Duty Owed Depends on Status of Injured Person. As explained in a decision of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the potential “premises liability” depends on the relationship between the injured person and the condominium. For an “invitee” on the property at the invitation of the property owner, there is duty of reasonable and ordinary care which includes a duty to inspect the property to discover and correct dangerous conditions. Invitees must also be warned of known dangers. For a “social guest” or “licensee” who is permitted on the property for the benefit of the person entering the property, there is only a duty to warn of known dangers. For a “trespasser” or “bare licensee” who does not have permission to be on the portion of the property where an injury occurs, there is merely a duty to refrain from willful injury or entrapment but no duty to warn of dangerous conditions.
In Macias v. Summit Management, Inc., an 8-year boy was visiting his grandparents who resided in a Condominium in Montgomery County, Maryland. He was injured when climbing on a five-foot tall stone wall sign displaying the community name which was located on the common area Condominium. After climbing up the stone wall and sitting on top of it, the child climbed down the wall while grabbing the flat sign attached to the wall. The sign fell off the wall and injured him.
In a suit for negligence against the condominium association and its management company, the trial court determined that the child was a bare licensee who did not have permission to climb on the community sign and, therefore, there was no duty to protect him from injury (except by willful injury or entrapment). However, on appeal, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals concluded that, as the guest of a condominium resident, the child was an invitee which obligated the condominium to use reasonable care in maintaining the property to protect him from injury.
Noting that there were no reported appellate court decisions in Maryland that determined the duty owed by a condominium association to condominium owners and their guests in the condominium common areas, the Court considered rulings from other states in concluding that the analogous duty of a landlord who controls the common area should apply to condominium associations in cases involving the common area of a condominium. Because the condominium association controlled the use and maintenance of the common area, the Court determined that residents and their guests are invitees and are owed a duty of reasonable care to protect them from injuries, unless there are agreements or waivers to the contrary. In concluding the 8-year old boy was an invitee while playing on the stone wall and community sign, the Court noted that although it was not intended as a play area, there was no demarcation separating the sign from other parts of the common area where playing was allowed.
Negligence Depends on Breach of Duty Owed to Injured Person. Nevertheless, the appeals court concluded that there was no evidence that the Condominium had failed to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the sign since the condominium and its management company had no knowledge that the sign posed a dangerous condition and there was no evidence that the condition would have been discovered by inspection of the property. Therefore, the condominium and its management company were not negligent and were not liable for the injuries caused by the falling sign.
In explaining the standard of care owed by a condominium association, the Court acknowledged with approval that courts have found that an exculpatory clause in the condominium governing documents can preclude a condominium’s liability for its negligence.
Regular Property Inspections Can Prevent Injuries. In light of the Maryland appellate court ruling that a condominium has a duty to residents and their guests to inspect the common area to identify and correct dangerous conditions, all condos, homeowner associations and housing coops should regularly inspect the common property and keep records of the inspection and condition of the property. Although the association is not strictly liable for all injuries occurring on the common property, it must use reasonable and ordinary care to prevent injuries and warn residents and guests of dangerous conditions.
Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC which represents condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives throughout Maryland (including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, Frederick County, and Baltimore) and Washington, D.C.