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Blackburn L.P. d/b/a Country Place Apartments, et al. v. Paul

August 5, 2020

Plaintiff, the mother of a three year old boy who nearly drowned in an apartment complex swimming pool, filed suit against the owner of the complex, the property management company of the complex, and the company which operated the pool alleging negligence and negligence per se in the boy’s near drowning.  The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that because the young boy was a trespasser, they only owed a duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the boy.  With respect to the alleged violations of certain state and county codes, the defendants argued that the alleged violations could not create a duty to the boy because he was a trespasser.  
The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and an appeal followed.  At issue on appeal were two distinct principles of Maryland tort law: the common law rule which recognizes that property owners owe no affirmative duty of care to trespassers and case law precedent which sets forth that, in some cases, the duty of care in a negligence action may arise from statute or regulation.  The Court of Special Appeals reversed the trial court holding that the property owner’s duty to comply with certain COMAR regulations governing pool safety extended to the trespassing child, even in light of the common law rule.  The fact that the boy was a trespasser was not of issue.
An appeal to the Court of Appeals ensued.  The Court affirmed the lower appeals court and held that the statutory duty set forth in the applicable COMAR regulations applied to the defendants despite the common law rule.  The Court concluded that the boy was a member of the statute’s protected class and that noncompliance with the statute, which required certain barriers to be established around the pool, was the proximate cause of the boy’s injury.