It was the first day of Jill Mendygral's summer vacation. As soon as it began, it was over, thanks to a flying beach umbrella that ended up stabbing her in the chest. According to the Complaint recently filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Northern District, (Case 1:21-cv-01381-ELH) Mendygral allegedly sustained severe injuries due to the impalement by the breach umbrella. Plaintiff Mendygral alleges that her injuries include surgery to repair a chest wound, radiating back pain, pelvic pain, numbness in the right arm and hand, and other injuries. Plaintiff is suing the Town of Ocean City, Maryland, and 85 N Sunny, LLC, which provided the beach umbrellas. This article will explain the concept of "Duty of Care" and how understanding your company's duty can help you avoid being on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Plaintiff alleges that both the Town of Ocean City and 85 N Sunny, were negligent by allowing a dangerous and "hazardous condition to exist." As a result of the defendants' alleged negligence, Plaintiff is seeking more the $75,000 in damages. More specifically, the Complaint alleges that the defendants should have been aware of the wind gusts on the beach and kept the rental umbrellas closed.
What is Negligence?
In order to protect your business, it is essential to understand the concept of negligence. The legal definition of negligence is "a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances." For example, in the beach umbrella case, 85 N Sunny, LLC would be required to act in the same manner that another beach umbrella business would have under the same circumstances. So, if it was unreasonable for 85 N Sunny to keep the umbrellas open while the wind was gusting, they could be found to be negligent.
In order to establish a successful case of negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following four elements:
a legal duty that the Defendant owed to the Plaintiff
defendant's breach of that duty
plaintiff has sustained damages or has been injured
proof that Defendant's breach caused the injury
Analysis of Beach Case
Since the focus of this article is on protecting your business, we will only focus on the 85 N Sunny. It is noteworthy that municipal entities are generally entitled to various immunities. Thus, to hold a municipality negligent, a plaintiff must show that the municipality was grossly negligent, a standard higher than ordinary negligence.
Just for this article, we are going to assume that all of the Plaintiff's factual contentions are true. Plaintiff alleges that there were wind gusts while she was on the beach and that despite the gusts, 85 N Sunny left the rental umbrellas open and not properly secured in the sand.
First, we need to establish that the 85 N Sunny owed a duty of care to beachgoers. This point is fairly simple to establish. 85 N Sunny is in the business of selling and renting umbrellas to beach visitors. The umbrellas are placed out on the beach by 85 N Sunny in order to entice beachgoers to rent them. As such, it owes a duty to the beachgoers to act in a reasonable manner.
The next point to establish is whether 85 N Sunny breached its duty. Arguably, if it knew or should have known that the winds were gusting and they failed to secure the umbrellas or close them so that they would not blow away, 85 N Sunny would have breached its duty to act in a reasonable manner.
Next, the Plaintiff must have sustained damages or injuries. According to the Complaint, the Plaintiff was impaled by the umbrella and suffered injuries requiring surgery. Clearly, Plaintiff can establish damages.
Finally, Plaintiff has to prove that her damages were caused by 85 N Sunny's breach of their duty of care. This is known as "proximate cause."
In other words, "but for" the Defendant's breach of its duty of care the Plaintiff would not have been injured.
Since we have been able to establish all four elements of negligence, under this assumed scenario, 85 N Sunny would be held to be liable.
What Can Your Business Learn?
Negligence is not intentional; rather, it is a result of a business's failure to properly assess risk and take necessary precautions to limit liability. In the beach case example, if 85 N Sunny had closed the umbrellas or laid them down on the sand, our analysis of its negligence might be different.
Your business should always perform a risk assessment and be mindful of outside factors. Remember that you will be judged on what a reasonable person would do in your situation-- so use this knowledge wisely!
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