Thursday, March 15, 2007

Morgan State University v. Walker (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed March 15, 2007--Opinion by Judge Clayton Greene.

Ms. Walker instituted a personal injury action against MSU, arguing they were negligent for their failure to remove snow from a parking lot which resulted in Ms. Walker fracturing her leg when she fell on the ice. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City determined that despite MSU's negligence, as a matter of law, Ms. Walker assumed the risk of her injuries and granted summary judgment in favor of MSU. The Court of Special Appeals reversed in an unreported opinion, holding that the voluntariness of Ms. Walker's action was a jury question. This Court concluded that when Ms. Walker walked across the parking lot with knowledge that the lot was covered with ice and snow, she assumed the risk of her injuries, as a matter of law, under the circumstances. Further, in an assumption of the risk analysis, the defendant's or a third party's negligence is irrelevant.

The voluntariness of conduct in an assumption of risk analysis is measured by an objective standard. Ms. Walker's testimony indicated she was aware of the icy conditions and clearly appreciated the danger of walking on the ice. Further, Ms. Walker's motivation to walk across the ice would be considered involuntary only if she lacked the free will to avoid the situation. The fact that no other reasonable alternative path was available does not reduce the free will standard. Ms. Walker's purpose of walking across the ice was to visit her daughter. As soon as she realized the parking lot was covered in ice, she made the free-will choice to continue with her visit, park her car, and walk across the ice. Because the uncontroverted evidence demonstrated that Ms. Walker knowingly and voluntarily walked across the icy parking lot, the Circuit Court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of MSU.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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