Monday, May 7, 2007

Johns Hopkins Hospital v. Correia (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed April 30, 2007. Opinion by Judge James P. Salmon.

Issue: Does the owner-operator of an elevator owe its passengers the same "highest degree of care" owed by common carrier to passengers?

Held: Yes. The jury's verdict is affirmed. The 1906 precedent set in Belvedere Building Co. v. Bryan still stands: the owner-operator of an elevator owes its passengers the same duty as a common carrier - the highest degree of care practicable under the circumstances.

Facts: The plaintiff was injured on an elevator owned and operated by Johns Hopkins when it came to a sudden stop because of a mechanical defect. At trial, the plaintiff introduced evidence that showed that, in the six months prior to the accident, Johns Hopkins had received thirty-two complaints about the elevator. At the conclusion of the case, the trial court instructed the jury that the owner of elevators "is bound to exercise the highest degree of care and skill and diligence . . . practicable under the circumstances to guard against injury to
individuals riding on those elevators." The trial court based its instruction upon case law that was decided over 100 years before, affirmed in the 1930's, and not addressed since.

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, and Johns Hopkins appealed. Johns Hopkins contended that the trial court's instruction was erroneous. Johns Hopkins argued that the owner of an elevator owes a passenger the same duty that a property owner owes an invitee, i.e., the duty to use reasonable care to see that the portion of the property that the invitee is expected to use is safe. Not the heightened duty of a common carrier.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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