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Langley Park Apartments v. Lund

Decided: April 14, 1964.


Appeal from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County; Powers, J.

Brune, C.J., and Henderson, Prescott, Horney and Marbury, JJ. Marbury, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.


This appeal presents for our determination a novel question in Maryland and one of some importance to the legal relationship between landlord and tenant. It may be stated as follows: Does a landlord have a duty to remove, or render safe, natural accumulation of ice or snow on walkways under his control provided he knew, or should have known of the existence of a dangerous condition resulting from the ice or snow. The issue was well briefed and argued by counsel for both sides.

The facts giving rise to this question are relatively simple and virtually undisputed. The appellant Langley Park Apartments, Sec. H, Inc., owned a large scale multiple housing development in Hyattsville. The appellant H. G. Smithy Co. managed the development and it is not contested that its liability is co-extensive with that of the landlord in this case. The injured plaintiff was Mrs. Evelyn O. Lund, who with her husband and two minor children lived in an apartment in the development

at 1426 Kanawha Street. Mrs. Lund and her husband were the original plaintiffs, but she died before the case was tried from causes not connected with her injuries, and he, as her administrator, was substituted as a party plaintiff. Mr. Lund in his individual capacity, and as her administrator, is the appellee.

On Saturday and Sunday, February 13 and 14, 1960, it had snowed. There were 4.9 inches on the 13th and another snowfall of 1.3 inches on the 14th. The accident occurred on February 17, about 10:30 p.m. when Mrs. Lund was walking with her two children and her husband on the concrete walkway in front of her apartment building. She had not been out of doors previously since the snowfalls. The husband was carrying their two year old son in his left arm, holding his wife with his right hand, and she in turn was holding the hand of her other child. She slipped and fell, dragging the rest of the family to the ground. As a result Mrs. Lund suffered a laceration over her left eye and a sprain of her left shoulder and arm, among other injuries.

The husband testified that when the family left the apartment at about seven o'clock that evening the weather was clear, cold and the condition of the walkway where they fell was slushy. Mrs. Lund's deposition had been taken and this was read to the jury as part of the plaintiffs' case. In that deposition she stated that it had snowed heavily on the 13th and 14th, but that the management had not removed the snow from the walks. In its answers to interrogatories, the H. G. Smithy Co. stated that it had a custodial force of four men to clean snow from the walks for the twenty-four hour period of February 17, and that shovels, mechanical snow removers, rock salt, sand, brooms, etc., were available to the force for the purpose of removing or treating the snow and ice from and on the walks. It was further stated that they had actually removed it on the date in question. In spite of this, however, it is the contention of the appellants that there was no duty imposed by law on the landlord to remove the ice and snow naturally accumulated.

There is a sharp division in the decisions of jurisdictions which have considered the question here presented. The two

views have been labeled the "Massachusetts rule" (or common law rule) and the "Connecticut rule" (or modern rule) in recognition of the respective states whose courts first ruled on a landlord's liability to remove snow and ice, but with opposite results.

The Massachusetts rule appears to have been first announced in the case of Woods v. Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co., 134 Mass. 357, 45 Am. Rep. 344(1883). The plaintiff was a tenant who used steps in common with other tenants in passing from her apartment to the street. She slipped on them when they were in an icy condition. The court suggested that when the owner let the premises with the right of the occupants to use the stairways in common with one another it might have been obligatory on the owner's part to keep them in a safe condition, but, said the court, this obligation has never been extended to require him to "reconstruct" the stairways if the stairways as they existed when the premises were demised, were not altogether safe by reason of a fault in the original construction which was apparent to both parties. From this premise the court reasoned that there was no duty on the part of the landlord to the tenant to remove from the steps the snow which naturally accumulated thereon, but it was the tenant's own duty to do so.

Although the Woods case was not cited, the rule of law it announced was reiterated in Smolesky v. Kotler, 169 N. E. 486(Mass.). That case again stressed that the only duty the landlord has with respect to common passageways is to maintain them in the same condition of safety as they were or appeared to be when the tenant's estate commenced. Actually, the holding of the Massachusetts court had a precursor in the earlier case of Purcell v. English, 86 Ind. 34, 44 Am. Rep. 255(1882), where the Indiana court in dictum appeared to reject generally the rule that a landlord had a duty at all to keep common passageways safe, but did narrow its holding to ruling that there was no duty to protect the tenant from the hazards arising out of such temporary causes as snow and ice ...

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