This winter, where Baltimore City and Baltimore County residents saw a lengthy period of subzero temperatures, water pipes burst all over the city and many residents experienced flooded basements. One neighborhood in Baltimore even achieved “viral video” status with the widespread viewing of a burst water pipe that coated most of the neighborhood in ice.
As a general rule, a municipality has a duty to maintain its public works in good condition. However, that obligation is not absolute and a municipality is not an insurer. If there is an injury because the city failed to maintain its public works, such as roads, parks and buildings, and the municipality had actual or constructive notice of the bad condition that caused the damage, the municipality may be held liable in negligence. Thus, in order for the city to be held liable for negligence, it must be shown that it had actual or constructive notice.
Actual notice is fairly easy to understand. It is knowledge gained by either personal observation or by communication from third persons of the condition alleged to constitute the defect. Constructive notice is knowledge implied by the circumstances.
In a recent lawsuit, a Baltimore woman lost her case over damages done to her home when an underground water main ruptured in February 2015, flooding her basement. Brenda Colbert sued after representatives for the city of Baltimore denied liability. In the lawsuit, Colbert said the city failed to properly maintain a water main close to her house. Colbert said the city was aware that its water system was old, that it reportedly had suffered years of neglect and that there had recently been a number of “non-seasonal breaks.” According to the court’s opinion, the Department of Public Works had acknowledged on its webpage that many water mains were not in a serviceable state and that years of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude has left us with far too many crumbling water lines.”
The city asked the court to dispose of the matter without sending it to a jury, arguing that there was no evidence that, before the water main break, the city had actual or constructive notice of a defective condition in the water main beneath a nearby street to Colbert’s home so that it was not responsible for the water damage. The trial court decided in favor of the city. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland upheld the lower court, pointing out that no evidence was presented to dispute the city’s testimony that it had no actual or constructive knowledge of a defective condition in the water main and that the defect in the water main was not observable because it was buried beneath the street.
A Baltimore personal injury lawyer can help you with your claim for damages to your home and property. An experienced Maryland premises liability attorney can go over your situation to help you to determine how to proceed. The consultation is free. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience handling Maryland personal injury settlements and lawsuits. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.