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SunTrust Bank, Case Study Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1955

Case Study

Questions Presented

You have asked my opinion as to whether SunTrust bank would likely win on the merits in a negligence lawsuit. You would like to know whether the Bank had a duty to Lori and if the Bank fulfilled that duty.

Brief Answer

No, SunTrust bank would not likely win on the merits in a negligence lawsuit. The bank had a duty Lori, and it did not fulfill that duty.

Statement of Facts

On October 4, 2021, Lori Romeo and her friend were shopping in the town of Chestertown, Maryland. They stopped at one of the only 2 ATM machines in the downtown area so her friend could withdraw cash. While walking, Lori slipped on the sidewalk in front of the ATM machine and fell on the concrete wall separating the landscaping from the sidewalk. She immediately felt pain and was rushed to the emergency room. At the emergency room, doctors confirmed that she sustained injuries to her tabia and lacerations on her left leg. Lori filed a negligence suit to recover for her injures.

Lori’s Legal Status

The standard of care owed to Lori is contingent upon determination of her status while on the property, i.e. whether she was an invitee, licensee or trespasser. Lori’s legal status while on the property was an invitee. An invitee is one invited or permitted to enter or remain on another’s property for purposes connected with or related to the owner’s business. An invitee might be explicitly invited, or implicitly welcomed onto the property when it is open for business. Lori had an implicit invitation at the time of the incident. She accompanied a friend to the ATM for the purpose of making a withdraw.

Rule

In Maryland, premises liability is based on common-law principles of negligence. Negligence applied when an organization or an individual did not take reasonable care to avoid injury to another person. A plaintiff must prove the following elements to prevail on a negligence claim in Maryland:

  1. That the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury
  2. That the defendant breached that duty
  3. That the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and
  4. That the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty.

Discussion

Lori ‘s case meets the criteria required to win on the merits of a negligence lawsuit. The first met dimension is that the bank owed her duty of care because of her legal status while on the property. The second dimension is that the bank breached the duty of care owed because it failed to keep the premises and surrounding area safe. The third and final dimensions are consistent with Lori suffering serious bodily injuries as a direct consequence of being on the bank’s property.

Analysis

Duty of Care

Duty of care creates a basis for the bank to take reasonable care to avoid harm being caused to its invitees. In Bramble v. Thompson, the Court addressed the varying duties and standards of care due invitees, licensees, and trespassers. It notes that when a person’s legal status is an invitee, the owner must use reasonable and ordinary care to keep his premises safe for the invitee and to protect the invitee from injury caused by an unreasonable risk which the invitee, by exercising ordinary care for his own safety, will not discover. A duty of care arises in Lori’s case because she was invited to enter the land for which the property is held open to the public. Accordingly, the property owner had a duty to make the place safe for Lori.  More specifically, they were required to take reasonable steps to prevent dangers from occurring and to conduct reasonable inspections to uncover any hidden dangers. To further ensure that the premise was safe to visitors, the bank had a duty to warn visitors of all known and potentially hazardous conditions that could not be fixed on the property.

Duty of care between the bank and Lori is also established by analyzing the level of proximity between the two. The ATM can only be accessed by crossing the sidewalk that is in front of the ATM. Since there is only one way to the ATM, SunTrust had to ensure that that way was properly maintained. If SunTrust was unable to ensure the safety of the path in front of the ATM, it had a duty to warn Lori and other visitors of the dangers. In Bramble, the court distinguished rights of invitees from those of trespassers. It held that the only duty of care a property owner owes a trespasser, is to refrain from willfully injuring the intruder. Meanwhile, invitees should receive the highest duty of care from property owners.

Breach of Duty of Care

The relationship and proximity between the bank and the claimant are evidence that there existed a duty of care between the two. After establishing the duty of care, it is important to determine whether the bank’s actions or inactions were enough to meet its duty of care. In the case Troxel v. Iguana, the Court asserts that “a duty is breached when a person or entity fails to conform to an appropriate standard of care and, in doing so, fails to protect third person against unreasonable risks. Troxel sought damages for injuries he received in an altercation with other men on the dance floor at a nightclub called Iguana Cantina. He argued that Iguana’s history of allowing violent incidences to occur during their college night promotions resulted in his injuries. The court accepted Troxel’s argument that his claim was a premise liability claim based on common law principles of negligence which holds that premise liability claim derives from an establishment’s lack of supervision, care, or control the premises. Restatement (Second) of Torts 344 (1965).  The court held as a matter of law that a premise liability may attach when the cause of action is that the injury resulted from the defendant’s failure to protect their patrons from a dangerous condition. The Court emphasized that the rule today is usually generalized to include all landowners who open their land to the public for business and to require them to use reasonable care even to protect against criminal acts of third persons. (Troxel v. Iguana Cantina)

The analysis used in Troxel applies to Lori’s case in that SunTrust acted irresponsibly when they allowed the wet leaves to stay on the premises despite the risks it continually posed. Reasonable inference could be drawn that had the bank cleaned the sidewalk, Lori would not have slipped and fell on the wet leaves. Leaving the sidewalk uncleaned created a substantial risk to customers and a fall was an expected consequence of taking that risk. Lastly, the bank failed to take other reasonable steps to minimize the risk of a customer slipping and falling within its premises. The bank breached its duties to provide warning signs or adequate notice to visitors that could have simply aided them in their use of precaution within the premise. The bank’s failure to take these actions constitute a breach of duty.

Causation and Proximity

The Court in Pittway Corp v. Collins addressed the elements of causation and proximate cause. It provides that negligence is not actionable unless it is a proximate cause of the harm alleged. To be a proximate cause for an injury, the negligence must be 1.) a cause in fact and 2.) a legally cognizable cause. With respect to cause in fact, the same Court said that an actor’s negligent conduct is a legal cause of harm to another if 1.) his conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about the harm; and 2) there is no rule of law relieving the action from liability because of his manner in which negligence has resulted in the harm. Additionally, the Court in Troxel v. Iguana asserts that the proper focus in premises liability claim is on the acts and omissions of the landowner, not the individual plaintiff.

Applying these viewpoints to Lori’s case, the bank’s incident report is one proof of the relationship between the bank’s conduct and Lori’s injuries. The reports is as follows: ‘Customer Lori Romeo slipped on patch of wet leaves walking from parking lot to ATM Machine approximately 9:40 a.m. Customer bleeding from scrapes and one deep cut.  Customer could not walk because of pain in leg.  Accompanying friend, Dianne Merrifield agreed to take customer to hospital.”  From this evidence one could reasonably infer that Lori was indeed recognized as an invitee of the bank, the bank was the premise where the incident occurred, and the incident occurred because of the premise not being properly maintained for the invitee.

The second aspect that determines causation is to ascertain if Lori could have prevented the harm or injury. Rebecca Bryan’s statement supports that Lori took reasonable precautions to avoid harm. Rebecca Bryan’s statement reads, “I saw her slip on the leaves and wave her arms around trying to catch her balance.  She looked like a skater out of control.”  From this evidence one could reasonably infer that Lori’s fall was caused by something on the ground and not from some intervening cause. Moreover, while falling, she attempted to prevent her injuries but was unable to. This goes to the point that Lori could not avoid the fall and thus could not avoid her injuries.

Once causation-in-fact is established, the proximate cause of injury turns to whether the defendant’s negligent actions constitute a legally cognizable cause of the complainant’s injuries (Pittway v. Collins). The Court refers to the two tests to determine if causation-in-fact exists, the “but for” test and the substantial factor test.” With respect to Lori’s case the “but for” test should apply. The “but for” test applies where only one negligent act is at issue and provides that cause-in-fact is found when the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent acts. Here, it can be said that but for the failure of bank to provide a safe pathway to the ATM, Lori would not have sustained her injuries. Protecting the premises was one of the duties the property owner was charged to protect, absent that protection, the risk that someone would fall was high.

Finally, it was foreseeable from previous incidents that a customer might fall and injure themselves in front of the ATM. Rebecca Bryan confessed to having ‘almost fell’ on the sidewalk when she went to visit the ATM machine an hour earlier. The statement shows that the sidewalk was dangerous to everybody and that the bank had knowledge of the danger.

Thomas Fisher’s statement also support Rebecca Bryan’s witness account. According to Fisher, the bank walkways had not been cleaned up the previous day despite the rainy condition. The bank failed to make clients’ safety a priority. Even though the bank knew the danger the wet leaves posed to clients walking to the ATM, it failed to undertake proper cleaning prior to Lori’s accident.

Conclusion

After examining the Bank’s duty of care, breach of that duty, and the harm arising from the breach, a court would likely find for Lori Romeo in a negligence suit.  Lori also has sufficient evidence to bolster her claim, including witness accounts of the incident, the bank’s manager account of the event, and a doctor’s note that details her injuries. It is clear from the facts of the case that the bank committed negligence because it showed indifference and extreme disregard for its invitees ‘s safety. Even though the bank knew there was only one walkway to the ATM, it remained indifferent to the safety of clients who use it by not cleaning up the wet leaves.  The bank is mandated by the law to provide sufficient security to clients within its premises, that includes a priority to remove hazards conditions. Since the bank’s policy is to avoid litigation, it should immediately engage with Lori for an out-of-court settlement.

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