In April 2014, the Maryland Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether a child, who is injured while trespassing, may recover damages. In Blackburn Limited Partnership v. Paul, ___ Md. ___ (2014), a 3-year old boy suffered severe injuries when he squeezed through a gap in a locked gate to an outdoor pool at an apartment complex and almost drowned. The trial court dismissed the case on the grounds that the child was a trespasser and that the apartment complex did not violate any obligation owed to the child.
The Maryland Court of Appeals vacated the dismissal of the case, because the pool owner violated a safety statute designed to protect young children. Section 10.17.01.21A(3) of the Code of Maryland Regulation (“COMAR”) specifically requires that a closed gate to the pool must not allow a passage of a sphere greater than four inches in diameter. The purpose of this rule is to protect a particular class of individuals, namely children under the age of 5.
Practice pointer: A safety statute or ordinance will supersede the Maryland common law doctrine that no duty is owed to trespassers, but only when the safety law is designed to protect a particular class of people, as opposed to the general public. For example, a statute requiring that an owner to enclose an abandoned quarry with a fence is intended to protect the general public, not just children.