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Slip-and-fall suit against state survives motion to dismiss

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge has allowed a negligence lawsuit against the state to proceed, despite defense objections that Maryland is not the proper defendant in the case.

Tonita Whiting, 41, of Baltimore, filed suit against the state on June 16, alleging that she tripped on ice in a Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport parking lot. The complaint alleges that the state, as owner and operator of the airport, breached its duty to maintain the lot in a safe and secure manner.

Defense lawyer Chris Jeffries of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP in Baltimore told Judge Althea M. Handy at a motions hearing on Friday that the case against the state should be dismissed. He cited specific passages in the Maryland transportation code that give responsibility for airport maintenance — including the upkeep of parking lots — to the Maryland Aviation Authority.

But Whiting’s attorney, Sam Sperling, presented as evidence the deed to BWI, which he said lists the state of Maryland as the airport’s owner.

“Property ownership is property ownership, no matter what anybody says,” said Sperling, of Sperling Law Offices in Pikesville. “I could swear I don’t own my house, but the deed says otherwise.”

Sperling also argued that the MAA, which is a sub-agency of the Maryland Department of Transportation, could not be separated from the rest of the state government.

“At its heart, MAA is part of the state,” Sperling said.

Judge Handy denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case, but advised Sperling that he may want to add the MAA as a defendant. She also said she will consider a separate motion the defense made for a change of venue. “This is really an interesting venue case,” Handy said.

In support of his motion, Jeffries argued that the jury trial should be held in Anne Arundel County, because the MAA’s headquarters are at BWI. Sperling countered that Baltimore was an acceptable venue for the case because the MAA controls airspace throughout the state.

According to her complaint, Whiting was an employee of BWI’s Ram’s Head Restaurant. She was walking to work from her car, which was parked in the employee lot, when she tripped and fell on ice, the suit states. Whiting claims she suffered “serious, painful and permanent injuries to her head, body and limbs” as a result of the fall, which led her to expend “considerable sums of money for medical and hospital treatment.”

Whiting is requesting $375,000 in damages.