Sezzin v. Stark

Decision Date20 November 1946
Docket Number17.
Citation49 A.2d 742,187 Md. 241
PartiesSEZZIN et ux. v. STARK.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Appeals from Superior Court of Baltimore City; Joseph Sherbow, Judge.

Action by Rita M. Stark against Samuel L. Sezzin and Blanche E Sezzin, his wife, for injuries sustained by plaintiff while defendants' tenant. From a judgment for plaintiff for $1,000 the defendants appeal, and the plaintiff cross-appeals.

Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part and new trial awarded.

MARBURY C.J., dissenting.

William R. Semans, of Baltimore (Barton, Wilmer, Bramble, Addison and Semans, of Baltimore, on the brief), for appellants.

Herbert L. Grymes, of Baltimore (Frank J. Schap, of Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee.



In May, 1944, the appellants, as hereinafter known, Samuel L. Sezzin and Blanche Sezzin, his wife, purchased the premises at 811 North Charles Street, Baltimore. The appellee, as hereinafter known, Rita M. Stark, rented from them on March 8, 1945 the second floor rear apartment. The rear of this property was divided into three furnished apartments, one on the first floor, one on the second floor, and one on the third floor. These were known as the rear apartments as distinguished from those in front. On the south side and about midway of the house an air and light shaft ran from the ceiling of the first floor apartment up to and above the level of the roof, where it was capped with a skylight. The bottom of this shaft was located on the same level with the ceiling of the first floor apartment and consisted of a frame with three panes of glass. For the purpose of this case this frame with the three panes of glass will be known as the bottom of the shaft. The frame was attached to the ceiling by hinges and could be opened and closed by pulling or releasing a cord. The dimensions of the shaft were five feet by two feet on the inside. This was the only means of getting air and light into these rear apartments. The rooms on the second and third floors directly above the first floor room, where the window frame was in the ceiling, each had a window opening into the shaft, the sills of which were three feet three inches above the floor. From the sill of the window on the second floor, opening into the shaft, to the ceiling of the first floor room and the bottom of the shaft was a distance of four feet. Just outside of these windows on the second and third floors leading into the shaft, and directly under them, were clothes hampers fastened on the outside of the windows in the shaft by hooks. They were placed there by a former owner of the apartment house to provide a place for the tenants to store their soiled clothes. There was nothing under these hampers to catch any clothes that might fall out of them, except the bottom of the shaft. There was no electric light in the airshaft. The only light entering it came from the skylight in the roof, or from electric lights in the two apartments which it served.

Rita M. Stark, the appellee, was a married woman whose husband was temporarily absent with the Armed Forces of the United States. She went to this house on March 7, 1945, looking for a furnished apartment and was shown the second floor apartment by Mrs. Sezzin, one of the appellants. She saw and was shown the location of the clothes hamper in the shaft on the outside of the window. Mrs. Sezzin did not call to the appellee's attention the fact that there was a glass floor at the bottom of the shaft beneath the clothes hamper. There was no wire construction over the bottom of the shaft. On March 8, 1945, when appellee rented the apartment from Mrs. Sezzin she was given a list of the household articles. Among these was a long-handled wall brush and a few other things. Mrs. Stark could not find these at first but eventually found them 'down in the left hand side of the shaft', which she removed and did not replace there. The appellee had occasion to look into the shaft from time to time and saw at the bottom, a distance of only four feet, 'what appeared to be a solid floor'. She said it was quite dusty down there and she had never seen light coming through the bottom of the shaft. The janitor testified that he had never cleaned the bottom of the shaft since the appellants bought the apartment house in May, 1944.

A Mrs. Hipp, the tenant of the first floor apartment, testified that she got some light through the bottom of the shaft, 'she didn't get a bright light'. She said that enough light came through in the daytime so that she could get anything she wanted out of the room without turning on the electric light. She obtained no air through the shaft. She said that she had not opened to bottom of the shaft since the appellants had owned the property because soot came through. The third floor tenant, Miss Mauverine Miles, testified that in looking down the shaft from the third floor she could not tell what kind of material covered the bottom of the shaft.

On the evening of July 6, 1945, two girls, Miss Miles and a Miss Hilton, both of whom occupied the third floor apartment directly above that occupied by the appellee, knocked at appellee's door and told her that in removing some clothes from their hamper they had dropped some articles down alongside of their clothes hamper and this clothing had fallen on the bottom of the shaft. They asked appellee if they could get these. The appellee and the two girls then went into the room leading into the shaft. They looked into the shaft which was dark. However they could see the clothes, four feet away, lying at the bottom of the shaft. One article was on the right-hand side and the other was on the left-hand side. These articles of clothing had dropped at different times. The appellee volunteered to get down in the shaft and get the clothing as she was cleaning her apartment and had on working clothes while the two girls were dressed in 'good clothes'. The two girls told appellee not to do that because they did not want her doing things for them. Miss Miles testified that Miss Hilton told the appellee, "I think it might be glass,' or something to that effect, her exact words I am not sure'. Miss Hilton, being out of the State, did not testify at the trial. The appellee testified that as she was getting in the shaft Miss Hilton said to her, 'Be careful, there may be some glass down there'. Appellee said that the reason she went in the shaft was 'because to my mind there was a solid floor and it had never given the appearance of being anything else. So they dropped clothing and I did not see any reason why I should not go down and recover their clothing'.

Appellee sat on the window sill, turned her feet around and let herself down into the shaft. She picked up the article of clothing on the right-hand side and handed it to the girls, who then called her attention to the other article over on the left. She moved one foot to get over the the left side and then the bottom of the shaft went through. She landed on the floor on the first floor apartment where it was dark until the light was turned on. The two girls came down from the second floor apartment. Mrs. Hipp heard the noise and she and her husband went into the room and he turned on the light and they found the appellee sitting on the floor. Mrs. Hipp testified that the appellee then said that she did not know why she did such a silly thing and that she was not in the habit of doing things like that. Appellee denied she made this statement. The appellee was taken to the hospital in Baltimore where it was found that in addition to other injuries her right leg was fractured. Her left foot was operated on. She remained in the hospital in Baltimore until July 27, 1945, when she returned to her home in Miami, Florida. At the time of the accident appellee was employed as a stenographer at wages of $45 a week. She did not return to work until early in January, 1946.

Suit was entered by appellee against appellants on November 25, 1945, which resulted in a verdict by a jury for the appellee in the amount of $1,000. From the judgment on that verdict the appellants appeal.

The appellants assign as error the failure of the trial court to grant their C and D prayers. These prayers in effect asked the Court to instruct the jury, (1) that, under the evidence, the appellants were not guilty of primary negligence directly contributing to the accident, and (2) if they were, the facts showed as a matter of law that appellee was also guilty of negligence directly contributing thereto.

This Court is not called upon to decide whether the appellants were guilty (1) of primary negligence or (2) whether the appellee was guilty of contributory negligence. It is simply our duty to decide whether there was evidence legally sufficient to give the jury the opportunity to decide these questions upon the facts presented and the material inferences of facts therefrom.

Summarizing there was evidence that the landlord provided the hampers outside of the windows in the shaft for the soiled clothes of the tenants. There was no screen or other device provided to catch any articles which might fall out of the hampers other than the bottom of the shaft. The bottom of the shaft had not been cleaned for at least about fourteen months. The janitor was never instructed by the appellants to clean this nor was appellee told by the appellants that the bottom of the shaft was a glass floor. The janitor had cleaned the shaft for a former owner. The bottom of the shaft had never been opened since appellee was a tenant there. The appellee said that the bottom of the shaft, four feet away, appeared to her to be solid. She had only looked down in the shaft. She...

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1 cases
  • Rivas v. OXON HILL
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • February 1, 2000
    ...exercise reasonable care to keep common areas safe extends not only to his tenants but also to his tenants' guests. Sezzin v. Stark, 187 Md. 241, 250, 49 A.2d 742 (1946); Murray v. Lane, 51 Md.App. 597, 601, 444 A.2d 1069 In the case sub judice, the parking lot over which Rivas was walking ......

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