State Added To Resort Wheelchair Fall Civil Suit

OCEAN CITY — The focus of a civil suit brought against Ocean City, seeking $750,000 by an elderly Philadelphia woman after a wheelchair fall, shifted last week when the plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding the state as a primary defendant.

According to the complaint, on June 16, 2012, the plaintiff, Oda Wendt, 89, of Philadelphia, arrived in Ocean City for her first-ever vacation in the resort. Around 7:50 p.m., Wendt and her family left their condominium to visit the Boardwalk and Wendt was being pushed in a wheelchair by her daughter, Astrid Seiger.

After visiting the Boardwalk, Wendt and her family were going back to their condo and attempted to cross Philadelphia Ave. at Worcester Street from east to west. According to the complaint, the daughter was pushing Wendt in the wheelchair when it struck one of the hard rubber warning mats on the handicap-accessible street corners.

On Aug. 20, Wendt, through her attorney, filed suit in U.S. District Court against the town of Ocean City seeking a combined $750,000 in damages on three counts including negligence, strict liability and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, from the beginning there was some question of liability.

In September, the town of Ocean City filed its formal answer to the suit, seeking an immediate dismissal of the case. The formal answer systematically denies nearly every paragraph and sentence in the complaint, including an assertion the responsibility for the alleged negligence falls on the state. While the town owns and maintains the sidewalks in the resort, the State Highway Administration (SHA) installed the rubber warning mats after the town completed a comprehensive upgrade of the sidewalks to bring them into compliance with the ADA codes.

The original suit asserted the town is responsible for maintaining safe access along its sidewalks for handicapped invitees to the resort.

“At the time of the incident, the wheelchair ramp warning mat had worn rubber torn off around the center and right of the ramp,” the complaint reads. “The rubber mat was not flat and uniform as required by the ADA. The defect or unsafe condition of the mat and ramp was such that it could or should have been discovered by the exercise of ordinary care by the defendants.”

After the town of Ocean City filed its answer to the suit seeking a dismissal, the plaintiff last week filed an amended complaint shifting the blame, at least in part, to the state and SHA.

“At all times set forth herein, the state of Maryland had the duty of installing and maintaining the sidewalk and handicap ramp described herein for the citizens of Maryland and also had the duty to design, construct, reconstruct, repair and maintain the roads, sidewalks and handicap ramps of the state in good condition including, but not limited to, those areas located within Worcester County, specifically on Philadelphia Avenue at its intersection with Worcester Street,” the amended complaint reads.

The amended complaint asserts the state, through the SHA and its Department of Transportation, fell short of accomplishing that with the faulty handicap ramp.

“The state negligently failed to evaluate and re-evaluate the need for the placement and installation of warning mats, negligently failed to place and install warning mats on the ramp and were otherwise careless and negligent in the design, construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair and operation of said ramp,” the amended complaint reads.


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