Resort Deflects Blame To State In Trip, Fall Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY — The Town of Ocean City filed a formal answer this month to a civil suit filed by a Pennsylvania woman earlier this fall who allegedly tripped and fell over a defective portion of sidewalk uptown in September 2017.

Earlier this fall, Debra Zach of Newville, Pa., filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Town of Ocean City and the State of Maryland alleging she suffered a torn rotator cuff and other injuries after tripping and falling over a section of raised sidewalk in the area of 94th Street and Coastal Highway in September 2017. The complaint, which seeks damages in excess of $75,000, asserts the area where she allegedly fell includes a portion of concrete that was raised about six inches and was not marked or well-lit. The complaint also alleges the streetlight over the defective portion of sidewalk was out at the time of the incident.

“As a direct and proximate result of the defendants’ negligence, Debra Zach will have residual problems for the remainder of her life, potentially requiring additional medical treatment and therapy, and a claim is made therefore,” the complaint reads. “As a direct and proximate result of the defendants’ negligence, Debra Zach has been and will continue to be forced to incur liability for medical treatment, medicines, hospitalizations, physical therapy and similar miscellaneous expenses and a claim is made therefore.”

The complaint asserts Zach suffered a torn rotator cuff along with other scrapes and abrasions. According to the complaint, Zach visited an emergency medical office in West Ocean City before returning from vacation to her home in Pennsylvania. When she returned home, she was reportedly diagnosed with a partially torn rotator cuff in her shoulder, but when treatment did not improve her symptoms, a full rotator cuff tear was diagnosed and surgery was required. She reportedly continues to experience pain and discomfort even after the surgery to repair the tear, according to the complaint.

The Town of Ocean City late last week filed its answer to the complaint, in which it systematically denied nearly every assertation and allegation in it. The town’s answer to the complaint asserts an assumption of risk and contributory negligence in its affirmative defenses spelled out in its formal answer and also asserts the plaintiff’s claims against the town are barred by statutory immunity, qualified immunity and public official immunity. In short, the town asserts it did not commit the wrongs alleged and was not negligent.

“Wherefore, the defendant demands that judgment be awarded in the defendant’s favor and against the plaintiff as to all of the plaintiff’s claims as advanced in the complaint,” the town’s answer reads. “That such claims be dismissed with prejudice in their entirety, that the plaintiff be denied all of the relief she seeks in this case, and that the defendant be awarded costs and expenses including reasonable attorney’s fees.”

On the same day, the town filed a cross-claim against the state, deflecting any alleged responsibility to the state, which builds and maintains the public sidewalks along Coastal Highway, which is a state roadway.

“Though the curb that is the situs of the above-alleged incident is within the corporate limits of the town of Ocean City, it was designed and constructed by the Maryland State Highway Administration without consent of, or input from, the town,” the cross-filed complaint reads. “The town had no involvement in the design or construction process leading up to the installation of the sidewalk curb over which the plaintiff alleges she tripped and fell.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.