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Maher v. Voss

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle County

August 10, 1951

MAHER
v.
VOSS et al. (two cases).

Anne Maher and her husband, Willis Maher, brought separate actions against Barbara Voss and Norwood W. Voss for damage sustained when Anne Maher fell down a stairway in defendants' home. The Superior Court, New Castle County, Carey, J., in ruling on defendants' motions to dismiss the complaints, held that the complaints alleging that Anne Maher had been invited by defendants to their home and that defendants had failed to warn Anne Maher of the true nature of the place in which her coat was hanging, and that Anne Maher, thinking the door led to a closet, opened the door and fell down a stairway while getting another's coat, stated a cause of action, though Anne Maher was only a licensee.

Motion denied.

Complaints alleging that home owners had failed to warn licensee that they had hung licensee's coat in stairway, rather than a closet, as licensee supposed, and that licensee opened the stairway door to get another's coat and fell down stairs, stated a cause of action for negligence.

[46 Del. 419] Actions based on negligence, in which defendants have moved to dismiss the complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Anne Maher, plaintiff in No. 997, is the wife of Willis Maher, plaintiff in No. 996. Mrs. Maher was injured by a fall down the cellar stairs in defendants' home. She seeks damages for her injuries and her husband has sued for medical expenses and loss of consortium.

According to the complaints, Mrs. Maher was invited by postcard to attend a meeting of the Democratic Women of New [46 Del. 420] Castle County, held at defendants' home in the evening of March 30, 1950. The invitation was signed by Mrs. Voss with the knowledge and consent of her husband. Both defendants were present when the guests arrived. Mrs. Maher went to the meeting and, on her arrival with others, was met by Mrs. Voss who took the visitors' coats and wraps and hung them in what appeared to be a clothes closet in the dining room. Actually, it was an open, unlighted cellar stairway with no

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railing, and, at the time, was dark and ‘ hung on either side with costs'. After the meeting was over, Mrs. Maher went to the ‘ closet’ to get a coat and, being unaware of the true nature of the opening, fell down the stairs. The negligence charged is the failure of the defendants to warn her of the grave hazard which is said to be analogous to a trap.

Defendants' motion is predicated upon the contentions that Mrs. Maher was a licensee and that no actionable negligence is shown. Plaintiffs argue that she was an invitee, but that, even if she was only a licensee, defendants were duty bound to warn her of the danger.

Paul R. Rinard, Wilmington, for plaintiffs.

Joseph Donald Craven, Wilmington, for defendants.

CAREY, J., sitting.

CAREY, Judge.

Two questions are presented: (1) was Mrs. Maher's status that of an invitee or licensee; (2) does the complaint show any actionable negligence? The present motion may, of course, be granted only if it appears to a certainty that the plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of the claim. Berghane v. Radio Corporation of America, D.C., 4 F.R.D. 446; 2 Moore's Fed.Practice (2d.ed.) 2245.

No Delaware case has been brought to my attention wherein our Court has undertaken to define, in general terms, the distinction between invitees and licensee. In Reardon v. Exchange Furniture Store, 7 W.W.Harr. 332, 188 A. 704, the Supreme Court held that a plumber, engaged to remove a broken hopper and install a new one in a store, was not acting within the [46 Del. 421] scope of his invitation when he took the old hopper into the cellar without the ...


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