Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case, holding that a plaintiff’s failure to file her claim within the three-year period outlined in the policy contract was excusable because the insurance contract was internally contradictory. In the case, State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance v. Jakubwicz, the court held that any inconsistency in an insurance contract should be construed in favor of the insured, and State Farm should have allowed the plaintiff’s claim.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

Jakubwicz and her two sons were in an accident involving another motorist. Jakubwicz filed a timely lawsuit against the other motorist, who was responsible for the accident. A little over three years after the accident, Jakubwicz realized that the other party’s insurance coverage was insufficient to cover the cost of her family’s damages, so she filed a claim under the underinsured motorist provision of her own policy with State Farm.

State Farm denied the claim, pointing to language in the insurance contract that requires all claims to be filed within three years of an accident. However, in response, Jakubwicz pointed to another clause in the policy indicating that State Farm will only pay out on an underinsured motorist claim when the underinsured motorist’s own insurance is exhausted.

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Everyone with a driver’s license knows that driving while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances is against the law. In many cases, the fear of being caught by police, losing their driving privileges, and potentially facing a lengthy term of incarceration deters drivers from getting behind the wheel after they have too many drinks. However, the criminal consequences of a drunk driving conviction are only half of the repercussions that a drunk driver may face. There can also be significant civil consequences.

Broken HeadlampWhen someone is injured in a drunk driving accident, they are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the drunk driver’s insurance company, seeking monetary compensation for their injuries. These lawsuits proceed under the legal theory of negligence, which requires an accident victim to prove that the drunk driver was somehow negligent and that their negligence was the cause of the injuries. Moreover, since there is a specific statutory prohibition against drunk driving, people injured in a drunk driving accident can often take advantage of procedural “shortcuts” in proving a claim.

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Workers’ compensation is a program that is designed to compensate workers who are injured while on the job. In order to qualify for the program, an employer must meet certain criteria. If these criteria are met, an employee who is injured or killed while on the job may be required to seek compensation through the workers’ compensation program. However, if an employer fails to meet the necessary criteria, a personal injury case will not be barred, and an injured party may pursue a claim against their employer. A recent case illustrates how these cases proceed through the court system.

Snowy RoadKay v. Wiggins:  The Facts

Wiggins ran a furniture business. On the side, he would move Budget rental trucks from one location to another for extra income. Kay was an employee of Wiggins, who would help out both with the furniture business and also with the truck-relocation project. On the day in question, Wiggins asked Kay to relocate a truck. Because of inclement weather, Kay was reluctant. Wiggins told Kay that if the truck was not moved on that evening, it would have to be moved the next morning.

That next morning, Kay arrived, planning to relocate the truck. However, on the way to his destination, he was involved in an accident that claimed his life. Kay’s estate sued Wiggins, arguing that he was at least in part responsible for Kay’s death. In response, Wiggins asked the court to dismiss the case and showed the court documentation that he was in compliance with the state’s workers’ compensation program. Kay provided nothing to rebut this evidence.

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The State Supreme Court of Maine recently affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of a truck rental company and an employer after an employee who was driving the truck was killed when the van slid off an icy road. About a year and a half after the fatal accident, the estate of the victim brought a lawsuit against the rental company and the driver’s employer. Both parties moved to dismiss the case and argued that they did not breach a duty owed to the employee, they did not proximately cause the employee’s death, and they were not vicariously liable for his death.

Truck in SnowThe lower court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff’s estate then appealed. However, in a recently released opinion, the higher court agreed with the court below and concluded that they did not need to determine the specific and actual nature of the relationship between the two defendants because the plaintiffs did not present evidence to show that they were responsible.

Employer Responsibility and Liability in Maryland Personal Injury Lawsuits

In certain situations, a person may be actually injured by one party, but another party or entity may also be proximately liable. Essentially, proximate liability means that although a party may not have actually caused the injury, they engaged in some behavior that led to the injury or accident. A common situation in which this arises is when an employee is injured or causes an injury while they are performing a duty in the scope of their employment.

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As this blog has previously noted, Maryland does not have a Dram Shop Act that victims of drunk driving accident victims can use to hold the party who served the drunk driver responsible. However, according to a very recent case from the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland law now imposes a duty on adults who knowingly or willingly serve alcohol to minors.

Bottles of WhiskeyKiriakos v. Phillips

In the case of Kiriakos v. Phillips, the court consolidated two different cases that presented a similar issue. Thus, in addition to the case brought by Kiriakos, there was also a case titled Dankos v. Stapf. Courts rarely do this but will from time to time when a nearly identical issue is presented by two separate cases.

While both cases presented similar issues, the Dankos case presents the issue more clearly. Steven Dankos, a 17-year-old, was killed in a traffic accident after he and some friends were partying at the defendant’s home. The defendant was an adult woman who allowed the defendant and his friends to consume alcohol at her home. Specifically, Dankos and company were in the defendant’s garage. The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendant would check in on the under-age children occasionally, but she never once told them to stop drinking. Furthermore, she never told them to refrain from driving after they had consumed too much to drink.

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Earlier this month, a California appellate court issued a written opinion in a liability case allowing a pedestrian injured while crossing the street to attend a church event to sue the church under a premises liability theory. The court explained that, while the general rule is that a landowner is not liable for injuries that occur off his or her premises, there are some situations where liability is appropriate.

City StreetThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was attending an evening event at his local church. The church had a small parking lot located immediately adjacent to the building, but it often filled up. To ensure that attendees had ample room to park, the church arranged with a nearby business to allow church attendees to park in the business’ lot. The lot was across a busy street. There were crosswalks on either side of the block, but the parking lot was mid-block and so was the church, so the most straightforward way from the lot to the church to directly cross the five-lane road mid-block.

On the day in question, the plaintiff drove through the church’s main lot and was directed by volunteer parking attendants to go to the auxiliary lot across the street. As the plaintiff parked and left the lot toward the church, he was hit by a passing vehicle. The plaintiff sued the church, arguing that the placement of the auxiliary lot was dangerous and that the church failed to protect against the type of injury he sustained.

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Rear-end accidents are among the most common types of car accidents in Maryland. While most rear-end accidents that occur at a low speed are not likely to result in serious bodily injury, high-speed rear-end collisions often result in serious injury or death. For these reasons, the State Legislature in Maryland has made a concerted effort to deter distracted driving, one of the leading causes of rear-end collisions.

Shattered WindowEfforts to Stop Distracted Driving

Distracted driving consists of engaging in any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road and others on it. It is a mistake to assume that distracted driving only includes visual distractions. In fact, most of the common causes of distracted driving are attention-based, rather than visual. These include the common culprits:  talking on the phone or texting, talking to passengers, and eating or drinking.

To help curb distract driving in Maryland, the State Legislature has enacted a tough hand-held device ban. Under the ban, drivers are prohibited from using any hand-held device while they are operating a motor vehicle. This includes talking on the phone and texting. It is only with a hands-free device that a Maryland driver can legally be on the phone while driving.

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Earlier this month, a Michigan appellate court issued a written opinion in a case involving a woman who was struck by a vehicle that was insured by State Farm in which the alleged damages were just $25,000, but the actual damages were far greater. In the case, Hodge v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, the court determined that the plaintiff proved damages far greater than the $25,000 jurisdictional limit of the court where the case was filed.

Broken Taillight

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was struck by a car that was insured by State Farm. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against State Farm, seeking compensation for her injuries. She filed the lawsuit in District Court, which has a jurisdictional limit of just $25,000. This means that the court cannot hear cases that seek damages in excess of $25,000.

In her pleadings, the plaintiff sought damages of just $25,000. However, she presented evidence indicating that the actual damages incurred were closer to $150,000. State Farm asked the court to prevent the plaintiff from introducing any evidence that would show her damages were greater than $25,000, since that is all that she would be able to recover in the court in which she filed the case.

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Being involved in a car accident can take a major toll on the body. While many serious car accidents result in new injuries that require treatment when none was needed before, other accidents can aggravate pre-existing injuries. This may be the case in even a low-speed collision when the impact is too slight to cause any new injury.

X-ray of Knee

In lawsuits alleging the aggravation or acceleration of a pre-existing condition, a plaintiff must be careful to distinguish the symptoms of the injury before and after the accident. This is because a court will not hold a defendant liable for the pre-existing condition itself, but it may hold a defendant liable for an aggravation of the pre-existing condition. This can often be a very contested element of a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. A recent case illustrates the difficulties one plaintiff had seeking compensation for the aggravation of a pre-existing knee injury.

Harnish v. Corra: The Facts

Corra was injured when he was struck from behind by Harnish’s vehicle while waiting to make a left-hand turn into a parking lot. Having recently undergone neck surgery, Corra was most concerned with his neck in the moments after the accident. However, once he was transported to the hospital, he began to notice that he had pain in his right knee.

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Driving is a privilege that many people take for granted. It used to be that not everyone needed a driver’s license. However, in today’s society, with urban sprawl an ever-increasing reality, even young drivers need a license to get to and from school and work. These young drivers, while they are required to attend a driver’s education course and pass applicable practical tests, do not always possess the judgment and real-world experience necessary to safely operate motor vehicles in all conditions.

Curved RoadIndeed, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control, young drivers aged 15-25 represent only 14% of the total driving population, but they end up being involved in over 30% of the total accidents. Interestingly, there are several contributing factors that experts cite when explaining the heightened dangers:

  • Speeding is involved in about 35% of all teen-driver crashes.
  • The presence of at least one male passenger in the car increases the likelihood of an accident.
  • Alcohol is involved in 25% of accidents involving teens.
  • Teens are less likely to wear their seat-belts, increasing the severity of the injuries suffered in most of the accidents.

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