Head-on collisions are some of the most serious accidents, due not only to the force involved but also to the direct impact. While there are many causes of head-on accidents, most of these accidents can be boiled down to one thing:  driver error. In cases of inclement weather, it is incumbent upon all drivers to make sure they reduce their speed to fit the weather conditions. This may mean traveling below the posted speed limit when rain, snow, or ice is present on the road.

Front-End DamageWhen a driver fails to take adequate precautions and causes an accident, that driver may be held liable to anyone injured as a result of their negligence. This often includes the drivers and passengers of other vehicles, and it also includes passengers in the negligent driver’s vehicle. In tragic cases in which a head-on accident results in the death of one or more of the people involved, a wrongful death lawsuit may be one way that aggrieved loved ones can seek compensation for their loss.

Two Dead in Gaithersburg Head-On Collision

Earlier this month, two men were killed in a mid-evening collision involving three cars. According to one local news source covering the tragedy, the accident occurred on Airpark Road in Gaithersburg at around 8:00 p.m.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case brought by a woman who was denied insurance coverage under her own underinsured motorist policy after she was seriously injured in a drunk driving accident. In the case, Peden v. State Farm, the court concluded that since the insurance company failed to conduct a thorough investigation prior to denying the plaintiff’s claim, the company may have acted in bad faith. As a result, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case and permitted her to proceed toward trial against the insurance company.

VanThe Facts of the Case

Peden was injured in a drunk driving accident as a passenger in a friend’s van. On the day in question, Peden was at a birthday celebration for a friend who had just received a van from her fiancée, Mr. Graf, as a gift. At some point in the evening, several friends piled into the van so that Graf could take a picture. However, Graf unexpectedly got into the driver’s seat and took the van for a joyride while he was intoxicated. Graf crashed the van, injuring Peden, who then filed a personal injury lawsuit against him.

Both Peden and Graf were covered by a State Farm insurance policy. Initially, State Farm settled Peden’s claim involving Graf’s policy, but Peden claimed her damages were not fully covered and filed a claim under her own policy’s underinsured motorist provision. State Farm denied the claim, explaining that Peden got into the vehicle with a driver she knew to be drunk, and therefore she assumed the risk of injury.

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Car accidents happen all of the time and often result in serious injuries. Normally, an injured party can recover compensation for their injuries from another driver if the other driver was at fault for the accident. However, many drivers fail to obtain the proper insurance for their vehicles. In that situation, this means an injured motorist can only recover compensation if they have uninsured motorist coverage through their own insurance.

Car AccidentIn a recent case, a court considered a claim for uninsured motorist coverage and found the driver was able to receive his award without having it reduced by the money already paid by his insurer. The man was in a car accident with an uninsured driver and sustained serious injuries. The man had car insurance, which provided a total of $300,000 in uninsured motorist coverage and $5,000 in medical payments. His insurer paid the man’s medical bills up to the policy limit of $5,000 for medical payments in his policy. The man also made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, but his insurer disputed the claim.

The man filed a lawsuit against his insurer for refusing to pay. The court found in his favor and awarded him over $68,000. But the court reduced the award by the $5,000 already paid by his insurer for medical bills. However, the state’s supreme court found the award should not have been reduced by $5,000. The court explained that statutory language barred the reduction in this case. As a result, the award was reinstated.

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Head-on collisions are some of the deadliest accidents because they often involve high speeds and direct impacts. In theory, head-on collisions should be rare because drivers should be able to see what is coming up ahead. However, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, there are dozens of fatal head-on collisions across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. each year.

Wooded RoadIt may come as a surprise that most head-on collisions occur on rural roads. In fact, according to one government source, approximately 83% of all fatal head-on collisions occur on undivided, two-lane, rural roads. Another surprising fact is that only 4% of all fatal head-on collisions involve one vehicle passing another. The largest number of fatal head-on collisions, by far, occurs when both vehicles are going straight, and one drifts out of its lane and into the oncoming lane.

Of course, drivers who are paying attention do not drift out of their lane and into an oncoming lane of travel. Most often, drivers who do drift out of their lane are distracted by their phone or a passenger. In some cases, drivers get drowsy behind the wheel and struggle to stay awake, drifting in and out of their lane in the process. Anyone injured by a distracted or drowsy driver may be able to seek monetary compensation through a Maryland or Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuit.

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Earlier this month in Baltimore, six people were killed and several others injured when a school bus collided with an MTA bus. According to one local news source covering the accident, there were no students on board the bus at the time of the accident, but the MTA bus did have several passengers on board.

School BusEvidently, the accident occurred when the school bus was on its way to pick up the first students of the day. It was headed east on Frederick Avenue, shortly before 7 a.m., when it rear-ended a Ford Mustang. After the initial collision, the bus continued forward, crashing into a concrete pillar before it was sent into the driver’s side of the MTA bus.

Police arrived on the scene moments after the collision. A police spokesperson explained “it literally looks like a bomb exploded on the bus.” Investigators on the scene noticed that there did not seem to be any skid marks or other indications that the school bus had tried to slow down immediately before the collision. Police are unsure what caused the driver of the school bus to lose control but do plan on speaking to a surviving school aide who was on board the bus at the time of the collision.

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When it comes to determining who is at fault in a car accident, some accidents are fairly straightforward, while others pose more difficulty. It may be that the parties involved were intoxicated and do not remember the events leading up to the accident, or were so severely injured that their recollection of the events is foggy.

TrafficChain-reaction accidents or accidents involving several vehicles may also pose a difficulty in determining who caused the accident because there may be several parties involved, each slightly at fault. For example, if two cars collide on the highway, and then several others approach at a high rate of speed and collide with the wreckage already on the road, it may be difficult for investigators to determine what exactly happened and who should be held responsible.

When personal injury cases involving a chain-reaction accident are filed in court, fault must often be divided up among several parties. This is often determined by the jury that hears the case. Unfortunately for Maryland accident victims, the state applies the doctrine of contributory negligence when it comes to determining who can recover damages for an accident.

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Earlier this month, a new report was released regarding the dangerous driving habits of teens who use cell phones while operating a motor vehicle. The study, commissioned by State Farm, reported that teens who admit to driving while using a smartphone are more likely to also engage in other dangerous driving habits, such as driving under the influence, speeding, and failing to wear a seatbelt. According to an industry news source discussing the new report, more than 80% of interviewed teens admit to using their phones while behind the wheel.

Winding RoadThe study looked at a group of about 1,000 teens aged 16 to 19 years old, and it relied on the teens to self-report their driving habits. The study yielded other interesting statistics. For instance, teens who have been involved in a recent accident were three times more likely to admit to using their cellphones while driving. Additionally, these teens are not just talking and texting on their phones. Many teens reported that they would watch videos, browse the internet, or play games while driving.

Most teens explained that they knew using a phone while behind the wheel was dangerous, but they claimed that it was a “habit” and that they wanted to keep in touch with their friends. In most cases, teens who did admit to using their phones while driving told researchers that their parents also occasionally used their phones while driving. The study claims that teens model their driving habits after parents and that parents have an obligation to practice safe driving in front of their children.

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Over the past few years, states across the country have made a concerted effort to increase the safety of young drivers through the three-tier Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) programs. Currently, all 50 states have some form of GDL program in effect, requiring young drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 to obtain various milestone achievements in one license tier before being moved to the next licensing tier. Each tier offers young drivers more freedom, but the program ends at age 18.

Damaged Red CarAccording to one national insurance news report discussing the efficacy of the GDL programs, the implementation of the programs has led to a 30% decrease in fatal accident involving teens between the ages of 15 and 17 years old. Despite the program’s success with younger drivers, the report notes that drivers ages 18-20 still suffer from high accident rates. Part of the problem, the article claims, is the fact that one in three drivers do not even obtain a learner’s permit until after the age of 18, effectively removing them from the strictures of the program. This age group contains those who are perhaps the most likely to be talking on the phone or texting while driving, both of which are illegal in Maryland.

According to the report, the Governors’ Highway Safety Administration is recommending that the program include all drivers under the age of 21. Maryland is on the cutting edge of the move toward stricter driver training laws, requiring all novice drivers – regardless of age – to complete 30 hours of classroom training as well as six hours of training behind the wheel. However, despite the efforts of lawmakers, inexperienced drivers will still continue to cause a large percentage of the serious and fatal car accidents across Maryland.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in an interesting case discussing when an employer may be held liable for the negligent actions of an employee. In the case, Fountain v. Karim, the court determined that the lower court failed to make a necessary factual determination and sent the case back to the lower court to conduct further analysis. The question the lower court must answer is whether the employer had given the employee express permission to use the car that was involved in the accident.

SUVThe Facts

Karim was a government employee temporarily assigned to an office several hours away from his home. Karim would stay in a government-provided hotel room during the week and would travel home for the weekend. During the week, Karim was allowed to use a government vehicle for his work-related travels, a Ford Explorer. However, on the weekends, Karim would normally drive his own car back home, leaving the work vehicle at the office. If Karim wanted to use the Explorer for his personal use, he would submit a request to his supervisor. Several of these requests were retroactively approved, meaning Karim did not submit a prior written request but obtained permission after he had returned the car.

On August 31, 2010, Karim was preparing to leave for a work trip to another office 100 miles away. Before he left, Karim submitted a request to take the vehicle, but he did not get a response. Karim was planning on taking the Ford Explorer to his hotel, where he would stay the night, and then take the vehicle to the remote office 100 miles away.

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In many accidents, the responsible party may be working when the accident occurs. For example, a truck driver may cause an accident while en route to the delivery location. In these cases, an injured party may actually have a case against not just the at-fault party but also the employer through a legal doctrine called “respondeat superior.”

Kitchen KnifeRespondeat superior is a Latin term that translates as “let the master answer.” The doctrine stands for the idea that an employer should be liable for the negligent actions of an employee if the negligence occurs when the employee is in the course of carrying out a duty that is related to his employment. It is a form of vicarious liability, under which a third party is held liable for the actions of another party. This is very important for accident victims, since it may provide an additional party that can cover the financial costs of any injuries sustained in the accident.

However, not all accidents can be attributed to the at-fault party’s employer. In order for the doctrine to apply, the employee must be an actual employee, rather than an independent contractor. Furthermore, the alleged act of negligence must have occurred while the employee was engaged in a work-related activity. This concept is explained in a recent case that was decided by a California appellate court.

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