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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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nebraska issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a man who was hit by a car while standing in the parking lot of the bar he had visited. In the case, Pittman v. Rivera, the plaintiff filed a premises liability case against the bar that had kicked out the patron who eventually got into his car and struck the plaintiff. However, since the court held that the bar could not have reasonably foreseen that such an injury could have resulted from its conduct in kicking out the other patron, the case was dismissed.

Diner at NightThe Facts of the Case

Pittman was inside the defendant bar with some friends. Earlier in the night, Rivera was kicked out of the same bar for getting into an argument with his girlfriend, an employee of the bar. Initially, Rivera left with a designated driver. However, a few hours later, he returned in his own vehicle. Rivera attempted to get back into the bar, but the bouncer refused him access. Angry and likely still intoxicated, Rivera left the bar and made several U-turns in an aggressive manner, revving his engine loudly outside the bar. At some point, Rivera lost control of his vehicle and struck Pittman, who was now outside the bar talking with some friends.

Pittman filed a lawsuit against several parties, including, most notably for this opinion, the bar owner. The bar owner argued that he had no duty of care to protect Pittman because he was standing outside the bar, and even if there was a duty to protect him, that duty was not violated by disallowing Rivera to enter the bar.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alaska issued a written opinion holding that a lower court erred when it denied the plaintiff the opportunity to submit evidence of the payments made by the defendant’s insurance company to the plaintiff to help establish the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries. In the case, Luther v. Lander, the court determined that the insurance payments to the plaintiff were relevant to the determination of how serious the plaintiff’s injuries were.

Snowy RoadThe Facts of the Case

Back in 2010, the defendant’s vehicle slipped on some ice and rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle. At first, the plaintiff did not notice any serious injury, but as time went on, she realized that she had lingering pain in her back and buttocks. She eventually sought medical care but did so in a very conservative manner, seeking only non-invasive, physical therapy-type treatment.

About two years later, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensation for her injuries. However, throughout the trial, the defense evidence seemed to indicate that the plaintiff’s injuries were minor and that she was making them seem more serious than they were.

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Drunk driving is one of the top causes of fatal traffic accidents across the United States as well as in Maryland. In fact, so far this year, there have already been 130 fatal traffic accidents caused by drunk driving in Maryland alone. This represents about one-third of all fatal traffic accidents.

Bottle of WineMaryland lawmakers, police, and judges all take drunk driving seriously, and the state has a strict system in place to punish those who are found to have driven while intoxicated. Moreover, in cases when another party is hurt due to the driver’s negligent decision to get behind the wheel while he or she is intoxicated, Maryland law allows for the injured party to file a civil claim for damages against the driver as well as his insurance company.

Civil cases brought against a drunk driver proceed under the legal theory of negligence, specifically negligence per se. Negligence per se is a type of negligence claim that is available to plaintiffs when the conduct in which the defendant was engaging at the time of the accident has already been determined to be illegal. For example, since drunk driving is illegal in Maryland, any plaintiff bringing a case against a Maryland drunk driver can benefit from the doctrine of negligence per se.

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