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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Accidents between motor vehicles and pedestrians are common in the Maryland and Washington, D.C. areas. In fact, in Maryland alone, there are over 100 fatal pedestrian accidents each year. Of course, this does not take into account the hundreds of other pedestrian accidents that result in serious injuries. In part, the high frequency of pedestrian accidents in the area is due to the many mixed-use roads in busy urban and suburban areas across the region.

Caution TriangleMost pedestrian accidents are preventable, and most of the time, the responsibility to prevent the accident falls on the driver of the vehicle. This is because motorists all assume a duty to those around them to operate their vehicle in a safe manner. Of course, this duty requires that motorists keep an eye out for pedestrians and obey all traffic laws in place to protect them. When a motorist violates this duty, the pedestrian may be able to seek monetary compensation from the motorist thought a Maryland or Washington, D.C. personal injury case.

In both Maryland and D.C., however, there are some strict rules in place regarding which accident victims are entitled to recovery. For example, if an accident victim is determined to have been at fault in the accident, they will be prevented from recovery. This stands true even if the pedestrian is determined to be just 5% at fault. Any fault assigned to the pedestrian could destroy their case.

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Earlier this week, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an auto accident case, affirming a jury verdict in favor of the defense. In the case, Marshall v. Peter, the jury determined that the defendant was not negligent when he ran into the back end of the plaintiff’s vehicle as both drivers were stopped at an intersection. The appellate court determined that reasonable jurors could have found that the defendant’s conduct was not negligent, and therefore it affirmed the verdict below.

Winter RoadThe Facts of the Case

Marshall was stopped in first position at an intersection, waiting for a green signal. When the signal changed to green, she started to proceed into the intersection with the defendant behind her. The defendant had removed his foot off the brake pedal, but he had not yet depressed the gas pedal when he noticed that Marshall’s car had stopped. He tried to brake but slid on the ice and collided with the rear end of Marshall’s vehicle.

Marshall filed a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver, claiming he was negligent in causing the collision. Marshall was seeking over $200,000 in economic and non-economic damages. The case was submitted to a jury, and it was decided the driver was not negligent. In a post-trial motion, Marshall asked the judge to override the jury’s verdict because “no reasonable juror” could have found that the defendant was not negligent.

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A state appellate court recently affirmed a jury’s decision to award no damages to a woman and her husband after they sued another driver for causing a motor vehicle accident. The driver of the other car admitted that he was at fault in the accident but denied that the woman was injured in the crash. The jury and the appeals court agreed with the defendant.

Car Crash

The accident occurred when the defendant swerved around a bus at a slow speed and sideswiped the woman’s car. The woman was alone in her car and wearing her seatbelt, and her body did not hit the dashboard, doors, or any other component inside the car. The airbags in the car did not deploy, and she did not request immediate medical attention. She drove herself home from the site of the accident.

The woman sued for injuries she claimed to have suffered to her back and neck. As a result of these injuries, she sought compensation for pain and suffering, as well as for future medical care, medications, and an inability to perform certain household chores and activities. In total, she requested compensation of between one and two million dollars. Her husband also sued the defendant for $275,000 for a loss of companionship, both past and present, due to the couple’s alleged inability to play golf, take walks, and engage in other forms of joint physical activity.

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Personal injury cases are often more complex than accident victims originally believe. One reason for this is that determining who may be liable for the accident is not always a straightforward task. Commonly, an accident involving only two vehicles involves more than just two parties. For example, if the at-fault driver was an on-duty employee who was operating within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, the driver’s employer may also be a party to the lawsuit.

Front End DamageNaming all potentially liable parties from the outset of a personal injury case is extremely important for several reasons. Of course, it is more expedient to have all potentially liable parties involved from the beginning of a lawsuit. However, in some cases, a failure to do so may also result in a plaintiff’s inability to collect compensation for their injuries. This is especially the case when the later-named parties are only added after the statute of limitations has run out. A recent case decided by one state’s supreme court illustrates the trouble one plaintiff had in naming the proper party.

Sellers v. Kurdilla:  The Facts

Mrs. Sellers sustained injuries when she was rear-ended by another vehicle occupied by several men. Later, she filed a lawsuit against the owner of the vehicle, thinking that he had been the driver. The car’s owner asked the court to dismiss the case, explaining that he was not the driver at the time of the accident. The plaintiff then amended the complaint to add the name of the driver. However, this amendment was made after the statute of limitations had expired.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case that reversed a lower court’s order granting a default judgment in favor of a plaintiff in a car accident case. In the case, Tucker v. Williams, the court ended up holding that the defendant’s failure to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint warranted a default judgment. However, when the defendant ultimately did respond, the trial court should have lifted the default judgment and reopened the case.

Fender DamageThe Facts of the Case

The Williamses were involved in a traffic accident that they claimed Tucker was responsible for causing. The accident left Mr. Williams with a permanent serious injury, so the couple filed a negligence lawsuit against Tucker. The case also named two insurance companies.

The two insurance companies responded to the lawsuit, denying liability and asking the court to dismiss the claims. However, Tucker did not respond. After about six months of waiting, the Williamses asked the court to enter a default judgment in their favor, since Tucker did not reply.

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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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