Despite the millions of dollars spent by the state and federal governments to curb the dangerous habit of drunk driving, the reality is that drunk drivers still pose a serious threat to Maryland motorists. While the total number of alcohol-related deaths has fallen, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths in relation to the total number of vehicle fatalities remains the same as in years past. In fact, in 2016, 159 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes across the State of Maryland. This represents about 31% of the total number of traffic fatalities.

White Knuckle GripMaryland lawmakers are aware of the drunk driving problem facing the state and continue to take action to stop it. In fact, according to a recent local news source, Maryland lawmakers are currently trying to pass a bill that would increase the criminal penalties for drunk drivers who cause serious injuries as a result of their actions. Evidently, the law currently calls for enhanced penalties when a drunk driver causes “life-threatening injury;” however, the proposed bill would amend that language to include any “serious physical injury.”

This most recent move to implement stricter criminal penalties reflects Maryland lawmakers’ dedication to reducing drunk driving. However, the criminal consequences of drunk driving only represent part of a drunk driver’s potential liability. Drunk drivers may also be liable to their victims through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a two-car collision that resulted in a nearby crossing guard being struck and seriously injured by one of the vehicles. The court had to decide whether both parties to the car accident could potentially be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Ultimately, the court held that a jury should be able to determine and apportion fault between the motorists, and allowed the case to proceed toward trial against both parties.

CrosswalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a crossing guard stationed on the corner near the school. A few minutes before her shift was scheduled to end, she looked up and saw a black car speeding down the road, passing cars in the opposing lane of traffic. As the car approached the intersection where the plaintiff was stationed, it ran a red light. The car entered the intersection at the same time as a pick-up truck also entered the intersection with a green light on its side. The vehicles collided, and the force of the collision sent the pick-up truck careening into the plaintiff. She was thrown against a nearby wall and suffered serious injuries as a result.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both drivers. During summary judgment proceedings, the pick-up truck driver asked the court to dismiss the case against him, because it was uncontested that he’d entered the intersection with a green light. The trial judge agreed that the pick-up truck driver was not negligent because he had a green light, and granted summary judgment in his favor. The plaintiff appealed.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Washington State issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a woman who was injured when she was struck by a Highway Patrolman’s vehicle. Immediately after the accident, the plaintiff admitted that she was under the influence of alcohol. The court determined that her unambiguous admission prevented her from claiming otherwise from then on in any trial proceedings. Thus, under state law, the case was dismissed.

Late-Night PedestrianThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was drinking at a party with some friends when she got into a fight with one of the other people at the party. She left the party, and because she had been drinking, she called her brother to pick her up. After waiting for a while and not seeing her brother, the plaintiff saw a car approaching and thought it was him. She ran out in front of the car, which was actually a Highway Patrol vehicle. The Highway Patrol officer did not see the plaintiff in time to stop the vehicle, and struck her. After the accident, the plaintiff admitted to investigators that she had been drinking.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the State as well as against the Highway Patrol. In its defense, the defendants argued that the plaintiff’s admission that she was intoxicated prevented her from recovering for her injuries under state law. The law at issue prevents recovery when a plaintiff is intoxicated, the intoxication was the cause of the accident, and the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault.

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Over the past several years, the driverless car has become a reality. In fact, most major auto manufacturers have started production of semi-autonomous models and are developing fully autonomous models that would require no driver effort. However, as the technology for driverless cars advances, issues regarding safety and legal liability in the event of an accident are coming to the forefront of the conversation.

Futuristic CarAccording to a recent news article discussing semi-autonomous cars, there is a division among auto manufacturers as to whether drivers are capable of taking over control of the vehicle when a potentially complex driving situation arises. With the current technology, vehicles alert a motorist when he or she will need to take over control because the on-board computer does not know what to do. Depending on the model of vehicle, the driver will then have somewhere between five and 30 seconds to take over control of the vehicle. However, some research has shown that sleeping or otherwise distracted drivers can take about two minutes to acclimate to the situation and safely take control of the vehicle. Because of these concerns, some manufacturers have opted to forego manufacturing semi-autonomous vehicles and focus on fully autonomous technology.

Another potential issue with driverless cars is who is liable when an accident occurs. At least one large auto manufacturer has stated that it plans on acknowledging liability in all accidents involving the company’s driverless technology. Other manufacturers, however, plan on handling each situation on a case-by-case basis. The unanswered question is whether the “driver” of an autonomous vehicle will also be liable. This is a question that only lawmakers or the courts can decide.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a man who was injured by a drunk driver who had been given permission to use a truck owned by the company for which he worked. The injured motorist filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the driver’s employer under the theory of negligent entrustment. Ultimately, the court reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that sufficient evidence was presented to show that the employer may have known about the employee’s previous DUI convictions.

Traffic JamThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the drunk driver was operating a moving truck that belonged to his employer. While the employer’s general rule was not to allow employees to use company vehicles for personal use, the employee did obtain permission.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and his employer. During pre-trial discovery, the plaintiff became aware that the driver had a prior criminal record, including four DUIs and a charge for possession of cocaine. The plaintiff argued that the driver’s employer was negligent in allowing the employee to use the car, given this information, which was available to the employer.

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Driving is the most dangerous activity in most commuters’ day, and it requires their full attention. It is commonly understood that drivers need to remain free of intoxication and distraction, and they also need to be adequately rested before getting behind the wheel. Along those same lines, drivers who suffer from some chronic medical conditions are told by their doctors that it is unsafe for them to drive a car. A new study discussed in an insurance industry news source discusses the lasting impact that a concussion can have on a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

BrainAccording to the news article, the effects of a recent concussion on driving ability had not previously been studied, with most of the concussion-related research focusing on athletes, their performance, and the potential for long-term brain damage. This study consisted of 14 participants, all of whom had previously reported suffering from a concussion. Each of the participants was asked to come in for a driving exam 48 hours after they last noticed symptoms of their concussion. The results were frightening.

As it turns out, even 48 hours after the last recognizable signs of a concussion, drivers were still more likely to operate their vehicle in an erratic manner, much like a drunk driver. Specifically, the study reported that these drivers had less control over the vehicle and were more likely to swerve within their own lane of travel.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Virginia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that required the court to determine if the plaintiff should be entitled to a new trial after the jury found the defendant to be at fault for the car accident but awarded the plaintiff no damages. Ultimately, the court determined that the issue of damages depended in large part on the plaintiff’s own credibility and the medical evidence she presented. Since there was conflicting evidence presented about whether the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident, the court held that the jury’s verdict should stand.

Damaged HeadlightThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a minor car accident when the defendant rear-ended her. Evidently, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light when the she heard “something boom.” She looked up, and her car was lurching into the intersection. The plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt, and no part of her body came into contact with the steering wheel or dash board. The plaintiff explained that she did not suffer and bruises, cuts, or swelling, but her body “tensed up” upon impact.

After the accident, the plaintiff requested to be taken to the hospital. She was seen by doctors and soon afterward released. The plaintiff testified that she saw her primary care doctor twice after the accident but provided no evidence of the visits. She did, however, provide evidence that she went to an orthopedic center, complaining of back and shoulder pain, 10 months after the accident. She subsequently had surgery on her shoulder.

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Earlier this month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that required the court to discuss what it termed the “superior/equal knowledge doctrine.” The court held that while a plaintiff must generally prove that the defendant had superior knowledge of the hazardous condition causing the plaintiff’s injuries, that was not the case, given the specific circumstances of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Gas PumpThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a delivery driver for a fuel company. One of his customers was the defendant gas station. This particular gas station had a strict rule that required delivery drivers to manually measure the fuel level both prior to filling the tanks as well as afterwards. In order to manually measure the tank, the driver must do so in the parking lot of the gas station. The plaintiff told the gas station manager several times that measuring the tanks in this manner was dangerous, but the manager insisted that it be done. In fact, several of the plaintiff’s colleagues had been fired on the spot for failing to comply with the manager’s directives.

On the day in question, the plaintiff was run over by a third-party customer when he was measuring the tank after he had filled it. The plaintiff then filed a premises liability lawsuit against the gas station, arguing that it should be responsible for his injuries because it negligently required that he follow dangerous protocols. In response, the gas station argued that the plaintiff knew the risks involved but continued to comply with the measuring requirements.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Ohio issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman who was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by the subject of a high-speed chase initiated by police. In the case, Agrabrite v. Neer, the court concluded that since the police officers’ actions were not “wanton or reckless conduct,” the officers were entitled to government immunity.

Police CarThe Facts of the Case

Agrabrite was seriously injured when her car was struck head-on by another motorist’s vehicle. At the time of the collision, the other motorist was being chased by police on suspicion of having committed a burglary. The fleeing suspect died in the car accident. Agrabrite filed a personal injury lawsuit against the police department.

Agrabrite knew that she would have to overcome the presumptive immunity that exists to protect government officials, so in her complaint, she alleged that the police officers’ actions were “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious.” Under the applicable state law, if the court determined that the officers’ conduct was “willful, wanton, reckless, or malicious,” government immunity would not apply to the officers, and the case could proceed to a trial at which a jury may find the officers liable for Agrabrite’s injuries.

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Last month, an appellate court in Connecticut issued a written opinion in a car accident case showing how a plaintiff’s award after a favorable personal injury case can be reduced – sometimes unfairly. In the case, Marciano v. Jimenez, the court ultimately determined that the plaintiff’s award should not be reduced due to the right of subrogation, which may result in the insurance company seeking payment from the plaintiff for previously paid benefits.

Wrecked CarThe Right of Subrogation

After an accident, medical costs are usually incurred. Often, an insurance company, or some other “collateral source,” will pay for these costs. Later, if the injured party seeks compensation for their injuries through a personal injury lawsuit and is successful, they will receive compensation for these very same injuries.

Some of that compensation may be designated for the pain and suffering caused as a result of the accident, but other amounts will likely be awarded to reimburse the injured party for the cost of the medical treatment they needed following the accident. If a collateral source paid these medical bills, that party may seek reimbursement from the injured party. This is called subrogation. A recent case serves as a good example.

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