Earlier this month, a 49-year-old woman from Edgewater, Maryland was killed in a tragic head-on car accident. According to a local news report, the victim was driving south on Davidsonville Road in a Honda CR-V when a 17-year-old driving a Honda Civic traveling north crossed the center lane. The result was a head-on collision, around 5:30 PM, that led to substantial injuries for both drivers. Both were taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center Hospital to be treated—unfortunately, the driver in the CR-V died shortly thereafter, while still in the hospital.

Head-on car accidents are one of the most dangerous types of crashes, usually leading to severe injuries and sometimes death. While any car accident can cause injury, head-on car accidents are particularly worrisome because of the speed the two vehicles are typically driving at and the location of their impact. While these accidents may occur out of the blue, they are typically caused by a negligent driver.

Drivers may be driving on the wrong side of the road for many reasons. They may be carelessly attempting to pass a vehicle ahead of them. They may also be distracted, exhausted, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, impairing their functioning. Some drivers may just ignore traffic signs and signals altogether, driving recklessly and causing an accident, while others may swerve unexpectedly into the opposite lane to avoid an animal or hazard in the road.

The majority of car accidents are preventable. While there are many causes of Maryland car accidents, most accidents are the result of a few very common negligent driving behaviors. In Maryland, one of the leading causes of car crashes is distracted driving. Distracted driving consists of any time a driver engages in behavior that removes their attention from the road. Distractions can be visual, auditory, manual or cognitive. For example, eating or drinking, changing the radio station, talking to a passenger, daydreaming and texting are all common examples of distracted driving behavior.

While many of the reasons for a driver’s distraction have been around for years, today, the most commonly cited reason for a distracted driving accident is cell phone use. This includes both talking on the phone as well as texting while driving. Currently, Maryland law prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving; however, hands-free devices can be used to make calls. Both talking and texting while driving are primary offenses, meaning a law enforcement officer can pull a motorist over for using their phone even if they are committing no other infractions.

The state department of transportation keeps very detailed records of all Maryland distracted driving accidents. In part, this is to gauge the effectiveness of government efforts to reduce the instances of distracted driving. On average, there are nearly 54,000 Maryland traffic accidents that are caused by distracted driving. These crashes result in nearly 18,000 injuries and 160 deaths. According to the most recent data from 2018, there were over 57,000 traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. These accidents resulted in 18,102 injuries and 176 deaths.

It is well known that when someone is injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligent driving, Maryland law allows them to sue the responsible driver in a civil lawsuit. These lawsuits, if successful, can result in the plaintiff receiving monetary compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering they experienced as a result of the accident. However, there are certain barriers to when injured victims can and cannot sue. One important barrier is the concept of governmental immunity. If the negligent or responsible driver who caused the injuries works for the government, then they generally cannot be sued for causing Maryland car accidents if they were acting within the scope of their employment.

Recently, a state supreme court considered this scope of employment doctrine in a case highlighting its importance. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was a State Trooper who had a vehicle given to him by the state police office. He was allowed to drive this vehicle when he was off duty, but was subject to standard operating procedures and guidelines, including being required to maintain radio contact at all times and respond to emergencies if needed. The defendant had finished work for the day and was driving to his son’s baseball game when he decided to pass a vehicle in front of him. As he switched lanes, he noticed a motorcycle in the lane heading towards him, and so he slowed down and went back to his own lane. However, the oncoming motorcycle had already locked its brakes, swerved side to side, and then rolled over, ejecting both the driver and the passenger, who suffered subsequent injures.

The driver of the motorcycle filed suit against the trooper, alleging negligence in operating his vehicle. The trooper, in response, filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that he was acting within the scope of employment while driving his state vehicle and was thus immune from personal liability. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, but the court of appeals reversed. The case was appealed to the state supreme court.

If you are found to be at fault for a Maryland car accident and your family members were in the car with you, you may wonder whether your family members’ injuries are covered under your insurance policy. Some insurance policies contain language, called exclusions, stating that the policy does not provide coverage to an insured or to the family member of an insured or to any family member of the insured residing in the insured’s household. Such provisions are written to prohibit coverage or to reduce coverage to those persons. The law on this issue varies depending on the state where the policy was issued. Some states prohibit household exclusions because many drivers and passengers are not covered if the family member is found responsible.

In a recent state appellate decision, one state’s supreme court considered the lawfulness of such provisions under state law. In that case, a man was injured in an accident while a passenger in a car covered by a policy the man and his wife had purchased from an insurance company. The man submitted a claim under the policy, but the insurance company refused to pay the man’s claim based on a partial household exclusion clause in the auto policy.

The court found that under that state’s law, partial household exclusion clauses were not valid. The state’s supreme court held that an auto policy in any coverage amount is not permitted to exclude or reduce liability coverage under household exclusion provisions “solely on the ground the claimant is a named insured or resident in the named insured’s household.”

Maryland regulates insurance in the state for all Maryland drivers. When a Maryland car accident occurs, compensation is often issued by the insurance companies through the insureds’ insurance policies. If a wrongdoer is not insured, or is underinsured, uninsured motorist coverage normally kicks in. Uninsured motorist coverage covers damages to a victim that are less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute.

Maryland’s uninsured motorist statute was enacted in 1972. The statute was meant to provide protection for individuals injured by uninsured motorists and to allow more injured victims to recover compensation. In 1975, the State made uninsured motorist coverage mandatory for all motor vehicle liability insurers. The term uninsured also now encompasses underinsured vehicles. There is a minimum coverage required by the statute. An insured individual can also buy additional uninsured motorist coverage.

To file an uninsured motorist coverage claim in Maryland, an insured must show proof of being insured, that he is entitled to recover from an uninsured motor vehicle’s owner or operator, that he sustained injuries or property damages, and that the injuries resulted from the uninsured driver’s use, ownership, or maintenance of the motor vehicle.

After a car accident, injured motorists, passengers, and bystanders are often left with significant property damage, physical wounds, and psychological trauma. The aftermath of these accidents can leave injury victims and their families with substantial financial obligations. Maryland car accident victims often rely on the at-fault party or their insurance company to cover the victim’s losses. However, in many situations, the at-fault party may deny liability and refuse to pay, or their insurance coverage may not adequately cover the victim’s losses. In these cases, car accident victims may be able to recover under their uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage.

In Maryland, UM coverage provides policyholders with protection if they are involved in an accident with an at-fault driver whose insurance coverage does not sufficiently cover the victim’s injuries. UM coverage can also cover injury victims in instances where the at-fault driver leaves the scene of the accident without providing identifying information.

In addition to liability insurance, and personal injury protection, Maryland law requires that motorists carry UM coverage that is at least $30,000 per person and $60,000 per incident, or a $75,000 combined limit. However, this amount may be higher because UM coverage must match the amount of standard liability coverage a motorist carries. Moreover, if a policyholder purchases higher levels of liability coverage, their UM coverage must increase to the same amount, unless the insured specifically chooses less UM protection. Even if the policyholder chooses UM coverage less than their liability coverage, the amount must still meet minimum requirements.

The ridesharing industry has been growing in leaps and bounds since it hit the scene a decade ago. What Uber and Lyft have done is to shake up the taxi and hired car market in ways nobody imagined at the beginning of this millennium, yet aside from an increase in availability and relatively affordable individualized transportation, other aspects of the industry are not much changed when it comes to day-to-day operation.

As with any taxi service — be it the old traditional yellow cabs of the past century or the app-driven ride-hailing services of today — road accidents can and do happen with almost clockwork certainty. Whether your cabbie works for a large taxi fleet based out of Baltimore or an independent hack working in the Annapolis or Rockville area, the human behind the wheel is subject to the same physical and mental limitations as they have always been.

Case in point, the story of an Illinois Uber operator who was allegedly impaired by alcohol when his vehicle strayed into oncoming traffic and smashed head-on into a handful of cars in the opposing traffic lanes. This multi-car collision resulted in numerous injuries — several of the victims were taken to local emergency rooms for treatment of thankfully non-life-threatening injuries.

Ridesharing company Uber employs thousands of cyber taxi drivers in states like Maryland and cities such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The company’s online ride-hailing service, like its competitor Lyft, has had a huge impact on the urban commuting landscape by making public taxi services available with just a press of a button on any smartphone. But while this relatively new way of catching a ride across Maryland and the surrounding area much easier, the risks to passengers is still the same as has always been when traveling in a taxi cab, rented limousine or other passenger vehicle available for hire.

Take, for example, a recent out-of-state report of a 40-year-old woman who was killed when the Uber vehicle in which she was riding went out of control and crashed, throwing the unbelted victim from the vehicle. This situation in North Carolina points up the potential dangers that confront any taxi passenger, not only those who ride in a Lyft or Uber vehicle.

Although we often hear about the risks involved with taking a taxi ride across town, it is not until one actually sees the results of a serious traffic accident that has taken the life of an innocent person that we begin to feel the gravity of such random and sometimes life-changing events here in the Baltimore area. Knowing that a quick cab ride can actually lead to a serious injury accident can serve to focus our attention on the aftermath of such a tragic incident and cause us to consider the long-lasting impact on victims and their families.

Although people generally must act reasonably so as not to harm others, you may wonder if that extends to protecting others from harm. In the context of a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving the claim, which includes proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury. Maryland courts have characterized the concept of duty as “an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.” Whether a duty exists depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Courts consider, among other things, whether the harm was foreseeable to the plaintiff, and the relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the injury. However, people do not have a general duty to the public at large to protect it against the actions of others. This was illustrated in a recent appellate case, in which the plaintiff claimed that a driver who had pulled over on the side of the road to help another stranded driver should have put out warnings to alert the plaintiff to the presence of the vehicles.

In that case, a pickup truck driver with an attached trailer experienced an electrical failure and pulled onto the shoulder of the highway. It was nighttime and the lights on the truck were not on due to the electrical failure. As another driver was passing by, he saw the truck and trailer and pulled over to help. A third vehicle was passing by, and veered off the highway and crashed into the trailer. The plaintiff was a passenger in the third vehicle. He sued the drivers, and a trial court dismissed the case.

Most people know that Maryland law allows those injured in car accidents to bring a civil negligence suit against the responsible party. What is less commonly known, however, is that the law also provides a variety of “affirmative defenses” that a defendant can use to defend themselves. Affirmative defenses, if proven, can shield a defendant from civil liability even if they would otherwise be held responsible for the accident. Understanding these defenses is important, as defendants may raise one or more of them in any civil negligence suit arising from Maryland car accidents.

One important affirmative defense is the “act of God defense.” To claim this, the defendant must prove that the accident was caused by an act of God, rather than the defendant. What exactly constitutes an act of God? Typically, the term is limited to unstoppable and unexpected physical and/or natural forces, such as lightning, earthquakes, meteors, sudden death or illness, or other such events. The key is that the cause of the accident was not an act of the defendant, but an act of God, or the universe.

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion considering the act of God defense in a car accident case. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant driver was a 16-year-old girl, turning into Costco one afternoon. As she turned right into the parking lot, she, unfortunately, hit the plaintiff, who was walking his dog and crossing the parking lot entrance. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital, and subsequently had serious injuries, making him unable to work.

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