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Car accidents often result in serious, lifelong injuries that can change an accident victim’s life. There are almost limitless causes of Maryland road accidents, ranging from the common to the obscure. A recent state appellate decision discusses a situation that, while may seem to be uncommon, is actually responsible for more accidents than most motorists believe.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving along the highway when a mattress suddenly flew towards her car. The plaintiff veered to avoid hitting the mattress, crashing into a barrier. Eyewitnesses obtained the license plate of the truck that was carrying the mattress, and  police eventually found the driver towing a flatbed trailer.

The driver offered varying explanations regarding the mattress. Essentially, he claimed that there “may” have been a mattress in the trailer but he wasn’t sure. He explained that there was a bunch of items in the trailer the day before, and that he had told an employee to empty the items in the trailer. The defendant acknowledged that, at one point, there was a mattress, but he did not check the trailer that morning, so he wasn’t sure if it was still there. The defendant also stated that he did not see anything fly off the back of the trailer.

For the most part, each state can create its own laws. While some issues are reserved for the federal government, states are free to enact legislation affecting most areas of law. For example, Maryland lawmakers create most of the laws that apply in Maryland car accidents. This includes how parties go about proving elements of a claim and the types of damages that are available. However, when state and federal law conflict, the U.S. Constitution provides that federal law shall prevail.

The Graves Amendment refers to a 2005 bill that was introduced by Senator Graves from Missouri. Essentially, the Amendment provides that those who own or lease a vehicle cannot be liable for any injuries that result from the use of that vehicle solely by their ownership of the vehicle. This commonly comes up in car accident cases where the at-fault driver is either driving a rental car or driving a leased vehicle. A recent state appellate decision discusses the Graves Amendment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was riding his motorcycle along the highway when another vehicle turned out in front of him. The plaintiff was left with no time to react, and crashed into the motorist. The other driver leased the vehicle from the defendant.

Maryland is known for its beautiful scenery and, as a result, its winding roads. These roads can pose a number of dangers to motorists, especially motorists who are in a hurry. Passing on Maryland’s snaking roads is dangerous, but on occasion, must be done. Motorists should take care when passing to avoid the risk of a Maryland head-on collision or another type of serious car accident.

Drivers should only pass when they have ample opportunity to do so. This means waiting for the right time. A motorist should not try to pass another car or truck unless:

  • They can see the other lane clearly enough to know that no other cars are coming;

When someone is killed in a Maryland car accident, their loved ones can pursue a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. Due to the tragic nature of Maryland wrongful death cases, they can result in significant damages awards. Often, the damages awards are much greater than any single insurance policy. Thus, wrongful death litigants will generally try to recover under as many insurance policies as are available. This includes the accident victim’s own policy, under the policy’s uninsured/underinsured (UIM) provision.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing some of the issues that can come up when pursuing claims under multiple insurance policies. In that case, the driver of a vehicle lost control and crashed, causing the passenger’s death. The passenger’s mother, the plaintiff, filed a personal injury claim against the driver and settled for the full value of the insurance policy. However, because the damages the plaintiff suffered as a result of her daughter’s death exceeded the amount available under the driver’s policy, she also filed claims under three insurance policies she held.

The defendant insurance company provided coverage under one of the policies, but denied coverage under the other two. The plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract action against the defendant, asking the court to compel the defendant to provide coverage under all three policies. The lower court entered summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, but on appeal, that decision was reversed. The insurance company appealed to the state’s high court.

The goal of a Maryland car accident lawsuit is to award the victim of the accident financial compensation for the injuries they sustained in the accident. However, sometimes, determining who is the victim is not an easy task. While some accidents present straightforward situations pointing to one or more parties being at fault, other accidents are much more complicated. In either case, conducting an in-depth investigation is a crucial step in filing a personal injury lawsuit.

A few basic facts that should be a part of any Maryland car accident investigation include:

  • the location and time of the accident;

Hit-and-run collisions occur when at least one individual involved in an accident leaves the scene before providing their identifying information or rendering any necessary aid to the others involved in the accident. Maryland hit-and-run accidents are one of the most devastating types of car accidents and often result in serious personal injury or death. According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, over one hit-and-run crash occurs every minute in the United States. Maryland drivers who are involved in a hit-and-run accident should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss their rights and remedies.

Under Maryland Transportation Code § 20-102, drivers involved in an accident that result in bodily injury must immediately safely stop their vehicle as close to the scene of the crash as possible. If they have left the scene of the accident, they must return as soon as possible

Maryland drivers involved in an accident that results in a bodily injury or death must render reasonable assistance to any injured party. Reasonable assistance includes requesting medical aid if it seems necessary or if the injured party requests it. The drivers must provide their name, license information, address, and registration number to the injured person and the driver, passenger, or any other person involved in the accident. If no one can receive the information, the driver must provide information to the police. If a Maryland driver hits an unattended vehicle, they must still stop their car and offer this same information. In such cases, a written note left on the vehicle is sufficient.

For those who have been injured in a Maryland car accident, understanding the types of available damages that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit is essential. Generally, damages are divided into two categories:  compensatory and punitive damages. Simply stated, compensatory damages are focused on the harms caused to the plaintiff, whereas punitive damages are focused on deterring the defendant’s behavior that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

Compensatory damages are very common, and they are awarded in almost all successful car accident cases. These include damages based on past medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional harm, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages are much less common in Maryland. To obtain a punitive damages award, a plaintiff must show that the defendant exhibited “actual malice.” Thus, a plaintiff cannot receive a punitive damages award by showing mere negligence, or even recklessness. Not only that, but also the showing of actual malice must be established by clear and convincing evidence – a higher evidentiary standard than is typically applied in personal injury cases.

A recent case illustrates the type of situation that may result in an award of punitive damages.

One of an injury victim’s most important considerations when filing a Maryland car accident claim is which parties to name as defendants. Generally speaking, an injury victim should include all potentially liable parties in a case to avoid one of the named parties from shifting liability onto a non-present party. This could have the effect of reducing a plaintiff’s total recovery amount, or even preventing a plaintiff from recovering for their injuries altogether.

Of course, the most obvious defendant in a Maryland car accident lawsuit is the other driver. However, it is important for Maryland accident victims to realize that individual motorists rarely have sufficient assets to fully compensate a plaintiff for their injuries they have sustained in a serious accident. While insurance coverage can help to cover a damages award, many motorists only carry the minimum amount of insurance which, in Maryland, is just $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. Of course, the amount of damages in a serious Maryland car accident often far exceeds these figures.

By naming additional parties as defendants, a plaintiff increases their chances of being able to collect on any award they receive. This is especially the case when an added defendant is a business or government entity. For this reason, perhaps the most commonly named party other than the at-fault driver is the at-fault driver’s employer.

One of the most important phases in a Maryland personal injury case is the summary judgment stage. Summary judgment is a procedural mechanism by which a party can file a motion asking the court to enter judgment in the party’s favor without empaneling a jury. One of the reasons why summary judgment is so important is because most cases are settled after the summary judgment stage.

If a plaintiff is able to defeat a defense motion for summary judgment, defendants may not want to risk being found liable after a jury trial, and will offer to settle the case. At the same time, even if a plaintiff is successful in overcoming the summary judgment motion, they too may not want to risk the uncertainty of a jury trial.

In Maryland, summary judgment is only appropriate when there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the [moving] party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The summary judgment analysis can be broken down into two parts. First, that all material facts are undisputed. And second, when the court applies the law to the un-controverted facts, the law requires judgment to be entered in the moving party’s favor. A recent case illustrates how courts conduct summary judgment analysis.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that originally arose after the plaintiff was injured in a Maryland car accident. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s subsequent medical malpractice lawsuit against her treating physicians was precluded by the one satisfaction rule.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver. The plaintiff was treated for her injuries at the defendant hospital. While she was being treated at the hospital, medical providers punctured the plaintiff’s brachial artery as they attempted to insert a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) line. The plaintiff developed an infection that required additional surgery.

The plaintiff initially filed a claim against the at-fault motorist seeking compensation for “emotional pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, and the inability to engage in her usual employments, activities, and pursuits.” The plaintiff settled with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for $25,000, and then filed an underinsured-motorist claim with her insurance company. That claim was settled before trial for $125,000. The hospital was not a part of either settlement agreement.

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