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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.

Maryland car accident claims that are filed against state and local governments can pose additional obstacles. In general, state and local governments are immune from suit, unless immunity is waived. In cases against Maryland cities and their employees, the cities are immune from suit unless the person involved in the accident was carrying out certain duties. Cities and other local governments are normally protected while performing governmental functions, as opposed to proprietary functions. Governmental functions are considered by courts to be functions that are solely for public benefit, do not have an element of private interest, and are sanctioned by the legislature.

When an employee is carrying out a proprietary function of the government, a city is liable for the acts of the employees as long as they are acting within their official capacity. This means that city employees are generally protected as individuals as long as they are acting within the scope of their employment and are not acting with malice or gross negligence. Under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, a claimant generally must submit a claim in writing to the state’s treasurer within one year of the injury. If the treasurer denies the claim, then the claim can be filed in court within three years.

One recent case was dismissed against the city after a city employee hit and killed a pedestrian. The employee was on his way to work at his job at a water treatment plant and was driving his own car. His job rarely required him to travel for work and he was not required to use his car at work. The pedestrian’s surviving family filed a claim against the city, arguing that the city was liable for the pedestrian’s death.

Maryland law requires every driver to purchase auto insurance, which ideally should cover them for damages caused in an accident. But anyone who has dealt with an insurance company in the wake of a Maryland car accident knows that insurers are notoriously difficult to work with. Sometimes, insurance companies will deny worthy claims against them, in the hopes that accident victims will lack the resources and knowledge needed to compel them to pay, and will instead give up.

For example, if Driver A gets into an accident with Driver B, and Driver B was at fault, Driver A may be able to recover for his medical expenses from Driver B’s insurance company. However, Driver B’s insurance company has an interest in paying as little as possible. In situations such as this, the insurance company may deny the claim and refuse to pay, sometimes without even giving a reason. Driver B may not be able to pay the claims on his own, and Driver A is then left with outstanding medical bills.

Driver A and Driver B may both feel frustrated in this case—they purchased auto insurance and followed the rules, and yet they still were not covered when an accident happened. In these cases, however, a lesser-known legal doctrine may come into play. When insurance companies deny worthy claims, they may be acting in “bad faith.” Acting in bad faith means they are violating their legal duty to act in “good faith” towards their clients, denying meritorious claims or otherwise operating in a deceitful manner to try and limit their liability. Importantly, both Driver A and Driver B may have a claim of bad faith against the insurance company. If they can prove bad faith, they may be entitled to the actual damages suffered by the accident victim and monetary compensation for the cost of litigation, such as attorney’s fees.

During a six-month period last school year, 12 children were killed and 47 were injured through the country while getting on and off school buses. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, 133 pedestrians were killed in Maryland car accidents and 214 students were injured as they were walking during school arrival and dismissal times. The Maryland State Department of Education reported 3,812 incidents involving vehicles passing a stopped school bus with their lights activated during a one-day survey of bus drivers.

Section 21-706 of the Maryland Transportation Code states that if a school vehicle is stopped and is flashing red lights, a driver must stop for the school vehicle at least 20 feet from the front or the rear of the vehicle, depending on the direction of the driver. A driver must remain stopped and cannot proceed until the school vehicle resumes driving or deactivates the flashing red lights. A bus will normally flash yellow lights to indicate that the bus is preparing to load or unload children, and motorists are supposed to slow down and be prepared to stop. Last year, Maryland imposed a new $500 maximum penalty for drivers caught on school bus stop-arm cameras for failing to stop when required.

If a child is injured in a car accident while getting on or off the school bus, or on the way to school, the driver of the car that struck them may be held responsible for any resulting injuries. A personal injury claim against a driver would allow an injured victim to recover damages such as medical bills, as well as compensation for their pain and suffering damages. As the following article shows, such accidents occur all too frequently. In that case, a student was hit and seriously injured as a driver passed a school bus as the student was boarding the bus.

Maryland property owners generally maintain the responsibility to keep their property safe for people whom they invite onto their property. If an individual suffers injuries on an owner’s property, the property owner or occupier may be liable for the damages that the visitor sustained. Under Maryland personal injury law, accident victims who want to hold a property owner responsible for their injuries must be able to establish four main factors:

  • The property owner had a duty to keep their property safe from dangers;
  • The owner failed to abide by that duty;
  • The dangerous condition caused the victim’s injuries; and
  • The victim’s injuries resulted in damages.

In some cases, this also applies to roadside hazards. However, challenges may arise when the negligent party is a governmental entity, such as a city, county, state, or federal agency. Historically, under the theory of sovereign immunity, Maryland government agencies cannot face liability without their consent. However, to address this fundamental unfairness, Maryland lawmakers established the Maryland Tort Claims Act, which waives governmental immunity in specific instances.

To determine whether a Maryland governmental agency or official can face liability, the courts will analyze whether the party was engaging in discretionary or ministerial duties. Discretionary duties occur when a governmental agent or employee chooses between different options. Accident victims who suffer damages because of a governmental agency’s discretionary duty cannot hold the government liable. On the other hand, ministerial duties are those that do not require any judgment calls or independent decision-making. Accident victims can recover damages that they sustained because of a negligent government official’s ministerial decision-making.

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Texting while driving remains a serious issue throughout the country. Despite the seriousness of the issue, prosecutions of drivers remain rare, and proving that a driver was using their phone can be tricky in Maryland car accident cases. Without proof that a driver sent a message just before a crash, it can be hard to show that a driver was using their phone, including reading a text message.

According to a recent news report, a woman was recently convicted of vehicular homicide in a rare texting while driving prosecution. In that case, a woman was out for a walk during a break from her job when she was hit by a car. A driver believed to have been texting had rear-ended another car, which crashed into the pedestrian. The crash occurred at around 8:20 a.m. on a weekday in September. The driver was charged with vehicular homicide because she was texting while driving, and a jury recently convicted the driver after a trial. The case was believed to be the first in which a jury considered whether texting while driving could be considered akin to drunk driving.

The driver’s trial centered on whether the driver had been texting while driving. The driver had received a text asking her about dinner plans. The prosecution argued that she had read the text and had typed the letters “m” and “e” as part of her response. The driver claimed that she was not texting at the time of the crash. She said that she had typed those letters but did not remember when and was planning to call the person instead. The driver testified that she had looked down to turn on a window defogger and that when she looked up, the other car was “right in front” of her.

Wrong-way car accidents are often more devastating than most types of Maryland car accidents. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, wrong-way collisions are one of the most serious types of accidents that occur on highways. A recent study showed that such collisions are much more likely to result in fatal or serious injuries than other kinds of highway collisions. One study looking at wrong-way collisions on controlled-access highways found that the fatality rate was 27 times that of other kinds of accidents.

A study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that more than half of wrong-way drivers are impaired by alcohol. It also found that many wrong-way controlled-access cases begin when a driver enters an exit ramp. The NTSB study also found that nearly 80 percent of fatal wrong-way crashes occurred at night, between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

While each case is different, there are several potential defendants in a wrong-way car accident case. Of course, the wrong-way driver is often to blame, due to intoxication or another negligent act. The driver’s employer may be liable if the driver is driving for work purposes. Finally, a municipality can be liable if the road’s design or signs contributed to the crash in some way. Defendants and their insurance companies generally deny liability and try to point the finger at other parties. Building a strong case against all potential parties sets a plaintiff up for the best possible scenario.

Any Maryland negligence claim requires proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and that the damages proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. The legal relationship between the breach of duty and the injury is known as proximate cause. Under Maryland law, to establish proximate cause, the plaintiff must show that the negligence was both the cause in fact of the injury and a legally cognizable cause.

Cause in fact refers only to whether a defendant’s actions actually caused an injury. Whether there is a legally cognizable cause considers whether the injury was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligent actions. The issue becomes whether the injury to the plaintiff was within the general field of danger that the defendant should have expected or anticipated. Legal cause often requires a consideration of policy considerations and whether a defendant should be held liable under the circumstances. Generally, proximate cause must be decided by a jury (or a judge if the judge is the trier of fact), unless there is only one possible inference that can be drawn based on the facts of the case, or unless “reasoning minds cannot differ.”

Foreseeability is also a consideration in determining whether a duty exists in personal injury cases. In a 1985 case that is still cited today, one Maryland judge explained that “courts have given further effect to the social policy of limitation of liability for remote consequences by narrowing the concept of duty to embrace only those persons or classes of persons to whom harm of some type might reasonably have been foreseen as a result of the particular tortious conduct.”

In some cases, a presumption of negligence can work in a party’s favor. However, presumptions can also work against a party. For example, in rear-end collisions, in many states, there is a presumption that the rear driver was negligent. Maryland courts have found that in Maryland rear-end collision cases, if a vehicle is lawfully stopped while waiting for traffic to clear and that vehicle is rear-ended by another car, the operator of the car that rear-ended the stopped vehicle is presumed to have been negligent. However, the presumption is rebuttable, and the burden of persuasion remains with the plaintiff. Thus, a plaintiff still has the ultimate responsibility to prove that the defendant was negligent, which includes establishing all the elements of negligence.

In addition, Maryland courts have found that in the case of a rear-end collision that occurs after the first vehicle stops, there is no presumption that the rear driver was negligent, unless the rear driver had the opportunity to stop after the need to stop became apparent. Under Maryland Code section 21–310(a), a driver cannot follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, considering traffic, the speed of the other car, and the conditions on the road.

Court Directs Verdict Against Rear-End Driver Despite Jury’s Verdict

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