Last month, tragedy struck in Montgomery Village, when a 36-year-old man—a husband and a father—was killed in a Maryland car accident. According to a recent news report, the incident occurred early one morning. The man and his stepson were on their way to work, driving separate cars, when his stepson got into a minor crash on I-95 near Maryland Route 32. He pulled over to assist in the accident and check the damaged vehicle, allowing his stepson to continue on to work. While he was on the side of the road checking the damage, a Honda Civic came speeding by. A witness says the car seemed to be driving 100 miles per hour, despite the wintry conditions on the road. Unfortunately, the car lost control and hit one of the cars on the side of the road. The impact of the crash pushed the second car forward, and essentially pinned the victim between the two cars. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The victim leaves behind two stepchildren and two young daughters, ages 4 and 10, as well as a fiancée. He and his fiancée were planning on getting married last year, but because of COVID-19, they pushed their wedding date to May, which would have marked 14 years together. The family is, of course, heartbroken, struggling with the tragic loss of their fiancée and father.

Losing a loved one unexpectedly is one of the hardest tragedies a person can face. Unfortunately, hundreds of Maryland residents experience that heartbreak every year as a result of Maryland car accidents. In fact, in recent years there have been over 500 deaths on Maryland’s roads annually. Recognizing that families mourning in the aftermath of fatal car accidents may also be struggling financially to recover, Maryland state law gives them the option to file wrongful death lawsuits against whoever caused the crash that led to the fatality.

Maryland car accidents can be expensive. Individuals injured in these accidents often notice the costs piling up in the aftermath—medical bills and expenses from the crash itself, follow-up medical treatment required to recover, not to mention repairing damage to the car, and suffering lost wages due to the accident. One of the things that help Maryland residents, specifically low-income residents, pay for everything is Medicaid, a government program that provides health insurance to over one million people in the state. But sometimes, hospitals may refuse to send the bills to insurance providers like Medicaid, and instead may pursue strategies to charge accident victims full price.

The New York Times recently reported on this shocking practice. According to their article, wealthy hospitals have been quietly using century-old hospital lien laws to increase their own revenue at the expense of poor car accident victims. They use what is called a lien, which is a claim on an asset (such as a home) to make sure that someone repays a debt. By refusing to charge insurance providers the discounted price and taking out a lien instead, they can cripple car accident victims financially, right at the time they are struggling the most. One woman involved in a crash owed $12,856 after the hospital pursued a lien, even though Medicaid would have only had to pay $2,500 for her care. The liens cause accident victims to feel as though a cloud is hanging over their recovery. Some go into debt to cover their subsequent bills, all because they are being preyed upon by a wealthy hospital under an old law.

While it’s concerning, to say the least, in many states, it is perfectly legal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released updated reports concerning traffic safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports revealed that though fewer drivers were on the road during the pandemic, some who continued to drive engaged in riskier behaviors. These risky behaviors included failing to wear a seat belt, speeding, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The data reflected that people who sped during the second quarter of 2020, were more likely to drive at “extreme speeds.” These behaviors were also seen among Maryland drivers, where speed camera violations exceeding 100 mph were up 500% the last week of April 2020 compared to the previous year. The proportion of seriously or fatally injured drivers testing positive for opioids almost doubled after mid-March, compared to the previous six months and marijuana use increased by around 50%.

The consequences for Maryland drivers for reckless driving can be severe. State law defines reckless driving as driving with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other people or property or in a way that indicates such a disregard. Drivers can be charged criminally and may also have to pay compensation to victims because of the damages that resulted.

Drivers must exercise reasonable care while driving, which means they have to drive carefully under the circumstances presented. A plaintiff in a Maryland car accident case must prove that the defendant was negligent in acting or failing to act in some way. In a simple negligence case, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant driver had a duty to exercise reasonable care toward the plaintiff, the defendant failed to exercise such care, and the plaintiff suffered damages, which were caused by the defendant’s failure to exercise care. In a gross negligence case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with a wanton or reckless disregard for others.

A Maryland car accident lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint against one or more defendants. Filing pleadings against fictitious persons are known as “John Doe” pleadings. Maryland law does not specifically authorize John Doe pleadings. However, Maryland does permit parties to amend pleadings to add a party or correct an incorrectly named party in some circumstances.

Maryland allows parties amending pleadings to apply the doctrine of relation back by not barring the amended cause of action by the statute of limitations as long as the facts remain essentially the same after the amendment. So, for example, a party may be able to correct the name of an originally-named party, but not to add a new party. A recent case serves as a warning for those who fail to sufficiently investigate and properly name parties before filing a complaint.

According to the state court appellate opinion, in September 2016, a police officer saw a driver run two red lights without stopping, and a police chase ensued. Another officer who joined in the chase and was pursuing the driver drove against the flow of traffic and hit another driver head-on, killing him. The man’s personal representative sued the police officer driving the car, the city, and other named and fictitiously named parties. More than a year later, the representative amended the complaint to substitute the names of the other police officers involved in the chase for the fictitiously named defendants. The defendant officers argued that the amended complaint was not timely filed and was barred by the statute of limitations.

Many Maryland car crashes are not straightforward and some cases involve many parties. Knowing who is to blame is not always clear, which is why so many insurance companies and defendants fight back. Oftentimes, defendants will try to lay blame on the victim in order to relieve themselves of liability. This is an especially useful strategy for defendants in Maryland, because the state follows a law that can be very harsh for car accident victims who are partially at fault.

If a Maryland plaintiff is found to be even partially at fault for an accident, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation from any other parties. This doctrine, known as contributory negligence, is no longer followed by the majority of states, but Maryland is among the few states that continue to apply it. The state legislature has continued to uphold the doctrine despite much criticism of the doctrine. The majority of states in the United States follow a version of comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, a plaintiff may still recover some compensation even if the plaintiff is partially at fault, though some limit the plaintiff’s fault to 50% or less.

If a case goes to trial, a jury (or judge, in some cases) will consider the plaintiff’s fault while it is considering the defendant’s fault and decide whether the plaintiff is partially at fault. However, the defendant must provide evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence and has the burden to prove each element of a negligence claim to show that the plaintiff acted negligently. In addition, a court will only provide a jury instruction and allow the jury to consider the plaintiff’s fault if the defendant sufficiently establishes that the plaintiff was negligent. And just as any defendant, the plaintiff can defend against claims that the plaintiff acted negligently by submitting arguments and evidence in their defense.

Maryland car accidents happen every single day. Sometimes, they involve just one car, which might hit a tree, a sign, or even a pedestrian. Other times, they may involve two cars or vehicles, usually with one car hitting another. In some cases, however, Maryland car accidents may involve three or more vehicles, usually because one crash leads to a chain reaction of events and crashes, involving several vehicles outside of the original crash. These accidents can be devastating for Maryland drivers and their families, as many people can be seriously injured or even killed in the blink of an eye.

For an example of a chain-reaction, multi-vehicle crash, take a recent Maryland accident. This tragic six-vehicle car accident occurred earlier this month, unfortunately leaving one man dead and two others injured. According to a local news report covering the incident, the accident occurred around 2:45 PM on Maryland Route 32 in Dayton, Maryland. While the investigation of the crash is ongoing, given how recently it occurred, the police say that the preliminary investigation indicates that a Ford pickup truck was traveling north when it crossed the center line of the road and struck an oncoming dump truck. The dump truck then crossed into oncoming traffic and struck a Chevrolet pickup truck, which overturned. Additionally, the original Ford pickup truck continued into oncoming traffic, hitting a car head-on. A Jeep SUV traveling behind the car struck both the car and the Ford pickup truck, and a Toyota SUV was also struck by one of the other vehicles involved. Overall, six different vehicles ended up involved, all due to one driver crossing over the center line.

The driver of the car, which was hit head-on by the Ford pickup truck, was a 50-year-old Cooksville man, tragically pronounced dead at the scene. Three others were injured. A passenger in the car was taken to the Shock Trauma Unit of the hospital with serious injuries, where she was reported to be in critical condition. The driver of the dump truck was also taken to the hospital, though fortunately, his injuries were non-life-threatening. As a result of the crash, the section of Route 32 involved was closed for about six hours.

Maryland car accidents happen every day. In fact, car accidents happen every day, all day, all across the nation—some of them minor, some fatal. Most of these accidents go unnoticed by the general public; maybe they see them while driving by, or know someone involved, but generally, most are unknown to the average Maryland resident. Every so often, however, there occurs a major car accident that makes national news. And tragically, just after the New Year began, one of those accidents occurred in California, killing 9 people.

According to the New York Times, which covered the accident, the crash occurred around 8 PM local time on State Route 33, and involved an SUV (2013 Dodge Journey) driven by a 28-year-old man. The man was traveling southbound. As the driver approached a 2007 Ford pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, he suddenly veered onto the dirt shoulder, lost control, and veered back onto the road, across the center line. According to the California Highway Patrol, this caused a head-on collision with the pickup truck. The pickup truck, driven by a woman of unidentified age, became “fully engulfed in flames,” and all 8 occupants of the truck were killed. Seven of these people were children, ranging from 6 to 15 years old. The driver of the SUV was also killed.

When tragic events like this happen, it is natural to wonder who is responsible for causing these deaths. Indeed, officials responding to the scene of the crime always try to figure this out, since there is a possibility that criminal charges may be filed. Right now, the investigation is underway. Officials are trying to figure out whether or not alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash. Additionally, they made public the fact that the pickup—carrying 8 people—was only equipped with 6 seat belts. When people are not buckled up, the chances that they will suffer serious injuries in a crash are “far greater.”

In the tragic event of a loved one’s death, certain family members may hold responsible parties accountable through a wrongful death claim under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act. To file a wrongful death claim after a Maryland car accident, in general, a spouse, parent, or child may file the claim. Normally for a claim involving a car accident death, the claim must be filed within three years of the person’s death. If no spouse, parent, or child exists, another person may file the claim who is related to the person by blood or by marriage and who was substantially dependent upon that person. A wrongful death claim is meant to compensate family members for their loss and hold wrongful actors accountable after their loved one’s death.

Only one wrongful death claim can be filed after a person’s death. Qualifying family members may be able to recover financial compensation for their emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of parental, and other damages. Family members may have to defend against claims that their loved one was negligent and contributed to their own death, which would bar recovery even in a wrongful death claim.

One state appeals court recently considered a wrongful death claim against a driver and his mother after a young girl was tragically killed in a car crash. On New Year’s Day in 2016, a 17-year-old boy was driving the girl and another passenger home after a New Year’s party. The driver accelerated to 80 miles per hour in a 25 to 30 mile-per-hour zone, lost control of the car, and crashed. The driver and the other passenger survived, but the girl died in the crash. The girl’s parents sued the driver and the driver’s mother, who owned the car, for wrongful death (the passenger was also sued but dropped from the suit).

Maryland car accidents, unfortunately, occur every single day, and can be caused by a variety of different things. Usually, they are caused by someone making a mistake while driving. As we have written about previously on this blog, small careless errors can sometimes be the difference between life and death, and can cause tragic Maryland car accidents. The errors may include running a red light, swerving into the other lane, getting momentarily distracted, and then failing to brake when needed, or making a turn without the right of way. While we write a lot about these causes, we wanted today to focus on another contributing factor to Maryland car accidents: debris in the road.

For example, consider a recent Maryland car accident that occurred earlier this month. According to a local news report, the accident occurred in Montgomery County on northbound Interstate 270 near the I-370 interchange. Around 10:30 one morning, a blue Nissan Rogue struck some debris in the road—believed to be a chair—and then stopped on the left shoulder. The driver, a 34-year-old woman from Frederick, got out of the car and walked toward another driver who had also pulled over after avoiding the debris. Tragically, she was then struck by a Toyota Corolla that had swerved to avoid traffic. She was killed as a result, and the driver of the Toyota was rushed to Holy Cross Hospital, where his condition is unknown. As a result of the accident, much of the interstate was shut down for hours. An investigation of the crash is ongoing.

This story illustrates the danger of debris in the road—especially on highways. While sometimes the debris may be from falling trees or branches or other natural causes, it can also occur when individuals driving do not properly secure items in their vehicle. In this case, for example, the chair in the road had probably fallen out of someone’s car or truck earlier because they had not secured it, or had not made sure the trunk was fully closed. Maryland drivers must take extra precautions to avoid risky driving maneuvers like swerving or running stop signs and make sure that their vehicles and the items within them are not a danger to others. Failure to do so could result in serious—and even fatal—Maryland car accidents like this one. When these accidents occur, those injured can file a personal injury lawsuit under state law to recover financially for the damages they incurred.

Although some cases go to trial, many Maryland car accident cases are decided by the court based on the evidence and pleadings. After the evidence has been submitted, a party can file a motion for summary judgment to have the court rule on the issues in the case. Under Maryland law, summary judgment may be granted if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact, and the party seeking summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will view the case in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and drawing any reasonable inferences from the facts against the moving party. There has to be evidence from which a jury could find in the non-moving party’s favor to deny summary judgment. The party seeking summary judgment is responsible for clearly identifying deficiencies in the case that show the absence of a genuine issue of fact.

In a recent case before a state supreme court, the court considered whether the plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the evidence in a two-vehicle car accident case. In that case, the plaintiff was approaching an intersection where he intended to turn left. The defendant had also stopped at the intersection, and after he entered the intersection, he struck the driver side of the plaintiff’s vehicle as both vehicles were making left turns. The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages. Both parties and their spouses testified at the trial and presented two different accounts of the crash. The jury found the defendant was not negligent, and the plaintiff appealed the decision.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued in part that the judge should have found he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because he claimed the defendant violated the right-of-way. The court disagreed. The court explained that the jury heard two versions of the accident. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was negligent for failing to yield the right-of-way and that the defendant accelerated quickly and failed to perceive the vehicle because the sun blocked his vision. On the other hand, the defendant claimed that he approached carefully and proceeding slowly before colliding with the plaintiff, who had entered his lane of travel. Therefore, even if the jury found that the defendant violated the right-of-way, it could still find that he acted reasonably under the circumstances. Thus, the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant.

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