An evening police chase last month tragically led to a car accident, resulting in one fatality and injuries. The case raises important questions about how and when the government and police may be held liable when they cause Maryland car accidents.

According to a local news report covering the incident, the crash occurred around 8:15 one evening as a man, driving a vehicle and wanted in a homicide, led police on a chase throughout the city. During the chase, the man crashed the vehicle—a dark-colored Jeep—and ran to a nearby gas station where he stole an idling 2016 Nissan SUV. He left the gas station and took off again, with police following. While the police cars were chasing the Nissan, one of them slammed into a Ford Explorer. The police car then spun out and hit a Hummer stopped at a red light. The drivers of the Ford and Hummer, as well as the Hummers two passengers, were all taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, the driver of the Ford, a 37-year-old woman, died shortly after.

Typically, Maryland residents affected by tragic car accidents are able to bring a civil suit against the responsible driver to recover for the injuries caused, or the wrongful death of a loved one. The case, however, becomes more complicated in situations such as this one, where the at-fault driver is a police officer. Government employees have historically enjoyed sovereign immunity from tort claims such as negligence or wrongful death arising out of car accidents. However, the Maryland Tort Claims Act changed that and now allows accident victims to bring certain claims against the Maryland government or their employees.

Voluntarily risking one’s own safety to rescue another person or retrieve another person’s property is commendable. But if the rescuer is injured in the process, are they able to recover compensation from negligent parties? In Maryland, the defense of assumption of the risk generally holds that where a person assumes a certain risk, the person cannot later recover because they were injured because of a danger inherent in that risk. In cases of a voluntary rescue under Maryland law, there is an exception to the defense of assumption of the risk, referred to often as the rescue doctrine.

Under the rescue doctrine, a rescuer may be able to recover damages in emergency situations involving imminent peril, where the rescuer acts to save the life or property of another. But whether a rescuer is able to recover generally depends on the particular facts of the case, taking into consideration the exigency and harm involved. The rescuer’s actions must be reasonable under the circumstances, such that a rescuer may not be able to recover who engages in dangerous conduct that is not proportionate to the benefit or where there is a reasonably safe alternative.

In a recent case, the court found the rescue doctrine to be applicable, allowing the injured plaintiff to recover for their injuries. In that case, a taxi driver picked up an intoxicated passenger and his friend. The taxi driver drove to the destination and told the passenger the fare. The intoxicated passenger argued with the driver and grabbed and punched the driver from behind. The plaintiff, who had called a taxi from a nearby home and believed the taxi might have arrived to pick him up walked towards the taxi, heard the driver yelling for help and went to help. The passenger then started punching the plaintiff, causing him to fall down. The intoxicated passenger then got into the taxi, from which the driver had escaped, and hit the plaintiff twice with the car.

As technology advances, so too does the number of safety features available on cars. Maryland drivers can now purchase cars with features such as blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, surround-view camera systems, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, to name a few. Famously, Tesla is actually producing automobiles with an autopilot mode, which uses radar and cameras to drive the car without the assistance of the driver. Autopilot mode, and other safety features, should reduce the number of Maryland car accidents that occur each year when they work as expected. But, unfortunately, these features cannot always be a guarantee of safety.

For instance, a video of a recent Tesla car accident recently surfaced raising concerns about the company’s autopilot mode. According to a recent article covering the incident, a large truck was lying on its side on the freeway, covering the entirety of the two lanes on the left. The traffic on the road was light, and the visibility was good—meaning the Tesla, driving in the farthest left lane, should have been able to see the truck. However, the Tesla drove at full speed directly into the top of the truck, indicating quite clearly that the driver was not paying attention. After the accident, the driver told authorities that the autopilot feature was on, raising interesting legal questions regarding liability.

While fortunately no one was hurt in the incident, similar accidents may cause severe injuries or even death. Maryland law allows those injured by negligent drivers to file a personal injury suit to recover for their injuries if they can prove the driver was at fault. In this case, a driver may want to blame Tesla and the failure of autopilot for causing the accident. However, it is important to keep in mind that autopilot mode is not intended to be a substitute for watching the road. While using the autopilot mode, Tesla drivers are still expected to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel. Not doing so is likely considered negligence and can be used to hold a driver liable for accidents that may occur while driving with autopilot on.

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing when the statute of limitations begins to run against an insured motorist in an underinsured motorist claim against their insurance company. The case arose after an underinsured at-fault motorist offered $20,000 to an insured car accident victim. In April 2011, the plaintiff was braking her vehicle as she approached slowing traffic when the underinsured driver rear-ended her. After the initial collision, the plaintiff hit her brakes, but the driver slammed into her for a second time. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and required several years of medical treatment.

The rear-end driver was underinsured, and her liability insurance covered up to $20,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. The plaintiff had uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) of up to $300,000 per person. Two years after the accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance company offered the plaintiff $20,000 to release all claims against them, on the condition that the victim’s insurance company would waive its right to subrogation. Her insurance company agreed and began settlement negotiations. In January 2015, the plaintiff sent a formal demand letter to her insurance company requesting recovery under her UIM benefits. The company acknowledged receipt and notified her that a review was pending and requested additional medical documents. The insurance company contacted the plaintiff’s attorney in February, March, April, and June, to follow-up on its request. During this time, the insurance company did not deny the plaintiff’s claim.

In 2016, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the insurance company seeking the balance of unpaid damages not covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The insurance company filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the lawsuit was time-barred because the three-year statute of limitations had passed.

Vicarious liability is an important concept to understand in Maryland car accident cases. Vicarious liability means that a party can be held liable for the wrongful acts of another party, even without any wrongdoing on their part. The family purpose doctrine generally holds that a parent may be liable for the negligent actions of their child if the child is involved in a car accident while driving the parent’s car. In a recent state appellate case, the court considered the applicability of the family purpose doctrine after a car accident.

In that case, a daughter was involved in a crash while driving a car her father owned. Her father was a passenger in the car and was killed in the crash. Another vehicle struck the father’s car at an intersection. Both cars were coming towards the intersection from opposite directions. The daughter began to turn left as the light turned yellow, while at the same time the other driver was driving through the intersection as the light turned yellow. The other vehicle hit the passenger side of the father’s car, where her father was seated. The father’s widow filed a lawsuit against the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash. As a defense, the other driver argued that he was protected under the family purpose doctrine, arguing that liability should be imputed by the daughter to the father.

Under the applicable law in the state where the accident occurred, the family purpose doctrine stated that if a parent is the owner of a motor vehicle and allows their child to drive it, the parent is liable for the negligence of the child. Accordingly, if the owner gave permission to a family member to drive the vehicle, gave control to the driver, the family member was in the vehicle, and the vehicle was engaged in a family purpose—then the defendant could be held vicariously liable if the defendant had the right to exercise authority and control and an agency relationship existed between the defendant and the family member. However, the court noted that the doctrine had never been applied as a defense to bar an owner-passenger’s claim against a third party. The court decided it could not be used defensively to impute liability for any negligence by the daughter to the father so as to reduce or bar recovery based on his death.

When an individual is involved in a Maryland car accident, one of the first steps that they may take to recover for their damages is to file a claim with their or the at-fault party’s car insurance company. Although many people expect their insurance company to protect them in these instances, there are several reasons that an insurance provider may deny coverage. Moreover, in some cases, Maryland insurance companies will deny applications to renew existing policies. Maryland motorists and accident victims should contact an attorney to determine their rights and remedies in these situations.

Often, car insurance providers will deny coverage to those individuals that they believe are likely to be involved in an accident, such as those who have a significant number of traffic violations, are too young or too old, have poor credit, or live out of the coverage area. In other cases, even if a person receives coverage, their insurance company may deny a specific claim. For example, a Maryland car insurance company may deny a claim if the other party claims that the policyholder is at fault.

Maryland is one of the only states that continues to follow pure contributory negligence rules. A Maryland driver who possesses any level of responsibility, even five percent, is not entitled to compensation. Insurance companies may also deny coverage if they do not believe that the claimant suffered any physical injuries. Finally, insurance companies may deny a claim by asserting that the policy does not cover the specific situation that occurred. This often happens when a claimant indicates that they are refusing specific coverage when signing the insurance policy.

Despite strict laws, Maryland continues to experience about 7,000 car crashes per year involving at least one driver’s use of alcohol or drugs, according to its most recent crash data. Victims of drunk driving crashes may be able to file a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against a drunk driver to recover financial compensation for their injuries. In a civil suit against a drunk driver, an injured party must prove that the driver was negligent and that the driver’s negligent actions caused the victim’s injuries. A victim may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, property damage, wage losses, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Evidence of a DUI arrest or conviction, or of a guilty plea to a traffic citation is useful evidence in a civil case. In Maryland, guilty pleas in court to traffic citations are generally admissible as evidence in a civil case. Even in the event that the driver does not face a criminal conviction, a civil case may still be possible. The standard in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance of the evidence standard is lower than the reasonable guilt standard in criminal cases, which means that a civil case may be won even if the driver is not convicted of a crime. There may still be evidence that the driver was under the influence and contributed to the crash. Drunk drivers can face serious criminal consequences, in addition to a civil suit. Under Noah’s Law, which took effect in October 2016, an ignition interlock device must be installed for any driver convicted of driving under the influence.

In addition to suing the driver, a civil suit may be brought against other responsible parties, such as a bar that served the drunk driver or another person who allowed the driver to drive while intoxicated. In any case, the victim still has to prove that the party acted negligently and that their negligent actions contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist protection provides coverage for insured drivers involved in a crash with uninsured or underinsured drivers. Although uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is required in Maryland motor vehicle policies, stacking uninsured motorist coverage is optional. Opting for stacked uninsured motorist coverage can benefit Maryland car accidents victims in the event of a crash, because stacking coverage can provide additional coverage beyond an insurance policy’s general policy limits.

Stacked uninsured motorist coverage is expansive and typically provides coverage whenever and wherever the insured is injured by an uninsured motorist. This means that an insured can stack or aggregate uninsured motorist coverage if the insured has multiple insurance policies. Non-stacked uninsured motorist coverage provides less protection and does not apply whenever and wherever the insured is injured. This means that it normally cannot be stacked or aggregated. Maryland’s Private Passenger Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance – Enhanced Underinsured Motorist Coverage law requires enhanced coverage to be offered under policies issued as of July 1, 2018. The law allows individuals covered on such policies to stack their uninsured motorist coverage.

A recent case from a state appeals court highlights the differences between stacked and non-stacked policies. In that case, the court found two individuals were not entitled to non-stacked uninsured motorist benefits where they had accepted stacked uninsured motorist benefits their policies with other insurers. Two individuals were injured when one of them was driving and was hit by another car that was driven by an uninsured motorist. The car was insured by a commercial auto policy in another individual’s name and provided non-stacked uninsured motorist coverage with a policy limit of $300,000. The two settled under the policy for $300,000. They also had three of their own insurance policies that provided uninsured motorist coverage. In addition, the parties settled under two of the other policies, which had provided stacked uninsured motorist coverage. The third policy insurer refused to pay because they had chosen non-stacked coverage.

Under Maryland law, a person normally is not allowed to operate a motor vehicle unless the driver and every occupant under 16 years old are restrained by a seat belt or a child safety seat. MD. Transp. Code section 22-412.3(b). However, under section 22-412.3(h), the failure to use a seat belt cannot be considered as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence in a Maryland car accident case, and a person’s failure to use a seat belt cannot limit the liability of a party or an insurer or diminish recovery for damages. The statute further clarifies that parties, lawyers, and other witnesses are not allowed to make reference to a seat belt during a civil trial involving property damages, personal injury or death—unless the case is based on a defect in the design, installation, manufacturing, supplying, or repair of the seat belt itself.

Seat belts have been required in Maryland since 1997. A seat belt is the best way to protect oneself in a car crash. Seat belts improve a person’s chance of survival by 60 percent. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, 105 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on Maryland roads in 2018 while not wearing a seat belt. A survey conducted in 2019 found that the state’s seat belt usage rate was 90.4 percent in 2019. Maryland Department of Transportation has said that “the only acceptable number for seat belts usage is 100 percent.” Car crashes, in general, are the most common cause of death for individuals between the ages of 5 and 24. According to national statistics, seat belt usage is generally lower among teen drivers.

Maryland’s 2019 Roadside Observation Seat Belt Survey consisted of roadside observations of 32,433 cars and trucks across the state. The state survey showed that passengers wore seat belts 93 percent of the time when the driver also wore a seat belt, and that when the driver did not wear a seat belt, only 40 percent of passengers wore seat belts. Maryland’s Department of Transportation is trying to increase the usage of seat belts through a state education campaign. The state launched a campaign entitled “Seat Belts Look Good on You,” which is aimed at drivers aged 16 to 19 who pass the road skills test by offering them a reward of a free “seat belt” necktie or scarf. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in crashes in the state.

Every motor vehicle liability insurance policy issued in Maryland is required to include uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects insured drivers from paying out-of-pocket expenses for their injuries if the drivers are involved in a Maryland car accident with parties that are uninsured or underinsured. The goal of Maryland’s uninsured motorist statute is to provide protection for individuals injured by uninsured motorists.

Uninsured motorist coverage refers to when an insured is involved in an accident with a driver that does not have any liability insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage refers to when an insured is involved in an accident with a driver that does have liability insurance but whose coverage is less than is needed to cover the accident victim’s injuries. If an insured driver is injured in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, the insured can proceed with two separate claims. The first is a tort claim against the uninsured or underinsured driver. The second is a contract claim against the insured’s insurance company for uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits.

In a recent case before a Maryland appeals court, an insured driver was hit from behind by the underinsured driver in April 2011. In April 2013, the underinsured driver offered the insured driver a settlement offer of $20,000 (the extent of the underinsured driver’s policy), which she later accepted. The insured driver continued receiving medical care until July 2014, and in January 2015, she requested underinsured motorist benefits from her insurer to recover additional underinsured motorist benefits from her insurance company. Under her policy, she was entitled to up to $300,000 per person for bodily injury that was caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. In September 2016, she filed a claim in court against her insurer seeking to recover her additional benefits.

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