In order to safely operate a car or truck, the driver must exhibit skill, patience, and good judgment while on the road. When drivers fail to exercise the appropriate level of caution while behind the wheel, the chance of causing a serious or fatal accident greatly increases. Drivers with little experience, particularly minor children, cause a disproportionate number of accidents. In fact, while teen drivers make up only a small percentage of the overall number of motorists, they are responsible for over 12% of all traffic accidents.

Missing HeadlightWhen a minor causes a car accident, certain legal considerations arise regarding the accident victim’s ability to receive compensation for their injuries. As a general rule, those under 18 years of age are considered minors. Maryland law places limits on when minors and their parents can be held responsible for certain conduct. For example, the parents of a minor can be held responsible to pay for damages caused by their child’s willful misconduct.

Generally speaking, parents are not liable for the negligent actions of their children because “kids will be kids.” However, there is an exception under Maryland law when the minor negligently causes a motor vehicle accident. In this situation, the parent or guardian who co-signed the minor’s driver’s license application can be held financially responsible for any injuries that occurred as a result of the minor’s negligence.

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Earlier this month, a Florida jury awarded a victim of a drunk driving accident $8 million for her medical expenses, permanent injuries, and pain and suffering related to the accident. According to one local news source covering the case, the accident occurred back on October 1, 2010, and it involved allegations that the drunk driver was traveling at about 100 miles per hour when he ran into the back of the plaintiff’s vehicle.

Blurred CityscapePolice conducted a blood test after the accident, which indicated that the driver’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit. In an interesting turn, the driver responsible for the accident was not criminally charged, despite the evidence of intoxication. Reporters attempted to contact the prosecutor’s office to ask why the case never was brought, but prosecutors did not have an answer, explaining only that there was no record that the case ever reached the office.

The victim of the accident explained to reporters that she had “experienced countless doctors’ appointments, therapy, injections, and then surgery.” Finally, almost seven years after the accident, she received the compensation she deserved.

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According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, each day, eight people are killed in preventable accidents that were caused by distracted driving. Furthermore, it is estimated that there are about 1,000 people who are injured per day in distracted driving accidents. Due to the recent increase in distracted driving and the continuing temptation for drivers to text or talk on the phone while behind the wheel, the National Safety Council designates the month of April as distracted driving awareness month.

Cell PhoneDistracted driving can take many forms. Any time a driver engages in an activity that removes their attention from the road, they are engaging in distracted driving. A few of the most common examples of distracted driving are:

  • Talking or texting on a cell phone,
  • Eating or drinking,
  • Talking to a front- or rear-seat passenger,
  • Inputting a destination on a GPS system, and
  • Reading or playing games on a cell phone.

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By accepting a Maryland driver’s license, all motorists assume a legal duty to operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner and in accordance with the state’s traffic laws. In some cases, a driver’s dangerous driving habits do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, but they may still be the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. For example, if a driver causes an accident while daydreaming behind the wheel, it is most likely that they will be issued a citation, and no further criminal charges will be pursued. However, the accident victim may still choose to pursue a personal injury case to recover for the damages they sustained in the accident.

CocktailOther dangerous driving behavior, such as drunk driving, is both a violation of a criminal law as well as a basis for civil liability. This means that if a drunk driver causes an accident, they will likely face criminal charges that could result in probation, fines, and even imprisonment. However, the focus of a criminal trial is not to obtain compensation for the injuries sustained by the accident victim. If an accident victim would like to obtain compensation for their injuries, this must be done through a personal injury lawsuit.

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Despite the millions of dollars spent by the state and federal governments to curb the dangerous habit of drunk driving, the reality is that drunk drivers still pose a serious threat to Maryland motorists. While the total number of alcohol-related deaths has fallen, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths in relation to the total number of vehicle fatalities remains the same as in years past. In fact, in 2016, 159 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes across the State of Maryland. This represents about 31% of the total number of traffic fatalities.

White Knuckle GripMaryland lawmakers are aware of the drunk driving problem facing the state and continue to take action to stop it. In fact, according to a recent local news source, Maryland lawmakers are currently trying to pass a bill that would increase the criminal penalties for drunk drivers who cause serious injuries as a result of their actions. Evidently, the law currently calls for enhanced penalties when a drunk driver causes “life-threatening injury;” however, the proposed bill would amend that language to include any “serious physical injury.”

This most recent move to implement stricter criminal penalties reflects Maryland lawmakers’ dedication to reducing drunk driving. However, the criminal consequences of drunk driving only represent part of a drunk driver’s potential liability. Drunk drivers may also be liable to their victims through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a two-car collision that resulted in a nearby crossing guard being struck and seriously injured by one of the vehicles. The court had to decide whether both parties to the car accident could potentially be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Ultimately, the court held that a jury should be able to determine and apportion fault between the motorists, and allowed the case to proceed toward trial against both parties.

CrosswalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a crossing guard stationed on the corner near the school. A few minutes before her shift was scheduled to end, she looked up and saw a black car speeding down the road, passing cars in the opposing lane of traffic. As the car approached the intersection where the plaintiff was stationed, it ran a red light. The car entered the intersection at the same time as a pick-up truck also entered the intersection with a green light on its side. The vehicles collided, and the force of the collision sent the pick-up truck careening into the plaintiff. She was thrown against a nearby wall and suffered serious injuries as a result.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both drivers. During summary judgment proceedings, the pick-up truck driver asked the court to dismiss the case against him, because it was uncontested that he’d entered the intersection with a green light. The trial judge agreed that the pick-up truck driver was not negligent because he had a green light, and granted summary judgment in his favor. The plaintiff appealed.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Washington State issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a woman who was injured when she was struck by a Highway Patrolman’s vehicle. Immediately after the accident, the plaintiff admitted that she was under the influence of alcohol. The court determined that her unambiguous admission prevented her from claiming otherwise from then on in any trial proceedings. Thus, under state law, the case was dismissed.

Late-Night PedestrianThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was drinking at a party with some friends when she got into a fight with one of the other people at the party. She left the party, and because she had been drinking, she called her brother to pick her up. After waiting for a while and not seeing her brother, the plaintiff saw a car approaching and thought it was him. She ran out in front of the car, which was actually a Highway Patrol vehicle. The Highway Patrol officer did not see the plaintiff in time to stop the vehicle, and struck her. After the accident, the plaintiff admitted to investigators that she had been drinking.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the State as well as against the Highway Patrol. In its defense, the defendants argued that the plaintiff’s admission that she was intoxicated prevented her from recovering for her injuries under state law. The law at issue prevents recovery when a plaintiff is intoxicated, the intoxication was the cause of the accident, and the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault.

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Over the past several years, the driverless car has become a reality. In fact, most major auto manufacturers have started production of semi-autonomous models and are developing fully autonomous models that would require no driver effort. However, as the technology for driverless cars advances, issues regarding safety and legal liability in the event of an accident are coming to the forefront of the conversation.

Futuristic CarAccording to a recent news article discussing semi-autonomous cars, there is a division among auto manufacturers as to whether drivers are capable of taking over control of the vehicle when a potentially complex driving situation arises. With the current technology, vehicles alert a motorist when he or she will need to take over control because the on-board computer does not know what to do. Depending on the model of vehicle, the driver will then have somewhere between five and 30 seconds to take over control of the vehicle. However, some research has shown that sleeping or otherwise distracted drivers can take about two minutes to acclimate to the situation and safely take control of the vehicle. Because of these concerns, some manufacturers have opted to forego manufacturing semi-autonomous vehicles and focus on fully autonomous technology.

Another potential issue with driverless cars is who is liable when an accident occurs. At least one large auto manufacturer has stated that it plans on acknowledging liability in all accidents involving the company’s driverless technology. Other manufacturers, however, plan on handling each situation on a case-by-case basis. The unanswered question is whether the “driver” of an autonomous vehicle will also be liable. This is a question that only lawmakers or the courts can decide.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a man who was injured by a drunk driver who had been given permission to use a truck owned by the company for which he worked. The injured motorist filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the driver’s employer under the theory of negligent entrustment. Ultimately, the court reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that sufficient evidence was presented to show that the employer may have known about the employee’s previous DUI convictions.

Traffic JamThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the drunk driver was operating a moving truck that belonged to his employer. While the employer’s general rule was not to allow employees to use company vehicles for personal use, the employee did obtain permission.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and his employer. During pre-trial discovery, the plaintiff became aware that the driver had a prior criminal record, including four DUIs and a charge for possession of cocaine. The plaintiff argued that the driver’s employer was negligent in allowing the employee to use the car, given this information, which was available to the employer.

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Driving is the most dangerous activity in most commuters’ day, and it requires their full attention. It is commonly understood that drivers need to remain free of intoxication and distraction, and they also need to be adequately rested before getting behind the wheel. Along those same lines, drivers who suffer from some chronic medical conditions are told by their doctors that it is unsafe for them to drive a car. A new study discussed in an insurance industry news source discusses the lasting impact that a concussion can have on a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

BrainAccording to the news article, the effects of a recent concussion on driving ability had not previously been studied, with most of the concussion-related research focusing on athletes, their performance, and the potential for long-term brain damage. This study consisted of 14 participants, all of whom had previously reported suffering from a concussion. Each of the participants was asked to come in for a driving exam 48 hours after they last noticed symptoms of their concussion. The results were frightening.

As it turns out, even 48 hours after the last recognizable signs of a concussion, drivers were still more likely to operate their vehicle in an erratic manner, much like a drunk driver. Specifically, the study reported that these drivers had less control over the vehicle and were more likely to swerve within their own lane of travel.

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