seat beltAs this blog has discussed in the past, Maryland law continues to employ a very strict framework in determining which accident victims can recover for their injuries. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence doctrine, only those accident victims who are truly free of all fault will be able to successfully pursue a claim against other at-fault drivers.

This doctrine has repeatedly been called into question, and lawmakers have submitted bills 21 times over the past few decades in an attempt to bring the state’s law more in line with the rest of the country. However, none of these measures have passed. Maryland’s contributory negligence law has also come under attack in the court system. That said, in the most recent case bringing the issue to the court’s attention, the court declined to get rid of the doctrine, explaining that it was up to the lawmakers to pass a new law. So, for the time being, Maryland accident victims are stuck with the state’s contributory negligence doctrine.

Given this reality, it is imperative that Maryland vehicle accident victims know what constitutes negligence. One common – but incorrect – assumption is that an accident victim will not be able to pursue a claim for compensation if they were injured while not wearing a seatbelt.

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car accidentIn some Maryland car accident cases, the testimony from both sides is in direct contradiction, and the case ultimately boils down to the issue of credibility. That is, which party or witness presented the more convincing testimony and evidence. However, in some cases, one party may not have any evidence that directly contradicts the other side’s evidence, and instead presents circumstantial evidence supporting their position.

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that requires an inference be made to reach the conclusion that the party presenting the evidence is asserting. For example, a defendant’s fingerprints left at the scene of a crime would be considered circumstantial evidence that the defendant had been present. In this situation, direct evidence would be testimony from a witness that saw the defendant at the scene of the crime.

A recent case illustrates the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence, as well as how an accident victim can use circumstantial evidence to help prove their case.

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funeralEarlier this month, a state appellate court issued a decision in a wrongful death case arising out of a drunk-driving accident that occurred at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s case, which was brought against the venue organizers as well as the City where the festival occurred, should be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial over the defendants’ summary judgment motion. Ultimately, the court determined that the case should be dismissed against each of the defendants, albeit for different reasons.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was killed when a drunk driver fleeing from police drove through a barrier and into a crowd of people at the city-wide SXSW festival. Due to the multi-venue nature of the festival, festival organizers needed to apply for several use permits from the city. In particular, the use permit stated that “[a]ll traffic controls must be provided in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.”

Evidently, festival organizers closed three linear blocks, installing traffic barriers at each intersection. A police officer was also placed at each intersection to keep watch. However, the barricades failed to stop a drunk-driver from crashing through them and driving into a crowd of people. The plaintiff’s spouse was among four who were killed.

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car accidentLast week, we discussed a new Maryland law that required insurance companies to offer Enhanced Underinsured Motorist (EUIM) protection with all new individual insurance policies issued after July 1, 2018. Under the new EUIM framework, an accident victim is able to obtain the full value of their insurance policy without an offset for any compensation provided by the at-fault party’s policy.

This new law represents one form of insurance stacking. Insurance stacking is a term used to describe an accident victim’s ability to recover under multiple insurance policies based on a single accident. Some types of insurance stacking are permitted. For example, under the new EUIM law. However, other accident victims may be prevented from stacking in other situations.

Multiple-Policy Stacking

In the event that an accident victim’s damages are greater than the limit under their insurance policy, the accident victim may be required to cover some of their expenses out-of-pocket. However, if an accident victim is covered under multiple insurance policies, they may wish to file a claim and recover under each policy. Thus, by adding the recovery amounts between multiple policies, an accident victim is able to recover a greater amount.

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carsMaryland law requires that all motorists obtain a base level of car insurance in order to legally drive on the state’s public roads. Since 2011, Maryland drivers have been required to obtain underinsured or uninsured motorist (UIM) protection. This type of insurance compensates a motorist when an at-fault driver either has no insurance or does not have sufficient insurance to cover the injuries of a Maryland car accident victim.

Recently, Maryland legislature passed a new law requiring insurance companies to offer a new version of UIM insurance. Under the old UIM insurance policies, a motorist’s total recovery would be reduced by whatever insurance the at-fault driver had. For example, suppose a motorist was involved in a collision caused by another driver who had an insurance policy with a policy maximum of $50,000. If the injury victim’s policy max was $200,000, the injured motorist would only be able to obtain $150,000 from their own insurance company despite the fact that their policy limit is $200,000. This is because the old UIM statute counted the compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance policy toward the policy maximum of the injured motorist.

Under the new Enhanced Underinsured Motorist Coverage (EUIM), Maryland motorists will enjoy greater protection. Simply, an EUIM policy will not count the compensation received from an at-fault driver’s insurance company toward the policy maximum of the injured party. So, in the above example, the injured motorist would be able to recover a maximum of $50,000 from the at-fault motorist’s insurance company, and another $200,000 from their own insurance company.

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police officerRecently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue that frequently arises in Maryland car personal injury cases that name a government employee or entity as a defendant. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case against a police officer and the city that employed the officer could proceed to trial over the defendants’ claim that they were immune from liability under the state’s tort claims act.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s conduct at the time of the accident was within the scope of his duty and, while it may have been negligent, was not “reckless.” Thus, immunity was appropriate for both the individual officer and the city.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant police officer received a call that an intoxicated person was lying unconscious on the sidewalk outside a Days Inn. The officer hastily responded to the call, and cut through a parking lot on his way to the scene.

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stop signRecently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against the city that was responsible for maintaining the intersection where she was struck by another motorist could proceed to trial. The case presents important issues of government immunity that may arise in Maryland car accident cases that are filed against the state or federal government.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving northbound, and was approaching an intersection. As the plaintiff entered the intersection, she did not stop or slow down and continued through the intersection without seeing that another car was coming. The plaintiff was side-swiped by the other motorist and sustained serious injuries as a result.

The plaintiff later learned that the stop sign for northbound traffic had fallen and was lying on the ground. She explained that she did not see the stop sign or the car before entering the intersection. The plaintiff then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city based on its failure to maintain the road signs at the intersection.

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car accidentIn some Maryland car accident cases, where the case is filed and litigated may be one of the first disputed issues that must be resolved by the court. For example, most Maryland accident victims would prefer to file their cases in a convenient venue, making trips to court less burdensome. In some cases, certain other considerations may also come into play, such as the local court rules or customs.

In a recent state court appellate opinion, the court discussed whether the defendant’s request to transfer the plaintiff’s case to a venue more convenient to him was properly denied by the lower court.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were injured in a car accident when the defendant rear-ended them. Evidently, a vehicle swerved into the plaintiff’s lane, requiring the plaintiff-driver to quickly apply the brakes. The defendant, who was traveling directly behind the plaintiffs’ vehicle at the time, failed to stop in time and ran into the back of the plaintiff’s car. The driver that swerved in front of the plaintiff’s car sped away and was never located.

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drunk drivingRecently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue that frequently arises in Maryland car accident cases. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether an employee who caused an accident injuring the plaintiff was a “permissive user” under his employer’s insurance policy. Finding that the employee was a permissive user, the insurance company will be required to satisfy the judgment against the employee.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident that occurred when the defendant rear-ended his vehicle while he was stopped at a red light. The defendant later admitted to having had a few drinks and being intoxicated. As it turns out, the defendant, who worked for a railroad company, was not from the area, and was there on business. The vehicle that the defendant was driving at the time of the accident was a company car.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, which resulted in a nearly $1.5 million verdict. However, after 30 days of not receiving payment, the plaintiff filed this case against the insurance company that wrote the policy for the railroad company that employed the defendant. The plaintiff argued that the defendant was covered under that policy and, therefore, the insurance company was on the hook for the $1.5 million verdict.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a plaintiff’s allegations that she was injured when a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employee negligently caused an accident while operating a USPS vehicle. The case is important for Maryland car accident victims because it required the court to determine if the plaintiff complied with the filing requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which may apply in certain Maryland car accident cases.Legal News Gavel

The Federal Tort Claims Act

Traditionally, the federal government was immune from lawsuits brought by citizens unless the government gave its consent to be named as a party. However, in 1946, Congress passed the FTCA, carving out certain exceptions to the general grant of governmental immunity.

In order to successfully bring a case under the FTCA, a plaintiff must comply with the procedural requirements contained therein. Relevant to this case were the filing requirements listed in 28 U.S.C. section 2401(b), which states that a plaintiff must file their case with the “appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues” or “within six months after the date . . . of notice of final denial of the claim.”

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