Maryland Auto Accident Update: Are Lenient Vehicular Manslaughter Laws Unfair to Victims of Fatal Car Crashes?

To some observers, it could be said that Maryland’s automobile manslaughter laws are not nearly as harsh as they should be for individuals convicted of killing another person as a result of a traffic wreck. While car and truck accidents happen all of the time, a percentage of these collisions are fatal. As a Baltimore auto accident lawyer, I and my colleagues have helped dozens of families deal with the tragic loss of a loved one due to another person’s negligence.

Wrongful death suits can be quite commonplace in instances of gross negligence on a driver’s part. Certain factors can make a vehicular manslaughter charge necessary, such as drinking and driving, excessive speed and aggressive driving, even distracted driving is getting the attention of some states as a cause of fatal passenger car and trucking-related collisions. Pedestrians killed by a motorist’s poor judgment are another group that is represented in the gruesome fatal traffic accident statistics.

A recent editorial brought home some of the heart-breaking details that illustrate typical facts surrounding these sad stories of loss and grief. One example of the seeming injustice of Maryland’s traffic laws was an incident where a driver only had to pay two traffic tickets after an accident that killed a gentleman and was allegedly caused by excessive speed, racing and off-road driving.

In another case, a Baltimore County couple lost their 15-year-old son when he died in front of their home having been hit by a van traveling at more than 60mph in a 30mph speed zone. In that instance, it was learned that the license of the 21-year-old driver had previously bee suspended three times for speeding in another state — arguably more harsh than the punishment he received for the fatal accident he caused in Maryland.

High-speeds and poor judgment can result not only in broken bones and traumatic brain injuries; it can also lead to death or permanent disability. There is no easy way for a family to recover from the loss of a child, parent or bread-winner. Many times the loss hits families and affects the family members for years to come — sometimes for their entire lives.

Some Maryland officials agree that there exists a major loophole in state law that separates instances of what some would call “ordinary negligence” and that of gross negligence. Some believe that the standard for proving gross negligence is impossibly high to meet here in Maryland, which would explain how many apparently grossly negligent drivers can essential snuff out a person’s life yet only be charged with a simple moving violation as a consequence of their actions.

Hopefully legislators will succeed in tightening up that gap for the sake of every family who has or will lose a loved one to a bad driver. Only time will tell if things change for Maryland residents.

The Ninth Ward: There’s no excuse for Maryland’s lax vehicular manslaughter laws,, February 24, 2010

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