Maryland Appeals Court Affirms Exclusion of Testimony Regarding Defendant’s Conduct Following Car Accident

In a ruling earlier this year, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland clarified the nature of damages available for emotional distress, and Maryland’s stance on recovery for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. gavel_4.jpg

The case, Alban v. FIELS, 61 A. 3d 867 (2013), involved a car accident between two passenger trucks that occurred in Baltimore in 2009. According to witnesses, the driver of a white truck struck the truck of the plaintiffs (Albans), and then fled the scene. However, given that he was proceeding on a dead end street, he was perceived turning around, driving past the accident, and laughing or smirking. He was also reportedly seen smirking at a nearby convenience store where at least one witness had followed him following the collision.

At trial, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit with various claims arising out of negligence, including psychological damage endured by Ms. Alban. The defendant did not contest liability for negligence in the accident, and the case was tried on the issue of compensatory damages. A jury awarded the couple as follows: non-economic damages in the amount of $5,000 to Ms. Alban, “zero” damages to Mr. Alban, and noneconomic damages in the amount of $5,000 to both the Albans for their joint claim for loss of consortium. The trial court entered judgment for $10,000 plus costs.

The Albans attempted to persuade the trial court to grant them a new trial on the basis that the judge erred in precluding evidence regarding the defendant’s conduct following the accident, claiming that it was relevant to having caused Ms. Alban’s “psychic and emotional injuries.”

Extensive evidence was given at trial by two different doctors who treated Ms. Alban for her alleged Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which was caused as a result of the accident. The doctors presented their theories as to the cause, that she was trapped in the vehicle, had feelings of anxiety, etc. However, the doctors were not permitted to testify regarding the potential impact of Ms. Alban being told, or potentially having perceived, that the defendant may have been laughing or acting smugly following the accident.

The plaintiffs challenged the fact that the expert witnesses were not able to include this information as a basis for their testimony, and also that several civilian witnesses were not allowed to testify regarding the defendant’s post-collision conduct. The evidence had been excluded due to a motion in limine, that the judge granted, on behalf of the defendant’s counsel, arguing it was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.

The appeals court held that, although Ms. Alban suffered psychological damage, evidence relating solely to the laughter and post-accident behavior, was properly excluded and irrelevant. The main basis for this was the notion that, “Maryland does not recognize the tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress.” Therefore, recovery for emotional distress is but one potential element of damage, rather than an independent tort.

Furthermore, after an extensive review of relevant negligence cases, unless it meets certain requirements relating to physical injury, emotional distress that does not amount to a separate act of negligence, is not compensable.

Finally, the evidence was properly excluded on the basis of unfair prejudice to the defendant, since it could potentially have “produce[d] such an emotional response that logic cannot overcome prejudice or sympathy needlessly injected into the case.” In other words, because the defendant’s behavior was not a separately chargeable offense, any evidence regarding how he acted would have injected an unfair element of sympathy, which had no separate legal basis.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a car accident in Maryland, contact the experienced car accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC immediately. We understand that getting involved in a car accident can have a lasting impact, both physically and emotionally. We will work hard to secure you and your family the compensation that you deserve, so that you can focus on getting your life back in order. If you believe that your car accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, please contact us today by calling 1-800-654-1949, or through our website, in order to schedule your free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Texters Could Potentially Face Liability for Sending Messages to Drivers Later Involved in Car Accidents, State Court Rules, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published November 26, 2013
Husband Sues Wife’s Employer for Wrongful Death Following Tragic Car Accident, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published November 19, 2013

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