Can the Maryland Government Be Liable for a Roadside Hazard?

Maryland property owners generally maintain the responsibility to keep their property safe for people whom they invite onto their property. If an individual suffers injuries on an owner’s property, the property owner or occupier may be liable for the damages that the visitor sustained. Under Maryland personal injury law, accident victims who want to hold a property owner responsible for their injuries must be able to establish four main factors:

  • The property owner had a duty to keep their property safe from dangers;
  • The owner failed to abide by that duty;
  • The dangerous condition caused the victim’s injuries; and
  • The victim’s injuries resulted in damages.

In some cases, this also applies to roadside hazards. However, challenges may arise when the negligent party is a governmental entity, such as a city, county, state, or federal agency. Historically, under the theory of sovereign immunity, Maryland government agencies cannot face liability without their consent. However, to address this fundamental unfairness, Maryland lawmakers established the Maryland Tort Claims Act, which waives governmental immunity in specific instances.

To determine whether a Maryland governmental agency or official can face liability, the courts will analyze whether the party was engaging in discretionary or ministerial duties. Discretionary duties occur when a governmental agent or employee chooses between different options. Accident victims who suffer damages because of a governmental agency’s discretionary duty cannot hold the government liable. On the other hand, ministerial duties are those that do not require any judgment calls or independent decision-making. Accident victims can recover damages that they sustained because of a negligent government official’s ministerial decision-making.

Some common instances in which an individual can sue a governmental agency under the Act include cases in which a governmental official was performing a ministerial duty or a city or town was negligently performing specific ministerial duties. Although the Act provides exceptions to sovereign immunity, successful negligence cases against the government can be challenging to achieve.

For example, in a recent opinion, a state appellate court addressed common difficulties that Maryland plaintiffs also may face when filing lawsuits against the government. In that case, the plaintiff was driving but pulled off to the side of the road after he started to feel ill. After exiting his car, the plaintiff accidentally fell over a ledge where there was no retaining wall or guard rail. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the fall.

The plaintiff alleged that the city was negligent in failing to design and construct a safety feature on their retaining wall. However, ultimately, the court found that the city did not have a duty to build a barrier over the retaining wall.

Maryland law requires that plaintiffs asserting negligence claims against a governmental agency abide by strict deadlines and filing requirements. Plaintiffs who do not follow these procedural rules risk dismissal and waiver of any recovery against the government.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, contact the dedicated injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers. The attorneys at our office understand and appreciate the toll that serious injuries can take on a person’s emotional, physical, and financial wellbeing. Our reputation is built on a history of successful representation of Maryland accident victims. We have recovered substantial sums of compensation on behalf of our clients. Compensation typically includes payments for losses related to property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact our office today at 800-654-1949 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Maryland injury attorney at our firm.

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