Articles Posted in Auto Injury Law and Legislation

A significant portion of Maryland personal injury lawsuits are filed against corporations. One issue that frequently comes up when discussing the potential liability of a corporate defendant is how the sale of business assets impacts a business’ exposure to liability. Successor liability is the legal term used to describe this concept.

When discussing successor liability, it is helpful to understand a few terms. The purchasing corporation is referred to as the successor company, and the selling corporation is referred to as the predecessor company. Under Maryland law, when a company buys the assets of another company, the successor company is not liable for the predecessor’s liabilities. However, there are four exceptions to this general rule:

  1. If there is an express assumption of liability in the articles of transfer;

For the most part, each state can create its own laws. While some issues are reserved for the federal government, states are free to enact legislation affecting most areas of law. For example, Maryland lawmakers create most of the laws that apply in Maryland car accidents. This includes how parties go about proving elements of a claim and the types of damages that are available. However, when state and federal law conflict, the U.S. Constitution provides that federal law shall prevail.

The Graves Amendment refers to a 2005 bill that was introduced by Senator Graves from Missouri. Essentially, the Amendment provides that those who own or lease a vehicle cannot be liable for any injuries that result from the use of that vehicle solely by their ownership of the vehicle. This commonly comes up in car accident cases where the at-fault driver is either driving a rental car or driving a leased vehicle. A recent state appellate decision discusses the Graves Amendment.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was riding his motorcycle along the highway when another vehicle turned out in front of him. The plaintiff was left with no time to react, and crashed into the motorist. The other driver leased the vehicle from the defendant.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that originally arose after the plaintiff was injured in a Maryland car accident. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s subsequent medical malpractice lawsuit against her treating physicians was precluded by the one satisfaction rule.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver. The plaintiff was treated for her injuries at the defendant hospital. While she was being treated at the hospital, medical providers punctured the plaintiff’s brachial artery as they attempted to insert a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) line. The plaintiff developed an infection that required additional surgery.

The plaintiff initially filed a claim against the at-fault motorist seeking compensation for “emotional pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, and the inability to engage in her usual employments, activities, and pursuits.” The plaintiff settled with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for $25,000, and then filed an underinsured-motorist claim with her insurance company. That claim was settled before trial for $125,000. The hospital was not a part of either settlement agreement.

Serious Maryland car accidents impact more than just those who are physically injured in the collision. Indeed, an accident victim’s spouse must also deal with the pain, anxiety, and fear that their spouse is going through. The aftermath of a car accident often takes a toll on even a strong marriage.

Understanding this reality, Maryland lawmakers allow for the spouse of an accident victim to pursue a loss of consortium claim against the at-fault parties. These are called loss of consortium claims. Maryland loss of consortium claims do not involve economic losses, most of which can be recovered through the injury victim’s claim. Instead, a loss of consortium claim compensates an accident victim’s spouse for a loss of companionship, affection, and assistance. This includes any negative impact that the accident had on the couple’s sex life.

To successfully establish a loss of consortium claim, the aggrieved party must show that they were legally married at the time of the accident. In Maryland, unlike some other states, there is no exception for couples who are not married but have remained in a committed relationship for a long period of time. Thus, marriage is a strict requirement. The spouse of an accident victim must also be able to show that the accident was the cause of the damage to the couple’s relationship. In other words, courts will not assume that an accident caused damages to the victims’ marriage and evidence must be presented to establish the link between the accident and the marital damage.

While the number of Maryland drunk driving accidents continues to slowly decrease year over year, impaired driving is still a leading cause of Maryland car accidents. Indeed, according to the most recent government statistics, there are on average 443 people seriously injured and 160 killed in Maryland drunk driving accidents each year. Drunk driving poses such a danger to Maryland motorists that impaired driving prevention and enforcement consume nearly half the state’s budget for traffic safety programs.

Over recent years, Maryland lawmakers have taken steps to discourage people from getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. Most of the new measures focus on the criminal penalties associated with a drunk driving conviction. For example, new laws mandate an ignition interlock device be installed on certain offender’s vehicles. While the new laws may deter some motorists from driving drunk, the laws provide little consolation to those who have been seriously injured by a Maryland impaired driver.

That is not to say that Maryland accident victims are without a means of recourse. Anyone injured in a Maryland DUI accident can pursue a civil case for damages against a driver they believe to be responsible for their injuries. Similarly, those who have lost a loved one in a Maryland car accident can file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver. While seemingly simple in theory, in practice these cases can be exceedingly complex and should be handled by experienced Maryland personal injury lawyers.

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Anyone who is injured in a Maryland car accident can pursue a claim for damages against the party or parties they believe to be responsible for causing the accident that led to their injuries. To succeed in a Maryland personal injury case, the plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendants were negligent.

In this context “negligence” is a legal term referring to a four-part analysis. Thus, in a negligence case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care, which was violated by the defendant’s conduct, and that the defendant’s negligence was the cause the plaintiff’s injuries. Most often, Maryland personal injury cases that are filed after a car accident are filed against the other drivers involved in the crash. However, in some situations, a driver’s employer can also be named as a defendant.

In Maryland, a car accident victim can pursue a claim against an employer of a negligent driver if the following criteria are established:

  • The employer had control over the employee;
  • The driver’s allegedly negligent action was within the scope of the driver’s employment; and
  • The action was in furtherance of the employer’s business.

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Chances are, anyone who has spent significant time driving in Maryland or Virginia has come across a section of road or an intersection that seemed unsafe. It may be that a stop sign or stop light was not placed at an intersection that needed it, or a blind corner was too tight to safely navigate without encroaching into oncoming traffic. Regardless, there are hundreds of Maryland and Virginia car accidents that are caused by unsafe roads.

Typically, the local government is responsible for the design and maintenance of roads. Thus, any claim arising from an accident that was due to an unsafe road would necessarily be brought against the local government agency overseeing that particular portion of the highway. However, in both Maryland and Virginia, the states’ immunity laws act to preclude many of these lawsuits.

Government immunity has been around in some form since the birth of the country, and it provides state and federal governments with immunity from lawsuits that are the result of the government carrying out its official duties. The question in these cases often comes down to whether the government’s actions were discretionary in nature. If so, immunity will typically attach, preventing an injury victims’ claim from proceeding. Courts have held that the duty to design roads and place traffic-control devices is a discretionary government function that is entitled to immunity. However, claims against a government agency that allege a failure to keep a road clean and maintain the road safely have been allowed to proceed.

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The judge’s role in a Maryland personal injury case is to oversee the trial. This includes making pre-trial discovery and evidentiary decisions, as well as ruling on objections made by the parties during the trial. The judge is also responsible for instructing the jury on the applicable law after the parties have presented their evidence.

Judges, however, are human and occasionally make mistakes. Thus, the Maryland court system allows for a party to appeal an adverse legal decision that was made by a trial judge. In order to preserve a claim of error for appellate review, a party must be sure to follow specific procedures. Otherwise, the appellate court may determine that the error was not preserved. A recent case discusses error-preservation in the personal injury context.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a rear-end accident she claimed was caused by the defendant. Before trial, the plaintiff filed proposed jury instructions including an instruction on the doctrine of negligence per se. After the trial had begun, the court held a charging conference; however, the conference was not memorialized. At the end of the conference, the court determined that it was not going to instruct the jury on the plaintiff’s proposed negligence per se instruction. The court asked the parties if either had anything it wanted to put on the record, and the plaintiff’s attorney responded: “I have no issues with the charge, Your Honor.”

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Over the past few decades, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Maryland roadside accidents. Some attribute this increase to the more prevalent role technology has taken in most American’s lives, which in turn has led to more instances of distracted driving. Regardless of the underlying cause, many roadside accidents involve police officers, emergency medical technicians, and other emergency workers who are carrying out their duties when they are struck by a passing motorist.

Thus, back in 2010, Maryland lawmakers passed the state’s ‘move over’ law to protect those most at risk of being struck by a distracted driver. Under Maryland Code § 21-405, motorists are prohibited from passing an emergency vehicle while going in the same direction without either safely changing lanes or slowing down “to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.”

Initially, Maryland’s ‘move over’ law applied only to tow trucks and emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. This offered some protection to these discrete classes of workers; however, the statute did not apply to non-emergency workers who still spent a significant amount of time along the side of the road.

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As 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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