Articles Posted in Auto Injury Law and Legislation

In a Maryland car accident case, the plaintiff has an obligation to mitigate their damages. This means that they must use reasonable efforts to minimize the effects of their injuries, for example, by undergoing medical treatment to avoid more serious injuries. If a defendant can establish that a plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages, the plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced. If the doctrine of mitigation applies, it is the defendant that has the burden to prove that the plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court held that there was evidence that the plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages after a car accident. In that case, the plaintiff was driving a rental car and was sideswiped by a tractor-trailer. The plaintiff hit his head against the car’s window. The plaintiff later found a sliver of glass in his eye and sought treatment at a hospital, where they determined that the plaintiff had a preexisting tumor. The plaintiff filed suit against the tractor-trailer driver and his employer, claiming that his preexisting tumor swelled due to trauma from the accident.

The defendants did not contest that they were at fault for the accident, but disputed the amount of damages they were responsible for. Under state law, a plaintiff has a duty to mitigate post-injury damages. If they fail to mitigate damages, the damages will be reduced by the damages that “reasonable care would have prevented.”

Vicarious liability is an important concept to understand in Maryland car accident cases. Vicarious liability means that a party can be held liable for the wrongful acts of another party, even without any wrongdoing on their part. The family purpose doctrine generally holds that a parent may be liable for the negligent actions of their child if the child is involved in a car accident while driving the parent’s car. In a recent state appellate case, the court considered the applicability of the family purpose doctrine after a car accident.

In that case, a daughter was involved in a crash while driving a car her father owned. Her father was a passenger in the car and was killed in the crash. Another vehicle struck the father’s car at an intersection. Both cars were coming towards the intersection from opposite directions. The daughter began to turn left as the light turned yellow, while at the same time the other driver was driving through the intersection as the light turned yellow. The other vehicle hit the passenger side of the father’s car, where her father was seated. The father’s widow filed a lawsuit against the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash. As a defense, the other driver argued that he was protected under the family purpose doctrine, arguing that liability should be imputed by the daughter to the father.

Under the applicable law in the state where the accident occurred, the family purpose doctrine stated that if a parent is the owner of a motor vehicle and allows their child to drive it, the parent is liable for the negligence of the child. Accordingly, if the owner gave permission to a family member to drive the vehicle, gave control to the driver, the family member was in the vehicle, and the vehicle was engaged in a family purpose—then the defendant could be held vicariously liable if the defendant had the right to exercise authority and control and an agency relationship existed between the defendant and the family member. However, the court noted that the doctrine had never been applied as a defense to bar an owner-passenger’s claim against a third party. The court decided it could not be used defensively to impute liability for any negligence by the daughter to the father so as to reduce or bar recovery based on his death.

Under Maryland law, a person normally is not allowed to operate a motor vehicle unless the driver and every occupant under 16 years old are restrained by a seat belt or a child safety seat. MD. Transp. Code section 22-412.3(b). However, under section 22-412.3(h), the failure to use a seat belt cannot be considered as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence in a Maryland car accident case, and a person’s failure to use a seat belt cannot limit the liability of a party or an insurer or diminish recovery for damages. The statute further clarifies that parties, lawyers, and other witnesses are not allowed to make reference to a seat belt during a civil trial involving property damages, personal injury or death—unless the case is based on a defect in the design, installation, manufacturing, supplying, or repair of the seat belt itself.

Seat belts have been required in Maryland since 1997. A seat belt is the best way to protect oneself in a car crash. Seat belts improve a person’s chance of survival by 60 percent. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, 105 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on Maryland roads in 2018 while not wearing a seat belt. A survey conducted in 2019 found that the state’s seat belt usage rate was 90.4 percent in 2019. Maryland Department of Transportation has said that “the only acceptable number for seat belts usage is 100 percent.” Car crashes, in general, are the most common cause of death for individuals between the ages of 5 and 24. According to national statistics, seat belt usage is generally lower among teen drivers.

Maryland’s 2019 Roadside Observation Seat Belt Survey consisted of roadside observations of 32,433 cars and trucks across the state. The state survey showed that passengers wore seat belts 93 percent of the time when the driver also wore a seat belt, and that when the driver did not wear a seat belt, only 40 percent of passengers wore seat belts. Maryland’s Department of Transportation is trying to increase the usage of seat belts through a state education campaign. The state launched a campaign entitled “Seat Belts Look Good on You,” which is aimed at drivers aged 16 to 19 who pass the road skills test by offering them a reward of a free “seat belt” necktie or scarf. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in crashes in the state.

Most people know that Maryland law allows those injured in car accidents to bring a civil negligence suit against the responsible party. What is less commonly known, however, is that the law also provides a variety of “affirmative defenses” that a defendant can use to defend themselves. Affirmative defenses, if proven, can shield a defendant from civil liability even if they would otherwise be held responsible for the accident. Understanding these defenses is important, as defendants may raise one or more of them in any civil negligence suit arising from Maryland car accidents.

One important affirmative defense is the “act of God defense.” To claim this, the defendant must prove that the accident was caused by an act of God, rather than the defendant. What exactly constitutes an act of God? Typically, the term is limited to unstoppable and unexpected physical and/or natural forces, such as lightning, earthquakes, meteors, sudden death or illness, or other such events. The key is that the cause of the accident was not an act of the defendant, but an act of God, or the universe.

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion considering the act of God defense in a car accident case. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant driver was a 16-year-old girl, turning into Costco one afternoon. As she turned right into the parking lot, she, unfortunately, hit the plaintiff, who was walking his dog and crossing the parking lot entrance. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital, and subsequently had serious injuries, making him unable to work.

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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