Articles Posted in Auto Injury Law and Legislation

The Maryland legislature recently introduced a bill “essentially legalizing recreational use” of marijuana in Maryland, as one news source reported. In 2014, Maryland legalized the medical use of marijuana and also decriminalized less than 10 grams of cannabis. Similar bills have been previously introduced in the state, but none have passed. The recently proposed bill would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults 21 years and older. The bill would also allow for the release of individuals incarcerated for marijuana convictions and the expungement of previous records. Proponents say it would increase the state’s tax revenue and promote social justice. However, others claim that the legalization of marijuana would result in an increase in Maryland car accidents and injuries.

According to a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic, after marijuana became legal in Washington state, fatal car accidents involving drivers who had recently used marijuana doubled. The organization also reported an increase in insurance claims in Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada after legalization in those states. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. have now legalized marijuana for recreational use. Studies have found varying results on the effects of the legalization of marijuana. One study published by the National Institutes of Health found that three years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado motor vehicle crash fatality rates were not statistically different from those in similar states without legalization. However, as referenced, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana in Washington state has doubled since legalization. Another study published in the journal BMJ Open in 2019 found that after legalization in Colorado, car accidents increased 10 percent, and increases in alcohol abuse and overdoses that resulted in injury or death increased by 5 percent. The state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012.

If someone is injured in a Maryland car accident, they may be able to seek compensation. In a Maryland car accident case alleging that a motor vehicle driver was negligent, the plaintiff must prove that the driver owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the driver’s actions amounted to a breach of the relevant standard of care, that the driver’s negligent actions caused the plaintiff injuries (being both the cause-in-fact and a legally cognizable cause), and that the plaintiff suffered damages. A plaintiff must prove all of the elements in a negligence claim, and the plaintiff has the burden of proving each element by a preponderance of the evidence.

Maryland car accidents can be expensive. Individuals injured in these accidents often notice the costs piling up in the aftermath—medical bills and expenses from the crash itself, follow-up medical treatment required to recover, not to mention repairing damage to the car, and suffering lost wages due to the accident. One of the things that help Maryland residents, specifically low-income residents, pay for everything is Medicaid, a government program that provides health insurance to over one million people in the state. But sometimes, hospitals may refuse to send the bills to insurance providers like Medicaid, and instead may pursue strategies to charge accident victims full price.

The New York Times recently reported on this shocking practice. According to their article, wealthy hospitals have been quietly using century-old hospital lien laws to increase their own revenue at the expense of poor car accident victims. They use what is called a lien, which is a claim on an asset (such as a home) to make sure that someone repays a debt. By refusing to charge insurance providers the discounted price and taking out a lien instead, they can cripple car accident victims financially, right at the time they are struggling the most. One woman involved in a crash owed $12,856 after the hospital pursued a lien, even though Medicaid would have only had to pay $2,500 for her care. The liens cause accident victims to feel as though a cloud is hanging over their recovery. Some go into debt to cover their subsequent bills, all because they are being preyed upon by a wealthy hospital under an old law.

While it’s concerning, to say the least, in many states, it is perfectly legal.

Many Maryland car crashes are not straightforward and some cases involve many parties. Knowing who is to blame is not always clear, which is why so many insurance companies and defendants fight back. Oftentimes, defendants will try to lay blame on the victim in order to relieve themselves of liability. This is an especially useful strategy for defendants in Maryland, because the state follows a law that can be very harsh for car accident victims who are partially at fault.

If a Maryland plaintiff is found to be even partially at fault for an accident, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation from any other parties. This doctrine, known as contributory negligence, is no longer followed by the majority of states, but Maryland is among the few states that continue to apply it. The state legislature has continued to uphold the doctrine despite much criticism of the doctrine. The majority of states in the United States follow a version of comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, a plaintiff may still recover some compensation even if the plaintiff is partially at fault, though some limit the plaintiff’s fault to 50% or less.

If a case goes to trial, a jury (or judge, in some cases) will consider the plaintiff’s fault while it is considering the defendant’s fault and decide whether the plaintiff is partially at fault. However, the defendant must provide evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence and has the burden to prove each element of a negligence claim to show that the plaintiff acted negligently. In addition, a court will only provide a jury instruction and allow the jury to consider the plaintiff’s fault if the defendant sufficiently establishes that the plaintiff was negligent. And just as any defendant, the plaintiff can defend against claims that the plaintiff acted negligently by submitting arguments and evidence in their defense.

Although some cases go to trial, many Maryland car accident cases are decided by the court based on the evidence and pleadings. After the evidence has been submitted, a party can file a motion for summary judgment to have the court rule on the issues in the case. Under Maryland law, summary judgment may be granted if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact, and the party seeking summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will view the case in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and drawing any reasonable inferences from the facts against the moving party. There has to be evidence from which a jury could find in the non-moving party’s favor to deny summary judgment. The party seeking summary judgment is responsible for clearly identifying deficiencies in the case that show the absence of a genuine issue of fact.

In a recent case before a state supreme court, the court considered whether the plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the evidence in a two-vehicle car accident case. In that case, the plaintiff was approaching an intersection where he intended to turn left. The defendant had also stopped at the intersection, and after he entered the intersection, he struck the driver side of the plaintiff’s vehicle as both vehicles were making left turns. The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages. Both parties and their spouses testified at the trial and presented two different accounts of the crash. The jury found the defendant was not negligent, and the plaintiff appealed the decision.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued in part that the judge should have found he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because he claimed the defendant violated the right-of-way. The court disagreed. The court explained that the jury heard two versions of the accident. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was negligent for failing to yield the right-of-way and that the defendant accelerated quickly and failed to perceive the vehicle because the sun blocked his vision. On the other hand, the defendant claimed that he approached carefully and proceeding slowly before colliding with the plaintiff, who had entered his lane of travel. Therefore, even if the jury found that the defendant violated the right-of-way, it could still find that he acted reasonably under the circumstances. Thus, the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant.

Proving damages is an essential part of any Maryland car accident case. In addition to establishing a defendant’s liability, the plaintiff has the burden to prove their damages. Generally, damages must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it is more likely than not to be true. The plaintiff must prove that the injury and damages were proximately caused by the wrongful acts of the defendant. This means that the damages cannot be based on speculation or conjecture. Some future expenses or losses, which may be recoverable in some cases, such as lost wages and lost earning capacity, can be difficult to establish. However, they are ways of proving these damages.

A recent case provides an example of a plaintiff’s failure to sufficiently prove damages for future medical expenses. In that case, the plaintiff filed suit against another driver after he suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff was stopped in a left-hand turn lane when he was rear-ended by the defendant driver. The plaintiff’s SUV suffered significant damage, but the plaintiff did not initially seek medical treatment. However, the plaintiff’s back began hurting later that day, and he went to a local hospital, where he was prescribed pain medication and was told to follow up with his primary care physician. He saw his primary care physician and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed him with an L3-4 level disk herniation. The surgeon recommended initial treatment of steroid epidural injections, and saw him a few more times, until he told the plaintiff that he could follow up if it was necessary.

At trial, the defendant admitted she was at fault for the accident, and a jury awarded the plaintiff $25,000 in damages and $100,000 for future medical expenses. The defendant argued that the future damages award was not supported by the evidence and the trial court agreed, vacating the future damages award. The plaintiff appealed the decision.

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;
Contact Information