Articles Posted in Auto Injury Law and Legislation

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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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a plaintiff’s allegations that she was injured when a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employee negligently caused an accident while operating a USPS vehicle. The case is important for Maryland car accident victims because it required the court to determine if the plaintiff complied with the filing requirements of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which may apply in certain Maryland car accident cases.The Federal Tort Claims Act

Traditionally, the federal government was immune from lawsuits brought by citizens unless the government gave its consent to be named as a party. However, in 1946, Congress passed the FTCA, carving out certain exceptions to the general grant of governmental immunity.

In order to successfully bring a case under the FTCA, a plaintiff must comply with the procedural requirements contained therein. Relevant to this case were the filing requirements listed in 28 U.S.C. section 2401(b), which states that a plaintiff must file their case with the “appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues” or “within six months after the date . . . of notice of final denial of the claim.”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that illustrates an important concept in Maryland car accident cases. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss which level of proof is sufficient to support a jury’s award of compensation to an accident victim. Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury’s verdict regarding future medical expenses was based on the evidence, but the verdict insofar as it pertained to the plaintiff’s loss of wages was not.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident that was undisputedly caused by the defendant. The plaintiff’s injuries were severe, and the plaintiff had an expert witness testify on her behalf. The expert expressed a need for palliative care, cervical surgery, and potentially lumbar surgery.

The expert explained that the estimated cost of palliative care was between $525,000 and $850,000. The expert also explained that cervical surgery would improve the plaintiff’s quality of life, and he recommended the surgery be performed. The expert testified that such a surgery may prevent the need for lumbar surgery. The cervical surgery was estimated to cost between $90,000 and $120,000, and the lumbar surgery was estimated to cost between $60,000 and $90,000.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the difficulties that Maryland car accident victims may encounter when trying to file a claim against their own insurance policy’s underinsured motorist provision. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s untimely notice of claim violated the language in the insurance policy, and if so, whether the insurance company was proper in denying the plaintiff’s claim. Ultimately, the court found in favor of the insurance company on both issues and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured after she was involved in a car accident while she was a passenger in a friend’s vehicle. The accident occurred in September 2010. Approximately two years later, the plaintiff filed a claim against the other driver, who she claimed was responsible for the accident and her injuries. That claim was eventually settled for approximately $36,000, which was the remaining amount left under the at-fault driver’s insurance policy after the other victims of the accident had been compensated.

The settlement with the other driver failed to cover all of the plaintiff’s expenses related to the accident, so the plaintiff then filed a claim with her own insurance policy, under the underinsured motorist provision. That policy contained language requiring that the insurance company be promptly notified of any accident, as well as any court case that was filed. Specifically, the policy stated that the insurance company “must be notified promptly of how, when and where the accident or loss happened,” and the insured must “promptly send us copies of the legal papers if a suit is brought.”

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Seatbelt use is one of the best ways to limit the potentially disastrous effects of a serious car accident. According to a recent news report, over the past few decades, lawmakers across the country have tried to cut back on the number of fatal car accidents by passing “click it or ticket” laws, requiring motorists to wear a seatbelt or be fined.

Indeed, Maryland has its own version of the click it or ticket law, which can result in an $83 fine if a motorist is caught driving without their seatbelt. In Maryland, a failure to wear a seatbelt is a primary offense – meaning a police officer can pull a motorist over based solely on not wearing a seatbelt – for drivers, front-seat passengers, and minors under the age of 16. For back-seat passengers over the age of 16, it is a secondary offense, meaning a police officer can only ticket a motorist if there was some other valid reason for the traffic stop.

While it cannot be disputed that seatbelts save lives, seatbelts can only limit the injuries sustained in an accident and can do nothing to prevent accidents themselves. As a result, courts across the country have had to determine whether a car accident victim’s failure to wear a seatbelt should be admissible evidence at a trial involving the at-fault driver.

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Despite the millions of dollars spent by the state and federal governments to curb the dangerous habit of drunk driving, the reality is that drunk drivers still pose a serious threat to Maryland motorists. While the total number of alcohol-related deaths has fallen, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths in relation to the total number of vehicle fatalities remains the same as in years past. In fact, in 2016, 159 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes across the State of Maryland. This represents about 31% of the total number of traffic fatalities.

Maryland lawmakers are aware of the drunk driving problem facing the state and continue to take action to stop it. In fact, according to a recent local news source, Maryland lawmakers are currently trying to pass a bill that would increase the criminal penalties for drunk drivers who cause serious injuries as a result of their actions. Evidently, the law currently calls for enhanced penalties when a drunk driver causes “life-threatening injury;” however, the proposed bill would amend that language to include any “serious physical injury.”

This most recent move to implement stricter criminal penalties reflects Maryland lawmakers’ dedication to reducing drunk driving. However, the criminal consequences of drunk driving only represent part of a drunk driver’s potential liability. Drunk drivers may also be liable to their victims through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in an interesting case discussing when an employer may be held liable for the negligent actions of an employee. In the case, Fountain v. Karim, the court determined that the lower court failed to make a necessary factual determination and sent the case back to the lower court to conduct further analysis. The question the lower court must answer is whether the employer had given the employee express permission to use the car that was involved in the accident.

The Facts

Karim was a government employee temporarily assigned to an office several hours away from his home. Karim would stay in a government-provided hotel room during the week and would travel home for the weekend. During the week, Karim was allowed to use a government vehicle for his work-related travels, a Ford Explorer. However, on the weekends, Karim would normally drive his own car back home, leaving the work vehicle at the office. If Karim wanted to use the Explorer for his personal use, he would submit a request to his supervisor. Several of these requests were retroactively approved, meaning Karim did not submit a prior written request but obtained permission after he had returned the car.

On August 31, 2010, Karim was preparing to leave for a work trip to another office 100 miles away. Before he left, Karim submitted a request to take the vehicle, but he did not get a response. Karim was planning on taking the Ford Explorer to his hotel, where he would stay the night, and then take the vehicle to the remote office 100 miles away.

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