Articles Posted in Government Liability

Accidents involving pedestrians are often some of the most serious due to the extent of the injuries involved. Thus, it is essential for a Maryland pedestrian accident victim to locate all potential sources of compensation. Of course, the defendants named in a lawsuit will almost always be the driver that hit the pedestrian. However, there may be other potentially liable parties as well, such as the government entity in charge of designing and maintaining the area where the accident occurred.

Pedestrian accidents often occur in areas with unique and potentially dangerous traffic features. For example, a poorly maintained, improperly marked, or misplaced crosswalk may give pedestrians a false sense of security as they cross the road. This is essentially the situation in a case discussed in a recent appellate opinion.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was killed on Halloween night as she was crossing the street at a marked crosswalk. The motorist was traveling well over the posted 45 mile-per-hour speed limit. The crosswalk is marked, and there are signs notifying approaching motorists of the crosswalk. After the accident, the driver fled the scene, but was later arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter.

The Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) is a law that allows for Maryland accident victims to bring certain claims against the Maryland government based on the negligence of the government or its employees. Historically, Maryland accident victims were unable to recover compensation for their injuries from the government due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. However, the MTCA changed that, allowing accident victims to pursue claims for compensation provided they follow the procedures outlined in the MTCA.

Claims under the MTCA differ from other Maryland personal injury cases in two significant ways. First, a plaintiff bringing a claim under the MTCA must provide notice to the Treasurer within one year of the injury. This notice must contain the following:

  • The names and addresses of the people involved;

Under state and federal law, government entities are generally provided immunity from personal injury lawsuits. However, Maryland lawmakers passed the Maryland Tort Claims Act (the “Act”), which waives governmental immunity in most circumstances, provided an injury victim follows the strict procedural requirements outlined in the Act. Thus, Maryland car accident victims can typically pursue a claim against a government entity overseeing the area where the accident occurred.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case discussing whether the government could be held liable for the accident victim’s injuries. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving a motorcycle northbound on a divided road. As the plaintiff approached an intersection, he noticed a slow-moving SUV approaching from the opposite direction. The SUV attempted to make a left turn in front of the plaintiff, cutting him off and leaving him no time to react. The plaintiff crashed into the passenger side of the SUV, and was seriously injured as a result.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city where the accident occurred, claiming that the city negligently placed trees along the center median, which obstructed motorists’ views. The city argued it was not liable because it was not aware of the hazard the trees presented. In its defense, the city presented the court with 13 accident reports from accidents occurring at the same intersection. The city claimed that nowhere in the reports did any of the parties involved claim that the trees obstructed their vision.

While governments may be entitled to immunity in some car accidents that are based on a negligent-design theory, the government can still be held liable for failing to safely maintain a road or highway. However, the distinction between design and maintenance is not always clear-cut. For example, consider the following:

  • A turn with visibility obstructed by large trees or rocks;
  • An intersection with misleading or improperly marked signage;
  • Malfunctioning traffic lights;
  • Dangerous potholes or unmarked hazards; and
  • Landscaping that obscures motorists’ vision of an intersection or oncoming traffic

A Maryland car accident victim who is injured in an accident that was caused by any of the above scenarios may be able to pursue a claim for compensation against the government agency responsible for maintaining the road. A recent state appellate decision discusses one plaintiff’s case against a local government agency based on the road’s dangerous condition.

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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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a decision in a wrongful death case arising out of a drunk-driving accident that occurred at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s case, which was brought against the venue organizers as well as the City where the festival occurred, should be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial over the defendants’ summary judgment motion. Ultimately, the court determined that the case should be dismissed against each of the defendants, albeit for different reasons.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was killed when a drunk driver fleeing from police drove through a barrier and into a crowd of people at the city-wide SXSW festival. Due to the multi-venue nature of the festival, festival organizers needed to apply for several use permits from the city. In particular, the use permit stated that “[a]ll traffic controls must be provided in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.”

Evidently, festival organizers closed three linear blocks, installing traffic barriers at each intersection. A police officer was also placed at each intersection to keep watch. However, the barricades failed to stop a drunk-driver from crashing through them and driving into a crowd of people. The plaintiff’s spouse was among four who were killed.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue that frequently arises in Maryland car personal injury cases that name a government employee or entity as a defendant. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s case against a police officer and the city that employed the officer could proceed to trial over the defendants’ claim that they were immune from liability under the state’s tort claims act.

Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s conduct at the time of the accident was within the scope of his duty and, while it may have been negligent, was not “reckless.” Thus, immunity was appropriate for both the individual officer and the city.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant police officer received a call that an intoxicated person was lying unconscious on the sidewalk outside a Days Inn. The officer hastily responded to the call, and cut through a parking lot on his way to the scene.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against the city that was responsible for maintaining the intersection where she was struck by another motorist could proceed to trial. The case presents important issues of government immunity that may arise in Maryland car accident cases that are filed against the state or federal government.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving northbound, and was approaching an intersection. As the plaintiff entered the intersection, she did not stop or slow down and continued through the intersection without seeing that another car was coming. The plaintiff was side-swiped by the other motorist and sustained serious injuries as a result.

The plaintiff later learned that the stop sign for northbound traffic had fallen and was lying on the ground. She explained that she did not see the stop sign or the car before entering the intersection. The plaintiff then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the city based on its failure to maintain the road signs at the intersection.

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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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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a government entity may be held liable for its failure to place road signs in advance of a dead-end road. Ultimately, the court concluded that both the defendant township and the defendant county were immune from liability. This case presents important issues for Maryland car accident victims who believe that their accident was caused at least in part by the dangerous condition of a Maryland highway.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of two people who drowned after their vehicle ended up in a river at the end of a dead-end road. Evidently, there was a sign stating “Pavement Ends” approximately 600 feet before the river bank, but there was no sign indicating that motorists should slow down, nor were there protective barriers along the river’s bank.

The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the township and the county where the accident occurred, claiming that the government agency’s failure to place the sign and barriers was negligent and contributed to the deaths of their loved ones.

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