It is well known that when someone is injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligent driving, Maryland law allows them to sue the responsible driver in a civil lawsuit. These lawsuits, if successful, can result in the plaintiff receiving monetary compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering they experienced as a result of the accident. However, there are certain barriers to when injured victims can and cannot sue. One important barrier is the concept of governmental immunity. If the negligent or responsible driver who caused the injuries works for the government, then they generally cannot be sued for causing Maryland car accidents if they were acting within the scope of their employment.
Recently, a state supreme court considered this scope of employment doctrine in a case highlighting its importance. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was a State Trooper who had a vehicle given to him by the state police office. He was allowed to drive this vehicle when he was off duty, but was subject to standard operating procedures and guidelines, including being required to maintain radio contact at all times and respond to emergencies if needed. The defendant had finished work for the day and was driving to his son’s baseball game when he decided to pass a vehicle in front of him. As he switched lanes, he noticed a motorcycle in the lane heading towards him, and so he slowed down and went back to his own lane. However, the oncoming motorcycle had already locked its brakes, swerved side to side, and then rolled over, ejecting both the driver and the passenger, who suffered subsequent injures.
The driver of the motorcycle filed suit against the trooper, alleging negligence in operating his vehicle. The trooper, in response, filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that he was acting within the scope of employment while driving his state vehicle and was thus immune from personal liability. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, but the court of appeals reversed. The case was appealed to the state supreme court.