Articles Posted in Multi-vehicle Accidents

Most people do not think about the possibility of filing a Maryland personal injury lawsuit until they need to—until they themselves get injured in an accident. A common catalyst for these lawsuits are Maryland car accidents, which are unfortunately all too common and occur every day. Some of these accidents are somewhat predictable and common—perhaps a driver runs a red light, or a drunk driver swerves into the wrong lane. While these accidents are tragic, they are also pretty usual and expected—driver’s education courses teach Maryland drivers to be on the lookout for these risky behaviors which would lead to accidents.

Other accidents, however, are less predictable and, frankly, quite unusual. Take a recent tragedy that occurred just last month. According to a news article covering the incident, a pickup truck was driving southbound one morning, around 11 am, when it unexpectedly crossed the median and northbound lanes before leaving the road and crashing into a house. Tragically, one person inside the house was killed. The driver of the pickup truck was also injured, and taken to the hospital in serious condition. It is unknown what caused the driver to leave the road and crash into the house—the crash is still under investigation.

Regardless of how the Maryland car accident happens—whether it’s a slight fender-bender or someone crashing into a house—the state allows those injured as a result to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover for the damages incurred. These lawsuits are civil, meaning the defendant in the case (usually the driver who caused the accident) will not face any jail time or criminal charges as a result. Instead, if they are held liable for the accident, they will likely be ordered to pay the plaintiff (the injured person who brought the suit) for the costs they incurred as a result. The goal is to make the plaintiff whole, as close to as if the accident had never happened as possible. So if the plaintiff had to pay $100,000 in medical fees and expenses as a result of the accident, then the court may instruct the defendant to pay the plaintiff $100,000. In tragic cases like the one described above, when someone dies, their family or estate may be able to bring the suit instead. In this circumstance, they can also recover for funeral and burial costs, in addition to any medical expenses or other costs.

Any Maryland negligence claim requires proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and that the damages proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. The legal relationship between the breach of duty and the injury is known as proximate cause. Under Maryland law, to establish proximate cause, the plaintiff must show that the negligence was both the cause in fact of the injury and a legally cognizable cause.

Cause in fact refers only to whether a defendant’s actions actually caused an injury. Whether there is a legally cognizable cause considers whether the injury was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligent actions. The issue becomes whether the injury to the plaintiff was within the general field of danger that the defendant should have expected or anticipated. Legal cause often requires a consideration of policy considerations and whether a defendant should be held liable under the circumstances. Generally, proximate cause must be decided by a jury (or a judge if the judge is the trier of fact), unless there is only one possible inference that can be drawn based on the facts of the case, or unless “reasoning minds cannot differ.”

Foreseeability is also a consideration in determining whether a duty exists in personal injury cases. In a 1985 case that is still cited today, one Maryland judge explained that “courts have given further effect to the social policy of limitation of liability for remote consequences by narrowing the concept of duty to embrace only those persons or classes of persons to whom harm of some type might reasonably have been foreseen as a result of the particular tortious conduct.”

In some cases, a presumption of negligence can work in a party’s favor. However, presumptions can also work against a party. For example, in rear-end collisions, in many states, there is a presumption that the rear driver was negligent. Maryland courts have found that in Maryland rear-end collision cases, if a vehicle is lawfully stopped while waiting for traffic to clear and that vehicle is rear-ended by another car, the operator of the car that rear-ended the stopped vehicle is presumed to have been negligent. However, the presumption is rebuttable, and the burden of persuasion remains with the plaintiff. Thus, a plaintiff still has the ultimate responsibility to prove that the defendant was negligent, which includes establishing all the elements of negligence.

In addition, Maryland courts have found that in the case of a rear-end collision that occurs after the first vehicle stops, there is no presumption that the rear driver was negligent, unless the rear driver had the opportunity to stop after the need to stop became apparent. Under Maryland Code section 21–310(a), a driver cannot follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, considering traffic, the speed of the other car, and the conditions on the road.

Court Directs Verdict Against Rear-End Driver Despite Jury’s Verdict

Before a document can be admitted in evidence in a Maryland injury case, the court must determine if the document is genuine and true. Courts refer to this as authentication. Maryland Rule 5-901 provides that authentication is satisfied “by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.” For example, a witness can testify that another person signed a contract in order to prove the authenticity of a signature on a document. A witness might also be able to testify as to the authenticity of a signature through testimony that establishes that the witness is familiar with the person’s signature.

Even if a document is properly authenticated, documents must still be admissible under hearsay rules. Maryland Rule 5-803(b)(6) concerns the admission of business records under Maryland law. Under the rule, a business record can be admitted if it is proven the record was made “at or near the time of the act, event, or condition, or the rendition of the diagnosis,” was made by a person with knowledge or from information given by a person with knowledge, that the business regularly made and maintained such a record, and that the record was made and maintained in the course of the regular course of business. This rule applies to businesses and associations, whether or not they are for-profit or not-for-profit. A recent case considered whether a medical record was properly admitted in a personal injury case.

In that case, the plaintiff was a passenger in a car when the car was involved in an accident with another vehicle. The plaintiff sued the drivers of both cars for injuries she claimed were caused by the crash. The case went to trial, and the jury found in the plaintiff’s favor on liability but awarded her no damages, so the plaintiff appealed. She claimed that her prior medical records should not have been admitted into evidence because they were not authenticated.

Under Maryland law, a party in a personal injury lawsuit may present testimony from an expert witness only in certain circumstances. That being the case, expert witnesses do not testify in most Maryland car accidents. However, there are cases where the need for an expert witness arises. Typically, this is when a case presents complex medical or scientific issues that are beyond the scope of a typical juror’s understanding. A recent case illustrates a situation in which the court held that the plaintiff’s claim required the testimony of an expert witness.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was involved in a chain reaction car accident. Evidently, one motorist collided with another driver, whose vehicle then struck the plaintiff’s car. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital, where he was treated and released later that day. The record does not indicate the treatment that the plaintiff received at the hospital.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against two of the other drivers involved in the accident. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged injuries to his neck, head, back, right foot, right ankle, right hip, both shoulders, and both knees.” The plaintiff presented the testimony of medical experts to establish the extent of his injuries.

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Earlier this month, a Maryland car accident involving three vehicles claimed the life of one woman and injured several others. According to a local news report, the accident occurred in the evening hours on Route 238 and Asbury Road, in Denton.

Evidently, a Jeep Grand Cherokee was traveling eastbound when it inexplicably crossed over the center line and into oncoming traffic. As the Jeep entered oncoming traffic, it struck a Toyota head-on. The Jeep then rolled over and struck a nearby GMC truck, which was also traveling westbound.

Several injuries were reported among the passengers in the Jeep. The driver and one of the passengers in the Toyota were taken to the hospital as well. However, one of the passengers in the Toyota sustained fatal injuries.

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When it comes to determining who is at fault in a car accident, some accidents are fairly straightforward, while others pose more difficulty. It may be that the parties involved were intoxicated and do not remember the events leading up to the accident, or were so severely injured that their recollection of the events is foggy.

Chain-reaction accidents or accidents involving several vehicles may also pose a difficulty in determining who caused the accident because there may be several parties involved, each slightly at fault. For example, if two cars collide on the highway, and then several others approach at a high rate of speed and collide with the wreckage already on the road, it may be difficult for investigators to determine what exactly happened and who should be held responsible.

When personal injury cases involving a chain-reaction accident are filed in court, fault must often be divided up among several parties. This is often determined by the jury that hears the case. Unfortunately for Maryland accident victims, the state applies the doctrine of contributory negligence when it comes to determining who can recover damages for an accident.

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Rear-end accidents are among the most common types of car accidents in Maryland. While most rear-end accidents that occur at a low speed are not likely to result in serious bodily injury, high-speed rear-end collisions often result in serious injury or death. For these reasons, the State Legislature in Maryland has made a concerted effort to deter distracted driving, one of the leading causes of rear-end collisions.

Efforts to Stop Distracted Driving

Distracted driving consists of engaging in any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from the road and others on it. It is a mistake to assume that distracted driving only includes visual distractions. In fact, most of the common causes of distracted driving are attention-based, rather than visual. These include the common culprits:  talking on the phone or texting, talking to passengers, and eating or drinking.

To help curb distract driving in Maryland, the State Legislature has enacted a tough hand-held device ban. Under the ban, drivers are prohibited from using any hand-held device while they are operating a motor vehicle. This includes talking on the phone and texting. It is only with a hands-free device that a Maryland driver can legally be on the phone while driving.

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Some accidents involve only one or two vehicles, and it is easy for authorities to determine who was at fault and to issue the necessary citations. However, other accidents involve multiple parties, and in these situations authorities may have a difficult time ascertaining what caused the initial accident and who was at fault in subsequent collisions between motorists that may not have been involved in the initial collision at all.

In multi-vehicle car or truck accidents, it may be that the fault for the accident was entirely attributable to one driver because they were drunk or distracted at the time. However, it is also possible that one driver’s negligent conduct started a chain-reaction accident that could have been prevented if other drivers had been diligent. A prime example of this is a multi-vehicle accident that involves a single collision and then several smaller collisions, due to approaching vehicles following too closely.

In these situations, establishing who is liable to whom can be a difficult task to sort out. The bottom line is, however, that an innocent driver should not have to worry about whether or not they will be able to recover compensation for their injuries just because it is difficult to determine who caused the accident leading to their injuries. It is for this reason that a thorough investigation is often necessary in multi-vehicle accidents.

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Earlier this month in Riverside, Maryland, an officer responding to a hit-and-run accident was involved in an accident, injuring himself and three others. According to one local news source, the police officer was responding to an altercation between the victim of a hit-and-run and the other driver. Evidently, the accident occurred on I-95, and the victim had followed the hit-and-run driver to his address, where an altercation between the two was underway.

The police officer was responding, with lights and sirens on, heading south on Route 543. As the officer approached the intersection of Route 543 and Route 7, a Mazda heading eastbound on Route 7 collided with the officer’s car. The driver of the Mazda and the police officer were both flown to Maryland Shock Trauma in Baltimore. The other two people injured in the accident were taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital, where they were treated for their injuries and released.

Police are currently conducting an investigation to determine who, if anyone, was at fault for the accident. Thus far, no charges have been issued by the police department.

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