Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

In some cases, a plaintiff may need to add or change the defendant in a Maryland car accident case after the case has already been filed. Maryland Rule 2-341 explains when a party may amend pleadings in a case. Some of the circumstances in which a party may amend pleadings under the rule are to “correct misnomer of a party” and to “add a party or parties.” However, amending a pleading may be tricky after the statute of limitations has run, depending on the amendment.

In a recent case, the Virginia Supreme Court explained under what circumstances an amendment is allowed after a party is misnamed, under Virginia law. In that case, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident and filed suit seeking damages. In the complaint, the plaintiff identified the at-fault driver as Michael M. The police report had listed Michael M. as the driver, but the plaintiff later learned that the driver was actually Michael’s son, Noah M. The plaintiff then filed a new complaint, arguing that the use of the wrong name in the complaint was a misnomer rather than a misjoinder. But the defendant argued that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations because the second complaint was filed after the statute of limitations had run.

The Virginia Supreme Court explained that a misnomer is a mistake in the name, as opposed to a misjoinder, which is a misidentification of the party. The distinction is significant because, in the case of a misnomer, a party can amend the pleading even after the statute of limitations expires. The court held that in this case the misidentification was a misnomer. The complaint alleged that the driver was negligent, but used the driver’s wrong name, based on the incorrect police report. Thus, it was not a mistake of a party but only of the name.

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.”

In a Maryland car accident case, evidence is legally sufficient if a reasonable jury could find it satisfies the party’s burden of proof. In any case, the party that has the burden of proof must produce some evidence supporting their position. If the party fails to do so, the judge may decide the case in the other party’s favor without having a jury consider the case. If a case is sent to a jury for consideration, the party that has the burden of persuasion must also meet that burden, which is generally measured by a preponderance of the evidence standard. Under that standard, a plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that something occurred. If a reasonable jury could not find in the plaintiff’s favor under the standard, a judge will not send the case to the jury and will instead find in the defendant’s favor.

A recent state appellate case serves an example of a situation in which a lower court erred in deciding certain issues instead of submitting them to the jury. In that case, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident and filed a negligence claim against another driver that was involved in the accident and the owner of that vehicle. She also filed an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim against her own insurer. The plaintiff reached a settlement with the driver and the owner and only continued to trial against her insurer.

The evidence at trial revealed that the plaintiff injured her left knee. She had previously injured her knee while she was attending the Naval Academy and injured it again when she was out walking several years after that. She had arthroscopic surgery on her knee two months before her car accident which showed that she had a torn meniscus. After the surgery, she said that her knee was getting better until the accident occurred. After the accident, a doctor performed arthroscopic surgery on her knee and found that she had suffered an ACL tear in the car accident and was permanently injured. The court directed a partial verdict in the plaintiff’s favor finding that the plaintiff suffered a permanent injury to her left knee that was caused by the accident. The jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $446,000.

The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental privilege essential in any Maryland car accident case. The privilege prevents an attorney and his client from being forced to disclose confidential communications made by the client to his attorney for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. To fall under the attorney-client privilege, the client must be seeking legal advice from a legal adviser in his capacity as such, the communication must relate to seeking legal advice, and the communication must have been confidential and made by the client. Communication that falls under the privilege is protected from disclosure permanently by the client and by the attorney. However, the protection may be waived. The privilege exists in order to foster trust and confidence between attorneys and clients.

Under Maryland law, a person cannot be forced to testify in violation of the attorney-client privilege. In Maryland, if an individual invokes this privilege during a trial, a court is supposed to make a preliminary inquiry and hearing testimony about the privilege outside of the presence of a jury. The court must consider whether a privilege exists before requiring the individual to disclose the communication itself.

In a recent state appellate case, the court considered whether an individual was required to disclose whether her attorney had referred her to her chiropractor. In that case, the plaintiff’s car was hit from behind as two vehicles were exiting a highway. The plaintiff filed suit against the other driver alleging that she received a permanent back injury because of the accident. A jury found that the other driver caused the plaintiff’s injury but that she did not suffer a permanent injury and thus did not award her damages for pain and suffering. The court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial and the plaintiff appealed.

Voluntarily risking one’s own safety to rescue another person or retrieve another person’s property is commendable. But if the rescuer is injured in the process, are they able to recover compensation from negligent parties? In Maryland, the defense of assumption of the risk generally holds that where a person assumes a certain risk, the person cannot later recover because they were injured because of a danger inherent in that risk. In cases of a voluntary rescue under Maryland law, there is an exception to the defense of assumption of the risk, referred to often as the rescue doctrine.

Under the rescue doctrine, a rescuer may be able to recover damages in emergency situations involving imminent peril, where the rescuer acts to save the life or property of another. But whether a rescuer is able to recover generally depends on the particular facts of the case, taking into consideration the exigency and harm involved. The rescuer’s actions must be reasonable under the circumstances, such that a rescuer may not be able to recover who engages in dangerous conduct that is not proportionate to the benefit or where there is a reasonably safe alternative.

In a recent case, the court found the rescue doctrine to be applicable, allowing the injured plaintiff to recover for their injuries. In that case, a taxi driver picked up an intoxicated passenger and his friend. The taxi driver drove to the destination and told the passenger the fare. The intoxicated passenger argued with the driver and grabbed and punched the driver from behind. The plaintiff, who had called a taxi from a nearby home and believed the taxi might have arrived to pick him up walked towards the taxi, heard the driver yelling for help and went to help. The passenger then started punching the plaintiff, causing him to fall down. The intoxicated passenger then got into the taxi, from which the driver had escaped, and hit the plaintiff twice with the car.

The Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion addressing when the statute of limitations begins to run against an insured motorist in an underinsured motorist claim against their insurance company. The case arose after an underinsured at-fault motorist offered $20,000 to an insured car accident victim. In April 2011, the plaintiff was braking her vehicle as she approached slowing traffic when the underinsured driver rear-ended her. After the initial collision, the plaintiff hit her brakes, but the driver slammed into her for a second time. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and required several years of medical treatment.

The rear-end driver was underinsured, and her liability insurance covered up to $20,000 per person in bodily injury coverage. The plaintiff had uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) of up to $300,000 per person. Two years after the accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance company offered the plaintiff $20,000 to release all claims against them, on the condition that the victim’s insurance company would waive its right to subrogation. Her insurance company agreed and began settlement negotiations. In January 2015, the plaintiff sent a formal demand letter to her insurance company requesting recovery under her UIM benefits. The company acknowledged receipt and notified her that a review was pending and requested additional medical documents. The insurance company contacted the plaintiff’s attorney in February, March, April, and June, to follow-up on its request. During this time, the insurance company did not deny the plaintiff’s claim.

In 2016, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the insurance company seeking the balance of unpaid damages not covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The insurance company filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the lawsuit was time-barred because the three-year statute of limitations had passed.

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.

When an individual is involved in a Maryland car accident, one of the first steps that they may take to recover for their damages is to file a claim with their or the at-fault party’s car insurance company. Although many people expect their insurance company to protect them in these instances, there are several reasons that an insurance provider may deny coverage. Moreover, in some cases, Maryland insurance companies will deny applications to renew existing policies. Maryland motorists and accident victims should contact an attorney to determine their rights and remedies in these situations.

Often, car insurance providers will deny coverage to those individuals that they believe are likely to be involved in an accident, such as those who have a significant number of traffic violations, are too young or too old, have poor credit, or live out of the coverage area. In other cases, even if a person receives coverage, their insurance company may deny a specific claim. For example, a Maryland car insurance company may deny a claim if the other party claims that the policyholder is at fault.

Maryland is one of the only states that continues to follow pure contributory negligence rules. A Maryland driver who possesses any level of responsibility, even five percent, is not entitled to compensation. Insurance companies may also deny coverage if they do not believe that the claimant suffered any physical injuries. Finally, insurance companies may deny a claim by asserting that the policy does not cover the specific situation that occurred. This often happens when a claimant indicates that they are refusing specific coverage when signing the insurance policy.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist protection provides coverage for insured drivers involved in a crash with uninsured or underinsured drivers. Although uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is required in Maryland motor vehicle policies, stacking uninsured motorist coverage is optional. Opting for stacked uninsured motorist coverage can benefit Maryland car accidents victims in the event of a crash, because stacking coverage can provide additional coverage beyond an insurance policy’s general policy limits.

Stacked uninsured motorist coverage is expansive and typically provides coverage whenever and wherever the insured is injured by an uninsured motorist. This means that an insured can stack or aggregate uninsured motorist coverage if the insured has multiple insurance policies. Non-stacked uninsured motorist coverage provides less protection and does not apply whenever and wherever the insured is injured. This means that it normally cannot be stacked or aggregated. Maryland’s Private Passenger Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance – Enhanced Underinsured Motorist Coverage law requires enhanced coverage to be offered under policies issued as of July 1, 2018. The law allows individuals covered on such policies to stack their uninsured motorist coverage.

A recent case from a state appeals court highlights the differences between stacked and non-stacked policies. In that case, the court found two individuals were not entitled to non-stacked uninsured motorist benefits where they had accepted stacked uninsured motorist benefits their policies with other insurers. Two individuals were injured when one of them was driving and was hit by another car that was driven by an uninsured motorist. The car was insured by a commercial auto policy in another individual’s name and provided non-stacked uninsured motorist coverage with a policy limit of $300,000. The two settled under the policy for $300,000. They also had three of their own insurance policies that provided uninsured motorist coverage. In addition, the parties settled under two of the other policies, which had provided stacked uninsured motorist coverage. The third policy insurer refused to pay because they had chosen non-stacked coverage.

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently decided a Maryland car accident case in which the court considered whether the state’s cap on non-economic damages was unconstitutional. In Maryland, there is a cap on non-economic damages in personal injury and wrongful death claims. In a personal injury claim, non-economic damages include damages for “pain, suffering inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other nonpecuniary injury.”

In a wrongful death claim, non-economic damages include damages for “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, care, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education,” or other noneconomic damaged authorized under the statute. If a jury awards party an amount that exceeds the non-economic damages cap, the court will reduce the amount to the maximum allowed. A jury also cannot be informed of the cap.

In the case before the appeals court, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a car accident in 2017. She was driving near her home in Lanham, Maryland, when a car crossed over the median and hit her car. The other driver was driving a commercial vehicle for his employer and was intoxicated at the time of the crash. His employer knew that he had charges for driving while intoxicated prior to hiring him. The plaintiff’s injuries included losing almost all use of her left arm or hand. She had to undergo almost continuous medical care since the accident occurred, in addition to psychological treatment.

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