Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

Maryland property owners generally maintain the responsibility to keep their property safe for people whom they invite onto their property. If an individual suffers injuries on an owner’s property, the property owner or occupier may be liable for the damages that the visitor sustained. Under Maryland personal injury law, accident victims who want to hold a property owner responsible for their injuries must be able to establish four main factors:

  • The property owner had a duty to keep their property safe from dangers;
  • The owner failed to abide by that duty;
  • The dangerous condition caused the victim’s injuries; and
  • The victim’s injuries resulted in damages.

In some cases, this also applies to roadside hazards. However, challenges may arise when the negligent party is a governmental entity, such as a city, county, state, or federal agency. Historically, under the theory of sovereign immunity, Maryland government agencies cannot face liability without their consent. However, to address this fundamental unfairness, Maryland lawmakers established the Maryland Tort Claims Act, which waives governmental immunity in specific instances.

To determine whether a Maryland governmental agency or official can face liability, the courts will analyze whether the party was engaging in discretionary or ministerial duties. Discretionary duties occur when a governmental agent or employee chooses between different options. Accident victims who suffer damages because of a governmental agency’s discretionary duty cannot hold the government liable. On the other hand, ministerial duties are those that do not require any judgment calls or independent decision-making. Accident victims can recover damages that they sustained because of a negligent government official’s ministerial decision-making.

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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.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) reports that thousands of people are hurt or killed in Maryland car accidents every year. Crash report statistics have shown there has been a rise in Maryland car accidents every year since 2012. These incidents range from minor to severe, and Maryland car accident victims often suffer significant financial repercussions as a result of these accidents. Many accident victims do not realize that their insurance companies may not cover the extent of damages that they sustained. In these situations, injury victims may need to file a dispute with their insurance company to recover fully for their losses. In some cases, a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party may be necessary.

Injury victims are often surprised to discover that their insurance company is taking an adversarial role when the policyholder attempts to collect on a claim. Many times, insurance companies will go to great lengths to dispute a claim, deny coverage, and escape making a payment.

For example, recently, a state appellate court issued a ruling in a lawsuit stemming from a claim dispute between a policyholder and her insurance company. In that case, a woman suffered injuries while she was exercising at a mobile gym. The woman filed and settled a negligence lawsuit against the gym’s owner and the personal trainer. The gym was run out of the back of a pickup truck, so she filed a car insurance claim with her provider to recover her remaining damages. Her insurance company disputed coverage, arguing that her uninsured/underinsured coverage did not extend to motor vehicles such as a mobile gym. The insurance company cited specific provisions in her policy that limited the insurance company’s obligation to pay a claim. Ultimately, the appellate court ruled in the insurance company’s favor finding that the coverage did not extend to motor vehicles that are “located for use as a premises,” such as a mobile gym.

When accidents happen and people are injured, many individuals rely on their insurance policies to help them cover the costs. For instance, homeowner’s insurance policies can protect individuals if something that they own hurts someone else or damages their property. Maryland law allows the injured party to sue the at-fault party in court to recover monetary compensation, and insurance can help the at-fault party cover all or part of the award. However, some insurance companies may try to escape liability for certain types of accidents, relying on vague or ambiguous language in the policy’s contract.

Take a recent state appellate case, for example. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff brought suit when she was injured by the defendant’s Ford truck. The truck had been parked on an incline on the driveway when the plaintiff, examining it, pulled the emergency brake. The truck subsequently took off and went down the driveway, rolling over the plaintiff’s ankles and causing her multiple injuries, including several fractures and a knee effusion. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, alleging negligence.

Typically, in situations like this, a defendant with homeowner’s insurance would receive assistance from their insurance company. However, the defendant’s insurer filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment to determine whether or not it had to cover the incident. The insurance company argued that they did not provide coverage for claims arising out of the “use” of a motor vehicle, and thus were not obliged to cover the defendant here. Ultimately, the question came down to what the ambiguous term “use of a motor vehicle” meant, since there was no further definition in the policy contract.

Maryland car accidents are unfortunately far too common and often result in serious injuries and lifelong trauma for those involved. While some accidents are pure accidents with no one to blame, many accidents are unfortunately the result of someone’s negligence. Usually, the negligent party is the driver. For example, distracted driving, driving under the influence, or driving too fast and recklessly can all lead to accidents, and the driver engaging in the risky behavior may be liable to the victims from these accidents.

However, there are certain cases where someone other than the driver may be liable to an accident victim, even if they were not on the road when the accident happened. The doctrine of negligent entrustment can make someone liable if they entrust a car to another and give them permission to operate that car, even though they know or should know that they are incompetent, inexperienced, or reckless. For example, if you lend your neighbor a car, knowing that he recently had his license suspended for driving under the influence and is currently intoxicated, and they get into an accident and hurt someone else, you may be liable to the accident victim. Thus, one does not need to be directly involved in the accident in order to be liable to those harmed.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion on the topic of negligent entrustment. The defendant permitted his son, who he knew suffered from a seizure disorder, to drive his automobile. While driving, his son suffered from a seizure and struck another car, killing both the driver and the passenger inside. The deceased victim’s family filed an action against the defendant, claiming that it was negligent for him to have entrusted his car to his son. The jury found him liable, and the appellate court affirmed, making this case a perfect example of how a plaintiff may be able to recover from more than one party when there has been an injury or wrongful death.

In the aftermath of a Maryland car accident, a victim may have multiple sources from which to recover financially. This compensation can help pay for medical bills and other costs incurred as a result of the injuries. For instance, a plaintiff may be eligible for some money from their insurance company. However, money received from an insurance company may affect a plaintiff’s potential civil suit against the wrongdoer, because personal injury laws typically try to avoid allowing a plaintiff from being “unjustly enriched” by obtaining more compensation than needed for their injuries.

Take a recent Virginia case, for example. The Supreme Court of Virginia, in a recent written opinion, held that a Virginia car accident victim could receive monetary compensation from both her insurance company and the defendant responsible for the accident.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving down the road when the defendant pulled out of her driveway and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries as a result of the accident and had to undergo multiple extensive surgeries. Accordingly, the plaintiff filed suit to seek compensation for her injuries.

Maryland car accident victims have to carefully build their cases to prove the elements of a negligence claim. In a recent decision from state appellate court, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed after a pedestrian was killed because the plaintiff failed to prove the driver acted negligently. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant left his home to go to work at a brewing company in another town. At around 5:30 a.m., as he was on his way, he was shifting lanes when he hit the plaintiff’s husband. The windshield of the car broke and flew into the defendant’s face, and he parked on the side of the road further down the highway. He walked back to the scene of the crash and saw the plaintiff’s husband. According to the defendant, it was dark out and he did not see the plaintiff before hitting him. The plaintiff’s husband died as a result of his injuries.

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death claim, alleging that the defendant was negligent in failing to exercise due care in driving his car, and striking and killing her husband. The plaintiff presented evidence from an accident reconstructionist who found that if the defendant was properly watching the road, he would have been able to avoid hitting her husband.

The court held that the plaintiff did not establish the required elements for a negligence claim. The court began its opinion by noting that in a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove four elements: a legal duty owed to the accident victim, a breach of that duty, a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury, and loss or damages to the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s breach of the duty.

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;
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