Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

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.

When someone is injured in a Maryland car accident due to another driver’s negligence, state law allows them to sue the responsible driver in a personal injury suit. However, what is less well known is that someone who is injured in a single-vehicle Maryland car accident may still be able to obtain compensation for their injuries. For example, in some situations, dangerous and hazardous conditions on the roads may lead to accidents, and injured victims may be able to sue their city government, who is responsible for maintaining roads and ensuring their safety.

For example, take a recent state appellate court decision. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was driving in August of 2016, when she suddenly hit an uncovered manhole. This caused an accident, and the plaintiff was seriously injured as a result. She decided to file a personal injury suit against the city, alleging that the manhole was a public nuisance and presenting evidence in the form of photographs. The photographs showed that the manhole sat several inches below the surface of the street and that there were cracks in the surrounding pavement. According to her expert witness, this meant that there was an increased risk of the cover being dislodged. The jury in the case sided with the plaintiff and found the city to be liable, and the city appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed the jury verdict and directed a verdict for the defendant city. The court found that the plaintiff did not establish the elements required to hold a city liable for a public nuisance, because she had to show that the deteriorated condition of the manhole existed on the day of the accident or that the city had notice of the condition before the accident. Because the photographs she submitted into evidence were taken over a year after the accident occurred, the court found that she had failed to establish these elements, and a jury could not find the city liable. As such, the verdict was reversed, and the plaintiff’s suit ended.

Maryland regulates insurance in the state for all Maryland drivers. When a Maryland car accident occurs, compensation is often issued by the insurance companies through the insureds’ insurance policies. If a wrongdoer is not insured, or is underinsured, uninsured motorist coverage normally kicks in. Uninsured motorist coverage covers damages to a victim that are less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute.

Maryland’s uninsured motorist statute was enacted in 1972. The statute was meant to provide protection for individuals injured by uninsured motorists and to allow more injured victims to recover compensation. In 1975, the State made uninsured motorist coverage mandatory for all motor vehicle liability insurers. The term uninsured also now encompasses underinsured vehicles. There is a minimum coverage required by the statute. An insured individual can also buy additional uninsured motorist coverage.

To file an uninsured motorist coverage claim in Maryland, an insured must show proof of being insured, that he is entitled to recover from an uninsured motor vehicle’s owner or operator, that he sustained injuries or property damages, and that the injuries resulted from the uninsured driver’s use, ownership, or maintenance of the motor vehicle.

Although people generally must act reasonably so as not to harm others, you may wonder if that extends to protecting others from harm. In the context of a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving the claim, which includes proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury. Maryland courts have characterized the concept of duty as “an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.” Whether a duty exists depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Courts consider, among other things, whether the harm was foreseeable to the plaintiff, and the relationship between the defendant’s conduct and the injury. However, people do not have a general duty to the public at large to protect it against the actions of others. This was illustrated in a recent appellate case, in which the plaintiff claimed that a driver who had pulled over on the side of the road to help another stranded driver should have put out warnings to alert the plaintiff to the presence of the vehicles.

In that case, a pickup truck driver with an attached trailer experienced an electrical failure and pulled onto the shoulder of the highway. It was nighttime and the lights on the truck were not on due to the electrical failure. As another driver was passing by, he saw the truck and trailer and pulled over to help. A third vehicle was passing by, and veered off the highway and crashed into the trailer. The plaintiff was a passenger in the third vehicle. He sued the drivers, and a trial court dismissed the case.

Most people know that Maryland law allows those injured in car accidents to bring a civil negligence suit against the responsible party. What is less commonly known, however, is that the law also provides a variety of “affirmative defenses” that a defendant can use to defend themselves. Affirmative defenses, if proven, can shield a defendant from civil liability even if they would otherwise be held responsible for the accident. Understanding these defenses is important, as defendants may raise one or more of them in any civil negligence suit arising from Maryland car accidents.

One important affirmative defense is the “act of God defense.” To claim this, the defendant must prove that the accident was caused by an act of God, rather than the defendant. What exactly constitutes an act of God? Typically, the term is limited to unstoppable and unexpected physical and/or natural forces, such as lightning, earthquakes, meteors, sudden death or illness, or other such events. The key is that the cause of the accident was not an act of the defendant, but an act of God, or the universe.

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion considering the act of God defense in a car accident case. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant driver was a 16-year-old girl, turning into Costco one afternoon. As she turned right into the parking lot, she, unfortunately, hit the plaintiff, who was walking his dog and crossing the parking lot entrance. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital, and subsequently had serious injuries, making him unable to work.

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