Articles Posted in Personal Injury Case Law

A Maryland car accident lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint against one or more defendants. Filing pleadings against fictitious persons are known as “John Doe” pleadings. Maryland law does not specifically authorize John Doe pleadings. However, Maryland does permit parties to amend pleadings to add a party or correct an incorrectly named party in some circumstances.

Maryland allows parties amending pleadings to apply the doctrine of relation back by not barring the amended cause of action by the statute of limitations as long as the facts remain essentially the same after the amendment. So, for example, a party may be able to correct the name of an originally-named party, but not to add a new party. A recent case serves as a warning for those who fail to sufficiently investigate and properly name parties before filing a complaint.

According to the state court appellate opinion, in September 2016, a police officer saw a driver run two red lights without stopping, and a police chase ensued. Another officer who joined in the chase and was pursuing the driver drove against the flow of traffic and hit another driver head-on, killing him. The man’s personal representative sued the police officer driving the car, the city, and other named and fictitiously named parties. More than a year later, the representative amended the complaint to substitute the names of the other police officers involved in the chase for the fictitiously named defendants. The defendant officers argued that the amended complaint was not timely filed and was barred by the statute of limitations.

Although some cases go to trial, many Maryland car accident cases are decided by the court based on the evidence and pleadings. After the evidence has been submitted, a party can file a motion for summary judgment to have the court rule on the issues in the case. Under Maryland law, summary judgment may be granted if there is no genuine issue regarding any material fact, and the party seeking summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court will view the case in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and drawing any reasonable inferences from the facts against the moving party. There has to be evidence from which a jury could find in the non-moving party’s favor to deny summary judgment. The party seeking summary judgment is responsible for clearly identifying deficiencies in the case that show the absence of a genuine issue of fact.

In a recent case before a state supreme court, the court considered whether the plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the evidence in a two-vehicle car accident case. In that case, the plaintiff was approaching an intersection where he intended to turn left. The defendant had also stopped at the intersection, and after he entered the intersection, he struck the driver side of the plaintiff’s vehicle as both vehicles were making left turns. The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages. Both parties and their spouses testified at the trial and presented two different accounts of the crash. The jury found the defendant was not negligent, and the plaintiff appealed the decision.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued in part that the judge should have found he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because he claimed the defendant violated the right-of-way. The court disagreed. The court explained that the jury heard two versions of the accident. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was negligent for failing to yield the right-of-way and that the defendant accelerated quickly and failed to perceive the vehicle because the sun blocked his vision. On the other hand, the defendant claimed that he approached carefully and proceeding slowly before colliding with the plaintiff, who had entered his lane of travel. Therefore, even if the jury found that the defendant violated the right-of-way, it could still find that he acted reasonably under the circumstances. Thus, the court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant.

Proving damages is an essential part of any Maryland car accident case. In addition to establishing a defendant’s liability, the plaintiff has the burden to prove their damages. Generally, damages must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it is more likely than not to be true. The plaintiff must prove that the injury and damages were proximately caused by the wrongful acts of the defendant. This means that the damages cannot be based on speculation or conjecture. Some future expenses or losses, which may be recoverable in some cases, such as lost wages and lost earning capacity, can be difficult to establish. However, they are ways of proving these damages.

A recent case provides an example of a plaintiff’s failure to sufficiently prove damages for future medical expenses. In that case, the plaintiff filed suit against another driver after he suffered injuries in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff was stopped in a left-hand turn lane when he was rear-ended by the defendant driver. The plaintiff’s SUV suffered significant damage, but the plaintiff did not initially seek medical treatment. However, the plaintiff’s back began hurting later that day, and he went to a local hospital, where he was prescribed pain medication and was told to follow up with his primary care physician. He saw his primary care physician and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed him with an L3-4 level disk herniation. The surgeon recommended initial treatment of steroid epidural injections, and saw him a few more times, until he told the plaintiff that he could follow up if it was necessary.

At trial, the defendant admitted she was at fault for the accident, and a jury awarded the plaintiff $25,000 in damages and $100,000 for future medical expenses. The defendant argued that the future damages award was not supported by the evidence and the trial court agreed, vacating the future damages award. The plaintiff appealed the decision.

Drunk driving remains an issue in Maryland, just as it does across the country. Due to the severity of the issue, in some states, social hosts and commercial establishments can be held liable for providing alcohol to guests if another person is injured as a result of a Maryland car accident. A recent decision a state appellate court considered whether a 19-year-old could be held liable after his friends drank at his home.

In that case, the 19-year-old defendant had friends over at his home where they all drank alcohol. His friends were also underage, but adults. Two of his friends, who were 19 years old and 20 years old, left severely intoxicated. The 20-year-old drove and crashed his car, and the 19-year-old passenger died at the scene.

The state’s supreme court considered whether an adult under the age of twenty-one had a duty to stop others from allowing underage guests to consume alcohol in their homes. The court decided that an underage adult may be held liable if 1.) the defendant knowingly permitted and facilitated the consumption of alcohol by allowing others to drink in his home; 2.) the defendant knowingly provided alcohol to a visibly intoxicated underage guest or allowed the guest to drink there; 3.) it was reasonably foreseeable that the driver would leave to operate a motor vehicle, thereby putting others at risk; 4.) the defendant did not take any reasonable steps to prevent the intoxicated guest from getting behind the wheel of the vehicle; and 5.) the guest negligently drove and injured a third party due to his intoxication. In this case, the court decided that the defendant could be held liable.

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.

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