Do Maryland Motorists Have a Duty to Protect Others from Harm?

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.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued the defendants owed him a duty to warn him of the presence of the vehicles on the shoulder of the highway. The plaintiff alleged that he should have put up lights or warnings to warn of him of the presence of the two vehicles.

The court disagreed. The court noted that the second vehicle was not involved in the crash, and that the second driver did not play any role in the first vehicle becoming disabled. Therefore, as a bystander, he had no duty to take steps to prevent the crash. The second driver also did not have a duty to warn based on his decision to pull over and try to help, because he did not exacerbate the condition or agree to assume a duty, and did not contribute to the accident.

Call a Maryland Accident Lawyer

If you have been injured in a Maryland car accident, you should contact a lawyer who has extensive experience in these kinds of cases. You may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers, our accident lawyers have more than 20 years of experience representing victims in the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area. We will review your options with you and try to resolve your claim as swiftly as possible, while ensuring that you obtain everything that you are legally entitled to. Call us for a free consultation at 800-654-1949 or contact us online.

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