Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important issue that frequently arises in Maryland car accident cases. Specifically, the case involved the question of employer liability following an accident allegedly caused by the negligent actions of an employee.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff, a young child, was seriously injured in an accident with a dump truck. The dump truck driver was hired by Company A, which was working under a contract with Company B. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the dump truck’s driver, Company A, and Company B. The court’s opinion dealt with the potential liability of Company B.

Apparently, the driver of the dump truck tested positive for several controlled substances. The plaintiff claimed that Company B was negligent in failing to ensure that Company A performed a background check on the driver and also that Company B was negligent in failing to determine if the truck driver was drug-free.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that will be relevant to many Maryland car accident cases. The case involved the potential liability of a landowner for their alleged failure to trim trees that were on their property that obscured motorists’ view of an adjacent intersection.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of a driver who was killed in a two-car automobile accident. According to the court’s opinion, the collision occurred at the intersection of two gravel roads. The plaintiff owned the property that was adjacent to the southeast corner of the intersection.

Evidently, after the accident, investigating officers noticed that it was impossible for northbound traffic to see vehicles approaching from the west, and vice-versa, due to the presence of dense foliage on the southwest corner of the intersection. The driver of the other vehicle also explained that he was unable to see the deceased driver’s car until he had entered the intersection.

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Late last month, one woman was killed in a Maryland car accident that occurred on the side of Highway 50 near Route 410 in Prince George’s County. According to a local news report, the victim pulled over and got out of her car to assist another motorist who had lost control of their vehicle and crashed into a wall.

Evidently, shortly after the woman exited her car and was approaching the disabled vehicle, another car struck her. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency workers. The driver of the car that hit the victim was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Drunk Driving Accidents in Maryland

Despite countless government campaigns, motorists routinely get behind the wheel after having consumed too much to drink. In fact, in Maryland alone, there are approximately 170 people killed each year due to drunk driving. While the government often prosecutes drunk drivers, there is little that the criminal justice system can do to provide compensation to those who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a Maryland DUI accident.

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Over the past few decades, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Maryland roadside accidents. Some attribute this increase to the more prevalent role technology has taken in most American’s lives, which in turn has led to more instances of distracted driving. Regardless of the underlying cause, many roadside accidents involve police officers, emergency medical technicians, and other emergency workers who are carrying out their duties when they are struck by a passing motorist.

Thus, back in 2010, Maryland lawmakers passed the state’s ‘move over’ law to protect those most at risk of being struck by a distracted driver. Under Maryland Code § 21-405, motorists are prohibited from passing an emergency vehicle while going in the same direction without either safely changing lanes or slowing down “to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.”

Initially, Maryland’s ‘move over’ law applied only to tow trucks and emergency vehicles such as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. This offered some protection to these discrete classes of workers; however, the statute did not apply to non-emergency workers who still spent a significant amount of time along the side of the road.

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While limousines are not a common form of transportation for most people, many find themselves occasionally riding in a limo for special occasions such as weddings, proms, or birthday parties. In addition, limousine touring has become increasingly popular as a way to more safely enjoy the Maryland wine country. Given the number of passengers a limousine can carry, Maryland limousine accidents have the potential to cause serious injury to a large number of people.

Earlier this month, a limousine accident in Upstate New York claimed the lives of 20 people, including everyone inside the limo and two pedestrian bystanders. Federal authorities have declared the crash as the deadliest in the United States in nearly a decade. According to a recent news report, the accident occurred in the early afternoon hours in Schoharie, New York. Evidently, a 2001 Ford Limousine approached a T-intersection at a high rate of speed, traveling through the intersection and into the parking lot of a restaurant. The limo then crashed into an unoccupied SUV.

Authorities noted that several people witnessed the accident, but it was clear from the physical evidence at the scene where the limo was coming from. It appears as though the roads leading to the intersection where the accident occurred are steep and offer only limited visibility of the approaching intersection. In fact, the New York Department of Transportation recently prohibited large trucks from using the road due to fears that the vehicles would lose their ability to brake effectively down the steep hill.

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As this blog has discussed in the past, Maryland law continues to employ a very strict framework in determining which accident victims can recover for their injuries. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence doctrine, only those accident victims who are truly free of all fault will be able to successfully pursue a claim against other at-fault drivers.

This doctrine has repeatedly been called into question, and lawmakers have submitted bills 21 times over the past few decades in an attempt to bring the state’s law more in line with the rest of the country. However, none of these measures have passed. Maryland’s contributory negligence law has also come under attack in the court system. That said, in the most recent case bringing the issue to the court’s attention, the court declined to get rid of the doctrine, explaining that it was up to the lawmakers to pass a new law. So, for the time being, Maryland accident victims are stuck with the state’s contributory negligence doctrine.

Given this reality, it is imperative that Maryland vehicle accident victims know what constitutes negligence. One common – but incorrect – assumption is that an accident victim will not be able to pursue a claim for compensation if they were injured while not wearing a seatbelt.

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In some Maryland car accident cases, the testimony from both sides is in direct contradiction, and the case ultimately boils down to the issue of credibility. That is, which party or witness presented the more convincing testimony and evidence. However, in some cases, one party may not have any evidence that directly contradicts the other side’s evidence, and instead presents circumstantial evidence supporting their position.

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that requires an inference be made to reach the conclusion that the party presenting the evidence is asserting. For example, a defendant’s fingerprints left at the scene of a crime would be considered circumstantial evidence that the defendant had been present. In this situation, direct evidence would be testimony from a witness that saw the defendant at the scene of the crime.

A recent case illustrates the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence, as well as how an accident victim can use circumstantial evidence to help prove their case.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a decision in a wrongful death case arising out of a drunk-driving accident that occurred at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s case, which was brought against the venue organizers as well as the City where the festival occurred, should be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial over the defendants’ summary judgment motion. Ultimately, the court determined that the case should be dismissed against each of the defendants, albeit for different reasons.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was killed when a drunk driver fleeing from police drove through a barrier and into a crowd of people at the city-wide SXSW festival. Due to the multi-venue nature of the festival, festival organizers needed to apply for several use permits from the city. In particular, the use permit stated that “[a]ll traffic controls must be provided in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.”

Evidently, festival organizers closed three linear blocks, installing traffic barriers at each intersection. A police officer was also placed at each intersection to keep watch. However, the barricades failed to stop a drunk-driver from crashing through them and driving into a crowd of people. The plaintiff’s spouse was among four who were killed.

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Last week, we discussed a new Maryland law that required insurance companies to offer Enhanced Underinsured Motorist (EUIM) protection with all new individual insurance policies issued after July 1, 2018. Under the new EUIM framework, an accident victim is able to obtain the full value of their insurance policy without an offset for any compensation provided by the at-fault party’s policy.

This new law represents one form of insurance stacking. Insurance stacking is a term used to describe an accident victim’s ability to recover under multiple insurance policies based on a single accident. Some types of insurance stacking are permitted. For example, under the new EUIM law. However, other accident victims may be prevented from stacking in other situations.

Multiple-Policy Stacking

In the event that an accident victim’s damages are greater than the limit under their insurance policy, the accident victim may be required to cover some of their expenses out-of-pocket. However, if an accident victim is covered under multiple insurance policies, they may wish to file a claim and recover under each policy. Thus, by adding the recovery amounts between multiple policies, an accident victim is able to recover a greater amount.

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Maryland law requires that all motorists obtain a base level of car insurance in order to legally drive on the state’s public roads. Since 2011, Maryland drivers have been required to obtain underinsured or uninsured motorist (UIM) protection. This type of insurance compensates a motorist when an at-fault driver either has no insurance or does not have sufficient insurance to cover the injuries of a Maryland car accident victim.

Recently, Maryland legislature passed a new law requiring insurance companies to offer a new version of UIM insurance. Under the old UIM insurance policies, a motorist’s total recovery would be reduced by whatever insurance the at-fault driver had. For example, suppose a motorist was involved in a collision caused by another driver who had an insurance policy with a policy maximum of $50,000. If the injury victim’s policy max was $200,000, the injured motorist would only be able to obtain $150,000 from their own insurance company despite the fact that their policy limit is $200,000. This is because the old UIM statute counted the compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance policy toward the policy maximum of the injured motorist.

Under the new Enhanced Underinsured Motorist Coverage (EUIM), Maryland motorists will enjoy greater protection. Simply, an EUIM policy will not count the compensation received from an at-fault driver’s insurance company toward the policy maximum of the injured party. So, in the above example, the injured motorist would be able to recover a maximum of $50,000 from the at-fault motorist’s insurance company, and another $200,000 from their own insurance company.

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