Many Maryland car crashes are not straightforward and some cases involve many parties. Knowing who is to blame is not always clear, which is why so many insurance companies and defendants fight back. Oftentimes, defendants will try to lay blame on the victim in order to relieve themselves of liability. This is an especially useful strategy for defendants in Maryland, because the state follows a law that can be very harsh for car accident victims who are partially at fault.

If a Maryland plaintiff is found to be even partially at fault for an accident, the plaintiff cannot recover compensation from any other parties. This doctrine, known as contributory negligence, is no longer followed by the majority of states, but Maryland is among the few states that continue to apply it. The state legislature has continued to uphold the doctrine despite much criticism of the doctrine. The majority of states in the United States follow a version of comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative negligence, a plaintiff may still recover some compensation even if the plaintiff is partially at fault, though some limit the plaintiff’s fault to 50% or less.

If a case goes to trial, a jury (or judge, in some cases) will consider the plaintiff’s fault while it is considering the defendant’s fault and decide whether the plaintiff is partially at fault. However, the defendant must provide evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence and has the burden to prove each element of a negligence claim to show that the plaintiff acted negligently. In addition, a court will only provide a jury instruction and allow the jury to consider the plaintiff’s fault if the defendant sufficiently establishes that the plaintiff was negligent. And just as any defendant, the plaintiff can defend against claims that the plaintiff acted negligently by submitting arguments and evidence in their defense.

Maryland car accidents happen every single day. Sometimes, they involve just one car, which might hit a tree, a sign, or even a pedestrian. Other times, they may involve two cars or vehicles, usually with one car hitting another. In some cases, however, Maryland car accidents may involve three or more vehicles, usually because one crash leads to a chain reaction of events and crashes, involving several vehicles outside of the original crash. These accidents can be devastating for Maryland drivers and their families, as many people can be seriously injured or even killed in the blink of an eye.

For an example of a chain-reaction, multi-vehicle crash, take a recent Maryland accident. This tragic six-vehicle car accident occurred earlier this month, unfortunately leaving one man dead and two others injured. According to a local news report covering the incident, the accident occurred around 2:45 PM on Maryland Route 32 in Dayton, Maryland. While the investigation of the crash is ongoing, given how recently it occurred, the police say that the preliminary investigation indicates that a Ford pickup truck was traveling north when it crossed the center line of the road and struck an oncoming dump truck. The dump truck then crossed into oncoming traffic and struck a Chevrolet pickup truck, which overturned. Additionally, the original Ford pickup truck continued into oncoming traffic, hitting a car head-on. A Jeep SUV traveling behind the car struck both the car and the Ford pickup truck, and a Toyota SUV was also struck by one of the other vehicles involved. Overall, six different vehicles ended up involved, all due to one driver crossing over the center line.

The driver of the car, which was hit head-on by the Ford pickup truck, was a 50-year-old Cooksville man, tragically pronounced dead at the scene. Three others were injured. A passenger in the car was taken to the Shock Trauma Unit of the hospital with serious injuries, where she was reported to be in critical condition. The driver of the dump truck was also taken to the hospital, though fortunately, his injuries were non-life-threatening. As a result of the crash, the section of Route 32 involved was closed for about six hours.

Maryland car accidents happen every day. In fact, car accidents happen every day, all day, all across the nation—some of them minor, some fatal. Most of these accidents go unnoticed by the general public; maybe they see them while driving by, or know someone involved, but generally, most are unknown to the average Maryland resident. Every so often, however, there occurs a major car accident that makes national news. And tragically, just after the New Year began, one of those accidents occurred in California, killing 9 people.

According to the New York Times, which covered the accident, the crash occurred around 8 PM local time on State Route 33, and involved an SUV (2013 Dodge Journey) driven by a 28-year-old man. The man was traveling southbound. As the driver approached a 2007 Ford pickup truck traveling in the opposite direction, he suddenly veered onto the dirt shoulder, lost control, and veered back onto the road, across the center line. According to the California Highway Patrol, this caused a head-on collision with the pickup truck. The pickup truck, driven by a woman of unidentified age, became “fully engulfed in flames,” and all 8 occupants of the truck were killed. Seven of these people were children, ranging from 6 to 15 years old. The driver of the SUV was also killed.

When tragic events like this happen, it is natural to wonder who is responsible for causing these deaths. Indeed, officials responding to the scene of the crime always try to figure this out, since there is a possibility that criminal charges may be filed. Right now, the investigation is underway. Officials are trying to figure out whether or not alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash. Additionally, they made public the fact that the pickup—carrying 8 people—was only equipped with 6 seat belts. When people are not buckled up, the chances that they will suffer serious injuries in a crash are “far greater.”

In the tragic event of a loved one’s death, certain family members may hold responsible parties accountable through a wrongful death claim under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act. To file a wrongful death claim after a Maryland car accident, in general, a spouse, parent, or child may file the claim. Normally for a claim involving a car accident death, the claim must be filed within three years of the person’s death. If no spouse, parent, or child exists, another person may file the claim who is related to the person by blood or by marriage and who was substantially dependent upon that person. A wrongful death claim is meant to compensate family members for their loss and hold wrongful actors accountable after their loved one’s death.

Only one wrongful death claim can be filed after a person’s death. Qualifying family members may be able to recover financial compensation for their emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of parental, and other damages. Family members may have to defend against claims that their loved one was negligent and contributed to their own death, which would bar recovery even in a wrongful death claim.

One state appeals court recently considered a wrongful death claim against a driver and his mother after a young girl was tragically killed in a car crash. On New Year’s Day in 2016, a 17-year-old boy was driving the girl and another passenger home after a New Year’s party. The driver accelerated to 80 miles per hour in a 25 to 30 mile-per-hour zone, lost control of the car, and crashed. The driver and the other passenger survived, but the girl died in the crash. The girl’s parents sued the driver and the driver’s mother, who owned the car, for wrongful death (the passenger was also sued but dropped from the suit).

Maryland car accidents, unfortunately, occur every single day, and can be caused by a variety of different things. Usually, they are caused by someone making a mistake while driving. As we have written about previously on this blog, small careless errors can sometimes be the difference between life and death, and can cause tragic Maryland car accidents. The errors may include running a red light, swerving into the other lane, getting momentarily distracted, and then failing to brake when needed, or making a turn without the right of way. While we write a lot about these causes, we wanted today to focus on another contributing factor to Maryland car accidents: debris in the road.

For example, consider a recent Maryland car accident that occurred earlier this month. According to a local news report, the accident occurred in Montgomery County on northbound Interstate 270 near the I-370 interchange. Around 10:30 one morning, a blue Nissan Rogue struck some debris in the road—believed to be a chair—and then stopped on the left shoulder. The driver, a 34-year-old woman from Frederick, got out of the car and walked toward another driver who had also pulled over after avoiding the debris. Tragically, she was then struck by a Toyota Corolla that had swerved to avoid traffic. She was killed as a result, and the driver of the Toyota was rushed to Holy Cross Hospital, where his condition is unknown. As a result of the accident, much of the interstate was shut down for hours. An investigation of the crash is ongoing.

This story illustrates the danger of debris in the road—especially on highways. While sometimes the debris may be from falling trees or branches or other natural causes, it can also occur when individuals driving do not properly secure items in their vehicle. In this case, for example, the chair in the road had probably fallen out of someone’s car or truck earlier because they had not secured it, or had not made sure the trunk was fully closed. Maryland drivers must take extra precautions to avoid risky driving maneuvers like swerving or running stop signs and make sure that their vehicles and the items within them are not a danger to others. Failure to do so could result in serious—and even fatal—Maryland car accidents like this one. When these accidents occur, those injured can file a personal injury lawsuit under state law to recover financially for the damages they incurred.

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.

December is here, which, for many, signals that the holidays are fast approaching—a time to reflect on the year, take some time off, and spend time with family. But unfortunately, with December and winter comes wintry cold weather, which can pose a danger to drivers and even lead to Maryland car accidents.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are over 5.8 million vehicle crashes every year, on average. Approximately 21% of these crashes—or 1.2 million—are weather-related, meaning they occurred in adverse weather or on pavement affected by the weather. On average, nearly 5,000 people are killed, and over 418,000 people are injured in weather-related crashes each year.

So, while it can be very exciting to see a fresh snowfall in Maryland, those who are planning to drive should be aware of the impact the snow, or other wintry weather, might have. Snow might make the roads slushy, leading to difficulty turning or stopping vehicles. Perhaps even more dangerous, sleet or freezing rain can freeze over on the road, causing icy roads that may not even be visible while driving, but can cause serious and even fatal crashes. It may be difficult for drivers to see in wintry weather, as well, further exacerbating the problems.

Most people do not think about the possibility of filing a Maryland personal injury lawsuit until they need to—until they themselves get injured in an accident. A common catalyst for these lawsuits are Maryland car accidents, which are unfortunately all too common and occur every day. Some of these accidents are somewhat predictable and common—perhaps a driver runs a red light, or a drunk driver swerves into the wrong lane. While these accidents are tragic, they are also pretty usual and expected—driver’s education courses teach Maryland drivers to be on the lookout for these risky behaviors which would lead to accidents.

Other accidents, however, are less predictable and, frankly, quite unusual. Take a recent tragedy that occurred just last month. According to a news article covering the incident, a pickup truck was driving southbound one morning, around 11 am, when it unexpectedly crossed the median and northbound lanes before leaving the road and crashing into a house. Tragically, one person inside the house was killed. The driver of the pickup truck was also injured, and taken to the hospital in serious condition. It is unknown what caused the driver to leave the road and crash into the house—the crash is still under investigation.

Regardless of how the Maryland car accident happens—whether it’s a slight fender-bender or someone crashing into a house—the state allows those injured as a result to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover for the damages incurred. These lawsuits are civil, meaning the defendant in the case (usually the driver who caused the accident) will not face any jail time or criminal charges as a result. Instead, if they are held liable for the accident, they will likely be ordered to pay the plaintiff (the injured person who brought the suit) for the costs they incurred as a result. The goal is to make the plaintiff whole, as close to as if the accident had never happened as possible. So if the plaintiff had to pay $100,000 in medical fees and expenses as a result of the accident, then the court may instruct the defendant to pay the plaintiff $100,000. In tragic cases like the one described above, when someone dies, their family or estate may be able to bring the suit instead. In this circumstance, they can also recover for funeral and burial costs, in addition to any medical expenses or other costs.

The weather is getting colder, and the days are getting shorter, which also signals the beginning of the holiday season. While the holiday season is exciting and a source of joy and community for many, it can also be a dangerous time of the year for Maryland drivers. With an increase in family gatherings and alcohol consumption, as well as generally worse driving conditions in the wintry weather, Maryland car accidents caused by drunk or intoxicated drivers are especially concerning in the winter months. Although driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is against the law in Maryland, people unfortunately still do it all the time, leading to tragic and preventable car accidents.

For example, take a recent Maryland car accident that occurred last month in Churchville in Harford County. According to a local news article covering the incident, a Maryland man was driving home one night just after 8 PM with his fiancé and their two children, 7 and 11 years old. Tragically, on their way home, a driver in a Jeep crashed into the passenger side of their car, hurting his fiancé and his children. His fiancé and his daughter, only 7 years old, were both severely injured and had to be airlifted to Shock Trauma in a nearby hospital for emergency surgery. His fiancé suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding, but is out of the ICU now and expected to recover fully.

Tragically, however, one week later, the young girl was still in the ICU, heavily sedated in a coma and hooked up to a ventilator. Her injuries were substantial—the right side of her body was crushed, and she had multiple broken bones and a severe brain injury. Family and community members are waiting hopefully for a recovery. However, the injuries are so substantial that she will likely still have months of medical care ahead of her, even if she survives. While nothing has been confirmed yet, the police report created after the accident stated that alcohol contributed to the crash.

Maryland hit and run accidents can be incredibly frustrating for accident victims and their loved ones. Hit and run accidents are accidents where the at-fault party, flees from the scene of the accident, usually by driving away before any identifying information can be collected. Like all car accidents, hit and run accidents can cause serious injuries or even death. In hit and run accidents, the chance may be higher because, if someone is seriously injured or trapped and unable to call for help themselves, they may rely on the other party to do so. If the other party leaves the scene, it may be a while before emergency services are called in to help the victim.

For an example of a hit and run, take a recent Maryland accident that occurred on November 1st of this year. According to a local news article, the crash occurred around 1:30 AM, when a 17-year-old girl who was attempting to cross the street was hit by an unknown vehicle in Howard County. The vehicle that hit her left the scene. The victim was transported to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she remained in critical condition until she tragically passed away.

When drivers run from the scene of a crash like this, their goal is usually to escape liability for the accident—particularly if they were intoxicated or someone was injured. However, by fleeing, drivers may find themselves in more trouble than if they had stayed at the scene. Maryland state law provides that leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury is a felony, which may carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The punishments are worse when the accident results in a death—up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In the case described above, the police are actively looking for the responsible driver, with a general idea of the type of car they are looking for and the damage likely on the vehicle. If and when the driver is identified, they may face criminal charges in addition to civil liability, and probably will be in a worse position than if they stayed at the scene.

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