In the tragic event of a crash caused by a drunk driver, victims have a range of damages available if they are successful in a lawsuit. A lawsuit against the driver (or others that may be responsible for the crash) permits Maryland car accident victims to recover damages for both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages, or special damages, are generally the out-of-pocket expenses that a victim incurs, including medical bills, loss of income, loss of earning capacity, transportation costs, future expenses, and others. Non-economic damages, or general damages, are other damages that do not have a fixed dollar value, such as emotional distress, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering.

Maryland has a limit on non-economic damages available in civil cases. As of January 1, 2020, the limit available for non-economic damages was $830,000, although more may be available in some instances. There is no limit on economic damages. Economic and non-economic damages are known as compensatory damages, because they are intended to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries they suffered.

Punitive damages also may be available in some cases. Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are not meant to compensate the victim, but rather to punish the defendant and to serve as a warning for others. To be awarded punitive damages in a Maryland DUI crash case, a plaintiff has to prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongful conduct. The plaintiff has to prove punitive damages by the higher clear and convincing evidence standard, while other damages have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. The plaintiff has the burden to prove damages as an element of the plaintiff’s case. The types of damages available vary depending on the person bringing the claim and the type of claim.

If an individual is injured in a Maryland car crash with a police officer or after an encounter with an officer, the individual’s ability to recover damages may be limited by qualified immunity. Qualified immunity, a doctrine that has been scrutinized in recent months, limits the ability of individuals to sue police officers after they have suffered injuries caused by police officers and other government officials.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 authorizes suits against state and local officials for violations of federal constitutional and statutory rights. The statute allows an individual to file a claim against a government official if the individual was deprived of a federal right and the government official acted under the color of state law. The statute is used by many Maryland plaintiffs to sue government officials in the state. Local governments may also be liable if the actions resulted from a local government policy, practice, or custom.

Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits after the official violates an individual’s civil rights. The doctrine only allows lawsuits if an official is found to have violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right, of which a reasonable person would have known. This often means that a plaintiff must show that the officer violated a right that was recognized by a prior court. In considering whether a right was clearly established, courts consider the action that an objectively reasonable officer would take. Courts may also consider what the officer was aware of at the time. In practice, this often means that officers are protected from lawsuits by the courts. Qualified immunity is meant to protect the government and its officials from frivolous lawsuits. However, critics have been calling for an end to qualified immunity, arguing that it bars many injured victims from recovering financial compensation.

For decades, it has been known that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is incredibly dangerous, and significantly increases the likelihood of a serious car accident. In fact, drunk driving is one of the leading causes of fatal traffic accidents across the country. However, despite this general public awareness, many Maryland car accidents each year are caused by intoxicated drivers. While every car accident is cause for concern, these accidents are especially alarming because the injuries and deaths resulting from these accidents are preventable had the individual simply not driven while under the influence.

Over the Fourth of July weekend this year, yet another accident caused injuries to those involved and is thought to have been caused by drunk driving. According to a local news report covering the incident, the crash occurred a little after 5 a.m., when the drivers of the two involved vehicles were traveling in opposite directions. The driver of one vehicle—a Hyundai Elantra—crossed into the other lane and struck the other vehicle—a Hyundai Santa Fe—head-on. The driver of each vehicle was trapped as a result of the collision, and the fire department had to come to extract them. Both drivers suffered injuries and had to be transported to the hospital.

Accidents like this are unfortunately far too common in Maryland and across the country. For those who are impacted, it can be incredibly frustrating to have their lives drastically changed due to someone else’s poor decisions and reckless driving. Maryland car accidents can take a serious physical, psychological, and financial toll, leaving the victims and their families struggling to recover in the aftermath.

An evening police chase last month tragically led to a car accident, resulting in one fatality and injuries. The case raises important questions about how and when the government and police may be held liable when they cause Maryland car accidents.

According to a local news report covering the incident, the crash occurred around 8:15 one evening as a man, driving a vehicle and wanted in a homicide, led police on a chase throughout the city. During the chase, the man crashed the vehicle—a dark-colored Jeep—and ran to a nearby gas station where he stole an idling 2016 Nissan SUV. He left the gas station and took off again, with police following. While the police cars were chasing the Nissan, one of them slammed into a Ford Explorer. The police car then spun out and hit a Hummer stopped at a red light. The drivers of the Ford and Hummer, as well as the Hummers two passengers, were all taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, the driver of the Ford, a 37-year-old woman, died shortly after.

Typically, Maryland residents affected by tragic car accidents are able to bring a civil suit against the responsible driver to recover for the injuries caused, or the wrongful death of a loved one. The case, however, becomes more complicated in situations such as this one, where the at-fault driver is a police officer. Government employees have historically enjoyed sovereign immunity from tort claims such as negligence or wrongful death arising out of car accidents. However, the Maryland Tort Claims Act changed that and now allows accident victims to bring certain claims against the Maryland government or their employees.

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.

As technology advances, so too does the number of safety features available on cars. Maryland drivers can now purchase cars with features such as blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, surround-view camera systems, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, to name a few. Famously, Tesla is actually producing automobiles with an autopilot mode, which uses radar and cameras to drive the car without the assistance of the driver. Autopilot mode, and other safety features, should reduce the number of Maryland car accidents that occur each year when they work as expected. But, unfortunately, these features cannot always be a guarantee of safety.

For instance, a video of a recent Tesla car accident recently surfaced raising concerns about the company’s autopilot mode. According to a recent article covering the incident, a large truck was lying on its side on the freeway, covering the entirety of the two lanes on the left. The traffic on the road was light, and the visibility was good—meaning the Tesla, driving in the farthest left lane, should have been able to see the truck. However, the Tesla drove at full speed directly into the top of the truck, indicating quite clearly that the driver was not paying attention. After the accident, the driver told authorities that the autopilot feature was on, raising interesting legal questions regarding liability.

While fortunately no one was hurt in the incident, similar accidents may cause severe injuries or even death. Maryland law allows those injured by negligent drivers to file a personal injury suit to recover for their injuries if they can prove the driver was at fault. In this case, a driver may want to blame Tesla and the failure of autopilot for causing the accident. However, it is important to keep in mind that autopilot mode is not intended to be a substitute for watching the road. While using the autopilot mode, Tesla drivers are still expected to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel. Not doing so is likely considered negligence and can be used to hold a driver liable for accidents that may occur while driving with autopilot on.

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.

Despite strict laws, Maryland continues to experience about 7,000 car crashes per year involving at least one driver’s use of alcohol or drugs, according to its most recent crash data. Victims of drunk driving crashes may be able to file a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against a drunk driver to recover financial compensation for their injuries. In a civil suit against a drunk driver, an injured party must prove that the driver was negligent and that the driver’s negligent actions caused the victim’s injuries. A victim may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, property damage, wage losses, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Evidence of a DUI arrest or conviction, or of a guilty plea to a traffic citation is useful evidence in a civil case. In Maryland, guilty pleas in court to traffic citations are generally admissible as evidence in a civil case. Even in the event that the driver does not face a criminal conviction, a civil case may still be possible. The standard in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance of the evidence standard is lower than the reasonable guilt standard in criminal cases, which means that a civil case may be won even if the driver is not convicted of a crime. There may still be evidence that the driver was under the influence and contributed to the crash. Drunk drivers can face serious criminal consequences, in addition to a civil suit. Under Noah’s Law, which took effect in October 2016, an ignition interlock device must be installed for any driver convicted of driving under the influence.

In addition to suing the driver, a civil suit may be brought against other responsible parties, such as a bar that served the drunk driver or another person who allowed the driver to drive while intoxicated. In any case, the victim still has to prove that the party acted negligently and that their negligent actions contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

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