Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 9.39.33 AMThe burden of proof is on the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. A defendant can challenge evidence based on the police’s conduct at the time of the arrest. If a traffic stop or search violated a defendant’s constitutional rights, the court may suppress any evidence obtained as a result. In some cases, however, a civil rights violation by an officer might not directly affect the outcome of a DWI case. Instead, a defendant must seek recourse through a civil claim. This is very different from DWI defense, but it is important to understand in cases in which, for example, police intentionally or recklessly cause an injury to a defendant. A New Jersey court recently ruled in favor of a DWI defendant’s claim for this type of alleged injury in Landa v. Twp. of Plainsboro.

Drunk Driving Laws

Although this case took place in New Jersey, DUI is not technically considered a criminal offense there, or under Maryland law, but the procedures involved are very similar to those used in Maryland criminal courts. Prosecutors initiate a case by filing charges against a defendant. They have the burden of proving guilt. The defense’s job, in large part, is to identify defects in the state’s case. A defendant may move to suppress evidence, or even to dismiss a case, prior to trial. If the defendant does not enter a plea, the case goes to trial, where the prosecution must present its case.

A civil claim for injuries takes place in the civil court system. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant is liable for whatever harm or injury they are claiming. The burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence, which is significantly less stringent than the state’s burden in a DWI case. It essentially means that the plaintiff must prove at least a 51 percent probability that the defendant is responsible.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a product liability case against Kia Motor Corporation (Kia), based on the fact that the plaintiff presented no admissible expert testimony to meet the required elements. In the case, Sims v. Kia Motors of America, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the plaintiffs’ experts were unreliable, and thus their testimony was inadmissible. The court held that without the expert testimony, the plaintiffs were unable to prove their case, and it was properly dismissed.

Kia SUVThe Facts of the Case

Sims was a backseat passenger in a 2010 Kia Soul. The driver of the Soul was involved in an accident that caused the vehicle to spin, colliding with several objects. At some point, the Soul collided with the immovable base of a “yield” sign. As the vehicle came in contact with the base of the sign, it sliced through the front bumper and pierced the gas tank. The vehicle began to leak gas.

The driver and front passenger were able to escape the car through their respective doors. However, the backseat passengers were unable to exit the vehicle because the rear doors were jammed. Shortly after the collision, the car went up in flames. Sims perished in the fire.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Kentucky issued an interesting opinion that is of interest to anyone dealing with a difficult insurance company after a Maryland car accident. In the case, Holloway v. Direct General Insurance Company, the court determined that the plaintiff’s bad-faith claim against the insurance company, based on the company’s failure to settle her claim, must fail because the insurance company had a legitimate reason to doubt its own liability.

Wrecked CarThe Facts of the Case

Holloway, the plaintiff, was involved in an auto accident with Sykes. The accident took place in a parking lot and involved low speeds. However, each party had a different account of how the accident occurred. Holloway claimed that she suffered property damage and injuries as a result of the collision, and she sought compensation from Sykes’ insurance company, the defendant.

Holloway made property damage claims as well as personal injury claims. The parties reached a settlement regarding the property damage claims, but settlement negotiations broke down regarding the personal injury claims. Since the insurance company would not settle her personal injury claims, Holloway filed a personal injury lawsuit against the insurance company. One of the claims she made was that the insurance company acted in bad faith when it refused to settle her personal injury claim. If successful, Holloway could potentially receive compensation above and beyond her actual damages through punitive damages.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Virginia issued a written opinion in a product liability case that ended up reversing a jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff. In the case, Holiday Motor Corp. v. Walters, the court set aside the jury’s verdict because the car manufacturer did not have a duty to customers to manufacture a soft-top convertible that could safely withstand a rollover crash.

ConvertibleThe Facts of the Case

Walters was the owner of a 1995 Mazda Miata soft-top convertible. Back in 2006, Walters was driving the Miata on a two-lane road with the soft-top in the closed position when she saw a large object fall off the back of a pick-up truck. To avoid colliding with the large object, she veered to the left across the opposite lane of traffic and up a grassy embankment on the side of the road. As the vehicle left the road, it rolled over and ended up leaning against a tree.

A passerby stopped to offer assistance. He testified at trial that the windshield was flat against the ground, but the rear end of the car was slightly elevated. Walters ended up suffering a serious cervical spine injury and sued Mazda based on a product liability theory. Specifically, Walter argued that Mazda violated the implied warranty of merchantability in that the design of the vehicle’s soft-top was unreasonably dangerous in failing to protect against rollover crashes.

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Over the course of the last few years, General Motors has recalled over 26 million vehicles, spanning over 55 models. This series of recalls, the largest in U.S. history, covers all but three of GM’s main vehicle models. Many of the vehicles that were recalled had serious problems with the ignition switch. Indeed, it is difficult to gauge exactly how many deaths have been caused by the ignition switch problem, but by most estimates the number is well over 100.

Car KeysWhat makes this recall extraordinary is not just the volume of vehicles recalled but also the fact that there is evidence suggesting GM knew about the dangers of the ignition switches but failed to do anything. This has led to a series of personal injury cases that, according to GM’s own estimates, will cost the company about $2.5 billion. It cost the company so much, in fact, that GM actually entered a form of bankruptcy.

According to a recent news article covering the bankruptcy, under an appellate court’s decision, accident victims’ claims against the “new” GM may be viable despite GM’s assertion that the claims dissolved along with the “old” GM. The court had to decide several important questions of law, just one of which was:  what happens to the claims filed by all those people who were injured by faulty ignition switches? Should those claims be dismissed because the corporation that manufactured the vehicle is technically no longer in existence? Or should the claims be able to be asserted against the new GM corporation?

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Earlier this year, a federal court of appeals issued a written opinion interpreting the language of a contested insurance policy in favor of the insurance company, thus limiting the total amount of recovery among the three injured parties to $500,000. In the case, Trotter v. Harleysville Insurance Company, the court determined that the insurance company that carried an underinsured motorist policy for one of the victims involved in the accident was not required to pay out on the claim, since the at-fault party’s insurance policy provided the same limit.

CalculatorThe Facts of the Case

This case involves a single accident between two vehicles. Powers was the at-fault party, and he had an insurance policy that covered damages up to $250,000 per person or $500,000 per accident. The driver of the other car, Trotter, as well as his two passengers, Jackson and Petrie, were all injured as a result of the accident. All the injured parties filed claims against Powers’ insurance company.

The injured parties all entered into a settlement agreement with Powers’ insurance company, whereby Trotter would receive $250,000, Jackson would receive $238,000, and Petrie would receive $12,000. However, after the settlement, the parties asserted that the recovered sum failed to make them whole. So they filed a claim under Trotter’s insurance company, the defendant in the case.

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Earlier last month, a California court heard a case against the County of San Diego brought by an accident victim who was injured when he was struck by another motorist on a roadway he claimed was poorly designed. In the case, Hampton v. County of San Diego, the court ultimately determined that the government’s sovereign immunity was not waived, and as a result it was immune from the lawsuit.

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Hampton v. County of San Diego: The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a man who was seriously injured when he was involved in a collision with another motorist on a rural intersection. The man filed suit against the other driver in an unrelated case, in which he admitted he could not remember if he stopped at the stop sign prior to entering the intersection. The other driver testified in that case that the plaintiff pulled out “right in front of him, leaving too little time to stop before the collision.” The Highway Patrol conducted an investigation and determined that the accident was caused by the plaintiff’s failure to stop at the stop sign.

After that lawsuit, the plaintiff filed this case against the County, claiming that it designed and maintained a dangerous roadway. Essentially, the plaintiff claimed that the design and construction of the road provided inadequate visibility of oncoming traffic due to a high embankment that was covered with vegetation.

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Earlier this month, a California appellate court issued an opinion in a case between accident victims and the insurance company of the at-fault driver. In the case, Nationwide National Insurance Company v. Shimon, the at-fault party’s insurance company was determined not to be liable for the injuries sustained by the accident victims because the policy did not cover “non-owed” automobiles that were “furnished or available” for the driver’s regular use.

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The Facts of the Case

The Shinons (“the Plaintiffs”) were injured as a result of the negligence of a 17-year-old girl, Lionudakis. At the time of the accident, Lionudakis was driving a GMC that was owned by and registered to her father. However, to save money, her father did not list her on the insurance policy.

Lionudakis’ mother, who was separated from Lionudakis’ father, maintained a separate insurance policy that covered her own vehicles, but not the GMC. The policy did, however, cover family members’ use of “non-owned” vehicles, as long as they were not furnished for the family members’ regular use. This restriction was contained in the insurance agreement.

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Late last month on Halloween, two vehicles collided head-on in Glen Burnie, killing both drivers. According to one local news source, the accident occurred on Solley Road near where it meets Chestnut Springs Lane. The fatal accident claimed the lives of both drivers, and the three passengers involved in the accident were also seriously injured.

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Evidently, three teenage friends were driving in a Nissan on Solley Road, heading to a Halloween party. At some point, another Nissan approaching in the opposite direction inexplicably crossed over the center line and collided with the Nissan carrying the three teens. After the initial collision, the vehicle that crossed over the center line flipped on its roof and continued to slide down the highway until it collided with a third vehicle.

In the end, both drivers of the Nissan vehicles were dead. Two teenage passengers in one of the vehicles, as well as the woman’s husband in the other Nissan, were all taken to the hospital. Since the accident, all of the injured parties have been released from the hospital.

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Earlier this month in Thurmont, Maryland, one man was hit and killed by a hit-and-run driver as the man was pulled off to the side of the road to assist another motorist whose car had broken down. According to one local news report, the man was a Marine who had served since 2013 and was recently promoted to the rank of corporal.

road-3-1449262Evidently, the Marine had pulled over on the side of Route 15, near where it meets Auburn Road, at around 10:50 in the evening, to help a stranded motorist. While he was on the side of the road, not far from where his vehicle was parked, a truck towing a car veered off the highway and into the median, striking the Marine and his vehicle.

While the driver has yet to be located, and an investigation is still underway, police believe that the driver of the truck came to a stop about 100 yards from the scene of the accident. However, as good samaritans arrived to help the accident victim, the driver of the truck sped off. Police told reporters that they found track marks in the grass near the scene that they believe belonged to the truck, and they are confident that the vehicle is a dual axle truck that was towing a smaller vehicle.

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