Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Earlier this month, an appellate court affirmed the dismissal of a case brought by two accident victims based on the fact that they did not raise an “issue of fact” as it pertained to proximate cause. The court determined that the plaintiffs failed to show that there was sufficient evidence that the defendant’s negligent acts were the cause-in-fact of their injuries.

mountain-road-1435240-mThe Facts of the Case

In the case, Piltch v. Ford Motor Company, the Piltches were seriously injured when their 2006 Mercury Mountaineer hit a patch of black ice, slid off the road, and crashed into a nearby wall. None of the cars’ airbags deployed during the accident. The Piltches filed suit against the manufacturer of the vehicle, claiming that under state law the vehicle was defective. They argued that they should be compensated for their injuries because the fact that the airbags did not deploy resulted in them sustaining more serious injuries than they would have had the airbags worked properly.

However, at trial the Piltches failed to present any “causation” evidence from an expert, meaning that they were relying solely on circumstantial evidence that the fact that the airbags didn’t deploy worsened their injuries.

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Back in March of last year, a hit-and-run accident claimed the life of one man. Since then, according to one news report, the driver of the car has been convicted of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol, felony hit-and-run, and disorderly conduct after he pleaded guilty to the offenses.

car-fire-2-1068611-mThe charges arose from an accident where the driver of the vehicle hit the bicyclist on Virginia 122 in Bedford County. Witnesses to the accident told police that the driver pulled a crushed bicycle out from underneath his car before fleeing the scene. He later drunkenly called police to tell them his truck was on fire.

The bicyclist was taken to Roanoke Memorial Hospital but was pronounced dead the next day from blunt force trauma to the head. At his criminal trial, the driver was sentenced to seven and one-half years of incarceration for his involvement in the fatal accident.

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If you have been reading the news lately, you may be familiar with the various recalls that the car-manufacturing giant GM has made in the past year. The death toll in the GM recalls started off below 10, hovered around 13 for awhile, but now has been increased to 19, according to a recent report by the Daily Record.

The Recall

The GM recalls have been based on a number of faulty parts that were used to manufacture several of the company’s most popular models, including the Chevy Cobalt and Saturn Ion. Often, what would happen is that the car would shut down while being driven, leaving the driver with no control of the vehicle. Unfortunately, many of these incidents resulted in serious injury or death.

Initially, after the first round of recalls, the death toll stood at 13 for several months. However, the man hired by GM to keep track of all the claims against the company recently told reporters that the official death toll is at 19 and may go higher from there. GM has currently set aside $400 million to pay victims and their families, but that number may increase to $600 million as the number of potential plaintiffs increases.

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In a recent report from the Associated Press, the attorney in charge of compensating the victims of the recent rash of crashes due to the GM recalls announced that there will be no limit to the amount of money GM will shell out to victims and their families. Currently, thirteen deaths have been linked to various accidents due to recalls in GM automobiles over the course of the last year. This figure, however, may be artificially low, as it relies on GM’s own admissions. It is expected that hundreds of other lawsuits will be filed once the specifics of the fund are established.


The recalls affected a number of General Motor vehicles, but were primarily centered around the Saturn Ion and the Chevrolet Cobalt. Each of these vehicles had ignition switch problems that had the potential to leave drivers with no way to control the vehicle.

The attorney in charge of compensation—who is paid by GM, but is not technically an employee of the company—says that the most recent recalls will not be eligible for the limitless compensation fund, as the company sees the most recent recalls as a separate issue. Additionally, only those lawsuits alleging problems with a vehicle’s ignition switch will be eligible for the recovery fund.

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In a recent case in front of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the court held that testimony from witnesses that the driver of the car causing the accident fled the scene and then returned a short time later laughing before he then left again, was inadmissible in a claim for damages against that driver.


In the case Alban v. Fiels, the Albans were an elderly couple who were hit while driving in their truck by Mr. Fiels. The Albans’ vehicle sustained more damages than Fiels, and they were immobilized. In fact, Mrs. Alban was stuck in the car until firefighters came to extricate her.

Mr. Fiels fled the scene but did so down a road that had no outlet. Knowing that the road the driver fled down had no outlet, a nearby witness waited for the driver to return. When he did, the witness noticed that the driver slowed down and then sped off, laughing.

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The Maryland Court of Appeals refused to create a “dram shop” law when it ruled earlier this month that a bar cannot be held liable for the actions of a drunken patron after he or she departs.

The case was originally argued in March, on behalf of a family whose 10 year old was killed during a car crash on I-270 back in 2008. The driver responsible for the young girl’s death had been served 20 drinks at a local bar prior to getting behind the wheel.beers.jpg

The court held that individuals should solely be held responsible for their own decisions and actions. In addition, the court determined that General Assembly is the venue most proper in which to create new laws, not the court.

The dissenting opinion argued that this was a lost to ensure bars were held accountable for protecting the public from overly intoxicated customers. The judge wrote, “this case presented the opportunity to impose dram shop liability on commercial vendors of alcohol” which served their patrons even after they were visibly impaired as a result of their alcohol consumption. Further, according to a study cited in the dissent, studies have shown that these types of laws could potentially lead to 14 deaths fewer in Maryland every year.

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Last week a Missouri man received a heavy sentence for his role in a tragic car accident that he allegedly caused in September of 2011. He received a sentence of 10 years in prison for his role in the DWI crash that killed two people and injured five. The defendant pleaded guilty in November to the charges, which included two counts of involuntary manslaughter and five counts of second-degree assault.


Based on the evidence at the scene and witness accounts, the police estimate that the man was driving nearly 100 miles per hour when the collision occurred. His car rear ended the Chevy Tahoe, containing the two men and other passengers, which caused the Tahoe to flip over several times.

He received a 10 year sentence for each count of involuntary manslaughter and seven years for each of the five counts of second-degree assault. The 17 months which he has already served in jail will be counted as time served, and all of the sentences will be served concurrently.

The assistant prosecuting attorney in the case said that 10 years was the heaviest sentence he had ever seen in a DWI and involuntary manslaughter case, adding that, “Part of it was that he had a prior DWI, and the fact that he killed two people and injured five.” He also stated that under Missouri law, the man must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Although the outcome in this particular case addresses the sentencing reached as a result of the criminal justice system, the families in this case also likely have wrongful death claims against the driver in this tragic car accident.

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800px-Hatem_Bridge.jpgA father’s long legal battle over the 2001 death of his daughter in a car accident may have come to an end in November, when a jury ruled that the state of Maryland was not negligent in its maintenance of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, where the accident occurred. The lawsuit, Tollenger v. State of Maryland, et al, alleged that various state transportation agencies negligently failed to place a dividing barrier on the bridge to separate the four lanes of traffic. The state had successfully argued that the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) contained an implied exception shielding the state from liability for discretionary planning, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed that judgment in 2011 and remanded the case for trial. The November verdict was on the sole issue of whether the state was legally responsible for the death of the plaintiff’s daughter and other individuals.

The accident occurred during a rainstorm on August 10, 2001, when 12 year-old Ashley Tollenger was riding in a pickup truck driven by her stepfather, 52 year-old Kenneth Connor. The truck reportedly hit a patch of water on the bridge, which extends over the Susquehanna River, and began to hydroplane. The truck veered across the center line and into oncoming traffic, where a Jeep Cherokee collided with it. Ashley Tollenger was pronounced dead at the scene, and Connor was pronounced dead soon after at a nearby hospital.

Garrett Tollenger, Ashley’s father, filed suit in Harford County Circuit Court against the Maryland Transportation Authority, the State Highway Administration, the Maryland Department of Transportation, and other state defendants in August 2004. The lawsuit alleged that the state knew of potential hazards associated with the absence of a center barrier on the bridge, and that it was negligent in failing to place such a barrier. The plaintiff’s witnesses included other individuals who were injured in accidents on the bridge, and a former Harford County executive who had written to the state requesting construction of a barrier on the bridge.

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136518_7676.jpgAn accident on a Nebraska highway took the lives of a Maryland family. The resulting lawsuit, Baumann v. Slezak, et al, is reportedly the first to invoke that state’s law allowing causes of action for the wrongful death of unborn children. Nebraska’s law, enacted in 2003, differs from Maryland’s wrongful death statute, in that it allows causes of action for prenatal deaths “at any stage of gestation.” Maryland only allows causes of action for the death of viable fetuses.

In the early morning of September 9, 2012, the Schmidt family was stuck in a traffic jam on westbound Interstate 80. The family, which consisted of Christopher and Diana Schmidt and their two children, was driving through western Nebraska on their way from Maryland to California. Diana Schmidt was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with a child they had named Ethan. The couple was driving in separate cars: Diana Schmidt and the two children were in a Toyota Corolla, and Christopher Schmidt was directly behind them in a Ford Mustang. The traffic jam was the result of a deadly collision between two semi-trailers about a mile further up the highway. One semi had become disabled, and although the driver pulled the rig to the side of the road, he allegedly left the trailer blocking traffic. Another semi crashed into the trailer at about 4:30 a.m., killing its driver.

While the Schmidts were stopped at the rear of the long line of traffic, a semi trailer driven by Josef Slezak collided with the back of the Mustang. Slezak was allegedly driving seventy-five miles per hour, and did not make an effort to slow or stop his rig. The collision caused the Mustang to collide with the Corolla, pushing the Corolla under another trailer. All four members of the Schmidt family, as well as their unborn child, died in the collision.

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601967_68826450.jpgAfter obtaining a verdict in a car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff sought to enforce the judgment against the defendant’s insurer. The insurance company successfully argued that the “business use” exception barred coverage of the plaintiff’s claim, as the defendant was operating his vehicle in the course of his work at the time of the accident. The court in the original lawsuit had found that the doctrine of respondeat superior, which holds an employer liable for certain acts of an employee, did not apply to the defendant’s employer. The court in the present case, Forkwar v. Empire Fire and Marine Ins. Co., nevertheless found that the business use exception applied. The case highlights an important challenge for Maryland plaintiffs who may obtain a verdict, but might have difficulty enforcing it.

The plaintiff, Augustine Forkwar, was involved in an automobile accident during the early morning of November 26, 2004 with Hameed Mahdi. Mahdi was an independent contractor of J&J Logistics. He owned his vehicle but leased it to J&J. At the time of the accident, he was on his way to a job for J&J when he stopped to get something to eat. Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Company had issued a commercial auto insurance policy to Mahdi, but it asserted that it was not obligated to defend or indemnify Mahdi under the policy’s business use exception.

Forkwar sued Mahdi and J&J in October 2006, alleging negligence against Mahdi and respondeat superior liability against J&J. Forkwar reportedly made no attempt to prove liability against J&J, and she did not oppose its motion for judgment as a matter of law in the middle of trial. The jury entered a judgment against Mahdi, who was a no-show at trial, for over $180,000. Forkwar then filed suit against Empire for indemnification. Empire removed the case to federal court and moved for summary judgment based on the business use exception. The district court granted the motion, and Forward appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

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