Anyone who has spent a few hours watching old courtroom T.V. dramas likely remembers the climactic moments when – after a long, drawn-out trial – one of the parties presents a surprise witness that completely makes their case. Well, in reality, surprise witnesses are for the most part a thing of the past, due to the current discovery rules.

CourtroomDuring the pre-trial discovery phase of a trial, both parties are required to present the other party with a list of witnesses they intend to call. While adjustments can be made along the way, courts generally frown upon presenting a “surprise” witness unless certain circumstances are present. A recent case illustrates how a medical malpractice plaintiff was prevented from having one of his witnesses testify because he failed to disclose her identity during discovery.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was paralyzed after he underwent a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctor. The plaintiff filed this medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, claiming that the doctor’s negligence resulted in his paralysis.

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Last month, an appellate court in nearby West Virginia issued a written opinion in a dog bite case that required the court to determine if the local county government could be held liable for the plaintiff’s loss of a loved one based on a government employee’s failure to act. Ultimately, the court concluded that a special relationship was created by the plaintiff’s repeated efforts to notify the city of the dangerous dogs. Thus, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed.

Dog's EyesThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a man who had died after being viciously attacked by several dogs belonging to a neighbor. Prior to the death of her husband, the plaintiff had expressed her concern about the dogs by calling 911 and speaking with the county’s dog warden. The plaintiff explained that she thought the dogs were dangerous and that something should be done. The dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.”

On a separate occasion, the dog warden traveled to the dogs’ owner’s home. When the warden pulled into the driveway, one of the dogs approached the car and jumped on the hood. The dog warden reported being frightened to the point where she would not exit the vehicle. She later cited the dog’s owner for failing to keep the dog restrained.

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Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case that was brought by the surviving family members of a man who was killed while working as a ranch-hand for the defendant. The case gave the court the opportunity to discuss when a defendant’s potentially fraudulent actions can result in the tolling of a statute of limitations in a wrongful death lawsuit filed well after the allowable time. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant buried their loved one’s body in an attempt to cover up his own wrongdoing was sufficient to survive a summary judgement challenge by the defense.

CountrysideThe Facts of the Case

As noted above, the plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of a man who was killed by the defendant while he was working as a ranch-hand. The facts of the actual killing are not detailed in the opinion; however, the plaintiffs later alleged that in 2009, the defendant was responsible for the wrongful death of their loved one. At the time of his father’s death, the ranch-hand’s son was a minor. While this situation may have also resulted in criminal charges, this case was focused solely on the civil case brought by the deceased ranch-hand’s family.

In 2015, the mother of the ranch-hand, as well as his son, filed a wrongful death action against the defendant. In their court filing, they claimed that the defendant buried the body of the ranch-hand in order to conceal any wrongdoing. The plaintiff claimed that this is what prevented them from filing the case within the statute of limitations, which was three years. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. The case required the court to determine if the defendant’s prior convictions for driving under the influence could be admitted at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prior convictions were relevant to the punitive damages determination and thus should be admitted for that limited purpose.

HandcuffedThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving to work on the highway when suddenly, the defendant’s vehicle crossed over into the plaintiff’s lane of traffic. The two vehicles collided head-on. It was later determined that the defendant had a blood-alcohol content of .18, which is over twice the legal limit.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. During the plaintiff’s case, he attempted to introduce evidence that the defendant had been convicted of driving under the influence on two prior occasions, once in 1996 and another time in 1983. The court allowed the evidence to be admitted over the defendant’s objection. Ultimately, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,500,000.

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When a party files a personal injury case against a defendant, the defendant has the opportunity to argue one or more defenses in hopes of escaping liability. In some cases, the ultimate determination comes down to which witness is more believable. However, in other cases, the facts are not necessarily contested, and the parties argue whether a legal defense applies.

FiremenOne common defense in Maryland personal injury cases is “assumption of the risk.” The doctrine of assumption of the risk stands for the proposition that a person cannot seek to hold another party liable for injuries they sustained while engaging in an activity that they knew was risky. A recent case brought by a firefighter illustrates this principle.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a firefighter who was called to assist in the efforts to put out a wildfire that had gotten out of control. The firefighters set up a headquarters inside the center of an oval racetrack and set up camp outside the track. However, by the time the plaintiff arrived, all of the camp spots had been taken. She then sought permission to camp inside the track. She was given permission and spent the first night there without a problem.

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Last month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case arising out of a car accident between the plaintiff and a government employee. Since the case was filed against a government entity, the plaintiff had to comply with certain additional requirements. One of the requirements was that the plaintiff specify the exact amount of damages sought. Ultimately, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case because, rather than specify the exact amount of damages, she sought “the full amount of damages allowed by law.”

PaperworkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident with an employee of the Georgia Department of Transportation. Under the theory of vicarious liability, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Department, seeking compensation for the injuries she sustained in the accident. In her complaint, the plaintiff listed the damages sought as the “full amount of damages allowed by law.” Under the applicable statute, that was $1 million.

In Georgia, as well as in Maryland and many other states, lawsuits filed against a government entity must comply with certain additional requirements. Specifically, the law requires that a plaintiff naming a government entity as a defendant specify the amount of damages sought. If a plaintiff fails to comply with this or any other procedural requirement, the government defendant may be successful in asking the court to dismiss the case.

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In personal injury trials, the judge acts as the gatekeeper to determine which evidence the jury should hear. In making these evidentiary decisions, the judge must apply the appropriate rule of evidence. While the rules of evidence present a good guideline to assist a judge in making these decisions, issues often arise in a legal “gray area,” requiring the judge to apply the law to the facts of the case and come up with a reasoned decision.

Cracked PavementMaryland Rule of Evidence 5-407 deals with subsequent remedial measures. A subsequent remedial measure is an action taken after an injury occurred, usually by a defendant, to remedy the hazard that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injury. Generally speaking, evidence that a party took remedial action after an injury occurred cannot be used against that party. This encourages defendants who are facing allegations of negligence to fix potential hazards without fear of conceding liability in the pending lawsuit.

With that said, Rule 5-407 contains several exceptions. One exception is that evidence of a subsequent remedial measure may be introduced for purposes other than to show liability. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff was able to introduce evidence of a subsequent remedial measure.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who was injured when she slipped and fell after stepping in a puddle on a train platform. The appellate court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that the accumulated rainwater was not a dangerous condition as defined under the law.

Train PlatformThe Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was attempting to catch a train that was operated by the defendant transportation agency. As the plaintiff approached the train, she walked on a covered concrete platform. Since it had been raining earlier that day, there was a puddle near the door to the platform.

The plaintiff told the court that she saw the puddle but did not think it would be slippery. However, as she stepped in it, she slipped and fell. The plaintiff was injured as a result and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the transportation agency, claiming that it was negligent in allowing the puddle of water to form.

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Being involved in a serious accident is a traumatic experience. Often, along with the weeks or months of physical recovery, there is a lengthy emotional recovery process as well. Many times, people may suffer from nervous episodes or may refrain from engaging in certain activities. These are understandable side effects of being involved in a serious accident.

Wet Floor SignThe law in Maryland allows for those who have been injured in a serious accident to file a personal injury lawsuit to seek financial compensation for all that they have been through. While each case is different, compensation packages may include amounts for past medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages due to time away from work, and any pain and suffering that the accident victim endured as a result of the accident.

Unfortunately, however, the process of filing a personal injury claim can be a lengthy one as well. Thus, it is very important that an accident victim do everything possible to ensure a smooth process to reduce the risk of additional delays. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff’s failure to name the correct defendant ended up delaying the case for months, possibly years.

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Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is emitted through chemical reactions that occur during the operation of certain machinery. For example, carbon monoxide is a byproduct that is emitted when running cars and trucks, gas ranges, furnaces, grills, stoves, and lanterns. Most homes and business contain at least one appliance that emits carbon monoxide.

Indoor PoolCarbon monoxide is toxic to humans, and if present in sufficient amounts, it can result in death. Carbon monoxide tends to build up in areas without sufficient ventilation. The side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, fatigue, weakness, and confusion. Often, those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning feel as though they are intoxicated and want to go to sleep.

Carbon monoxide is responsible for more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year and an additional 400 deaths. The young and the elderly are most at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, but all ages are at risk. While the gas is very dangerous, carbon monoxide detectors are very effective at detecting abnormally high levels of the gas in the air, and they can alert guests and residents that they need to evacuate when carbon monoxide levels get dangerously high. However, not all states require homes and businesses to install carbon monoxide detectors.

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