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Historically, governments have enjoyed immunity from lawsuits brought by citizens seeking compensation for injuries that were due to the negligence of a government agency or employee. However, over the years, states have passed a variety of laws permitting victims to pursue a claim of compensation against various government entities. These laws vary by state but are generally known as “Tort Claims Acts.”

Law LibraryWhile the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) does allow for victims to obtain compensation for their injuries from government entities in some situations, there are additional procedural requirements that must be followed. Most commonly, potential plaintiffs are required to provide notice of their injury to the state treasurer within one year of the occurrence.

The way in which these requirements are phrased makes them jurisdictional, meaning that a court often has little to no discretion in approving a non-compliant plaintiff’s case. A party’s failure to provide this notice will likely result in their case being dismissed and their losing the ability to recover compensation for their injuries. A recent case illustrates just how strictly these requirements are taken.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that may arise in Maryland premises liability cases. The court was tasked with determining whether a clause in a residential lease agreement that included limiting the statute of limitations was enforceable. Ultimately, the court concluded that the clause was enforceable, and thus, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case as untimely.

Walking on SidewalkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff slipped and fell after stepping on a curb that crumbled under her weight. The curb was located in a common area of the apartment complex where the plaintiff lived.

In the jurisdiction where the case arose, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is two years. However, the residential lease agreement signed by the plaintiff prior to moving into her apartment contained a clause requiring she bring any lawsuit within one year of when the cause of action accrues. Specifically, the clause stated that any case “must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.”

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In Maryland medical malpractice lawsuits, the plaintiff must follow certain procedures that are not required of other personal injury plaintiffs. Primarily, this consists of filing a compliant certificate of merit.

Eye SurgeryUnder Maryland Code section 3-2C-01, the certificate of merit must contain a statement from an expert who is “knowledgeable in the accepted standard of care in the same discipline as the licensed professional against whom a claim is filed.” The affidavit must contain a statement that the defendant doctor’s care was a departure from the applicable standard of care and that the defendant’s breach of this duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The objective of the certificate of merit requirement is to ensure that only meritorious claims are filed and pursued. However, occasionally, the requirement can get in the way of even meritorious claims. As a recent opinion illustrates, a simple misstep by a plaintiff can result in the dismissal of their lawsuit.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an appeal from a negligence lawsuit filed after a man suffered injuries because of a dog bite. The court found that the parents of a son whose dog bit their neighbor were negligent and therefore liable for the injuries the neighbor sustained. The case is relevant to Maryland dog bite cases because it illustrates the manner in which courts view these claims as well as a common theory of liability.

Dog BiteFacts of the Case

Animal control was called to a location because there was a report of a vicious dog. The dog was owned by the son of the couple who owned the house. When the animal control officer arrived, she attempted to capture the animal, but even with assistance, it proved difficult because the animal was aggressively charging at anyone in the vicinity. The next day, the son called animal control to report that the dog was missing. The city explained that the son must sign a form that he acknowledged the requirements of keeping and controlling an aggressive dog. The father verbally agreed to follow the requirements and keep the dog on his property, rather than at the son’s apartment.

A few months later, the animal control officer received a report that a dog bite occurred near the family’s home. Later, the owner of the dog was identified as the defendants’ son. The son was cited for not controlling his dog, and the father stated that the son and the dog are not allowed on his property. Evidently, the bite occurred when the neighbor asked if he could pet the dog, and the son agreed, stating that if the dog and neighbor became “friends,” the dog may stop charging at the fence. When the neighbor went to pet the dog, the dog jumped up, knocked him down, and bit his face. Sadly, a whole segment of the man’s face was torn off.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to determine if an accident victim’s claims against an insurance company fit within the underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) provision of the victim’s policy. After conducting a thorough analysis of the specific language used in the policy, the court concluded that the accident was not within the scope of the UIM clause and dismissed the plaintiff’s case against the insurance company.

Horse CarriageThe case is important for Maryland car accident victims because it raises an issue that often comes up in car accident cases, specifically whether an accident is covered under a motorist’s insurance policy.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding in the rear of a horse-drawn carriage during a Christmas parade. The carriage was such that it could only be towed by an animal – either horse or mule – and could not be towed by a vehicle. After the parade, a car rear-ended the carriage, causing the plaintiff to sustain serious injuries. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the carriage. However, since that claim was initially denied, the plaintiff also filed a claim against their own insurance company under the UIM provision.

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When someone is injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident occurring on government property, or any other accident involving a government defendant, the accident victim may be entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries. However, when naming a government employee or agency as a defendant, the plaintiff must take additional steps to comply with the relevant laws governing these claims.

Crack in PavemenrIn Maryland, an accident victim naming a government actor as a defendant must provide notice to the Maryland State Treasurer of the accident. This notice must include the names of the people involved, a description of the accident, and the location and date of the accident, as well as other pertinent information. Accident victims have one year from the date of the accident to provide this notice. Otherwise, a court is likely to determine that the case is time-barred.

The notice requirement allows for the government agency to investigate the claim. If a plaintiff’s notice is insufficient, a court may reject the plaintiff’s claim. A recent case illustrates an example of insufficient notice provided by a plaintiff following a slip-and-fall accident.

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Maryland landowners have a duty to those whom they invite onto their property to keep the property safe and to warn visitors of potentially dangerous conditions. If a landowner fails to live up to this duty, and someone is injured as a result, the victim can pursue a claim for compensation against the landowner through a Maryland premises liability lawsuit.

Wet Floor SignHowever, in order to establish liability in a premises liability case, a plaintiff must present evidence to prove each element of the claim. One of these elements is the requirement that the defendant had knowledge, or should have had knowledge, of the hazard causing the victim’s fall. A recent case illustrates how courts interpret this requirement, and also what it means if a plaintiff is unable to present sufficient evidence of a defendant’s knowledge.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a customer at a Walgreen’s store. As the plaintiff approached the cash register, she slipped and fell, landing on her knee. As a result of her fall, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and filed a premises liability claim against Walgreen’s.

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As a general rule, state actors, including employees and state-run agencies, are entitled to official government immunity when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. However, each state is free to enact certain exceptions for when an accident victim is able to pursue a claim for compensation against a state actor. Thus, all states have a tort claims act, or something similar, in which the waiver of official government immunity is discussed.

PrisonMaryland’s Tort Claims Act (MTCA) is different in that it broadly waives immunity for cases involving damages totaling less than $200,000. Thus, in Maryland, rather than immunity completely barring an accident victim from recovering damages for their injuries, the Tort Claims Act merely limits their recovery. However, immunity is not waived when the government actor’s actions are determined to be grossly negligent. A recent case discusses how this can play out in a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit against a government official.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a man who was killed while an inmate in a Maryland prison. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the man was killed by another inmate. The case proceeded to trial against several inmates as well as the State of Maryland. At the conclusion of the case, the jury found that several corrections officers were “negligent,” and one correctional officer in particular who was tasked with supervising the inmates had acted grossly negligently.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff’s conflicting testimony, requiring the court to determine which version of the plaintiff’s testimony to credit. The case presents a valuable lesson for Maryland slip-and-fall accident plaintiffs in that it illustrates how courts analyze cases in which a party offers two versions of the same event. Ultimately, in this case, the court concluded that the version of the facts that least favored the plaintiff should be credited, resulting in the court granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Wet FloorThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an office manager at a tax-preparation business that was located in a business owned by the defendant. One day, the plaintiff arrived to open the store and went toward the back office to turn on the lights. As the plaintiff approached the rear of the office, she slipped after stepping in a puddle of water that had accumulated on the floor.

When asked in a pre-trial interrogatory, the plaintiff explained that it was not raining on the day of her accident. She also explained that she was aware of previous flooding and, in fact, knew that the office flooded the night before her fall. However, an employee had cleaned up the water by the time the plaintiff had left.

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Recently, a state court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a young man who was seriously injured while hiking in a city-owned park after hours. The case required the court to determine if the city was entitled to government immunity regarding the plaintiff’s claim that the city should have installed a retaining wall near the trail’s edge. Ultimately, the court concluded that the city was entitled to immunity because the plaintiff’s allegations involved the design of the trail, which was covered under the state’s official immunity.

Mountain TopThe case is important for Maryland premises liability plaintiffs because Maryland courts apply similar laws in cases against local governments.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and several friends snuck into a city-owned park after dark to go “ghost hunting.” While the plaintiff was making his way down a steep embankment to the trail below, he lost his footing, fell, and rolled down the hill. When the plaintiff reached the trail, he was traveling with so much momentum that he slid across the trail and over the ledge. The plaintiff fell about 10 feet before landing on the ground and then slamming into a tree.

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