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As we have discussed in other posts, the legal doctrine of contributory negligence precludes personal injury victims who are found to be partially at fault for their injuries from pursuing a claim of financial compensation. While Maryland’s contributory negligence law, in most people’s eyes, is outdated and overly harsh, for now, it governs how courts determine liability in Maryland personal injury accidents.

Contributory negligence is often discussed in the context of auto accidents. However, the doctrine also applies in Maryland slip-and-fall cases. A recent state appellate decision illustrates why contributory negligence is so harmful to Maryland premises liability plaintiffs.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff owned property in the defendant condo complex. One day, the plaintiff was walking along a sidewalk in the complex when she tripped on a section of uneven cement. The plaintiff frequented the area where she fell. Evidently, the cement area had been marked by complex management with blue dots, indicating it to be an area that needed to be repaired.

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A common concern in many Maryland personal injury cases is the spoliation of evidence. Spoliation refers to the “destruction, mutilation, or alteration” of evidence by a party who is involved in the case. Typically, spoliation occurs when a party is in possession of evidence that the party believes is unfavorable to their case (and thus, favorable to the opposing party).

When it comes to the destruction of evidence, Maryland courts operate by the maxim “Omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatem” which translates to “all things are presumed against the spoliator.” Thus, courts can impose a variety of sanctions against a party who is found to have spoliated evidence. To do so, the party seeking the imposition of a sanction must establish the four elements of a spoliation claim:

  • The other party destroyed, mutilated, or altered the evidence;
  • The fact that the evidence was discoverable;
  • The intent to destroy the evidence; and
  • The evidence was destroyed at a time after a case had been filed or when the destroying party knew that a case was imminent.

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Among a judge’s many roles is the responsibility to instruct the jury on the applicable law of the case. Generally speaking, a judge has discretion in how the jury is instructed; however, a judge’s instructions must accurately state the law. A recent Maryland medical malpractice case presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates the broad discretion trial judges have when deciding how to instruct the jury.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant doctor, complaining of numbness in two of his fingers. The doctor recommended surgery, and the plaintiff agreed. The defendant doctor performed the surgery, however, afterward the plaintiff developed a serious infection at the surgical site. The infection resulted in long-term pain and a reduced range-of-motion.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor. After the conclusion of both party’s evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on several issues, including the law governing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the defendant. The court began by providing the jury with the general negligence instructions, and the followed with the more specific medical malpractice instructions on the issue of informed consent. The defendant objected to the judge providing the general negligence instructions, arguing that it only misled the jury because the plaintiff’s case was not based on a theory of traditional negligence.

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In Maryland product liability cases, courts will apply one of two tests to determine if the manufacturer can be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Where a product is alleged to have a malfunction, courts will apply the “risk-utility” test. However, when there is no allegation that the product malfunctioned in any way, courts will apply the “consumer expectations” test.

Under a risk-utility analysis, courts consider whether the danger presented by the product is outweighed by its utility. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the application of the risk-utility test.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff purchased a heating pad that was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff was using the heating pad as she was lying in bed, and fell asleep while the pad was on. About 90 minutes later, the plaintiff’s roommate came into the plaintiff’s room after noticing a strange smell. As it turns out, the heating pad had burned into the sheets and mattress, ultimately burning the house down. The Fire Chief determined that the heating pad was the cause of the fire.

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Whenever someone is injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, the injured party is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. However, based on longstanding constitutional principles, government agencies enjoy immunity from some of these lawsuits. Thus, one of the most important considerations after a Maryland accident is whether any of the defendants are government employees and, if so, whether they may be entitled to immunity.

Under Maryland case law, government agencies are entitled to immunity when carrying out discretionary duties. A discretionary duty, as the name implies, is one which involves the exercise of discretion. If an act is not discretionary, it is ministerial, meaning that it does not require the judgment of a government employee. A recent case illustrates how courts approach the distinction between ministerial and discretionary acts.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a young girl was planning on attending a field trip to a pool that was located in a government-owned park. Because the young girl could not swim, her mother spoke with the playground coordinator, who reassured her that the girl’s ability would be assessed in the shallow end of the pool. The mother agreed to let her daughter go on the field trip. Tragically, however, the young girl drowned in the pool as staff members were changing in the locker room.

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Causation is an essential part of any Maryland accident case, and in a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court considered whether Apple could be held liable for allegedly causing a devastating car crash. These types of issues can happen in Maryland too. If you have questions, reach out to a dedicated Maryland car accident attorney without delay.

The issue before the federal appeals court was whether a driver’s neurobiological response to a smartphone notification could be the cause-in-fact of a car crash. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, a woman was driving her car in 2013 when she received a text message on her iPhone. She looked down to read the text message, and when she looked back to the road, she was too late to avoid crashing into another car. The two adults in the other car died, and a child was rendered paraplegic.

Representatives of the victims of the crash sued Apple for negligence and strict products liability. The plaintiffs claimed that the accident was caused by Apple’s failure to warn iPhone users about the risks of distracted driving. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was at fault because receipt of a text message triggers “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior.” Evidently, in 2008, Apple had obtained a patent for “[l]ock-out mechanisms for driver handheld computing devices,” which was meant to address the serious dangers of text messaging while driving. However, Apple did not include any version of the lock-out mechanism on the iPhone 5, the phone the woman was using at the time of the crash.

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Most people have signed a liability release waiver at some point. Often, release waivers are included on the back of concert or sporting event tickets. While the language in these agreements may not be clear to the reader, they are generally enforceable and can prevent an accident victim from holding a company liable – even for their own negligent actions.

With that said, there are limits to the enforceability of Maryland liability release waivers. For example, courts will not enforce a waiver that purports to waive the right to pursue compensation based on a party’s willful, wanton, or reckless negligence. A recent state appellate opinion illustrates how this situation may arise.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed after she was run over by a tow-truck on the Daytona International Speedway. Apparently, employees of the facility directed the tow-truck driver to back up into a restricted non-spectator area. However, as the driver was backing up, he ran over the plaintiff.

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Each year, there are thousands of Maryland sports injuries, ranging from the relatively minor to the life-threatening. For the most part, when someone decides to take up a sport, they should know that certain risks are inherent in the sport. However, at the same time, participants should also be able to expect that the league that organizes the sport has created a set of rules that protects the players from unnecessary risks that are not inherent to the sport.

In a recent case issued by a federal appellate court, the court discussed a plaintiff’s claim that was brought against a youth water polo league. The plaintiff claimed that the league’s lack of rules regarding concussion-management and when an injured player should return to play resulted in her daughter’s serious post-concussion syndrome.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was the mother of a student who suffered severe post-concussion syndrome after competing in a three-day water polo tournament put on by the defendant organizers. Evidently, the plaintiff’s daughter was a goalie and, during the first day of play, was struck in the head with the ball. The plaintiff’ daughter was “dazed” as a result of the injury, and swam poolside to talk to her coach. Having no experience or training on concussion-management for young athletes, the coach allowed the girl to continue playing. Throughout the remainder of the tournament, the girl was struck in the head several more times.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against a public university should proceed toward trial. The case presents interesting issues that frequently arise in Maryland premises liability cases. Specifically, the duty a school owes to its students. Ultimately, the court concluded that the school owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that the plaintiff’s case should proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the plaintiff’s claim, a student with a documented history of mental health issues attacked the plaintiff with a knife during a chemistry lab. Evidently, the student who attacked the plaintiff had evinced paranoia-type symptoms to several university staff members and as a result was seeing a school psychologist at the time of the attack.

The plaintiff claimed that the school was liable for her injuries because the administrators failed to take action to protect her (and other students) from foreseeable threats of violence. The school argued that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, and even if it did, by providing mental health services to the student the school fulfilled its duty.

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In Maryland, landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they invite onto their property. Generally, a property owner must take care to remedy known hazards on their property. Of course, a plaintiff’s own negligence can act to defeat their claim against a landowner, if the plaintiff fails to exercise reasonable care themselves.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a maintenance worker’s claim against a property owner should proceed to a jury trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that it should, holding that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to maintain the property in a safe condition.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was hired by the defendant property owner to change the lightbulbs atop four 30-foot metal poles surrounding a tennis court. The plaintiff had previously successfully changed the bulbs by attaching two ladders to reach the top of the pole.

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