Companies regularly issue recalls for products that may cause illnesses or injuries to consumers. If an individual has been injured by a defective or unreasonably dangerous product, a recall of the product can serve as an indication that the product is unsafe in a Maryland product liability claim.

Complaints concerning products are investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency works to promote consumer safety by investigating and evaluating complaints and coordinating recalls. The CPSC can issue a voluntary recall or a mandatory recall, depending on the nature of the defect, though most CPSC recalls are voluntary recalls. The company responsible then must follow through to actually recall the product. The agency will announce the recall and offer a remedy to consumers affected by the recall.

Even if a consumer receives a replacement or a refund for the item, a consumer can still file a product liability claim against the company responsible for the defective product. Filing a claim against the responsible company allows injured consumers to recover compensation for their injuries due to the defect. There are different avenues for recovery in a product liability claim. For a strict liability claim based on a defective product, the plaintiff is not required to prove that the company acted negligently. Rather, the plaintiff must only demonstrate that the product was defective when it left the defendant’s control, that there was no substantial change in its condition before it reached the consumer, that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Negligence or breach of warranty may also provide avenues for recovery.

The tragic thing about Maryland personal injury accidents is that they can happen instantaneously, in the blink of an eye, without any forewarning. While sometimes they may occur in more expected places—such as car accidents occurring while driving on the highway—there are sometimes where Maryland residents are injured, through no fault of their own, out of nowhere. These accidents can be incredibly frustrating for the victim and their families, as they are suddenly injured, have to pay medical bills, might miss work, and may deal with long-lasting physical ailments as well as mental and psychological pain.

For example, take a recent shocking Maryland accident reported by the Baltimore Sun. According to the news article, a car crashed through a front window area of the Parkville Crabs restaurant in Baltimore County one afternoon. It is believed that the driver accidentally hit the gas pedal in the parking lot, causing them to drive through the front of the restaurant unexpectedly. A 35-year-old woman inside was killed after being hit by debris from the crash. Investigators are still looking into the accident and working on an accident reconstruction to figure out exactly what happened, but believe that it was not intentional. Instead, it is thought to be just a tragic and unfortunate mistake.

This fatal accident is just one example of something that can happen unexpectedly and change a life in an instant. While nothing can undo the damage that these accidents cause, and there is no way to fully prevent each and every one from happening in the first place, Maryland state law does at least allow victims one course to recovery. Those injured can file what is called a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent individual or company who caused the accident.

Dogs are man’s best friend, but sometimes these animals can cause serious harm to individuals when they get aggressive, attack, or bite them. While many people do not consider dogs to be a risk, Maryland dog bites are so common that there is a body of law in the state specifically allowing those hurt by someone else’s dog to sue dog owners for negligence. This does not mean that every dog is a danger, but it is important to be aware of your legal rights when dog bites occur.

For an example of a legal case resulting from a dog bite, take a recent state appellate court opinion. According to the court’s written opinion, the dog bite occurred when the plaintiff’s five-year-old son visited his neighbors’ house to play with their daughter. Their neighbors had two dogs, and usually would put them in crates or in the other room when the son came over to play. But one time, the dogs were not put away, and the five-year-old returned home at some point with a bite on his leg from one of them. The next day, the plaintiffs found out that it had been over a year since the dog had been vaccinated for rabies. The child was treated for his injuries, and also had to receive a series of rabies shots.

Maryland Code section 3-1901 covers personal injuries and deaths caused by a dog. Importantly, Maryland creates a system of strict liability. While some jurisdictions are a bit more lenient for dog owners, and may make the plaintiff prove in court that the owner knew that the dog had vicious or dangerous tendencies (and was likely to attack), Maryland imposes a stricter standard. According to state law, in actions against dog owners for personal injury or death caused by a dog, it is enough to show “evidence that the dog caused the personal injury or death.” Presenting this evidence creates “a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious or dangerous propensities.”

If a person is injured on property owned by a business, the business might be liable for the person’s injuries, depending on the circumstances. Business owners owe customers and guests a duty to exercise ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition. To prevail on a Maryland premises liability claim, a plaintiff must prove that a dangerous condition existed on the defendant’s premises, the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the condition, the defendant’s knowledge existed for long enough that the defendant had the opportunity to remove it or to warn the plaintiff, and the defendant’s failure to act caused the plaintiff’s injury.

A plaintiff must demonstrate that a defective condition existed for long enough that the defendant had a duty to inspect to discover the defect and remedy it. The purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the dangerous condition existed for long enough that the defendant should have discovered it and to determine the amount of time the hazards were present between inspections.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court held that a business owner may be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries after she fell on a tree root outside the business. In that case, the plaintiff was walking to the Chick-fil-A restaurant and tripped on the partially-exposed root, injuring two bones in her leg. The plaintiff had walked to the restaurant from her job nearby many times before by walking across a dirt area she and other pedestrians used to access the restaurant’s parking lot. According to the evidence, the root stuck out about two inches and was not in this condition four days prior, when a landscaping crew had inspected the area for tripping hazards.

Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to provide benefits to injured workers in exchange for giving up the right to file a suit against their employer in court. The rule that recipients of workers’ compensation benefits cannot seek compensation elsewhere is known as the “exclusivity rule.” This means that in general, Maryland accident victims injured at work cannot file suit against their employers. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Under Maryland law, if an employee is injured or killed because the employer had the deliberate intent to injure or kill the employee, the employee may still bring a claim for damages against the employer. In the event of an employee’s death in such a case, the employee’s surviving spouse, child, or dependent may bring a claim against the employer.

A state supreme court recently considered such a case in which the plaintiff argued that his claim fell under the deliberate injury exception to the exclusivity rule. The plaintiff was working on a commercial construction project. Workers used a crane to drill a 130-foot auger into the ground and were attempting to free the auger from hardening grout after prematurely starting to secure it. After unsuccessful attempts to free the auger, a supervisor ordered the crew to continue to try to free it by rocking it while pressuring the crane’s hoist cable. Eventually, the crane collapsed, causing the plaintiff’s leg to be crushed, requiring it to be amputated.

The plaintiff applied for and received workers’ compensation benefits. After receiving the workers’ compensation benefits, the plaintiff sued the employer for negligence and gross negligence. The plaintiff argued that despite receiving workers’ compensation benefits, the suit was permitted under a state law that allowed for a suit in cases where a defendant has a specific intent to injure the plaintiff. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor. However, the state’s supreme court reversed the decision, finding the accident did not meet the exception under state law because it did not amount to a “genuine intentional injury.” The court explained that although there was evidence the supervisor deliberately ignored the risk of a collapse of the crane, there was no evidence that the supervisor believed the equipment would break and collapse, and that it would collapse on top of the plaintiff, who was standing beyond the construction barricade. Therefore, the court found insufficient evidence that the supervisor intended to injure the plaintiff, and the court rendered judgment for the employer.

Negligent entrustment is defined under Maryland law as supplying a “chattel” directly or through a third person for another person’s use who the supplier knows or should know will use it in a way that involves an unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others. The supplier is subject to liability for the physical harm resulting from the supplier’s negligent entrustment. In short, the supplier may be held liable because the supplier is or should be aware of the danger of entrusting the chattel to someone and aware of the foreseeability of harm.

A “chattel” is defined as personal property (not real property) that can be moved or transferred. Under Maryland law, the elements of negligent entrustment are: (1) the supplier makes available a chattel to another person; (2) the supplier knows or should have known the receiver is likely to use the chattel in a manner involving risk of physical harm to others, and; (3) the supplier should expect others to be put in danger by its use. Maryland courts have explained that the supplier may need to inquire further in some cases, and the supplier may be liable in cases where the supplier failed to make a reasonable investigation.

Court Considers Viability of Negligent Entrustment Claim Where Employer is Vicariously Liable

In Maryland, the Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) requires employers to pay benefits to employees that suffer an accidental injury at work. The benefits are issued to injured employees regardless of whether the employer was at fault for the employee’s injury. The benefits provided through the Act generally bar subsequent civil claims against employers through a rule known as the exclusivity rule. A recent case shows how a claim may even be barred against one entity after receiving workers’ compensation benefits from a separate entity.

In that case, the plaintiff suffered an injury while he was working as a foreman removing trees. He was working along with five employees at a job at a client’s house, and at one point, a vehicle known as a bucket truck rolled backward and pinned the plaintiff between it and a dump truck. As other employees apparently attempted to remove the truck, the truck was set in motion, causing the plaintiff further injury. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident and was permanently disabled.

The plaintiff received workers’ compensation benefits from the insurance carrier for Mulch-N-More, a company that provided mulching services. The plaintiff then filed a complaint in court, alleging that another entity, Mike’s Professional Tree Service (MPTS), was negligent. MPTS was a separate, affiliated entity owned by the same person. MPTS claimed that the plaintiff could not file suit against MPTS because he had already received workers’ compensation benefits, and his claim was barred under the Act.

Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act), first enacted in 1914, generally requires employers to pay workers’ compensation benefits to employees who suffer an accidental injury during the course of their employment, regardless of whether the employer was at fault. The Act is designed to ensure employees the right to quick compensation for their workplace injuries, while also taking away their rights to sue their employers for negligence. This means that a claimant can often not seek damages in a subsequent civil suit, though there are exceptions. In a recent opinion, a state court considered whether an employee could recover from a co-employee after settling her workers’ compensation claim.

The plaintiff was an employee at a human services agency. He was attacked by one of the company’s clients and filed a workers’ compensation claim for his injuries. The parties settled the claim. The plaintiff then filed suit in district court against her supervisor on a theory of gross negligence. The supervisor argued that he was protected under the settlement. The state’s supreme court explained that the state’s law allowed injured employees who had received workers’ compensation benefits to file claims against co-employees in the case of gross negligence. Thus the claim generally would have been permitted. However, the court agreed with the supervisor, finding that the language in the terms of the settlement extinguished the plaintiff’s gross negligence claim. The court found that the language in the settlement agreement was broad and released all employees of the employer for all liability. Thus, the court ruled against the employee and dismissed the case.

Filing Suit After a Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act Claim

Under Maryland law, an insurance policy is governed by general contract principles and interpretation. In Maryland insurance disputes, courts are supposed to interpret the contract based on the parties’ intentions when the contract was drafted, and the contract must be considered a whole. In addition, the insurer has the burden to prove an exclusion from coverage.

Insurers are bound by the actions and representations of their agents. If an agent is an actual agent of an insurer, the agent is subject to the insurer’s right of control, the agent has a duty to act for the insurer’s benefit, and the agent holds the power to alter the legal relations of the insurer. In some cases, insurers can also be bound under the apparent-agency theory. In this situation, the insured must show that the insurer led him to believe that the apparent agent was an actual agent of the insurer, the belief was reasonable, and the insured relied upon the apparent agency.

In a recent case, one court considered whether a couple could succeed on a theory of apparent agency after they continued to make payments on their expired policy to who they believed was an agent of the insured. In that case, the insured couple purchased an insurance policy for a period of one year. The couple met with an insurance agent to purchase the policy and paid the policy premium to the agent. Such a payment was permitted as it fell under an “agency bill policy.” The couple continued to make payments on the policy to the agent rather than to the insurer directly. After the first year of the policy, the policy was eligible for renewal as a “direct bill policy,” which meant that the couple was supposed to make payments directly to the insurer to renew and continue coverage under the policy. The couple claimed it did not receive notice reflecting the cancellation and notice of the new policy. The couple continued to make payments directly to the insurance agent after the expiration of the initial one-year period, and the insurer never received the payments to renew and continue the policy.

In Maryland injury cases based on a claim of strict liability, a defendant may claim that the plaintiff was also at fault for their injuries, raising the issue of contributory negligence. Maryland is among a small minority of states that follow the doctrine of contributory negligence, meaning that a plaintiff cannot recover if he is found to be even partially at fault.

Under Maryland law, contributory negligence of the consumer is not a defense in strict liability cases if the consumer’s negligence involves solely a failure to discover the product’s defect or to protect themselves from the possibility of such a defect. However, if the consumer’s contributory negligence concerns voluntarily and unreasonably confronting a known danger, that is a defense to strict liability.

Many other states apply the doctrine of comparative negligence, generally meaning that a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his proportion of fault. In that case, a plaintiff could have his damages reduced by his portion of fault, even if a strict liability case. In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court upheld such an award. In that case, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a crash after the front brake on his motorcycle failed. He sued Suzuki, the manufacturer and designer of the motorcycle, claiming that his injuries were caused by a design defect in the front master brake cylinder. Suzuki had issued a recall warning about a safety defect in the front brake master cylinder, and reportedly had known about the issue since well before the plaintiff’s accident. However, the plaintiff failed to replace the brake fluid every two years, and he had not done so for eight years.

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