Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case dealing with the spoliation doctrine, which allows for a court to impose sanctions against a party who fails to preserve relevant evidence. The case presents an interesting issue for Maryland car accident victims in that it illustrates the range of consequences a party may face for failing to preserve evidence that is relevant to a pending legal proceeding.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving husband of a woman who was killed in a car accident. According to the court’s opinion, the woman’s vehicle hydroplaned while driving over a portion of the road that was flooded due to a clogged storm drain. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city that was charged with maintaining the storm drain. It was undisputed that the storm drain was on city property, although the city believed it to be on county property.

After the woman’s vehicle was towed to a scrap yard, the scrap yard owner sent the plaintiff a letter indicating that the vehicle was incurring daily storage fees. Shortly after receipt of this letter, the plaintiff retained counsel, who sent a letter to the scrap yard requesting the vehicle be preserved. Counsel followed up with a telephone call the next week, and was not told that preservation of the vehicle was dependent on the payment of fees. Counsel instructed the scrap yard to direct any questions to him.

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Recently, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case raising an important issue that comes up regularly in Maryland personal injury cases that are filed against a government agency or official. Specifically, the case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether a police officer’s actions were considered a discretionary act. Ultimately, the court determined that the officer’s actions were not covered under discretionary-act immunity, and permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed against the city.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured after his vehicle was struck by a police cruiser that was responding to an emergency call. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the police cruiser made a left turn against a red traffic signal, colliding with the plaintiff’s vehicle. It was agreed that the officer would not have been able to see oncoming traffic as he approached the intersection, but it was disputed whether the officer’s lights and sirens were on at the time he entered the intersection.

The plaintiff subsequently brought a personal injury claim against the city that employed the officer, arguing that the city was vicariously liable for the officer’s negligent actions. The city successfully argued to the trial court that it was entitled to government immunity because the officer was engaged in a discretionary act that was within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The plaintiff appealed.

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The Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) allows for certain Maryland personal injury cases to be filed against the state and local governments. However, under the MTCA, cases that name government employees or agencies as defendants are subject to additional procedural requirements.

Under Maryland Code section 12-106, an injury victim must first file a claim with the State Treasurer before they can proceed with a personal injury case. Additionally, the following requirements must be met:

  • The claim must be filed within one year of the incident and must provide the basis for the claim;
  • The claim must be denied by the Treasurer; and
  • Any subsequent personal injury case must be filed within three years of the date of the accident.

In the event that a claimant fails to comply with these requirements, the court may still hear the case unless the state can establish that it has been prejudiced as a result of the plaintiff’s failure to submit a claim.

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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.”

While 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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When a jury comes to a decision in a Maryland car accident lawsuit, that verdict is given great respect by the legal system. Except in the most unusual circumstances, a jury’s conclusion as to a party’s liability is insulated from judicial review. However, in some situations, a judge does retain power over the amount of a plaintiff’s jury verdict.

Maryland Rule 2-535

Under Maryland Rule 2-535, when asked by a party in the lawsuit, a court can “exercise revisory power and control over the judgment.” Essentially, this means that a judge has the power to review a jury’s award amount for reasonableness. Thus, if the court finds that an award amount was too small or too large, it can revise the award. If, after the judge comes up with a revised award amount, the party that requested the revision is not satisfied, the judge will then grant a new trial. Importantly, once a judgment becomes final, which is 30 days after it is entered, a judgment can only be revised if it is a result of “fraud, mistake, or irregularity.”

A recent case from another jurisdiction discusses a similar rule and how it applied in a car accident case in which the jury failed to consider uncontroverted evidence.

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Insurance companies can be one of the biggest roadblocks to a Maryland car accident victim receiving the compensation they deserve. Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued an interesting opinion in a car accident case involving the question of whether the plaintiff was “occupying” the insured vehicle at the time he was struck by a passing motorist. The court ultimately concluded that the plaintiff was occupying the vehicle and that the insurance company covering that vehicle should not have denied his claim.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the passenger in a car driver by her then-boyfriend. The two had just pulled up to a grocery store and were talking in the car before getting out to enter the store. As the two were talking, they heard two cars collide on an adjacent road.

The plaintiff got out of the car and approached the accident scene. As she walked behind one of the cars to get its license plate information, another vehicle came down the road, crashing into the two cars that were just involved in the accident. The plaintiff was injured as a result of this second accident.

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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.”

The 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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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Oklahoma issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a passenger who was involved in an accident against the driver’s insurance company. Specifically, the court had to determine if the lower court was proper in granting the defendant’s motions for summary judgment based on the fact that it did not act in bad faith when it questioned the reasonableness of the medical care the plaintiff received.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident while a passenger in her mother’s car. According to the facts as described in the appellate opinion, a driver ran through a stop sign and struck the plaintiff’s mother’s vehicle. After the accident, the plaintiff was taken to the hospital. She was initially taken to the emergency room, and then was transferred to the “L2 trauma center.” She was discharged four hours later with a cervical collar, but was not provided a prescription for pain medication. The plaintiff continued to receive outpatient treatment for her injuries.

The plaintiff later filed a claim under the uninsured/underinsured motorist provision of her mother’s insurance policy. She requested a total of roughly $67,000. Of that sum, $24,420 was incurred from the treatment that the plaintiff received at the L2 trauma center. The insurance company denied coverage for any charges arising from treatment in the L2 trauma center, claiming that such treatment was unnecessary. In support of its position, the insurance company consulted with an expert who stated that the plaintiff did not need to be transferred to the L2 trauma center.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nevada issued a written opinion affirming the reversal of a $1.2 million jury verdict in favor of a wrongful death plaintiff after a lower court determined that the plaintiff’s attorney committed fraud on the court. In the case, Adams v. Fallini, the court upheld the lower court’s decision to reverse the verdict, based on statements made in court documents that were known to be untrue when they were made.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in this case was the mother of a man who was killed when he struck a cow while driving on a Nevada highway. In Nevada, there is an “open range” law that prevents a farm owner from being held liable if one of his animals causes a traffic accident while in an area specifically designated as an open range.

After her son’s death, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant, who owned the animal that caused the accident. The defendant’s attorney failed to respond to the allegations, and judgment was entered for the plaintiff in the amount of $1.2 million. Once the defendant realized her attorney failed to participate in the case, the defendant sought reconsideration, but that request was denied.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in New York issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that required the court to discuss the foreseeability element of the plaintiff’s claim and determine if the plaintiff’s injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s alleged negligence. Ultimately, in the case, Hain v. Jamison, the court determined that the plaintiff’s injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence and allowed the plaintiff’s case to continue toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case is the surviving husband of a woman who was struck and killed by a passing car while she was attempting to rescue an escaped calf belonging to the defendant. After his wife’s death, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver of the car that struck his wife as well as the farm that owned the calf. Specific to the farm owner, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s negligence in allowing the calf to escape and failing to return it to the farm was a proximate cause of his wife’s death.

In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the farm owner sought dismissal of the case against him on the basis that any alleged negligence in allowing the calf to escape was too remote a cause of death to establish liability. The trial court disagreed, denying the motion.

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