Articles Posted in Car Accidents

There are instances where a Maryland injury victim has a condition that may increase the severity of damages after an accident. The law frequently refers to these individuals as “eggshell plaintiffs.” The colloquial term “eggshell plaintiff” derives from comparing a person with a typical skull to one with a fragile skull. The theory being that if a defendant causes injuries to a plaintiff with an “eggshell” skull, the defendant would still be liable, even though the plaintiff’s skull was especially vulnerable, compared to that of the average population. In essence, these individuals possess an underlying or complicating health condition that makes a recovery from an accident more difficult.

In many cases, these plaintiffs suffer more significant injuries and damages. However, under Maryland law, a defendant must take the plaintiff or injury victim as they find them. The at-fault party is liable for whatever harm they cause, regardless of what the plaintiff suffered from before the act. Although the law requires defendants to “take plaintiffs as they are,” insurance companies continue to deny claims, often arguing that the accident victim’s injuries are related to a pre-existing condition and not the triggering event. Despite insurance companies’ reluctance to adopt this idea, this principle applies to victims with pre-existing conditions, as well.

For example, a recent national news report described an incident where a teen died after COVID-19 complicated his car accident recovery. According to reports, the 17-year-old suffered multiple fractures and other injuries in a car accident. However, medical reports indicate that the teenager also tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus. The virus left the teenager with weakness in his lungs, which prevented him from fully recovering from the car accident. Although details of the crash are still under investigation, doctors indicated that the teenager succumbed to the injuries he sustained in the car accident.

Unfortunately, Maryland drivers encounter dangerous situations all the time—a car stopped in the middle of the road, debris blocking the roadway, or even a chain-reaction crash. Yet, even when a Maryland driver encounters a dangerous situation, the driver must respond reasonably to the situation under the circumstances. Failure to do so may make the driver liable for resulting injuries. Under Maryland law, a driver who “suddenly finds himself in a position of peril” is not expected to exercise the same care as when the driver has sufficient time to decide what he should do. This is known as the emergency doctrine and may apply in some Maryland accident cases. However, the doctrine does not apply when the peril comes about because of the driver’s own negligence or if the driver is not actually in a position of sudden peril. Where a driver does take an action in response to the emergency, a jury (or judge) must consider whether the driver made a choice that a reasonable, prudent person would make considering the choices he had and the time he had to recognize and evaluate those choices.

In a recent case involving the sudden emergency doctrine before one state appellate court, the court explained how and where the sudden emergency doctrine applies under that state’s law. In that case, the defendant was driving on the highway and changed lanes and passed a stopped vehicle to avoid crashing into the stopped vehicle. The plaintiff’s husband’s vehicle was behind the defendant’s vehicle and crashed into the stopped vehicle. The plaintiff’s husband died and the plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the defendant and others.

The defendant argued that the sudden emergency doctrine applied and acted as a complete defense. The defendant argued that the sudden emergency was the stopped car that he encountered in the road. The plaintiff argued that the defendant created the emergency by changing lanes at an unreasonably late time for the plaintiff’s husband to see the stopped car. The plaintiff argued that the sudden emergency was the husband’s inability to see the stopped car because of the defendant’s late lane change.

Expert testimony is essential in many Maryland car accident cases. Under Maryland law, expert testimony may be admissible if the court rules that the expert testimony will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to decide a fact at issue in the case. Under Rule 5-702, a court must decide whether the witness is qualified as an expert based on the witness’s knowledge, experience, education, skill, or training, whether the expert testimony is appropriate, and whether there is a sufficient factual basis for the testimony.

Expert testimony is essential in cases where an issue is beyond the “common knowledge” of a layperson. One recent decision from a federal court of appeals shows a trial court’s improper exclusion of expert testimony doomed a plaintiff’s case, resulting in a judgment in favor of the defendants.

In that case, the plaintiff was hit by an SUV in a construction-affected area. The defendant, an architectural firm, was hired to redesign traffic in the area to safely control the traffic of vehicles and pedestrians in the area. A construction company installed a temporary concrete barrier along one part of the sidewalk. The pedestrian was crossing the street in the area and was hit head-on by a vehicle, rendering him a quadriplegic. The plaintiff filed suit against entities involved in the construction project, including the architectural firm.

As technology advances, so do the safety features on automobiles. Many new models of vehicles now have automatic emergency braking, forward collision warnings, blind spot warnings, and more high-tech safety features designed to prevent crashes and make the roads safer. Some vehicles now even have autopilot features, in which vehicles steer, accelerate, brake, and move into different lanes automatically. Although drivers are supposed to be actively supervising the vehicle while it is in autopilot mode, there is a growing body of evidence that drivers often do not supervise their car when on autopilot, mistakenly believing that they are safe just because the feature is turned on. As autopilot and other safety features become more common on Maryland’s roads, drivers should be aware that they do not eliminate the risk of car accidents and remain cautious while driving. Unfortunately, even technologically advanced cars can get into dangerous Maryland accidents.

For example, a Tesla Model 3 was recently engaged in autopilot mode when it rear-ended two cars, including a police car. According to a news report covering the accident, the driver was checking on their dog in the back seat when the incident occurred, rather than actively supervising their vehicle. This is not the first time that cars on autopilot have gotten into accidents, and Tesla’s autopilot mode has been involved in at least three other crashes in the U.S., all of which led to fatalities. It is unknown at this time if the crashes are because of autopilot failures, or because of drivers being negligent while on the road, assuming that autopilot makes them safe.

Drivers, regardless of whether or not their vehicle has advanced safety features, should always remain cautious when on the road. Despite technology advances, car accidents remain a leading cause of Maryland deaths and injuries and can happen in the blink of an eye. When accidents do occur, state law allows for those injured to bring a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. Evidence that a driver was distracted while driving, whether it be from texting, talking to a loved one, admiring a view, or checking on a pet or child in the back seat, can strengthen the plaintiff’s case and make it more likely that they recover damages from the defendant.

The holidays are a time of fun and festivities, with individuals across Maryland taking time off to visit family and engage in yearly traditions. With the cheer of the holidays, however, comes an unfortunate uptick in Maryland driving accidents. There are three main reasons that these accidents increase around the holidays, and Maryland drivers should be aware and particularly cautious when driving this month.

First, the roads and highways are generally busier during the holiday season, as individuals often drive long distances to visit family and friends. Because of work schedules and time off, many individuals who wish to travel for the holidays do so around the same time, causing congestion in the streets and increasing the likelihood of an accident. In fact, the number of Americans traveling by car over the holiday season has been increasing each year—according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), about 102.1 million people traveled by car in December 2018, a 4.4% increase from 2017. The number is expected to be even higher this year.

Second, drivers may generally be more distracted and drowsier on the road, causing more preventable accidents to occur. The holiday season is busy, and individuals may stay out late at a holiday party and then find themselves extremely tired while driving home. Others may stay late at work in the weeks heading up to their vacation, leading to unfocused driving. Unfortunately, distracted and drowsy drivers are more likely to make risky decisions while driving, potentially leading to an accident.

Under Maryland premises liability law, someone who is injured while on another’s property may be able to hold the property owner liable for any injuries they sustain as a result of the landowner’s negligence. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule. One exception is the “firefighter’s rule.”

Maryland’s firefighter rule “generally prohibits firefighters and police officers from recovering tort damages from those whose negligence necessitated their services.” The rule and its history are described in depth in a 2011 opinion authored the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In that case, a police officer was injured in a high-speed chase. Evidently, the police dispatcher gave the officer incorrect information that the officer relied upon when deciding to engage in the high-speed chase. The injured police officer filed a Maryland personal injury claim against the state based on the dispatcher’s negligence. The state claimed that the police officer should be prevented from recovering for his injuries under the firefighter’s rule. The case allowed the court to discuss the state’s firefighter rule and in what circumstances it should be applied.

Although the concept of sovereign immunity is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights, courts have long held that the U.S. government is immune from liability without its consent. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), however, those who have been injured as a result of the conduct of a federal employee or agency may be able to pursue a claim for compensation.

The FTCA provides a strict set of procedural rules that must be followed in order for a case to be heard by a federal court. If an injury victim misses a deadline or otherwise fails to comply with one of the FTCA’s requirements, their claim will likely be dismissed. Thus, it is crucial for Maryland injury victims bringing claims under the FTCA to understand all of the requirements the FTCA imposes. A recent federal appellate opinion discusses the statute of limitations in FTCA claims.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, in 2005, when the plaintiff was just five years old, when his father died in an auto accident. The accident occurred on an interstate highway. Because the plaintiff was only five years old at the time, the plaintiff’s mother filed a claim against the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The claim alleged that a highway barrier failed during the accident, resulting in the plaintiff’s father’s death.

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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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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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