Articles Posted in Drunk Driving

Separating phases of a trial, known as bifurcation, often occurs when failing to do so would introduce issues in another phase that would improperly influence the jury. For example, in a criminal DUI case, if a defendant had a prior DUI, the case might be split into the guilt and sentencing phases so that the jury would not be influenced by the prior DUI in deciding whether the defendant is guilty. In a Maryland civil DUI case, the case might be split into a compensatory damages phase and a punitive damages phase, so that the jury would not be influenced by the fact that the defendant was driving drunk in deciding the amount of damages the plaintiff should be awarded. Similar concepts apply in Maryland car accident cases.

In Maryland, the trial judge has the discretion to decide whether to bifurcate or trifurcate a trial. The trial judge’s decision may be overturned if the trial judge abused his or her discretion. Under Maryland Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 2-503, a judge may separate trial of a claim or issue because it would be convenient or to avoid prejudice.

In a recent case, the judge decided to bifurcate compensatory and punitive damages phases of a DUI accident trial but allowed evidence of the defendant’s intoxication in the compensatory damages phase. In that case, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light and was rear-ended by the defendant driver. The plaintiff filed negligence claims against the defendant driver and against the entity that owned the vehicle. The defendant driver was drunk at the time of the crash, and the plaintiff sought both compensatory and punitive damages. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded over $2.5 million in compensatory damages and subsequently awarded $15,000 in punitive damages.

Individuals injured in Maryland accidents have the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party who negligently caused the accident. In some cases, they can also bring suit against the defendant’s employer, who may be more able to financially compensate the victim. But typically, to recover under this theory of vicarious liability against the employer, an individual must prove that the employee’s negligent actions occurred in the course and the scope of their employment. This can be a confusing doctrinal point for many potential plaintiffs, but it basically means that employers cannot be sued for things their employees did outside of their work—if an employee who gets weekends off gets drunk one Saturday night and goes on a drive to a bar, for example, their employer typically cannot be held liable if they cause a car accident because that accident had nothing to do with their employment. This is an important nuance to understand in the doctrine for plaintiffs considering filing suit against a negligent defendant and their employer.

One recent state appellate case illustrates this doctrine and how it may come up. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant in the case was an employee at a deli, and sometimes made deliveries with his own car. One morning, his manager called him early to make a delivery later that day, and he agreed. He left for work a little earlier than usual that morning so he could do some prep before taking the delivery. On his way to work, he lost control of his car and struck another vehicle, killing the two men inside. A blood test after the accident showed that he had marijuana in his system at the time of the accident. The deceased driver’s wife filed suit against the employee and his employer, arguing that they were vicariously liable for the accident. The employer filed for summary judgment, arguing that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

On appeal, the appellate court found that the employer was entitled to this grant of summary judgment, because going to and from work in one’s own vehicle generally falls outside the scope of employment. The employee was driving his own car, had not yet clocked in, and would not be paid for the time spent in his commute—and thus, it was not sufficiently related to his employment such that vicarious liability was proper. This case highlights the importance of understanding how and when various forms of liability are proper when filing a personal injury lawsuit, to maximize your chances of success.

When someone is injured in a Maryland DUI accident, it is conceivable that there are multiple liable parties. Of course, the motorist who was driving drunk is the most obvious party; however, it would seem logical that the individual or establishment that overserved the intoxicated driver also bears some responsibility.

The concept of holding third parties liable for a negligent driver’s actions is not unheard of, and courts impose third-party liability all the time in cases involving a negligent employee. In fact, many states also impose third-party liability in the drunk-driving context through statutes known as dram-shop and social-host liability laws. At the heart of both of these claims is the concept that a person – either acting in their individual capacity or in their capacity as an employee for a bar or restaurant – should know that overserving alcohol to a customer puts others in danger.

In Maryland, however, courts have rejected both dram-shop and social-host liability claims. As recently as 2013, the Court of Appeals of Maryland heard a dram-shop case, issuing an opinion including a lengthy discussion of the societal and legal considerations of a court adopting such a doctrine.

Continue reading ›

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. The case required the court to determine if the defendant’s prior convictions for driving under the influence could be admitted at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prior convictions were relevant to the punitive damages determination and thus should be admitted for that limited purpose.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving to work on the highway when suddenly, the defendant’s vehicle crossed over into the plaintiff’s lane of traffic. The two vehicles collided head-on. It was later determined that the defendant had a blood-alcohol content of .18, which is over twice the legal limit.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. During the plaintiff’s case, he attempted to introduce evidence that the defendant had been convicted of driving under the influence on two prior occasions, once in 1996 and another time in 1983. The court allowed the evidence to be admitted over the defendant’s objection. Ultimately, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,500,000.

Continue reading ›

Late last month on Halloween, two vehicles collided head-on in Glen Burnie, killing both drivers. According to one local news source, the accident occurred on Solley Road near where it meets Chestnut Springs Lane. The fatal accident claimed the lives of both drivers, and the three passengers involved in the accident were also seriously injured.

Evidently, three teenage friends were driving in a Nissan on Solley Road, heading to a Halloween party. At some point, another Nissan approaching in the opposite direction inexplicably crossed over the center line and collided with the Nissan carrying the three teens. After the initial collision, the vehicle that crossed over the center line flipped on its roof and continued to slide down the highway until it collided with a third vehicle.

In the end, both drivers of the Nissan vehicles were dead. Two teenage passengers in one of the vehicles, as well as the woman’s husband in the other Nissan, were all taken to the hospital. Since the accident, all of the injured parties have been released from the hospital.

Continue reading ›

Earlier this month in Prince George’s County, a head-on collision claimed the life of one man and seriously injured two others. According to one local news report, the accident took place on a Saturday afternoon on Maryland Route 231.

Evidently, the driver of a pick-up truck was driving on Route 231 when he inexplicably veered over the center median and into oncoming traffic. As he did so, the truck he was controlling crashed into another vehicle head-on. The truck was only occupied by its driver, but the other vehicle had two people inside.

The driver of that other vehicle, a 59-year-old man from Chesapeake Beach, was fatally injured in the accident and was pronounced dead on the scene by emergency responders. The passenger in the other vehicle, as well as the driver of the pick-up truck, were both taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Both, however, are expected to make a full recovery.

Continue reading ›

Earlier this week in Cambridge, Maryland, several people were injured when a pick-up truck towing two jet skis caused an accident involving roughly 20 other vehicles. According to one local news source, the accident took place on a Monday evening, just before nine o’clock, on Locust Street.

Evidently, the truck was driving with a trailer in tow when it started colliding with several other cars on the road, both occupied and unoccupied. Eventually, the truck lost control and ended up striking a marked police car head-on. The driver of the truck did sustain serious injuries and was flown to Peninsula Medical Center in Salisbury. The police officer whose car was hit was also taken to the hospital, and he is expected to make a full recovery with time. Those seem to be the only serious injuries.

After police caught up with the truck’s driver, they arrested him. He has since been charged with attempted murder and several other charges relating to the accident. Police are also awaiting toxicology reports to see if drugs or alcohol may have been a factor in what certainly seems to be an odd accident.

Continue reading ›

Earlier this month, an article by the local Baltimore CBS affiliate was published, indicating that over one weekend in June there were over 80 DUI or DUI-related arrests across the State of Maryland. According to the article, a large percentage of those DUI arrests involved drivers with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .16 or more, which is twice the legal limit for safe driving in Maryland.

Drunk driving has become such a problem in Maryland that the state police have created a task force, called the State Police Impaired Driving Reduction Effort (SPIDRE) Team. Of the 80 arrests across the State, 13 were made by the SPIDRE team. According to one member of SPIDRE, “Most of the people that we’re coming in contact with now, it’s not the people that get 1 or 2 drinks at dinner, it’s people that this is what they do, this is what they like to do,” referring to driving after consuming several drinks.

In fact, the average blood-alcohol content for a SPIDRE arrest is .17, which is well over the .08 legal limit. According to the CBS article, this is approximately seven or eight drinks for an average-sized man or approximately five drinks for an average-sized woman.

Continue reading ›

Recent reports regarding the Maryland police officer who died in a car crash last month revealed that he had alcohol in his system at the time of the accident. A prominent news source has reported that the officer was killed when he was taking his girlfriend to her home in the early hours of the morning.

Evidently, the officer was off duty, but he was attempting to stop a speeding vehicle. He was speeding when he came around a curve in Lanham, Maryland. Unfortunately, he was not able to control his vehicle, and he ended up hitting a wooden fence.

Investigations revealed that the officer had a blood alcohol level of about .07; the legal limit is .08 in Maryland. Additionally, he was driving around 106 mph and slowed to about 65 mph right before the accident. Although the officer was off duty, they believe that he was going to call in a traffic stop because he switched his radio on. Apparently, a new investigation has also made clear that the officer’s girlfriend was in the car with him at the time of the accident. Fortunately, she did not suffer any serious injuries.

Continue reading ›

Earlier this month in Baltimore, the most winning Olympian pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. According to a recent report by one local news source, the swimmer was pulled over back in September of this year when he was seen crossing a double yellow line in the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

The arresting officer told the court that Phelps’ breath-alcohol content was .14, and that the legal limit in Maryland is .08. Phelps was also going 84 miles per hour in a zone that is designated as 45 miles per hour. This was Phelps’ second DUI offense in the past 10 years.

At sentencing, Phelps was given a jail sentence of 12 months. However, that sentence was suspended in favor of 18 months’ probation. While on probation, Phelps will not be permitted to drink alcohol. He was also ordered to do community service and must go 90 days without driving privileges.

Continue reading ›

Contact Information