Articles Posted in Evidentiary Issues

Many Maryland personal injury cases involving car crashes and slip-and-fall accidents raise issues that most jurors have experience within their own lives. However, in Maryland medical malpractice cases and claims involving a dangerous or defective product, there are often complex scientific or medical issues that are beyond the average juror’s expertise. In these cases, the court may allow both parties to call an expert witness.

Under Maryland Rule 5-702, the court may allow expert witness testimony, “if the court determines that the testimony will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or in determining a fact in issue.” If allowed to testify, an expert can provide their opinion regarding issues within their expertise to help the jury understand concepts that may otherwise be confusing.

Before a court allows a party to call an expert witness, the court considers three factors:

Maryland is known to have some of the harshest laws when it comes to determining which accident victims are able to recover for their injuries. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence rule, plaintiffs who are found to have even the slightest role in causing an accident or bringing about their own injuries are completely precluded from recovering for their injuries. That being said, there are some situations where Maryland law protects an accident victim’s ability to recover for their injuries.

One of the situations where an accident victim’s “negligence” cannot be used to defeat their claim against a defendant is when, at the time of the injury, the plaintiff was not wearing safety equipment that could potentially have reduced the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, a defendant may attempt to argue that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a motorcycle helmet or seat belt in a Maryland traffic accident was evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence. However, in these circumstances, Maryland courts have held this evidence is inadmissible. A recent state appellate decision helps explain the rationale behind this rule.

In that case, the plaintiff was helping the defendant cut down some trees on the defendant’s property. The agreement between the two men was that the plaintiff would use a chain saw to cut the trees and the defendant would watch out for any potential hazards. However, as the plaintiff was using the chainsaw to take down a tree, a dead limb came loose and fell on his head, resulting in serious injuries.

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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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, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that presents an interesting issue that frequently comes up in Maryland personal injury cases. The specific claim at issue was over the defendant’s access to the plaintiff’s private Facebook account.

The court ultimately concluded that the defendant met the necessary showing that the requested evidence was material and would likely lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. Thus, the court compelled disclosure of some of the information, posts, and photographs in the plaintiff’s private Facebook account.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury while riding a horse that was owned by the defendant. The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim against the defendant. In her claim, the plaintiff noted that while she used to be very active on social media and enjoyed traveling, cooking, etc., she could no longer enjoy these activities because she had a difficult time composing messages that made sense. She also claimed that she had become reclusive, and, while she used to post on social media “a lot,” she rarely did so after the accident.

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Earlier this month, a Michigan court issued an interesting opinion regarding the admissibility of evidence in a medical malpractice case. In the case, Rock v. Crocker, the appellate court held that there is a very specific manner in which lower courts should approach questions of evidence admissibility, and since the court below applied the law in the wrong manner, the case was remanded to give the lower court the opportunity to do so correctly.

The Facts of the Case

Crocker, the plaintiff, had ankle surgery performed by the defendant in 2008. Shortly after the surgery, the defendant advised Crocker he could put weight on his ankle without a problem. However, Crocker did not put weight on the ankle and continued to allow it to heal. Just a few months later, however, Crocker required an additional surgery because the defendant allegedly failed to fuse all the necessary bones during the first surgery. Upon hearing this, Crocker filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant.

At trial, Crocker presented an expert who testified that the defendant was negligent in failing to use enough screws to connect the bones and also in advising that Crocker can put weight on his ankle too early after the surgery. However, the expert also testified that these failures did not cause any injury to Crocker. The plaintiff acknowledged that the expert’s testimony did not prove causation – i.e., that the defendant’s negligence resulted in his injuries – but argued that it was relevant to the defendant’s general competence as a surgeon. The court agreed and allowed the expert’s testimony to be considered.

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