Articles Posted in Governmental Liability

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 someone is injured in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident occurring on government property, or any other accident involving a government defendant, the accident victim may be entitled to monetary compensation for their injuries. However, when naming a government employee or agency as a defendant, the plaintiff must take additional steps to comply with the relevant laws governing these claims.

In Maryland, an accident victim naming a government actor as a defendant must provide notice to the Maryland State Treasurer of the accident. This notice must include the names of the people involved, a description of the accident, and the location and date of the accident, as well as other pertinent information. Accident victims have one year from the date of the accident to provide this notice. Otherwise, a court is likely to determine that the case is time-barred.

The notice requirement allows for the government agency to investigate the claim. If a plaintiff’s notice is insufficient, a court may reject the plaintiff’s claim. A recent case illustrates an example of insufficient notice provided by a plaintiff following a slip-and-fall accident.

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As a general rule, state actors, including employees and state-run agencies, are entitled to official government immunity when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. However, each state is free to enact certain exceptions for when an accident victim is able to pursue a claim for compensation against a state actor. Thus, all states have a tort claims act, or something similar, in which the waiver of official government immunity is discussed.

Maryland’s Tort Claims Act (MTCA) is different in that it broadly waives immunity for cases involving damages totaling less than $200,000. Thus, in Maryland, rather than immunity completely barring an accident victim from recovering damages for their injuries, the Tort Claims Act merely limits their recovery. However, immunity is not waived when the government actor’s actions are determined to be grossly negligent. A recent case discusses how this can play out in a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit against a government official.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a man who was killed while an inmate in a Maryland prison. According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the man was killed by another inmate. The case proceeded to trial against several inmates as well as the State of Maryland. At the conclusion of the case, the jury found that several corrections officers were “negligent,” and one correctional officer in particular who was tasked with supervising the inmates had acted grossly negligently.

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Recently, a state court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a young man who was seriously injured while hiking in a city-owned park after hours. The case required the court to determine if the city was entitled to government immunity regarding the plaintiff’s claim that the city should have installed a retaining wall near the trail’s edge. Ultimately, the court concluded that the city was entitled to immunity because the plaintiff’s allegations involved the design of the trail, which was covered under the state’s official immunity.

The case is important for Maryland premises liability plaintiffs because Maryland courts apply similar laws in cases against local governments.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and several friends snuck into a city-owned park after dark to go “ghost hunting.” While the plaintiff was making his way down a steep embankment to the trail below, he lost his footing, fell, and rolled down the hill. When the plaintiff reached the trail, he was traveling with so much momentum that he slid across the trail and over the ledge. The plaintiff fell about 10 feet before landing on the ground and then slamming into a tree.

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Maryland has a diverse and unique landscape, providing ample opportunity for Marylanders to get outside and engage in the hobbies they enjoy. Whether it’s crabbing on the Chesapeake, fossil hunting in Calvert Cliffs, mountain biking, rock climbing, or kayaking, there is always something to do in Maryland.

Each of these activities, however, presents some level of risk that something goes wrong. And while the individual engaging in the activity certainly bears some responsibility to make sure that they are being safe, landowners that allow for people to use their land may also have a duty in certain situations, as Maryland premises liability law provides. Maryland’s recreational use statute governs when a landowner has a duty – and thus can be held liable for a violation of that duty – to those whom the landowner allows to use their land.

Maryland Code section 5-1104 explains that, in general, “an owner of land who either directly or indirectly invites or permits without charge persons to use the property for any recreational or educational purpose or to cut firewood for personal use does not . . . extend any assurance that the premises are safe.” Nor does the landowner “assume responsibility for or incur liability as a result of any injury to the person.”

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nevada issued an opinion in a personal injury case involving a student who was injured while playing floor hockey in gym class. The case presents important issues involving governmental immunity that may come into play in similar Maryland personal injury cases.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a student at the defendant middle school. A few years prior to the plaintiff’s injury, the school board approved the addition of floor hockey to the gym curriculum. As was the case with all sports played in gym class, participation was required.

During a game of floor hockey, the plaintiff was accidentally struck in the eye by another student’s stick. This resulted in the plaintiff needing subsequent eye surgery, as well as several follow-up visits. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the school.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a premises liability case in which the plaintiff was injured by a falling tree branch while visiting a public marine park. The court was tasked with determining whether the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the trail immunity, which confers immunity to state and local governments when someone is injured while using a public trail. Ultimately, the court concluded that since the plaintiff’s injury was caused by the falling tree branch, rather than the trail itself, immunity did not attach, and the plaintiff was permitted to continue forward with her lawsuit.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and a friend were visiting Mission Bay Park, which is the largest marine park in the United States. The two were walking on or near a path when a branch from a eucalyptus tree fell, injuring the plaintiff. She filed a premises liability lawsuit against the government entity in charge of maintaining the park, claiming that the tree was negligently maintained.

The government claimed it was immune from liability under trail immunity. However, the court explained that the injury was not caused by a defect or dangerous condition of the trail itself, but instead by the negligently maintained tree. Thus, trail immunity did not apply.

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When a party files a personal injury case against a defendant, the defendant has the opportunity to argue one or more defenses in hopes of escaping liability. In some cases, the ultimate determination comes down to which witness is more believable. However, in other cases, the facts are not necessarily contested, and the parties argue whether a legal defense applies.

One common defense in Maryland personal injury cases is “assumption of the risk.” The doctrine of assumption of the risk stands for the proposition that a person cannot seek to hold another party liable for injuries they sustained while engaging in an activity that they knew was risky. A recent case brought by a firefighter illustrates this principle.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a firefighter who was called to assist in the efforts to put out a wildfire that had gotten out of control. The firefighters set up a headquarters inside the center of an oval racetrack and set up camp outside the track. However, by the time the plaintiff arrived, all of the camp spots had been taken. She then sought permission to camp inside the track. She was given permission and spent the first night there without a problem.

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