Articles Posted in Governmental Liability

Local governments, like other property owners, have an obligation to keep public spaces safe for visitors. While the procedures involved in filing a case against a government are slightly different from those required in a Maryland premises liability lawsuit against a private individual or corporation, in each of these situations a plaintiff must be able to prove that the landowner’s negligence in maintaining their property resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

To prove that a landowner was negligent, a plaintiff must first show that the landowner knew of the hazard that caused their injuries. Once the defendant’s knowledge is established, the plaintiff must show that the landowner was somehow negligent in failing to remedy the hazard or warn of the hazard’s existence. Finally, a plaintiff must prove that their injuries were the result of the landowner’s negligence. This is referred to as “causation.” In a recent case involving a slip-and-fall injury that occurred at a cemetery, the court discussed the plaintiff’s burden to prove causation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was visiting the gravesites of several family members in a cemetery that was owned by the defendant city when he stepped in a hole that was covered by grass. Evidently, the hole was deep enough such that the plaintiff fell down to his knee, folded over at the waist, and struck his head against the ground.

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Whenever someone is injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, the injured party is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. However, based on longstanding constitutional principles, government agencies enjoy immunity from some of these lawsuits. Thus, one of the most important considerations after a Maryland accident is whether any of the defendants are government employees and, if so, whether they may be entitled to immunity.

Under Maryland case law, government agencies are entitled to immunity when carrying out discretionary duties. A discretionary duty, as the name implies, is one which involves the exercise of discretion. If an act is not discretionary, it is ministerial, meaning that it does not require the judgment of a government employee. A recent case illustrates how courts approach the distinction between ministerial and discretionary acts.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a young girl was planning on attending a field trip to a pool that was located in a government-owned park. Because the young girl could not swim, her mother spoke with the playground coordinator, who reassured her that the girl’s ability would be assessed in the shallow end of the pool. The mother agreed to let her daughter go on the field trip. Tragically, however, the young girl drowned in the pool as staff members were changing in the locker room.

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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 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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