Articles Posted in Maryland Legislation

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted a defendant hospital’s motion to dismiss a medical malpractice lawsuit, Haskins v. Washington Adventist Hospital, Inc. A woman filed suit as administrator of her late husband’s estate, alleging that inadequate care by hospital personnel caused his death. The court held that she did not comply with the Maryland Health Care Claims Act (MHCCA), which requires plaintiffs to file a claim with a state agency as a condition of filing a lawsuit. It dismissed the suit without prejudice, meaning she is permitted to re-file.

The decedent, Virginia resident Ernest Haskins, checked in to Washington Adventist Hospital (the “Hospital”) in Takoma Park, Maryland on April 9, 2010. He was there to receive treatment, including surgery, for a spinal fracture and metastatic multiple myeoloma cancer of the spine. He allegedly contracted a MRSA infection (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) due to the nursing staff’s failure to follow standard of care procedures. MRSA is a bacterial infection that is resistant to common antibiotic treatments. It is usually spread by skin-to-skin contact. Because of the infection and its risk of contagion, Haskins was initially unable to find a nursing home willing to accept him.

Haskins also suffered stage II sacral decubitus ulcers, commonly known as bedsores, during his stay at the Hospital, causing him severe pain and discomfort. After several months in the Hospital, a nursing home in Richmond, Virginia agreed to admit Haskins. A third-party ambulance transferred him there, a five-hour trip over 129 miles. The Hospital allegedly failed to provide the ambulance crew with a full account of the severity of Haskins’ condition, including the bedsores. Haskins’ bedsores therefore went untreated until he arrived in Richmond. He required surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital on July 2, and he died shortly afterwards.

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Distracted driving, defined as operating a motor vehicle with one’s attention split between the road and a mobile electronic communication device, is responsible for a significant number of accidents and fatalities on Maryland roads. The Maryland State Highway Administration identified 24,769 automobile accidents in 2008 that involved distracted driving. Those crashes killed thirty-four people and injured 11,578. That year, almost 6,000 people nationwide died in distraction-related crashes, with distraction playing a role in twenty-five percent of all automobile crashes. The total number of fatalities dropped to about 5,500 in 2009 and 3,000 in 2010, but those are still enormous numbers, making distracted driving nearly as big a threat as drunk driving. Recent events and legislative efforts have brought distracted driving into the spotlight again.

An accident in Connecticut demonstrates the danger posed by distracted driving. A jogger, 44 year-old Kenneth Dorsey, died on March 24 after a vehicle driven by a 16 year-old girl struck him. The girl was allegedly talking or texting on a handheld cell phone at the time. Police have not said specifically what she was allegedly doing, except that evidence suggests she had used the phone’s keypad before the accident. Prosecutors in Norwalk, Connecticut charged the girl with negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and with violating the state’s ban on use of a cell phone by novice drivers.

Thirty-one states prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving for all drivers, including Connecticut and Maryland. Distracted driving laws vary from state to state, but no states have banned use of cell phones entirely. Maryland drivers may use a cell phone with a hands-free device like a headset, although use of a cell phone in any manner by drivers under the age of eighteen will be prohibited beginning October 1, 2012. School bus drivers are currently prohibited from using a handheld cell phone while working. All drivers are prohibited from writing or sending text messages while driving, except for the purpose of contacting a 9-1-1 emergency system.

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A lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court in Maryland seeks to hold a bar liable for injuries sustained in a 2008 boating accident. Early in the morning on June 5, 2008 a ski boat carrying 10 people crashed into an abutment on the Route 90 bridge in Ocean City, Maryland. Conditions at the time were foggy, and the collision caused all of the boat’s occupants to fall into the water. Everyone was rescued, although several sustained injuries. Only one passenger required hospitalization, while 6 passengers were treated at the hospital and released, and 3 were treated at the scene.

Scott Howard Shepard, who was operating the boat at the time of the accident, was eventually charged with operating a vessel while impaired, negligent operation and reckless operation. He received a 30-day jail sentence. Shepard and the boat’s passengers had been at Seacrets, a resort nightclub. The club’s water taxi had ferried them to their boat prior to the accident.

In March 2011, passenger Danielle Vollmer, who had been treated and released from the hospital, filed suit in the United States District Court in Baltimore against Shepard and Seacrets. The claim against Shepard appears to be an ordinary negligence claim, while the claim against Seacrets incorporates maritime law claims and a claim for dram shop act liability. Her complaint states that “Seacrets knew or should have known that ferrying and encouraging a severely intoxicated patron such as Shepard to his boat, and then later ferrying the plaintiff to board and depart on the same boat with Shepard, created a condition of danger to the plaintiff and the public.” She is seeking $1 million in damages from each of the defendants.

Vollmer’s case against Seacrets will be interesting to watch. Maryland is one of 12 U.S. states that does not have a statute or caselaw providing for dram shop liability. “Dram shop” liability holds a bar that sells alcohol, or a host that serves alcohol, to a visibly intoxicated person strictly liable for damages subsequently caused by that person. For example, a bar that sells liquor to an individual who would appear intoxicated to any reasonable person would be liable to a person injured by the intoxicated individual, to the extent that the injuries were a result of the person’s drunken state. This most often involves DUI accidents. 38 states have laws allowing this sort of liability, but not Maryland.

That may change in the near future, though. In June 2011, Montgomery County, Maryland judge Eric M. Johnson stated in an order that it is time for Maryland’s law to change. Judge Johnson was presiding over a lawsuit against a bar by the family of a child killed by a drunk driver who had been served beer at the bar prior to the accident. In rejecting the bar’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Johnson wrote:

The facts of this case undoubtedly should serve as the impetus to adjusting Maryland jurisprudence on the topic of dram shop liability…This court is of the opinion that while the Maryland legislature has not enacted dram shop legislation, it has not expressly prohibited it … A bar owner who continuously serves drinks to intoxicated individuals and makes no attempt to ensure that the individual has alternative means home should expect that the intoxicated patron can get into an accident.

Judge Johnson’s order does not have any force of law beyond that particular lawsuit, but it may herald a change in how bars are treated when a bar patron causes an accident.

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On November 2, 2010, voters across Maryland will be asked to answer an important question regarding Maryland’s Constitution. We encourage the residents of Maryland to VOTE FOR QUESTION 2, IN FAVOR of the Constitutional Amendment question limiting a Trial by Jury to civil cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000.00.

Here’s why:

In the State of Maryland, someone injured in an automobile, motorcycle, truck accident, or any incident where injuries and damages are caused by the negligence or wrong choices of another person or corporation, has the right to file a lawsuit.

Currently, in Maryland state courts, a lawsuit brought by a plaintiff (the injured person) seeking damages in the amount of $10,000.00 or less is guaranteed to stay in the District Court of Maryland. In the District Court, the case will be heard by a Judge, and the advantages include the scheduling of the trial fairly quickly (usually two to four months after filing the lawsuit), and litigation expenses that are kept low because expert witnesses are not required, and filing fees are $38.00.

Currently, a lawsuit filed by a plaintiff seeking damages in the amount of $10,000.01 to $30,000.00 can be filed in the District Court of Maryland, BUT the Defendant’s lawyer may “bump” the case up to the Circuit Court by requesting a jury trial. In many cases, the choice to bump the case up is a Defendant lawyer’s litigation strategy designed only to make it more costly and more time consuming for an injured person to have her day in Court. Cases litigated in the Circuit Court are considerably more costly to the plaintiff because an expert is often required, depositions are taken which require the use of court reporters, and filing fees are between $115.00 and $145.00. In addition, cases in the Circuit Court take approximately twelve to eighteen months to get to trial.

By raising the right to a jury trial to cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000.00, the law would allow injured people who have cases worth $10,000.00 to $15,000.00 to have their cases heard fairly and impartially by a judge in the District Court of Maryland without having to travel through the lengthy and costly Circuit Court of Maryland proceeding.

In addition, if the Constitutional Amendment passes, the Circuit Court civil dockets would be less crowded as more cases would be appropriately handled in the District Court. Finally, the cost of administering the court system borne by the Maryland taxpayer will be reduced because more cases will be tried in the District Court without jurors (who are paid for their service) and with fewer court personnel.

For those people interested in the exact working of Question 2, it will be:

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The Court of Appeals has upheld a state law that limits how much plaintiffs can receive for pain and suffering. They issued their decision regarding Maryland’s damages cap in the Anne Arundel County wrongful death case involving Connor Freed, the 5-year-old boy who drowned in a swimming pool at the Crofton Country Club in 2006.

A jury had awarded Connor Freed’s parents, Thomas Freed and Debbie Neagle-Freed, about $4 million against DRD Pool Service Inc., the company that provided lifeguards to the pool. However, because of Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages, the payment was reduced to about $1 million. The Freeds then filed a claim contending that the cap was unconstitutional since it does not give equal protection to all people.

In its ruling, Maryland’s highest court said that the cap’s existence has a legitimate purpose as it keeps liability insurance affordable. The court did, however, side with the Freeds regarding their claim that the original jury should have been given the opportunity to consider additional damages for their son’s conscious pain and suffering prior to his death.

Maryland lawmakers are planning on making read text messages while driving illegal. The current texting while driving ban, which went into effect last year, only bans drivers from sending text messages. There also may be enough support to ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, especially as the newer phones include applications that allow drivers to e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and browse the Internet. Currently, school bus drivers and drivers with provisional licenses and learner’s instructional permits are not allowed to talk on any kind of cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Lawmakers, however, want to do more to decrease the number of Maryland car accidents.

According to the Harvard Center of Risk Analysis, about 636,000 auto crashes a year involved someone using a cell phone. 2,600 fatalities and 330,000 injuries have resulted from these distracted driving accidents. The National Safety Council says that the number of car crashes caused by cell phone (talking and texting) use—1.6 million auto collisions—is even higher. Meantime, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute have reported that the number of car crashes in states with handheld cell phone bans doesn’t seem to have gone down.

The Maryland General Assembly has struggled with how much restriction to place on cell phone driving activities. However, there is no longer any doubt that texting while driving increases a motorist’s Maryland motor vehicle accident risk dramatically. While the act of texting is harmless in and of itself, it is the fact that motorists become distracted, taking their eyes and mind off the road and their hands off the steering wheel, that makes texting while driving such a dangerous driving activity. People have even compared its degree of dangerousness to the perils presented by driving while drunk.

Maryland’s highest court is going to review the constitutionality of the state’s personal injury noneconomic damages cap. This court hasn’t done this since 1995. Currently, the cap for a plaintiff’s pain and suffering is $725,000.

The Maryland wrongful death case that brings the noneconomic damages cap issue to the state’s highest court is the one involving the parents of 5-year-old Connor Freed. The young boy drowned in 2006 in a country club swimming pool in Anne Arundel County in 2006.

A jury awarded his parents, Debra Neagle Webber and Thomas Freed, over $2 million for his drowning death. Because of the Maryland personal injury cap, which was $665,000 when their son died, their wrongful death award would go down to $1.3 million.

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, the state’s new driver’s license test requires new drivers to show off their driving skills on-road and off-road. This new test is reportedly tougher than the current version, and parents are especially are thrilled that their sons and daughters will have to prove they have the ability to pull off both kinds of road conditions before they can be fully licensed.

First-time drivers, experienced motorists who are licensed to drive abroad, and drivers who have to lost their license and have to take the test over again will all be required to take this new test. Drivers with licenses in other US States and Canada won’t have to take the driving test.

The new test, which is part of an on-road pilot project in Waldorf and Frederick, is expected to move to Baltimore and the Washington Metropolitan areas in the fall before being adopted throughout the state in 2010.

The MVA also says it will revise the written portion of the driver’s licenses test. The Maryland Highway Safety Foundation has been calling for changes to be made to the current test, which Foundation co-chairman David Nevis says puts too much emphasis on parallel parking and doesn’t pay enough attention to high-speed merging. MVA administrator John Kuo says the new test will emphasize defensive driving and test a driver’s actual driving skills.

It is important that all Maryland drivers understand the rules of the road so that they know how to drive safely. Negligent, careless, or reckless driving, driver ignorance, and other driving mistakes can lead to deadly Maryland car accidents and can be grounds for personal injury or wrongful death claims against the liable motorist.

Just recently, an 82-year-old Carroll County woman died in Sykesville when her car was in a collision with another vehicle. According to Police, Maggie Ringley Saylor ran a red light on route 26. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

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The Maryland Senate has passed a bill that would allow speed cameras in school zones and construction zones. The approval of the legislation, by a 27-20 vote, came one day after the Senate had vetoed the bill authorizing the statewide use of speed cameras to apprehend violators. The House is expected to vote on the measure next week.

A number of Maryland senators had opposed the bill over concerns that the cameras were an invasion of privacy and were being used by local governments to generate revenue. In Montgomery County, where 54 speed cameras are in use, some 500,000 citations have been issued, resulting in over $16 million in fines after costs. However, supporters of the speed cameras are quick to note that they have helped reduced the number of Maryland motor vehicle crashes because they compel people to obey the legal speed limits.

Also, an examination of several locations where speed cameras have been in operation shows that the speeds that motorists operated their vehicles at dropped by 22% after cameras were installed. For example, in Chevy Chase, there are speed cameras installed in a heavily traveled area of Connecticut Avenue. Since the devices were put in place, the number of speeding motorists dropped by 73%, as did the number of auto accidents (from 67 during the last year when there were no cameras to 44). Other Maryland municipalities where speed cameras are already in use include Takoma Park, Gaithersburg, and Rockville.

The Maryland Senate bill calls for making driving 12 miles above the speed limit grounds for a speeding ticket.

In February, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety presented a number of research findings about speeding before the Maryland Senate Committee on Judicial Proceedings on Senate Bill 277. Among the findings:

• In 2007, speeding contributed to over 13,000 motor vehicle deaths.
• 24% of the deadly accidents that happened that year occurred on roads where the speed limit was 35 mph or lower.
• 88% of speeding-related deaths occur on interstate highways.

• Speeding can refer to going faster than the posted speed limit, driving faster than the weather conditions allow, or racing.

Maryland Senate Amends Speed Camera Bill to Include School Zones,, April 1, 2009
Senate Revives Bill to Allow Use of Technology Beyond Montgomery, Washington Post, April 3, 2009

Research on Automated Speed Enforcement, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, February 24, 2009 (PDF)

Related Web Resources:

Maryland Senate Bill 277

Analysis of Speed Camera Bill (PDF)

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This week, the Maryland Senate approved by a 43 to 4 vote a bill banning drivers from text messaging whenever they are operating their motor vehicles. If the bill becomes law, it would make reading, composing, sending, or receiving text messages a misdemeanor crime punishable by a $500 fine. Maryland would also join a growing list of states and jurisdictions, including Virginia and Washington DC, that are banning text messaging—whether on a cell phone, PDA, or IPod Touch or another device—while operating a motor vehicle.

Sending short messages via cell phone or other electronic devices is a bad habit that has grown more popular in recent years—especially among younger, more inexperienced drivers. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one of its studies last year found that about 50% of young drivers, ages 18 – 24, text message while driving. The study found that among drivers ages 45 and older, less than 5% engaged in text messaging while operating a motor vehicle.

Text messaging is a type of distracted driving, and like all other forms of distracted driving, including talking on a handheld cellular phone, applying making, or reading the newspaper, can lead to deadly auto accidents. ABC News says that a 2006 study showed that 65% of near-motor vehicle collisions and 80% of auto crashes occur because of distracted driving.

For example, one Maryland child lost her right forearm in a catastrophic bus accident that occurred while the bus driver was texting on his cell phone. 30 people were injured in this Maryland motor vehicle accident. In another traffic accident, a 26-year-old woman died last year in a truck accident when she was struck by a tractor-trailer while the truck driver had been texting.

These kinds of catastrophic motor vehicle collisions could have been avoided if the drivers had not been engaged in distracted driving.

Md. Is Latest State to Target Text Messaging by Drivers, Washington Post, March 18, 2009
Texting While Driving Could Spell Trouble, ABC News, May 8, 2007
Driving and Dialing Bus Drivers May Case Accidents, ABC News, Feb 7, 2007
Related Web Resources:

Examination of Maryland Senate Bill 98 (PDF)

Cell Phone Driving Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association

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