Articles Posted in Maryland Personal Injury Law

Among a judge’s many roles is the responsibility to instruct the jury on the applicable law of the case. Generally speaking, a judge has discretion in how the jury is instructed; however, a judge’s instructions must accurately state the law. A recent Maryland medical malpractice case presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates the broad discretion trial judges have when deciding how to instruct the jury.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant doctor, complaining of numbness in two of his fingers. The doctor recommended surgery, and the plaintiff agreed. The defendant doctor performed the surgery, however, afterward the plaintiff developed a serious infection at the surgical site. The infection resulted in long-term pain and a reduced range-of-motion.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor. After the conclusion of both party’s evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on several issues, including the law governing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the defendant. The court began by providing the jury with the general negligence instructions, and the followed with the more specific medical malpractice instructions on the issue of informed consent. The defendant objected to the judge providing the general negligence instructions, arguing that it only misled the jury because the plaintiff’s case was not based on a theory of traditional negligence.

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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.

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Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case that was brought by the surviving family members of a man who was killed while working as a ranch-hand for the defendant. The case gave the court the opportunity to discuss when a defendant’s potentially fraudulent actions can result in the tolling of a statute of limitations in a wrongful death lawsuit filed well after the allowable time. Ultimately, the court determined that the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendant buried their loved one’s body in an attempt to cover up his own wrongdoing was sufficient to survive a summary judgement challenge by the defense.

The Facts of the Case

As noted above, the plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of a man who was killed by the defendant while he was working as a ranch-hand. The facts of the actual killing are not detailed in the opinion; however, the plaintiffs later alleged that in 2009, the defendant was responsible for the wrongful death of their loved one. At the time of his father’s death, the ranch-hand’s son was a minor. While this situation may have also resulted in criminal charges, this case was focused solely on the civil case brought by the deceased ranch-hand’s family.

In 2015, the mother of the ranch-hand, as well as his son, filed a wrongful death action against the defendant. In their court filing, they claimed that the defendant buried the body of the ranch-hand in order to conceal any wrongdoing. The plaintiff claimed that this is what prevented them from filing the case within the statute of limitations, which was three years. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed.

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Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a written decision in a case brought by a woman who claimed that she suffered exposure to lead while living in the defendant’s property over 20 years ago. Since the plaintiff moved out of the defendant’s property, it had been torn down. Moreover, there was no testing completed prior to the building’s demolition to determine if there was a presence of lead in the building. The main issue in the case was whether the plaintiff submitted sufficient evidence to survive the pre-trial motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant.

The Evidence Submitted to the Court

The plaintiff acknowledged from the outset that there would be no direct evidence proving that the defendant’s property contained lead. Instead, the plaintiff proceeded with circumstantial evidence in the form of expert testimony. The plaintiff’s experts reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records, as well as a sworn statement from the plaintiff averring that she had not come into contact with alternative sources of lead, and came to the conclusion that it was “more likely than not” that the defendant’s property did contain lead and that living in that property was the cause of the plaintiff’s current lead poisoning.

The defendant also presented expert testimony to the court. The defense experts opined that there was no way to tell whether the defendant’s property contained lead, and even if it did, if such exposure was the cause of the plaintiff’s current condition. The defense argued that, in the absence of any direct evidence of causation, the case should be dismissed.

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In a recent case in front of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court refused to hold an employer liable for an employee’s criminal actions that took place while the employee was off duty. This was the court’s refusal to expand the Maryland state-law doctrine of “respondeat superior.”

The Facts of the Case

Several years ago, approximately 30 homes were allegedly set on fire by an employee of the Social Security Administration. The homeowners grouped together and decided to sue the Social Security Administration for their losses, arguing that the Administration, as the employer of the person who allegedly committed the acts, was at least in part liable for their losses. Since the named defendant was a federal entity, the case was filed in federal court.

The evidence submitted suggested that all the criminal acts took place while the employee was off duty. However, there was some suggestion that some of the planning for the crimes took place while the man was at work for the Social Security Administration.

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Due to a law enacted in the 1980s, Maryland plaintiffs are limited in the amount they are able to recover from municipalities across the state. According to an article by the Washington Post, this has led one woman to challenge the law that kept her from retaining the $11+ million award she received after a Prince George’s County police officer killed her husband while he was having a beer outside in Langley Park.

The Facts of the Case

Evidently, the officer was off duty at the time and approached the woman’s husband because he was drinking in public. However, for some reason the confrontation escalated, and eventually the officer shot the man, killing him. The officer claimed that he was acting in self-defense, since the man was reaching for his gun. However, witnesses told a different story, explaining that the man never fought back and that the officer was the aggressor.

At Trial the Plaintiff Wins

At trial, the jury heard all the evidence and determined that the officer—as well as the County—was responsible for the wrongful death of the woman’s husband and returned a verdict in her favor for over $11 million.

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Earlier last month, a Maryland jury awarded a man over $21 million after he was severely injured and permanently paralyzed in a workplace accident at a Pepco plant in Montgomery County. According to a report by the Washington Post, the man was working high up in the air on some scaffolding when he was struck by a transformer. The force of the collision sent the man eight feet into the air.Upon landing, the man snapped his spine, paralyzing him from the neck down. In addition to his paralysis, the man also received burns over 10% of his body because the transformer—which the worker had been told was discharged – was still powered on. The man sued Pepco for negligence.

The trial was not focused around whether Pepco was negligent. In fact, Pepco admitted its negligence. The only trial issue for the jury to determine was the amount of damages that would be appropriate for Pepco to pay out.

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In 2010, a young three-year old boy died when he climbed through a gate and into a swimming pool in his parents’ apartment complex. The family of the boy filed charges against the apartment complex, among others, alleging that they were negligent because they breached “a duty to maintain the Country Place pool in a reasonably safe condition for all residents of Country Place Apartments, and particularly children of all ages.”

At trial, the defendants claimed that they didn’t owe the boy any duty of care (and thus could not be held liable for the accident) because the boy was trespassing when he entered the closed pool. However, the boy’s family pointed to a Maryland law that required all pools be properly fenced in and argued that the defendants were negligent per se for their failure to comply with that law.

At trial, the court died with the defendants, finding that the law creating a duty only came into play once it was established that the person in question was not a trespasser. However, on appeal to the intermediate court, the decision was reversed. That court held that the statutory duty arose regardless of the injured person’s status.

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In a recent case in front of the Maryland Court of Appeals, the court held that testimony from witnesses that the driver of the car causing the accident fled the scene and then returned a short time later laughing before he then left again, was inadmissible in a claim for damages against that driver.

In the case Alban v. Fiels, the Albans were an elderly couple who were hit while driving in their truck by Mr. Fiels. The Albans’ vehicle sustained more damages than Fiels, and they were immobilized. In fact, Mrs. Alban was stuck in the car until firefighters came to extricate her.

Mr. Fiels fled the scene but did so down a road that had no outlet. Knowing that the road the driver fled down had no outlet, a nearby witness waited for the driver to return. When he did, the witness noticed that the driver slowed down and then sped off, laughing.

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As an experienced personal injury law firm, we see hundreds, even thousands, of accident cases each year. Some of the cases we see involved an accident that was purely the fault of one party. These types of accidents are typically drunk driving accidents, distracted driving accidents, or other situations involving a clear infraction of a traffic law.

However, there are many accidents that are not clearly only one party’s fault. These types of accidents can pose a problem for Maryland accident victims due to Maryland’s law of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that acts to bar the recovery of any accident victim who is at fault for the accident in which they were injured.

At first blush, such a law seems to make sense. Why should an accident victim be able to recover from another party if the “victim” was also at fault? However, contributory negligence can lead to some seemingly unjust results. For instance, consider a case where a pedestrian is jaywalking but is hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light. Under Maryland law, if the jury found that the pedestrian was partially at fault for the accident, the pedestrian would not be able to recover for any of the damages he or she sustained in the accident.

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