Articles Posted in Pedestrian Accident

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Kansas issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing when a plaintiff is permitted to pursue a claim of punitive damages against a defendant. The case is instructive to Maryland personal injury claimants considering a claim against a defendant because it provides insight into how courts view claims for punitive damages and when such claims may be appropriate.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a high-school student who was the manager of the school’s baseball team. The team was preparing to board a bus to a rival school when the defendant, a player on the team, decided he wanted to move his car closer to where the bus was planning on dropping the students off.

As the defendant was parking his car, he saw the plaintiff walking in the parking lot. He pulled up slowly behind the plaintiff as though he was going to hit her with his truck. The plaintiff attempted to move out of the way, but the truck ran over both of her feet. The plaintiff fell to the ground, and another student lifted the plaintiff into the defendant’s truck. The plaintiff claims that the defendant told her that he was sorry and that he only meant to lightly bump her with the truck. The defendant denied making the statement, claiming that he struck the plaintiff as he was trying to park.

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Earlier this month, a Connecticut appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a student and his parents against the student’s high school. In the case, Strycharz v. Cady, the appellate court held that the lower court improperly found that governmental immunity protected the assistant principals, who had a non-discretionary, ministerial duty to assign an adult to monitor the entrance to the school’s parking lot. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs’ case will proceed toward trial against the assistant principals.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

Strycharz was a student at Bacon Academy. After being bussed to school, Strycharz and another student briefly left the school grounds to go smoke a cigarette. However, on the way across the busy street, Strycharz was struck by a passing vehicle driven by another student.

Strycharz and his family filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle as well as several administrators at the school. He claimed that the administrators had a duty to assign a school employee to monitor the school’s entrance, since it was known to be very busy in the morning.

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Baltimore_Tunnel_05212012.jpgThe City of Baltimore approved settlements in three civil claims filed against the city, totaling $340,000. The city’s Board of Estimates, a five-member board that includes the mayor, the president of the City Council, and the city comptroller, approved the settlements by a unanimous vote. The three claims all involved traffic accidents with city vehicles, including a 2007 collision between a fire truck and a car that killed three people.

Sovereign immunity, the legal principle that the government cannot be sued unless it consents to the lawsuit, governs claims made for accidents involving public vehicles, and requires that injured persons or their representatives file claims with a designated government agency before attempting to file suit. In Baltimore, for example, claims go through the city’s Law Department.

The fire truck accident occurred early on Sunday, December 9, 2007, when a fire engine ran a red light on Park Heights Avenue and struck a vehicle. The fire truck was reportedly responding to a report of smoke in an apartment building, and had its emergency lights and siren activated at the time. The smoke turned out to be from burning food in an apartment unit. Traveling at forty-seven miles per hour, the fire truck hit a Nissan Murano traveling at twenty-three miles per hour.

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800px-Headphones_Sony_super-light_04092012.jpgA study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center has found that the number of pedestrians killed or injured in traffic accidents while wearing headphones tripled over a six-year period beginning in 2004. The researchers examined records of accident reports maintained by online news archives like Google and Westlaw, as well as data obtained from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The study was published in the January 16, 2012 online edition of the medical journal Injury Prevention.

The study identified 116 reported injuries or fatalities of pedestrians wearing headphones. They found that sixty-eight percent of the victims were male. Sixty-seven percent were under thirty years old. Fifty-five percent of the vehicles involved were trains, while most of the rest were automobiles. Only seventy-four percent of the reports explicitly stated that the victim was wearing headphones at the time of the accident. The remainder of the reports noted that the vehicle honked or sounded some sort of warning before the accident, suggesting that the pedestrian could not hear the warning. Seventy percent of the pedestrian accidents reviewed by the researchers resulted in the pedestrian’s death.

The number of pedestrians injured or killed in traffic or train accidents while wearing headphones tripled during the time period reviewed by the researchers. They found that sixteen injuries or deaths occurred in 2004, the first year reviewed. The last year reviewed, covering the period from 2010 to 2011, had forty-seven such accidents.

Two primary risks associated with headphone use by pedestrians became clear from the statistics. First is the risk of distraction, causing a pedestrian not to notice an imminent threat like an approaching car or train. The other is what the authors called “sensory deprivation,” or the inability of the pedestrian to hear an approaching vehicle or its warning sounds. The original inspiration for the study was reportedly the case of a Maryland teen who died after being struck by a train while crossing the tracks. Reports indicated the teen was wearing headphones and did not respond to warning sounds.

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622729_52924098_02142012.jpgA former Pennsylvania road worker who was paralyzed by a drunk driver as he directed traffic has reached a workers’ compensation settlement agreement for $3 million. This is believed to be one of the largest settlements in the U.S. In getting to this point, he has also gone through a Dram Shop Act lawsuit and a bad faith insurance claim.

Joseph Tuski was directing traffic on January 17, 2001 in Warminster, Pennsylvania. At about 10:30 a.m., a car driven by Michael Petaccio struck him. Petaccio reportedly sped around a line of cars Tuski had stopped, hitting Tuski and throwing him about sixty feet. The accident rendered Tuski a quadriplegic, and he must spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair with 24-hour care. Petaccio had reportedly just left the Ivyland Cafe, a bar in Warminster owned by Petaccio’s family where Petaccio was the manager. Petaccio pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and aggravated assault later that year, and he was sentenced to three years in prison but received work release.

Tuski first filed suit against Petaccio and the Ivyland Cafe, claiming negligence and Dram Shop Act liability. Dram Shop Acts hold businesses who serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals liable for damages subsequently caused due to that person’s intoxication. Tuski presented evidence that, at the time, he had $1.6 million in medical bills and future medical expenses of at least 12 million. A Philadelphia jury awarded Tuski an enormous but largely symbolic verdict in 2004 totalling $75.6 million in damages. This included $50.6 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages, but neither defendant had the ability to pay such an amount. Petaccio only had $100,000 in liability insurance coverage, while The Ivyland Cafe had coverage of $1 million.

After the verdict, the bar lost its appeal, although a judge cut the jury’s award in half. The bar’s insurer then reportedly refused to pay the policy limits of the award. Tuski sued the insurance company for bad faith refusal to pay a claim. Although a plaintiff in an injury case has no direct relationship with a defendant’s insurer, since the insurance company’s obligation to pay is based on a contractual relationship with the defendant, many states allow a plaintiff to pursue an insurer for payment of a specific award. In this case, the bar assigned its rights under its insurance contract to Tuski. In June 2007, Tuski reached a settlement with the insurance company for $20 million.

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To combat decreases in revenue from the state and county, the town of Takoma Park, Maryland has turned to traffic cameras as a source of city funding. City officials maintain that their main purpose is to promote driving safety. The city has installed at least six cameras at major intersections. Locations were chosen, the city says, based on the prevalence of past speeding offenses. Between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011, the city reportedly collected almost $1.74 million in traffic fines from tickets issued through camera evidence. After administrative costs paid to the vendor that manages the system, the city’s net revenue was $898,018. Maryland law requires that money obtained from traffic camera citations go solely towards public safety projects.

The city issued 6,530 tickets for violations captured by the cameras between October 1 and November 22, 2011. Not all tickets are paid, of course, but the system has apparently given the city a much-needed boost in revenue.

Despite any possible concerns over enforcement of criminal issues, the effect of the cameras on public safety, according to city officials, has been profound. Takoma Park Police Chief Ronald Ricucci told Gazette.net that the city’s two main “target areas,” New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard, have seen reductions in auto and pedestrian accidents since the city began using the cameras. It is not entirely clear how the cameras could improve driving safety while also increasing revenue from speeding tickets, unless a reduction in auto accidents is not directly related to the amount of speeding in those locations.

The cameras may prove to be useful when traffic accidents do occur, as a source of evidence. Traffic cameras typically take a photograph of an intersection or stretch of road with a wide enough angle to capture a vehicle and its surroundings, but also with enough detail to see features like license plates numbers. Images from the cameras could assist in resolving disputes over whether a driver ran a red light, which driver had the right of way, whether a driver made an improper merge, and so forth. This is still a new technology, especially in our legal system, which is slow to adapt to many new technologies. As such, evidence rules and court procedures are still adapting to this new type of evidence.

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A Montgomery County jury has awarded the family of Xiufeng Wang and Yunshu Li $2.032 million for Wang’s Maryland personal injuries and Li’s wrongful death. The elderly couple were hit by a dump truck in a backover accident On October 9, 2008.

Wang, 78, fractured his back and wrist. His wife Li, 74, was pronounced dead at the Germantown truck accident site. The couple were walking in a crossed traffic lane at a road construction site when the truck struck them.

In their Montgomery County truck accident complaint, their family sought damages from multiple parties involved in the construction project. They contend that Hakes Contracting Incorporated and Milestone Construction Services Inc. did not give pedestrians a safe alternative route in the construction area after taking off a portion of the sidewalk. They also accused the dump truck operator of negligence.

Heather Greer, 14, died on Thursday after she was injured in a Harford County pedestrian accident. The Pylesville teenager was crossing Route 136 when she was hit by a motor vehicle.

According to Maryland State Police, Greer died from injuries she sustained from the impact of being hit by a 2009 Toyota Highlander. She was pronounced dead at the R. Adams Cowley, University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center where she was flown by helicopter after the Pylesville car crash.

Child Pedestrians

A jury has awarded the family of Kelay Smith $3.3 million against the state of Maryland for her Prince George’s County pedestrian accident death. Kelay, 26, died when she was hit by a driver while walking on the 5700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, which is also called Route 4, on August 12, 2008. At the time Kelay, who was five months pregnant, was walking home with her sister Krystal Fletcher, 22, who was not injured. She and her unborn child died at the hospital.

The Maryland pedestrian deaths happened when a car driven by Petrello Cabbagestalk drove onto the shoulder of the road, striking Kelay and pedestrian Derrick R. “Mooky” Jones. The 30-year-old Forestville resident died at the accident site. Cabbagestalk, whose car slammed into a tree, was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

The family’s Maryland wrongful death lawyer contends that the pedestrian deaths were preventable. He says there is a 200 feet gap on the street where there are no guardrails or sidewalk. That is where the Prince George’s County traffic crash happened. He believes that the state could have done more to make that area of the road safer for pedestrians.

According to Maryland lawmaker James Malone, the state’s law regarding handheld cell phones while driving is not tough enough. Delegate Malone, a Democrat from Baltimore County, is supporting a bill that would make using a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle a primary offense. Hopefully, such a bill will stop more people from distracted driving with their phone or PDA so that they don’t cause a Maryland car crash.

Under the current law, talking on a handheld phone while driving is a secondary offense, which means that the ban can only be enforced if the driver is being cited for another violation. Also, although drivers are banned from sending text messages, they are allowed to retrieve and read them. Malone and others also want to make the text messaging ban tougher. Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County is sponsoring a bill in the Senate that would make it illegal to also read texts while driving.

According to the Maryland State Highway Administration, in the past five years, there have been over 380 distracted driving fatalities in the state. Distracted driving, as described by US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is an epidemic. It was the cause of 5500 fatalities in the US in 2009—yet many people, when they can get away with it, continue to text, talk on the phone, send emails, surf the Internet, or play games on their cell phone while driving. Although talking on a handheld device is not safe either, at least the driver has both hands on the steering wheel.

A distracted driver can be held liable for Baltimore County personal injury or wrongful death if his/her failure to pay attention caused a catastrophic Maryland car accident. There are steps that an experienced Baltimore personal injury law firm can take to prove that a driver was distracted when the Maryland traffic crash happened. For example, there may be phone records that can be obtained to match up when the crash happened and when a call was taking place. A witness may have observed the distracted driver texting.

Md. Bill to Tighten Cell Phone Use While Driving, ABC News/AP, February 16, 2011
Distracted driving epidemic: U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood calls issue a ‘personal crusade’, Sea Coast Online, October 24, 2010
Related Web Resources:
Cellphone Laws, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Distraction.gov

Related Blog Posts:
US DOT Holds Second Annual Distracted Driving Summit in Washington DC, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 22, 2010
Maryland Injury News: Distracted Driving Blamed for Increasing Number of Fatal Teenage Automobile Accidents, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, July 17, 2010
Maryland Auto Injury News: Distracted Driving Blamed in Baltimore Woman’s Death following Fatal Howard County Crash, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, June 26, 2010

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