Articles Posted in Relevant Personal Injury Case Law

Last month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by a tenant of an apartment complex who slipped and fell on a patch of black ice in the complex parking lot. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case against the complex’s management company, before the case was presented to the jury, the trial judge granted the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The appellate court was tasked with determining whether the trial judge was proper to decide the case as a matter of law rather than submit the case to a jury for a factual resolution of the plaintiff’s claim.

Winter RoadThe Appellate Court’s Decision

In the above case, the appellate court determined that the lower court was improper to decide the case as a matter of law. The court explained that there was evidence presented by the plaintiff indicating that the defendant may have been negligent. Specifically, the plaintiff testified that the defendant would plow any fallen snow in the parking lot to an area that was slightly above the level of the parking lot. Thus, when the snow melted, water would run onto the parking lot, where it could later re-freeze, creating a hazard. Indeed, the plaintiff also presented evidence, through his wife’s testimony, that he had complained about these ice patches on numerous occasions.

Judgment as a Matter of Law in Maryland Courts

In Maryland personal injury cases, it is the judge’s job to rule on all legal issues. For example, a judge will often determine which evidence the jury is able to consider and instruct the jury on the law that pertains to the case. The jury’s job is to then apply the law as explained by the judge to the facts of the case, resolving any factual disputes.

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Over the last century, the development of modern medicine has resulted in not just a decrease in the mortality rate of infants but also in the ability to determine whether an unborn child will suffer from a serious, life-altering abnormality. Through diligent testing and a thorough analysis of a couple’s medical history, doctors are now able to advise parents about which, if any, conditions their offspring may be at risk of developing.

Baby's HandGiven the advances made in the medical field and the current ability to intervene to avoid the birth of a child who will suffer from a debilitating, life-long incurable disease, the duty physicians owe to their patients has grown to include advising patients about their specific risks. If a physician fails to advise a patient of these risks, and the patient gives birth to a child with a serious disease that would have been detectable through proper testing, a wrongful birth lawsuit may be appropriate. A recent case illustrates what a wrongful birth case is and how a plaintiff can go about proving one.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were a couple who gave birth to a child with severe disabilities. During the pregnancy, an ultrasound was conducted that displayed congenital abnormalities; however, the plaintiffs’ doctor failed to inform the plaintiffs about these defects. The plaintiffs claimed that they would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy had they been made aware of the risks involved with carrying the pregnancy full-term.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Colorado issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by the parents of a young girl who was seriously injured while playing in her school’s playground. Ultimately, the court concluded that the zip-line on which the girl was playing did not constitute a “dangerous condition” and upheld the school’s governmental immunity.

Zip LineThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs’ daughter was playing on a zip-line in her school’s playground when she fell from the apparatus and fractured her wrist and forearm. There was a sign next to the zip-line stating “adult supervision required”; however, it was not clear if there was a school employee nearby when the accident occurred. After their daughter recovered, the parents filed a premises liability lawsuit against the school.

Initially, the school asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that under state law, the school was entitled to government immunity. However, the plaintiffs argued that under the same state law, immunity is not proper when a government is responsible for a “dangerous condition” that is on public property. Thus, the question for the court was whether the zip-line constituted a dangerous condition.

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Anyone who has spent a few hours watching old courtroom T.V. dramas likely remembers the climactic moments when – after a long, drawn-out trial – one of the parties presents a surprise witness that completely makes their case. Well, in reality, surprise witnesses are for the most part a thing of the past, due to the current discovery rules.

CourtroomDuring the pre-trial discovery phase of a trial, both parties are required to present the other party with a list of witnesses they intend to call. While adjustments can be made along the way, courts generally frown upon presenting a “surprise” witness unless certain circumstances are present. A recent case illustrates how a medical malpractice plaintiff was prevented from having one of his witnesses testify because he failed to disclose her identity during discovery.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was paralyzed after he underwent a surgery that was performed by the defendant doctor. The plaintiff filed this medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, claiming that the doctor’s negligence resulted in his paralysis.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case in which the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. The case required the court to determine if the defendant’s prior convictions for driving under the influence could be admitted at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prior convictions were relevant to the punitive damages determination and thus should be admitted for that limited purpose.

HandcuffedThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving to work on the highway when suddenly, the defendant’s vehicle crossed over into the plaintiff’s lane of traffic. The two vehicles collided head-on. It was later determined that the defendant had a blood-alcohol content of .18, which is over twice the legal limit.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. During the plaintiff’s case, he attempted to introduce evidence that the defendant had been convicted of driving under the influence on two prior occasions, once in 1996 and another time in 1983. The court allowed the evidence to be admitted over the defendant’s objection. Ultimately, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,500,000.

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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.

FiremenOne 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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Last month, a Georgia appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case arising out of a car accident between the plaintiff and a government employee. Since the case was filed against a government entity, the plaintiff had to comply with certain additional requirements. One of the requirements was that the plaintiff specify the exact amount of damages sought. Ultimately, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case because, rather than specify the exact amount of damages, she sought “the full amount of damages allowed by law.”

PaperworkThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident with an employee of the Georgia Department of Transportation. Under the theory of vicarious liability, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Department, seeking compensation for the injuries she sustained in the accident. In her complaint, the plaintiff listed the damages sought as the “full amount of damages allowed by law.” Under the applicable statute, that was $1 million.

In Georgia, as well as in Maryland and many other states, lawsuits filed against a government entity must comply with certain additional requirements. Specifically, the law requires that a plaintiff naming a government entity as a defendant specify the amount of damages sought. If a plaintiff fails to comply with this or any other procedural requirement, the government defendant may be successful in asking the court to dismiss the case.

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In personal injury trials, the judge acts as the gatekeeper to determine which evidence the jury should hear. In making these evidentiary decisions, the judge must apply the appropriate rule of evidence. While the rules of evidence present a good guideline to assist a judge in making these decisions, issues often arise in a legal “gray area,” requiring the judge to apply the law to the facts of the case and come up with a reasoned decision.

Cracked PavementMaryland Rule of Evidence 5-407 deals with subsequent remedial measures. A subsequent remedial measure is an action taken after an injury occurred, usually by a defendant, to remedy the hazard that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injury. Generally speaking, evidence that a party took remedial action after an injury occurred cannot be used against that party. This encourages defendants who are facing allegations of negligence to fix potential hazards without fear of conceding liability in the pending lawsuit.

With that said, Rule 5-407 contains several exceptions. One exception is that evidence of a subsequent remedial measure may be introduced for purposes other than to show liability. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff was able to introduce evidence of a subsequent remedial measure.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who was injured when she slipped and fell after stepping in a puddle on a train platform. The appellate court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, finding that the accumulated rainwater was not a dangerous condition as defined under the law.

Train PlatformThe Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was attempting to catch a train that was operated by the defendant transportation agency. As the plaintiff approached the train, she walked on a covered concrete platform. Since it had been raining earlier that day, there was a puddle near the door to the platform.

The plaintiff told the court that she saw the puddle but did not think it would be slippery. However, as she stepped in it, she slipped and fell. The plaintiff was injured as a result and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the transportation agency, claiming that it was negligent in allowing the puddle of water to form.

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Being involved in a serious accident is a traumatic experience. Often, along with the weeks or months of physical recovery, there is a lengthy emotional recovery process as well. Many times, people may suffer from nervous episodes or may refrain from engaging in certain activities. These are understandable side effects of being involved in a serious accident.

Wet Floor SignThe law in Maryland allows for those who have been injured in a serious accident to file a personal injury lawsuit to seek financial compensation for all that they have been through. While each case is different, compensation packages may include amounts for past medical bills, future medical expenses, lost wages due to time away from work, and any pain and suffering that the accident victim endured as a result of the accident.

Unfortunately, however, the process of filing a personal injury claim can be a lengthy one as well. Thus, it is very important that an accident victim do everything possible to ensure a smooth process to reduce the risk of additional delays. A recent case illustrates how one plaintiff’s failure to name the correct defendant ended up delaying the case for months, possibly years.

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