Articles Posted in Relevant Personal Injury Case Law

In some personal injury cases, there is no direct evidence that a party was negligent, but there is also no other reasonable explanation for how the plaintiff’s injuries occurred. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies in cases in which negligence can be inferred, based on the circumstances, but there is no direct evidence of negligence. Under Maryland law, res ipsa loquitur is available in accident cases if an injury or accident “is one which ordinarily would not occur without negligence on the part of the operator of the vehicle,” and “the facts are so clear and certain that the inference of negligence arises naturally.” Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of negligence, without having direct evidence of negligence. The doctrine requires that a plaintiff show:  (1) the accident was a type that does not normally occur absent negligence, (2) the accident was caused by an instrument exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) the accident was not caused by the plaintiff. In a recent case, a court considered the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur after small metal fragments were discovered in a container of yogurt.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff bought a small container of yogurt that was manufactured and packaged by Yoplait. The plaintiff claimed that she opened the container, stirred it, and began eating, when she felt a crunching sensation, which she found out were sharp metal fragments. She was taken to a hospital, where 17 metal fragments were removed from her stomach. She filed claims against Yoplait for negligence and negligence per se. A trial court found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied in this case because there was “an inference that the metal flakes were inserted . . . prior to the container being sealed.” But the trial judge found that Yoplait had rebutted the inference and dismissed the case.

The appeals court held that the judge should not have dismissed the case because if res ipsa loquitur applies, the case should go to a jury for a decision. The court explained that the doctrine warrants an inference of negligence, rather than a presumption of negligence. Therefore, the trial court should have allowed the jury to make a decision concerning Yoplait’s negligence and whether Yoplait overcame the inference of negligence. Accordingly, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The court also noted that Yoplait failed to appeal the court’s ruling that res ipsa loquitur applied in the case, so it could not decide whether that decision was correct.

When someone is injured in a Maryland accident, state law allows them to file a civil lawsuit against the responsible party. In order to be successful in a negligence claim of this type, the plaintiff must prove four things. First, the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff to act in a way to protect them from harm. Second, the defendant breached this standard. Third, the breach was the proximate cause of the injury. Finally, the plaintiff was injured and suffered actual harm as a result. In a straightforward negligence case, proving these four things will be enough for victory. However, many negligence cases get complicated, and there are some common barriers that bar plaintiffs from recovery. One of these barriers is the assumption of risk doctrine.

The term “assumption of risk” refers to when the plaintiff unnecessarily exposed themselves to the harm that was done to them. For example, a recent state appellate case considered the issue. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was helping the defendant dismantle an old building and noticed that there were skylights on the roof. The plaintiff volunteered to go up on the roof and remove the screws. Since the roof was so dirty and weathered, he was unable to see the skylights. While working on the roof, the plaintiff fell through a skylight and onto the concrete below, suffering multiple severe injuries. The plaintiff then sued the defendant, the owner of the building, for negligence.

Under Maryland laws, situations like this become more complicated than a straightforward negligence case because the defendant can argue that the plaintiff assumed the risk of his injuries by going up on the roof, knowing that there were skylights and that he could not see them. In these cases, the defendant can raise this defense by proving three things. The plaintiff had knowledge of the risk, the plaintiff understood that the risk could lead to serious harm, and the plaintiff voluntarily assumed the risk anyway. In the case described above, for example, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff was aware of the skylights on the roof and understood that they were fragile and that falling through them would cause harm, yet he volunteered to go up on the roof anyway. If the defendant can do that, Maryland law would allow him to escape liability for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In Maryland, plaintiffs in personal injury cases need to prove four things to be successful:  the defendant had a duty of care; the defendant breached that duty through an act or an omission; the defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and real damages were sustained. These cases, also called tort cases, are separate from contract cases, in which a party can sue another party for breaching a contract. Sometimes, however, a Maryland resident is injured because of the negligent actions of another person, with whom they contracted. This area of law can become difficult to figure out.

For example, take the facts of a recent appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiffs, a couple, entered into a construction contract in 2009 with the defendant contractor to build a new house. Shortly after the house was finished, the plaintiffs discovered leaks in the doors, which allowed rainwater to get into the house. The contractors fixed the leaks as they were discovered but did not look for mold. Four years later, the plaintiffs and their four children, living in the house, experienced medical symptoms and brought in an inspector, who discovered mold in the basement below where the leaks had occurred. In addition, the doors were still leaking. The contractor tried but failed to fix these leaks and remediate the mold, applying anti-microbial solution and attempting to clean mold where it was found, but it did not look for additional mold. Later, mold was discovered in the drywall of the house, and the contractor again attempted to deal with it, although the mold continued to grow. Finally, the plaintiffs and their children abandoned the home due to the mold and the resulting medical symptoms and sued the contractor in tort for the injuries that they sustained.

Maryland law allows plaintiffs to bring tort claims against defendants with which they contracted, as long as the damages sustained are not purely economic and based upon contractual duties. For example, the plaintiffs could not bring a tort claim against the defendant contractor for failing to build the fence properly and ask for damages in the amount that it would cost to fix the fence. That case would have to be handled through a contract claim because the damages are purely economic and only come from the contract in which the defendant agreed to fix the fence. In contrast, the plaintiffs here would be able to bring suit because they suffered real medical injuries and symptoms from the mold, and the defendants were negligent in failing to find and clean the mold.

Filing a Maryland injury lawsuit can be more complicated when the state government is the defendant in the case. One potential complication is that a plaintiff must first provide notice when filing a claim against the state of Maryland in a personal injury claim.

Under section 12-106 of the Maryland Tort Claims Act (the Act), a claimant cannot bring a claim under the Act unless the claimant submits a written claim to the Treasurer within one year after the injury. The Treasurer then must deny the claim before the claim can be filed in court. The claim also must be filed within three years after the cause of action arises. There are some exceptions to the rule, for example, if the state has actual or constructive notice of the injury or of the defect within the year following the injury. The notice must comply with the requirements detailed in section 12-107 of the Act, which include a statement of facts and specific damages.

A recent case demonstrates how strictly notice requirements can be construed. In that case, an appeals court considered whether an estimate of damages in a notice to a city complied with the notice requirement. The plaintiff sent her notice to the city, notifying the city that she broke her leg after she stepped in a hole on a city crosswalk. She claimed that the city was negligent because residents had notified the city about the hole, and the city failed to repair it. In the notice, the plaintiff stated that “to the extent that [she] was require[d] to provide a dollar value,” she believed the value of the claim “may exceed $300,000.00.” She also stated that if the letter did not provide sufficient notice under the state, the city should advise her immediately in writing, and that she would correct any deficiencies. The woman subsequently filed suit in court. The city then responded to the notice, stating that the city denied liability. In response to the lawsuit, the city argued that the plaintiff had not complied with the notice requirement.

In Maryland, landlords are not automatically responsible for injuries that a tenant sustains at a rental property. Typically, Maryland landlords are only liable when their tenants or their guest’s injuries were the results of the landlord’s careless action or inaction. Maryland personal injury lawsuits against landlords generally involve accidents that occur in common areas, or as a result of defects in the property when the rental agreement was executed, or from conditions that the landlord agreed to remedy. Lawsuits that fall outside of these parameters present additional challenges.

For example, recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a tenant’s lawsuit against her landlord. The court addressed issues that frequently arise in personal injury lawsuits against landlords in Maryland. The tenant suffered injuries after she opened a storm door, and a gust of wind knocked her into a railing. The railing broke, and the tenant fell to the ground, injuring her ankle. During pretrial proceedings, the tenant argued that the porch was in disrepair and did not meet building code requirements, she also conceded that she knew that the railing was broken. The defendants argued that the court should grant summary judgment under both the state’s residential landlord-tenant act and common law theories of negligence. The appellate court found that the tenant knew of the defect and failed to remedy it. Therefore, the defendants were not liable under both the state’s landlord-tenant act and common law theories of negligence.

This case exemplifies common impediments that Maryland tenants may encounter when filing personal injury lawsuits against their landlords. However, there are many instances where Maryland landlords may be liable for injuries that their tenants suffer on their property. First, the landlord may be responsible if they had control over the dangerous feature, such as in the common area of the property. For example, a landlord may be liable if a tenant suffers injuries in a shared laundry facility on the property. Next, Maryland landlords may be responsible if they knew of or hid a concealed danger.

Maryland slip and fall accidents occur under a range of circumstances and can result in serious injuries or even fatalities. According to recent statistics compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one million people suffer injuries after a slip and fall accident every year. Additionally, over 15 thousand people die every year related to injuries they sustained during a slip and fall. In many cases, slippery surfaces or broken steps cause slip and falls. When an individual suffers injuries in a Maryland slip and fall accident, they must understand their rights and remedies.

Maryland premises liability law establishes when a property or landowner is responsible for damages that a person suffers when they are injured on the property owner’s land. Generally, all Maryland property owners owe their visitors a duty to keep them reasonably safe from harm. Specific responsibilities vary depending on the type of property owner and visitor. Maryland distinguishes visitors into four categories, trespassers, bare licensees, invitees, and licensees.

In Maryland, trespassers are those that enter a property without permission. Generally, landowners do not owe trespassers any duty except to avoid willful or wanton misconduct. Similarly, bare licensees are those that enter a property for their own gain. Bare licensees are people such as door to door salespeople. Property owners owe bare licensees the duty to warn of any known dangers.

Maryland personal injury victims can file personal injury lawsuits and recover damages from the negligent individual or entity that caused their injuries. After a finding of negligence, juries will then determine the amount of damages that the plaintiff should recover. Damages often include medical expenses that the plaintiff incurred as a result of the injury or accident.

Maryland follows the collateral source rule which provides plaintiffs with the right to recover the full value of treatment and other economic damages. This rule allows Maryland plaintiffs to recuperate these losses even if the value is more than their out-of-pocket costs. Juries in these cases are prohibited from reducing a plaintiff’s reward for medical expenses and lost earnings based on reimbursements that they may receive from another source. Other sources include health or car insurance companies or paid leave from the plaintiff’s employer.

The collateral source rule prevents negligent defendants from obtaining a windfall because the victim has other sources of recovery. Moreover, it encourages people to obtain and maintain insurance policies. Collateral source instructions typically come up in the context of motor vehicle accidents. For example, another state’s appeals court recently issued an opinion stemming from an appeal of damages based on the collateral source rule. In that case, the plaintiff suffered severe injuries when she fell in a hotel parking lot. Medicare settled with her medical providers and covered the entirety of her expenses, which ended up being only one-fifth of her original bill. During the trial, the defendant attempted to bar the plaintiff’s introduction of her medical bills. The defendants argued that the plaintiff should only be able to introduce Medicare payments. The appeals court held that the amounts initially billed are relevant evidence subject to the collateral source rule and therefore should be admitted.

The strength of a Maryland personal injury claim is irrelevant if the court dismisses a plaintiff’s case based on their failure to comply with certain court rules or procedures. Thus, it is critical that anyone considering bringing a personal injury lawsuit discuss their case with a knowledgeable Maryland injury lawyer.

A recent federal appellate decision illustrates the court’s ability to effectively eliminate a plaintiff’s opportunity to recover for their injuries if the plaintiff does not abide by the court’s orders. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of a surgery she underwent at a hospital. The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital, and several of the doctors who helped with the procedure.

After the defendants filed their answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, the court entered a scheduling order outlining the important deadlines in the case. Three of the deadlines that were pertinent to this appeal were:

In general, Maryland personal injury law provides that landowners owe a duty to those whom they allow onto their property. This duty typically requires that the landowner cure any known hazards, or warn visitors about dangers that cannot be remedied. However, many state legislatures have enacted statutes that exempt certain property owners from liability if someone is injured while using the property for a recreational purpose.

These statutes are generally referred to as recreational use statutes. In Maryland, the recreational use statute is contained in Maryland Code section 5-1104. The law provides that a landowner who allows others to use their property without charge for an educational or recreational purpose cannot generally be liable for a guest’s injuries. This statute applies to both public and privately held land. A recent case illustrates the type of issues that can come up when a defendant cites the recreational use statute as a defense.

According to the court’s opinion, two sisters attended a free “Second Sunday” concert at a public park. To access the park, the women parked their car on the street and then descended a flight of stairs down the grassy slope. Once the women got about halfway down the hill, they exited the stairs and found a place to watch the show.

Almost every state in the Union has some form of equine immunity statute. However, Maryland is one of just two states (the other being California) that does not have an equine immunity statute. An equine immunity statute is a law that is passed to protect the horse industry from liability that may arise from the inherent risks of caring for horses, riding horses, and observing horse races. Generally, an equine immunity statute provides that those who own or ride horses professionally cannot be liable for injuries caused by the horse.

Before getting into why Maryland does not have an equine immunity statute, a recent case illustrates how equine immunity statutes impact an injury victim’s ability to recover for horse-related injuries. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a spectator at a youth horse race. Rather than sit along the track where most spectators observed the race, the plaintiff watched right along the track’s edge, near where the exit to the track was located. The plaintiff watched as the horses went around several times without incident, however, on about the fourth lap, the defendant’s horse struck the plaintiff.

The defendant was a young girl who had tried to stop the horse from crashing into the plaintiff, but was unable to do so. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the young girl’s family, and the girl’s family filed for summary judgment, arguing that the state’s equine immunity law precluded the plaintiff from filing her claim. The court agreed, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, noting that the plaintiff was injured due to the risks that are inherent in watching a horse race.

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