Articles Posted in Third-Party Liability

Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to provide benefits to injured workers in exchange for giving up the right to file a suit against their employer in court. The rule that recipients of workers’ compensation benefits cannot seek compensation elsewhere is known as the “exclusivity rule.” This means that in general, Maryland accident victims injured at work cannot file suit against their employers. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Under Maryland law, if an employee is injured or killed because the employer had the deliberate intent to injure or kill the employee, the employee may still bring a claim for damages against the employer. In the event of an employee’s death in such a case, the employee’s surviving spouse, child, or dependent may bring a claim against the employer.

A state supreme court recently considered such a case in which the plaintiff argued that his claim fell under the deliberate injury exception to the exclusivity rule. The plaintiff was working on a commercial construction project. Workers used a crane to drill a 130-foot auger into the ground and were attempting to free the auger from hardening grout after prematurely starting to secure it. After unsuccessful attempts to free the auger, a supervisor ordered the crew to continue to try to free it by rocking it while pressuring the crane’s hoist cable. Eventually, the crane collapsed, causing the plaintiff’s leg to be crushed, requiring it to be amputated.

The plaintiff applied for and received workers’ compensation benefits. After receiving the workers’ compensation benefits, the plaintiff sued the employer for negligence and gross negligence. The plaintiff argued that despite receiving workers’ compensation benefits, the suit was permitted under a state law that allowed for a suit in cases where a defendant has a specific intent to injure the plaintiff. A jury found in the plaintiff’s favor. However, the state’s supreme court reversed the decision, finding the accident did not meet the exception under state law because it did not amount to a “genuine intentional injury.” The court explained that although there was evidence the supervisor deliberately ignored the risk of a collapse of the crane, there was no evidence that the supervisor believed the equipment would break and collapse, and that it would collapse on top of the plaintiff, who was standing beyond the construction barricade. Therefore, the court found insufficient evidence that the supervisor intended to injure the plaintiff, and the court rendered judgment for the employer.

Negligent entrustment is defined under Maryland law as supplying a “chattel” directly or through a third person for another person’s use who the supplier knows or should know will use it in a way that involves an unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others. The supplier is subject to liability for the physical harm resulting from the supplier’s negligent entrustment. In short, the supplier may be held liable because the supplier is or should be aware of the danger of entrusting the chattel to someone and aware of the foreseeability of harm.

A “chattel” is defined as personal property (not real property) that can be moved or transferred. Under Maryland law, the elements of negligent entrustment are: (1) the supplier makes available a chattel to another person; (2) the supplier knows or should have known the receiver is likely to use the chattel in a manner involving risk of physical harm to others, and; (3) the supplier should expect others to be put in danger by its use. Maryland courts have explained that the supplier may need to inquire further in some cases, and the supplier may be liable in cases where the supplier failed to make a reasonable investigation.

Court Considers Viability of Negligent Entrustment Claim Where Employer is Vicariously Liable

In a Maryland malpractice case, a plaintiff may be able to bring a suit against a provider’s employer under the doctrine of respondeat superior, or vicarious liability. Vicarious liability allows an employer to be held liable for the acts of its employees, even without any fault on the part of the employer. Rather, the employer may be held liable based solely only on the employer-employee relationship. Generally, an employer may be held liable for the wrongful acts of an employee if the employee is acting in the scope of their employment. The doctrine is intended to hold employers accountable and because many times they can bear the financial burden better than an individual employee.

A state court recently heard a medical malpractice case involving the alleged vicarious liability of two different employers. In that case, the plaintiff underwent laparoscopic abdominal surgery at a hospital. She was admitted to the hospital after the surgery and her condition deteriorated. A second surgery was conducted, during which time they discovered a perforation in the plaintiff’s small bowel. She suffered catastrophic injuries that required her to undergo multiple surgeries and to be hospitalized for five months.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon, the hospital, and the university that employed the surgeon. The plaintiff argued that the surgeon had perforated her small bowel during the first surgery, and that the staff failed to timely diagnose her condition and begin treatment. The university argued that the surgeon did not deviate from the standard of care during the surgery. It also argued that even if the surgeon did deviate from the standard of care, the plaintiff’s injuries were a result of the hospital staff’s failure to timely administer antibiotics.

When filing a legal claim against an independent contractor after a Maryland accident, an independent contractor may claim that they cannot be held independently liable. Maryland courts have recognized that there are times in which independent contractors are also agents of another, often reliving them of independent liability. However, that is not always the case, and the party that claims there is a principal-agent relationship must prove the existence of such a relationship.

In a recent state appellate case, the court considered whether a personal trainer was an agent of a gym. In that case, the plaintiff was using a weight machine when she fractured a bone in her hand, requiring her to undergo two surgeries. She was under the direction of a personal trainer at the time she injured her hand, and she claimed the personal trainer improperly instructed her on how to use the machine, thereby causing her injury. The plaintiff brought a claim against the gym and the trainer, who had been contracted by the gym. The trainer argued that she was an agent of the gym, and could not be held independently liable because the gym had hired her to teach there. In contrast, the plaintiff argued the personal trainer was not an agent of the gym because she was an independent contractor there.

The court explained that there are circumstances in which a person may be an independent contractor and an agent of the principal. It explained that these circumstances exist where a contractor is a fiduciary that owes the principal loyalty and obedience. Examples of this include attorneys, brokers, and collection agencies. But in cases in which an independent contractor claims to be an agent, the independent contractor must establish the characteristics of the principal-agent relationship, including the principal’s right to control the physical conduct of the agent. In this case, there was not sufficient evidence that the trainer was an agent of the gym to dismiss the case against the trainer. Therefore, the court held that the case should continue against the trainer and that a jury would be required to resolve the issue.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion addressing whether pharmacies can be responsible to a third-party when the third-party suffers injuries as a result of the pharmacy’s negligence. The court discussed complex third-party liability issues that may affect Maryland car accident victims.

In this case, the pharmacy technician negligently gave a customer an incorrect prescription. The medication is known to cause sudden drops in blood pressure and subsequent cognitive impairments. These symptoms are particularly severe when the person taking the drug does not suffer from what the drug is designed to treat.

The driver was on the medication when he allegedly caused a fatal car accident. The customer’s son settled a lawsuit with the pharmacy, but the other victims sued the chain. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit based on third-party liability and negligence per se. The court found that under the specific facts of the case, the pharmacy did not owe the third parties a duty of care and that negligence per se was not applicable.

A Maryland landlord cannot ensure the safety of its residents, but it does have a duty to take reasonable security measures. In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered the extent of a condominium’s responsibility to protect its residents.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a new resident at a condo in downtown Atlanta. The declarations for the condominium stated that it was not responsible for providing security to residents. However, the plaintiff claimed the association provided what he considered to be security measures, such as security gates, and that these features contributed to him deciding to purchase the property.

Evidently, a security gate outside the property required a key fob for access, which he was told would be provided by the defendant property management company. More than two weeks after closing on the property, he was given a fob, but he could not get the fob to open the vehicle-access gate. The plaintiff contacted the company on multiple occasions. As he was attempting to resolve the issue with the key fob, about a month after he moved in, he was the victim of a violent attack on the sidewalk outside of his condominium complex. He had arrived home around 2:00 a.m. with his girlfriend, and after not being able to enter through the gate, and decided to park on the street. He got out of his car, and was stabbed three times in an attempted robbery.

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Causation is an essential part of any Maryland accident case, and in a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court considered whether Apple could be held liable for allegedly causing a devastating car crash. These types of issues can happen in Maryland too. If you have questions, reach out to a dedicated Maryland car accident attorney without delay.

The issue before the federal appeals court was whether a driver’s neurobiological response to a smartphone notification could be the cause-in-fact of a car crash. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, a woman was driving her car in 2013 when she received a text message on her iPhone. She looked down to read the text message, and when she looked back to the road, she was too late to avoid crashing into another car. The two adults in the other car died, and a child was rendered paraplegic.

Representatives of the victims of the crash sued Apple for negligence and strict products liability. The plaintiffs claimed that the accident was caused by Apple’s failure to warn iPhone users about the risks of distracted driving. The plaintiffs claimed that Apple was at fault because receipt of a text message triggers “an unconscious and automatic, neurobiological compulsion to engage in texting behavior.” Evidently, in 2008, Apple had obtained a patent for “[l]ock-out mechanisms for driver handheld computing devices,” which was meant to address the serious dangers of text messaging while driving. However, Apple did not include any version of the lock-out mechanism on the iPhone 5, the phone the woman was using at the time of the crash.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against a public university should proceed toward trial. The case presents interesting issues that frequently arise in Maryland premises liability cases. Specifically, the duty a school owes to its students. Ultimately, the court concluded that the school owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that the plaintiff’s case should proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the plaintiff’s claim, a student with a documented history of mental health issues attacked the plaintiff with a knife during a chemistry lab. Evidently, the student who attacked the plaintiff had evinced paranoia-type symptoms to several university staff members and as a result was seeing a school psychologist at the time of the attack.

The plaintiff claimed that the school was liable for her injuries because the administrators failed to take action to protect her (and other students) from foreseeable threats of violence. The school argued that it did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, and even if it did, by providing mental health services to the student the school fulfilled its duty.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case brought by a man whose finger was severed while working with a construction loader. The lawsuit was filed against the company that leased the loader to his employer and required the court to determine whether a construction loader is a dangerous instrumentality. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant lessor could be liable under that state’s vicarious liability laws because the loader was a dangerous instrumentality. If you have sustained an accident on a construction site, contact a Maryland construction accident attorney.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was contracted to help clear a vacant lot of debris. The lot’s owner leased a construction loader from the defendant equipment company to assist the plaintiff and his team by clearing the lot.

Evidently, at one point the plaintiff climbed inside the loader to pack down loose debris. While the plaintiff was inside, another employee used the loader to pick up and deposit a large tree stump. As the stump came into the loader, it crushed the plaintiff’s finger.

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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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