Although harsh penalties exist for drunk drivers, drunk driving remains a problem throughout the country. According to Maryland’s most recent statistics, crashes involving the use of alcohol or drugs amount to nearly 7,000 per year. To minimize the risk of Maryland DUI crashes, the state has imposed criminal penalties and license sanctions for those convicted of an impaired driving offense. For a first offense DUI, drivers face up to a $1,000 fine, up to one year in jail, 12 points assessed on one’s driving record, and license revocation for up to six months. Since 2016, drivers are also required to participate in Maryland’s Ignition Interlock Program following certain convictions.

Victims of a Maryland drunk driving crash may be able to recover financial compensation from a drunk driver. A victim in a DUI crash alleging that negligence must prove that the driver had a duty to the victim, the driver was negligent in acting or failing to act in some way, the driver’s actions caused the victim’s injuries, and the victim suffered damages. Evidence that a driver was arrested or convicted of a DUI offense is generally admissible in Maryland in a civil case against the driver. Victims may be able to recover financial compensation for property damages, medical bills, pain and suffering, wage losses, and other damages depending on the circumstances.

In a civil case, a victim must prove the case by the preponderance of the evidence standard. This is a lower standard than in a criminal case, and some evidence may be admissible in a civil case that is not admissible in a criminal case, which means that a civil case may still be viable even if a driver was not convicted of a DUI offense in a criminal court. Other parties may also be liable after a DUI crash, including a bar or other establishment that served the drunk driver, or another individual who allowed the driver to access the vehicle and drive drunk.

St. Patrick’s Day is known for being a big drinking holiday. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this will likely ring true this year as Maryland recently lifted indoor dining restrictions in the state. Though bars and restaurants in the state had previously been able to operate at 50 percent capacity, they were allowed to operate at full capacity just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, drunk driving crashes and pedestrian crashes are common on St. Patrick’s Day. For this reason, the Maryland Department of Transportation cautions residents to exercise safe driving practices by getting a ride home, and being extra vigilant on St. Patrick’s Day to avoid a Maryland car accident.

If someone decides to go out drinking, there are some precautions that can lessen the risk of a crash. First, designate a sober driver. If someone is going to drive, decide ahead of time who that person will be. Second, plan to eat throughout the evening. Eating throughout the night will create a buffer between the alcohol you are consuming and your stomach and slow the absorption of alcohol. Third, drink water. Drinking water throughout the night helps to reduce overall alcohol consumption and keeps you hydrated. Fourth, do not leave your drink unattended or accept drinks from strangers. Fifth, have a backup plan. Use a rideshare app to get home, call or a taxi, or have a friend on call if things do not go as planned. Sixth, watch out for pedestrians. Alcohol consumption is involved in almost half of pedestrian crashes. Be vigilant if you are driving and if you are on foot. Seven, take care of your friends. Make sure that your friends have a safe and sober ride home, as well.

In the event of a Maryland car accident alleging negligence, an injured individual must prove that the defendant was negligent by acting or failing to act in some way. This means proving that the defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care toward the individual, that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, that defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused the individual injuries, and that the individual suffered damages. In the case of gross negligence, a plaintiff must prove the elements of a negligence case, and must show that the defendant acted with a wanton or reckless disregard for others. In a drunk driving case, others may be responsible in addition to or in lieu of the driver, including a parent or another person who negligently entrusted the driver with a car, or a bar who served the driver alcohol when they were already visibly intoxicated.

If an individual is acting within the scope of their employment when they are injured in a Maryland car accident, they may receive workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries. Generally, if a worker receives workers’ compensation benefits by way of Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Act, they cannot seek damages through a civil lawsuit from their employer. That rule, known as the exclusivity rule, was put in place so that workers would receive benefits solely through workers’ compensation, allowing them to receive benefits quickly while limiting employers’ liability. However, injured accident victims can file a Maryland injury claim against a third party under Maryland law based on their negligent conduct.

Under Maryland law, a co-employee is generally considered a third party. In the event that an injured worker or an employer receives compensation through a third-party injury claim, the employer may be able to receive reimbursement for the workers’ compensation paid to the injured worker.

In a recent decision before one state’s supreme court, the court considered whether a passenger in a vehicle driven by a coworker and owned by another coworker could recover benefits under the owner’s insurance policy after a car accident. In that case, the plaintiff and two co-workers were returning from a work trip when the co-worker driving the car fell asleep at the wheel, causing the car to crash and causing the plaintiff significant injuries. The plaintiff recovered workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries as well as uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) benefits through his own auto insurance policy. He also sought benefits from the owner’s insurer, seeking, among other things, UM/UIM benefits.

Hundreds of crashes were reported in Maryland in the first major winter storm of the year in the state. The storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain to Maryland roads. According to a recent news report, there were 501 crashes, 233 disabled or unattended vehicles, and over 1,600 calls for service. A car turned over on Interstate 83 in one crash. Another crashed caused lanes to close on Interstate 70. Another crash left one man dead. According to law enforcement, the man was riding the back of a recycling truck when the driver lost control on an icy road, causing the truck to overturn and pinning the man under the truck. Officials said that most of the crashes were due to speed and explained that speed limits are set for ideal road conditions.

According to the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, weather can affect road safety by affecting pavement friction, traffic flow, driver capabilities, vehicle performance, crash risk, and agency productivity. Weather-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities account for 21 percent of vehicle crashes. Weather-related crashes kill more people each year than large-scale weather disasters, including tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Drivers in the state of Maryland have a duty to exercise reasonable care while operating a vehicle, which means that they must drive carefully given the circumstances. This means that while driving the speed limit may be reasonable in perfect weather conditions, it likely is not reasonable in bad weather conditions, such as dense fog or on icy roads. Drivers must also exercise reasonable care whether they encounter emergency situations, such as another accident in the roadway, considering the time the drivers have to respond to the situation and evaluate the choices.

In a Maryland strict liability case, a plaintiff must show that there was a defect in the product that existed when the product left the defendant’s control, that the defect makes the product unreasonably dangerous, the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and that it was foreseeable that the product would be in such condition when it reached the consumer. A defect may include the failure to warn a consumer of the risks involved in using the product.

In considering a strict liability claim, a court will consider whether the plaintiff proved that the defendant’s conduct actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In cases where only one negligent act is at issue, Maryland courts consider whether but-for the defendant’s conduct, the injuries would not have occurred. In cases where two or more independent acts caused the plaintiff’s injury, Maryland courts consider whether it is more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. A defendant may also try to defend against a strict liability claim by attempting to shift the blame on the consumer. A defendant may be successful if can show that the consumer was negligent by voluntarily and unreasonably confronting a known danger.

In a recent product liability case before a federal appeals court, the court considered whether the plaintiff had sufficiently proven a strict liability claim. In that case, the plaintiff rented an electric drain rodder from the Home Depot to unclog a drain in his home. He was using the device at home and because the powered reverse did not work, he tried to remove the cable by hand. The cable wrapped around his arm and he was thrown to the ground. His hand was badly injured and most of his right index finger had to be amputated. The plaintiff sued the Home Depot and the product manufacturer for negligence, breach of warranty, and strict product liability.

Separating phases of a trial, known as bifurcation, often occurs when failing to do so would introduce issues in another phase that would improperly influence the jury. For example, in a criminal DUI case, if a defendant had a prior DUI, the case might be split into the guilt and sentencing phases so that the jury would not be influenced by the prior DUI in deciding whether the defendant is guilty. In a Maryland civil DUI case, the case might be split into a compensatory damages phase and a punitive damages phase, so that the jury would not be influenced by the fact that the defendant was driving drunk in deciding the amount of damages the plaintiff should be awarded. Similar concepts apply in Maryland car accident cases.

In Maryland, the trial judge has the discretion to decide whether to bifurcate or trifurcate a trial. The trial judge’s decision may be overturned if the trial judge abused his or her discretion. Under Maryland Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 2-503, a judge may separate trial of a claim or issue because it would be convenient or to avoid prejudice.

In a recent case, the judge decided to bifurcate compensatory and punitive damages phases of a DUI accident trial but allowed evidence of the defendant’s intoxication in the compensatory damages phase. In that case, the plaintiff was stopped at a red light and was rear-ended by the defendant driver. The plaintiff filed negligence claims against the defendant driver and against the entity that owned the vehicle. The defendant driver was drunk at the time of the crash, and the plaintiff sought both compensatory and punitive damages. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded over $2.5 million in compensatory damages and subsequently awarded $15,000 in punitive damages.

Individuals injured in Maryland accidents have the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party who negligently caused the accident. In some cases, they can also bring suit against the defendant’s employer, who may be more able to financially compensate the victim. But typically, to recover under this theory of vicarious liability against the employer, an individual must prove that the employee’s negligent actions occurred in the course and the scope of their employment. This can be a confusing doctrinal point for many potential plaintiffs, but it basically means that employers cannot be sued for things their employees did outside of their work—if an employee who gets weekends off gets drunk one Saturday night and goes on a drive to a bar, for example, their employer typically cannot be held liable if they cause a car accident because that accident had nothing to do with their employment. This is an important nuance to understand in the doctrine for plaintiffs considering filing suit against a negligent defendant and their employer.

One recent state appellate case illustrates this doctrine and how it may come up. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant in the case was an employee at a deli, and sometimes made deliveries with his own car. One morning, his manager called him early to make a delivery later that day, and he agreed. He left for work a little earlier than usual that morning so he could do some prep before taking the delivery. On his way to work, he lost control of his car and struck another vehicle, killing the two men inside. A blood test after the accident showed that he had marijuana in his system at the time of the accident. The deceased driver’s wife filed suit against the employee and his employer, arguing that they were vicariously liable for the accident. The employer filed for summary judgment, arguing that the employee was not acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

On appeal, the appellate court found that the employer was entitled to this grant of summary judgment, because going to and from work in one’s own vehicle generally falls outside the scope of employment. The employee was driving his own car, had not yet clocked in, and would not be paid for the time spent in his commute—and thus, it was not sufficiently related to his employment such that vicarious liability was proper. This case highlights the importance of understanding how and when various forms of liability are proper when filing a personal injury lawsuit, to maximize your chances of success.

As February came, so too did a big winter storm, hitting the East Coast hard. Maryland was covered in snow, which, while pretty, can cause major complications on the roads and highways. Winter weather is a major contributing factor to Maryland car accidents and driving during or after a winter storm can be dangerous. Even smaller instances of winter weather than the one recently experienced can be cause for concern—freezing rain, for example, can cause roads to ice over, making them slippery and making it more difficult for drivers to control their vehicles or stop.

For example, take a recent tragic Maryland car accident. According to a local news report, a fatal accident occurred in Jessup one Tuesday morning, on I-95 just before Maryland Route 32. Early that morning, three cars were involved in a minor crash, causing them to pull off of the road. Shortly after, the registered owner of one of the vehicles, a 36-year-old man, arrived at the scene to assess the damage. At this time, according to Maryland State Police, a driver of a silver Honda Civic traveling north on I-95 lost control of his car and then hit a Honda Accord. The impact of the crash pushed the Honda Accord into the owner assessing his vehicle, and fatally pinned him in between two vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Others were injured in this series of accidents as well—one man was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma center, and three other individuals were taken to Howard County General Hospital with injuries.

Local authorities believe that both crashes were caused by weather conditions, specifically, a storm on Monday evening that caused ice and slick spots on the roads Tuesday morning. In fact, Maryland State Policy said that between Monday at 5 PM to Tuesday at 5 AM, their officers responded to 63 crashes and 28 disabled/unattended vehicles and answered 424 calls for service. This highlights how important it is for Maryland drivers to remain vigilant and on high alert when driving during winter weather, or to avoid driving if they can. Drivers who have never been in accidents before may find that the wintry weather and slick conditions make it more difficult to control their vehicle, potentially leading to crashes. And unfortunately, nothing can undo the injuries or deaths sustained as a result of these accidents.

Many Maryland residents go to and from work every day without ever experiencing any major accidents. Sometimes, however, accidents occur on the job, and employees will find themselves injured because of something that happened while they were working. These accidents can take many forms. For example, mailmen might get bitten by a dog while delivering mail, or they might trip while walking up to someone’s door to drop off a package. Grocery store workers might slip on a wet floor, or mechanics might get injured by faulty machinery. In many of these circumstances, the employee would be eligible to claim worker’s compensation and recover financially for their losses against their employer. In some cases, however, a worker may also be able to bring a third-party work injury claim to recover for the damages they have suffered.

Third-party work injury claims are filed by an employee injured on the job against a negligent party other than their employer—a third party. This type of claim is available when the injury was caused in full or in part by a party other than the employer. For example, take a tragic accident from earlier this month. According to a local news report, the accident occurred around 7:30 one night at a Home Depot. A delivery driver (who did not work for Home Depot) was delivering construction materials when a load of drywall fell on him at the store, striking and ultimately killing him. Not much more is known about this incident right now, but it was clearly an unexpected tragedy.

This is an example of a situation where an employee—or in this case, an employee’s family, since the victim was killed—may be able to file a third-party claim. In this case, rather than suing the victim’s employer, the plaintiffs would potentially file suit against Home Depot. To be successful in this claim, the plaintiffs would have to prove that Home Depot, or one of its employees, somehow caused the accident. Perhaps they negligently secured the drywall high up somewhere, creating a risk that it would fall on someone below, for example. If the plaintiffs can successfully prove that Home Depot was responsible for the accident, they can recover financially against them to try and make them whole after the damage suffered. Damages awarded to plaintiffs in cases such as these commonly include medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and even funeral and burial costs.

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitor relates to the plaintiff’s burden of proving a negligence case. Generally, the fact that an accident or injury occurred is not evidence of negligence itself. However, in cases where the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor is applied, a plaintiff may be able to show that the type of accident itself signifies that negligence can be inferred in that case. In a Maryland car accident case, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor can be applied if the accident is one that would not normally occur in the absence of the operator’s negligence, and the facts make it clear that there should be an inference of negligence. For example, a car rolling down a hill shortly after it is parked may be a situation in which the doctrine would be applied, and negligence could be inferred.

The doctrine permits a plaintiff in a Maryland accident case to establish a prima facie case of a defendant’s negligence. To invoke the doctrine under Maryland law, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the injury is one that would not normally occur absent negligence; (2) the defendant had exclusive control of the instrument that caused the injury; and (3) the injury was not caused by the plaintiff.

In a recent case, a state appeals court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor could be applied in the case of a gate at a county that closed on and injured an attorney. The plaintiff (the attorney) went to meet a client at a county jail, and the interior gate at the jail closed on her unexpectedly, injuring her. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the county. The plaintiff requested a jury instruction on res ipsa loquitor, explaining that the jury could find that the incident was such a type that it would not have occurred without negligence on the part of the defendant. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.

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