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Local governments, like other property owners, have an obligation to keep public spaces safe for visitors. While the procedures involved in filing a case against a government are slightly different from those required in a Maryland premises liability lawsuit against a private individual or corporation, in each of these situations a plaintiff must be able to prove that the landowner’s negligence in maintaining their property resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

To prove that a landowner was negligent, a plaintiff must first show that the landowner knew of the hazard that caused their injuries. Once the defendant’s knowledge is established, the plaintiff must show that the landowner was somehow negligent in failing to remedy the hazard or warn of the hazard’s existence. Finally, a plaintiff must prove that their injuries were the result of the landowner’s negligence. This is referred to as “causation.” In a recent case involving a slip-and-fall injury that occurred at a cemetery, the court discussed the plaintiff’s burden to prove causation.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was visiting the gravesites of several family members in a cemetery that was owned by the defendant city when he stepped in a hole that was covered by grass. Evidently, the hole was deep enough such that the plaintiff fell down to his knee, folded over at the waist, and struck his head against the ground.

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Although the concept of sovereign immunity is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights, courts have long held that the U.S. government is immune from liability without its consent. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), however, those who have been injured as a result of the conduct of a federal employee or agency may be able to pursue a claim for compensation.

The FTCA provides a strict set of procedural rules that must be followed in order for a case to be heard by a federal court. If an injury victim misses a deadline or otherwise fails to comply with one of the FTCA’s requirements, their claim will likely be dismissed. Thus, it is crucial for Maryland injury victims bringing claims under the FTCA to understand all of the requirements the FTCA imposes. A recent federal appellate opinion discusses the statute of limitations in FTCA claims.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, in 2005, when the plaintiff was just five years old, when his father died in an auto accident. The accident occurred on an interstate highway. Because the plaintiff was only five years old at the time, the plaintiff’s mother filed a claim against the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The claim alleged that a highway barrier failed during the accident, resulting in the plaintiff’s father’s death.

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Maryland landowners owe a duty of care to those who are on their property. The extent of the duty that a landowner owes to a visitor depends on several factors: primarily, whether the visitor was welcomed onto the land by the landowner and the purpose of the visit.

In Maryland, there are three classes of visitors: trespassers, licensees, and invitees. A trespasser accesses another’s property without permission. A licensee is most commonly a social guest. And finally, an invitee is someone who is on a property for business purposes, such as a customer. Not surprisingly, a landowner owes a trespasser less of a duty than she owes a licensee or an invitee. In fact, in Maryland, a landowner owes a trespasser no affirmative duty of care, and must only refrain from willfully causing them injury.

When it comes to trespassing children, however, many courts across the United States apply the attractive nuisance doctrine. The attractive nuisance doctrine allows for a landowner to be held liable for injuries that are caused to a child by some aspect of the landowner’s property that attracted the child onto the land. Typically, the landowner must know the danger as well as the fact that children may have access to their property. In addition, courts require that the child’s age be such that it prevented them from fully understanding the risk of entering the property.

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As we have discussed in other posts, the legal doctrine of contributory negligence precludes personal injury victims who are found to be partially at fault for their injuries from pursuing a claim of financial compensation. While Maryland’s contributory negligence law, in most people’s eyes, is outdated and overly harsh, for now, it governs how courts determine liability in Maryland personal injury accidents.

Contributory negligence is often discussed in the context of auto accidents. However, the doctrine also applies in Maryland slip-and-fall cases. A recent state appellate decision illustrates why contributory negligence is so harmful to Maryland premises liability plaintiffs.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff owned property in the defendant condo complex. One day, the plaintiff was walking along a sidewalk in the complex when she tripped on a section of uneven cement. The plaintiff frequented the area where she fell. Evidently, the cement area had been marked by complex management with blue dots, indicating it to be an area that needed to be repaired.

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A common concern in many Maryland personal injury cases is the spoliation of evidence. Spoliation refers to the “destruction, mutilation, or alteration” of evidence by a party who is involved in the case. Typically, spoliation occurs when a party is in possession of evidence that the party believes is unfavorable to their case (and thus, favorable to the opposing party).

When it comes to the destruction of evidence, Maryland courts operate by the maxim “Omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatem” which translates to “all things are presumed against the spoliator.” Thus, courts can impose a variety of sanctions against a party who is found to have spoliated evidence. To do so, the party seeking the imposition of a sanction must establish the four elements of a spoliation claim:

  • The other party destroyed, mutilated, or altered the evidence;
  • The fact that the evidence was discoverable;
  • The intent to destroy the evidence; and
  • The evidence was destroyed at a time after a case had been filed or when the destroying party knew that a case was imminent.

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Among a judge’s many roles is the responsibility to instruct the jury on the applicable law of the case. Generally speaking, a judge has discretion in how the jury is instructed; however, a judge’s instructions must accurately state the law. A recent Maryland medical malpractice case presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals illustrates the broad discretion trial judges have when deciding how to instruct the jury.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited the defendant doctor, complaining of numbness in two of his fingers. The doctor recommended surgery, and the plaintiff agreed. The defendant doctor performed the surgery, however, afterward the plaintiff developed a serious infection at the surgical site. The infection resulted in long-term pain and a reduced range-of-motion.

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor. After the conclusion of both party’s evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on several issues, including the law governing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the defendant. The court began by providing the jury with the general negligence instructions, and the followed with the more specific medical malpractice instructions on the issue of informed consent. The defendant objected to the judge providing the general negligence instructions, arguing that it only misled the jury because the plaintiff’s case was not based on a theory of traditional negligence.

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In Maryland product liability cases, courts will apply one of two tests to determine if the manufacturer can be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Where a product is alleged to have a malfunction, courts will apply the “risk-utility” test. However, when there is no allegation that the product malfunctioned in any way, courts will apply the “consumer expectations” test.

Under a risk-utility analysis, courts consider whether the danger presented by the product is outweighed by its utility. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the application of the risk-utility test.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff purchased a heating pad that was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff was using the heating pad as she was lying in bed, and fell asleep while the pad was on. About 90 minutes later, the plaintiff’s roommate came into the plaintiff’s room after noticing a strange smell. As it turns out, the heating pad had burned into the sheets and mattress, ultimately burning the house down. The Fire Chief determined that the heating pad was the cause of the fire.

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Whenever someone is injured due to the negligence of another person or entity, the injured party is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. However, based on longstanding constitutional principles, government agencies enjoy immunity from some of these lawsuits. Thus, one of the most important considerations after a Maryland accident is whether any of the defendants are government employees and, if so, whether they may be entitled to immunity.

Under Maryland case law, government agencies are entitled to immunity when carrying out discretionary duties. A discretionary duty, as the name implies, is one which involves the exercise of discretion. If an act is not discretionary, it is ministerial, meaning that it does not require the judgment of a government employee. A recent case illustrates how courts approach the distinction between ministerial and discretionary acts.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a young girl was planning on attending a field trip to a pool that was located in a government-owned park. Because the young girl could not swim, her mother spoke with the playground coordinator, who reassured her that the girl’s ability would be assessed in the shallow end of the pool. The mother agreed to let her daughter go on the field trip. Tragically, however, the young girl drowned in the pool as staff members were changing in the locker room.

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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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Most people have signed a liability release waiver at some point. Often, release waivers are included on the back of concert or sporting event tickets. While the language in these agreements may not be clear to the reader, they are generally enforceable and can prevent an accident victim from holding a company liable – even for their own negligent actions.

With that said, there are limits to the enforceability of Maryland liability release waivers. For example, courts will not enforce a waiver that purports to waive the right to pursue compensation based on a party’s willful, wanton, or reckless negligence. A recent state appellate opinion illustrates how this situation may arise.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed after she was run over by a tow-truck on the Daytona International Speedway. Apparently, employees of the facility directed the tow-truck driver to back up into a restricted non-spectator area. However, as the driver was backing up, he ran over the plaintiff.

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