As a general rule, negligent landowners are liable to their guests for personal injuries caused by a dangerous condition on their property.  Maryland law allows few exceptions to this general rule, one of which is under its Recreational Use Statute.  In an April 29, 2020 Maryland personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals considered whether the statute relieved a defendant of liability after the plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries on his property.

The defendant in the case had constructed several all-terrain vehicle (ATV) courses on the property.  The land was not open to the public, and was used primarily by the defendant to store excavating equipment from his construction company and deposit dirt from construction sites.  However, the defendant hosted an event on the property for family and friends, including the plaintiff, and invited them to ride ATVs and dirt bikes.  While traversing one of the courses on the ATV, the plaintiff was thrown over the handlebars.  As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a spinal injury that rendered him a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence, alleging that the accident occurred because of the defective design of the ATV course.  The circuit court eventually granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, concluding that he was immune under Maryland’s Recreational Use Statute.  The issue was then brought before the Court of Special Appeals.

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In Maryland, drivers are required to have a motor vehicle insurance policy that includes uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.  This mandatory coverage protects insured drivers from paying out-of-pocket expenses for their injuries if they are involved in a motor vehicle accident caused by an uninsured or inadequately insured driver.  It may also give rise to a claim against a driver’s own insurance company, as in an April 20, 2020 Maryland personal injury case.

The plaintiff in the case was involved in an automobile accident in April of 2011, in which her vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle traveling behind her.  The plaintiff’s injuries required extensive medical treatment from the date of the accident until July 2014.  The driver who caused the accident had an insurance policy with a $20,000 limit per person for bodily injuries, which was not enough to cover the full amount of the plaintiff’s medical expenses.  Under the plaintiff’s auto insurance policy, she was covered up to $300,000 per person for injuries caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

The plaintiff collected the $20,000 policy limit settlement offer from the other driver’s insurer nearly two years after the accident.  She then attempted to collect additional underinsured motorist benefits from her own insurer.  The settlement negotiations went on for several years and, with her claim still pending, the plaintiff filed suit against her insurer in September of 2016.  The insurance company filed a motion to dismiss, contending that her suit was barred by the three-year statute of limitations.

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Accidents can be caused by negligence of more than one person.  In some Maryland personal injury cases, the damages are apportioned to each defendant by fault.  Unfortunately, this may result in reduced damages when one of the defendants is the local government, as illustrated in an April 14, 2020 case.  The plaintiff was awarded over 2.6 million in damages for personal injuries after a jury found the City and contractor negligent.  However, because the City’s negligence was a superseding cause to the contractor’s negligence, the contractor was released from liability, and the damage award was reduced pursuant to the Local Government Tort Claims Act.

The facts of the case are as follows.  In 2007, the City hired the contractor to restore a ball field.  The project included installation of wooden bollards along the adjacent public road, with a barrier gate to allow restricted access from the roadway into the park.  The project was completed in 2011.  In April of 2014, the plaintiff in the case sustained severe injuries when his car collided with the barrier gate, which had swung open into the roadway.  At trial, the evidence established that the gate was not constructed in conformance with the blueprints created by the architect.

In Maryland, a plaintiff must prove four elements to prevail in a claim of negligence: 1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to conform to a certain standard of care; 2) the defendant breached this duty; 3) actual damage to the plaintiff; and 4) causation.  The City is generally allowed immunity for governmental and discretionary acts, such as the maintenance of a public park.  However, a municipality has a private proprietary obligation to maintain its streets, as well as the sidewalks, footways and the areas contiguous to them, in a reasonably safe condition.

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After a person is injured in an accident, it may be difficult or impossible in some cases to determine the exact cause of the accident.  However, if direct evidence of negligence is unavailable, the plaintiff may be able to assert a negligence claim based on res ipsa loquitur.  In an April 8, 2020 Maryland personal injury case, the plaintiff won her negligence suit against a hotel management company by applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.  The defendant appealed the jury verdict and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reviewed the issue of res ipsa loquitur.

The plaintiff in the case had been staying in an extended-stay suite at a hotel managed by the defendant.  One night, as the plaintiff was in the kitchen, the cabinet over the sink wholly detached from the wall, falling on the plaintiff and pinning her against the counter.  She testified that, immediately following the accident, she had symptoms that included vomiting, loss of balance, headaches, and difficulty speaking, which continued for months thereafter.  As a result of these symptoms, the plaintiff suffered multiple falls and was unable to return to work.

The plaintiff subsequently brought suit against the defendant, basing her negligence claim on res ipsa loquitur.  The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur allows the jury to infer negligence on the part of a defendant from the facts surrounding the injury, even though those facts do not show the exact cause or precise manner in which the defendant was negligent.  Generally, res ipsa loquitur applies in situations where direct evidence as to the cause of the accident is unavailable, or where it rests exclusively with the defendant.

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Failure to comply with certain procedural rules may be detrimental to a Maryland wrongful death action, as illustrated in a March 10, 2020 case.  Following the fatal car accident of his daughter, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death suit against the mayor and city council, alleging faulty construction and maintenance of the road on which the accident occurred.  However, the plaintiff had failed to provide timely notice of his claim within the required deadline.  As a result, the lower court granted summary judgment in favor the City.  The plaintiff subsequently appealed the matter to the Court of Special Appeals.

Under Maryland law, an action for damages against a local government or its employees requires that notice of the claim be given within 180 days after the injury.  However, the plaintiff’s failure to provide proper notice to the appropriate governmental body may be overcome by a showing of good cause, as long as the defendant was not prejudiced as a result of the lack of notice.

The general standard used to determine “good cause” is whether the plaintiff prosecuted his claim with the degree of diligence that an ordinarily prudent person would have exercised under the same circumstances.  When deciding whether that standard has been met, Maryland courts typically consider five factors: (1) excusable neglect or mistake, as determined by the reasonably prudent person standard, (2) serious physical, mental injury, and/or location out-of-state, (3) the inability to retain counsel in cases involving complex litigation, (4) ignorance of the statutory notice requirement, or (5) misleading representations made by representative of the local government.

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Highway collisions involving commercial rigs or semi-trucks frequently cause life-threatening, and even fatal, injuries to people who are riding in passenger cars.  While negligent truck drivers and their employers may be held liable for the full amount of economic damages suffered by the victims, compensation for pain and suffering and non-economic damages is limited under Maryland law.  The plaintiff in a March 18, 2020 Maryland car accident case challenged the state’s cap on non-economic damages, arguing before the Court of Special Appeals that the cap was unconstitutional.

The plaintiff in the case was driving on a Maryland highway when the defendant crossed the center median strip and struck her vehicle head on.  At the time of the collision, the defendant was driving a commercial vehicle for his employer, which was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.  The plaintiff sustained catastrophic injuries as a result of the accident and underwent multiple surgeries in order to save her life and her arm.  Thereafter, the plaintiff began a significant and life-changing recovery process, requiring near continuous medical care and psychological treatment for the trauma.

It was determined that the truck driver was intoxicated at the time of the collision, and that his employer was aware of his prior drunk driving charges.  After a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff over $314,000 for medical expenses, $2.5 million for non-economic damages, and $3 million for punitive damages against the employer.  The trial court, in accordance with Maryland law, reduced the non-economic damages to $830,000.  On appeal, the plaintiff solely challenged the constitutionality of Maryland’s statutory cap on non-economic damages.

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Under Maryland premises liability law, a property owner generally owes a duty of care to most people who are on their property.  The extent of that duty is largely determined by the legal status of that person and reason for being on the property.  This can make a difference in the outcome of a Maryland personal injury case, as illustrated in a February 20, 2020 appeal.

The plaintiff in the case was an active septuagenarian, who typically walked her dog two or three times per day through a shopping center and business park owned by the defendant.  One day, while on her usual route, the plaintiff suffered a fall in the parking lot.  The impact shattered the bones in her right knee and elbow.

The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the defendant.  In her complaint, she alleged that she tripped over a thin metal rod that was projecting out of the surface of the asphalt parking lot.  The lower court concluded that the plaintiff was a bare licensee on the property, as she did not intend to purchase anything from the shopping center, and as such, the defendant was not liable for her injury.  After the circuit court dismissed her case, the plaintiff appealed the issue to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that she was an implied invitee.

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Property owners, as well as other businesses and individuals, may generally be held liable for a personal injury caused by their negligence.  In a February 24, 2020 lead paint case, the plaintiff succeeded on her Maryland personal injury claim against the owner of the home in which she lived.  The defendant subsequently filed an appeal for review by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The defendant in the case was formerly in the business of purchasing and leasing rental properties.  In 1994, the plaintiff’s mother moved into a house owned by the defendant, which he claimed had been completely renovated.  The plaintiff had lived at the property with her mother from her birth in 1997 until 1998, when they moved out.  During their stay, the plaintiff’s mother testified that she saw chipped, peeling, and flaking paint throughout the house and in places accessible to the plaintiff.  Approximately two months before they moved out, the plaintiff was tested for lead, and the results indicated elevated levels of lead in her blood.

When she turned 20, the plaintiff filed a negligence suit against the defendant, alleging personal injuries caused by the lead paint exposure.  After finding that the defendant was negligent, the jury awarded the plaintiff $800,000 in non-economic damages and $1 million dollars in economic damages.  On appeal, one of the defendant’s arguments was that there was insufficient evidence that the property had contained lead paint.

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While a significant number of motor vehicle collisions are caused by careless drivers, negligence on the part of non-drivers may play a role in causing a car accident.  In a February 18, 2020 case, the plaintiff filed a Maryland car accident case against the City after losing control of her vehicle on the road.  The plaintiff alleged that the accident was caused by black ice or water from a leaking fire hydrant, for which the City was responsible.  After the circuit court ruled that the City was entitled to summary judgment, the plaintiff brought an appeal before the Court of Special Appeals.

The plaintiff in the case was driving home from the store on a cold morning, traveling around 30-35 mph.  A car pulled in front of her, and she applied her brakes.  At that moment, the plaintiff lost control of the vehicle, and it began sliding and turning.  The vehicle then hit the sidewalk, causing it to flip on its side.  The plaintiff was able to call 911 while trapped inside, and the paramedics arrived to remove her from the vehicle.  In her lawsuit against the City, the plaintiff alleged that water leaking from a fire hydrant had frozen on the roadway.  The circuit court, however, held that she failed to produce evidence that water or ice or some other defect was the cause of her accident.

In Maryland, a plaintiff must establish four elements to state a claim of negligence: a duty owed to him or her, a breach of that duty, a legally cognizable causal relationship between the breach of the duty and the harm suffered, and damages.  Generally, a municipality owes a duty to pedestrians and drivers to make its public streets and sidewalks reasonably safe for passage.  When a person is injured because a municipality failed to maintain its streets, the municipality may be held liable only if it had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition that caused the injury.

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In Maryland, a property owner has a duty to keep the premises safe for invitees.  The owner may be liable for injuries that occur on their property if they knew or should have known of the danger, and they failed to warn or correct it.  In a February 13, 2020 personal injury case, the issue before the court was whether the defendants had actual or constructive notice of an alleged dangerous condition on their parking lot.  The plaintiff appealed the matter to the Court of Special Appeals when her Maryland slip and fall case was dismissed on summary judgment.

The plaintiff in the case was walking through the parking lot of her subdivision one evening when she slipped on black ice and fell.  As a result of the accident, she suffered a permanent traumatic brain injury.  The plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against her homeowner’s association and property manager, claiming that they negligently failed to maintain the parking lot, which resulted in her injury.  The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that they did not have notice of the icy condition that caused the plaintiff’s fall.

In Maryland, a landowner has a duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the premises safe for invitees and protect them from injury caused by an unreasonable risk which the invitee would not discover.  The plaintiff in the case owned a home in the subdivision, but the common areas and parking lot of the subdivision were under the control of the defendants.  Accordingly, the appeals court held that the plaintiff was an invitee while she was on the parking lot, and the defendants owed her a corresponding duty of care to keep the parking lot safe.  In order to establish a premises liability claim, however, the plaintiff must show that the defendants knew, or had reason to know of the hazardous condition on the property.

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