Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules for Student’s Family in Wrongful Death Pedestrian Accident Case

crosswalk-sign-1431140-mIn a decision published this spring, Davis v. Board of Ed. for Prince George’s County, Md. Ct. Sp. App. (2015), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals made a ruling following a granting of a motion for Judgment Not Withstanding the Verdict (JNOV).

In the case, a 13-year-old student was hit by a car as she was crossing the street to board a school bus. She died as a result of her injuries two weeks following the car accident. Her parents sued the school board for wrongful death, negligence, and other related claims. They alleged that the Board owed their daughter a duty of care to provide a bus stop on her side of the street, that they breached that duty, and that as a result, they proximately caused the girl’s injuries and death.

The case was tried before a jury, which found the Board negligent and awarded the plaintiffs over $90 million in damages. The Board filed a motion for JNOV, which the court granted and in tandem vacated the jury’s verdict. The court found that the Board did not owe the girl a duty of care, and that even if it did, the girl and her mother were contributorily negligent as a matter of law. It further found that if the JNOV was reversed, the damages award should have been lowered to reflect the statutory maximum liability of $100,000, and it somehow arrived at a maximum award of $166,000, minus the $20,000 paid to the family by the driver at fault in the accident.

On appeal, the court reviewed the nature of the circumstances regarding the accident. It found that the school was supposed to have a bus stop on the same side of the road as where the student lived. However, the bus driver was not aware of this and was only stopping on the opposite side of the street. As a result, the girl had to cross the street in order to catch the bus, and as a result, tragically, she was struck by a car in her attempt to cross the street on the day of the accident.

The court found that the relevant regulations regarding bus stops stated that in establishing a bus route, the primary consideration was the safety of the riders. Furthermore, the regulations stated that on four-lane highways, the students. “shall be picked up and discharged on the side of the roadway where they reside.” (Emphasis added). [court’s emphasis]. There is a rule that when a statute or ordinance creates a duty of care, it is required in the case as applied. Therefore, the Board did owe the girl a duty to pick her up on her side of the highway.

The court then turned to the issue of contributory negligence. It found that whether the student was contributorily negligent was a question of fact and was therefore properly submitted to the jury. Therefore, the lower court judge’s granting of the JNOV motion on that issue was improper.

Next, regarding the alleged negligence of the student’s mother in not notifying the school that the bus was not coming to the appointed stop, the court found that the issue was not argued at trial and thus was proper.

Lastly, regarding the court’s decision to grant the defendants’ request regarding the “excessive award,” the court found that there was some ambiguity regarding whether a certain statute limiting liability applied, and that certain evidence needed to be considered. It also found that the relevant legal standard turned on the fact that the defendants did not motion for a new trial, and therefore the lowering of the monetary damages was inappropriate.

Thus, the decision granting the JNOV motion was reversed and remanded.

When an accident involves a death, there are several separate claims that can be made by appropriate parties, and one of the claims is known as a wrongful death claim. The wrongful death lawyers of Foran and Foran, in Greenbelt, MD, specialize in this area of law.  One of our Maryland wrongful death attorneys can explain all of the potential claims for death benefits in your case.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015

Broken rotor blade of helicopter cause crash and results in death, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published January 5, 2012