Maryland Court Reviews Car Accident Appeal After Jury Finds Both Parties Negligent

In some cases, negligence on the part of both drivers may contribute to a collision that causes injuries. In Dailey v. Mackey (Md. Ct. App. May 3, 2016), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a negligence claim arising out of an automobile accident. After a jury found both the plaintiff and the defendant negligent, Maryland’s contributory negligence rule barred all recovery. The plaintiff filed an appeal to the higher court, which considered the case.

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In Dailey, the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff’s disabled vehicle after it shut down on the interstate. Although the plaintiff attempted to move his vehicle off the road, it did not have enough momentum to reach the shoulder, and the defendant struck his car from behind. The parties disputed whether the defendant’s vehicle still had its lights on after the engine lost power, and whether the defendant had activated the hazard lights. The plaintiff sued the defendant, and the defendant counterclaimed, each contending that the other was negligent. After a trial on liability, the jury determined that both parties were negligent. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendant did not present sufficient evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence to permit sending the question of contributory negligence to the jury.

Negligence is defined as failing to act as an ordinarily prudent person would under the circumstances. A claim based on negligence requires proof of certain elements:  the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care, the defendant breached that duty, and the defendant’s breach was the actual and proximate cause of the damages suffered by the plaintiff. In Maryland, a plaintiff cannot recover compensation even from a negligent defendant if the plaintiff was also negligent, although there are some exceptions. In the case of a sudden emergency, such as the one that befell the plaintiff when his car lost power, the driver must still exercise ordinary care.

The question for the appeals court was whether there was enough evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff was negligent. The plaintiff contended that he reasonably tried to reach the right shoulder of the road, rather than the left shoulder, since the left shoulder was narrower and more dangerous than the right. The court noted that the plaintiff’s car was closer to the left shoulder than the right when he lost power on an uphill stretch of a poorly lit highway at night. Based on these facts and the disputed testimony that the plaintiff’s lights weren’t on, the court held that a jury could reasonably find that the plaintiff should have known that it would be difficult for other motorists to see him, and it was careless for him to attempt to cross any more lanes of traffic than strictly necessary. Although Maryland’s traffic code requires slow-moving traffic to stay to the right, the court reasoned that it does not address vehicles that completely lose power, in which case it is not unreasonable to expect a driver to move to the closest point of safety, even if that requires the driver to move to the left. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Negligent drivers may be held liable for injuries caused by their careless actions. At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, our hardworking lawyers advocate for victims in cases involving auto accidents, medical malpractice, premises liability, and other personal injury claims. To consult a member of our experienced legal team regarding your case, contact Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or online to schedule your appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Finds Error in Admission of Past Traffic Offenses in Auto Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 10, 2016

Maryland Court Affirms Verdict for Plaintiff in Car Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 15, 2016