“Phantom vehicle” is a term that refers to a vehicle that causes personal injury or property damage without making any physical contact with the person or car. Accidents involving phantom vehicles may be problematic when filing a claim with your insurance company, as illustrated in a June 18, 2020 Maryland injury case.
The plaintiff in the case was stopped in his car at a red light, when his vehicle was struck from behind by a car driven by the defendant. The plaintiff brought a personal injury claim against the defendant, seeking damages of $25,000. The plaintiff also filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits against his own insurer, arguing that his auto policy covered damages caused by a phantom vehicle that did not remain at the scene of an accident, as alleged by the defendant in the case.
In a hearing before the trial, the defendant admitted that she caused the accident, eliminating any possibility that the jury would find that a phantom vehicle caused the accident. On the morning of trial, the court severed the plaintiff’s claims against his insurance company, so that those claims would be decided in a separate trial. As such, the only issue for the jury to decide at trial was the amount of damages that the defendant caused to the plaintiff. The jury returned a verdict awarding damages of $1,560. Because that amount was within the liability limits of the defendant’s insurance policy, the court entered a directed verdict in favor of the insurance company on the plaintiff’s remaining claims. The plaintiff then appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that by severing his claims against his insurance company, the trial court deprived him of his right to a fair trial on damages. Under the Maryland Civil Rules, a trial court may order a separate trial of any claim, or of any separate issue, or of any number of claims in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice. When considering whether to bifurcate a case, the trial court considers both convenience and prejudice, as either factor can provide a basis to bifurcate the issues.
The appeals court concluded that the severance was properly granted to serve the convenience of the parties, as the insurance company had stipulated that it would pay any judgment over the $30,000 limits of the defendant’s policy. Under these circumstances, the appeals court found that there was no legitimate reason to deny the motion to sever, and that the trial judge’s ruling served the purpose of the Maryland Rule. The court also noted that, even if severance had been granted in error, there was no prejudice to the plaintiff. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the judgment.
A Maryland injury attorney can represent your interests in a claim against auto insurance companies. At Foran & Foran, P.A., our accident lawyers have experience helping individuals who have been injured as a result of semi-truck and auto collisions, medical malpractice, and other accidents caused by a negligent person or business. Request a free consultation to discuss your injury case by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.