Articles Posted in Personal Injury

The law holds people and businesses responsible for injuries caused by their negligent conduct.  In a July 19, 2017 case, the Court of Special Appeals considered a Maryland injury claim brought on appeal by a plaintiff against a bus transportation business.  The plaintiff filed the appeal after a jury found in favor of the defendant.wheelchair

The victim in the case was a double amputee who required the use of a wheelchair for mobility.   The victim had hired the defendant’s bus transportation company to transport him to his home.  As the driver attempted to load the victim into the transport bus, his wheelchair rolled backwards and fell off the bus’ lift.  The fall sent the victim crashing to the ground and broke his neck.  The victim spent the next few months in the hospital before passing away from his injuries.  The victim’s estate filed suit against the driver and the bus transportation company, alleging negligence.  After a trial, the jury found that the victim’s injuries were not results of the driver’s negligence.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by striking the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert.  In Maryland, before allowing expert testimony, a trial court must make the following determinations:  (1) whether the witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, (2) whether the expert testimony is appropriate on the particular subject, and (3) whether a sufficient factual basis exists to support the expert testimony.  With respect to the third element, an expert’s opinion testimony must be based on an adequate factual basis so that it does not amount to conjecture, speculation, or incompetent evidence.  They cannot simply hazard guesses, however educated, based on their credentials.

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Accidents can happen anywhere, but when they are caused by a careless person or business, the victim may be able to pursue compensation through a negligence claim.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland decided a July 14, 2017 appeal involving a plaintiff who had been injured in a retail store.  The plaintiff in the case was shopping in the defendants’ department store when a cast iron griddle fell from a bottom shelf and landed on her right foot.  She brought negligence claims against the store owners, based on the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur.  Following trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.  However, after the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff brought the current appeal.bottles

In a negligence action, the plaintiff must present evidence tending to show that the defendant was legally responsible for her injury, although direct proof of negligence is not required.  The plaintiff may instead invoke res ipsa to rely on an inference of negligence to be deduced from all of the circumstances.  In Maryland, this requires the plaintiff to establish that the accident was (1) of a kind that does not ordinarily occur without negligence on the part of the defendant, (2) caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff.  If and when a plaintiff satisfies these three elements, res ipsa permits but does not compel the jury to infer a defendant’s negligence without the aid of any direct evidence.

On appeal, the court explained that, to satisfy the latter two elements of res ipsa, the plaintiff had the burden of proving that the falling griddle was more likely than not a result of the negligence of the defendants.  The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the combined likelihood that her own negligence or that of a third party caused the griddle to fall was less than 50%.  As a result, the court focused on whether there was evidence to demonstrate the defendants’ exclusive control of the griddle.

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In an opinion issued on July 6, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury claim arising out of an accident between an automobile and a pedestrian. The plaintiff was attempting to cross the street when she was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant. The plaintiff brought a negligence claim against the defendant, which proceeded to trial. Ultimately, the jury found that the defendant was negligent, but it also found that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, thereby precluding any recovery of damages. The plaintiff subsequently appealed to the higher court.

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Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, a plaintiff who fails to exercise ordinary care for his or her own safety and thus contributes proximately to his or her injury is barred from all recovery, regardless of the defendant’s primary negligence. Unfortunately for plaintiffs, it is an all-or-nothing doctrine in Maryland. As a result, if contributory negligence is found on the part of the plaintiff, it prevents the plaintiff from recovering any damages for his or her injuries, even if the defendant was also found negligent. The burden of proving contributory negligence is on the defendant, and the issue is a question of fact for the jury to resolve.

In the case, the defendant had stopped at a stop sign and started to make a left turn, when she struck the plaintiff in the middle of the crosswalk. The defendant testified that she didn’t see the plaintiff until the last moment, when she slammed on her brakes. Ordinarily, a pedestrian crossing a street within a designated crosswalk in Maryland has the right-of-way over oncoming traffic, and the driver of an approaching vehicle must come to a stop when approaching a pedestrian in a cross-walk. The pedestrian’s right-of-way, however, is not absolute, and in some circumstances, a pedestrian may be found to be contributorily negligent. In crossing a street, a pedestrian has a duty to look out for vehicles and protect herself from danger. Although there is no law that she must stop until a vehicle has passed, whether she was negligent in proceeding is a question for the jury.

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Individuals who have been hurt while in the care or on the property of another person or business may be able to pursue compensation from negligent parties in a personal injury claim. A plaintiff in a recent case filed a negligence claim after she was injured while being loaded onto a Maryland Transportation Authority bus. She appealed the jury verdict, which found in favor of the defendant, and the case was reviewed by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in a May 10, 2017 opinion.

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The defendant in the case was the employer of a Maryland Transportation Authority bus driver. The bus driver had assisted the plaintiff, who was in a wheelchair, in boarding the bus. After raising the steel lift to a height that would allow the plaintiff to move into the bus, the driver entered the bus to assist her from the inside. However, as the driver boarded the bus, the wheelchair tipped backwards, and the plaintiff fell on her back. The plaintiff claimed the driver’s employer was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee.

The plaintiff had argued that the driver violated the defendant’s safety procedures and policies, which provided that operators are not permitted to leave passengers unattended on lifts in the upward position on inclines or ramps. The defendant contended that the driver did not actually leave her but attempted to follow the proper procedure by getting on the bus to pull the plaintiff’s wheelchair into the bus from the lift. At trial, both the driver and his supervisor testified that the driver’s actions complied with all of the defendant’s safety protocols and procedures. After the jury found that the driver was not negligent, the plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied by the trial court.

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In many car accident cases, insurance companies become involved in the litigation, either in defending claims against their insureds or against themselves.  In a May 1, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland examined whether summary judgment was proper after misrepresentations made by the defendants’ insurance company caused the plaintiff to file his lawsuit outside the statute of limitations.car crash

The action arose out of a car accident in which two of the defendants rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The two defendants and a third roommate lived together and were all insured through the same automobile insurance company.  The roommate was not in the car at the time of the accident.  However, following the accident, the insurance company contacted the plaintiff and identified the roommate as the insured party.

During subsequent communications with the plaintiff’s counsel, the insurance company acknowledged liability and paid for the plaintiff’s property damage claims under the roommate’s policy.  When the plaintiff was unable to resolve his injury claim with the insurance company, he filed suit against the roommate.  It was at this time that in-house counsel for the insurance company disclosed to the plaintiff that the actual driver was not the roommate.  The plaintiff immediately filed an amended complaint against the two defendants, but the statute of limitations had already expired.

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Businesses, as well as individuals, can be held accountable by law for injuries caused by their negligence.  In a March 22, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case involving the plaintiff’s exposure to lead pursuant to a study conducted by the defendant.  Some of the claims against the defendant were dismissed by the lower court before trial, and a jury found in favor of the defendant on all of the remaining claims.  The plaintiff brought an appeal, arguing several grounds for reversal.old paint

The defendant’s study, conducted from 1993 to 1999, was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants that were provided to evaluate and reduce lead-based paint hazards in housing.  The study involved research on the effectiveness of lead abatement measures in reducing lead contamination in homes, measured by the blood lead levels of minor children living in the homes that were part of the study.

A property group that, at the time, owned and managed approximately 200 low-income rental units in Baltimore City agreed to provide houses to be used for the study.  The plaintiff’s mother lived in one of the units and had signed a consent form that allowed the plaintiff (with whom she was pregnant at the time) to participate in the study.  Before the study commenced, the unit had tested positive for lead-based paint.  The defendant and property group paid for lead remediation work to be completed in the unit, which was intended to reduce but not completely remove all of the exposure to lead.  The unit did, however, pass Maryland’s post-abatement clearance standards at the time.  The plaintiff’s blood lead level rose steadily from when he was 11 months to three and a half years old while living in the unit and participating in the study.

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In many personal injury cases, procedural rules may require the plaintiff to produce specific types of evidence to prove his or her legal claim.  In an opinion released on April 17, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the plaintiffs could proceed with their negligence claims against an amusement park on the theory of res ipsa loquitur.  The plaintiffs were injured on a river ride during a visit to the defendant’s amusement park in 2011.  The incident occurred after a raft on the ride became stuck for an unknown reason and collided with the raft occupied by the plaintiffs.  The matter was brought on appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.amusement park

Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to present a prima facie case when direct evidence of the cause of an accident is not available or is available solely to the defendant, and circumstantial evidence permits the jury to infer that the defendant’s negligence was the cause.  Under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the factfinder may draw an inference of negligence if the plaintiff proves three elements:  (1) the plaintiff suffered an injury that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence; (2) the injury was caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control; and (3) the injury was not caused by any act or omission by the plaintiff.  Typically, the common knowledge of jurors is sufficient to support an inference or finding of negligence on the part of a defendant.  However, in some cases, expert testimony is required to establish negligence and causation.

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Injuries that are caused by the careless actions of more than one person may give rise to legal recourse against multiple defendants.  In a March 17, 2017 wrongful death decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the county was liable for the death of a two-year old child in foster care.  The plaintiff filed the appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the county.blinds

In 2007, as a result of the county’s determination that the child was in need of assistance, the circuit court ordered that he be placed in a foster home.  At the foster home, the child’s room had a window covered with venetian blinds, which were controlled by two single-tassel cords.  Although the blind cords were usually hung on a nail at the top of the window, the child became entangled in the blind cords and subsequently died from strangulation in 2009.  The biological mother of the child filed a wrongful death action against the county for failing to properly supervise and protect the child.  The circuit court ruled that the facts did not give rise to a common law or statutory duty that the county owed to the child.

In Maryland, a negligence action requires a plaintiff to establish four elements:  a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the harm suffered, and damages.  Generally, government entities do not owe a tort duty to the world at-large.  A government entity can be liable in tort, however, if it takes an affirmative step to create a duty.  That duty can be created in two ways:  (1) legally, by adopting a statute; or (2) factually, by creating a special relationship.

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Lead-based paint injuries are common in Maryland, and they often result in litigation against negligent landlords and property owners. In an April 5, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a lower court’s order granting summary judgment on the plaintiff’s personal injury claim against several property owners. The plaintiff in the case brought suit against the defendants for damages allegedly caused by exposure to lead-based paint while visiting or residing at properties they owned from 1992 to 2007. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient evidence that their property substantially contributed to his elevated blood levels. After the circuit court granted their motion, the plaintiff appealed.hands

At the time of the plaintiff’s birth through the first seven months of his life, the plaintiff and his family lived in property with chipped paint around the walls and windows, and they regularly visited another property in the same condition. Testing subsequently conducted during the lawsuit revealed that the two properties contained lead-based paint. When the plaintiff was almost three years old, he attended daycare at a property owned by the defendants, which contained chipping and peeling paint. Subsequent testing also indicated the presence of lead-based paint. The plaintiff visited the defendants’ property regularly for approximately two years. At some point, while he was still attending the daycare, he moved to another property, which contained chipping and peeling paint, but he was never tested for lead.

In Maryland, when a plaintiff alleges negligence based on a violation of a lead-based paint law, he must prove that there was a violation of the law and that the violation caused his injuries. Causation requires that the plaintiff present either direct or circumstantial evidence showing that (1) the defendant’s property was a source of the plaintiff’s lead exposure, (2) the exposure contributed to the plaintiff’s elevated blood lead levels, and (3) the plaintiff’s elevated blood lead levels substantially contributed to the injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiff. In the case at hand, the plaintiff relied on circumstantial evidence to establish his claim. Accordingly, he had the burden to produce circumstantial evidence that, if believed, would rule out other reasonably probable sources of lead.

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A negligence claim can arise out of any number of circumstances, including accidents that occur on the property of individuals or businesses due to their carelessness.  These are specifically known as premises liability claims.  In a relevant decision issued on February 23, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed whether a lower court properly granted summary judgment against the plaintiff on his premises liability claim against a hospital.snow

In 2007, the plaintiff had visited the hospital to participate in a sleep study.  Early the next morning, the plaintiff left the hospital and walked toward the bus stop.  The plaintiff noticed that the sidewalk outside the hospital was wet with sleet, ice, and mud, but he proceeded to walk through it.  He eventually reached a section of the sidewalk where, beneath the mud and slush, two concrete slabs were joined together unevenly.  Unaware of the differential, the plaintiff tripped over the elevated slabs and fell, suffering a fractured leg and a broken ankle.

The plaintiff brought suit against the hospital, alleging that it had negligently breached its duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in maintaining the hospital grounds.  The hospital contended that, although it maintained the area of the sidewalk on which the plaintiff fell, it didn’t own it or owe a duty to the plaintiff.  The trial court held that since the hospital did not own the sidewalk at issue, it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff that would render it liable for his injuries.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the hospital’s admission that it maintained the sidewalk created an issue of fact regarding its ownership.  The appeals court disagreed, explaining that the hospital did not waive the issue or concede ownership of the sidewalk when it answered the plaintiff’s interrogatory.

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