Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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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Lead exposure continues to be an ongoing problem in communities throughout Maryland.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently considered a lawsuit involving lead-based paint in a February 9, 2017 opinion.  The plaintiff filed a negligence claim alleging that she suffered permanent injuries from exposure to lead paint as an infant while she lived at the defendant’s property.  The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not produce reliable evidence that she ever had elevated blood lead levels while she lived there.  The trial court granted summary judgment against the plaintiff, who subsequently appealed.test tubes

The defendant based its argument solely on the definition of the term “elevated blood lead,” as provided in the Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act (Lead Paint Act).  Under that definition, the capillary blood lead test performed on the plaintiff in December 1994 while she was living at the defendant’s property was invalid.  The plaintiff argued that the definition relied upon by the defendant was applicable only to cases brought under the Lead Paint Act, and it had no application to the claims she filed, which alleged common law negligence and violations of the Housing Code and Consumer Protection Act.  Under her claims, she continued, the December 1994 test could be considered, as well as other elevated blood lead level tests that she had taken as a child.

In support of her negligence claims, the plaintiff provided the testimony of her retained expert, who concluded that lead exposure from the defendant’s property was a substantial factor that caused or contributed to her elevated blood lead levels.  The expert also opined that those elevated lead levels caused the plaintiff to suffer a neurological disorder and learning difficulties, and it lowered her IQ.  In reaching his opinion, the expert relied on the accuracy of blood tests taken in December 1994 and March 1995.  In deciding the defendant’s summary judgment motion, the trial court ruled that, under the Lead Paint Act definition, the December 1994 test was invalid and therefore could not be considered in determining whether the plaintiff’s blood contained elevated lead levels.

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One of the requirements to establish a negligence claim is a duty on the part of a defendant owed to the victim.  In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland analyzed the scope of the duty to warn as it applies to a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products.  In the case, the circuit court granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs, who subsequently appealed the matter.factory

In this case, the plaintiff’s father worked in powerhouses where the defendant installed insulation and cement that contained asbestos.  The installation of these products created dust-containing asbestos fibers that would accumulate on the father’s clothing.  From 1962 to 1972, the plaintiff lived in a small trailer home with his parents, in close contact with the clothing and the laundry machine that washed the clothing.  In 2014, the plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  The plaintiffs brought negligence and strict liability claims against the business that installed the asbestos-containing products, based on a failure to warn.

The defendant relied on a previous case, Georgia Pacific, LLC v. Farrar, in which the Maryland Court of Appeals held that a manufacturer or distributor of an asbestos product did not owe a duty to warn the household member of a worker-bystander present at facilities where the product was installed prior to 1972, since there was no practical way that a warning could have avoided the danger to the household member.  The plaintiffs argued that the Farrar holding did not apply because in the present case, the father had access to commercial laundering facilities that specialized in cleaning industrial clothing, there were changing rooms at his workplace, and he would have heeded a warning of the dangers of household exposure.

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Settlement negotiations can be an important part of resolving a personal injury claim against a negligent driver or insurance company.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently addressed some of the issues surrounding settlement agreements in Ward v. Lassiter (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 13, 2017).  In Ward, the underlying case arose from an automobile accident, in which the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant.  The trial date was canceled after the parties orally agreed to settle the case, but another dispute arose when the plaintiff refused to sign a written agreement.handshake

In Ward, the plaintiff agreed to accept $7,000 during the settlement negotiations, although the specific terms of the release or indemnification were not discussed.  The defendant’s counsel emailed a proposed settlement agreement, to which the plaintiff’s attorney made several revisions before returning it.  In particular, the plaintiff’s attorney deleted a provision that released the defendant from liability for future medical expenses and changed a clause that indemnified the defendant from any cause of action by limiting it to $7,000.  The defendant did not agree to the revisions, and the parties remained at an impasse regarding the terms and language of the written settlement.

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To establish a successful negligence claim, the plaintiff must present evidence in support of her case.  The plaintiff may even have to argue her claim before trial, in an opposition to a motion for summary judgment, as in Davis v. Realty (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 25, 2016).  In Davis, the plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, alleging that she suffered lead paint poisoning while residing in the defendants’ properties as a child.  The defendant-owners of one such property filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence of flaking, chipping, or peeling paint while she lived there.  The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.doorway"

In Davis, the defendants supported their motion for summary judgment with the deposition of the plaintiff’s mother.  In that deposition, the plaintiff’s mother was never asked, nor did she volunteer, any testimony as to the flaking, chipping, or peeling paint in the house at issue.  When asked generally about the condition of the house, she stated that the walls had been freshly painted.  In response to the defendants’ motion, the plaintiff attached an affidavit of her mother.  The plaintiff’s mother stated in her affidavit that although the house at issue was freshly painted, the paint was very lumpy on the walls, and there was chipping, peeling, and flaking paint on the doors, doorframes, baseboards, steps, banister, and handrails.

The defendants moved to strike the affidavit pursuant to Rule 2-501(e), which requires the court to strike any part of an affidavit to the extent that it contradicts any prior sworn statements of the witness.  The plaintiff argued that the testimony was not contradictory, since her mother had lived in Baltimore City all of her life and regarded chipping, peeling, and loose paint as a normal thing to see in the kind of house she could afford to rent.  Furthermore, she had not been specifically asked about flaking, chipping, or peeling paint.

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In a recent personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland explained aspects of liability and duty concerning the participation of a private entity in the design and construction of government roadways.  The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against a cement company, the county, and the state of Maryland after her husband was killed by a tractor trailer.  When the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants, the plaintiff brought her appeal to the higher court.bicycle crash

In this case, the plaintiff’s husband was cycling on a state road designated as a bicycle route.  He entered with the right of way into an intersection that did not have any traffic light.  A tractor trailer leaving a cement plant entered the intersection at the same time, striking the plaintiff’s husband.  In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the intersection was negligently designed and constructed to funnel the bicycle lane into the acceleration lane for vehicles turning right onto the state road.  Although the cement company did not own the tractor-trailer involved in the accident, the plaintiff claimed that the cement company owed a duty in tort with regard to its participation in the design and construction of the intersection.

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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.

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In some personal injury cases, a plaintiff may still prevail against a careless driver even if the plaintiff was also partially at fault for the accident. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed this issue when reviewing a negligence claim on appeal in Stevenson v. Kelley (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Dec. 15, 2016). In Stevenson, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit after he was struck by a vehicle driven by the defendant. After a trial, the jury found that the defendant was negligent and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. It also found, however, that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the court should have instructed the jury on the doctrine of last clear chance.pylon

In Maryland, the law has adopted the principle of contributory negligence in civil claims. Pursuant to this principle, even if the defendant’s misconduct may have been the primary cause of the injury, a plaintiff cannot recover compensation if the proximate and immediate cause of the harm can be also traced to the plaintiff’s lack of ordinary care and caution. However, there is one exception to this rule. Under the doctrine of last clear chance, the plaintiff may recover if the defendant had a fresh opportunity to avoid the consequences of the plaintiff’s carelessness. The doctrine only applies if the acts of the parties were sequential, and the defendant had a chance to avoid the injury after the plaintiff acted negligently. It is not applicable when the plaintiff’s negligence is the last negligent act, or when the negligence of the parties occurs at the same time.

In Stevenson, the plaintiff was directing traffic around a motor vehicle collision that had occurred on the roadway. The defendant drove on the shoulder of the road to avoid the stopped traffic and take the next exit. The plaintiff attempted to stop the defendant from driving on the shoulder by waving his arms and walking over to his vehicle. Although the defendant slowed down, the plaintiff was struck by the defendant’s bumper on his right knee.

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