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Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In some Maryland car accident cases, financial losses from personal injuries and property damage may be covered by more than one type of insurance policy.  In a September 29, 2021 case, the question for the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland was whether the liability limits of an auto insurance policy and an umbrella insurance policy could be combined, despite the household exclusion contained therein.

The case arose out of a tragic car accident that seriously injured the plaintiff and claimed the lives of her parents and sibling.  It occurred as plaintiff’s father was driving the family to a high school play.  As he made a left turn, their vehicle was struck by a sedan traveling at approximately 115 miles per hour.

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff’s father had a primary auto liability policy and an umbrella liability policy issued by the insurance company named as the defendant in the case.  The primary policy had a liability coverage limit of $500,000 for personal injuries and property damage for each accident.  The umbrella policy had a coverage limit of $2 million in excess of the automobile liability coverage.  The umbrella policy also contained a household exclusion provision, which stated that the policy did not cover claims for injuries to any person related to an insured by blood, marriage, or adoption residing in the household of the insured.

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Personal injuries occurring on construction sites often involve independent contractors, sub-contractors, and their respective employees.  Whether a property owner and/or another sub-contractor on site may be held liable for these types of accidents was the question for the Court of Special Appeals in an October 1, 2021 Maryland wrongful death case.

The case involved the tragic death of a young construction worker who was killed when an excavation wall collapsed on the job site.  The decedent was the employee of a contractor hired by the City to fix a clogged pipe buried deep in the ground.  Although the contractor who employed the decedent was negligent in failing to ensure that the excavation wall was properly supported, legal action against was barred by Maryland workers’ compensation laws.  Instead, the decedent’s family filed suit against the City and another sub-contractor working on the site.  The plaintiffs claimed that the City was liable for the decedent’s death by failing to hire a qualified contractor to properly and safely do the job, and that the sub-contractor was liable by failing to ensure that the work was performed safely and appropriately.

As a general rule, the employer of an independent contractor is not liable for physical harm caused to another by the acts and omissions of a contractor and the contractor’s employees.  The lack of liability is often a major reason one would hire an independent contractor, rather than having one’s own employee do the job.  There are many exceptions under Maryland law, however, which were considered by the court on appeal.

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In a recent Maryland wrongful death case, a tragic construction accident resulted in the death of a worker who was rigging a modular unit.  The decedent’s estate brought a negligence and wrongful death action against several defendants, including another subcontractor assisting with the construction.  After the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed the decision in a July 28, 2021 opinion.

The decedent was a construction rigger for a subcontractor working on a new building on a school campus.  The building was constructed using prefabricated modular structures, which were lowered by a crane into a concrete foundation and welded together.  As the rigger on site, the decedent was responsible for planning the lifting configuration of the modular units.  Before the operation began, the defendant expressed safety concerns about the use of nylon straps and other equipment to secure and lift the unit into the foundation.  The operation proceeded as planned, however, and the unit was lifted while the decedent guided the crane operator.  After signaling to stop, the decedent moved to release the ratchet strap underneath the unit.  A few seconds later, the nylon straps severed, causing the unit to fall and trap the decedent.

 To succeed on a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove that he was owed a duty by the defendant, the defendant breached such duty, the plaintiff was injured, and the defendant’s breach proximately caused the injuries.  Even if all elements of negligence are proven, a plaintiff will be completely barred from recovery if the defendant establishes that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.  

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In Maryland, a property owner generally is under no duty to protect another person from criminal acts of a third party that occur on the property.  There are exceptions, however.  In a July 2, 2021 wrongful death case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals explained the kinds of circumstances that would be necessary to hold a property owner liable for crimes committed by a third party against a tenant leasing the premises.

The decedent in the case was killed during a robbery that took place at a retail store while he was working as the manager.  The store was in a Maryland strip mall, where there was a long history of criminal activity on the parking lot, including a murder committed the month before.  The decedent’s family brought wrongful death claims against the owner of the shopping center, alleging that it knew of the dangerous criminal activity and negligently failed to take security measures to protect the occupants of leased premises from foreseeable criminal acts of third persons committed inside those stores.

The circuit court dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, ruling that, as a matter of law, the shopping center did not owe a duty to protect the decedent from the criminal acts of third persons committed on a store’s leased premises.  An appeal followed.

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Reckless or negligent driving can cause accidents that result in serious injuries or even death to passengers.  In a March 8, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a wrongful death case arising out of a fatal car accident.  The wife of the decedent filed the lawsuit against the police officers involved in a high-speed chase that led up to the vehicle collision.  After a jury awarded damages of over $475,000 to the plaintiff, the trial court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the defendants, effectively negating the jury verdict.  The plaintiff appealed the issue to the higher court.

On the night of the accident, the defendant was pulling over a motorist for driving after dark without headlights on.  The defendant called for back up after noticing that the driver had not put his SUV in park, and a second officer pulled up shortly thereafter.  At that point, the driver drove away and accelerated at a high rate of speed.  The defendant gave a thumbs up and yelled to a third officer who had just arrived to “go, go!”  The officers were pursuing the SUV when the driver lost control, went airborne, and crashed into the decedent’s car.

At trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence that the high speed chase of the driver was prohibited by a written policy of the police department.  The jury found the defendant negligent in instituting a police pursuit of the driver, which resulted in the fatal accident and death of the decedent.  After the verdict, the defendant argued that he was entitled to statutory immunity.  The trial court granted judgment for the defendant after ruling that he was immune based on common law and Maryland law.

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Property owners generally have a duty to exercise care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions on the premises.  In a January 28, 2021 Maryland wrongful death case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland explained the circumstances under which a property owner may be held liable for the criminal acts of a third party.

The lawsuit was brought by the estates of two teenagers who were shot and killed by an unknown assailant while standing outside of an apartment building owned by the defendant.  Prior to the teens’ deaths, the defendant had known of prior violent crimes occurring outside of the apartment buildings, common areas, and parking areas.  The plaintiffs claimed that in light of the history of crime at the apartment complex, the defendant was negligent in failing to take sufficient security measures to protect them from criminal activity at the complex.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the plaintiffs appealed.

In a negligence action in Maryland, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss as a proximate result of the defendant’s breach of that duty.

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Under certain circumstances, a person may have a duty to protect another individual from the criminal acts of a third party.  An appeals court examined the relationship needed to establish this type of liability in a November 23, 2020, Maryland wrongful death case.

The plaintiff in the case was the wife and personal representative of the estate of her husband.  The plaintiff and her late husband worked for the defendants at a non-denominational church facility, where religious groups held retreats and services.  A man was brought to the facility by his mother to stay for about a month.  His mother had warned the pastor of her son’s mental issues and violent behavior towards her and based on his demeanor.  The plaintiff also expressed concerns to the pastor that he shouldn’t stay at the facility.  One evening, the assailant sat next to the plaintiff and her late husband at a prayer service.  After a few minutes, he began stabbing the plaintiff and her husband, who later died from the injuries he sustained.

The plaintiff filed suit against the facility and its owners, alleging that they were negligent in failing to provide proper safety measures on the premises, failing to supervise guests, and failing to ensure that the invitees of the retreat did not present any danger to others.  After the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff appealed.

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A Maryland wrongful death action based on the negligence of police or law enforcement officers generally has a higher burden of proof than a typical negligence claim.  In a September 24, 2020 wrongful death case arising out of a police shooting, the Maryland Court of Special Appeal considered whether summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the police officer.

The defendant in the case attempted to pull over the decedent, who was driving an SUV that matched the description of a vehicle that had eluded the police weeks ago after a high-speed chase.  The decedent sped away, with the defendant following him through a residential neighborhood.  The decedent then got out of the SUV, kicked in the door of a townhouse, and ran upstairs.  The police officer testified that after he ordered the decedent to come down, the decedent rushed down the stairs quickly and aggressively, leading the officer to believe that he was attempting to take his weapon.  The defendant stated that although he fired his weapon at the decedent, the decedent continued down the stairs and grabbed him.  During the struggle, the officer fired several shots, and the decedent ultimately died from a gunshot wound to his chest.

The survivors of the decedent brought a wrongful death claim against the police officer.  The trial court, finding that the officer had acted reasonably, granted judgment in favor of the defendant.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that the issue of reasonableness should have been determined by a jury.

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The surviving family members of a decedent may bring a wrongful death action against the person responsible for the death of their loved one by working with a Maryland personal injury attorney.  When negligence is alleged against a municipality or law enforcement officers, they may be held to a different legal standard.  In a July 20, 2020 case, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed a wrongful death claim against the county and a police officer.  One of the issues on appeal was whether summary judgment was property granted in favor of the defendants as to the gross negligence of the officer.

The plaintiffs in the case were the parents of a 17-month-old child.  The police officer was pursuing a suspect who had fled the scene of a hit-and-run accident at a high rate of speed.  The officer was driving at an average speed of 90 miles per hour to keep up with the suspect, in a residential and commercial area.  The car chase ended when the suspect ran a red light and struck another vehicle.  That vehicle was forced onto the curb, where it struck a stroller carrying the plaintiffs’ child.

The plaintiffs sued the county and the police officer, alleging gross negligence and wrongful death, among other claims.  The defendants claimed immunity from liability under Maryland law.  After the lower court granted summary judgment for the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed on multiple grounds.

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When a person’s death was caused by negligence, the surviving family members may bring a Maryland wrongful death action against the responsible party.  In some cases, however, the law grants immunity to certain people and entities.  In a July 24, 2020 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the defendant, a mental health care provider, was statutorily immune from liability with respect to the plaintiffs’ wrongful death suit.

The plaintiffs in the case were the family of a thirteen-year-old child who was shot and killed by a psychiatric patient who had absconded from a mental health care center.  The patient had been admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital after his arrest for armed robbery, fleeing the scene, and engaging in a stand-off with police.  Armed law enforcement officers were not allowed in the area of the hospital where the patient was being treated, although the hospital was notified that the patient would be arrested upon his discharge.  A few days after his admission to the center, the patient, still in a hospital gown, walked out of his room and left the building.  Eleven days later, the patient shot and killed the victim.

The plaintiffs brought a wrongful death and survival action against the center and other defendants, alleging that they were negligent in failing to prevent the patient from leaving the hospital eleven days prior to the shooting.  The center argued that as a mental health care provider, it is immune from civil liability for failing to provide protection from a patient’s violent behavior.  The circuit court agreed and dismissed the claims, and the plaintiffs filed the instant appeal.

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