In some Maryland personal injury suits, the failure to follow procedural rules can have a detrimental impact on the outcome of the case. In a November 30, 2020 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether it was appropriate for a trial court to sanction the plaintiffs’ failure to respond to discovery by dismissing their case.
The plaintiffs in the case were a married couple who brought suit against their neighbor, alleging that his negligence had caused the wife to suffer a serious head injury. The injury arose when the neighbor had asked the plaintiffs to assist him in retrieving a rowboat at the bottom of a rocky embankment. Attempting a makeshift pulley system, the neighbor tied a climbing rope to the trailer hitch of his SUV, while the husband tied the other end to the rowboat. The neighbor then wrapped the rope around a large boulder and asked the wife to watch the rope. As the neighbor moved the boat, the rope dislodged and struck the wife in her chest. The force of the rope catapulted her over an adjacent retaining wall and into the rocky embankment.
The husband rushed to his wife and told the neighbor to call 911. While waiting for emergency services, they moved the wife back home. The husband asked the neighbor about the ambulance, and the neighbor stated he never called because he didn’t have his cell phone. The husband then contacted emergency services, which arrived minutes later. The wife was airlifted to a hospital and placed into a medically induced coma for six days but survived following a long recovery.
The plaintiffs filed a negligence lawsuit against the neighbor. Due to various issues, including a conflict of interest for the first law firm and their next attorney leaving the second firm, the plaintiffs failed to respond to the defendant’s discovery requests and a court order compelling them to do so. The trial court then ordered the dismissal of the case as a sanction, over the objection of the plaintiffs.
On appeal, the court cited five factors for a trial court to consider in determining sanctions for a discovery violation: (1) whether the violation was technical or substantial; (2) the timing of the responses; (3) the reason for the violation; (4) the degree of prejudice to the parties; and (5) whether any resulting prejudice might be cured by postponement, and if so, the overall desirability of a continuance.
After reviewing the case, the appeals court concluded that dismissal was an abuse of discretion and reversed the order. The appeals court reasoned that plaintiffs had come to the sanction hearing with most of the requested discovery, that the trial deadlines were still several months away, and that a continuance was reasonable under the circumstances, as the delay was due to personal problems of their second attorney, not the plaintiffs themselves. The case was then remanded for further proceedings.
At Foran & Foran, our Maryland premises liability lawyers can provide guidance and legal representation to people who have been injured as a result of negligence. Request a free consultation by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.