Maryland Court of Appeals Finds Sufficient Evidence Existed to Submit Plaintiff’s Claims to Jury

The Maryland Court of Appeals released a decision in the case of Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, which involved a collision between a police vehicle and a motorcycle, resulting in the death of the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist’s mother brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the police officer and other defendants, claiming negligence, gross negligence, battery, and a violation of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. At trial, the lower court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment at the close of the plaintiff’s case on all the claims except negligence. The jury returned a $3.5 million verdict for compensatory damages in favor of the plaintiff, which was reduced to $200,000 to comply with the damages cap under the Local Government Tort Claims Act. On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals found that there was sufficient evidence to submit the plaintiff’s other claims to the jury, and that the counts alleged might also support an award of punitive damages. The Maryland Court of Appeals subsequently granted a writ of certiorari to consider the questions raised by the parties.

In Maryland, negligence is defined as conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risks of harm. Gross negligence is more serious, and it occurs when a person inflicts injury intentionally or is so utterly indifferent to the rights of others that the person acts as if such rights did not exist. The distinction can be difficult to establish, since a legally sufficient case of ordinary negligence will frequently be enough to create a jury question of whether such negligence was or was not gross.

In Beall, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that based on the accident reconstruction evidence that demonstrated the speed of the police cruiser, the lack of exigent circumstances justifying the police officer’s pursuit, and the testimony of the officer that he saw the motorcyclist apply his brakes, a jury could have reasonably inferred that the defendant was acting recklessly and with gross negligence.

The court also found that the same conduct, in addition to other evidence presented by the plaintiff, was legally sufficient to permit a rational jury to conclude that the police officer’s actions were intentional. Battery requires proof that the defendant intended a harmful or offensive contact with another person without that person’s consent. The intent necessary to prove battery is not a specific desire to bring about a certain result, but instead a general intent to unlawfully invade another person’s physical well-being through a harmful or offensive contact, or an apprehension of such a contact. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant’s motion should not have been granted based on the alleged insufficiency of the plaintiff’s evidence.

Despite its holding, the court ruled that a new trial was not necessary, since none of the withheld claims would support the punitive damages request to the jury. In addition, because of the application of the Local Government Tort Claims Act, the compensatory damages verdict received by the plaintiff is the maximum amount of compensatory relief due under any or all of the causes of action advanced.

If you have been injured as a result of the negligent actions of another person, you may be able to pursue compensation for your damages. The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran have experience representing accident victims in a variety of cases, including auto accidents, motorcycle collisions, premises liability, medical malpractice, and more. To discuss your case with one of our skilled attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Appeals Upholds “Gap” Insurance Policy in Pedestrian Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 31, 2015

Maryland Court Rules in Favor of Insureds, Awards Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Moped and Motor Scooter Cases, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published December 14, 2015

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