Maryland Court Finds Error in Admission of Past Traffic Offenses in Auto Accident Case

In an interesting car accident case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a negligence claim against the county for its failure to maintain a stop sign. In particular, the court took issue with a line of questioning involving the plaintiff’s previous traffic offenses and the prejudicial influence it had on the jury.

In McKenzie v. Anne Arundel Cty. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Aug. 17, 2016), the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident after driving from a residential street into a highway. In 1995, the Department of Public Works installed a stop sign on the privately owned street. However, it was no longer in place at the time of the accident in 2010. After the collision, the county replaced the stop sign. The plaintiff filed an action against the county, asserting that it negligently failed to maintain a stop sign at the intersection of the residential street. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the county.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by permitting testimony concerning her driving record. During the defendant’s cross-examination, the plaintiff had been asked about her driving history, including questions regarding a previous conviction of unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle while using a handheld cell phone, and suspension of her driver’s license. The plaintiff alleged that the introduction of past instances of negligence was a violation of the Maryland Rules of Evidence. The defendant argued that the line of questioning was intended to impeach the plaintiff’s testimony that she was a safe driver.

Pursuant to Rule 5-404, evidence of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that the person acted in accordance with the character or trait on a particular occasion. However, such evidence may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, common scheme or plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

In McKenzie, the court agreed with the plaintiff, explaining that in civil cases involving negligence there can be no question of motive or intent, and the relevancy of traffic violations can hardly be maintained. The court found the record revealed that the county’s only purpose in inquiring about the plaintiff’s perception of herself as a safe driver was to impeach her with prior traffic violations. The court ultimately held that this line of questioning was impermissibly prejudicial, since the jury may very well have concluded that since the plaintiff had previously acted in violation of traffic laws, she did so in the accident at issue. As a result, and after finding additional errors regarding the jury instructions, the court reversed the judgment.

If your accident was caused by the negligence of another person, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries. At Foran & Foran, P.A., our personal injury attorneys provide legal advice and representation to Maryland individuals seeking guidance after auto accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and other injuries caused by negligence. To learn more from one of our dedicated accident attorneys, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Orders Insurance Company to Cover Loss for Wrongful Death Claims Arising Out of Car Accident, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 17, 2016

Maryland Court Affirms Verdict for Plaintiff in Car Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 15, 2016

Contact Information