Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules Defendant’s Lack of Insurance Admitted in Error, Reverses Jury Award

In a case published earlier this year, Asphalt & Concrete Servs., Inc. v. Perry, 108 A.3d 558 (2015), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided the question of whether evidence of a defendant’s lack of liability insurance is admissible for purposes of establishing a negligent hiring claim.

The plaintiff sustained serious injuries after being struck by a dump truck while crossing an intersection. The dump truck was not covered by liability insurance at the time of the accident, as required by Maryland law. The plaintiff then brought a personal injury suit against the defendants, which included a claim of negligent hiring against ACS, the business that hired the trucking company to haul its materials. The jury verdict was in favor of the plaintiff, and he was awarded damages in the amount of $529,500. ACS appealed, claiming that the trial court erred in allowing evidence of the driver’s lack of insurance at trial.

Although lack of insurance is generally inadmissible to prove that a person acted negligently, it may be used for other purposes if it is relevant to the elements of the claim. For a negligent hiring claim, the court looked to whether the lack of insurance rendered the driver incompetent to do the job, and whether it was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The court stated that the lack of insurance coverage could be relevant to the first issue of the driver’s competence, depending on the job he performed. Since ACS was not allowed to have truck operators who did not produce insurance, the fact that the driver was uninsured did relate to his competence to transport materials on state highways. The driver’s lack of liability insurance, therefore, was relevant to whether the business employed a competent person.

In the second part of the court’s analysis, it looked to whether the employer’s negligence in hiring someone without liability insurance was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. To be liable for negligent hiring, the driver’s particular unfitness must be the cause of the harm. Proximate cause consists of (1) cause in fact, which is determined by the “but-for” test and the substantial factor test; and (2) legally cognizable cause. Legal causation often involves a determination of whether the injury was foreseeable. When cause in fact has been established, the court asks whether the defendant should be held liable for the injury in light of considerations of fairness and social policy.

To establish causation for a claim of negligent hiring, there must be evidence that the driver’s alleged unfitness was directly related to the way the plaintiff was harmed. The court found that the driver’s lack of insurance coverage did not cause the accident, but instead it was his negligent driving that caused the injury and damages to the plaintiff. Accordingly, the court held that, since the lack of insurance was not relevant to the claim of negligent hiring, the trial court was in error to admit such evidence.

The court recognized that insurance evidence can be highly prejudicial. It held that the admission of the driver’s lack of insurance coverage was reversible error because the jurors’ minds were likely not indifferent to the fact when determining liability, and it reversed the judgment and half-million dollar jury award.

The Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. assist victims of car crashes, medical malpractice, and other accidents in pursuing compensation against those responsible. To discuss your personal injury claim with our experienced attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules in Medical Malpractice Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 24, 2015

Maryland Court Allows Habit Evidence of Doctor in Medical Malpractice Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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