Maryland Court Orders New Trial in Personal Injury Case Due to Evidentiary Error

Generally, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the elements of a Maryland personal injury claim.  The evidence used in support of the claim must be admissible under the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure.  In an October 23, 2020 case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the circuit court erred by allowing testimony regarding a defendant’s salary into evidence.  The defendants brought the appeal after the jury returned a verdict finding the defendants negligent and awarded the plaintiff 2.2 million dollars in damages.

The plaintiff in the case had resided in property owned by the defendants from his birth until he was two years old.  During the plaintiff’s childhood, he was tested three times for the presence of lead in his blood.  Two of the tests taken while he was living at the property at issue revealed elevated levels of lead in his blood.

The plaintiff sued the companies that owned and managed the property and the president of the companies, alleging that their negligence in maintaining the property caused his exposure to and subsequent injuries from lead paint.  At trial, the president was called to testify.  Counsel for the plaintiff asked him to state his highest annual income while working for the defendants.  Over objection, the president provided his salary.  The plaintiff went on to win the case.

One of the issues argued by the defendants on appeal was that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of a defendant’s salary.  Pursuant to the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure, all relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by law or under the Rules.  Relevant evidence means evidence that tends to make the existence of a material fact more or less probable than without such evidence.  However, evidence that is relevant may nevertheless be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, misleading the jury, or confusion of the issues, among others.

On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals recognized that in Maryland, evidence of a party’s financial status is generally not relevant under the rules, with very few exceptions.  The court concluded that evidence of the defendant’s salary was not only irrelevant, but also prejudicial in that it suggested that the defendants had the financial means to pay the plaintiff for his alleged injuries.  The court also noted that at least one of the jurors audibly reacted to the amount.  The appeals court went on to find that the defendants were likely prejudiced by the erroneous admission of improper evidence and vacated the judgment.  The case was then remanded for a new trial.

If you were injured by a careless business, landlord, or other person, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses.  The Maryland personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran can provide legal advice to people who have been hurt in an accident or injured by negligence.  We handle premises liability cases, motor vehicle collisions, medical malpractice claims, and many other personal injury suits.  Schedule a consultation with one of our qualified attorneys by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

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