Maryland Jury Denies Compensation for Passenger Involved in Drunk Driving Accident

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed the legal concept of assumption of risk in a recent car accident case involving intoxicated driving. In Evans v. Shores (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Sept. 8, 2016), the plaintiff was aware the defendant had been drinking when she got into his truck. The defendant crashed the vehicle into a ditch, injuring the plaintiff. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendant for her injuries. Following a trial, the jury found that the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries when she agreed to ride with him. The plaintiff subsequently appealed.

To establish a negligence claim in Maryland, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed her a duty of care, the defendant failed to adhere to that duty, the plaintiff was injured as a result, and the plaintiff suffered damages. However, if the plaintiff was also negligent in causing her injuries, she may be barred from recovery. Similarly, if the plaintiff agreed to expose herself to the risk of danger, she may not win in a negligence claim.

The test in determining voluntary assumption of the risk is whether there was an intentional and unreasonable exposure to danger, which the plaintiff either knew or had reason to know. Generally, a passenger is not negligent in riding with an intoxicated driver if she is unaware he is intoxicated, or she does not notice any facts that would arouse the suspicions of a person of ordinary prudence. Whether a plaintiff was contributorily negligent in entrusting her safety to the driver is typically a question submitted to the jury.

In Evans, the plaintiff and the defendant had been drinking together on the night of the accident. The defendant picked up the plaintiff from her home that evening, and they went to a bar, where the defendant had three beers, and they both had shots. They later left to go to a house party, before which the defendant purchased an 18-pack of beer. After many drinks in only a few hours, the defendant was driving the plaintiff home when the accident occurred.

On appeal, the court concluded that the jury could find that the plaintiff knew or should have known that the defendant was not fit to drive, based on the length of time that the two were partying, the small number of people at each location, the mixing of shots with beer, the defendant’s consumption of alcohol, and the plaintiff’s knowledge of the risk of driving after excessive drinking. In addition, once she got into the truck, it took the defendant several tries to back out of the driveway, prompting many other partygoers to ask whether he was okay to drive. However, the plaintiff did not attempt to leave the vehicle. The court therefore affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Filing a lawsuit against the negligent party who caused your injuries may help you recover damages for medical expenses and other losses. At Foran & Foran, P.A., our personal injury attorneys provide legal advice to individuals throughout Maryland. We regularly represent plaintiffs in cases involving auto accidents, medical negligence, and other injury claims. To schedule an appointment with one of our skilled accident attorneys, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

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

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Rules Policy Exclusion Valid to Deny PIP Benefits, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 2, 2016

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