Maryland Plaintiff Fails to Prove Causation in Negligence Action

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently ruled on an appeal in a personal injury case in Smith v. Chimes, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 5, 2016). The plaintiff in Smith was an intellectually disabled woman who participated in an employment program sponsored by one of the defendants. In November 2010, the plaintiff was being transported to her employment by bus when she broke her shinbone. The plaintiff alleged that she had struck another passenger on the bus because he would not stop touching her, and the passenger shoved her to the ground, causing her injury. The plaintiff also claimed that she had previously complained to the bus driver and employees of the defendant that another passenger on the bus frequently harassed and touched her.

In September 2013, the plaintiff brought claims against the defendants to recover compensation for that injury, as well as a second injury that occurred over a year later, contending that her knee was so weakened that it gave way and caused her to fall down the stairs. Specifically, the plaintiff brought negligence claims against the bus driver for failing to prevent the passenger from injuring her, failing to stop the passenger once the altercation was in progress, and ignoring the plaintiff’s request for medical attention after the injury. In addition, the plaintiff brought a claim against the bus driver’s employer on a theory of vicarious liability and negligent entrustment of the bus to the driver. The plaintiff filed negligence claims against the employment program as well, alleging vicarious liability on the basis of its contract to provide transportation to its employees.

To establish negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed her a duty, the defendant breached that duty, the defendant’s actions caused the injury to the plaintiff, and damages. In cases such as Smith, medical causation is a complicated medical question that requires expert proof, since the issue of causation is not within the common knowledge of an ordinary layperson.

In Smith, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment after discovery had been completed. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the claims concerning the second fall, as well as all claims against the employment program, finding that the parties’ relationship was that of an independent contractor. With regard to the remaining claims, the trial court found the plaintiff’s deposition testimony problematic, since it suggested several different ways in which she could have injured her knee, including versions that did not involve another passenger. In addition, while the plaintiff’s expert did testify that the plaintiff’s injuries were consistent with falling, he could not confirm how the injury occurred, nor what type of manner or fall would most likely have caused the injury. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to exclude the testimony of the expert and summary judgment on the remaining claims, which the plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals found no error with the trial court’s decision, holding that the plaintiff did not present sufficient admissible evidence to establish causation between her injuries and a negligent act or omission. The court noted that the testimony of the expert tended to suggest that the injury may not have resulted from a negligent act, and it ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting summary judgment.

The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have the experience and resources necessary to successfully represent individuals who have been injured in an accident. We have handled a variety of personal injury cases, including car accidents, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and others. To discuss your claim with a knowledgeable attorney, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Court of Appeals of Maryland Finds Underinsured Motorist Policy Applicable in Single Vehicle Car Accident Settlement Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 15, 2015

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