Maryland Plaintiff Seeks New Trial on Appeal of Alleged Police Battery Case

When bringing a legal action in Maryland, it is important that the initial filing, known as the Complaint, contain all of the allegations that are relevant and essential to the claims asserted.  In a May 4, 2021 personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether a trial court properly excluded testimony of material facts that were not specifically alleged in the Complaint.  The plaintiff had brought the action against two police officers, alleging claims for battery, negligence, and punitive damages, among others.

The plaintiff in the case had been involved in a motor vehicle accident and was waiting at a nearby gas station with the other driver as law enforcement arrived.  One of the responding officers, allegedly smelling marijuana and alcohol, conducted a search of the plaintiff.  Although details of the ensuing altercation between the officer and the plaintiff were disputed, it ultimately resulted in the plaintiff being tasered, arrested, and charged with several crimes, which were later dropped by the state attorney.

In a deposition before trial, the plaintiff stated that he was kicked and punched, in addition to being tasered.  When the plaintiff testified as to the same allegations at trial, the defense objected.  The trial court granted the objection, finding that the testimony was irrelevant insofar as such acts were not alleged in the Complaint.  After the jury found for the defendants, the plaintiff appealed.

In order to recover punitive damages in any Maryland tort action, facts sufficient to show actual malice must be pled.  In the instant case, the plaintiff requested punitive damages in his Complaint and also pled to the use of taser as evidence of battery and excessive force, but failed to include details of being punched and kicked.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he should have been allowed to testify about the physical blows because the defendants were on notice of those allegations through his deposition.
The appeals court concluded that, although the defendants may have been aware of the allegations, failing to include them in the Complaint did not provide adequate notice to the defendants that the plaintiff sought to introduce such evidence to prove actual malice for punitive damages.  Because those allegations were essential to punitive damages, the court held that they should have been pled in accordance with Maryland law.
The court went on to find that, even if the trial court erred by excluding the testimony, the error was harmless because it did not provide any clarity as to who inflicted the battery and excessive use of force on the plaintiff.  Without being able to attribute the acts to either defendant, the court concluded it was unlikely that the jury verdict would have changed in favor of the plaintiff.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland injury attorneys have the experience and dedication to help you pursue legal action after an accident.  We can advise people who have been injured by medical malpractice, reckless car or truck drivers, premises liability accidents, and other types of negligence.  Schedule an appointment to discuss your case with a qualified lawyer by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

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