Accidents can be caused by negligence of more than one person. In some Maryland personal injury cases, the damages are apportioned to each defendant by fault. Unfortunately, this may result in reduced damages when one of the defendants is the local government, as illustrated in an April 14, 2020 case. The plaintiff was awarded over 2.6 million in damages for personal injuries after a jury found the City and contractor negligent. However, because the City’s negligence was a superseding cause to the contractor’s negligence, the contractor was released from liability, and the damage award was reduced pursuant to the Local Government Tort Claims Act.
The facts of the case are as follows. In 2007, the City hired the contractor to restore a ball field. The project included installation of wooden bollards along the adjacent public road, with a barrier gate to allow restricted access from the roadway into the park. The project was completed in 2011. In April of 2014, the plaintiff in the case sustained severe injuries when his car collided with the barrier gate, which had swung open into the roadway. At trial, the evidence established that the gate was not constructed in conformance with the blueprints created by the architect.
In Maryland, a plaintiff must prove four elements to prevail in a claim of negligence: 1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to conform to a certain standard of care; 2) the defendant breached this duty; 3) actual damage to the plaintiff; and 4) causation. The City is generally allowed immunity for governmental and discretionary acts, such as the maintenance of a public park. However, a municipality has a private proprietary obligation to maintain its streets, as well as the sidewalks, footways and the areas contiguous to them, in a reasonably safe condition.
Both the City and the plaintiff appealed the jury verdict. On appeal, the court declined to hear the plaintiff’s primary challenge because it was not properly preserved. The court went on to consider the City’s argument that the plaintiff failed to establish negligence on its part.
After reviewing the evidence, the court held that the evidence was sufficient for a jury to decide that the City was negligent in accepting a gate that was constructed inconsistent with the plans, and in a manner that posed a reasonable potential for hazard to motorists on the roadway. Further, the court found that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to determine that there was no stop on the gatepost, and the only thing keeping it from swinging open was a lock put on by the park maintenance crew. Those factors, coupled with the deviations that effectively removed the design’s safeguards, created a question for the jury to determine whether that danger then created actual hazards on the public way. The verdict and damages award were therefore affirmed.
At Foran & Foran, our Maryland personal injury lawyers can provide legal advice and representation for injury claims. We handle injuries arising from medical malpractice, semi-truck and auto collisions, premises liability, and other accidents caused by negligent individuals or businesses. If you have questions concerning your legal recourse after an injury, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney.