The Court of Appeals of Maryland recently explained its position regarding evidence of superseding causes of injury by non-parties in a medical malpractice case decided on May 24, 2017.  The family of a deceased patient sued several doctors and hospitals that had treated the patient before his stroke.  Before trial, the plaintiffs had settled with or dismissed their claims against all of the defendants except one radiologist and his employer.  The plaintiffs alleged that the doctor was negligent when interpreting the patient’s radiological images, leading to the patient’s fatal stroke six days later.  After the trial, the jury found in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiffs appealed.operating room

The key question for the Court of Appeals was whether the defendant could present evidence of negligence on the part of non-party doctors who had subsequently treated the patient as intervening and superseding causes of harm to the patient.  The plaintiffs argued that evidence of the non-parties’ negligence was irrelevant and immaterial to the issue of whether the defendant violated the standard of care in his treatment of the patient, and the evidence tended to mislead the jurors into believing the non-parties who had settled were the responsible parties, rather than the defendant.  The plaintiffs also contended that the trial court improperly applied the doctrine of intervening and superseding causes in the context of a medical negligence action involving acts of multiple concurrent tortfeasors.

The four elements required for a negligence action are duty, breach, causation, and damages.  Causation-in-fact may be found if it is more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in producing the plaintiff’s injuries.  However, the issue of superseding causation is not even relevant unless the antecedent negligence of a third person is a substantial factor in bringing about the injury and could not have been anticipated by the defendant.

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In many personal injury cases, the plaintiffs seek compensation for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses caused by the careless acts of another person or business.  In an important decision issued on May 31, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a jury verdict that found in favor of the plaintiffs on their negligence claim against the general contractor that built their home.  The plaintiff in the case was injured after a safety guardrail in his home failed, causing him to fall 12 to 13 feet onto the concrete below.wheelchair

After a trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $1,306,700 in damages, which was reduced by the statutory cap on noneconomic damages.  The defendant subsequently appealed the verdict.  On appeal, one of the defendant’s primary arguments was that it owed no duty to the plaintiffs to ensure the proper construction of the guardrail because the responsibility for its construction had been delegated to its sub-contractor.

In general, Maryland follows the rule that the employer of an independent contractor is not liable for physical harm caused to another party by an act or omission of the contractor or its employees.  However, there are many exceptions to this rule, most of which fall into three categories:  (1) negligence of the employer in selecting or supervising the contractor; (2) non-delegable duties of the employer; and (3) inherently dangerous work.

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Individuals who have been hurt while in the care or on the property of another person or business may be able to pursue compensation from negligent parties in a personal injury claim. A plaintiff in a recent case filed a negligence claim after she was injured while being loaded onto a Maryland Transportation Authority bus. She appealed the jury verdict, which found in favor of the defendant, and the case was reviewed by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in a May 10, 2017 opinion.


The defendant in the case was the employer of a Maryland Transportation Authority bus driver. The bus driver had assisted the plaintiff, who was in a wheelchair, in boarding the bus. After raising the steel lift to a height that would allow the plaintiff to move into the bus, the driver entered the bus to assist her from the inside. However, as the driver boarded the bus, the wheelchair tipped backwards, and the plaintiff fell on her back. The plaintiff claimed the driver’s employer was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employee.

The plaintiff had argued that the driver violated the defendant’s safety procedures and policies, which provided that operators are not permitted to leave passengers unattended on lifts in the upward position on inclines or ramps. The defendant contended that the driver did not actually leave her but attempted to follow the proper procedure by getting on the bus to pull the plaintiff’s wheelchair into the bus from the lift. At trial, both the driver and his supervisor testified that the driver’s actions complied with all of the defendant’s safety protocols and procedures. After the jury found that the driver was not negligent, the plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied by the trial court.

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In many cases, the law allows for family members to pursue compensation for the death or injury of their loved one by bringing an action against those responsible.  The Court of Appeals of Maryland recently examined a wrongful death action in an opinion issued on May 22, 2017.  The plaintiffs in the case were the mother and the minor son of the

In 2009, the victim in the case had been shot and killed by the defendant, while he was working as the defendant’s farmhand.  The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant buried the victim’s remains in order to conceal his wrongdoing.  In 2015, the plaintiffs filed their complaint against the defendant.  After the circuit court dismissed their claims as time-barred, the plaintiffs appealed.

A wrongful death action is brought for the benefit of the surviving family members to compensate for the losses occasioned by their family member’s death.  Maryland law provides that the time period for bringing a wrongful death action that accrues on behalf of a minor plaintiff is tolled during the period of minority.  On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the wrongful death action of the victim’s son was tolled during his period of minority, pursuant to this rule.  The court agreed, holding that the plain language of the rule provided for the tolling of a wrongful death claim until the age of majority, from which time the wrongful death action must be filed within three years.

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Family members may have legal recourse against someone who negligently caused their loved one’s serious injury or death.  In a May 2, 2017 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a medical malpractice and wrongful death action.  After her son committed suicide, the plaintiff filed suit against his doctor and the hospital, alleging that they had negligently discharged her son from involuntary inpatient psychiatric treatment and caused his death by suicide.skull

Following the trial, a jury awarded the plaintiff $6,112 in economic damages and $2,300,000 in non-economic damages, which were capped at $695,000, the statutory limit on non-economic damages imposed by Maryland law.  Despite the jury’s verdict, however, the trial court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the defendants.  The plaintiff appealed.

In order to prevail on a claim of medical malpractice in Maryland, a plaintiff must prove the applicable standard of care, that the standard of care was violated by the defendant, and that the violation proximately caused the injury for which damages are sought.  The duty of care in a medical malpractice action is to exercise the degree of care or skill expected of a reasonably competent health care provider in the same or similar circumstances.  Generally, the nature and scope of the duty owed and whether the standard of care was breached is proven by expert testimony.

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Pedestrians who are hit by motor vehicles can suffer serious injuries, often requiring expensive medical care for months or even years into the future.  In a May 9, 2017 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a car accident case involving a plaintiff who was struck by a vehicle.  The plaintiff filed negligence actions against the owner of the vehicle and the driver.  Since the plaintiff alleged the driver was uninsured, the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund/Uninsured Division was allowed to intervene in the action.backache

After the trial, the court found the driver, as the operator of the vehicle, liable for negligently striking the plaintiff as a pedestrian.  The court granted judgment in favor of the owner of the vehicle at the close of the plaintiff’s case, finding no agency relationship between the owner and the driver.  The circuit court awarded no damages, concluding that the plaintiff’s evidence of lost wages was legally insufficient, and there was no evidence that the plaintiff’s medical bills were fair, reasonable, and necessary.  The plaintiff brought the current appeal.

The plaintiff’s medical records and bills were admitted into evidence pursuant to the streamlined procedures permitted by Md. Code § 10-104.  Under that rule, as long as the health care provider’s opinion was adequately expressed in the written report, it would be considered without any supporting witness testimony from the health care provider.  As a result, plaintiffs may establish causation by submitting the proper records.  However, the appeals court explained that the mere admission of such records could not, by itself, function as proof of causation by a preponderance of the evidence.

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In many car accident cases, insurance companies become involved in the litigation, either in defending claims against their insureds or against themselves.  In a May 1, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland examined whether summary judgment was proper after misrepresentations made by the defendants’ insurance company caused the plaintiff to file his lawsuit outside the statute of crash

The action arose out of a car accident in which two of the defendants rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The two defendants and a third roommate lived together and were all insured through the same automobile insurance company.  The roommate was not in the car at the time of the accident.  However, following the accident, the insurance company contacted the plaintiff and identified the roommate as the insured party.

During subsequent communications with the plaintiff’s counsel, the insurance company acknowledged liability and paid for the plaintiff’s property damage claims under the roommate’s policy.  When the plaintiff was unable to resolve his injury claim with the insurance company, he filed suit against the roommate.  It was at this time that in-house counsel for the insurance company disclosed to the plaintiff that the actual driver was not the roommate.  The plaintiff immediately filed an amended complaint against the two defendants, but the statute of limitations had already expired.

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Businesses, as well as individuals, can be held accountable by law for injuries caused by their negligence.  In a March 22, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case involving the plaintiff’s exposure to lead pursuant to a study conducted by the defendant.  Some of the claims against the defendant were dismissed by the lower court before trial, and a jury found in favor of the defendant on all of the remaining claims.  The plaintiff brought an appeal, arguing several grounds for reversal.old paint

The defendant’s study, conducted from 1993 to 1999, was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants that were provided to evaluate and reduce lead-based paint hazards in housing.  The study involved research on the effectiveness of lead abatement measures in reducing lead contamination in homes, measured by the blood lead levels of minor children living in the homes that were part of the study.

A property group that, at the time, owned and managed approximately 200 low-income rental units in Baltimore City agreed to provide houses to be used for the study.  The plaintiff’s mother lived in one of the units and had signed a consent form that allowed the plaintiff (with whom she was pregnant at the time) to participate in the study.  Before the study commenced, the unit had tested positive for lead-based paint.  The defendant and property group paid for lead remediation work to be completed in the unit, which was intended to reduce but not completely remove all of the exposure to lead.  The unit did, however, pass Maryland’s post-abatement clearance standards at the time.  The plaintiff’s blood lead level rose steadily from when he was 11 months to three and a half years old while living in the unit and participating in the study.

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In many personal injury cases, procedural rules may require the plaintiff to produce specific types of evidence to prove his or her legal claim.  In an opinion released on April 17, 2017, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the plaintiffs could proceed with their negligence claims against an amusement park on the theory of res ipsa loquitur.  The plaintiffs were injured on a river ride during a visit to the defendant’s amusement park in 2011.  The incident occurred after a raft on the ride became stuck for an unknown reason and collided with the raft occupied by the plaintiffs.  The matter was brought on appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.amusement park

Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to present a prima facie case when direct evidence of the cause of an accident is not available or is available solely to the defendant, and circumstantial evidence permits the jury to infer that the defendant’s negligence was the cause.  Under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the factfinder may draw an inference of negligence if the plaintiff proves three elements:  (1) the plaintiff suffered an injury that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence; (2) the injury was caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control; and (3) the injury was not caused by any act or omission by the plaintiff.  Typically, the common knowledge of jurors is sufficient to support an inference or finding of negligence on the part of a defendant.  However, in some cases, expert testimony is required to establish negligence and causation.

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Injuries that are caused by the careless actions of more than one person may give rise to legal recourse against multiple defendants.  In a March 17, 2017 wrongful death decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether the county was liable for the death of a two-year old child in foster care.  The plaintiff filed the appeal after the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the county.blinds

In 2007, as a result of the county’s determination that the child was in need of assistance, the circuit court ordered that he be placed in a foster home.  At the foster home, the child’s room had a window covered with venetian blinds, which were controlled by two single-tassel cords.  Although the blind cords were usually hung on a nail at the top of the window, the child became entangled in the blind cords and subsequently died from strangulation in 2009.  The biological mother of the child filed a wrongful death action against the county for failing to properly supervise and protect the child.  The circuit court ruled that the facts did not give rise to a common law or statutory duty that the county owed to the child.

In Maryland, a negligence action requires a plaintiff to establish four elements:  a duty owed by the defendant, a breach of that duty, a causal relationship between the breach and the harm suffered, and damages.  Generally, government entities do not owe a tort duty to the world at-large.  A government entity can be liable in tort, however, if it takes an affirmative step to create a duty.  That duty can be created in two ways:  (1) legally, by adopting a statute; or (2) factually, by creating a special relationship.

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