Reckless or negligent driving can cause accidents that result in serious injuries or even death to passengers. In a March 8, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a wrongful death case arising out of a fatal car accident. The wife of the decedent filed the lawsuit against the police officers involved in a high-speed chase that led up to the vehicle collision. After a jury awarded damages of over $475,000 to the plaintiff, the trial court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the defendants, effectively negating the jury verdict. The plaintiff appealed the issue to the higher court.
On the night of the accident, the defendant was pulling over a motorist for driving after dark without headlights on. The defendant called for back up after noticing that the driver had not put his SUV in park, and a second officer pulled up shortly thereafter. At that point, the driver drove away and accelerated at a high rate of speed. The defendant gave a thumbs up and yelled to a third officer who had just arrived to “go, go!” The officers were pursuing the SUV when the driver lost control, went airborne, and crashed into the decedent’s car.
At trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence that the high speed chase of the driver was prohibited by a written policy of the police department. The jury found the defendant negligent in instituting a police pursuit of the driver, which resulted in the fatal accident and death of the decedent. After the verdict, the defendant argued that he was entitled to statutory immunity. The trial court granted judgment for the defendant after ruling that he was immune based on common law and Maryland law.
As an initial matter, the appeals court found that the trial court erred by relying on common law public official immunity, because the ground had not been asserted by the defendant in the motion. The court then went on to analyze whether the defendant was immune pursuant to the Maryland statute for emergency vehicle operators.
Under Maryland law, the authorized operator of an emergency vehicle is immune from liability for damages resulting from their negligence while operating the vehicle in the performance of emergency service. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the statute did not apply because the defendant was not operating his police vehicle when he instituted the police pursuit. The appeals court agreed, reasoning that, insofar as the jury appeared to find that the defendant was standing on the road outside of his patrol car when he signaled to give chase, the statute for emergency vehicle operators did not apply. The court therefore reinstated the jury verdict and damages award for the plaintiff.
If you or a loved one have been hurt in an accident, the personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can provide legal guidance. Our Maryland lawyers handle a range of negligence cases, from medical malpractice and wrongful death actions to automobile collisions and slip and fall accidents. Request a free consultation to discuss your injury by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or submitting our contact form online.