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Plaintiff’s Alleged Negligence No Bar to Recovery for Personal Injuries in Maryland Car Accident Case

A person who is injured in an auto accident may be able to recover damages against the negligent driver who caused the collision.  Negligence on the part of the injured driver is not necessarily a bar to recovering damages.  In a February 26, 2021 negligence case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland considered the effect of the plaintiff’s alleged negligence with respect to a multi-vehicle collision.

The plaintiff in the case was driving on a three-lane boulevard in rush hour traffic when her mini-van overheated and stalled in the right lane.  The road did not have any shoulder onto which she could move the van.  The driver of the car behind the plaintiff’s van attempted to move into the middle lane just as a pick-up truck from the far left lane merged into the same middle lane.  The truck collided with the car, causing the car to be propelled into the plaintiff’s stalled mini-van.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the drivers of the car and the truck, alleging negligence.  The defendants, in turn, claimed that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing the accident.  The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff had been negligent.  The plaintiff then appealed the decision.

On appeal, the question for the court was whether the plaintiff was barred, as a matter of law, from recovery against either defendant on the ground that she had been contributorily negligent.  The defendants argued that the plaintiff had known that the radiator of her van was broken, yet chose to drive across town on a summer day.  While the appeals court agreed that the plaintiff’s actions were negligent, the court explained that generic negligence, alone, is not enough.  Unless the plaintiff’s negligence was a proximate cause of the accident, it is not contributory.

In Maryland, there are two tests to determine causation: the “but for” test and the substantial factor test. The “but for” test applies in cases where there is only a single act of alleged negligence involved. When two or more independent negligent acts bring about an injury, however, the substantial factor test controls.  Causation may be found if it is more likely than not that the conduct at issue was a substantial factor in producing the plaintiff’s injuries.

The appeals court ultimately found that the circuit court erred by applying the “but for” test to the facts of the case, holding that the substantial factor test was controlling.  The court concluded that the defendants’ negligence in merging into each other superseded any potential negligence of the plaintiff, who was sitting passively in place when the accident occurred.  The court reversed the judgment, allowing the plaintiff to proceed with her suit.

If you are seeking advice after an injury, the negligence lawyers at Foran & Foran, P.A. can assist you.  We handle legal actions arising out of semi-truck and auto collisions, medical negligence, premises liability, and other personal injury accidents.  Schedule a free consultation with a skilled injury attorney by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

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