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Over 450,000 school buses transport about 25 million children to and from school every weekday in the United States. While the majority of these trips happen without any issues or injuries, school buses are unfortunately susceptible to involvement in car and truck accidents just as all other vehicles are. For example, shocking footage of a tragic accident in Columbus, Ohio was recently released, showing a catastrophic crash from the inside of a school bus. The crash occurred in December 2019, when a person driving on the road ran a red light and hit the bus, causing it to veer off of the road and flip on its side. The children and the two drivers did sustain injuries, but fortunately, no one was killed in the crash. Maryland school bus accidents are unfortunately far too common.

School bus accidents demonstrate that drivers aren’t the only ones at risk when someone behaves recklessly on the road. Maryland car and truck accidents can have a significant and catastrophic impact on both drivers and their passengers, such as children riding to and from school on a school bus. According to recent statistics compiled by the National Safety Council, school bus crashes killed 117 people nationwide in 2018 and injured many more. These crashes can also seriously injure pedestrians and drivers and passengers in other vehicles, particularly due to school buses’ size.

Some may think that because many of the victims of these accidents are often underage school children that there may not be litigation in the aftermath. But that is not actually the case. While young children cannot feasibly bring a suit themselves, suits are frequently brought on their behalf in both state and federal court, seeking damages for their injuries from the party responsible for the accident. Oftentimes these suits are brought by the injured child’s parents, who have been financially burdened by their child’s medical bills and are seeking compensation. Parents and/or the family’s estate may also bring wrongful death suits in the tragic case that a child is killed in an accident, where they may recover for pain and suffering, burial and funeral costs, and more. Family members considering bringing such a suit are advised to consult with a Maryland personal injury attorney to maximize their chances of successfully navigating an oftentimes difficult area of the law.

In 2017, distracted driving killed more than 3,000 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The problem has become increasingly common in Maryland and throughout the country over the past decade, posing a serious danger to Maryland drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Handheld devices have become commonplace, and research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that for some drivers, the use of advanced driver technology in vehicles made those drivers more likely to engage in distracted driving.

In Maryland, the use of a handheld phone while driving is prohibited. Yet, the use of handheld devices remains prevalent. Maryland law enforcement officers issued more than 34,000 citations for use of a cell phone and more than 1,800 for texting while driving in 2016. Montgomery County, Maryland has tried to take the law a step further by recently introducing a proposal to install cameras to catch distracted drivers and mail out tickets to them, as used for some red light cameras.

All Maryland drivers must generally exercise reasonable care under the circumstances presented. Distracted driving can form the basis for a case against a distracted driver, which would normally be founded in negligence. A plaintiff has to prove the following in a Maryland negligence claim: the defendant had a legal duty to the plaintiff; the defendant failed to meet the duty; the plaintiff suffered damages; and, the defendant’s failure to meet the duty caused the plaintiff’s damages.

In the unfortunate event of a Maryland truck accident, if an employee was behind the wheel, in some circumstances the employer may be able held liable as well. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be liable for the wrongful acts of its employees, as long as the acts were committed while acting within the scope of employment. The doctrine attributes the acts to the employer even without any wrongdoing on the part of the employer. Instead, the employer is held liable based only on the employer-employee relationship. Under Maryland law, an employer may be sued without suing the employee. The doctrine is meant to hold employers accountable for the actions of an employee because the employee is acting in the employer’s interest and also because the employer often can bear the financial loss better than an employee.

One recent case before a state appellate court illustrated the limits of respondeat superior. In that case, a car crash left a woman dead and her daughter injured. The crash occurred after the tire of another car separated from the car, crossed the median and hit the mother’s car. The husband of the woman (and father of the daughter) filed lawsuits against the driver, his employer, and other parties. According to the court’s opinion, as the employee was driving, another vehicle suddenly came into his travel lane and to avoid a collision, and he quickly changed lanes, causing his tire to come off. The plaintiff claimed that the driver failed to maintain the truck in a safe operating condition and that the employer was vicariously liable. The driver recently did work on his car and had removed the wheels. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment to be dismissed, but the trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the employer argued that the driver was not driving negligently at the time of the collision. The driver of the vehicle worked as a construction technician. That day, he drove to a warehouse for work, and then drove with a co-worker to a job site. They left the job site and were driving to a guitar store before they had to be at the next job site. He and his co-worker both said that they did not notice anything wrong with the car.

Under Maryland law, trucks and other motor vehicles are required to carry a certain amount of liability coverage under their insurance policies. The state of Maryland regulates insurance policies, including uninsured motorist policies. Under the Maryland Insurance Code, uninsured motorists are defined as motor vehicles of which the “ownership, maintenance, or use” has resulted in the injury or death of an insured, and for which the liability limits for the injuries are less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute, or the limits have been reduced by other payments to an amount less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute. In Maryland truck accidents involving uninsured motorists, who may not carry sufficient coverage, can make recovery more difficult for accident victims.

In one recent case, the Supreme Court of Virginia considered whether an uninsured motorist provision covered the injuries of a special needs child who was injured on a school bus. In that case, the child, who was 10 years old, had autism and was not able to speak. The bus driver and an aide allegedly kicked, choked, and elbowed another student on the bus, and hit the plaintiff more than once during the incident. Both students were restrained by special needs harnesses. The plaintiff requested a determination by the court that the uninsured motorist provision in the policy provided coverage for his injuries. The bus’s insurance policy contained an uninsured motorist provision, which covered the insured’s damages for bodily injuries that arose out of the “ownership, maintenance, or use” of the uninsured motor vehicle.

The issue before the court was whether the injuries arose out of the use of the school bus as a means of transportation. The court found there was no causal connection between the boy’s injuries and the use of the school bus as a means of transportation. The court found that because the alleged conduct was criminal, it was not a foreseeable risk of transporting a child to school, and was not within the bus’s policy.

Anytime someone is injured in a Maryland truck accident, they have the ability to file a civil suit against the person or party responsible for the crash. However, there may sometimes be confusion about where they can bring that suit when the crash happened in a different state than the one where the victim resides. Maryland residents traveling for work or pleasure might be injured while in other states. When this happens, they may mistakenly believe they cannot ever bring suit in Maryland because the crash occurred elsewhere. This is not true. While the laws regarding personal jurisdiction—where someone can be sued—are complicated, there are many times where a Maryland victim can sue in Maryland, even if the crash happened in another state.

This is especially important to remember when crashes occur on a highway, because many of the victims may not be residents of the state in which the crash occurred. For example, a bus, three semi-trailers, and a car were all recently involved in a massive multi-vehicle crash in Pennsylvania. According to a local news report covering the tragic accident, the incident occurred early on Sunday morning on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A tour bus was traveling downhill on a curve when it hit an embankment. Then, a UPS truck, the two FedEx trucks, and the passenger car, all of which were behind the tour bus, hit it from behind and caused it to topple on its side, causing the massive multi-vehicle crash.

The magnitude of the crash was reflected in the tragic fatalities and injuries—at least five people were killed, including a 9-year-old boy, and 60 others were taken to local hospitals with injuries. First responders called the accident a “mass casualty incident.” In the aftermath, 86 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed in all directions for several hours.

When there is an accident involving many vehicles and people, it often means that the legal case will involve many parties. More than one party may be to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries—including the plaintiff. If a plaintiff is alleged to be even partially at fault, Maryland truck accident victims must understand the effect of the doctrine of contributory negligence.

The doctrine of contributory negligence applies in Maryland accident cases. Under this doctrine, if a plaintiff is found to be at fault for their own damages, even partially, the plaintiff is barred from recovering from any other party for their damages. Each party has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances presented. Every driver must exercise the degree of care that a person of ordinary prudence would exercise under the circumstances, including in emergency situations. Maryland accident victims often have to work hard to defend their lack of fault in injury claims in addition to proving the defendant’s fault.

Many people have criticized the contributory negligence doctrine because it can result in extremely harsh consequences. Most states have adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence instead. Under that doctrine, a plaintiff can normally still recover even if the plaintiff is partly to blame. The doctrine has been the law in Maryland since 1847 and the state has rejected adopting comparative negligence.

In the aftermath of a truck accident, injured victims may struggle to cover the related costs, ranging from medical bills to lost wages. One commonly used solution is to file a civil lawsuit against the party responsible for the accident and resulting injuries and hold them liable for the costs. While this process is greatly beneficial for many accident victims, it can become complicated by insurance companies. Auto insurance is meant to help cover victims when accidents occur, but insurance companies are notoriously resistant to paying out compensation and may make the process increasingly frustrating for people who are injured.

A recent state appellate case demonstrates how insurance disputes can slow down the process of receiving compensation. According to the court’s written opinion, a semi-tractor trailer was hauling logs early one morning in December 2013 when the plaintiff’s vehicle collided with the logs extending from the back of the trailer. As a result, the plaintiff suffered severe and permanent injuries, including a spinal cord injury. According to the complaint, the medical expenses incurred as a result were over $1,000,000.

The plaintiff filed a complaint against several defendants, including the semi-tractor trailer’s insurer, which was the focus of this case. The insurance company filed multiple subsequent motions and defenses, including a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there was no coverage for the incident because the policy excluded incidents involving the truck driver who was driving at the time of the accident. The insurance company also disputed the uppermost limit of coverage in this case, arguing for the state’s minimum coverage of $100,000 rather than the federal minimum coverage of $750,000. In addition, and to complicate the case further, the insurance company claimed that the state court did not have proper jurisdiction to hear this case.

When a school bus is involved in a Maryland bus accident, plaintiffs need to deal with the additional complication of navigating governmental immunity. In injury claims filed against a public school district, plaintiffs have special considerations.

First, a claimant normally must provide timely notice to the state or municipality, advising the entity of the claim. The Maryland Tort Claims Act generally requires that a claimant first submit a written claim to the Treasurer within one year of the injury. The notice needs to comply with the requirements provided in the Act, which include a statement of facts and specific damages. The Treasurer then has the opportunity to grant or deny the claim. If the Treasurer denies the claim, the plaintiff can file the case in court. A claim generally also needs to be filed within three years of the accident, although this can be extended in certain, limited circumstances.

Second, immunity is often raised as a defense in claims against governmental entities or employees. The doctrine of immunity limits the ability of plaintiffs to proceed with claims against state and local governments in some cases. Immunity normally must be waived in order for the claim to go forward—which usually happens through a statute. In cases against local government entities, such as school districts, Maryland law protects them from suit as long as the entities are carrying out certain duties. Immunity normally functions to protect government employees, as long as they are acting in their official capacity, and the employee’s actions are carried out without malice or gross negligence.

Reckless drivers can face serious and long-lasting consequences for their actions. If a reckless driver causes injuries or property damage in a truck accident, the driver can be found guilty of a crime, and they may be held liable and ordered to pay compensation in a civil case. Truck accident victims can be crippled with medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses.

Maryland drivers are required to exercise reasonable care in driving, including taking into account the relevant circumstances and exercising reasonable care in responding to other drivers and emergency situations. The definition of reckless driving under Maryland’s transportation code is driving in “wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property,” or in a way that indicates such behavior. A negligent party should be held accountable. If a defendant is found liable in a civil case, a plaintiff may be able to recover financial compensation for economic and non-economic damages.

Truck accident victims seeking to hold a reckless driver accountable through a Maryland negligence action must show that the driver failed to exercise the required amount of care under the circumstances by acting in a negligent manner. Reckless drivers may also be held liable for gross negligence if the plaintiff is able to show that the driver had a wanton or reckless disregard for others. Examples of negligence include speeding, following too closely, and failing to pay attention to the road. In addition to proving that a defendant acted negligently, a plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the plaintiff’s damages. This requires showing that the damages were actually caused by the defendant’s conduct and that the conduct was sufficiently connected to the damages to be held responsible.

Under Maryland law, the employer of an independent contractor generally is not liable for damages caused by the actions of the independent contractor. However, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. For example, employers may be held liable in instances in which the employer was negligent in selecting, instructing, or supervising the contractor, the work was inherently dangerous, or the employer had a non-delegable duty.

The non-delegable duty exception means that an employer is not absolved of certain responsibilities even if the employer hires an independent contractor. In these situations, an employer is still free to delegate those responsibilities—but the law views such duties as being so important that the employer is still on the hook for improperly carrying out these duties or for failing to carry them out. There are a number of duties that courts have found are non-delegable duties. For example, duties imposed by statute, such as following building code provisions, are often non-delegable duties for building owners.

An appeals court in one state recently decided a truck accident case in which the court found that the employer did not have a non-delegable duty despite alleged violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In that case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a company after a tire from one of its trailers detached and crashed into a vehicle in which the plaintiff was a passenger. She claimed that a mechanic failed to properly repair the trailer in the month before the crash, and that the defendant had a non-delegable duty to inspect, repair, maintain, and operate the trailer in a safe condition. She argued that the defendant knew or should have known that the repairs were not properly done.

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