Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

Many Maryland truck accidents involve multiple vehicles, and determining which parties to name in a Maryland truck accident lawsuit is a critical decision that must be made early in the process. While courts will allow for plaintiffs to amend their complaint to add additional parties for a short period of time after the complaint is filed, plaintiffs have a limited amount of time to join parties. Additionally, plaintiffs normally must obtain the court’s permission to add additional defendants once the complaint has been filed.

Truck AccidentOf course, plaintiffs should only name defendants if there is a good-faith basis for believing that they may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. However, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation to make sure that all potentially liable parties are included in the lawsuit. A plaintiff’s failure to include all necessary parties may result in decreased compensation in the event of a favorable verdict.

It is important that Maryland truck accident victims keep in mind that plaintiffs get one chance to file a lawsuit after an accident, and they will not generally be permitted to file a subsequent lawsuit based on the same underlying accident. Additionally, if a potentially liable party is not named in the plaintiff’s complaint, the plaintiff risks the chance that the named defendants will successfully shift the blame for the accident onto a non-present party. If this occurs, the jury may be persuaded that the named defendant is not at all liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, completely precluding a plaintiff’s chance of recovering damages for their injuries.

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Most Maryland truck accidents are avoidable with the exercise of due care on the part of the truck driver. However, the rare occasion may arise in which a truck driver experiences a medical event while behind the wheel, causing the driver to lose control of the truck and cause an accident.

SirenIn these situations, the truck driver may be excused from any subsequent liability that would otherwise arise in the wake of a truck accident. However, that will not necessarily be the case. While some medical events occur without warning, others can be detected in advance or may be caused by a driver’s failure to take required medication. Similarly, a driver may take two medications that have an adverse reaction with each other, causing the driver to lose consciousness or otherwise lose control of his truck.

In these situations, the determination of whether the truck driver is liable for the accident will be made on a case-by-case basis by a judge or jury in a Maryland truck accident lawsuit. The crux of the analysis in this type of accident is whether the defendant’s conduct was negligent. For example, if a truck driver is prescribed daily medication to prevent seizures but fails to take his daily medication, suffers a seizure, and causes an accident, a jury may find that the driver was negligent and responsible for any injuries that occurred as a result of this negligence.

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When someone is injured in a Maryland car accident that is allegedly caused by the negligent act of a government employee, the injured party may have a claim for damages against both the government employee as well as the government entity itself. However, issues of government immunity often come up in these cases.

Fire TruckEarlier this month, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion in a case involving an accident between a fire truck and another passenger vehicle that required the court to determine whether governmental immunity applied. Finding that immunity did not apply, the court rejected the defendants’ asserted immunity and sent the case on toward trial or settlement negotiations.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in an accident when he drove his truck into an intersection and collided with a fire truck. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the fireman as well as the city where the fireman was employed.

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When a motorist is involved in a Maryland car accident, the law requires that they remain on the scene and exchange certain information with the other people involved in the accident, including their name, address, and vehicle and insurance information. Additionally, if anyone was injured in the accident, the motorist must ensure the authorities are aware of the accident so that those who need medical assistance can obtain it.

Pedestrian CrossingA driver’s failure to remain on the scene following a Maryland auto accident can result in both civil and criminal liability. In the event that a driver is not located or has insufficient insurance coverage to fully compensate the accident victim, the accident victim may be able to file a claim with their own insurance company under the policy’s underinsured motorist provision.

While insurance companies offer fair compensation in response to some claims, too often insurance companies try to evade responsibility by improperly denying a claim. In some situations in which the insurance company knows that it may be liable if the case goes to trial, the insurance company may offer a low-ball settlement offer early in the process in hopes of settling the case cheaply. In any event, Maryland accident victims should not take the insurance company at its word and should retain their own Maryland personal injury attorney to assist them with their claim.

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Last month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a truck accident case that is of interest to Maryland truck accident victims because it deals with how courts should handle evidence of a plaintiff’s marijuana use at a personal injury trial. Ultimately, the court determined that admitting the fact that the plaintiff had previously used marijuana, but not within the 36 hours leading up to the accident, would not be proper. Thus, the court prevented the defendant’s expert witness from testifying to that effect.

Semi-Truck on HighwayThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving southbound on the highway in the evening hours. The defendant was a truck driver who was also traveling on the highway, although in the opposite direction. The defendant had previously pulled off the highway to take a nap and was pulling back onto the highway when he struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff has no recollection of the accident, although his passenger testified that the truck suddenly appeared in their lane, and, despite the plaintiff’s attempts to avoid the truck, he was unable to do so. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized as a result. During his hospitalization, he was asked if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He responded that he occasionally smokes marijuana but had not within the past 36 hours.

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Whether it be a police car issuing a citation to a motorist or an ambulance responding to the scene of an accident, emergency vehicles are frequently seen on the side of Maryland highways. While these emergency vehicles necessarily must park on the side of the highway for a number of reasons, the reality is that while a vehicle is parked on the side of the highway, the chance of causing a Maryland car accident increases.

Fire TruckOperators of emergency vehicles should follow certain precautions when leaving their vehicles on the side of the highway. For example, emergency vehicles should be pulled as far off the highway as possible to avoid obstructing traffic. When traffic must be obstructed, the operator of the vehicle should make sure that the vehicle’s emergency lights are activated to ensure that passing motorists take notice of the vehicle’s presence. Additionally, traffic should not be obstructed in a manner that leaves approaching motorists with insufficient time to come to a complete stop, such as around a curve or immediately after the top of a hill.

While state and local governments enjoy immunity in some Maryland car accidents, if a government employee acts negligently while carrying out a job-related task, immunity may not attach.

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Truck drivers, as well as the companies that employ them, have a duty to ensure that the vehicles they use to transport goods across the country are well-maintained and in good working order in order to prevent hazards to other motorists. Part of this duty requires truckers to double-check that their rig is safe to drive after each stop.

Dirty TireWhile it may seem that equipment failures on large trucks are rare, the opposite is true. Many of the parts on a semi-truck are rated at certain speeds, and when a driver exceeds that speed, there is an increased risk of equipment failure. Of course, any part of a semi-truck can fail, but tires are the main culprit and present the most serious risk of causing a serious or fatal accident.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that of the roughly 14,000 truck and bus accidents occurring between the years of 2009 and 2013, approximately 200 were caused by tire blow-outs. In some cases, tire blow-outs are due to manufacturer errors, but blow-outs can also be caused by user errors. For example, if a truck driver fails to ensure that a tire is properly inflated or drives on a tire that is too worn, blow-outs are more likely to occur.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion in a truck accident case that required the court to determine if the company that employed a truck driver who was responsible for a serious accident could be liable for punitive damages. Ultimately, the court concluded that under some other set of facts, punitive damages may be appropriate, but, given the facts presented in this specific case, they were not.

Trucker's ViewThe Facts of the Case

In 2014, the plaintiffs were driving through a construction zone on Interstate 14 when they were struck by a truck. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the trucking company that employed the driver, arguing that the company was liable for the driver’s actions because he was an employee working within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the company was negligent for hiring the truck driver in the first place, given the driver’s checkered past. The plaintiffs sought punitive damages on each claim.

In support of their negligent hiring claim, the plaintiffs introduced evidence that the truck driver had previously been convicted of drug offenses and had a significant history of traffic offenses. There was also a report that the truck driver had been found to be traveling at 99 miles per hour while on the job just a week prior to the accident.

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Whenever anyone is injured in a serious or fatal truck accident, the injured party or their family may be eligible for monetary compensation upon a showing that the semi-truck driver’s negligence was the cause of the accident and of their injuries. In some cases, the trucking company can also be named as a party to the lawsuit.

OverpassThese truck accident lawsuits require an injured party prove four main elements:

  1. That the truck driver owed the accident victim a duty of care;
  2. That the truck driver violated that duty of care by some action or failure to take a required action;
  3. That the truck driver’s violation of the duty he owed to the plaintiff caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and
  4. That the plaintiff suffered some identifiable injury.

The first and last element are generally easily met. However, the second and third elements may involve significant litigation in some cases, especially where the semi-truck driver claims that he was not at fault for the accident and that it was some other event that caused the accident victim’s injuries.

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After any accident, an injured motorist and any passengers are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party they believe to be at fault for causing the accident. In many cases involving private citizens named as defendants, the process is a fairly straightforward one, requiring only that the motorcyclist prove that the defendant’s negligence caused their injuries. However, when the at-fault party is a government employee or contractor, there may be issues of immunity that must be overcome.

MailboxAs a general rule, government agencies and their employees are entitled to immunity from personal injury lawsuits arising out of any actions related to the performance of a government function. While this seems like an extremely broad grant of immunity, the reality is that there are many exceptions to the general rule. For example, if a government employee is acting recklessly or is in violation of the law at the time of the accident, immunity will not likely attach.

Even if government immunity is not likely given the circumstances of the accident, it is advisable that anyone injured by a government employee contact a dedicated personal injury attorney prior to filing a case. For example, plaintiffs filing lawsuits against government agencies and their employees generally must comply with additional procedural requirements or risk that their case is prematurely dismissed.

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