Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion raising an interesting issue discussing whether a vehicle owner has a duty to install brakes on their trailer. Ultimately, the court did not come to a definitive decision, and remanded the case for further consideration. However, the opinion provides insight into the court’s considerations.

According to the court’s opinion, a woman was asked by her father to transport a load of palm fronds using his truck and trailer. Originally, the woman’s father had planned on making the trip himself, but he was not feeling well on the day of the trip. The trailer was not equipped with brakes and was loaded past its capacity.

While the woman was transporting the load, traffic in front of her suddenly slowed. As the woman tried to brake, she realized she was not going to stop in time, so she swerved onto the shoulder. Unfortunately, as the vehicle entered the shoulder, it struck the plaintiff who was waiting for the bus.

Anytime a driver enters a Maryland highway, they usually share the road with one or more trucks. While most drives do not end in an accident, Maryland truck accidents do happen, and can cause serious injuries or even death to those involved. When someone is injured in one of these accidents, Maryland law allows a motorist to sue the negligent driver to recover for medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Additionally, the state’s law allows injured victims to also bring suit against the negligent driver’s employer, if the driver was acting in the scope of his employment when the accident occured. For example, if a delivery driver runs a red light and gets into an accident while on his way to deliver a package, someone injured as a result may be able to sue both the driver and the company the driver works for.

However, there are strict limits and rules on when an employer can be held liable and when they cannot. Generally, the rule does not apply to independent contractors, as highlighted in a recent federal appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was driving a tractor-trailer to make a delivery in another state when the driver got into an accident, seriously injuring a mother and daughter inside another vehicle. The two victims filed suit, alleging that the driver had been negligent and that the two companies who he worked for were also liable, since he was acting in the scope of his employment when the accident occurred.

The companies filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that they could not be held liable because the driver was an independent contractor, not an actual agent of the company. The trial court granted the motion, leading to a subsequent appeal. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the driver was an employee and agent, but the court disagreed. Looking at the text of the contract between the driver and the companies, the court found that the companies did not have sufficient control over the driver to be held liable for his actions. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs could not seek compensation from the companies, and their suit could proceed only against the truck driver.

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.

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.

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.

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.

To hold another person accountable in a Maryland truck accident claim, a plaintiff must prove that the other person caused the plaintiff’s injuries, at least in part. Proving these facts is part of establishing the essential elements of a negligence claim.

In Maryland, a negligence claim requires proving that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the defendant failed to meet the relevant standard of care, the plaintiff was injured because of that failure, and the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff damages. Proving causation requires proving both legal cause, and cause-in-fact. Cause-in-fact means proving that the defendant’s conduct actually caused the injury, whereas legal cause means showing that the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages. A court may decline to hold a defendant responsible even where a plaintiff proves that the defendant’s conduct was the cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries, based on policy considerations and fairness. Such a decision usually involves considering whether the injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions.

A plaintiff generally has the burden to prove all elements of a negligence claim, including causation. The standard for establishing causation, like all elements of a negligence claim, is whether it is more probable than not that the defendant’s acts caused the plaintiff’s injuries. A mere possibility that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries is insufficient to prove causation. This means that in a Maryland truck accident claim, a plaintiff cannot simply declare that there was a crash and that the plaintiff was injured in the crash—a plaintiff has to point to the defendant’s specific acts that were negligent, that those acts resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries, and that those injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. If a plaintiff fails to prove causation, the claim will be dismissed.

Individuals who suffer injuries because of the negligence of a government entity or employee must overcome challenges to file a personal injury lawsuit against the government. Maryland injury victims must understand the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) if they want to recover damages for their injuries successfully.

Historically, citizens have not been permitted to sue government agencies or employees. However, in an attempt to address the inherent unfairness of this archaic rule, state lawmakers enacted the MTCA to provide Maryland injury victims with some recourse against negligent government actors. The MTCA covers various Maryland state and government employees, as long as they are paid by the Central Payroll Bureau of the Treasury. Additionally, the statute covers county, city, and local government employees and entities, such as the Maryland Transportation Authority, local employees who work for social services, judges in some courts, and sheriffs in Baltimore City.

Maryland accident victims must comply with the statute to avoid dismissal. For example, an appellate court in another jurisdiction recently dismissed a plaintiff’s lawsuit against the government. In that case, the victim rear-ended a stopped waste removal truck while the truck was on the side of the highway. The victim filed a lawsuit against the municipality, alleging that the truck driver was negligent. The appellate court found that the plaintiff did not establish negligence and failed to comply with the state’s torts claims act.

In March of this year, a Maryland traffic accident involving a semi-truck killed two and injured four. According to a recent news report covering the tragic accident, the driver was using his cellphone while driving a truck in rush-hour traffic one morning. Evidently, the truck crashed into a line of other vehicles, bursting into flames as it came to a stop. Debris from the accident covered the highway for at least a quarter of a mile, and the road was subsequently closed for most of the day.

Two individuals were tragically killed as a result of this crash: a 65-year-old man and a 7-year-old boy. Additionally, four others were seriously injured. Law enforcement recently charged the truck driver responsible for the fatal accident with two counts of gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, two counts of criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, and four counts of causing serious injury while using a cellphone while driving. The case is still under investigation.

Unfortunately, distracted driving and truck crashes are not uncommon. Truck drivers often drive for long hours, leading to boredom or fatigue, which truck drivers may attempt to remedy by looking at their phone. Other common causes of distracted driving include watching television, talking to passengers, eating, grooming, and texting.

Truck drivers are trusted to operate some of the most dangerous vehicles on the road. And while most tractor-trailer drivers take their job seriously and would not intentionally do anything to put themselves or other motorists at risk, there are some exceptions. Some semi-truck drivers place more importance in getting to their destination quickly than getting there safely.

There are many causes of truck accidents. However, distracted and drowsy driving are two causes that are disproportionately represented among all fatal Maryland truck accidents. Truck drivers are compensated by the mile, so the more mileage a driver can cover in a day, the more money they will make. As a result, some drivers ignore the signs of fatigue or try to delay tiredness from setting in by taking both legal and illegal substances.

While it is not against the law for a truck driver to have a legal substance such as caffeine in their system, it can contribute to the driver feeling jittery and may impact their judgment. In addition, when the effects of the caffeine wear off, the driver may experience a significant drop in their energy level, increasing the likelihood that they will doze off while behind the wheel.

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