Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

In many Maryland truck accidents, an accident victim’s injuries are solely the fault of a single defendant. For example, if an intoxicated or sleep-deprived truck driver causes an accident on a Maryland highway, chances are that the other motorists involved in the collision could not have done anything to avoid or prevent the accident. These cases tend to be straightforward.

There are other Maryland truck accidents, however, in which the determination of who was at fault is far from crystal clear. In fact, it is common in Maryland personal injury cases for the defendant to claim that the plaintiff shared in the responsibility for causing an accident. This is because, under Maryland’s strict contributory negligence rule, if a defendant is able to shift even a small percentage of fault onto the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s claim will be dismissed. Virginia also applies the contributory negligence doctrine to most personal injury actions.

Maryland and Virginia are somewhat unique in their application of the contributory negligence doctrine. Most other states apply what is known as the comparative fault doctrine. Under a comparative fault analysis, a plaintiff who is partially at fault for causing an accident can still recover for their injuries, but will have their total compensation award reduced by their own percentage of fault.

Any time a semi-truck is involved in an accident with other motorists, it is very likely that there will be significant injuries. Maryland rear-end truck accidents, are no exception. Indeed, it is estimated that rear-end truck accidents are responsible for over 23,000 injuries and 700 fatalities across the country each year.

The most cited reason for the large number of rear-end truck accidents is the stopping distance of large trucks, especially when they are fully loaded and traveling at highway speeds. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it takes the average truck the length of two football fields to come to a complete stop when traveling at 65 miles per hour.

While the significant stopping distance of semi-trucks certainly plays a role in many rear-end accidents, it is somewhat misleading to label the truck’s stopping distance as the cause of these accidents. In reality, many of these accidents are the result of the truck driver’s negligence. Commercial truck drivers are trained to operate large vehicles at high speeds, and should be familiar with how to do so safely. This includes knowing how long it takes their rig to come to a complete stop. However, often, truck drivers follow too closely, leaving little to no time to react if the vehicle in front of them unexpectedly slows down or comes to a stop.

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Typically, when someone is injured in a Maryland truck accident, to successfully recover for their injuries, the accident victim must be able to establish that the driver violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff, and that this violation was the cause of their injuries. In most cases, establishing that a duty was owed to an accident victim is straightforward because motorists owe all other motorists a duty of care to follow all traffic laws and safely operate their vehicle.

The determination of whether the defendant violated a duty that was owed to another driver, however, can be quite tricky in some circumstances. In fact, in many Maryland truck accident cases, this is the most contested issue because, although the standard is supposed to be an objective one, there is an element of subjectivity anytime a jury is asked to weigh in on another’s conduct.

Under the doctrine of negligence per se, however, if the defendant is found to have violated a qualifying statute, that defendant may be presumed to have been negligent. Thus, in these cases, courts look to the fact that the defendant violated a particular statute rather than try to determine whether the defendant breached a duty that was owed to the plaintiff. In other words, the law prescribes the defendant’s duty. This means that aside from showing the defendant violated the statute, the plaintiff must only show that the defendant’s violation of the statute was the proximate cause of their injuries.

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When many people think of expert testimony, they envision a professor-like witness discussing complex scientific or medical issues in a Maryland medical malpractice case. However, expert witnesses may be used in all types of personal injury cases, including Maryland truck accident cases.

Under Maryland Code, Rule 5-702, expert testimony may be admitted when the proponent of the evidence can show that “the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” In a recent federal appellate case, the court determined that a state trooper properly testified as an expert witness.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case, the plaintiff was a truck driver who was seriously burned after another truck driver inexplicably crossed over the center median and collided head-on with the plaintiff’s truck. The collision caused a major explosion, which resulted in the death of the at-fault truck driver as well as the plaintiff’s serious burns.

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One of the most important issues in any Maryland personal injury case is determining which parties may be responsible for an accident victim’s injuries. This is especially important because accident victims typically only get one chance to bring their case, and if a potentially liable defendant is not named in a case the plaintiff may lose their ability to recover altogether.

In most Maryland truck accidents, certain parties should always be considered as potential defendants. For example, the person driving the truck, the owner of the truck, and the company that employed the truck driver are commonly named as defendants. However, there may be additional parties who are responsible for an accident victim’s injuries. A recent case discusses whether a mechanic was liable for injuries caused by a forklift.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was employed as a truck driver. The plaintiff parked his truck at his employer’s warehouse, and other employees began to unload the truck. As one of the other employees was using a forklift to unload the truck’s cargo, the driver ran over the plaintiff’s foot, resulting in serious injuries. The forklift was not manufactured with a back-up alarm, and did not have one installed at the time of the accident.

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When most people think of a Maryland truck accident, they visualize images of an overturned semi-truck on the highway. Indeed, most Maryland truck accidents occur on the highway and these are the most often seen examples of truck accidents. However, there are many other types of truck accidents, including those involving construction vehicles, tow trucks, and other heavy equipment.

Most heavy equipment accidents involve the employees who are working around these dangerous machines and vehicles. Given the fact that the accident victims agree to work around these, certain issues arise that may not come up in traditional truck accident cases. A recent state appellate decision illustrates the scope of a release of liability waiver that was signed by an accident victim.

The Facts

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was injured while she was standing in a “non-spectator restricted area” on the Daytona International Speedway. Evidently, the plaintiff was standing in the pit-stop area while employees of the racetrack instructed a tow-truck to back-up. The employees gave the all-clear to the tow-truck driver, who backed up over the plaintiff.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing an important evidentiary concept that frequently arises in Maryland personal injury cases. The case required the court to determine whether evidence of the plaintiff’s mental health issues and intoxication should be admitted under the rules of evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed when she was struck by a truck that was driving at a low speed. The evidence was conflicting, but the ultimate issue in the case was whether the plaintiff walked out in front of the truck and, if so, whether the truck driver waved toward the plaintiff to go ahead of him.

The defense wanted to introduce evidence that the plaintiff suffered from mental health issues and had alcohol and drugs in her system at the time of the accident. The plaintiff objected, arguing that the proposed evidence was far more prejudicial than it was probative, and thus should be excluded.

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Proving a Maryland truck accident claim requires a plaintiff to present evidence establishing that the named defendants violated a duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff. This can be done by showing that the driver was distracted, intoxicated, or otherwise negligent. To establish negligence, a plaintiff can rely on direct or circumstantial evidence. A recent case discusses how circumstantial evidence can be used to prove a case against an allegedly at-fault motorist.

Direct Versus Circumstantial Evidence

Direct evidence is evidence which tends to prove the ultimate conclusion that is being asserted without the need for the factfinder to make an inference. For example, if a witness observes a truck crash into car after running a red light, the witness’ testimony would likely be considered direct evidence that the truck driver ran the red light.

Circumstantial evidence, however, requires the factfinder to make an inference before arriving at the ultimate conclusion. For example, if a motorist pulls up too far into the intersection at a red traffic light so he cannot see the light, the fact that other drivers start to enter the intersection would be circumstantial evidence that the light changed from red to green. In this case, the inference would be that the other drivers only would enter the intersection if the light was green.

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After a Maryland truck accident, the injured party may pursue a claim for compensation against all potentially responsible parties. Therefore, it is not uncommon that a jury will return a verdict against multiple parties. Under state law, the jury must assign a portion of fault to each of the defendants.

Once the jury has determined each party’s percentage of fault, the defendants will each be required to compensate the plaintiff accordingly. However, the issue frequently arises that one or more of the defendants do not have the resources to pay the plaintiff. This puts the plaintiff in the position of having secured a judgment that they cannot enforce. To solve this problem, Maryland lawmakers have enacted a joint-and-several liability framework that allows for a plaintiff to recover the total damages award from any of the responsible parties.

Joint and Several Liability

Under Maryland’s joint and several liability statute, each of the defendants who are determined to be responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries are responsible for the full amount of damages awarded. It is then up to a defendant who overpaid their share to seek contribution from the other defendants. This shifts the burden of collecting payment away from an innocent plaintiff and onto the defendants. Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the concept of joint and several liability.

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Under Maryland’s contributory negligence law, a judicial finding that a plaintiff is even the slightest bit at fault for causing an accident can result in the plaintiff being precluded from proceeding with a case against the other motorists involved in the crash. Thus, in many Maryland truck accident cases, a defendant truck driver may attempt to avoid liability by arguing that the plaintiff was also negligent in causing the accident.

Because the doctrine of contributory negligence often results in a minimally at-fault plaintiff being entirely precluded from pursuing a claim against a much more culpable driver, most states have shifted to the more forgiving comparative fault model. However, several states including Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia still apply this harsh doctrine.

A recent case, however, illustrates that mere allegations that the plaintiff is partially at fault for causing an accident will not necessarily result in the plaintiff’s inability to recover for their injuries.

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