Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

Every day, millions of students ride to and from school on school buses. While school buses are generally a safe option for children to get to school, they are not immune from getting into accidents. School buses, including those in Maryland, get into crashes on occasion, which can cause injuries to those on board. Those injured may be able to collect financially from the driver responsible for the accident. However, doing so often requires that the injury victim file a claim with the school district’s insurance company.

Generally, Maryland school buses all have some sort of insurance policy to protect them in case of an accident. This insurance likely includes what is called Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage, or UIM. This coverage protects those who are hit by a negligent driver who does not have enough to financially cover the accident. For instance, if someone is riding in a school bus driven by driver A when driver B, in their car, hits the school bus, driver B may be liable to driver A and the passengers for their injuries. Let’s say these injuries total $300,000. Driver B might only have insurance coverage of up to $100,000, leaving them $200,000 short. Or, in some cases, driver B might not have insurance at all. In this instance, a plaintiff may want to try and recover against the school bus’s insurance provider using the UIM coverage provision of the policy. If the school bus has UIM coverage of up to $500,000, they may be able to pay what the responsible driver was unable to.

If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Maryland insurance laws can be difficult to understand, and insurance companies routinely reject claims for coverage in an attempt to limit their financial responsibility, meaning that cases like this may end up in court. For example, a state appeals court recently considered a case with a very similar fact pattern to the example laid out above. The victim was injured when a car hit the school bus she was driving in, but the car’s driver did not have enough to cover her injuries. The victim attempted to recover from the school bus’s insurance provider under their UIM coverage provision, but the insurance company refused to pay, insisting that the coverage was limited by statute, even though the contract said otherwise. The case had to go to court multiple times for the plaintiff to finally receive the compensation she deserved for her injuries.

Maryland truck accident cases are subject to the statute of limitations applicable in the case. The statute of limitations is the amount of time in which a lawsuit must be filed and varies based on the type of claim. Generally, under Maryland Code section 5-101, Maryland personal injury claims have a statute of limitations of three years. Typically, Maryland wrongful death claims also are subject to a three-year statute of limitations under Maryland Code section 3-904(g).

In general, statutes of limitations are strictly construed, and failing to file a claim within the allotted time will result in a dismissal of the claim. However, there are some exceptions. The statute may be tolled, for example, if the plaintiff if a minor or could not have known about the injury when it occurred.

In cases involving the city or state, additional requirements and limitations apply. For example, when filing a claim against the state under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, a claimant must submit a written claim with the State Treasurer within one year of the cause of action arising. The claim to the state also has to include a statement explaining the facts and specific damages alleged. In general, the case can be filed in court only after the Treasurer denies the claim. Filing a claim with the State Treasurer tolls the statute of limitations for 60 days after a final denial is made by the State Treasurer.

Typically, individuals are grateful when they see fire trucks on the roads, responding to emergencies and saving lives. Maryland firefighters are first responders to many emergencies and perform an essential governmental function. However, there may be tragic instances when fire trucks, speeding to get to a burning building, cause more harm than good and cause an accident.

A recent incident illustrates this point. Last month, a fire truck was responding to a call at around 8:15 in the evening when it hit a car. According to a local news report, this led to a multi-vehicle crash involving seven other vehicles and significant injuries. Two individuals were trapped inside of a car and had to be extracted, and six people were taken to local hospitals, two as trauma alerts. The nine-vehicle crash was so significant that all lanes of the road were closed in the aftermath. While the condition of those injured is still unknown, there are likely to be long-term severe injuries and medical bills as a result of this tragic accident.

While nothing can undo the damage that was done that evening, those who were injured in the incident may have a route to financial recovery. Under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, the state government, including the fire department, may be sued in personal injury lawsuits. If it was found that the firefighters driving the truck were acting negligently in some way that led to the accident, the injured victims might be able to recover for their injuries, pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills, each up to $400,000. However, successfully filing a personal injury suit against a government entity is difficult to do, with more procedural requirements and regulations than typical lawsuits against other civilians or private businesses.

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.

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