Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

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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Anyone who has ever run out of gas or had a tire blow out on the highway knows how terrifying it can be to linger on or around the road’s edge. This is especially the case on any of Maryland’s many interstates. Indeed, it is estimated that nearly 20% of all Maryland car accidents occurring on the highway happen off the roadway. This includes both on the shoulder and in the median.

Not only are these accidents common, but they are also very likely to result in serious injury or death because high speeds are usually involved, and motorists are often caught entirely off guard. In fact, roughly 600 people lose their lives each year in roadside accidents. Many of these victims are emergency workers or other roadside workers who are struck while responding to the scene of an emergency or performing some other necessary task.

In an effort to protect roadside workers, Maryland lawmakers have enacted a “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to vacate the lane adjacent to a stopped emergency vehicle. As of October 2, 2018, the law applies to:

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Anyone who has spent significant time driving on Maryland roads knows that they are seemingly always under construction. Indeed, according to a report from the Maryland Department of Transportation, there are currently twelve major construction projects underway or about to begin along the I-270 corridor alone.

For the most part, the fact that the government is investing in the state’s roadways is a good thing. However, with so many construction projects underway, motorists are put at an in increased danger of being involved in a Maryland construction zone accident. At the same time, construction workers are also put in danger and, under a new Maryland law, motorists have a duty to either slow down significantly or change lanes as they approach roadside construction crews.

Construction zones are notorious for presenting motorists and workers with unseen and unanticipated hazards. Crews should take care to ensure that there is accurate signage leading up to the area clearly indicating how drivers should navigate the construction zone. Additionally, construction workers must keep open lanes free of debris and safe for travel; however, even the most well-intentioned construction crew can make mistakes.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the defendant power company voluntarily assumed a duty to provide adequate light for the section of road where a semi-truck struck the plaintiff. Ultimately, the court concluded that the power company assumed no such obligation, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim.

The case is important for Maryland truck accident victims because, although the plaintiff was ultimately unsuccessful in holding the power company liable, it illustrates the principle that there may be parties other than the driver who can be held responsible in a Maryland truck accident. In fact, many Maryland truck accident cases are pursued against the employer of the truck driver, the owner of the truck, or an insurance company.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff set out to go to a convenience store that was located across a four-lane highway with a center median. The plaintiff was crossing from the west side of the road to the east side when she stopped in the center lane to let traffic pass. As she was waiting, a semi-truck struck her, as well as the two others who were with her.

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In Maryland, car insurance is mandatory. All motorists must obtain must obtain at least personal injury protection for $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident. Also, motorists must purchase at least $15,000 in property damage insurance.

Typically, when a motorist is involved in an accident with another motorist, the injured motorist will file a claim with the at-fault motorist’s insurance company. If the claim is approved, the insurance company will cover the costs of the accident victim’s injuries up to the policy limit. However, insurance companies, like other businesses, are subject to numerous internal and external economic pressures. And occasionally, insurance companies become insolvent, meaning they are unable to pay out on the policyholders’ claims.

Each state has set up an insurance guaranty fund to provide motorists with some protection if an insurance company goes out of business or is otherwise insolvent. Under Maryland law, the guaranty fund provides up to $300,000 in coverage per person. If a plaintiff can obtain some compensation for their injuries, but an insolvent insurance company cannot completely fulfill an accident victim’s claim, the plaintiff total recovery amount will be the difference between their actual damages and the guaranty limit. A recent case illustrates how courts may use a plaintiff’s actual recovery to offset their total available compensation under the guaranty fund.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing an interesting issue that will occasionally come up in Maryland truck accident cases. Specifically, the case dealt with a settlement agreement that was executed between the plaintiff and several potentially liable parties, whereby the plaintiff accepted compensation in exchange for an agreement to excuse the parties from liability.

The question the court had to answer was whether the broad language of that agreement resulted in the remaining potentially liable parties being excused from liability as well. In so doing, the court took the rare step to consider extrinsic evidence that was not contained in the settlement agreement to determine the intent of the parties.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in an accident involving a sandwich delivery truck. Within two weeks of the accident, the plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement with the vehicle’s owner and the owner’s insurance company. That agreement provided that the plaintiff would receive $25,000, the policy maximum, and in exchange would “release, acquit and forever discharge the said payor(s), their agents and employees, and all other persons, firms or corporations who are or might be liable” for injuries resulting from the accident.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving an evidentiary ruling that precluded the plaintiff’s proposed expert witnesses from testifying. The case is relevant in Maryland truck accident cases because it illustrates how courts determine whether an expert’s testimony will be admissible and, thus, able to be considered by the jury.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her infant son were involved in a semi-truck accident. During the accident, the plaintiff’s vehicle was dragged under the side of the semi-truck’s trailer in what is known as a “side underride accident.” The plaintiff suffered serious brain damage as a result of the accident, and filed a personal injury case against several parties.

This particular case involved the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff against the manufacturer of the trailer. The plaintiff planned on presenting testimony of an alternate design that would have prevented, or at least mitigated, the plaintiff’s injuries through two expert witnesses. The expert witnesses intended on testifying about a telescoping side guard, which expands to protect other areas of the truck in the event that the truck’s sliding axle is in the rear position.

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