Articles Posted in Legal Concepts in Truck Accident Cases

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.

Those who have been injured in a serious Maryland personal injury accident allegedly caused by a government employee can generally pursue a claim against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). While the federal government was originally immune from civil liability, the FTCA acts as a waiver of governmental immunity in certain situations. However, if an accident victim is unable to establish that their claim falls under the FTCA, then a court will likely dismiss the case on the grounds of immunity.

The Feres doctrine is an exception to the FTCA. The doctrine was essentially created by the United States Supreme Court in the case, Feres v. United States. Specifically, the doctrine holds that the United States cannot be held liable by military personnel who are injured while on active duty (and not on furlough) and are injured as a result of another military personnel’s negligence. The practical effect of the Feres doctrine is that those on active military duty cannot pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the United States if another service member’s negligence caused their injuries.

Application of the Feres doctrine can result in seemingly unfair results; however, before the government can rely on the doctrine, it must prove that each of the elements is met. A recent fatal traffic accident provides an example of a situation where the Feres doctrine may not be appropriate.

Among the hazards that motorists must address when driving on the highway are large trucks parked on the road’s shoulder. There are a number of legitimate reasons why a Maryland truck driver may pull their rig over. For instance, a truck driver may feel fatigue setting in and decide to pull over rather than risk driving while drowsy. While there is generally no traffic law prohibiting a motorist from pulling over to the road’s edge when necessary, a motorist must take care when parking their vehicle to avoid obstructing traffic and must pull off at an appropriate location.

In May 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing a situation involving a motorist who was seriously injured after rear-ending a truck driver who had pulled over near a highway offramp. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was entering the highway when he crossed into the “gore area,” which is the triangular area between the highway and the ramp. Evidently, the plaintiff’s car rear-ended a parked semi-truck.

Apparently, the truck driver had been traveling on the highway when he noticed red warning lights on the dashboard. Shortly afterward, the engine lost power, and the truck driver pulled into the gore area. The truck driver immediately called his employer, and about five to eight minutes later, the plaintiff rear-ended the truck. The plaintiff suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of the accident.

Many Maryland truck accidents have multiple causes. Of course, the majority of truck accidents are caused at least in part by a driver’s negligence. However, a significant number of these accidents also involve either poorly maintained or defectively designed roads.

Traditionally, states were immune from lawsuits brought by citizens who were injured due to the negligence of a government employee. However, under the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA), much of the state’s governmental immunity is waived. Of course, there are specific procedural requirements that must be strictly adhered to when pursuing a claim against a government entity, and there may also be a cap on the maximum amount of damages that can be obtained.

One issue that frequently comes up in Maryland truck accidents is the government’s potential liability for poorly designed roadways. In a 2011 case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that the state government is not entitled to immunity in a claim alleging the negligent construction of a bridge. Specifically, the plaintiff in that case argued that the government was negligent when it failed to install a barrier that was necessary to make the bridge safe.

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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