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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Each day, thousands of students ride Maryland school buses to and from school. For the most part, these trips are short and uneventful. However, each year there are a significant number of Maryland school bus accidents. While most of these accidents involve low speeds and do not result in serious injury to the students, that is not always the case.

Student Killed in Bus Accident on the Way Home from Championship Football Game

Earlier this month, a fatal bus accident in Arkansas claimed the life of one student and injured 45 others. According to a local news report, the accident occurred on an empty highway at around 2:40 in the morning.

Evidently, the bus was carrying a youth-football team that had played a championship game earlier that weekend. The bus departed from Dallas, Texas and was traveling back to Memphis Tennessee. After the accident, the driver of the bus told police that she lost control of the vehicle as it drifted off the side of the road. Once off the roadway, the bus rolled over onto its side. One nine-year-old boy died from the injuries he sustained in the accident, and 45 others were injured. Most of those on board the bus were children; however, there were a few adult chaperones.

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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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Picking up the phone to hear that a child has been involved in any kind of accident at school is a parent’s worst nightmare. Teachers and school administrators are charged with keeping students safe and, for the most part, do a pretty good job. However, getting children to and from school is beyond the control of administrators and rests with bus drivers who are often contracted out by the school district.

Liability in School Bus Accidents

Determining liability in a Maryland school bus accident, like any other traffic accident, requires an analysis of all potentially liable parties. Of course, when the accident involves other vehicles, the drivers of those vehicles would be considered, as well as the driver of the bus. However, there are often other third parties that should be considered as defendants.

School bus drivers may be government employees that are hired and trained by the school district. If this is the case, then the local government is responsible for making sure that drivers are qualified before they are hired. Similarly, a driver must also be provided with adequate training and oversight. An accident caused by a negligent bus driver who is employed by the school district could result in the district being held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Importantly, a school bus accident claim filed against a school district or other government entity must comply with the requirements for complaints filed against a government entity.

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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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One of the most critical decisions that must be made early on in a Maryland personal injury case is which parties to name as defendants and which claims to pursue. This is particularly important in Maryland truck accidents because truck drivers are frequently working at the time of the accident. Thus, the circumstances of a truck accident often mean that a truck driver’s employer and the owner of the truck should also be considered as potential defendants.

Under Maryland law, there are several theories of liability that may come into play in truck accident cases. A recent case discusses two commonly conflated claims, and illustrates why they are unique from one another.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was killed in a motorcycle accident when a truck driver attempted to make an improper left turn as the plaintiff approached the intersection. The truck driver was working at the time of the crash, and was later found to be under the influence of prohibited prescription medication.

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