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Articles Posted in Maryland Accident Law

Left-hand turn accidents can make for difficult and complicated auto accident lawsuits. An accident involving a left-turn can cause devastating injuries and determining fault is not always as easy as it might seem.

Left-turn-300x169At first glance, determining fault in left-turn accidents may seem simple because the driver making the left turn has an obligation to yield to oncoming traffic.  That simple assumption is correct in the lion’s share of cases.  When you call our law firm and telling us another driver to a left turn in front of you, our lawyers are pretty confident, without hearing anything else, that you have a case.  Similarly, if you are the driver who took a left turn, it might be pretty hard to argue you are not at fault.

But… you have to hear the entire story.  Because the assumption that the driver who made the left turn is at-fault sometimes fails.  This is particularly true, as I explain below, in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Maryland accident lawyers complain very little about not having punitive damages for accident lawsuits in Maryland. Why? I think it is just because we are so used to it in 2020, no one really imagines a punitive damages world for car crash cases.

While all roads lead to Rome, let’s talk about punitive damages generally and Maryland car accident cases and employment law cases.

What Is the Leading Maryland Case on Punitive Damages?

In Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia, 325 Md. 420, 601 A.2d 633 (1992), the Maryland Court of Appeals redefined the standard for awarding punitive damages. The court “implied malice” was not enough to support a punitive damages award. The court ruled that punitive damages may not be awarded unless the defendant’s conduct was found to the characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.  This actual malice standard is a departure from many statutes that allow an award of punitive damages for implied malice.

Car collisions can be terrifying, stressful events and cause both personal injury and property damage.  There are 16,000,000 car accidents (no typo there) a year in this country.  There are more than 4.5 million automobile accidents that resulted in property damage and 1.7 million crashes that resulted in personal injuries.

It is amazing how much we are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and yet we don’t take the simplest steps to we could to prevent car accident deaths (although that may be an unfair comparison).

The sheer number of collisions, the varying results, and complex outcomes all contribute to many misconceptions about car accidents. What’s important to remember is that if you suffered an injury as the result of a car collision, you should contact a personal injury attorney.  It can be us at Miller & Zois or another attorney.  But if you have been hurt, you should be talking to someone to make sure you understand your rights and options. (You know, we will make this the last misconception.)

The last clear chance doctrine is a frequently litigated and extremely confusing exception to Maryland’s contributory negligence law.  Even the names are confusing.  The doctrine has also been called the doctrine of discovered peril,  supervening negligence, subsequent negligence, and the aptly named humanitarian doctrine.  The most common incorrect assumption is that it is a defense to the case. In fact, the opposite is true.

What Is the Doctrine of Last Clear Chance?

The gist of the doctrine is that even if the plaintiff contributed to her own injury, her lawsuit will not be barred if the defendant had a clear opportunity after the plaintiff had put herself peril, to avoid the injury by the exercise of ordinary care. Another way to frame this same idea is that 'if the defendant has the last clear opportunity to avoid the harm, the plaintiff's negligence is not a 'proximate cause' of the result" (Prosser, Law of Torts § 66).

So the way this works, at least in Maryland, is that the jury can find contributory negligence but still award damages if it found that the defendant blew a last clear chance to avoid the accident.

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In Gables Construction, Inc. v. Red Coats, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals earlier this month addressed the issue of whether a party can be liable for contribution as a joint tortfeasor even if that party was able to avoid direct liability because of it passed along its responsibility in a contractual waiver of subrogation.

In other words, can you sneak out of responsibility as a joint tortfeasor if someone else has accepted your responsibility for the loss?   This is the first time a Maryland court has ever addressed this issue.

Facts of Gable Construction

All litigation attorneys in Maryland are probably very familiar with the Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions (“MPJI”). The MPJI published by the Maryland State Bar Association through the efforts of a special MSBA committee comprised of practitioners.

Both the Criminal and Civil MPJI are widely used by judges across the state to give written instructions to juries. The Court of Appeals has repeatedly clarified that the Pattern Jury Instructions have “no official status” and trial courts are not obligated to use or adopted them. Armacost v. Davis (Md.2019) However, the reality is that the MPJI are universally relied on by judges and attorneys alike when instructing juries.

The Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions are intended to provide short, understandable, and accurate statements of certain points of law in Maryland. The original version of the Pattern Jury Instructions was first published back in the 1980s. Since then the MPJI has been periodically revised and republished to reflect significant changes and developments in Maryland law. The most recent revision of the MPJI is the 5th Edition which the MSBA published in the fall of 2017. Among the many changes and revisions in the 5th Edition of the MPJI is a new definition of proximate causation at § 19:10.

leaving snow carIt is not explicitly illegal, but it is recommended by all jurisdictions that you should clear snow off your car. The driver’s manuals in Maryland and Virginia both include snow removal.

Is there a Maryland law that says that you should not be able to have snow on your car so it does not come flying off and blind me?   Sort of.  Transportation Code §21-1104 states that a person may not drive a vehicle if obstructs the driver’s view of the front or sides of the vehicle. They may not drive a vehicle if it interferes with the control of the driver’s. However, the law would likely have a broad application in cases involving snow on top of cars. But no one will pull you over for having too much snow on your case.

About a decade ago, the D.C. city council approved legislation that required drivers to remove snow and ice from their vehicles. However, the law never became permanent.

If you drove to a New Year’s Party in Utah on Monday and had a few drinks, the risk of getting arrested for drug driving increased dramatically.  On Saturday (December 30th) Utah lowered its legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit from 0.08 to 0.05.  This gives Utah the strictest DUI laws in the country. This follows a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation that all states should lower their legal BAC limits to 0.05.

lowering bac limitBefore we go further, you are saying you know you are fine at .05, right?  But define “fine”.  Do I feel like I can drive a car at .05?  I do.  Do I ever drive at .05 with my kids in the car?  I don’t.  Setting aside the stunning hypocrisy for a second, I do this because I’ve been competing with my friends and family at goofy things my whole life.  So I know that a bit of alcohol slows me down just a bit because I can’t play video games, golf, or anything else quite as well after two drinks than zero.

H.B. 155

In Carr v. Cinnamon, a California appellate court applied the same rule we have here in Maryland: the finder of fact can award whatever they want for noneconomic damages, including zero even when it seems preposterous that a person could suffer medical bills and have no pain and suffering.

Plaintiff’s premises liability lawsuit alleged that her leg fell through the floor of a patio on the defendant’s property. The jury found the defendant partially responsible and awarded a whopping $6,207.08 with no damages for pain and suffering. Improbably, the Plaintiff’s attorney appealed, arguing that the damages award was inadequate as a matter of law and the trial court should have awarded damages (additur) or awarded a new trial.

The appellate court disagreed, finding juries can essentially do whatever they want. One thing is for sure: this jury was not a big fan of this plaintiff.

In the real world, people have damage to their cars that they would just rather not get fixed. They would rather pocket the insurance money and drive around with a big dent in their car.

If there was a liability dispute, it has been hard to pull this off in Maryland because there was no way to get the property damage estimate into evidence unless you brought the guy who did the estimate to trial as a witness (If you actually had the repairs done, you could get the cost in under Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Annotated § 10-105).

Now, under a new Maryland law passed last week, you can get a repair estimate into evidence at trial, at least in District Court. Now, a plaintiff can testify that a written vehicle repair estimate, prepared by an insurer or its authorized representative is admissible, without the testimony of the preparer of the estimate, as evidence of the authenticity and the fairness and reasonableness of the estimate that you would otherwise need.