Articles Posted in Maryland Accident Law

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.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining what car insurance special investigations units (SIU) do and their purpose. Today, I stumbled across a new opinion that went up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The basis for the lawsuit seems that the plaintiffs were annoyed that Progressive Insurance – undoubtedly an aggressive car insurance company – sent their claim to their special investigations unit.

The case involved the plaintiffs’ claim that someone had stolen and damaged their car. Progressive Insurance referred the claim to its Special Investigations Unit because (1) the vehicle was for sale at the time of the loss, (2) the column was not compromised, (3) the vehicle was a “gas guzzler” (Chevy Tahoe – the claim arose at the height of the gas prices in 2008); and (4) both sets of keys were in the Walkers’ possession at the time of loss.

In Dunbar v. State Farm, a federal judge in Oklahoma granted summary judgment to State Farm in what was really a silly bad faith case.

This case involved a pedestrian accident where somebody backed out of their driveway and hit someone. USAA tendered, albeit slowly, its $100,000 limits for the at-fault driver. State Farm did what it does, it slowly increased the offers over time. But in this case, medical records were provided, for whatever reason, over time, making State Farm’s increase in offers seem quite reasonable. Eventually, State Farm tended its entire policy of $200,000. Because it was an uninsured motorist case, that should have resolved the claim. But Plaintiff’s accident lawyer proceeded with the claim under the theory that State Farm should have made the offer sooner but was dragging their feet.

I don’t get it. Neither did the appellate court. The opinion also underscores Oklahoma law – and Maryland’s – that regardless of the severity of the injury, an underinsured claim does not kick in until the underlying policy tenders its limits. So if you have a death case and the at-fault driver has a $30,000 policy, the underinsured motorist coverage obligations do not kick in until the underlying policy has been offered.

In accident cases, our lawyers make sure we know what expert testimony defendants are will see at trial. One weapon in our discovery arsenal is a good expert interrogatory.

Identify any and all experts you intend to call as witnesses, and whose reports you intend to mention and/or introduce at trial or in any Motion, including his/her area of expertise, and identify and attach to your Answers any and all written reports prepared by said experts, and indicate the content of any and all opinions reached by said experts and the factual basis for each such opinion and the amount of compensation paid to each such expert.

In its response, State Farm says, “Hey, cool your jets, we will produce experts pursuant to the discovery order.” Technically, State Farm’s answer is not satisfactory. This interrogatory, served with the Complaint, is due within 30 days of service. But there is the rule and there is the way things are done. Filing a motion to compel to answer an expert interrogatory before the scheduling order requires expert designations would be just too ticky-tacky. It is a tell to State Farm and the judge hearing the motion that you are more interested in fighting for the sake of fighting than really trying to engage in legitimate discovery.

So, we wait for the expert deadline. We get a cut and paste document that tells us absolutely nothing.

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I wrote a blog post this morning on the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog about the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ opinion in Tollenger v. State. Plaintiff’s got a reversal of a summary judgment entry to the State of Maryland in a wrongful death claim that involved the failure to erect a Jersey Wall on a bridge in Harford County.
So at some point, the Plaintiff will get a trial date. The wheels of justice can churn slowly: this accident happened 9 years ago.

Last October, a little known new law with a catchy name – the “Move Over Law” – went into effect in Maryland. The law tries to deal with a problem that won’t go away: the safety risk in emergency situations to police, fire, emergency medical services personnel, and, not insignificantly, at least to me – the rest of us.

This new Maryland law requires drivers approaching from the rear of an emergency vehicle using visual signals while stopped on a highway to, if possible, “move over” one or more lanes. If moving to another lane away from the stopped emergency vehicle is not possible, the law requires drivers to ‘slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.’

I don’t see a ton of tickets being generated from this new law. But, theoretically, violation of the “move over law” is a primary offense with a fine of $110 and one point. If the violation contributes to a traffic crash, the fine is $150 and three points.

Should traffic ticket guilty pleas be admissible in a civil case? Most courts, including Maryland, believe that it is unfair to defendants in civil cases to allow traffic ticket guilty pleas to hover over an accident case because tickets are – for better or worse – not a big deal to most people. Maybe the defendant pled guilty because he didn’t feel like presenting a defense or taking the day off work. Or maybe the pain of sitting through all the idiotic arguments of silly people in traffic court was just not their cup of tea. (Has anyone actually seen a decent argument made in traffic court? Does such footage even exist?)

Another school of thought – my preferred school of thought – is the “juries are not stupid” argument. Novel idea, sure. But here is how it goes. “Okay, Mr. Defendant, you skipped your criminal trial, pleading guilty, because you didn’t feel like going. Fair enough. Tell the jury that.”

Makes sense, right? The defendant is free to explain the circumstances of the decision to the jury. It is not unduly prejudicial or complex. Everyone gets it. Let the jury decide how much weight should be given to the evidence.

A while back, I wrote about the issue of what the punishment should be in Maryland fatal accident cases where there are no aggravating factors (almost always alcohol) but still someone dies because someone just was not paying attention. Should this mean prison? Is the pain of killing someone enough punishment?

Clients usually feel strongly about this issue one way or the other, there is very little in between. Either they view the defendant as a killer or they see the accident as a mistake that could have happened to anyone.

A bill has been floating around the Maryland legislature for years that would give prosecutors more latitude when charging these drivers. In a swap, House Del. Luiz Simmons, a criminal defense lawyer from Montgomery County, proposes a law that would sentence someone to up to three years in prison for killing a person as the result of a “substantial deviation from the standard of care.” Standing in the way of the bill is Maryland State Senator Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, who questions whether prison should follow for drivers who negligently kill another person.