Articles Posted in Maryland Accident Law

A critical component of damages in wrongful death car accident cases is loss of services of the survivors from the victim. Loss of services is a dumb legal expression we would do best to get rid of. Solatium damages is an awful phrase, too. But at least it does not imply in the definition that the loss is pretty much someone doing less for you. (Noneconomic pain and suffering damages is a little better, I guess. We will use that.)

In Maryland, we describe these wrongful death damages to a jury as “mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, parental care, filial care, attention, advice, counsel, training, guidance, or education where applicable.” Most states use similar strange language but the gist of it is: what has really been lost – calculating everything – from the death of this person?

Here are the statistics nationally on noneconomic pain and suffering jury awards:

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, 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 of 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.

Wear your seat belt. I know we have said this before. Now it is “on the real”, as Smash Williams would say. Maryland police have now gotten the memo that wearing your seat belt is a law. Police across Maryland are upping the ante on enforcement of seat belt laws with its new “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

We are not doing an awful job in Maryland. Approximately 93% of us are wearing seat belts. We are 9th in the nation, according to the CDC. Who is lagging behind? Women, older drivers and Hispanics are doing just great. But we struggle mightily with young men and anyone in a pick-up truck.

What is Maryland’s seat belt law? The driver, front seat passenger and all other people in the vehicle under age 16 must wear seat belts. Children younger than 8 years-old, less than 4 feet 9 inches tall and less than 65 pounds must ride in a child safety seat.

The reason defendants parties do not provide meaningful discovery responses is that you are likely, in garden variety accident cases in Maryland, to get away with it. Why? Because filing a motion to compel is hard work. Here is a sample motion to compel John Bratt wrote in a case earlier this week.

This motion is set up using the “lay it out” format most judges in Maryland require.

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.

A lawsuit has been filed in a fatal car accident that caused the tragic death of a 7-year-old girl in Pittsburgh. Plaintiff’s lawsuit is against the driver who was, according to the claim, driving at twice the legal BAC limit. The suit also names the bar that allegedly continued to serve the Plaintiff.

This case would not survive summary judgment in Maryland. Famously – okay, maybe not famously but I think someone read it – the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog changed its position on dram shop laws in this post.

The CDC reports that Maryland is 9th in the nation in the percentage of people who report they always wear a seat belt. Oregon is first which is surprising because the study also found that seat belt use among rural drivers is much lower than usage in urban and suburban areas. So whatever Oregon is doing, we should be copying them. Ninth is not bad but why can’t Maryland be first? Couldn’t someone start some sort of campaign? Nothing like competition to bring about the best results. The fact that seat belts reduce car accident deaths is underscored by this study: seat belts reduce the risk of death in car accidents by 45-50%.

Wearing a seat belt may become more and more important if oil prices continue to rise. Oil prices so far have not led Americans to buy more fuel efficient but less safe vehicles. Oil is now at $93 a barrel. If it goes to $150, as some have predicted, we are going to see $5 to $6 per gallon at the pump and it is going to cause people to buy smaller cars. If cars are going to get smaller, they need to build safer small cars and we need to improve our driving habits or the recent improvements in the number of car crash fatalities are going to diminish.

Another interesting finding from the study is that seat belt compliance is significantly higher among women, older drivers and Hispanics.

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer. I am a Maryland accident lawyer who handles serious injury cases only. My law firm does not handle property damage or minor injury claims. But, without a doubt, property damage claims are vexing for the vast majority of people who are involved in a car accident. So let me give you my thoughts on property damage cases. You can also find more information along with my law firm’s thoughts on property damage claims on our website.

It is easy to forget from where I am sitting, but the average auto accident claim does not involve injuries. Without an injury, it is hard, (read: virtually) impossible to get a lawyer to handle your claim. So most property damage accident victims will end up handling their own property damage claims rather than getting the assistance of an attorney. Without an attorney, consumers are behind the 8 ball if the insurance company does not play it straight and tries to take advantage of the fact that the claimant does not understand the law and their rights when making a property damage claim from a car accident.

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