One of the most common questions we see in Maryland motorcycle accidents is whether the fact that an accident victim was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident can be used against the accident victim at trial. While states across the nation are split on this question – with some states not yet having arrived at a definitive answer – Maryland courts generally do not allow evidence of helmet non-use to show that the motorcyclist was negligent.

Motorcycle HelmetCourts that prevent helmet non-use evidence from being considered at trial understand that the benefits of wearing a helmet are common knowledge, and people are aware that helmets can help save a rider’s life in some circumstances. However, the legal question in Maryland motorcycle accidents is whether the defendant breached a duty of care that he owed to the accident victim, and whether the defendant’s breach of the duty resulted in the accident victim’s injuries. This inquiry does not necessarily require courts to look at whether the motorcyclist was wearing a helmet at the time of the collision.

In fact, several courts have determined that when helmet non-use evidence is presented to a jury, it may have the unintended consequence of essentially requiring a plaintiff to prove that they could not have prevented their own injuries through helmet use. This is not how the law should be applied, so these courts prevent helmet non-use evidence to prevent this unfair result.

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In the Washington, D.C. area, it is not uncommon to see government workers conducting official business while out on the road. Inevitably, government workers – like other drivers – will get involved in motor vehicle accidents. In these situations, the question often arises of when an accident victim can hold the government responsible for the actions of an employee.

Yield SignAs a general rule, state and federal governments cannot be sued without their consent. However, almost all states – as well as the federal government – have passed a series of laws that explain when a government will agree to be sued. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government waives its immunity in cases involving personal injuries caused by employees under certain circumstances.

In order for immunity to be waived, an accident victim must show that the government employee was engaging in a ministerial task that was within the course of their employment when the injury occurred. This can be broken down into two elements:

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Last month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion affirming a lower court’s decision to enter summary judgment in favor of a motorcycle accident victim. While the court determined that the driver who caused the accident was individually liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, the court also held that the trust for which the at-fault driver was a trustee could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

motorcycleThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was driving his motorcycle eastbound in the slow lane of the Route 50 highway. The defendant, who was operating a flatbed truck, was facing northbound on a perpendicular street, preparing to make a left turn to head westbound on Route 50. As the defendant pulled out into the eastbound lanes of traffic, he cut off the motorcyclist, who collided with the front driver’s-side quarter-panel of the truck. The motorcyclist was seriously injured and taken to the hospital, where he later passed away.

The responding police officer surveyed the accident scene, finding that the motorcyclist tried to brake before colliding with the truck but was unable to come to a stop in time. The officer determined that the defendant was at fault and issued a citation for failing to yield to the motorcyclist.

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Anyone familiar with riding a motorcycle knows that there are certain unavoidable dangers that confront riders every time they get on a bike. Whether it is an intoxicated or distracted driver or a motorist who misjudges the speed at which a motorcyclist is traveling, many of the risks facing motorcyclists are beyond their control. However, of all of the dangers out there, one of the biggest dangers to motorcyclists is aggressive or distracted drivers.

HandlebarsDistracted driving is a broad term used to describe any time a motorist’s attention is diverted anywhere other than the road ahead of them. The reasons for distracted driving vary, but commonly distracted driving involves the use of a cell phone to talk or text. In some cases, a driver can be distracted by other passengers, by eating or drinking, or by adjusting the volume on the radio or the coordinates on the GPS system. In any event, distracted driving is dangerous, and the law discourages the behavior by allowing anyone injured by a distracted driver to hold the distracted driver accountable through a personal injury lawsuit.

Of course, proving that a driver was distracted is not always easy, and it is best left to an experienced personal injury attorney. With an attorney’s help, accident victims may be able to obtain cell-phone records, traffic-camera footage, or witness testimony to establish that another driver was not paying attention.

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Earlier this month, one Maryland man was killed when he was struck by another vehicle while riding on a motorcycle in Upper Marlboro. According to a local news report covering the fatal accident, the collision occurred in the evening hours on Maryland Route 202 near the intersection with Robert Lewis Drive.

Motorcycle on HighwayEvidently, the motorcyclist was heading southbound on MD 202 when a westbound vehicle traveling on Robert Lewis Drive attempted to make a left-hand turn onto northbound MD 202. As the vehicle executed the turn, it traveled directly into the path of the motorcycle, leaving the operator no time to avoid the collision. The motorcyclist crashed into the side of the vehicle, sending the motorcyclist off the bike and onto the pavement. He later died from the injuries he sustained in the accident. As it turns out, the motorcycle had previously been reported stolen.

Police sent an accident reconstruction team to the scene, and the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

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The chances are that most motorists have had the experience of driving along a winding road when a vehicle pulls out of a hidden driveway, requiring evasive maneuvers and a quick application of the brakes. These hidden driveways are a major hazard on Maryland roads and are fairly commonplace across the state. While hidden driveways are a hazard to all motorists, motorcyclists in particular are at an increased risk due to motorcycles’ increased stopping distance.

Hidden DrivewayResidents who live in a home with a hidden driveway are most likely accustomed to the dangers that are presented when they pull out onto the road. Indeed, many residents strategically install mirrors so that they can see if another vehicle is approaching. However, not every home or business owner with a hidden driveway takes this precaution, and the fact remains that many – if not most – hidden driveways require motorists exiting the driveway to essentially guess when it is safe to pull out.

Motorcycle accidents caused by a vehicle exiting a hidden driveway can be either party’s fault. In cases in which an exiting motorist fails to take notice of an approaching motorcycle, that motorist may be at fault. However, exiting motorists cannot be expected to anticipate a motorcycle speeding around a curve. Thus, these cases are highly fact-dependent and often require the close eye of an experienced personal injury attorney.

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In most cases, after a motorcycle accident, the injured motorcyclist can pursue monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault motorist. However, when the at-fault party is a government employee, the injured motorcyclist may discover that government immunity is a barrier to their recovery.

Sheriff CarGovernment Immunity in Maryland

As a general rule, state, local, and federal governments are immune from tort liability. However, in Maryland, the state legislature has passed the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA), waiving immunity in many situations. For example, under the MTCA, when a government employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment and causes an accident, government immunity will not attach, and the government entity can be held liable up to $200,000 per person, per incident.

While Maryland law allows for recovery in many cases involving government defendants, there may be significant litigation over whether the government employee’s actions are within the scope of employment. If a government employee is determined not to have been acting within the scope of their employment, an injured motorcyclist may be able to bring a lawsuit against the motorist in their individual capacity, but they will be prevented from naming the government entity as a defendant.

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While all motorcycle accidents have the potential to result in serious injuries or death, hit-and-run accidents are especially dangerous. Primarily, this is because depending on the surrounding circumstances, the injured motorcyclist may be left on the side of the road with no way to contact authorities.

MotorcycleAs a general rule, a motorist who is involved in an accident of any kind must stop after the accident and exchange information with the other motorists involved in the accident. Additionally, motorists may have a duty to ensure that anyone who was injured in the accident receives timely medical attention. Most often, this includes calling 911 to make sure that the authorities are aware of the accident and can send the appropriate medical personnel.

When a motorist is involved in an accident and fails to stop and render assistance to the other parties involved, that driver may be held liable for any injuries resulting from the accident. This may even be the case if the motorist was not the one who was solely responsible for causing the accident.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in South Dakota issued a written opinion in a motorcycle accident case that was brought by a man who was injured when he was unable to stop in time to avoid a line of traffic that had built up as a result of a previous accident. The case was brought against the drunk driver who had caused the original accident. However, due to numerous factors, the court held that the drunk driver’s negligent actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Cloudy RoadThe Facts of the Case

At around 3:00 p.m. on August 5, 2012, an intoxicated motorcyclist failed to negotiate a curve in the highway and ended up driving off the road into a ditch. There was no indication that the motorcycle or any debris was remaining in the road following the accident. The Highway Patrol responded, and the motorcyclist was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Highway Patrol began an accident reconstruction project at around 4:00 p.m., and at this time, traffic was flowing in both directions. A highway patrol officer was stationed to the east of the accident to warn approaching motorists.

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Motorized scooters have become a popular alternative to bicycles and motorcycles, especially for those living in urban areas. However, like those who use other two-wheeled vehicles, scooter drivers are at an increased risk for being seriously injured when they are involved in an accident. Therefore, those who drive motorized scooters should take every precaution to avoid serious accidents, including wearing a helmet.

Retro ScooterThat being said, no matter how careful a motorist is, some accidents are unavoidable. This is especially the case when other motorists are driving aggressively or driving while distracted or intoxicated. When another motorist causes a scooter accident, the accident victim is entitled to seek compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit.

In order to be successful in a Maryland personal injury lawsuit, an accident victim must be able to prove that the named defendant acted negligently and that the defendant’s negligence caused their injuries. In situations in which the other motorist was issued a traffic citation or was criminally charged for their role in causing the accident, this evidence will most likely be admissible in a subsequent personal injury case and can help the plaintiff prove their case. While this process sounds simple in principle, many hurdles can arise throughout the course of a personal injury lawsuit, and it is best to consult with a dedicated injury attorney prior to filing a case.

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