Articles Posted in Government Liability

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that presents a very important issue for the victims of Maryland bicycle accidents. The case required the court to interpret and apply the state’s recreational use statute, determining if the conduct of the government defendant in charge of maintaining the land where the plaintiff sustained his injuries rose to the level of “willful or wanton.”

Bike TrailFinding that the government’s conduct was not willful or wanton, the court determined that the government agency was entitled to immunity and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding his bicycle on a mixed-use trail on a summer morning. As the plaintiff approached a pedestrian on the trail, he rang his bell and began to pass the pedestrian by moving into the middle of the trail. However, as the plaintiff steered the bike to the middle of the trail, the bike’s tire got caught in a crack that was about three inches wide and two inches deep, and ran approximately four feet in the direction of travel. As the bike’s wheel got caught, the plaintiff lost his balance and fell, injuring his shoulder.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Kentucky issued a written opinion in a motorcycle accident case that illustrates a very important principle that also applies to many Maryland motorcycle accident cases. The case required the appellate court to determine if sufficient evidence existed to support the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant. Finding that sufficient evidence did exist, the court affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Fallen TreeThe Facts of the Case

A few days after a major wind storm, the plaintiff was injured when he struck a fallen tree in the middle of the roadway. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the county engineer, as well as the engineer’s supervisor, arguing that they were negligent in failing to follow their duty to maintain a clear roadway.

Initially, the engineer argued that he was entitled to government immunity because he did not believe tree removal to be a part of his job. However, that issue was appealed, and it was determined that the engineer was not entitled to government immunity merely because he was unaware of his full duties. After that decision, the case was sent back to the trial court to proceed toward trial.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury lawsuit that presented an interesting issue that many Maryland bicycle accident plaintiffs encounter when seeking compensation for their injuries. The case involved the interpretation of a recreational use statute and required the court to determine whether the trail where the plaintiff was injured was covered under the statute’s grant of immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the trail where the plaintiff’s injury occurred was not the type the legislature intended to include within the statute’s text. As a result, the plaintiff’s case was permitted to proceed toward trial or settlement negotiations.

Bike TrailThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured while riding with a group of friends on a paved biking trail. Evidently, there was an area of the trail where the pavement had started to break away, due to vegetation that grew up through the pavement. The trail was paved and was painted with a yellow line to designate directional travel. The path was also used by an electric company to access power lines that ran to nearby neighborhoods. The path intersected not just with other mixed-use paths but also with several roads.

As the plaintiff was riding behind a friend, her friend fell off her bike, causing the plaintiff to fall as well. The plaintiff was seriously injured as a result of the fall and filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city that was in charge of maintaining the path.

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When a motorist negligently causes an accident with a motorcyclist, resulting in injuries to the motorcyclist, the at-fault driver may be held liable for their negligent actions through a Maryland motorcycle accident lawsuit. However, when the at-fault party is a government employee, there are often additional complications, due to government immunity that attaches in some situations.

Police CarGovernment Immunity in Maryland Motorcycle Accidents

It used to be that governments and their employees were never liable for any accident that occurred while carrying out official government business. However, with the passage of the Maryland Tort Claims Act, this official government immunity is waived in certain circumstances.

Under the MTCA, small claims against the government are permitted as long as liability does not exceed $200,000 per claim. It is important to note that these claims will not be automatically approved, and most need to be litigated before compensation will be available. Claims under the MTCA have strict notice and timeliness requirements that must be followed, or cases will be dismissed. Anyone considering filing a Maryland personal injury claim against a government entity should consult with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney.

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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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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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There can be little doubt that police officers have a difficult job. The nature of the job requires that they weigh the risks and benefits of a course of action and make a decision quickly. In some cases, police officers make the wrong decision, and someone is hurt as a result.

Police CarAs a general rule, police officers are entitled to immunity from personal injury lawsuits, as long as they are acting within certain boundaries. Normally, a mere showing of negligence will not be enough to overcome police officer immunity. However, when a police officer causes a serious injury due to their reckless conduct, liability may be appropriate.

One common instance in which innocent bystanders may be injured by the actions of police is in a high-speed chase. High-speed chases, by their very nature, involve high speeds and likely also involve numerous violations of the motor vehicle code. This type of driving puts not only the police at risk but also the general public. In fact, in 2014, there were over 375 people killed in police high-speed chases.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in New York affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a 12-year-old boy who was struck by a car while riding his bicycle on a four-lane road. In the case, Turturro v. City of New York, the court ultimately denied the City’s challenge that it was entitled to governmental immunity. However, had this case arisen in Maryland, the jury would have been unable to award the plaintiff anything, due to a difference in the substantive law between the two states.

Bicyclist at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

Turturro was riding his bicycle on Gerritsen Avenue at around 6:30 in the evening. At the specific location where the accident occurred, the road was four lanes wide with two lanes in each direction, and the speed limit was 30 miles per hour. Turturro filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver as well as the City of New York.

Evidence presented at trial suggested that the motorist who struck Turturro was traveling at approximately 54 miles per hour. Turturro also presented evidence showing that the specific location where the accident occurred was a known high-risk area for speeding and drag racing. In fact, Turturro showed the jury several letters written by members of the community to the City, asking for something to be done about the problem.

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While most car accidents involve the negligence of at least one driver, the cause of some single-vehicle car accidents can be traced back to a poorly designed or improperly maintained roadway. In some cases, this may mean that the roadway obscures the vision of motorists, making it more difficult, or even impossible, for them to see what lies around a corner. In other cases, a rough or deteriorating road surface makes it difficult for vehicles to maintain control or come to a safe stop.

Sunny RoadUltimately, the duty resides with the state or federal government to design and maintain a safe network of roads and highways. However, liability for the design or maintenance of a roadway is not always present and depends on a number of factors. Generally speaking, if a government agency has knowledge that a road is dangerous, the government should take action to remedy the danger. Many times, this comes down to presenting a court with statistics of car accidents that have occurred on the same stretch of road, or submitting evidence that an inspection of the road was completed but no action taken.

Road to Be Redesigned after Several Fatal Accidents

Earlier last month, a bicyclist was killed on a stretch of road in Chicago when she was struck by a passing cement truck. According to a local news source covering the tragic accident, the 18-year-old bicyclist accidentally turned into the side of the passing cement truck. The exact details are unclear, but authorities believe that the bicyclist misjudged the length of the truck and initiated her turn too soon.

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Earlier this month, a Mississippi court issued an opinion in a motorcycle accident case brought by the estate of a man who died when he inadvertently entered a construction zone and crashed his motorcycle. In the case, Mississippi Transportation Commission v. Adams, the court made its ruling based on the governmental immunity that state, federal, and municipal governments enjoy when engaging in the discretionary functions of running a government. However, in this case, the court declined to extend the immunity to protect the government because the activity at issue — covering the white lines used to guide motorists — is “ministerial” in nature rather than “discretionary.”

Road Work SignThe Facts of the Case

Adams was riding his motorcycle on a Mississippi highway when he accidentally entered a construction zone. Once in the construction zone, Adams attempted to exit safely, but as he tried to do so, his motorcycle hit an uneven surface, and he lost control. He was ejected from his motorcycle and was then struck by two passing vehicles. He died as a result of his injuries.

His wife filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the traffic control devices, including the white lines used to guide motorists on the highway, were not effective in preventing motorists from entering the dangerous construction zone.

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