Articles Posted in Government Liability

Most Maryland motorcycle accidents involve the negligence of one or more motorists. Negligence takes many forms, such as impaired driving, distracted driving, fatigued driving, aggressive driving, and failure to abide by traffic laws. However, road conditions or poor road design may be the sole cause or contribute to a motorcycle accident in some cases. Road conditions such as missing guardrails, large potholes, erosion, and other unsafe aspects of a roadway can result in serious accidents. Similarly, faulty road design can also contribute to a car accident. However, establishing that faulty design contributed to an accident can be challenging to injury victims and their loved ones.

For example, news reports described an accident involving a 22-year-old man. According to police, they responded to an accident on a highway exit ramp. An investigation revealed that the motorcyclist was proceeding west when he reached the crest of a hill jammed with traffic from a red light. Police speculate that the motorcyclist lost control of his bike while avoiding colliding into the stopped traffic. Emergency responders transported the man to a local hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.

After accidents of this nature, the injury vicitm or their representative must prove that the faulty road conditions caused the accident. For instance, a victim may allege that the accident was caused by missing signs, unkempt trees blocking views, or faulty traffic lights. However, more pertinent is whether the agency, company, or organization responsible for the roadway was negligent in the road’s design, maintenance, or repair. After determining the party responsible for maintaining the roadway, the victim must prove that the entity was negligent in their responsibilities or duties.

As roads are often being repaired, traffic is frequently reconfigured as a result. Maryland’s current “Traffic Relief Plan” includes improvements to I-495, I-270, I-695, and I-95, potentially affecting traffic patterns on major roadways in the state. And while repairs can improve the safety and condition of roads, changes in traffic configurations can also lead to Maryland motorcycle crashes as people adjust to the new configurations. Particularly on routes they are familiar with, drivers may not expect the detours, shifting or narrowing of lanes, new roads, or other new configurations. If they are not paying close attention, they may veer off the road or lose control. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, construction projects have continued in Maryland. And although there was less traffic in Maryland in 2020 due to the pandemic, fatal crashes in the state increased by 12 percent from the previous year, and overall crashes increased by nine percent.

Maryland drivers are expected to exercise reasonable care while driving, which includes being vigilant and looking out for new traffic configurations. Even if a driver encounters a dangerous situation because of a new traffic configuration, the driver must still exercise reasonable care considering the circumstances. The driver is expected to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable, prudent person would, considering the circumstances and in light of the time that the driver has to evaluate the choices.

If a driver fails to exercise reasonable care and injures another person, the driver may be liable for those injuries. In a Maryland negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that a defendant had a legal duty to the plaintiff, the defendant failed to meet that duty by acting or failing to act in some way, the defendant’s wrongful act caused the plaintiff damages, and the plaintiff suffered damages. A plaintiff has to prove all elements of a negligence claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Maryland motorcycle crash victims may be able to recover financial compensation through a civil claim for medical bills, wage losses, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Maryland’s recreational use statute (RUS) is designed to encourage property owners to make their land available to the public for educational and recreational use by limiting the property owner’s liability in certain circumstances. Maryland’s RUS can pose significant challenges to individuals that suffer injuries while visiting recreational properties. Under this statute, landowners that make their land available for recreational use do not owe their visitors a duty of care to keep their land safe or provide them warnings. In effect, landowners in these cases owe their visitors the same level of care that they would owe a trespasser. This means that landowners in these situations must only refrain from willful or wanton behavior that may hurt the visitor.

For example, in a recent opinion, an state appellate court addressed the defendant’s claim of immunity based on the state’s RUS. In that case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a university after a university employee hit her with a university-owned vehicle. The university argued that, amongst other issues, they were not liable under the RUS. The court found in favor of the university, finding that the RUS applied, and the university only owed her a duty to not engage in bad faith, malicious intent, and gross negligence.

Maryland’s RUS is broad, and injured plaintiffs must understand the impact that their classification has on the outcome of their case. The statute protects owners if they allow visitors on their land for “any recreational purpose.” This means that, for example, if a person suffers injuries at their neighbor’s house while riding their neighbor’s dirt bike, the neighbor may be able to assert the RUS to limit their liability.

Historically, the state and federal government were entitled to immunity from most types of liability. Thus, unless a government entity specifically consented to being named in a lawsuit, the case would be dismissed by the court. However, about a century ago the federal government, as well as all the state governments, passed laws called tort claims acts. These laws enumerated certain types of claims that could be brought against a government. The Maryland Tort Claims Act allows certain types of personal injury accidents to be filed against the state, including some Maryland motorcycle accidents.

Most states follow one of two types of tort claims acts. The first type allows for a very narrow range of claims to be filed against the government. However, if a claim is allowed, the plaintiff can typically recover significant damages against the government. Maryland’s tort claims act operates differently in that it allows for a very broad range of claims to be pursued against the government, but implements a fairly low damages cap in these cases. Thus, many Maryland personal injury plaintiffs are able to recover, but few recover enough money to fully compensate them for their injuries.

To successfully file a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against a government entity, the plaintiff must comply with the procedural requirements set out in the tort claims act. The Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA) typically requires the plaintiff to provide notice of the claim, including her theory of liability and what damages she is seeking. If a plaintiff fails to follow these procedures, her case will likely be dismissed. And if this occurs after the statute of limitations has run, she will be left without any means of recovery. Thus, ensuring total compliance with the MTCA is essential. A recent case illustrates the difficulties plaintiffs can run into when proper notice is not provided.

After someone is injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident, the law allows for the accident victim to pursue a claim for compensation against any parties responsible for the accident. Statistics show that motorcyclists are more likely than other motorists to be involved in a single-vehicle crash. In addition, motorcyclists may be more susceptible to hazards presented by dangerously designed roads. A recent case illustrates the types of issues that can come up when a motorcyclist files a personal injury lawsuit against a city based on dangerously designed roads.

As the court described the facts, the plaintiff was traveling northbound in the left lane on a divided highway. As the plaintiff neared an intersection, he noticed there was a southbound SUV slowly approaching the intersection. The SUV began to make a left turn in front of the motorcycle, cutting the plaintiff off. Having no time to avoid the collision, the plaintiff’s bike slammed into the passenger’s side of the SUV. After the accident, the driver of the SUV claimed that his vision of approaching traffic was obscured by several trees and their wooden supports in the highway’s center median.

The plaintiff initiated a personal injury lawsuit against several parties, including the driver of the SUV and the city where the accident occurred. The plaintiff claimed that the city was negligent in designing the road and placing the trees in the center median where they could obstruct motorists’ view of oncoming traffic.

Maryland law imposes a duty on landowners to keep their property safe for those whom they invite onto their land. This includes both a duty to remedy any known dangers, as well as a duty to warn visitors about any hazards that may not be readily apparent. However, under Maryland’s recreational use statute, landowners who allow the public to use their land for recreational purposes cannot be held liable by those who are injured on their property as long as the landowner does not charge a fee for the use of their land.

The Maryland recreational use statute is not absolute, and there is an exception for a landowner’s “willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition.” A recent decision issued by a federal appellate court discusses this exception and when it may apply.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a bicycle accident that occurred on land that was owned and maintained by the Air Force Academy. Evidently, the plaintiff was riding his bike along a bicycle path when he encountered a large sinkhole. The sinkhole spanned the width of the path and, despite its large size, was difficult for riders to see as they approached it.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to determine if a group of city contractors that designed and landscaped the foliage around an intersection could be held liable after a motorist was killed at the intersection. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the city approved the work and the alleged hazard was readily apparent, the contractors were absolved from liability.

The case is important for Maryland car accident victims because, while the exact doctrine applied in Maryland differs slightly from that which was applied in this case, the concepts and considerations underlying the court’s rationale are consistent with Maryland law.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the mother of a man who died after being struck by a truck upon entering an intersection on his motorcycle. The plaintiff claimed that the foliage surrounding the intersection obstructed the motorists’ view of the intersection as they approached, causing the accident.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that raises an important issue for Maryland motorcycle accident victims who believe that their injuries were due to a poorly designed road or intersection. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff established that the government’s negligent planning and design of the road were the proximate cause of her injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger on a northbound motorcycle being driven by her husband. The couple approached an intersection in which they did not have a stop sign. At the same time, a pick-up truck was traveling in a perpendicular direction and had stopped at a stop sign. The driver of the pick-up truck looked both ways before entering the intersection; however, as he pulled into the intersection, the plaintiff and her husband collided with the side of the truck.

The plaintiff was seriously injured, and her husband died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the government in charge of designing and maintaining the road, claiming that the road was negligently designed. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the government was negligent in failing to install a four-way stop at the intersection, allowing too high a speed limit, and failing to provide adequate signage in advance of the intersection.

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As a general matter, Maryland government employees, entities, and organizations are entitled to immunity from Maryland personal injury lawsuits. However, under the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA), accident victims can pursue a claim for compensation against the government in certain limited situations.

Under the MTCA, victims can pursue a variety of claims against government entities up to the statutory limit of $400,000 per claimant per incident. However, certain conduct is removed from the MTCA and will not be covered. Namely, this is if the person or entity that caused the injury acted with malice or gross negligence or took actions not within the scope of the person’s employment. Other important exceptions also apply, and anyone considering a claim against a government agency or official in Maryland should consult with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney.

A recent case discusses one motorcycle accident plaintiff’s difficulties when attempting to bring a lawsuit against a local government for the condition of the roads that she believed caused the accident. While the state’s tort claims act involved in the case is different from Maryland’s, the case illustrates some of the common difficulties plaintiffs have when attempting to bring a lawsuit against a government entity.

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Earlier this year, a state supreme court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case raising an important issue for Maryland bicycle accident victims who were injured while riding on public property. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether a government landowner was entitled to immunity under the state’s recreational use statute when the path where the injury occurred was used for both recreational and non-recreational purposes.

Finding that there was no language in the state’s recreational use statute requiring that land be used exclusively for recreational purposes in order for immunity to attach, the court determined that the government landowner was entitled to immunity. Thus, the accident victim’s case was dismissed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding a bicycle with her niece along an asphalt path that was owned and maintained by the defendant municipality. The path was designated as a non-motorized path, and it was commonly used for recreational purposes. However, the path was labeled as “mixed use” and was also used by some commuters as a way to get to work.

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