Articles Posted in Wrongful Death Cases

A tragic multi-vehicle accident occurred in Chesapeake, Virginia last week, resulting in the unfortunate death of a motorcyclist. According to a local news report covering the accident, the responsible driver was in a red pickup truck when they ran a red light around 12:30 pm one afternoon, causing them to hit the motorcyclist and five other vehicles. The motorcyclist, a 56-year-old man, was sadly pronounced dead at the scene, and three other victims were sent to the hospital to be treated for their injuries.

While such accidents and fatalities are always tragic, they, unfortunately, happen far too often, and motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to their effects. Because motorcyclists do not have the protection that a car provides between them and other vehicles or the road, they are more likely to be severely injured by negligent or reckless drivers when they run red lights or engage in other dangerous behaviors.

In such incidents, it is always possible that local law enforcement will investigate and file criminal charges. In the tragic incident described above, law enforcement charged the at-fault driver with involuntary manslaughter and possession of cocaine. These charges, while they may help the public feel safer on the roads, do very little to compensate the victims and their families who may be suffering psychologically and financially.

In the tragic event of the death of a family member, a wrongful death claim may allow family members to recover compensation for the loss they suffered. Under Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act, a claim can be filed by certain family members against the parties at fault for the family member’s death. The Wrongful Death Act is intended to compensate family members of the decedent based on the losses suffered by the family members.

It is common for defendants in Maryland wrongful death claims to raise the fault of the victim as a defense. Maryland follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which means that if a plaintiff is found to have been even the slightest bit negligent, the plaintiff is completely barred from recovery. Similarly, a person’s contributory negligence bars recovery of a subsequent wrongful death claim.

Another common issue is proving the elements of negligence in the absence of the victim’s testimony. Without the victim’s statement concerning what happened, families often have to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the case. This often requires the assistance of experts and investigators. A plaintiff has the burden to prove all the elements of the claim by a preponderance of the evidence, including whether the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Mere speculation cannot sustain a negligence claim. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct failed to meet the standard of care, that the defendant’s failure to meet the standard of care caused the plaintiff’s injuries, that the injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct, and that the plaintiff suffered injuries.

When someone causes a serious or fatal Maryland motorcycle accident, the accident may form the basis of a criminal charge against the at-fault driver. However, while judges in criminal cases can order restitution in some situations, the objective of a criminal case is not to compensate the victim for the damages they sustained. Instead, the criminal justice system is primarily concerned with punishing a defendant for violating the law.

A defendant in a criminal matter may also face a civil claim brought by those who were injured in the accident. These are often referred to as personal injury claims. Unlike a criminal case, the focus of a personal injury case is to compensate an accident victim for the damages they sustained as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Often, this includes damages amounts for medical expenses, lost wages, loss of companionship, as well as for any emotional pain and suffering caused by the accident.

When a negligent driver’s negligence or recklessness causes a fatal accident, the accident victim’s surviving loved ones can bring a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. These claims are very similar to negligence claims except that wrongful death cases allow different types of damages, and the process of filing the case is slightly different. The takeaway is that accident victims are not limited by the state’s decision to pursue a criminal conviction against an at-fault driver, and can pursue their own claim against the motorist in civil court.

While every accident is different, generally speaking Maryland motorcycle accidents often result in very serious injuries. In most cases, a motorist who causes a motorcycle accident will not have the financial means necessary to pay for the damages sustained in the crash. This is why it is so auto insurance is so important.

Maryland law requires that all motorists maintain a certain amount of insurance on their vehicle to compensate anyone who may be injured as a result of the driver’s negligence. In Maryland, there are three types of mandatory car insurance:

  • Liability: this coverage compensates those who have been injured as a result of the insured’s negligence
  • Property Damage: this coverage compensates accident victims for the damage to their property caused by the insured’s negligence; and
  • Un/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Protection: this coverage kicks in when another motorist’s liability insurance coverage is insufficient to fully compensate the insured for the injuries they sustained in an accident.

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Anytime someone gets in a vehicle – whether it be a car, truck or motorcycle – there is a risk of being involved in a Maryland auto accident. While any accident poses a risk of serious injury to those involved, motorcycle accidents result in a disproportionate amount of fatalities due to the lack of protection motorcycles offer riders.

According to the most recent government statistics, there are approximately 1,450 Maryland motorcycle accidents each year. In 2017, there were 85 people killed in Maryland motorcycle accidents. While this may not seem like a high number, consider the fact that there are only about 123,000 motorcycles registered in the State of Maryland compared to almost 2 million cars and trucks.

When someone is killed in a Maryland motorcycle accident, their surviving family members may be able to pursue a claim for financial compensation through a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. Under Maryland Code Section 3-904, a wrongful death claim is primarily for the benefit of a surviving spouse, child or parent. These are considered “primary beneficiaries.” If, however, there are no primary beneficiaries, a claim may be brought by “any person related to the deceased person by blood or marriage who was substantially dependent upon the deceased.”

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Losing a loved one is always a very difficult and trying experience. However, when a loved one is killed in a preventable accident, such as a Maryland motorcycle accident, the feelings of frustration, anger, and loss are difficult to push aside.

In cases involving a negligent driver, the criminal justice system is often disinterested in pursuing a claim against the responsible driver. This is because criminal courts are typically concerned with intentional actions that result in injury, rather than a motorist’s negligence or poor decision-making. And even when a criminal charge is filed, the family of the deceased is typically just along for the ride, having no real role in the proceedings. In addition, even a successful criminal case against a negligent driver will do little to provide for the loss of financial support provided by the deceased. Overall, a criminal charge does little to comfort the family of the deceased other punishing the at-fault driver.

Under the Maryland wrongful death statute, the family members of a Maryland motorcycle accident victim can pursue a civil claim for damages against a negligent driver. Unlike a criminal case, the objective of a Maryland wrongful death case is less focused on the at-fault driver’s violation of the law and more concerned with the loss of life that resulted from the driver’s negligent actions. If successful, the surviving loved one may recover amounts for medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of financial support, as well as for emotional damages.

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Maryland motorcycle accidents are a common occurrence, and too often, they result in the serious injury or death of the motorcyclist. Many times, these accidents are due in no part to the motorcyclist’s actions but are caused by another driver’s negligence. This may be due to the other motorist being distracted or intoxicated or driving in an aggressive manner.

Anyone who loses a loved one in a motorcycle accident is entitled to seek compensation for their loss through a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. In Maryland, wrongful death lawsuits must be brought by a primary beneficiary, if one exists. A primary beneficiary includes a surviving spouse, parent, or child of the accident victim. If no primary beneficiary exists, a secondary beneficiary can bring the claim. This opens up the class of putative plaintiffs to anyone who was related to the accident victim by blood or marriage and was substantially dependent on the accident victim.

Once it is determined that the proper party is bringing the wrongful death claim, the claim itself must be established. This requires the plaintiff to show that some negligent act or omission of the defendant resulted in the death of their loved one. Proof of negligence can be shown through the admission of cell phone records, traffic citations, accident reports, or eyewitness testimony. If successful, damages normally include not only amounts for actual losses incurred, such as medical expenses, but also amounts for mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship.

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Most cyclists fairly believe that as long as they have insurance, they will be covered in the event of a Maryland bicycle accident. However, insurance contracts can be tricky, and insurance companies often try to interpret insurance contracts in their own favor, potentially limiting the amount of coverage provided to a motorist and at the same time limiting the insurance company’s overall risk.

In some cases, the insurance company has little to do but settle a case fairly. However, other cases present unique situations in which an insurance company’s clever argument may result in a decrease in the company’s obligations. A recent case illustrates one insurance company’s attempt to characterize the deaths of two bicyclists as a single “accident” under the terms of the policy.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was the surviving wife of a man who was killed in a bicycle accident that was caused by a negligent driver. At the time of the accident, both the plaintiff and her husband were riding on the shoulder of the road. Weather conditions were clear. At some point, a driver came from behind at about 50 miles per hour and first struck the plaintiff’s husband. He was thrown about 165 feet from his bike.

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The death of a loved one is tragic. In Maryland motor vehicle crashes, the party at fault for the crash should be held responsible for their actions. The wrongful death statute in Maryland allows certain family members to recover compensation after the family members’ death. The purpose of the statute is “to compensate the families of the decedents, as opposed to the estates of the decedents.” Therefore, a wrongful death claim is a separate claim that can be brought by the decedent’s family.

The law allows for certain beneficiaries to file a Maryland wrongful death lawsuit. Primary beneficiaries are defined as the spouses, parents, or children of the deceased person. If no primary beneficiaries exist, Maryland law permits secondary beneficiaries to pursue a claim. A secondary plaintiff is any other person related to the deceased person by blood or marriage who was wholly dependent on the decedent.

In order to prove liability, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s wrongful act resulted in their loved one’s death. Under the statute, a wrongful act is an “act, neglect, or default including a felonious act which would have entitled the injured party to maintain an action and recover damages” if the person had not died. Plaintiffs may recover damages for not only pecuniary losses but also pain and suffering, loss of companionship, parental care, guidance, and more.

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