Punitive Damages in Motorcycle Accident Cases

A federal district court recently decided on a motion for punitive damages in a motorcycle accident case, which raises several contemporary concerns, such as what type of proof is necessary to prove that punitive damages are applicable, and whether violating texting bans are sufficient proof of heightened negligent behavior.

In the case, Bostic v. Mader, Dist. Court, WD N.C. (2013), the two plaintiffs were riding motorcycles, when the driver of a passenger vehicle collided into one of the motorcyclists, throwing her from her bike, and causing her serious injury, and as a result substantial medical expenses.

The driver of the sport utility vehicle made a statement to law enforcement officials following the collision, stating that she had tried to stop the vehicle, but that the brakes did not function properly.

Additionally, the second motorcyclist, the injured motorcyclist’s brother, stated that just prior to the collision, he saw the defendant driver using a cellular telephone.

In order to recover punitive damages, the relevant standard for this case was that the driver acted in a manner that was, “willful, wanton, gross, reckless, and in complete disregard for the safety and rights of others.”

The court conducted an overview of the facts in the case, and found that there was no evidence that the driver acted in a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Specifically, in regards to the statement about the brakes not functioning properly, the court found that the plaintiff failed to prove that the defendant had prior knowledge that the brakes were not functioning properly.

Secondly, in regards to the alleged cell phone use, the relevant statute in the case prohibits cellphone use for texting, but not for ordinary voice calls. Thus, it was possible that the defendant was not violating the law as claimed. Additionally, even if she were violating the law, the statute itself contains a disclaimer that a violation of the ban is not evidence of negligence, especially for any action for recovery of damages stemming from the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a vehicle.

The court found that, while there were several allegations of negligence, there was insufficient evidence of willful or wanton conduct, and therefore the necessary prerequisite for seeking punitive damages was not met. The claim for punitive damages was dismissed.

However, just because the claim for punitive damages was dismissed does not mean that the plaintiffs are barred from recovery. To the contrary, assuming they made regular negligence claims, the injured plaintiff will likely recover for her injuries, pain and suffering, and relevant medical expenses. As to her brother’s claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the success of that claim depends on the underlying state law and strength of the facts in the case. Maryland does not recognize claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident due to another driver’s negligence, contact the experienced Maryland motorcycle accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers immediately. Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing motorcyclists and their passengers who have been injured or killed due to another driver’s negligence. Call us today in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation through this website, or by calling 1-800-654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Adding Additional Defendants and the Relation Back Rule in Motorcycle Accident Personal Injury Lawsuits, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 19, 2013
Federal District Court Rules on Remand to State Court Following Successful Joinder of Defendant’s Employer in Respondeat Superior Claim Arising out of Motorcycle Accident, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 12, 2013

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