The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes distracted driving as a “dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways.” Combating this epidemic are a group of Howard County high school students.
While with his driving instructor, a student driver is involved in an auto accident. May the driving instructor be responsible? In Maryland, the answer is found in the 1970 decision of Greenway v. Graft.
While you might expect the phrase “sovereign immunity” to live in the palaces of kings and queens, you may be surprised to learn that this ancient royal doctrine also rides DC Metro.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine which precludes suit against the government without its consent. Based upon the ancient rule that the king can do no wrong, the doctrine bars suit against the State for the torts of its officers or employees unless such immunity has been waived expressly by statute or by necessary inference from legislative enactment.
As discussed in greater detail in Joseph G. Cleaver’s October 30, 2012 post (http://kramerslaw.com/blog/), the Maryland Court of Appeals recently applied this doctrine to two separate cases where women slipped, fell and were injured on wet floors at Metrorail stations. The Court held that plaintiffs were precluded from asserting their tort claims against WMATA because the Interstate Compact governing the Agency granted immunity to governmental functions. Because the floor cleaning decisions of WMATA employees implicated governmental functions, the Court ruled that the WMATA was immune from these suits.
While sovereign immunity still lives and rides in DC and Maryland, that immunity is often limited. If you are injured as a result of the actions of a government agency or employee in DC or Maryland, consult an attorney to discover the rights and limitations existing under the law that affect your ability to obtain recovery.
In an opinion sure to infuriate pit bull owners and scare landlords, Maryland’s highest court has made owning pit bulls the equivalent of possessing canine TNT.
By a vote of 4-3, the Court held that such strict liability extends to "a landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises." Reviewed several recent pit bull attacks that have left significant scars on their victims and the law, the four-judge majority did not believe that any dog within this breed could be considered safe. "Because of its aggressive and vicious nature and its capability to inflict serious and sometimes fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inherently dangerous."
Although there is no law on the books banning the breed, or making it a crime to own one, the Court handed down "a strict liability standard in respect to the owning, harboring or control of pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls" even if the owner had no knowledge of any otherwise dangerous tendencies of his or her particular pet.
Coming to the defense of the breed, three judges thought their brethren were barking up the wrong tree. In their dissent, these jurists expressed the view that the "majority opinion delivers an unenlightening and unworkable rule regarding mixed-breed dogs. How much 'pit bull' must there be in a dog to bring it within the strict liability edict? How will that be determined? What rationale exists for any particular percentage of the genetic code to trigger strict liability?"
Which side of the fence are you on? Should pit bulls be innocent until proven dangerous? Is this a doggone shame, or was the majority right to hold these dogs on a short legal leash?
You may read the Court's decision here. What do you think?
Tracey v. Solesky
April 26, 2012
If buses could fly, must I prove why before I have a case I can try?
According to the Maryland's highest court, the operator of a bus that became "airborne" while traveling on Route 50 West in Prince George's County cannot be held liable based upon that fact alone. Rejecting the claims of two passengers injured when a Washington, D.C. bus made a crash landing into a tree off the side of the road, the Court of Appeals found that evidence to be insufficient to warrant an inference of negligence on the part of its driver.
Rather than call witnesses to explain how the bus took off to such unfriendly skies, Plaintiffs Wayne and Jaron Singleton argued that, because such a single-vehicle accident ordinarily would not occur without some fault on the part of the bus driver, the defense should have the duty to prove otherwise under what is known as the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor (literally, "the thing speaks for itself"). But a unanimous court refused to apply this doctrine, particularly in a case where Plaintiffs' counsel failed to have any actual witnesses speak about what may have caused this unusual incident.
In the Court's view, the doctrine would only apply under circumstances in which one could rule out causes other than driver error. "With regard to a negligence action based on a perceptually single-vehicle accident, [the doctrine] will be available 'if the accident or injury is one which ordinarily would not occur without negligence on the part of the operator of the vehicle' and 'the facts are so clear and certain that the inference [of negligence] arises naturally from them.'"
Although the Court recognized a number of older cases in which such inferences were made in single-vehicle accidents, it refused to draw this inference where there were a number of witnesses to the accident available to testify. But because of their attorney's "apparent tactical decision to avoid reasonably available witnesses," Plaintiff's "unnecessarily barebones case-in-chief failed to eliminate sufficiently other causes of the accident, and failed to evince that the bus driver's negligence was the most probable causative factor." Rather than shift this burden of proof to the defense, the Court refused to let Plaintiffs "merely ... prove that the bus left the road and rest, taking advantage of res ipsa loquitur to plug the hole in the doughnut" of their case.
District of Columbia v. Singleton
March 20, 2012