Presently, Maryland is one of only five “contributory negligence” states, meaning that in a negligence action, a plaintiff who was in any way negligent is barred from recovery, even when the plaintiff was only “1% negligent.” That may soon change.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a 2010 opinion, in which the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) struck down the McCain-Feingold Act, a federal statute which prohibited corporations from funding broadcast communications addressing political candidates within sixty days of a general election. SCOTUS held that corporations, like people, are protected by the First Amendment, and that because a corporation must spend money to disseminate speech, the McCain-Feingold Act violated the First Amendment. Supporters of this polarizing decision (mostly those on the right) champion it as a victory for constitutional liberties, while its detractors (mostly those on the left) complain that it will corrupt the democratic process by allowing corporate coffers to inordinately influence elections.
While Citizens United’s influence will be readily apparent in the 2012 presidential race, its effects are also being felt on the state level. Last year, the Supreme Court of Montana held that Citizens United did not apply to Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a century-old campaign finance law that limits corporate spending on elections. In its rationale, the Montana court cited examples in its state of the "corrupting influence of campaign contributions on elections." Making no effort to hide its disdain for Citizens United, the Montana court referred to SCOTUS's equation of corporations to individuals as “utter nonsense.”
The force of the Montana court’s rebuke to Citizens United was short-lived. Last week, in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, SCOTUS reversed the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling. Holding that “there can be no serious doubt” that Citizens United applies to Montana’s campaign finance laws, SCOTUS struck down Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act.
It looks like Citizens United is here to stay ... at least for awhile. Four SCOTUS Justices dissented in Bullock, three of whom also dissented in Citizens United. (The fourth dissenting Justice in Bullock, Elena Kagan, was not on the bench in 2010 when Citizens United was decided. Justice Kagan’s predecessor, Justice John Paul Stephens, was the fourth dissenter in Citizens United.) With SCOTUS so closely divided over a such an incendiary issue, it’s possible that the outcome of the upcoming Presidential Election – which will determine future SCOTUS appointees – will determine the fate of Citizens United. Stay tuned.
According to a recent court decision, a doctor's medical credentials may be relevant when he's on the witness stand -- but not when he's been sued for malpractice?
Affirming the decision of Judge Ronald Silkworth of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland’s highest Court ordered yesterday that the Maryland Dream Act should proceed to referendum in November.
Before voters can decide the fate of Maryland's Dream Act, the Court of Appeals must decide whether voters can decide in the first place.
Believing that the Court of Appeals barked up the wrong tree in declaring pit bulls to be "inherently dangerous," legislative leaders have formed a task force to find ways around the controversial decision.
While everyone knows that the "sticker price" on a new car is always greater than the actual price, what happens when the posted fuel economy ratings on new cars are also inflated?
When UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love was found dead in her off-campus apartment, the school's president hoped her death would inspire outrage over campus violence. Last week, he got his wish when Yeardley's mom sued the school for wrongful death.
Speaking at a candlelight vigil held three days after her murder, University President John Casteen hoped “that her dying inspires an anger, a sense of outrage ... wherever Yeardley’s name is recognized that no woman ... fear for her safety or experience violence for any reason.”
Expressing outrage that her daughter had to live in fear for her safety, Sharon Love's $29.45 million wrongful death lawsuit raises serious questions about the University's duty to protect its students from violence on and off campus.
Filed nearly a year after her daughter was murdered at the hands of UVA men’s lacrosse player George Huguely V, the suit claims that the school failed to protect Yeardley and other students from his drunken, erratic and violent behavior. Citing three prior incidents of violence, including one in which Huguely attempted to choke Yeardley until other students restrained him, the Complaint alleges that “[i]t was well known to the players and coaches on the UVA men’s and women’s lacrosse teams that Huguely’s alcohol abuse and erratic, aggressive behavior was increasingly getting out of control, especially his obsession with Love and his aggressiveness and threats to Love.”
Did the University discipline this dangerous student, place him into treatment, provide anger management counseling, or take other steps to protect his fellow students? Not according to the lawsuit. After all, both lacrosse programs were vying for a national title at the time.
Nope. To honor Love, the University president held a candlelight vigil, expressed outrage, and let the rest of the lacrosse games resume. As both teams entered the NCAA tournament, Yeardley’s old lacrosse coach vowed to “do it the way that Yards would want us to do it.”
Now that Yards’ mom has sued the school, its president isn’t talking much about the danger and fear that this young woman was forced to endure as a member of the campus community. No longer expressing outrage, the University is letting its lawyers do the talking. “While we certainly recognize the terrible loss suffered by the Love family,” a spokesman for Virginia’s Attorney General told the Associated Press that the “loss was not caused by the Commonwealth or anyone employed at the University of Virginia. ... If it is served, we will vigorously defend the case.”
Whether or not the University had sufficient knowledge of the dangers posed by one of its students, or acted negligently in failing to protect others from his murderous hands, is a matter to be debated in court. But it may just take a wrongful death lawsuit for University officials to focus as closely on campus security as their coaches focus on shots on goal.
Maybe that's how Yards would have wanted it.
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
It seems that nearly everyday, a new lawsuit is filed against the National Football League by groups of former players who allege that they have suffered debilitating brain injuries as a result of the policies and practices of the NFL.
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