Personal injury and insurance law attorneys share their expertise in Maryland accident lawsuits, trial litigation and other legal news.

The Mysterious Flying Bus

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

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Road Rage Takes the Stage ... in Court

Accidents happen.  And, when they do, a negligence case can help you recover for pain and suffering, medical bills and other “compensatory damages.”  But, what if the collision wasn’t exactly an “accident”?  Can you get more?

In a road rage case, where I intend to hurt you by deliberately slamming into the rear of your vehicle, you could get extra damages designed to punish the other driver for malicious conduct.  Such “punitive damages” are about as rare as road rage accidents.

But what if I accidentally struck you while pursuing another vehicle?  Even though you were not my intended victim, shouldn’t I be punished nonetheless?  Shouldn’t I get hit for more than “compensatory damages”?

Maybe.  But, according to a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the plaintiff better have some pretty solid facts to back up these types of allegations.  In Hendrix v. Burns, the plaintiff’s Toyota Corolla was struck in the rear by a drunk driver’s Jeep Cherokee.  According to one witness, this intoxicated driver displayed conduct consistent with “road rage.”  Just prior to the collision, the witness saw his Jeep drive in front of another car, slam on his brakes so that the other driver had to do likewise, get out of the Jeep, walk angrily to that driver’s window and speed through a red light after that driver eluded him.

Although the Court concluded that the Jeep’s driver “was enraged at the [other] driver for some unknown or irrational reason,” this evidence wasn’t enough to prove that he intended to hit the other car or otherwise inflict bodily harm.  Without legally sufficient evidence of an intent to harm someone else, the plaintiff could not use these irrational actions in pursuing punitive damages.

Of course, the plaintiff did win an $85,000 negligence claim to cover her pain and suffering, medical bills and other “compensatory damages.”  But without more evidence of an intent to cause bodily harm to herself or to the other driver, she was denied a bonus on top of that.

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Size Doesn't Matter ... When Selecting Law Firms

For many years, one popular adage among corporate counsel seeking legal services was that "no one gets fired hiring Skadden Arps," or other multi-national firms of that size.  Maybe they should.

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Can George Zimmerman Get a Fair Trial?

Who needs a jury when Al Sharpton has already found you guilty?

To listen to such "civil rights leaders" as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and, uh, Mike Tyson, there's really no need to try George Zimmerman for the alleged second degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  He's already guilty.  Why postpone the execution?

Al Sharpton ought to know.  He didn't need a jury's verdict before accusing six men of brutally raping Tawana Brawley back in 1987.  Remember her?  This 15-year-old was found smeared with feces, lying in a garbage bag, her clothing torn and burned and with various slurs and epithets written on her body in charcoal -- victimized by six white men, some of them police officers, in the town of Wappinger, New York.

Convicting these men in the court of public opinion, Sharpton even accused the county prosecutor of orchestrating the alleged abduction and rape as part of a racist scheme.

No matter that a grand jury spent seven months examining police and medical records to determine that Brawley fabricated the entire story.  No matter that another jury found Sharpton liable for slander and $345,000 in damages for those falsely accused.  Twenty years after Brawley's story was soundly discredited, Sharpton is, in some circles, hailed as a civil rights leader, does public interest commercials with Newt Gingrich, and is a nationally-televised talk show host and commentator.  Having profited greatly from the notoriety surrounding the Brawley fiasco, Sharpton stands by his accusations ... and can never be found far from cameras pointing at any high-profile case he can get his hands on.

The Martin case, to be sure, is certainly different from that of Tawana Brawley.  No one has fabricated the death of this unarmed 17-year old.  Neighborhood watch volunteer, 28-year old George Zimmerman, apparently admits to the shooting, but claims self-defense.  To those listening to media accounts and the vitriol of commentators like Sharpton, the presumption of innocence has already been rebutted.

For my part, I'm willing to let a jury decide the question of guilt or innocence.  Though it may be difficult for some to conceive of a successful defense in this case, I am much more comfortable leaving key questions to the common sense of jurors than to the nonsense of fellows like Sharpton.  And, while he's certainly entitled to free speech, we must be mindful that this freedom and the media frenzy surrounding the case may come at the cost of another fundamental right: The right to a fair trial.

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