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Personal Injury Accident Insurance Lawyer Blog

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.

CASE DISMISSED.

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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