How do I Prove Negligence in a Maryland Personal Injury Case?
In Maryland, a personal injury lawsuit must show four distinct elements in order to make a cause of action for negligence. Per Maryland case law, namely Rosenblatt v. Exxon, 335 Md. 58, 76 (1994), in order to prove negligence — whether the injury occurred as a result of a car or truck accident, slip and fall, or medical malpractice — a plaintiff the must show that 1) the defendant had a responsibility (or Duty) to protect the plaintiff from injury; 2) the defendant failed in (or Breached) his or her duty; 3) the harm suffered by the plaintiff was a result of (known as Causation) that breach of duty; and 4) that the plaintiff suffered harm (or Damages) as a result.1) DUTY
Under the laws of the State of Maryland, a legal duty is the requirement of one individual to act in a certain way so as to protect another person or persons from what is known as an "unreasonable risk of harm." If there was no duty to act in a particular manner owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, then the defendant cannot be held accountable or “liable” for the plaintiff's injuries.
In personal injury cases, the court will look at numerous factors in determining a defendant’s duty toward the plaintiff. One of the most important factors is referred to as “foreseeability.” In simple terms, the court will decide how foreseeable it was that the defendant's actions would cause harm to the plaintiff.
This sets constraints on the extent of an individual’s duty. First and foremost is that one's duty is not infinite; instead, it is limited. This helps protect defendants to avoid liability for “unreasonably remote consequences." In addition, the law does not typically recognize an affirmative duty on the part of one individual to act to aid or protect another person or persons, absent a special relationship.
For instance, if a bystander witnesses a car crash and subsequent car fire at a street corner, that individual is not likely to have any duty under the law to rescue any trapped victims from the burning vehicle, absent the aforementioned special relationship. However, it is important to note that if one does choose to lend aid to another person or persons in such a situation, that you need to exercise reasonable care when doing so. Failure to do this can subject the rescuer to liability for damages from injuries the person being rescued received as a result of the rescuer's negligence.2) BREACH
When determining a breach of duty, the court will look for evidence that the defendant failed to "act as the law obligates one to act." In such cases, an individual is required to act with reasonable care to protect another person or persons from an unreasonable risk of harm.
Typically, breach is measured by what a reasonably prudent individual would do under similar circumstances. In legal circles, a reasonably prudent individual is referred to as a “hypothetical person used as a legal standard, especially when determining whether or not an individual, often the defendant in a personal injury case, acted with negligence.
If a defendant's actions are deemed to fall short of what a reasonably prudent person could be expected to do, a judge (or the jury) may determine that the defendant was in breach of his or her duty to the plaintiff.3) CAUSATION
The third element in determining negligence, causation, is typically broken into two parts during a personal injury case: 1) cause-in-fact and 2) proximate cause.
The legal concept of cause-in-fact can be simply translated as meaning “the cause without which the event could not have occurred." This aspect of causation deals with the fundamental inquiry into whether the defendant's conduct leading up to the incident in question actually produced an injury." This can be summed up in a basic question, “Would the accident that caused harm to the plaintiff have occurred in the absence of the defendant’s actions?” It is important to note that a defendant can still be found negligent even where his conduct was not the sole cause of the injury.
The second aspect of causation, known as proximate cause, refers to instances where a defendant's actions must have “proximately caused” the harm to the plaintiff. This goes back to the legal concept of duty, where the law holds that an individual’s duty is finite and does not create liability for every single event down along the chain of causation. Proximate cause can be simply defined as “a cause that is legally sufficient to result in liability
It must be remembered that while it may be true that a plaintiff's injuries would not have happened if it wasn’t for the negligent actions or conduct of the defendant; still, there are factors that, on a case-by-case basis, can prevent a defendant's liability from extending to every potential plaintiff down the line of causation.4) DAMAGES
It goes without saying that proving actual damages is a prerequisite to recovering compensation in a personal injury case. It is therefore the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove that he or she suffered some type of harm, either to his person or his property, as a result of the defendant's conduct or actions. Unless the plaintiff can show the court that harm was done, no recovery will be legally possible.
There are three primary types of damages that can be collected in a Maryland personal injury case. There are 1) economic damages, 2) non-economic damages, and 3) punitive damages.
Economic damages are defined under Maryland state law as "loss of earnings and medical expenses." This type of damages includes both past and future medical costs arising from treatment of the plaintiff’s injuries, as well as past and future lost earnings.
Non-economic damages can include one or more of the following: Pain, suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, inconvenience, or other non-pecuniary injury.
Punitive damages are strictly designed to punish the defendant for unlawful or unacceptable conduct or actions that precipitated the plaintiff’s injuries. This is in contrast to economic and non-economic damages, which are designed to compensate the plaintiff costs arising from his or her injuries. Under our framework of civil law, punitive damages exist not only to punish, but also deter any further bad behavior by the defendant in the future.
The experienced legal professional at Lebowitz & Mhzen, LLC, are here to help with your Maryland car, truck or motorcycle accident case. Please feel free to contact us today to set up a free initial consultation to discuss your personal injury claim.