Recently in Civil Damages Category

Is The Contributory Negligence Era In Maryland Coming To An End?

September 19, 2012

1330873_courthouse.jpgThere are not many civil law topics worthy of a post on a criminal law blog, but the revival of the contributory negligence debate is one topic that deserves an exception. The Maryland civil justice system is one of four states plus Washington D.C. that uses the contributory negligence standard in all civil lawsuits. The contributory negligence standard bars recovery for a party that contributed in any manner to the accident or injury. If a plaintiff brings a civil lawsuit he or she may not recover a dime if the defense lawyers show that the plaintiff was negligent. For example, in a pedestrian accident case if the defense lawyer that represents the driver of the vehicle that hit the pedestrian shows that the pedestrian negligently ran across the street, then the pedestrian may not legally recover any damages. Even if the plaintiff's lawyer has shown the driver who caused the accident was speeding and driving recklessly.

Most states use the comparative negligence standard, which allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if he or she was negligent in causing the accident or injury. If the jury finds that the plaintiff deserves a verdict, the jury will be instructed to subtract their award of damages based on the percentage of the plaintiff's negligence or fault. If the plaintiff proves $100,000 damages but was 10 percent negligent in causing the accident, then the jury will be instructed to award a verdict of $90,000. The contributory negligence standard does occasionally cross over to the criminal justice system, when there is evidence that the plaintiff of an injury case was under the influence of drugs such as marijuana or prescription medication, or if the plaintiff was driving and drinking alcohol, but not to the level that would rise to DUI. The comparative negligence standard in civil cases is highly favorable to the plaintiff, and Maryland trial lawyers have been fighting to change the standard for years. Maryland trial lawyers argue that the contributory negligence standard is too harsh, and unjustly bars recovery. The trial lawyers also argue that everyday citizens are denied access to the civil justice system, because trial lawyers cannot afford to take on cases that may be thrown out due to the slightest bit of contributory negligence. On the other hand, the insurance companies argue that the contributory negligence system keeps frivolous lawsuits out of the court system, and keeps Maryland insurance premiums in check.

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Can You Video Record A Police Officer Making An Arrest In Maryland?

May 18, 2012

1046822_little_video_camera_operating_1.jpgVideo recording police officers making arrests, writing traffic citations, or even interacting with citizens in non criminal settings has been a hot topic in the last few years throughout Maryland, and especially in Baltimore City. Many police departments around the country have dashboard cameras which record traffic stops, DUI arrests, and even automobile searches for weapons and drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. However, in Maryland most police departments do not record their officers' interactions with civilians, and even with automatic dash dams the majority of police and civilian interactions go unrecorded. As a result, police officers have little checks on their power and can abuse their authority when interacting with civilians. In recent years though the public has fought back with an unlikely weapon, using cell phones to keep police officers under raps.

Almost every cell phone sold in America has a camera, and citizens fed up with police abuse of power are using these cameras as a check on police behavior. Countless abusive police interactions have shown up on YouTube, and an abundance of civil lawsuits have been filed by lawyers against police departments. Not surprisingly, police officers in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions in Maryland have not taken a liking to this new trend. There have been various documented incidents of police officers becoming angry upon seeing that they are being recorded by civilians, and some of these incidents end up in an illegal arrest not for committing a crime, but for simply documenting an officers actions. This issue has garnered national media attention and in the past year a civil lawsuit against the Baltimore City police caught the eye of the United States Department of Justice or DOJ.

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D.C. Agrees To Settle False DUI Conviction Lawsuits

May 14, 2012

1384588_brown_envelope_money_bribe_1.jpgThe city of Washington D.C. has agreed to settle four civil lawsuits over false DUI convictions. The civil claims for damages were filed back in 2010 by 4 men whose DUI convictions were tainted by inaccurate breath alcohol testing machines. The city has agreed to pay a total of $20,000 plus attorney's fees to the 4 plaintiffs. Two of the plaintiffs will receive $5000, and the other two will receive $8,000 and $2,000 respectively. The lawsuit alleged that city officials and police were aware that the breath alcohol testing machines were flawed, but continued to use them in criminal DUI prosecutions. As early as 2008 an independent expert informed the city that their breath alcohol machines were not providing accurate results for a variety of reasons. The machines used in D.C. are similar to the Intoxilyzer machines used in Maryland, and require regular maintenance and calibration. D.C. officials failed to do either, but that does not even tell half the story of the city's dishonest and fraudulent behavior.

Not only did Washington D.C. officials choose to ignore their independent expert's advice to maintain and calibrate the machines, they also continued to proffer to the courts that the machines had been tested. Thus trained breath technicians at the Attorney General's office deliberately mislead the court during criminal DUI prosecutions. City officials and the Attorney General also failed to disclose their knowledge of the Intoxilyler's inaccuracy to the defendants and their criminal defense lawyers via the city prosecutor's office. It is unknown whether prosecutors were aware of the Intoxilyzer inaccuracies, but if they were and failed to disclose this exculpatory "Brady" evidence, then the city prosecutors would have committed an egregious ethical violation. In summary, the city neglected to maintain their alcohol testing machines after being told to do so, failed to disclose their knowledge of the machine's inaccuracies, and then willfully and intentionally lied about both. Even more disturbing is the direct effect that this dishonest behavior had on the named DUI defendants.

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DUI Charges Filed Against Truck Driver in Baltimore Chemical Spill

March 8, 2012

ink-spill2.jpgMaryland Police have charged a truck driver with DUI after the driver crashed his tractor trailer on interstate 95 in Baltimore. The apparent drunk driving accident occurred on February 15, on an overpass above interstate 895. Investigators do not know the exact cause of the crash, but the driver likely lost control causing the truck to turn over in the left lane of 95, just north of the Baltimore harbor tunnel. The allegedly intoxicated truck driver was carrying thousands of gallons of a water based chemical additive used in making concrete. Maryland police have yet to release the blood alcohol content of the accused driver, nor did the police divulge whether the driver submitted to a breath or blood alcohol test.

The chemical spilled from the truck was deemed on the scene to not be toxic, although gallons of diesel fuel were also spilled in the crash. According to Maryland police, the crash resulted in the temporary closure of both interstates, leading to major delays for drivers passing through one of Baltimore's busiest stretches of highway. The closure lasted almost 7 hours while police and environmental crews worked diligently to clean up the spill and assure the highway was safe to reopen. The chemicals and the diesel fuel reportedly were seen dripping off the overpass and on to cars traveling to and from Baltimore city.

Police were still investigating the accident at the time that the driver was arrested to determine the exact cause of the crash. Other charges were filed against the driver in addition to driving under the influence of alcohol according to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police. The driver was ticketed for negligent driving, failure to obey lane direction, and a federal trucking regulation that prohibits drinking alcohol prior to operating a commercial vehicle.

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