Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals
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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals reversing the circuit court's judgment awarding damages to the Estate of Jeffrey Blair after finding that Baltimore City Police Officer David Austin used excessive force during his encounter with Blair, holding that the Court of Special Appeals erred when it overturned the jury's factual finding that Officer Austin exceeded the level of force that an objectively reasonable officer in his situation would have used. After Blair died of causes unrelated to the incident at issue Blair's Estate filed a complaint against Officer Austin. The jury determined that Officer Austin used excessive force in his interaction with Blair and awarded damages. The Court of Special Appeals reversed and held in favor of Officer Austin based on its independent weighing of a surveillance video. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the Court of Special Appeals erred when, based solely on its interpretation of the video evidence, it overturned the jury's factual finding that Officer Austin exceeded the level of force that an objectively reasonable officer in his situation would have used; and (2) legally sufficient evidence supported the trial court's decision to submit the case to the jury regarding Officer Austin's use of excessive force. View "Estate of Blair v. Austin" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the conclusion of the Court of Special Appeals that the release Bernard Collins provided in settlement of his workers' compensation claims did not bar Peggy Collins from asserting her independent claim for death benefits under the Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, Md. Code Ann. Lab. & Empl. Title 9. Two years before he died, Bernard settled claims he had brought under the Act against Petitioners, his former employer and its insurers, for disability benefits related to his heart disease. In the parties' settlement agreement, Bernard purported to release Petitioners from any claims that he or his spouse might have under the Act relating to his disability. After Bernard died, Peggy filed her claim for benefits based on Bernard's death from heart disease. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Petitioners based on release. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) because Peggy was not a party to the settlement agreement, Petitioners may not enforce the release against Peggy; and (2) Bernard's settlement of his claims under the Act did not extinguish Peggy's future claim for death benefits. View "In re Bernard L. Collins" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals agreed with the judgment of the hearing examiner granting line-of-duty (LOD) retirement benefits to Petitioner, a retired Baltimore City police officer, based on a finding of fact that Petitioner suffered from memory loss and attention deficits as a result of a mild traumatic brain injury, holding that the hearing examiner did not err. Police officers are potentially eligible for two different levels of disability benefits - a less substantial non-line-of-duty (NLOD) level of benefits or a more substantial LOD level of benefits. Benefits for NLOD disability may be awarded on the basis of a mental or physical incapacity, but benefits for LOD disability can only be awarded based on a physical incapacity. Petitioner suffered from memory loss and attention deficits as a result of a concussion in the course of his duties. The hearing examiner granted Petitioner LOD disability benefits, concluding that he was permanently physically incapacitated. The court of special appeals reversed, concluding that Petitioner's incapacities were mental rather than physical. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner was entitled to LOD benefits. View "Couret-Rios v. Fire & Police Employees' Retirement System of City of Baltimore" on Justia Law

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In these two cases arising from two instances of police misconduct the Court of Appeals held that the police officers were acting within the scope of their employment, and therefore, the City of Baltimore was responsible for compensating the plaintiffs. The officers in these cases were members of the Baltimore City Police Department's now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force. Members of the task force engaged in a wide-ranging racketeering conspiracy, resulting in the officers being convicted in federal court. These two cases arose out of instances in which the officers conducted stops and made arrests without reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause. The plaintiffs and the officers agreed to a settlement of the lawsuits. As part of the settlements, the officers assigned to the plaintiffs the right to indemnification from the City. Thereafter, the plaintiffs sought payment of the settlements by the City. In both cases, the parties entered into a stipulated settlement of undisputed material facts. The Supreme Court held (1) the stipulations in both cases established that the officers' conduct satisfied the test for conduct within the scope of employment; and (2) therefore, the City was responsible for compensating the plaintiffs for the officers' actions by paying the settlements that the plaintiffs and the officers reached. View "Baltimore City Police Department v. Potts" on Justia Law

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In this case brought against an insurer in Plaintiff's attempt to collect on a judgment in his favor in a strict liability and negligent failure to warn action, the Court of Appeals held that damages from a continuous bodily injury judgment must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the-risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries. Almost forty years after exposure to asbestos at his place of work, Plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Plaintiff won a nearly $2.7 million judgment against the asbestos installer. Plaintiff then initiated garnishment proceedings against Defendant as insurer of the asbestos installer. At issue before the circuit court was how to allocate loss among various trigger insurance policies because the installer was only insured by Defendant from 1974 to 1977 through four comprehensive general liability policies. The circuit court concluded that Plaintiff's damages must be allocated on a pro rata, time-on-the risk basis across all insured and insurable periods triggered by Plaintiff's injuries. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly applied the pro rata allocation approach rather than a joint-and-several approach that would have required the insurer to cover the entire judgment. View "Rossello v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing the circuit court's decision determining that it had personal jurisdiction over Defendant and entering a judgment in favor of Plaintiff, holding that the factors weighed against the constitutional reasonableness of causing Defendant to defend this suit in Maryland. This case was filed by Defendant's stepson, who was a North Carolina resident, against Defendant, who was also a North Carolina resident. Plaintiff ultimately obtained a default judgment against Defendant in the amount of $99,856.84. The court of special appeals reversed the circuit court's decision with respect to the finding of personal jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant's act of filing a sole lawsuit through counsel did not rise to the level of a "persistent course of conduct" to justify the assertion of personal jurisdiction over her in this matter. View "Pinner v. Pinner" on Justia Law

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In this appeal concerning whether a school board was liable for a judgment against its employee when the board was dismissed from the case prior to trial the Court of Appeals held that, under Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. 5-518, even if a board is entitled to substantive dismissal from a case the plaintiffs are required to maintain the board as a party or request that the board be brought back into the case to indemnify an employee. As a matter of trial strategy in a case against the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, counsel for Plaintiffs decided to not appeal the dismissal, via summary judgment, of the Board from the case and to avoid joinder of the Board under after the conclusion of the trial. After the trial, Plaintiffs filed motions to enforce the judgments, arguing that the Board was obligated to satisfy the judgments pursuant to section 5-518. The circuit court granted Plaintiffs' motions. The court of special appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, in order to force a county school board to indemnify a judgment against a county board employee, the mandatory joinder requirement under section 5-518 requires that a county board be joined as a party throughout the entire litigation. View "Neal v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners" on Justia Law

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In this defamation action, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing the trial court's judgment granting judgment at the end of Plaintiff's case in favor of Defendants, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a plaintiff in a defamation action, who is also the defendant in a related criminal case, is not entitled to a stay of the civil lawsuit she initiated pending resolution of the criminal case. Plaintiff filed a defamation complaint against Defendants alleging defamation, alleging that Defendants made false statement to the police that Plaintiff stole money from them and committed identity fraud. Plaintiff was later indicted for the same events underlying the defamation action. Plaintiff moved to stay the civil action, asserting that Plaintiff's testimony in the civil action would implicate her constitutional right against self-incrimination in her criminal case. The circuit court denied the motion and later granted judgment for Defendants on all counts. The court of special appeals vacated the judgment, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying Plaintiff's motion to stay the proceedings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the circuit court's decision to deny the stay was not an abuse of discretion. View "Moser v. Heffington" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing the trial court's grant of Petitioners' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on the basis that Petitioners were grossly negligent and their gross negligence caused the ultimate demise of Kerry Butler, Jr., holding that Petitioners were not grossly negligent in their treatment of Butler and were therefore afforded immunity under the Fire and Rescue Company Act, Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. 5-604(a). The Estate of Kerry Butler and several of Butler's family members (collectively, Respondents) filed this wrongful death and survival action against Petitioners, two Baltimore City Fire Department medics. A jury found that Petitioners were grossly negligent. The trial court granted Petitioners' motion for JNOV, concluding that the evidence of gross negligence was insufficient. The court of special appeals reversed, concluding that Respondents were grossly negligent and not entitled to immunity under the Act. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the jury could not have found that Petitioners were grossly negligent by a preponderance of the evidence; and (2) section 5-604(a) unambiguously confers immunity upon municipal fire departments in simple negligence claims. View "Stracke v. Estate of Butler" on Justia Law

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In this asbestos mesothelioma civil litigation the court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court finding that William Edward Busch contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos-containing materials installed by insulation contractor Wallace & Gale, Co., the predecessor to Defendant, Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust (WGAST), during the construction of a high school, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) it was sufficient to rely on circumstantial evidence to infer that WGAST, whose presence was substantial in the general insulation of plumbing, heating, and ventilation surfaces during construction in the high school building, was responsible for the asbestos exposure and resulting illness of Busch, who worked only in a specific room of the building and where there was no direct evidence linking WGAST to the asbestos insulation installed in that room; and (2) it was permissible to inform the jury that a co-defendant to the asbestos lawsuit had been dismissed when a remaining defendant opened the door by introducing evidence relating to the earlier presence of the dismissed party. View "Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust v. Busch" on Justia Law