Victims who remained in stalled car prior to accident were not negligent

Imagine that your car stalls at a stoplight. You try to restart it, but before you can do so, you are hit from behind by a fast-moving vehicle and are injured.

You might expect you would deserve compensation for your injuries. However, what if the person who caused the automobile accident argues that you are also at fault? This actual issue arose in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals case of Willis v. Ford.

A car stalls on the highway

The automobile accident occurred at approximately 1:30 am on Pennsylvania Avenue; a divided highway in Suitland, Maryland with two lanes in either direction.

The victims were in a car stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, the victims' car stalled. The driver of the vehicle immediately turned on the car's hazard lights. Many other drivers navigated around the vehicle through approximately three cycles of the traffic light. The victims stayed inside the car, while the driver tried to restart the automobile.

The driver of the other vehicle was driving at approximately 50 miles per hour, following another car. When the car in front abruptly braked and swerved to the right, the driver behind slammed into the back of the victims' stalled car.

The victims sued for negligence and the jury returned a verdict for the victims' medical bills and non-economic damages. However, the driver who rear-ended the car appealed, arguing that the victims were "contributorily negligent"-that is, that they were also to blame for their injuries.

Blaming the victims

Specifically, the driver argued the victims were contributorily negligent because they stayed inside their stalled car while trying to restart the vehicle, instead of exiting the car and moving to the grassy median of the road.

In reviewing the case, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals noted that the victims were faced with two potential courses of action, each of which carried risk. The victims could have stayed inside the car and attempted to restart it, or they could have left the vehicle and tried to walk across a lane of traffic to reach the grassy median.

It was not unreasonable for the victims to conclude that it was safer to stay inside the vehicle. The victims were driving a large, white vehicle and had engaged the hazard lights. Numerous other drivers saw the stalled vehicle and safely drove around it. The victims did not know the cause of the vehicle stall and thought they might continue on their way if it restarted. In addition, to reach the median, the victims would have been forced to walk across a dark and busy lane of traffic at night.

The trial judge had instructed the jury on the concept of contributory negligence in the personal injury suit, and the jury had still found in favor of the victims. The jury's verdict was not against the weight of the evidence, and, thus, the verdict in favor of the victims would stand.

When those at fault refuse to pay

If you are injured in an automobile accident, you may suffer significant injuries and miss time from work as well. Even if you are injured through no fault of your own, you may find the other party, or even his or her insurance company, balking at paying you what you deserve. After any accident, you should seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure your rights are protected and that you receive the full compensation you deserve.