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Auto Accident 2/23/2024

Injured After Car Stalled? Who Is At Fault?

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.

What Happened in Willis v. Ford When a Car Stalled 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.

What the Defendant Argued and Why they Blamed the Victims

 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. 

What Is Maryland’s Contributory Negligence Law?

The reason that the defendant argued that the victims were also to blame for their injuries is that Maryland is one of only a handful of states that follows a pure contributory negligence rule. Under Maryland’s contributory negligence standard, a plaintiff who is partially to blame for their injuries is unable to collect compensation from a defendant. 

Understanding Maryland’s contributory negligence standard: 

  • Maryland is one of only 5 jurisdictions that follows the harsh standard of contributory negligence. 
  • The majority of other states follow a form of comparative negligence which allows a person to recover even if they were partially at fault for the accident. 
  • Some states follow a rule of pure comparative negligence which allows a plaintiff to recover regardless of their percentage of fault. 
  • Other states follow a modified comparative negligence standard which allows a person to recover as long as they were less than 50% or 51% at fault for their injuries. 

In Maryland, the percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence does not matter. Therefore, a defendant could be found to be 99% at fault for the accident that caused a person’s injuries and as long as the person was found to be even 1% at fault, they would be barred from recovery. 

What the Court Said in Willis v. Ford 

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.

Is It Safer to Remain in the Car of a Stalled Vehicle?

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.

Why You Need an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

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.

Contact Schlachman, Belsky, Weiner & Davey, P.A. at (410) 685-2022 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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