We have a special duty to our handicapped. This idea is embedded in Maryland law in a variety of ways. One critical idea is that we need to make sure we are being careful when we transport people with a handicap.
In Maryland, certain transportation companies are called common carriers. These companies or governmental entities are held to heightened standard care. A common carrier is required to use the utmost degree of care, skill, and diligence in everything that concerns its passengers' safety. Maryland has a specific jury instruction, MPJI 8:3, titled "Common Carrier's Duty-Generally" which states that a common carrier is to use "the utmost degree of care." This makes sense, right? We put our lives in the hands of these transportation companies every day. They should take care of us.
This applies with particular force to when someone has a disability. Maryland law for over 130 years has been that special care is required, over and beyond that required for a passenger without a disability.
Maryland law defines disability broadly. It can include the physically and mentally handicapped, children, and pregnant women.More Special Considerations for the Handicapped
Handicapped victims in accident cases are what Maryland law calls "eggshells" that are entitled to special protection. What does that mean? Let's use an analogy to better understand what we mean. In Maryland, if a driver rear-ends a farmer carrying eggs in the back of his truck, he cannot claim that the eggs could have just as easily been golf balls in defending the farmer's claim for the damage to his eggs. Similarly, negligent parties are almost invariably going to cause more injury to a handicapped person for two reasons. First, a handicapped person is often more susceptible to injury because of their handicap. Sometimes, more significantly, the injury just causes more pain and suffering for a handicapped person than it otherwise would. If you have a condition with your left leg, for example, a right leg injury is that much more debilitating.Motor Vehicle Accident Cases Involving the Handicapped
Sometimes, motor vehicle accident claims involving the handicapped are similar to claims for anyone else, albeit with the special considerations discussed above. But there are also often unique issues specific to people with disabilities. One issue we have encountered is the failure to secure a wheelchair. Instead of properly securing the chair, the wheels were often secured in a makeshift fashion by ropes or some other inadequate methods of securing the patient.
The second issue is the seat belt. Seat belts are often not provided or put around the patient's stomach instead of low on the pelvis and over the shoulder. In serious car accidents, this can be a recipe for disaster. The number of potential defendants involved goes far beyond just the at-fault driver. Plaintiffs' lawyers must investigate all possible defendants in medical transport car accident injury and death cases.Other Accidents Involving the Handicapped
Often when getting medical and other care, the handicapped need to be transported by wheelchair and carried and lifted in ways that require prudent care. Our lawyers have seen many cases where the nursing home or hospital fails to provide the appropriate standard of care in moving the patient appropriately. Too many health care providers fall short and it can lead to injury and even death.
Another big issue is handicapped accessibility. Commercial buildings must be made handicap accessible with all of the accessibility standards that are in place and sometimes the failure to do this results in injuries as accommodations cannot be made to get on the premises. When injuries result because the disabled person cannot navigate a terrain she should not have been required to navigate, the business or property owner may be liable.Sample Settlements and Verdicts in These Cases
Here are a few sample verdicts and settlements in a personal injury case involving the physically challenged. These give you some idea of the factual scenarios that are common in these cases. These verdicts were culled together randomly and may not be representative of what you might get in your case even if your case is remarkably similar. Why? Because every case is different and there are so many factors that drive the settlement or trial value of a case. In Maryland, one of the biggest variables is the jurisdiction of the case. If you can file your case in Baltimore City or Prince George's County, that gives you a huge leg up.
- $100,000 Settlement. An elderly woman was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by a teenager who was talking on her phone while driving. The main issue in this matter was not a liability but damages -- how much the injuries are worth. Plaintiff died of a stroke, three months after the accident. Plaintiff's estate claimed that the elderly decedent was very accident and kept a daily log of her daily activities at the time of the accident. Before the accident, she had purchased a plane ticket to England and was planning a trip. After the accident, she was unable to go on the trip as she required a walker to ambulate, epidural injections, and physical therapy. A suit was filed by the woman's estate arguing that she was very active at the time of the crash and that her life was cut short by the injuries caused by this accident. It was further claimed that the quality of her life after the accident up until her death was compromised. Defendant denied talking on her phone or that she was distracted. Defendant further argued that the woman was very elderly and that many of her physical complaints were likely degenerative and that this accident could not have caused all of her difficulties. A settlement was reached during mediation, (in excess of) $100,000.
- $800,000 Verdict. A 71-year-old mentally retarded woman is killed in an automobile accident. Her family files suit. The deceased was a front-seat passenger of a minivan being by the defendant driver while in the scope of her employment. The defendant driver lost control of the vehicle, which left the roadway, then swerved back to gain control but collided with a semi-tractor-trailer. The minivan turned over several times, ejecting the passenger through the right side passenger window, causing fatal blunt force trauma to her body. The passenger's seat belt was allegedly fastened tightly behind her. Plaintiff filed suit claiming that the defendant driver was negligent in failing to maintain proper control of the vehicle, failing to control her speed, and failing to properly secure the decedent's seat. Defendant driver's employer was also included in the suit for negligently entrusting the vehicle to the defendant driver and for failure to properly train her on how to operate the van and use the seat belts. A jury awarded Plaintiff $800,000 against the defendants, jointly and severally.
- $1,000,000 Verdict. A physically handicapped 31-year-old is struck and killed by a commercial truck as he attempts to cross the street in a crosswalk. The young man, who still lived with his parents at the time of his death, was handicapped as a result of a congenital arthritic defect resulting in a shortened arm and shortened leg. While crossing the street, the defendant driver made a left-hand turn onto the street occupied by the deceased. According to a witness, after striking the deceased, the driver stopped and then started up again, running over the decedent. The bulk of the damages claim was for the loss of society occasioned by the death of the decedent, as multiple witnesses testified that the decedent would most likely have continued living with his parents for the remainder of his life. The jury returned a gross award of $1,000,000 which was reduced to $510,000 after a 49% reduction for the decedent's comparative negligence.
If you or a loved one has a disability as defined above, and were injured by someone else's carelessness and negligence, let us protect your rights. Contact us at 1.800.553.8082 or online here. We are here to guide you through this difficult time and to help you maximize the value of your claim.