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Summary and Analysis of Heffner v. Admiral Taxi Serv., 196 Md. 465, 77 A.2d 127 (1950)

The Maryland Court of Appeals' opinion in an old case, Heffner v. Admiral Tax Service, is still instructive in 2021 on what pedestrian law is in Maryland.

Facts of Heffner

Plaintiff, a 56-year-old man with heart trouble, was a Baltimore pedestrian who was hit by a taxi as he was crossing at the intersection of Howard Street and Franklin Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Plaintiff brought a personal injury claim and the jury awarded the Plaintiff a whopping $500 (which probably was not bad money in 1950).

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The trial court granted the defendants' motion for a JNOV, because the defendant had had a green light and, accordingly, the plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed that the pedestrian must use reasonable care -- that amorphous term is the key -- in walking on a street and to act as an ordinarily prudent person would under similar circumstances.

But the court also found that a motorist approaching a street intersection must exercise greater vigilance than when he is driving between intersections and that a green light does not give drivers the right to drive recklessly through the intersection without regard to traffic conditions and the safety of pedestrians on the crosswalk. In this case, the pedestrian was three-quarters of the way across a four-lane thoroughfare. This is not contributory negligence as a matter of law according to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

What Victims Can Learn from This Case

The take-home message from this case, which is still the law today - 57 years later - in Maryland, is that even if you have a green light, you must exercise reasonable care to avoid running into any cars or pedestrians who have not yet made it across the street.

Accordingly, if you are a pedestrian in a marked or unmarked crosswalk, you are in a good spot to win a settlement or judgment in your case. But just being in the crosswalk does not mean the case is won. You still have to overcome the defense argument that you did not act reasonably.

This is a particular challenge in Maryland because we are a contributory negligence state. Here, if the defendant can prove you were 1% responsible for the accident, you cannot recover. So you and your car accident lawyer need to be prepared to tackle the question about why you did not see or could not avoid the oncoming car. Again, these are very winnable cases. But you have to go out and win them because the insurance companies are going to fight when they think that have anything resembling a viable defense.

What Is a Crosswalk Under Maryland Law?

The Maryland Transportation Code § 21-101 defines a crosswalk as the part of the road that is

  1. Within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at any place where 2 or more roadways of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway;
  2. Within the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of a bicycle way where a bicycle way and a roadway of any type meet or join, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the roadway; or
  3. Distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings.
What Is an Unmarked Crosswalk?

Under Maryland law in § 21-101, you see that some intersections have crosswalks that are unmarked. So there is no marking of a crosswalk. But Maryland law is the same on those intersections as if there was a crosswalk.

Does a Pedestrian Always Have the Right-of-Way Over a Car in Maryland?

A pedestrian does not always have the right-of-way. Section 21-503(a) provides that if "a pedestrian crosses a roadway at any point other than in a marked crosswalk or in an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, the pedestrian shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching on the roadway."

What Is the Last Clear Chance Doctrine?

The last clear chance doctrine is sometimes relied upon by pedestrians when they are hit by vehicles that make no effort to avoid the passenger even if the pedestrian's negligence puts herself in a position of peril.

So the doctrine of last clear chance permits a negligent pedestrian to still win at trial and recover damages if these elements are met:

  1. the defendant is negligent
  2. the plaintiff is contributorily negligent, and
  3. the plaintiff makes "a showing of something new or sequential, which affords the defendant a fresh opportunity (of which he fails to avail himself) to avert the consequences of his original negligence."

Does this allow negligent victims to recover? It does. The theory behind the last clear chance is that if the defendant has the last clear chance to avoid causing another person's injury or death, the victim's mistake is not the true cause of the harm.

Hiring a Pedestrian Crash Attorney in Maryland

Miller & Zois has found a way to win in a lot of tough pedestrian crash cases. We have a history of success that helps put you in the best possible spot to win a verdict or settlement. Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free, no-obligation case evaluation online.

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