One woman is dead and another five people were injured in a horrific Anne Arundel County car crash that police indicated was caused by a driver’s overdose on heroin. ABC’s Baltimore, MD affiliate WMAR News Channel 2 reported on the March 11, 2018 accident, where the drug user sped down an Annapolis roadway in his Ford Taurus, crossed the center line, sideswiped another vehicle, and struck a pickup truck. The two passengers in the Taurus and one injured victim were transported to shock trauma, while others were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
Investigators determined that heroin was a factor when the passenger in the Taurus mentioned that he observed the signs of the driver overdosing. The story raises the question of how some actions behind the wheel could be considered reckless, and whether they impact the issue of liability in a Maryland auto accident.
The Recklessness Standard
Maryland’s Rules of the Road includes relevant definitions as they pertain to criminal driving violations. A motorist is guilty of reckless driving where he or she operates a vehicle with a willful disregard for the safety of other people or property.
- Reckless Versus Negligence: The standard for negligent driving is somewhat lower as compared to recklessness, so a person may be guilty if he or she drives in a manner that is careless or imprudent. The key is whether the individual is operating the vehicle in such a way that endangers a person or property.
- Examples of Recklessness: A driver may be cited for reckless driving where he or she drives aggressively, is being pursued in a police chase, speeds excessively, drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as in the case of the driver in the Annapolis accident.
There are serious penalties for reckless driving, including misdemeanor or felony charges. However, these standards relate to recklessness as a criminal activity. The implications for reckless driving in a civil case for personal injury after an auto accident are separate.
Impact Upon Maryland Auto Accident Liability and Damages
Questions about driver recklessness may come up in a few contexts in a car crash lawsuit.
- Contributory Negligence: Maryland has a harsh rule in personal injury cases barring a victim from recovering any compensation when his or her actions were a contributing factor in the accident. There are certain exceptions to this rule and one of them is recklessness. Therefore, an injured victim can still recover when the responsible party was driving in a manner indicating willful disregard of other people.
- Punitive Damages: There is a common presumption that reckless driving could result in an award for punitive damages, which triples the amount of compensation a victim may recover. However, Maryland law does not allow punitive damages unless there is actual malice on behalf of the driver, which means ill will, spite, or hatred. Actual malice can be difficult to prove in a drunk or drugged driving case because the conduct still usually amounts to negligence.
Reckless driving may not allow you to recover punitive damages after an auto accident, but it can help you avoid the negative implications of Maryland’s contributory negligence rule. If you were injured in a car accident where recklessness may be a factor, please contact attorney Michael A. Freedman. We can schedule a consultation to discuss your case at our Baltimore County, MD office.
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