Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cell Phone Use While Driving: The Saga Continues

driving-talking-eating.jpgI am confused. Didn't the Maryland law that made texting while driving illegal also outlaw reading texts while driving?  Apparently not, a recent article I read in the Baltimore Sun cleared up my confusion.  There are actually quite a few nuances to Maryland cell phone laws currently on the books.  Here are a few of the strange quirks of the laws in effect, as of now:

  • Talking on your cell phone while driving is a secondary offense and you cannot be pulled over unless you are breaking some other law

  • Writing or sending messages while driving is prohibited (even if the driver is not breaking any other laws) but reading messages is not

  • A driver may talk on a cellular phone, if completely stopped in traffic, because the law only prohibits talking "while in motion" (considering that breaking any other law would be a neat trick while your car is not moving, this distinction seems pointless)

  • Texting while driving carries a maximum fine of $500 and one point while talking carries a maximum fine of $40 and no points (unless the driver contributes to an accident)

  • Exceptions exist for using a global positioning device or contacting emergency services


Now Maryland lawmakers are making an effort to make laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving more expansive.  This year's proposals include a ban on reading text or emails while driving and giving the police the ability to pull someone over for talking on the phone even if the driver is not breaking any other laws.  Maryland is one of only five of the thirty states with cell phone restriction laws that still allow the reading of texts while driving.  Most legislators involved with the new proposals believe that the reading ban is likely to become law.  However, making talking on the cell phone a primary offense is probably not likely.

The ban of talking on the cell phone passed by only one vote last year.  Those opposed to the law cited all of the other activities which distract drivers and the existence of reckless driving laws.  One Montgomery County Democrat, who voted against the law last year, listed putting on makeup, eating, and reading the newspaper as activities that are just as dangerous.  Putting on makeup and READING THE NEWSPAPER while driving are extremely dangerous but relatively uncommon, while everybody has a cell phone.  However, eating an occasional double cheeseburger and/or four piece nugget while driving is a fundamental right and a liberty interest that should be protected. 

In all seriousness, driving while writing or reading a text is extremely dangerous and is a constant threat to other drivers. In fact, our litigation department now asks, as a standard question, for a copy of the defendant's cell phone records for the date and time of the accident in question. If you were involved in an accident that you believe was caused by cell phone use, contact the Maryland accident lawyers at Portner & Shure.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Police Lights Don't Excuse Negligence

Most Virginians have seen police officers speeding down the road with their lights flashing, running red lights and swerving in and out of traffic. We would all like to think that those officers are responding to an emergency and that their speed, and actions are required in order to save a life or prevent a crime. Sometimes this high speed driving, which for the general public would be police accident.jpgstrictly against the law, results in automobile accidents, with resulting injuries.

In Virginia, most cases and officer's actions are protected by sovereign immunity which prevents those officers from being sued for injuries they cause, because they were acting within the scope of their employment. What the public may not know, however, is that in order for an officer to respond to a call with the type of driving described above, the call must be related to an emergency situation. The implication is that if an officer is involved in an automobile accident where a normal member of the public would have been negligent and someone is injured, the mere fact that his emergency lights were activated does not protect him from a civil law suit.

A recent claim, a case against a Fairfax County police officer who ran a red light while responding to a report of a fistfight in progress and struck a vehicle, causing the driver to be ejected and die, was settled for $1.5 million dollars. The Court ruled that because the officer violated department policy by responding to a non-emergency call in an emergency manner, the Plaintiff's injury attorney only had to prove simple negligence to prevail.

State Trooper Ends Chase In Harford County, Maryland

On February 8, 2011, Federal Marshals issued a lookout for a silver Ford Taurus with Virginia tags in the Harford County area.  The operator of the vehicle, Brandon L. Pegram, 23, of Virginia was believed to be armed with a handgun and shotgun.  According to police officials, Pegram held his family hostage and threatened to harm any law enforcement officers who attempted to capture him. 

The vehicle was spotted by deputies at approximately 2:47 p.m. on Route 40 at Gateway Drive in Edgewood, Maryland.  The deputies attempted to initiate a stop when the vehicle fled the scene and traveled on Route 40 towards Baltimore County.  State Troopers from the Bel Air Barracks as well as Baltimore County officers joined in the pursuit.

Pegram attempted to ram civilian motorists and run down two deputies.  When he attempted to strike one of them a second time, causing the deputy to dive out of the way, a State Police Sergeant used his patrol vehicle to impact Pegram's vehicle.  The Trooper used a pit maneuver to force the suspect's vehicle to the side of the interstate and up against the guardrail.   The Trooper impacted Pegram's driver side door to prevent him from escaping on foot.

After resisting arrest Pegram was taken into custody with minor injuries.  He is facing charges of robbery, felony assault, kidnapping, first and second degree assault, vehicle theft, reckless endangerment, malicious destruction of property, and numerous traffic violations. 

Fortunately, innocent motorists were not injured in this accident.  Not to say, that the State Trooper who was forced to ram his patrol car into the suspect's vehicle did not sustain injuries.  In the event he did sustain injuries he would be entitled to make a claim for workers compensation as he was in the course of his employment when this accident occurred.  Workers compensation benefits an individual for an accidental injury at work.

In the event the suspect had endangered the lives of the other motorists or caused them bodily injuries they would have claims for personal injuries. Unfortunately, their claims would be known as uninsured motorist claims as they would not be able to make a claim against the owner of the vehicle the suspect was driving, as the vehicle was stolen.  Instead, the injured parties would be entitled to make a claim under their own automobile insurance for uninsured benefits.

If you, a family member, or someone you know has been involved in a work-related accident, car accident or you need more information on work-related accidents or car accidents, please visit us on the web at http://www.portnerandshureaccidentlawyers.com or contact one of our Maryland accident attorneys for a free consultation. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Maryland Pedestrians Beware

Why is it that many times the columns in the newspaper that we read the most are written by authors who we like the least? When it comes to the Ravens I can't stand Mike Preston but I always read his column. Another columnist who continuously rubs me the wrong way is Michael Dresser but, once again, I read his column more than just about any other in the Baltimore Sun. He covers issues ranging from DUI law to bicyclists. His last column claimed that Maryland was one of the most dangerous states for pedestrians. I think I agree with Mr. Dresser.

How could I not agree with him there is empirical evidence in support of his position. The Governors Highway Safety Association recently released a report showing that Maryland is one of only four states where more than twenty percent of all road fatalities involve a pedestrian. Maryland is also one of only four where the pedestrian fatality rate is more than 2 per 100,000 residents each year. There have been between 91 and 116 pedestrian deaths each year since 1991. Some blame the high numbers on the compact nature of Baltimore City others blame drivers' attitudes toward pedestrians. In other states drivers slow down when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk, as opposed to Baltimore where it seems more likely that a motorist would hit the gas.

A ticket for a motorist who fails to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk carries a $90 fine. In a world where a round of drinks or a nice bottle of wine can quickly approach $100, wouldn't a higher fine be more appropriate considering the possible consequences? After all, the fine for passing a school bus with flashing red lights is $570. The two offenses seem similar but their fines do not reflect the same. New York recently adopted the "Ellie's Law" statute. The statute was named after a three year old girl who, while in a crosswalk, was struck and left in a coma by a motorists in an SUV reversing to claim a parking spot. The law automatically suspends the license of any driver who strikes a pedestrian while driving recklessly. Maryland laws do not go so far, however, aggressive litigation against the motorists on behalf of the injured will discourage motorists' indifference towards pedestrians and at the same time help recover damages for any treatment and pain and suffering. Portner & Shure handles many cases involving pedestrians each year and refuses to accept negligent driver's excuses or claims of contributory negligence.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Plea Reached In Triple Fatality In Harford County, Maryland

More facts have come to light in a triple fatality accident that occurred in Harford County, Maryland, involving a drunk driver, which we blogged on a little over a year ago. In the blog, we questioned what steps could be taken to avoid this tragic accident. Naturally, the most logical would have been to take away the drunk driver's keys. Or in this particular case, stop serving the individual more alcohol and ensure that he does not get behind a wheel of a motor vehicle.

Travis Nelson Gray of Darlington entered a plea of guilty to three charges of negligent homicide while under the influence before his trial was scheduled to start in the Circuit Court for Harford County. On November 14, 2009, Gray was operating his 2002 Ford F250 north on Route 543 when he crossed into the lane for southbound traffic and collided head-on with a 1998 Ford F150 truck. Two of the occupants of the pickup truck, James Bielanski and his wife, Pamela Bielanski of Street, Maryland were pronounced dead on the scene. The other passenger, William Arbogast also of Street, Maryland was transported to Maryland Shock Trauma and died the next day.

Deputy State's Attorney H. Scott Lewis stated during the plea hearing that Gray's eyes were bloodshot at the scene and he stated that he had 3 or 4 beers, but refused to say where. Later police obtained Gray's bar tab from the Old School Tavern in Dublin, Maryland, which in effect resulted in Gray admitting that he had consumed alcoholic beverages at the tavern before the accident. The Maryland legal blood alcohol limit is .08. At the time of the accident Gray's blood alcohol limit was .27.

Thus, in going to back to imposing tougher laws and harsher sentences, should Old School Tavern be responsible to the victims in this fatal accident? Should a reasonable person be able to tell when an individual has had to much to drink? Interestingly enough, last June, the Harford County Liquor Board fined the tavern $6,000.00 and issued two seven day suspensions for three violations that occurred the same morning as the triple-fatal accident. However, this does not answer the question whether they too should be jointly liable for the wrongful deaths of these three victims.

If you, a family member, or someone you know has been injured in a car accident involving drunk drivers or you would like more information on car accidents, please visit us on the web at http://www.portnerandshureaccidentlawyers.com.