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New Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided the Titan v. Advance case yesterday. Titan is a case where the Plaintiff alleged negligent repair of a roof that led to the clogging of a roof drain, which then resulted in the Plaintiff’s premises to flood. It is located on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, at Crown Industrial Park. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of the Defendants.

As you might have expected, the amount of rain after the job was completed was relevant. Defendants introduced, over objection, a certified copy of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s weather reports from Baltimore-Washington Airport, which reported rain patterns at the airport between the day the roofing work was completed and the date of the flooding off the roof. Plaintiff objected that the weather at Baltimore Washington Airport on that day was not relevant because it was 10 miles from the site.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in an opinion by Judge Arrie W. Davis, found that the documents were relevant because the parties disputed the amount of rainfall. The court further found that despite the length of the documents, the jury could reasonably interpret the recorded rainfall amounts and the court needed no expert opinion to explain the documents. As to the 10 miles between the Baltimore-Washington Airport and the site of the property, the court concluded this went to the weight of the evidence as opposed to admissibility.

Interestingly, the Plaintiff filed a claim with its own insurance company, Hartford, who paid some of Plaintiff’s damages claim. Specifically, it alleged that they did not pay for all the Plaintiff’s business interruption loss. The plaintiff ,who originally sued Hartford, prevailed on the always raised, but rarely used, affirmative defense of accord and satisfaction. As a part of the settlement in which Hartford paid a nominal amount, Hartford released its subrogation claim in this case.

In another issue of interest to personal injury lawyers, the question of when to introduce the existence of insurance was also at issue. In most accident and medical malpractice cases where the client is being sued individually, the plaintiffs want to focus on evidence proving that the defendant has insurance to cover the claim. In Maryland, under Maryland Rule 5-411, generally evidence of liability insurance is not admissible. Here, Plaintiff was cross-examined about its dealings with Hartford. Apparently, one of the Plaintiff’s agents made assertions to Hartford inconsistent both with the Plaintiff’s contentions at trial and statements the agent was now making. The court found that Maryland Rule 411 clarifies that evidence of insurance is admissible when offered for another legitimate purpose.

The trial court did not commit reversal error in admitting this evidence. Usually, the court will try to shield the insurance issue from the jury by encouraging a stipulation that they made the statements, but still not disclose to the jury they made them to an insurance company. Here, given the context of the quoted testimony, it would have been very difficult to mask from the jury that there was underlying property insurance.

This is a worthwhile case for Maryland personal injury lawyers to read, both on the admissibility of insurance, and regarding the admission of weather reports, although the case does not break any fresh ground. You can find the Titan v. Advance here.

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