New Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion

The case of Titan v. Advance was decided yesterday by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. 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 flooding of the Plaintiff’s premises 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 roofing work was done 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 in spite of the length of the documents, the jury could reasonably interpret the recorded rainfall amounts and no expert opinion was needed to explain the documents. As to the 10 miles between 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, but not all, of Plaintiff’s damages claim. Specifically, it did not pay all of Plaintiff’s business interruption loss. Plaintiff originally sued Hartford who 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 the existence of insurance can be introduced was also at issue. In most accident and medical malpractice cases where the client is being sued individually, plaintiffs want to get into evidence that the defendant has insurance to cover the claim. In Maryland, under Maryland Rule 5-411, generally evidence of liability insurance is not admissible. In this case, Plaintiff was cross-examined about its dealings with Hartford. Apparently, one of the Plaintiff’s agents made assertions to Hartford inconsistent both with Plaintiff’s contentions at trial and statements the agent was now making. The court found that the plain language of Maryland Rule 411 makes clear that evidence of insurance is admissible when offered for another legitimate purpose.

Certainly, the trial court did not commit reversal error in admitting this evidence. Usually the court will make every effort to shield the insurance issue from the jury by encouraging a stipulation that the statements were made, but still not disclose to the jury that they were made to an insurance company. In this case, 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 issue of admissibility of insurance, and with respect to the admission of weather reports, although the case does not break any new ground. You can find the Titan v. Advance here.

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