The Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided Romero v. Brenes yesterday. This case involved a single car accident that killed both passenger and driver. A Montgomery County trial court granted the Defendant’s attorney’s motion for judgment at the close of the passenger’s wrongful death case because the trial judge found that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the negligence of the driver was a proximate cause of the fatal crash.
Defendant’s argument was essentially “hey, no one saw this accident so no one knows what happened.” The majority of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found a jury could have found that the unexplained loss of control by driver and the driver’s excessive speed was the proximate cause of this fatal car accident.
It is a case every tort lawyer practicing in our state should read. Obviously, this is a good outcome for the individual Plaintiffs in this case. I worry about whether this is a good case for victims generally. Maryland is a contributory negligence state. Accordingly, the insurance defense lawyers in accident cases often claim a plaintiff was speeding with little or no evidence. Judge Eyler pointed this out in his dissent; “[e]xceeding the speeding limit does not constitute actionable negligence unless it is a proximate cause of injury or damage, ” citing Myers v. Bright, 327 Md. 395, 405 (1992).
Are defendants going to use this case as a sword? We will see.