Maryland, My Maryland…. and bizarre laws….

4100326791_bd33c9cefc_oAlthough I am not a fan of horse-racing, I rarely miss out on the Triple Crown, in particular the Preakness Stakes, which is conducted at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

This year was more interesting than most, with Mr. Gary Stevens, a photogenic, jovial, and exceptionally likable Hall of Fame jockey who you may recognize from the Seabiscuit movie, coming out of seven years of retirement and, amazingly, at very long odds, easily winning the race on Oxbow.

The odds against Oxbow and Mr. Stevens were huge — $32.80 to win, $12.00 to place and $6.80 to show, which is probably a testament to how the free market values youth over experience, a costly mistake in this case.

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Jury duty

Anyway…. Being located in the State of Maryland, the race kicked off with the state song, Maryland, My Maryland, which placed me in a sufficiently upbeat and local-patriotic state for my jury duty of this week.

I was empanelled on a jury in a civil matter involving personal injury related to a motor vehicle accident that took place in the fourth quarter of 2008. The plaintiff was suing for actual damages as well as what is euphemistically referred to as non-economic damages, including injury, pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other non-pecuniary injury.

The issue of liability was settled prior to the trial, with the defendant having accepted complete and total liability, leaving the jury with only the issue of damages.

In the matter before us, the plaintiff had to prove causality from the accident to the injuries and, of course, prove the actual damages and the non-economic damages. Moreover, under the laws of the State of Maryland, the plaintiff had a duty to mitigate the damages using reasonable care and diligence to avoid additional injury (consider, for instance, a plaintiff who has had his convertible’s roof torn by a defendant with a resulting damage of, say, $1,000, and, then, subsequently fails to cover the tear and drives into a car-wash causing flood damage to the vehicle — clearly, the plaintiff has failed in his or her duty to mitigate the damages.)

The accident occurred at very low speed with the plaintiff driving a one ton van, loaded with equipment, and the defendant driving a sedan (the term “one ton” does not imply that the van weighs one ton (2,000 pounds,) but, rather, that the van can handle a load of one ton — in reality, a one ton van typically weighs in at 10,000 to 14,000 pounds, whereas a small sedan weighs in at 3,000 pounds.) There were little or no damage to the van and no apparent injury to the plaintiff at the scene — in fact, no police or emergency personnel was called to the scene, and after twenty minutes, or so, the defendant and the plaintiff both left the scene, having exchanged insurance information.

Eventually, four months after the accident, the plaintiff went to a doctor, complaining of pains in his calf and several months later, after having refused physical therapy and undergone an epidural, which may or may not have aggravated the matter, and possibly having been in another accident, the plaintiff complained about back-pain and underwent back surgery, which appear to have been successful at relieving whatever discomfort he may have had.

The jury found for the defendant, indicating that the plaintiff had not proven causality and leaving the issue of damages moot.

Personally, I found the time-span, i.e. the lack of proximity between the accident and the first visit to the doctor, to be problematic — compounded by the possible second accident and the plaintiff’s profession, which involved the daily hauling of very heavy items, strongly impacting the issue of causality.

Had the plaintiff’s case survived the causality test, it would in my opinion have encountered issue with mitigation in that the plaintiff waited a long time before he sought medical assistance, possibly aggravating the injury, and apparently did not undertake physical therapy.

Finally, had the plaintiff’s case survived the duty issue, then the non-economic damages would have been impacted by the fact that the plaintiff seemed fine and showed no sign of any lasting injury from the accident (a surveillance video taken after the surgery showed the plaintiff stretching, bending, and carrying loads without any apparent discomfort.)

I must say that I was impressed by my fellow jurors who shouldered their responsibility with all the seriousness that I would expect had I been the plaintiff or the defendant, the jury administration, who process hundreds of juror every week, and the judge, who wrote the jurors a very nice letter after the trial was over. I was less impressed by the juror pay, which at $15 per day (taxable as income, believe it or not,) could not cover the directs costs of serving, leading to an economic loss every day.

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Bizarre laws

In my case from this week the actual damages were $30 thousand or so, and the total demand by the plaintiff was for almost $200 thousand, an enormous spread, of course, but a far cry from the multi-million dollar claims that the entertainment industry likes to banter around.

I don’t know if the gap between $200 thousand, or so, and the Hollywood style awards of millions of dollars surprised my fellow jurors, but it did not, at all, surprise me, because I years ago had stumbled over the — quite frankly — astonishing §11-108 of the civil code of the State of Maryland.

§11-108 establishes limitations on non-economic damages in personal injury action. Generally, non-economic damages are capped at $500,000 for causes of action arising after October 1st, 1994. The limitation increases by $15,000 each year after October 1st, 1994, and, therefore, a plaintiff with a valid claim that arose in 2008/2009 would see this claim for non-economic damages capped at $710,000.

This limitation is not, in itself astonishing, and is quite rational, mostly intended to stop a run-away jury verdict where verdicts become based more on emotion than on the facts of the particular case. What strikes me a amazing is subsection d of the code, which says that:

(d) Jury trials. —

(1) In a jury trial, the jury may not be informed of the limitation established under subsection (b) of this section.

This part of the law, deliberately withholding information about the law from the jurors, has always stuck me as bizarre.

There are other bizarre laws that I am aware of in the State of Maryland (I don’t include the law that allow for the deployment of speed camera traps and and has caused Montgomery County to deploy enormous number of cameras, arguably providing for a bonanza in hidden taxes, although I think is the most peculiar law of all.)

First there is a law that I like to refer to as “I am sorry, but not that much…”:

§ 10-920. Expressions of regret or apology.

(a) “Health care provider” defined. — In this section, “health care provider” has the meaning stated in § 3-2A-01 of this article.

(b) In general. —

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, in a proceeding subject to Title 3, Subtitle 2A of this article or a civil action against a health care provider, an expression of regret or apology made by or on behalf of the health care provider, including an expression of regret or apology made in writing, orally, or by conduct, is inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability or as evidence of an admission against interest.

(2) An admission of liability or fault that is part of or in addition to a communication made under paragraph (1) of this subsection is admissible as evidence of an admission of liability or as evidence of an admission against interest in an action described under paragraph (1) of this subsection.

Not all the bizarre laws are nonsensical. There is for instance, a very sensible law, which I, with reference to Stewie Griffin of the Family Guy TV show, refer to as the “No, Stewie… No!” law:

§ 4-503. Manufacture or possession of destructive device

(a) Prohibited. — A person may not knowingly:

(1) manufacture, transport, possess, control, store, sell, distribute, or use a destructive device; or

where the destructive device includes (my emphasis):

§ 4-501. Definitions

(b) Destructive device. —

(2) “Destructive device” includes a bomb, grenade, mine, shell, missile, flamethrower, poison gas, Molotov cocktail, pipe bomb, and petroleum-soaked ammonium nitrate.

Now, that is a law that makes sense to me!

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