Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ship Owners Seek cap on Non-economic Damages in Federal Court for Claims relating to the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse.

        On March 26, 2024, shortly before 1:30 am, the M/V Dali, a containership with a length of 299.92 meters, lost power while traveling at eight (8) knots, causing the ship to strike Baltimore's Key Bridge, causing the 47-year-old structure to collapse into the Patapsco River.  The bridge's collapse has resulted in the complete closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the nation's busiest ports.  As a result of the collision or "casualty", two (2) construction workers lost their lives, four (4) are missing but presumed dead, and two (2) suffered unknown injuries but survived. 

       The ship's owners want a cap on their exposure.  Grace Ocean Private Limited and Synergy Marine PTE, ltd., as Manager of the M/V Dali, have filed a Petition for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability in the United States District Court of Maryland, Northern Division, seeking "exoneration from liability for any and all losses or damages arising out of the casualty and from any claims for damages that have been or may be filed."  Petitioners further "claim the benefits of limitation of liability provided by 46 U.S.C. § 30501, et seq." (aka "Limitation Act").  Basically, the ship's owners are asking the Court to cap their potential exposure at $43,670,000.00 (value of ship, aka 'sound value' of $90,000,000.00) plus its pending freight ($1,170,000.00) minus the repair and salvage costs ($28,000,000.00 and $19,500,000.00 respectively). 

      The M/V Dali owners will likely prevail in their request.  The Limitation Act states:

Except as provided in section 30524 in this title, (a) the liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt or liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and pending freight.  If the vessel has more than one owner, the proportionate share of the liability of any one owner shall not exceed that owner's proportionate interest in the vessel and pending freight.

46 U.S.C. § 30523.  Maryland's cap on non-economic damages, for an occurrence date in 2023, limits the amount of pain and suffering damages for injuries and wrongful death lawsuits at $935,000.00 if the victim survived and $1,402,000.00 if the victim died and there are two (2) or more wrongful death beneficiaries (Limitation of Non-Economic Damages, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Articles 3-2A-09, Md. Ann. Code).  A "survival action" cap is likewise, $935,000.00. This can be added to the aforementioned wrongful death claim cap to a combined total of $2,375,000.00

        The Port of Baltimore has suspended all maritime traffic until further notice.  The Port, our Port, handled 37 million tons of cargo in 2021 and is in the top 20 ports in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  Container cargo trucks are still taking cargo in the port, but there are no maritime vessel imports or exports.  Truckers are especially hard, Maryland plated truckers that is, i.e., in order to transport container cargo out of the Port of Baltimore, a driver and his truck must have "apportioned plates" in order to leave the state of Maryland and deliver said cargo to other states. Unfortunately, many Port of Baltimore container haulers have Maryland plates only.  Consequently, these drivers cannot simply relocate to other ports, i.e., Port of Wilmington, Port of New York and New Jersey, and/or the Port of Virginia. 

        For automobile shipments, the Port of Baltimore was the nation's busiest,  handling 847,158 vehicles in 2023.  These vehicles, including the revenue generated by the handling of this particular type of cargo, is being diverted to other ports.  It remains to be seen whether this business and/or revenue will ever return to the Port of Baltimore and the Marylanders who work there. 

- Milton Warren, Associate

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

RSRM Welcomes Associate Milton Warren!

Milton P. Warren is a 2000 graduate of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.  While attending law school, Mr. warren completed the Access to Bail and Justice clinical law program providing access to pre-trial release and legal representation to indigent clients in Baltimore City pursuant to Maryland Rule 16 as a student-attorney.  Mr. Warren also spent time interning at the States Attorney office located in Northumberland County, Virginia. 

Immediately after graduating law school, Mr. Warren began working at a local Baltimore County law firm gaining experience in general practice civil litigation where he prosecuted auto torts, premises liability, estate probate and alternative dispute resolution cases. 

Mr. Warren became a solo practitioner in 2003, building his private law firm as a general practitioner in addition to handling referral cases from other law firms in the State of Maryland and, recently, in North Carolina. 

Outside of the office, Mr. Warren enjoys playing tennis, cooking, spending time with his wife Julie and family in Harford County, Maryland. 

For Hearing Loss Claims, the Last Injurious Exposure Rule does not Apply to Insurers

For Hearing Loss Claims, the Last Injurious Exposure Rule does not Apply to Insurers

Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association v. William Cree, et. al.

Claimant William Cree filed a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission for binaural hearing loss with a date of disablement of August 31, 2018, noting Prince George’s County as the Employer. 

Prince George’s County impleaded Cree’s prior employers, The Town of Riverdale and the City of Laurel, which they claimed also contributed to Claimant’s hearing loss.  The City of Laurel impleaded Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association (“PMA”), which insured the City during the first half of Claimant’s employment with the City of Laurel.

The Workers’ Compensation Commission held a hearing to determine liability for Claimant’s hearing loss.  At that hearing, PMA argued that it would not be considered the last insurer chronologically of the City, and therefore should be relieved of any liability pursuant to the last injurious exposure rule.  Subsequently, the Commission issued an Order finding that the last injurious exposure rule did not apply to Claimant’s claim, and therefore also finding that all three of Claimant’s employers were liable for Claimant’s hearing loss, as was the insurer, PMA.

PMA initiated an on-the-record appeal in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County.  The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County affirmed the Commission’s decision.  PMA then initiated an appeal to the Appellate Court of Maryland.  The Appellate Court of Maryland also affirmed the Commission’s decision.

In coming to their decision, The Appellate Court of Maryland looked at the history of the law, and the legislative intent for such laws.  They noted that while the last injurious exposure rule applies to employers and insurers for occupational diseases, it clearly does not apply to employers in hearing loss cases.  The question, then, was whether the last injurious exposure rule applies to insurers of employers in hearing loss cases.

PMA put forth two arguments at The Appellate Court of Maryland: (1) the statutes that deal with hearing loss (Labor and Employment §9-651 and §9-652) do not use the term “insurer” and therefore these provisions do not apply to insurers – only employers; and (2) the statute that deals with the last injurious exposure rule (Labor and Employment §9-502) has two separate paragraphs -  one applying to employer, and one applying to insurers - therefore the last injurious exposure rule applies independently to insurers, even when it does not apply to the employers that they insure. 

The Appellate Court of Maryland was not convinced by either of these arguments.  Instead, noting that there was no indication in the available legislative history that the General Assembly believed that a claim for occupational hearing loss would be subject to the last injurious exposure rule.  Further, the last injurious exposure rule directly contradicts the method for determining liability for a claimant’s hearing loss, and accordingly to Yox v. Tru-Rol Co., 380 Md. 326 (2004), a general provision governing occupational diseases is not controlling when it is inconsistent with the approach that the General Assembly has specified for claims of occupational hearing loss.

- Ashley Bond, Associate

Monday, February 12, 2024

RSRM Welcomes Associate Audreina Blanding!

Audreina J. Blanding graduated summa cum laude from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2023 and graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2016 with a B.A. in Economics.  While attending law school, Audreina clerked for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, Court and Judicial Affairs Division, as well as served as the 2022-23 Linda Kennedy Economic Justice Fellow with the Homeless Persons Representation Project ("HPRP"). 

Ms. Blanding was also a competing member of the National Trial Competition Team and helped her team place 2nd at the 2022 Buffalo-Niagara Trial Competition.  During her final semester of law school, Audreina had the unique opportunity to prepare a comprehensive assessment of North Korea's human rights obligations on behalf of the United Nations - a paper for which she was awarded 1st Place in the 2023 Center for International and Comparative Law Essay Competition. 

Upon graduation, Ms. Blanding was inducted into the Heuisler Honor Society for graduating within the top 10% of her class.  Immediately following law school, Audreina briefly served as the judicial law clerk for the Honorable Shirley M. Watts of the Maryland Supreme Court.  Outside of the office, Ms. Blanding enjoys traveling, cooking, and trying new restaurants.  

Thursday, January 25, 2024

 The Appellate Court of Maryland affirms dismissal of wrongful death suit holding that the Worker's Compensation Act is the exclusive remedy for non-dependent tort actions. 

Summer Ledford v. Jenway Contracting, Inc.

Appellate Court of Maryland, filed. November 30, 2023 (Wright, J.)

        In Ledford v. Jenway Contracting, the Appellate Court of Maryland considered whether the Worker’s Compensation Act barred a non-dependent from bringing a wrongful death tort action against the decedent’s employer. Ultimately, the Appellate Court held that the Act barred the non-dependent’s tort action and affirmed the Circuit Court’s dismissal of the wrongful death suit.

        The case arose from the appellant’s late father’s tragic death that occurred while he was working for the Appellee. It was undisputed that the father’s death “arose out of and in the course of his employment.” The Appellant, the decedent’s forty-seven-year-old daughter, had no right to benefits under the Worker’s Compensation Act as she was not a dependent of her late father. She filed a wrongful death negligence action against the appellee-employer in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. The employer thereafter moved to dismiss the action, contending that the Appellant had no viable tort action against the employer because the Worker’s Compensation Act provided the “exclusive” remedy for damages stemming from her decedent-father’s work-related injury.  The Circuit Court agreed and dismissed the Appellant’s action for failure to state a claim.

        On Appeal, the Appellate Court of Maryland traced the history of the Worker’s Compensation Act, enacted in 1914. Prior to the Worker’s Compensation Act, the worker could sue the employer for negligence and the employer could likewise assert defenses such as contributory negligence and assumption of the risk.  The Act’s passage reflected a “compromise between employees’ rights to pursue common law and other statutory damages for their injuries, and the burden to employers of having to provide workers’ compensation benefits.” See Hauch v. Connor, 295 Md. 120, 127 (1983)). Under the Act, the employer is required to pay, regardless of fault. In exchange, the employer is shielded from common law liability as the Act is the exclusive remedy for injured employees and their dependents, also referred to as the “exclusivity provision.” There are two exceptions to the exclusivity provision: 1) where an employer fails to provide compensation in accordance with the Act and 2) where an employer deliberately injures or kills a covered employee. Neither exception applied to the circumstances before the Ledford court.

        While acknowledging that neither Maryland appellate court has encountered the precise issue (whether the exclusivity provision applies to a non-dependent), the Ledford court recognized that Maryland’s appellate courts have considered “whether a wrongful death plaintiff is permitted to bring a wrongful death claim when a covered employee is killed in the course of his or her employment.” The court cited two examples, Koche v. Cox and Austin v. Thrifty Diversified, Inc., both standing for the proposition that, where an injury arises out of or in the course of employment, the sole remedy is the Worker’s Compensation Act. Applying these cases and the language of the Act to the Appellant’s circumstances, the court concluded that the appellee-employer’s liability was “exclusively within the worker’s compensation act” and further reasoned that when a covered employee is injured or killed in the course of his or her employment, the employer’s liability and any recovery resulting from that liability is exclusive to the Act, regardless of whether an otherwise proper wrongful death plaintiff is entitled to benefits under the Act.” (emphasis added).

-Joseph Kavanaugh, Associate

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

RSRM Welcomes Law Clerk Sean Delaney!

Sean is a current 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law. There he is a staff editor of the University of Baltimore Law Review. His prior legal experience includes an internship with the U.S. Army JAG office at Fort Detrick. He also has experience serving as a legal writing fellow and law scholar for Civil Procedure II and Property. Sean is a 2022 graduate of the University of Maryland, where he majored in Information Science and Criminal Justice.

Welcome to the Team!

Monday, January 8, 2024

Congratulations to RSRM's 2024 Maryland Super Lawyers

 Congratulations to the five RSRM attorneys who were selected to Maryland's 2024 Super Lawyers!

Managing Partner James Andersen was selected as a 2024 Super Lawyer in the area of Personal Injury. Mr. Andersen has 30 years of litigation experience and has served as the Firm’s Managing Partner since 2014. He handles a variety of litigation matters including transportation, products liability, premises liability, construction litigation, and insurance coverage and defense. He has been selected as a Maryland Super Lawyer consistently since 2017.
Partner Paul Donoghue was selected as a 2024 Super Lawyer in Workers’ Compensation. Mr. Donoghue has served as a Partner at RSRM since 1998 and handles workers’ compensation and general litigation/liability matters. He has been selected as a Maryland Super Lawyer in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.
Partner Tara Barnes was selected as a 2024 Super Lawyer in Civil Defense Litigation. Ms. Barnes has served as a Partner at RSRM since 2016 and works on premises liability, products liability, construction litigation, and insurance coverage and defense matters. She has been selected as a Maryland Rising Star Attorney from 2015 through 2018, and a Maryland Super Lawyer in 2023 and 2024.
Partner Benjamin Beasley was selected as a 2024 Rising Star in Civil Defense Litigation. Mr. Beasley has served as a Partner at RSRM since 2022 and works on premises liability, products liability, and insurance coverage and defense matters. He has been named as a Maryland Rising Star Attorney consistently since 2022.
Associate Ashley Bond was selected as a 2024 Rising Star in Civil Defense Litigation. Mrs. Bond will be an eighth-year associate in 2024 and works on insurance coverage and defense, construction litigation, appellate cases, and workers’ compensation matters. She has been named as a Maryland Rising Star Attorney consistently since 2021.
Each year, approximately five percent (5%) of Maryland attorneys are selected as "Super Lawyers" and two-and-a-half percent (2.5%) are selected as "Rising Stars.”