Friday, October 8, 2021

Congratulations to Associate Ben Beasley on his back-to-back trial wins!


Congratulations to Associate Ben Beasley who recently went two-for-two in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. In the morning, Mr. Beasley successfully defended an uninsured motorist claim believed to be the product of a staged accident. Through expert testimony, Mr. Beasley persuaded the judge that the accident could not have occurred in the manner in which the plaintiffs claimed. 

In the afternoon, Mr. Beasley defended a red light dispute with video evidence introduced by the plaintiff supportive of their theory of liability. With the assistance of testimony from his client and an independent witness, the court found that the plaintiff could not meet their burden, and entered judgment in favor of Mr. Beasley's client. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Maryland Examines Public Policy Weighed Against Insurance Policy Exclusions in Uninsured Motorist Breach of Contract Suit

Dinora Dominquez v. Government Employees Insurance Company, No. 811, September Term 2020. Opinion by Beachley, J.

Maryland law requires that you purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury liability insurance that covers at least $30,000 in damages per person injured, with a cap of $60,000 per accident. The Maryland Insurance Article only refers to “uninsured” motorists and motor vehicles, “an uninsured motorist or motor vehicle is, for all intents and purposes, the same as an underinsured motorist or motor vehicle.” Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Shilling, 468 Md. 239, 248-49 (2020) (citing Connors v. Gov’t Emps. Ins. Co., 442 Md. 466, 474 n.4 (2015)).

In March 2016, Dinora Dominquez was a passenger in a vehicle being operated by her daughter at the time that was rear ended by a vehicle that fled the scene before Ms. Dominquez or her daughter could identify the driver. Ms. Dominguez sustained serious injuries as a result of the collision and filed an uninsured motorist claim through her daughter’s GEICO Insurance policy which provided uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage limits of $30,000 per individual and $60,000 per occurrence. Ms. Dominguez was also insured under a separate GEICO insurance policy, which she purchased with her husband to cover their vehicle. Ms. Dominguez’s GEICO insurance policy provided uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage limits of $300,000 per individual and occurrence. Ms. Dominguez filed an uninsured motorist claim with this policy as well.

At the time of the collision, Ms. Dominguez and her daughter resided in the same household. GEICO accepted Ms. Dominguez’s claim filed under her daughter’s policy but denied the claim under her own GEICO policy, citing an exclusion within Ms. Dominguez’s GEICO Policy that allowed the Insurer to deny the claim. The applicable exclusion stated that GEICO’s uninsured motorist coverage did not apply: “[t]o bodily injury sustained by an insured while occupying a motor vehicle owned by an insured and not described in the Declarations and not covered by the Bodily Injury and Property Damage liability coverages of this policy.” For purposes of this case, the GEICO policy defines the word “Insured” to mean: “(a) You and your spouse if a resident of the same household; (b) Your relative if a resident of your household[.]” The GEICO policy defined “You” and “Your” to mean “the policyholder named in the Declarations or his or her spouse if a resident of the same household.” The GEICO Policy defined “Relative” as “a person related to you who resides in your household.”

After the denial of the uninsured motorist claim under her own GEICO policy, Ms. Dominquez filed a breach of contract complaint against GEICO in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. GEICO moved for summary judgment, asserting that as a matter of law, the exclusion contained within Ms. Dominquez’s policy permitted the denial of the claim. At the conclusion of a hearing on September 24, 2020, the Circuit Court rejected Ms. Dominguez’s argument that the exclusion in her GEICO policy was impermissibly broad and inconsistent with Maryland law contained in Md. Code, Ins. § 19-509(f)(1). The Court granted summary judgment in favor of GEICO.

 In examining the Circuit Court’s ruling on appeal, the Court of Special Appeals reviewed the legislative history surrounding Ins. § 19-509(f)(1), which permits an insurer to exclude coverage when the insured occupies an uninsured vehicle owned by an “immediate family member” who resides in the insured’s household. The public policy in support of Ins. § 19-509(f)(1) is “to prevent a family, owning several motor vehicles, from insuring only one or two of them with an insurer, leaving the other vehicles uninsured, or underinsured under a different policy, and being able to claim uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits from the first insurer even though no premium was paid to the first insurer for coverage of the other vehicles.” Gov't Emps. Ins. Co. v. Comer, 419 Md. 89, 98, 18 A.3d 830 (2011).

Based upon that examination, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that Ms. Dominquez would not be able to recover under her own insurance policy for an injury she sustained in an underinsured vehicle owned by an immediate family member. In affirming the Circuit Court’s decision, the Court of Special Appeals noted the prevailing Maryland law provides that when the contractual provision of an insurance policy conflicts with a stated public policy, the policy provision is invalid, but “only to the extent of the conflict between the stated public policy and the contractual provision.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 307 Md. 631, 643 (1986) (citing Ins. Comm’r v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 296 Md. 334, 340 n.6 (1983)).

-Towanda Luckett, Associate Attorney


 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Maryland Courts Determine that Features Inside Leased Property are in the Exclusive Control of the Lessee

 Smith v. Bay Front, LLC, No. 1272, 2021 Md. App. LEXIS 504 (Spec. App. June 15, 2021).

In a recent case decided by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, it was held that a tenant cannot recover for damages in premises liability cases using the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor when the owner had no notice or control of any danger regarding a feature inside the tenant’s house.

            In 2018, Ms. Anita Smith was walking down an interior staircase in her leased property when the stairs collapsed beneath her causing injury. Ms. Smith sued Bay Front, the owners of the property, for negligence and argued that res ipsa loquitor should apply. The circuit court held that there was no evidence that Bay Front knew or should have known of any defects in the staircase. As a result, the circuit court granted Bay Front’s motion for summary judgement.

            This Court reviewed and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. First, the Court decided that Ms. Smith was only an invitee of the property when she occupied common areas. However, because the staircase in question was inside the home that Ms. Smith was leasing, it could not be considered a common area. Furthermore, a landlord is not liable for any injuries sustained by the tenant or their guests from defects inside the leased property that manifests after the tenant is in possession of the property. Therefore, Ms. Smith must prove that there was constructive or actual notice of the defect to show negligence. However, the Court states that, even in Ms. Smith’s own deposition, she testified that she never mentioned any issues or defects regarding the staircase which means Bay Front would not have had any notice regarding the condition of the staircase and the danger it posed.

Ms. Smith argues the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor should apply. However, to prove res ipsa loquitor, Ms. Smith had to show that the staircase was in the exclusive control of Bay Front. In this case, the staircase was inside of Ms. Smith’s leased property and was only used by Ms. Smith and her family. There was no way for Bay Front to observe the staircase and determine its condition without being notified by Ms. Smith. Therefore, the interior staircase was in the exclusive possession of Ms. Smith and does not satisfy res ipsa loquitor.

The Court determined that because Ms. Smith had exclusive control over the staircase and could not show that Bay Front had any actual or constructive knowledge about any defects to the staircase, the circuit court’s decision to grant the motion for summary judgment for Bay Front was correct.   

-Jocelyn Wang, Law Clerk

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Congratulations to Associate Ashley Bond on her Recent Win!

 


Congratulations to Associate Ashley Bond on her recent win! Ms. Bond represented a business and its insurance company at the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission. An employee of the business alleged to have sustained injuries to his arm at work after getting stuck between a ladder and a duct. Ms. Bond argued that an accidental injury did not occur, as alleged, as the employee was inconsistent with his description of the accident and had a lengthy history of prior medical conditions with similar symptoms. Ms. Bond further argued that the employee was not forthcoming with his doctors about his past medical history, including the similar symptoms that he experienced in the past.

The Commission agreed with Ms. Bond and found that no accidental injury occurred. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Congratulations to Associate Ben Beasley for prevailing on a motion for summary judgment in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City!

 


Congratulations to Associate Ben Beasley for prevailing on a motion for summary judgment in Circuit Court! Mr. Beasley represented one of two insurance companies named as defendants.  The plaintiff sought uninsured motorist benefits from both after an auto accident.  Mr. Beasley’s client insured the vehicle the plaintiff operated at the time of the accident, which was registered out-of-state, was owned by an out-of-state resident, and was insured by an out-of-state insurance policy that excluded the plaintiff from coverage.  The other defendant insured the plaintiff’s personal vehicle, which was not involved in the accident.  Mr. Beasley argued that the court should apply the law of the state where the insurance policy was purchased and uphold the exclusion.  The court agreed and awarded summary judgment in Mr. Beasley’s client’s favor.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Clarity for the Statute of Limitations for Maryland Workers’ Compensation Modification Cases

 Montgomery County, Maryland v. Fernando Rios, No. 2642, September Term 2018.

In February of 2020, the Workers’ Compensation Commission (hereinafter “WCC”), announced that when filing for a modification, the statute only requires that the modification be applied for within the statute of limitations. This holding came out of the Montgomery County, Maryland v. Fernando Rios matter.

            Mr. Rios had filed a request to modify his workers’ compensation award, alleging a permanent partial disability. His filing took place less than one month before the statute of limitations expired. Mr. Rios submitted his filing without yet having obtained a medical evaluation for permanent impairment which is required by COMAR 14.09.09.02B. He did eventually complete the evaluation, but it was after the statute of limitations had expired on the matter.

            Montgomery County claimed that Mr. Rios claim was barred by the statute of limitations due to his failure to complete the medical evaluation, but the WCC disagreed and awarded the modification. Montgomery County then noted a record appeal to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, once again alleging that the statute of limitations was violated due to Mr. Rios having not completed the medical evaluation. The Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the Commission, an appeal was then filed by the County.

            The Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion, delivered by Judge J. Beachley, was issued on February 28, 2020. The Court reaffirmed the Circuit Court and the Commissioners position and held that the statute of limitations was not violated. The Court stated that in accordance with Section 9-736 (b)(3) of the Labor and Employment Article, it is only required that a modification of the award be “applied for” within the statute of limitations. The Court cites to the Maryland Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Gang v. Montgomery County, 464 Md. 270 (2019), which held that a failure to file a Motion for Modification form as required under the COMAR regulation, within the statute of limitations, does not bar an otherwise timely claim. The Court cites to this decision, as it sets the precedent that COMAR does not impose an additional requirement in order to satisfy the requirements of LE 9-736(b)(3). The County argued in the alternative that without the medical evaluation, Mr. Rios has no “basis in fact” as to his modification request, but the Court once again rejected this argument.

            This decision affects Maryland Workers’ Compensation Law due to it emphasizing the separation of COMAR requirements from statute of limitation requirements for modification requests. The Court has now clearly stated that it is only required that the modification be “applied for” within the statute of limitations.

-Kari Gallagher, Law Clerk.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

RSRM Welcomes Associate Brandon James!

Brandon C. James is a 2020 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law and a 2017 graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. While attending UMBC, Mr. James majored in English and competed in the American Mock Trial Association, where he was named an All-American Attorney. In law school, Mr. James was inducted into the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society, a staff editor of the University of Baltimore Law Forum, and a competing member of the National Trial Competition Team. He also completed internships with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, Civil Division, and a mid-sized law firm, where he worked on matters including products liability, mass tort, and environmental law. 

Upon graduating from law school, Mr. James completed a judicial clerkship for the Honorable Kendra Y. Ausby at the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. While clerking for Judge Ausby, Mr. James conducted research on issues including business litigation, labor and employment litigation, and administrative law.

In his spare time, Mr. James enjoys traveling, watching Ravens football, and spending time with his family. Mr. James is originally from Baltimore City, so he also spends time volunteering in the community.