Spring 2019

By Lauren N. Rutkowski
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Jones v. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, has returned to the topic of independent contractors and when the hiring entity may be held responsible for the negligent act of the hired independent contractors.
Recent Developments - Maryland
A medical malpractice claim is a derivative of a traditional negligence claim and therefore, a plaintiff must prove the traditional elements of negligence: (1) defendant had a duty to plaintiff; (2) defendant breached that duty; (3) defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) plaintiff sustained damages.
In the case of Ogunde v. Johnson, the Court of Special Appeals was asked to consider whether a landlord could be held liable to a plaintiff who was injured by a tenant’s dog.  At trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, but the trial judge granted the landlord’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict thereby reversing the jury’s decision.
The Court of Special Appeals had the opportunity to clarify the date from which the time for filing an appeal begins to run in the case of Won Sun Lee v. Won Bok Lee.  Maryland Rule 8-202 requires that a notice of appeal be filed within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order from which the appeal is taken and further provides that “entry” occurs on the day when the clerk enters a record on the docket of the electronic case management system used by the court.  Maryland Rule 6-201 titled “Entry of Judgment” sets forth additional requirements which are applicable to this analysis.
Recent Developments - Virginia
The Virginia Supreme Court  recently held that in insurance coverage dispute cases, in order for there to be an ambiguity in an insurance policy, there must be conflicting interpretations of policy language that are reasonable.
Brian Allen Leonard, an inmate at the federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia, filed a name change application in the Circuit Court of Prince George County to change her name to Bree Anna Leonard.  According to the application, Leonard was transitioning from a male to female identity.  A requirement prior to undergoing gender reassignment surgery is to live 12 months in the gender role of the gender to which one is transitioning.  As such, Leonard’s application asserted that legally changing her name was a requirement for taking the next step in her transition.
Debra Shumate was the driver of a vehicle that was rear-ended by a car driven by William Thompson.  Thompson died of unrelated causes before the complaint was filed.  In the subsequent lawsuit, Thompson’s estate admitted liability, and the trial was limited to the issue of damages.  The trial court permitted Thompson’s son to testify that William Thompson described the collision in question as occurring in stop-and-go traffic and that he had bumped plaintiff’s car at a speed of 5 to 7 miles per hour.  The jury subsequently returned a verdict for plaintiff but awarded her zero dollars.
Recent Developments - District of Columbia
Generally a defendant cannot obtain a new trial by speculating that a juror was coerced to side with the majority’s finding.  However, in Coley v. United States, the District’s Court of Appeals overturned a criminal conviction and granted a new trial when (1) a juror during polling indicated that she did not agree with the remainder of the jury’s verdict and (2) after the jury resumed deliberations the juror sent a note indicating she thought the defendant was not guilty (the jury later returned a unanimous verdict).
When an insured is sued for both covered and non-covered claims many carriers provide their insureds with the option of accepting assignment of panel counsel or retaining their own attorney to defend them.  When an insured selects their own attorney those carriers often limit the rates that private counsel can charge.  The carrier should secure agreement to the rate to be charged by private counsel in writing.
In Katopothis v. Windsor-Mount Joy Mut. Ins. Co., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewed an exclusion in a homeowner’s policy that required the insured to either maintain heat in the home and turn off the water supply or turn off the water supply and drain the fixtures if leaving the residence vacant for more than 72 hours.  The Court upheld the District Court’s decision to grant summary judgment, noting that the policy was not vague and was not in conflict with public policy.

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