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Cherice Willis v. Derrick Ford

May 3, 2013

CHERICE WILLIS
v.
DERRICK FORD



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Berger, J.

REPORTED

Wright, Berger, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Opinion by Berger, J.

This case arises out of an automobile accident involving two vehicles. One vehicle was owned and driven by appellant, Cherice Willis ("Ms. Willis"); the other vehicle was owned and driven by appellee, Derrick Ford ("Mr. Ford"). At the time of the accident, co- appellee Tylisha Ford ("Ms. Ford") was a rear seat passenger in Mr. Ford's vehicle.*fn1

The Fords filed a complaint for negligence against Ms. Willis on September 9, 2010 in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. After a two day trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the Fords, and awarded costs for medical bills and non-economic damages. Ms. Willis filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and a Motion for New Trial. The circuit court denied the motions. This appeal followed.

Ms. Willis presents two questions for review, which we have rephrased as follows:

1. Whether the circuit court erred by denying Ms. Willis'

Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and Motion for New Trial.

2. Whether the circuit court erred by failing to provide a jury instruction regarding "Acts in Emergencies."

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the decision of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

An automobile accident occurred on or about May 8, 2010 at approximately 1:30 a.m. The accident occurred on Pennsylvania Avenue, at or close to the intersection of Walters Lane, in Suitland, Maryland. Pennsylvania Avenue is a divided highway with two travel lanes on each side, as well as separate lanes dedicated to right and left turning vehicles. The speed limit is 50 or 55 miles per hour. There are street lights along Pennsylvania Avenue, but it is not brightly lit. Pennsylvania Avenue is a busy highway at all times, both day and night.

On the night of the accident, Mr. Ford was driving a white Crown Victoria automobile with three passengers. One of the passengers, Ms. Ford, was seated in the right rear passenger seat. Mr. Ford drove with his exterior lights illuminated, and the car was operating properly. The Fords were traveling in the left travel lane on Pennsylvania Avenue when their vehicle stopped behind three other vehicles for a red traffic light at the intersection of Walters Lane. There were two traffic lanes on the right side of Mr. Ford's vehicle: a travel lane and a right turn lane. There was one traffic lane on the left side of Mr. Ford's vehicle, which was a left turn lane. Beyond the left turn lane there was a grass median. Other vehicles traveled down the same lane of traffic and stopped behind Mr. Ford's vehicle for the red traffic light. When the traffic light turned green, Mr. Ford's vehicle stalled.

Mr. Ford testified that he turned on the vehicle's hazard lights. Ms. Ford testified that she could hear the hazard lights clicking as she waited for Mr. Ford to restart the vehicle.*fn2 During that time, the traffic lights went through approximately three cycles. Numerous motorists drove around Mr. Ford's stalled vehicle during that time. The Fords (and the other passenger) remained inside the vehicle while Mr. Ford attempted to restart the vehicle.

The Fords testified that they believed it was safer to stay in the vehicle than to step out into the roadway.

Ms. Willis was driving a dark colored vehicle down Pennsylvania Avenue at a rate of speed of approximately 50 miles per hour. Ms. Willis testified that she was traveling behind a vehicle in the left lane on Pennsylvania Avenue. She further testified that she observed the driver in front of her slam on the brakes and quickly swerve into the right lane. At that time, Ms. Willis saw the Fords' vehicle stopped in the same lane ahead of her. Ms. Willis testified that she had no choice but to collide with the Fords' vehicle. Ms. Willis' vehicle then hit Mr. Ford's vehicle from behind.*fn3

Both Mr. Ford and Ms. Ford testified that Ms. Willis was operating her vehicle without headlights while she was traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue. Ms. Willis testified that her vehicle's headlights were turned on prior to the collision, and that the lights went out after the collision because "the air bags went out, and that causes the car to go dead."

An independent witness, Beverly Yarborough ("Ms. Yarborough"), testified through taped testimony.*fn4 She testified that at the time of the accident, she was stopped in her vehicle on Walters Lane at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue. Ms. Yarborough observed Mr. Ford's vehicle stopped in the left travel lane without any hazard lights or headlights. Ms. Yarborough testified that while she was stopped, she observed an SUV traveling in the left lane, which swerved into the right lane to avoid Mr. Ford's stopped vehicle. Immediately after the SUV swerved, Ms. Willis' vehicle collided into Mr. Ford's vehicle from behind. Ms. Yarborough testified that she did not believe Ms. Willis could see Mr. Ford's stopped vehicle because of the SUV traveling in front of her.

On or about September 9, 2010, the Fords sued Ms. Willis for negligence. The case proceeded to trial before a jury on January 23, 2012 and January 24, 2012. On January 24, 2012, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Fords and against Ms. Willis. The jury awarded $4,800.76 for Mr. Ford's medical bills, as well as $4,200 for Mr. Ford's non-economic damages. The jury further awarded $1,292.53 to Ms. Ford for medical bills, and $5,000 to Ms. Ford for non-economic damages.

Ms. Willis filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict ("JNOV") on February 3, 2012. She also filed a Motion for New Trial on February 6, 2012. The circuit court denied both of the motions by written orders dated March 8, 2012, and March 12, 2012, respectively. Ms. Willis filed this timely appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The standard of review of a court's denial of a motion for JNOV is . . . whether on the evidence presented a reasonable fact-finder could find the elements of the cause of action by a preponderance of the evidence." Univ. of Md. Medical Sys. Corp. v. Gholston, 203 Md. App. 321, 329 (2012) (citing Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth. v. Djan, 187 Md. App. 487, 491-92 (2009)). "The standard of review of the ...


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