United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
personal injury dispute, Plaintiff Devin Wright, a resident
of Maryland, alleges that Defendant Christopher A. Mohler, a
resident of Ohio, was negligent when the parties were
involved in a car accident on the morning of December 14,
2015. Plaintiff seeks greater than $75, 000 in damages.
Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 29.
No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 59, is granted in part and
denied in part.
the late evening of December 3, 2015 and the early morning
hours of the following day, Plaintiff and three of his
friends were drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis while
celebrating a birthday. ECF No. 29-2 at 10. Plaintiff decided
to drive the four of them to one of the friends' homes to
continue the celebration. Id. Along the way,
Plaintiff hit a curb while making a turn from St.
Patrick's Drive onto Billingsley Road and the vehicle
became disabled, coming to a rest on Billingsley Road and
“mostly or fully” blocking the right lane and
partially blocking the left lane. Id; ECF No. 29-5
at 15. Plaintiff exited the car and remained standing in the
road to assess the damage. ECF No. 30-5 at 3.
was driving his vehicle down Billingsley Road and, by his own
words, did not notice the disabled vehicle until he exited
the intersection of St. Patrick's Drive and Billingsley
Road, approximately 20-30 feet from the vehicle. ECF No. 29-5
at 10, 14. Defendant attempted to evade Plaintiff's car
by switching into the left lane but was unsuccessful in doing
so because the disabled vehicle partially blocked the left
lane. Id. at 10. Defendant's car hit both
Plaintiff and his car, causing severe injuries. ECF No. 29-8
at 3. The parties dispute whether the disabled vehicle's
lights were illuminated at the time of the collision.
Compare ECF No. 29-4 ¶ 9 (Defendant affidavit
stating the lights were not illuminated) with ECF
No. 30-4 at 9 (photo taken after the accident depicting the
headlight switch set to “on”). Plaintiff was
taken to Prince George's Hospital Center for medical
treatment, where his blood alcohol concentration was measured
at .11 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. ECF No.
29-6 at 7; 29-7 at 2.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, summary judgment is appropriate only when
the Court, viewing the record as a whole and in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, determines that there
exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). The
burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that there
exists no genuine dispute of material fact. Pulliam Inv.
Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir.
1987). To defeat the motion, the nonmoving party must submit
evidence showing facts sufficient for a fair-minded jury to
reasonably return a verdict for that party. See Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, a party must set forth admissible facts to
be considered in support of or opposition to a motion for
summary judgment. See Williams v. Silver Spring Volunteer
Fire Dep't, 86 F.Supp. 398, 407 (D. Md. 2015).
establish a claim for negligence in Maryland, a plaintiff
must prove “a duty owed to the plaintiff, ”
“a breach of that duty; a causal relationship between
the breach and the harm; and damages suffered.”
Walpert, Smullian * Blumental, P.A. v. Katz, 361 Md.
645, 655 (Md. 2000). Of these requirements, Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment contends only that Plaintiff
cannot establish that Defendant breached any duty of care to
Plaintiff. ECF No. 29-1 at 11.
driver has a duty to use ordinary care in the operation of a
motor vehicle, which includes the duty to “both
‘observe carefully the road in front of them' and
‘be reasonably aware of what is occurring along the
sides of a street or highway.'” Ayala v.
Lee, 215 Md.App. 457, 469 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2013)
(quoting Morris v. Williams, 258 Md. 625, 628 (Md.
1970)). A defendant's “failure to see the plaintiff
does not relieve him of responsibility . . . [w]hen weather
conditions or darkness are such as to interfere with or shade
the view of the road, it only serves to increase the degree
of care required of a driver.” Vizzini v.
Dopkin, 176 Md. 639, 643 (Md. 1939).
failed to see Plaintiff's vehicle until he was 20-30 feet
away, which did not leave him enough time to avoid a
collision. “Whether there is sufficient proof of a
breach of duty is generally ‘a question of fact to be
decided by the fact-finder, '” and this case is no
exception. Lloyd v. Frontera Produce, Ltd., No.
WDQ-13-2232, 2014 WL 4825641, at *10 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting
Valentine v. On Target, Inc., 353 Md. 544, 550 (Md.
1999)). Though the sun had not yet risen, it is for a finder
of fact to determine whether the lighting conditions on the
road were such that, had he been exercising ordinary care,
Defendant would have seen Plaintiff's vehicle from
further than 20-30 feet away. Notably, the parties dispute
whether Plaintiff's headlights were on, a material fact
that could clarify whether Defendant should have seen the
vehicle sooner. Therefore, the Court does not find that
“it is clear from the uncontracted evidence in the case
that there is no rational ground upon which” a finder
of fact could determine that Defendant was not negligent in
striking Plaintiff's vehicle. Domeski v. Atl.
Refining Co., 202 Md. 562, 566 (Md. 1953).
contends that a series of cases support his argument that, as
a matter of law, Plaintiff cannot establish the breach of a
duty. Defendant rightly notes that “negligence is not
presumed from the mere happening of a motor vehicle
collision.” Brehm v. Lorenz, 206 Md. 500, 508
(1955); see also Cabrera v. W. Express, Inc., No.
SAG-12-cv-0041, 2012 WL 4105684, at *2-3 (D. Md. 2012). But
both Brehm and Cabrera discussed car
accidents in which there was no evidence whatsoever in
support of the plaintiffs' claims of negligence. Here,
Defendant's own testimony that he did not see the
disabled vehicle until he was 20-30 feet away could lead a
reasonable finder of fact to conclude that he did not keep a
proper lookout, especially if the finder of fact concludes
that the disabled vehicle's headlights were on.
the State of Maryland has adopted the doctrine of
contributory negligence, in which “a plaintiff who
fails to exercise ordinary care for his or her own safety,
and thus contributes proximately to his or her injury,
‘is barred from all recovery, regardless of the quantum
of a defendant's primary negligence.'”
Coleman v. Soccer Ass'n of Columbia, 432 Md.
679, 696 (Md. 2013) (Harrel, J., dissenting) (quoting
Harrison v. Montgomery Cty. Bd. of Ed., 295 Md. 442,
451 (Md. 1983)). “The burden of proving contributory
negligence rests on the defendant.” Woolridge v.
Abrishami, 233 Md.App. 278, 302 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.
have consistently held that a pedestrian who crosses a
roadway who “fails to look for approaching motor
vehicles, or, if having looked . . . fails to see such a
vehicle and so fails to guard against being struck by
it” is guilty of contributory negligence. See,
e.g., Love v. State, 217 Md. 290, 297 (Md. 1958). Even
while walking in a cross-walk, where a pedestrian has the
right-of-way over on-coming traffic, a pedestrian has a duty
to “use his eyes, and thus protect himself from
danger.” Merrifield v. C. Hoffberger Co., 147
Md. 134, 142 (Md. 1925). The same rule must apply to a
pedestrian who chooses, for no apparently urgent reason, to
remain in a roadway while inspecting a car after an accident.
See Domeski, 202 Md. at 566-67 (“[A]
pedestrian must use such caution for his own safety as a
person of ordinary prudence would exercise under similar
circumstances . . . where a pedestrian sees an approaching
automobile, and the traffic lane is so narrow that either he
or the automobile must move outside of it in order that the
automobile may pass, he ought to allow the car to
proceed.”) And though, just as in a case of ...