Articles Posted in Maryland Courts

An insurance policy is a contract. Insureds must read and understand their own insurance policy.

Right? Except no one reads an insurance policy. I’m not just talking about Joe Six-Pack here.  I’m talking about you, my dear reader: You, me, all of us. Why? Because our busy and lazy lives don’t allow us time to do it. “Just give me the nutshell” is the mantra even insurance lawyers have in their personal lives.

In Maryland, GEICO and State Farm, in particular, write a lot of umbrella policies.  Few of these standard policies have uninsured motorist coverage. But every victim that comes to us believes that they do.

The problem with this is that there are rare instances where reasonable people would expect insurance coverage but don’t because they didn’t read their insurance policies. What do we do in these cases when we know it is reasonable to expect coverage?

Strickley v. State Farm

The Maryland Court of Appeals answered this question incorrectly in Stickley v. State Farm last month.

The plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a car driven by her husband when her husband negligently drove into an intersection and was struck by another vehicle.

The accident killed the plaintiff’s husband and left her with serious injuries. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff and her spouse had a motor vehicle liability insurance policy with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance and an umbrella policy with its subsidiary State Farm Fire and Casualty Company.

No, I have no idea why they do it this way.

Household Exclusion

The umbrella policy contained a household exclusion, which denied payment of damages for bodily injury or personal injury resulting from the negligence of another insured household member.

After the accident, the plaintiff filed a claim under the motor vehicle liability and umbrella policies. State Farm offered the plaintiff the full amount in liability coverage under the former but denied the second claim because of the household exclusion. The plaintiff subsequently filed suit seeking to declare the household exclusion void.

Supporting her claim, the plaintiff cited Maryland Code § 19-504.1 of the Insurance Article.  This statute requires an insurer to offer its insured, under a policy or binder of private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance (“PPMVLI”), the same amount of liability coverage for both claims made by family members and non-family members.

The plaintiff argued that the umbrella policy was a PPMVLI, and because State Farm never offered her and her husband equal coverage for family members, the household exclusion was void. Here, the court addressed two questions: (1) whether an umbrella policy that includes motor vehicle liability insurance constitutes a PPMVLI, and (2) whether the household exclusion violated public policy.

Policy or Binder of Private Passenger Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance.

The court first examined the plain language of the phrase “policy or binder of private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance.” The court noted that PPMVLI refers to a particular type of motor vehicle liability insurance, whereas a personal liability umbrella policy covers a variety of losses.

Thus, umbrella policies attach to the insured, whereas PPMVLIs attach to the motor vehicle. Also, the court stated that umbrella policies are a supplemental form of insurance distinguishable from primary policies including motor vehicle liability insurance or homeowner’s insurance.

Because they are supplemental, umbrella policies only kick in once the primary policy has been exhausted. For example, if an automobile policy had a liability limit of $100,000, the umbrella policy would pick up after that point and cover for an additional amount. Continue reading

In an unpublished decision authored by Judge Kevin Arthur, the Maryland Appellate Court ruled that the Baltimore City Circuit Court acted within its authority when it accepted an expert’s testimony regarding medical causation in a lead paint case.  Furthermore, the court found that the evidence presented was adequate to justify a judgment exceeding $2 million in damages for injuries connected to lead exposure.

All of the new Daubert decisions are of interest to Maryland trial lawyers, even unreported cases. So let’s break down the case.


Obviously, emails are hearsay evidence that are admissible at trial.  Donati v. State is a criminal case that teaches us a lesson in how to get an email into evidence at trial.

Emails are admissible in court.  You just have to know what the law requires to admit emails into evidence.  In medical malpractice and product liability cases, this is something you often need to do. This case shows us how to present an email at trial and get it into evidence.

The Facts of Donati v. State

If I will have to read a criminal case, I want some whacked-out facts to keep me interested.  This case delivers.  And this example helps explain how to get emails authenticated and in evidence. 

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Two weeks ago in Esteppe v. Balt. City Police Dept., (No. 47, Sept. Term 2020) (Sept. 1, 2021) the Maryland Court of Appeals held that a police department was not responsible for a judgment against a corrupt police detective simply because his unlawful arrest was done for personal reasons and, thus, outside the scope of his employment.

Summary of Esteppe v. Baltimore City Police

David Esteppe, a resident of Baltimore City, was going through a bad breakup back in 2012. In an effort to get back at Mr. Esteppe, his jilted ex-girlfriend enlisted the help of her childhood friend Adam Lewellen who was a Baltimore City Police Detective. To appease the ex-girlfriend, Detective Lewellen committed perjury to obtain a bogus warrant to search Mr. Esteppe’s house and pursued a false criminal prosecution of Mr. Esteppe.

How much money can you get for pain and suffering when someone negligently or intentionally kills your dog?   Is it $1.25 million, which is what a jury awarded, or $7,500?

In Anne Arundel County v. Reeves, No. 68 Sept. Term, 2019 (Md. June 7, 2021) the Court of Appeals weighed in on a sad case in which a police officer pointlessly shot and killed a beloved family dog in the front yard of its owners’ house. The dog’s family sued the police officer and the circuit court jury found that the officer was grossly negligent and awarded $1.25 million in damages. The COA vacated that verdict and held that under the applicable statute, pain & suffering damages for the tortious injury of a pet are not allowed. The most the family could recover for the killing of their dog was $7,500 in compensatory damages.

Facts of Anne Arundel County v. Reeves

As courts around the country struggle to get back to the business of hearing and deciding cases, many states have recently adopted plans to have virtual jury trials. This raises the possibility that Maryland might follow suit and adopt its own plan for virtual jury trials. In this post, we will speculate on the likelihood of Maryland adopting virtual jury service for civil trials.

COVID-19 Impact on the Maryland Judiciary

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and forcibly changed almost every level of government administration and services in Maryland and around the country. This seismic disturbance has had a disproportionately harsh impact on civil court proceedings.

When a litigation settlement offer is “still on the table,” what exactly does that mean and how long does an offer last on “the table” before it expires?

In Moore v. Donegal Mutual Ins. Co. (No. 788) the Maryland Court of Special Appeals (COSA) considers these ponderous questions about the shelf life of settlement offers “on the table.” The COSA held that whether an on-the-table settlement offer had expired after 2 hours and could no longer be accepted was a question of fact for a jury.

States are split on whether tort liability may be imposed on local governments for police brutality/excessive force/misconduct cases.  Some states permit the imposition of tort liability for their police officers’ intentional actions while on the job.   Some refuse to impose tort liability, arguing that such conduct is not within the scope of employment.  The Maryland Court of Appeals issued a new opinion that stakes out Maryland’s position on this issue with newfound clarity.

At issue in Baltimore City Police Dept. v. Potts, 468 Md. 265 (2020) was criminal police misconduct by Baltimore City police officers could be considered actions within the scope of their employment under the Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”).  The misconduct here was next level.  Stopping suspects without probable cause, assaulting them, and planting handguns on suspects to give them grounds for arrest.

Maryland’s Court of Appeals held this police misconduct was within the scope of the officer’s employment because they were done in furtherance of police business and incidental to authorized police conduct. Therefore, the Police Department is liable under the LGTCA.

In its final decision of the Term, Maryland’s Court of Appeals gave us an (arguably) game-changing decision Rochkind v. Stevenson. The court announced that it was discarding the old Frye-Reed rule and formally adopting the Daubert test for the admissibility of expert testimony.  We all knew we would get here one day. And here we finally are.

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