Personal Injury Blog

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Issues Important Ruling on School Buses & Pedestrians

By: Matthew Tievsky

In April of 2015, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals – which generally handles the first appeal after a trial is over – handed down a complicated decision that stemmed from a family's terrible tragedy. Angela Davis was a 13 year-old and a Prince George's County public school student who took a County school bus to school every morning. Under Maryland state regulations, the school bus was supposed to stop on both sides of her street, so that Angela and other students did not have to cross the street to reach their bus. But for some reason, day after day, Angela's school bus did not follow that rule, which forced Angela to cross the street on foot every morning. One of these mornings, Angela prepared to cross the street to reach her school bus. Although she did not cross the street at a crosswalk, witnesses testified that she carefully looked both ways before entering the street. As she was crossing the street, but before she made it half-way, a car suddenly drove into view, drove onto the wrong side of the road, and struck and killed her.

Her family made a claim against the driver, but also brought a lawsuit against the County Board of Education (hence the name of the case, Davis v. Board of Education). The family's lawyer obtained an excellent result – the jury not only found the Board of Education at fault, but also awarded the family more than 90 million dollars for the loss of Angela. Unfortunately, the trial judge overturned the verdict – on several grounds, but for our purposes there are two important grounds. First, the trial judge ruled that the Board of Education did not owe Angela any duty to stop the bus in any particular location. Second, the trial judge ruled that the collision must have been partly Angela's fault, because she crossed where there was no cross-walk. Under Maryland law, when an injured person is partly at fault for her own injury, she (or her family, if she is killed) cannot recover. (This is called the doctrine of "contributory negligence.")

But the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that both rulings were mistakes. First, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the Board of Education was supposed to follow the state regulation governing bus stops, for the protection of children like Angela. The bus's failure to follow that regulation was evidence that the Board of Education violated a duty to Angela. Second, the Court of Special Appeals ruled that when a pedestrian crosses outside a cross-walk, it does not always mean that the pedestrian is contributorily negligent; the jury in this case found that Angela was not at fault, and the trial judge should have respected the jury's finding. The Court of Special Appeals noted that the evidence showed that Angela carefully looked both ways before crossing, that the car came from out of sight when it hit her, and that the car entered the wrong lane when it hit Angela.

This case is an important victory in two respects. First, it demonstrates that the State of Maryland, its counties, and its other government agencies must follow the State's own regulations that are enacted to protect people from being injured. Second, the case demonstrates that a pedestrian does not lose all of her rights to be safe from injury merely because she crosses outside the crosswalk, which may after all be the most convenient place to cross the street. (Of course, for safety's sake, we advise that you always try to cross in a crosswalk!)

If you have been injured by an automobile and have questions about whether you have a case, you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. for a free consultation.