Friday, October 3rd–$1M Pedestrian Fatality Civil Lawsuit Dismissed

SNOW HILL – A Worcester County Circuit Court judge last week granted a motion for summary judgment in a civil suit filed by the family of an Easton man struck and killed while crossing Coastal Highway in June 2007, effectively dismissing the portion of the case seeking $1 million in punitive damages against the driver of the vehicle that struck the victim.

Shortly before 2 a.m. on June 17, 2007, Tyler Adams, 21, of Easton, and a friend, Dale Blankenship, 21, also of Easton, attempted to cross Coastal Highway between 32nd and 33rd streets when they were struck by a southbound vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, driven by 19-year-old Brian Scott of Orwigsburg, Pa.

Blankenship was struck in the foot by the vehicle and received only minor injuries, but Adams was struck head-on and launched over the vehicle. He died two days later.

Absent any substantial criminal charges against Scott in the case, the victim’s family filed a civil suit in August 2007 seeking a combined $1.75 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the driver. The suit sought $750,000 in compensatory damages and another $1 million in punitive damages.

Last December, Scott’s attorney, Ernest Cornbrooks, filed a motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claim of punitive damages in the amount of $1 million. According to the motion, punitive damages are not available under Maryland’s wrongful death statute and are not recoverable under Maryland law for unintentional torts absent a showing of malice.

Cornbrooks argued Scott did not act maliciously when he ran a red light and struck and killed Adams, despite the agreed-upon facts in the case that state he was intoxicated and underage at the time.

The plaintiff’s attorney, James Otway, said in his response to the motion Scott’s behavior clearly meets the definition of malice.

“The defense is correct in that this case involves a non-intentional tort and that in Maryland, actual malice must be established to recover punitive damages,” the response reads. “However, the defense fails to recognize the plaintiff has alleged facts that would constitute actual malice and would meet the standard for punitive damages. … In this case, the defendant’s purposeful actions, conscious disregard for the safety of others and the consequences of his own dangerous behavior is conduct which fits within this definition.”

In the end, Circuit Court Judge Theodore Eschenberg ruled Adams’ behavior before, during and after the accident did not meet the standard for malicious behavior and granted the motion for summary judgment.

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