Dismissal Sought In Wrongful Death Suit

SNOW HILL – The wrongful death civil suit filed by the family of an Easton man struck and killed while crossing Coastal Highway last June took an interesting turn this month when the defense filed a motion for summary judgment on the punitive portion of the case citing an “absence of malice” on the part of the driver.

Shortly before 2 a.m. on June 17, 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 was transported to PRMC in Salisbury and later transferred to Shock Trauma in Baltimore where 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 seeking a combined $1.75 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the driver. The suit is seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages and another $1 million in punitive damages.

In a motion filed late last month, Scott’s attorney, Ernest Cornbrooks, asked for 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 is arguing Scott did not act maliciously when he ran a red light and struck and killed Adams, despite the facts in the case that he was intoxicated and underage at the time. Cornbrooks then cited several examples where the absence of malice prohibited an award of punitive damages in a wrongful death suit.

“Several examples of case law show, absent a showing of actual malice, punitive damages are not available against an intoxicated driver involved in a motor vehicle accident,” the motion for summary judgment states.

However, 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.”

Otway’s response continues in an attempt to illustrate Scott acted maliciously on the fateful night when he struck and killed Adams.

“In Maryland, actual malice is defined as conduct which is characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud,” the response reads. “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.”

The battle over the $1 million in punitive damages and whether Scott acted with malice on the night of the accident is just part of the pre-trial posturing on both sides. The case has not been laid in for trial as both sides continue to spar, nor has the judge ruled on the motion for summary judgment.