New Civil Suit Filed Over 2017 Fatal Pedestrian Crash

OCEAN CITY — After a similar suit was dismissed in federal court due to jurisdictional issues, the family of an Ocean City man killed three years ago has filed a new suit in Worcester County Circuit Court.

In October 2017, Thomas Lawlor, 57, of Ocean City, attempted to cross Coastal Highway at 76th Street from west to east when he was struck by an unmarked Maryland State Police (MSP) cruiser allegedly traveling at a high rate of speed in response to another incident. Lawlor was struck by the MSP cruiser operated by Trooper James Price as he crossed the northbound lanes of Coastal Highway at 67th Street and ultimately died.

Last May, the decedent’s wife, Rennae Lawlor, of Lewes, Del., and her two sons filed suit in U.S. District Court, naming Price, the MSP, the state and the town as defendants. Price was named in the six-count suit for his alleged negligence leading up to including the fatal collision, while the other defendants were named for their various alleged roles in the tragedy.

However, the federal suit was dismissed last August over jurisdictional issues. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case, asserting, among other things, the U.S. District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because of the lack of diversity among the plaintiffs.

Federal district courts have jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship when the parties are citizens of different states. In this particular case, the victim, Thomas Lawlor, lived in Ocean City at the time of the incident and his estate was probated in Worcester County. However, his wife Rennae Lawlor, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court, is a resident of Lewes, Del.

Last week, the plaintiffs filed suit in Worcester County Circuit Court against the same named defendants from the original federal suit dismissed last summer. The suit is seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages, to be determined by the court, for six separate counts. The counts included negligence, gross negligence, negligence in hiring and retention, a wrongful death claim, a survivor claim and, finally, a respondent superior claim.

According to the suit filed last month in Worcester County Circuit Court, the defendant Price was traveling at a high rate of speed in his unmarked police cruiser without having the vehicle’s emergency lights or siren activated. The suit also alleges Price was looking down and not at the roadway in front of him prior to the collision.

“The defendant was traveling at an excessive speed at all times leading up to and at the time of the crash, and at the time of the crash was traveling at least 22 mph over the speed limit,” the complaint reads. “Based on information and belief, the defendant was looking down in his vehicle during his approach to Mr. Lawlor, not at the roadway directly in front of him. Mr. Lawlor had crossed into the right northbound lane when the defendant swerved and smashed into Mr. Lawlor, sending him flying into the air and then crashing down into the pavement.”

The complaint alleges the unmarked Ford Explorer operated by Price at the time of the collision was not protected under the emergency vehicle statute because it was being operated without its lights or siren on.

“‘To the extent the Ford Explorer was not operated with a siren or lights activated, and therefore could not be considered an emergency vehicle, and to the extent it was operated maliciously and with gross negligence, the defendants, MSP, the state of Maryland and the town of Ocean City are liable for the negligent operation of their employee and for negligently     entrusting the vehicle to price when they had reason to know it would be recklessly used in a high-speed activity on a crowded street during an event where car owners are encouraged to ‘show off’ their vehicles and pedestrians are encouraged to walk along the street or sit on the sidewalk to watch the vehicles drive on Coastal Highway,” the complaint reads.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.