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On Sunday, October 10, 2010, two of my younger brother’s best friends, Adam Hozinski and Rory Weichbrod, were killed by a drunk driver as they were walking across Rockville Pike after taking the metro home after a party. Adam and Rory were struck by a black 2010 Acura TSX that was traveling northbound on Rockville Pike at a speed of 76 miles per hour, almost twice the posted speed limit.
Adam, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, died on the scene. Rory died a short time later at Suburban Hospital. They were both only 26 years old. Adam and Rory were life-long friends who graduated from Good Counsel High School. I can personally attest to Adam and Rory being fun, intelligent, generous, and loyal friends. Their bright futures ended far too early and solely because of a total stranger’s decision to drive drunk and recklessly that night.

Witnesses to the accident testified that they heard brakes screeching and the horrific sound as the black Acura, driven by 25-year-old Alejandro Roman, hit Adam and Rory as they were crossing Rockville Pike at Old Georgetown Road. Reports indicate that Roman, whose blood alcohol was more than twice the legal limit, stopped, exited his vehicle, picked up one of Rory’s arms, dropped it on the ground, then got back into his badly-damaged vehicle and drove away. Roman later returned to the scene of the accident where he was arrested by Montgomery County Police. He was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter by the Montgomery County State Attorney’s Office. Roman pleaded guilty to both counts and will be sentenced on May 18, 2011 in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. My brother and I will be in attendance when Roman is sentenced along with dozens of Rory and Adam’s family members and friends.

Even though Roman pleaded guilty to the criminal charges, Adam and Rory’s families may not be able to receive any monetary compensation from Roman or through his insurance if they were to file a civil law suit because of the controlling Contributory Negligence laws in Maryland.

According to police, even though the crosswalk signals at Old Georgetown Road and 355 are turned off during the early morning hours (such as the time when the accident occurred), Maryland Law still requires pedestrians to cross intersections in a crosswalk where possible. If a pedestrian crosses a roadway at any point other than in a marked crosswalk, the pedestrian shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching on the roadway.[1] Police reports indicate that Adam and Rory were likely not within the boundaries of a crosswalk when they were struck by the car. The fact that they were not in a marked crosswalk – even when crosswalk signals are turned off and not illuminated for pedestrians to see at night – could render Adam and Rory contributorily negligent in the accident; thus leaving their families with no monetary compensation for their losses.

[1] Maryland Code Ann. Transportation Article §21-503

In practice, a person who suffers an injury can initiate a lawsuit for damages, most often in the form of monetary compensation, from the person(s) liable for those injuries. A tort is the civil wrong for which an injured person can seek a remedy in the courts. Torts are different from crimes because the state has the responsibility to prosecute crimes; whereas the tort remedies are obtained in a civil court.

Negligence, the most common tort, is when someone is injured because another person fails to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury to others (i.e. car accident, slip and fall). In most states, if the injured party was partially responsible for an accident that resulted in his injuries, the Court will reduce the amount of damages proportionally to his degree of fault, rather than denying his ability to recover damages completely. This “Comparative-Negligence Doctrine” has been adopted in almost every state in the U.S.

Comparative Negligence Example: Sam and Mike were in a car accident. Sam incurred $50,000 in damages. The jury found that Mike was found to be 80% at fault for the accident, the auto manufacturer was 10% at fault and Sam was 10% at fault. In this scenario, the court awards Sam $40,000 (80% of $50,000) from Mike and $5,000 (10% of $50,000) from the manufacturer.

On the other hand, only five jurisdictions in the U.S. (Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.) follow the “Contributory Negligence Doctrine.” The Contributory Negligence Doctrine is the principle that completely bars an injured party’s recovery if the damage suffered is partly his fault.  Most states have abolished Contributory Negligence because they consider it unfair to entirely deny compensation to a victim who is at fault to any degree, including only 1% at fault. Maryland has followed the Contributory Negligence Doctrine since 1847.

Contributory Negligence Example: Sam and Mike were in a car accident. Sam incurred $50,000 in damages. The jury found Mike to be 80% at fault for the accident, the auto manufacturer 10% at fault and Sam 10% at fault. In this scenario, Sam would receive nothing because he was partially at fault.

Although Adam and Rory did the responsible thing on October 10, 2010 choosing to take public transportation instead of getting behind the wheel of a car after they had been drinking, they were tragically killed by a drunk driver. Maryland’s adherence to Contributory Negligence may deny their families compensation through a tort claim. This story exemplifies why the Maryland Legislature needs to do enact legislation to ensure that justice is available to families such as Adam and Rory’s. How is this fair to their families? How is it fair that their families should now be denied any compensation?