The rules of the road in Maryland matter a great deal whenever there is a car accident in Baltimore because those rules can be used to show who was driving unsafely and, therefore, which driver was at fault in the crash. One of the rules of the road in Maryland is what is known as the Boulevard Rule. This apportions responsibility, and therefore liability, in a car accident that happened when one vehicle merged from one road into another. By putting a strict duty of care on the driver doing the merging—some say it is too strict of a duty—the Boulevard Rule can affect countless car accidents in Maryland, every year.
What is the Boulevard Rule?
The Boulevard Rule is a colloquial name for a law that requires vehicles entering a roadway to yield to all vehicles that are already on that roadway.
The Boulevard Rule puts roads into tiers: the busier and more important the street, the higher its tier. For example, this puts Interstate 95 over Route 150, Route 150 over 48th Street, and 48th Street over the driveways that merge into it.
At the intersection of two roadways, the Boulevard Rule then splits whatever vehicles are present into two categories: favored and unfavored. Favored vehicles are the ones on the roadway with the higher tier. Unfavored vehicles are those that are on the roadway with a lower tier.
After that, the Boulevard Rule is very, very simple: in accidents that happen between a favored vehicle and an unfavored one, the driver of the unfavored vehicle is always negligent.
How the Boulevard Fits into Maryland's Personal Injury Law
Maryland's personal injury law has four elements that a plaintiff needs to prove in order to recover any compensation for his or her injuries.
- The person the victim is suing owed the victim a duty of care.
- That duty of care was breached.
- That breach was the cause of the victim's injuries.
- The victim was, in fact, hurt.
The Boulevard Rule occupies a tiny niche in Maryland's personal injury law at the stage dedicated to figuring out whether there was a duty of care or not.
Typically, determining if there was a duty of care is tricky in car accident cases because drivers owe others on the road a duty of care that is very fact-intensive—they need to drive reasonably safely. Not only is this very fact-intensive, but what constitutes “reasonably safe driving” depends on the circumstances. Therefore, actions that constituted “reasonably safe driving” on a clear and sunny day can quickly become unsafe at night or in the rain.
When the crash happened where two differently-tiered roads intersect, the Boulevard Rule is a convenient and simple way of avoiding this often complex dilemma. Instead of looking at all of the circumstances and figuring out whether the defendant was driving reasonably safely or not, the Boulevard Rule just points at the unfavored driver and declares him or her responsible. In this way, the Boulevard Rule puts a legal responsibility on unfavored vehicles and drivers to merge into the roadway safely. It also allows favored vehicles and drivers to carry on in the knowledge that the merging vehicles are required to let them pass without issue.
There are, however, two exceptions to the Boulevard Rule.
Contributory negligence is a personal injury doctrine that can change the results Boulevard Rule cases that have been filed by a favored driver against an unfavored driver. In these cases, contributory negligence is a defense that the unfavored driver can raise in an attempt to avoid costly liability for a car crash that the Boulevard Rule is trying to blame them for.
When the favored driver acted in a way that contributed to the crash—that is, made the crash more likely to happen, or made the injuries that were suffered in any way more severe—Maryland's rules on contributory negligence can also come into play. Those contributory negligence rules are some of the most severe in the entire country: drivers who contribute at all to the cause of the crash—even if they were only 1% at fault—can recover nothing in a personal injury lawsuit.
This means favored drivers can lose their personal injury case if they were speeding, driving without their headlights at night, or drunk driving at the time of the crash.
Last Clear Chance Rule
The other exception to the Boulevard Rule is known as the last clear chance rule. This aspect of Maryland personal injury law can be used by unfavored drivers who are, despite their status on the road, suing a favored driver for a crash in an eligible Maryland intersection.
Under the last clear chance rule, unfavored drivers can actually win their case against a favored driver—overcoming the Boulevard Rule—if they can prove that the favored driver had a clear opportunity to avoid the impending accident but instead chose to let the accident occur.
Criticisms of the Boulevard Rule
The Boulevard Rule has either fallen out of favor in the U.S. or never had much popularity to begin with. The results of the Rule are often seen as strict and out-of-touch with how people drive on the roads today. Many of the cases that get deep into the court system and that apply the Boulevard Rule come to conclusions that make people wonder why we still have such a strange law in place. Nevertheless, it is still there, and still needs to be negotiated with if you have been involved in a car crash in Maryland.
Car Accident Attorneys in Baltimore Can Help
If you or someone you love has been hurt in a car accident at an intersection in Maryland, the Boulevard Rule could affect your case. Reach out to the car accident and personal injury attorneys at the Baltimore law office of Gilman & Bedigian for the legal help you need to make this antiquated rule work for your benefit. Contact us online.