The family of Michael Funchion, who was a 63-year-old engineer who was killed in a vehicle accident, brought a wrongful death suit in Calvert County. The jury awarded Kathleen Funchion and their two sons $2.8 million. Funchion was killed when his vehicle was struck by a truck driven by Kenneth Klingensmith, who allegedly fell asleep and had traces of drugs in his system. Klingensmith was using the truck owned by Ameri-Star Homes with permission from the company. The original claim included a direct claim of negligence against Ameri-Star that was dismissed prior to trial; however, the organization remained vicariously liable for the accident.
Jerry Funchion, one of Michael’s sons, witnessed the collision because he was driving ahead of him in another vehicle when Klingensmith’s truck struck the driver’s side of Michael’s car. The force caused the car to spin off of the road and Funchion was ejected from the vehicle. Two witnesses stated that Funchion was conscious but in “excruciating” pain while being transported to Calvert Memorial Hospital where he died.
Klingensmith earlier was found guilty of several traffic violations and fined. The jury was tasked with considering whether Klingensmith demonstrated negligence and whether Ameri-Star was vicariously liable and negligent in their employee hiring, training and supervising. Ameri-Star was unsuccessful in their attempt to prove that Klingensmith was operating outside of the scope of employment when the incident occurred. Of the $2.8 million awarded, $1.5 million was to account for noneconomic damages. This part of the award will be reduced by the court to the state’s cap (limit) on noneconomic damage awards.
Imputed or Vicarious Liability in Maryland
Laws regarding imputed (vicarious) liability may apply to employers based on the actions of an employee according to three doctrines:
- Respondeat Superior: Allows for employers to face imputed liability for actions of an employee when they occur in the scope of their employment duties.
- Negligence in hiring: The plaintiff must show that the employer had a duty to care, that this duty was breached, and that the breach caused the harm.
- Negligent entrustment: Allows for employers to face imputed liability for actions of an employee when they knowingly allow the individual to use a vehicle or other company property despite there being a significant risk for harm to others.
Non-Economic Damages in Maryland
Economic damages, which include those to compensate for medical expenses, wage losses, and property damage, are not subject to caps (limits). This is not the case for noneconomic damages, which are not always clear and easy to quantify. These include damages for loss of future financial support, pain and suffering, and others. Keep in mind that the plaintiff may incur life-altering effects such as losing a limb, permanent disfigurement, or chronic pain.
Back in 1994, the cap imposed on non-economic damages for an individual claim was $500,000 in personal injuries cases. It has long since been adjusted annually by $15,000 annually and now exceeds $800,000. The cap may be extended to 150% of the maximum in cases of wrongful death with multiple claimants. Juries are generally not made aware of the award limitations during the proceedings.