SNOW HILL – For the second time in three months, a Worcester County Circuit Court judge last week granted a motion for summary judgment in a civil suit filed by the family of an Easton man struck and killed while crossing Coastal Highway in June 2007, effectively dismissing the portion of the case seeking $1 million in punitive damages against the driver of the vehicle that struck the victim.
In November, attorneys for the family of Tyler Adams, of Easton, Pa., struck and killed by a vehicle on Coastal Highway in June 2007, filed an amended complaint seeking $1 million in punitive damages against the driver, then 19-year-old Brian Scott, of Orwigsburg, Pa. The amended complaint for punitive damages was filed about two months after a Circuit Court judge granted a motion for summary judgment effectively dismissing that portion of the case, while the portion seeking $750,000 in compensatory damages continued on a parallel course.
However, attorneys for the plaintiff last month filed an amended complaint for punitive damages, renewing the debate Scott acted with malice when during the events leading up to and including the collision, making him liable for punitive damages under Maryland law. Scott’s attorney then filed another motion for summary judgment, reiterating punitive damages are not recoverable under Maryland law for unintentional torts absent a showing of malice.
Last week, a Circuit Court judge granted the motion for summary judgment, essentially agreeing with the notion Scott’s action on the fateful night did not include any malicious intent. The judge’s ruling last week likely ends the punitive side of the case, although the plaintiffs are still pursuing the $750,000 in compensatory damages.
From the beginning, the case has hinged on intent, with the plaintiffs arguing Scott acted with malice and defense countering the incident was unfortunate accident with culpability on both sides. Shortly before 2 a.m. on June 17, 2007, Adams and a friend, Dale Blankenship, 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 Scott. Blankenship received only minor injuries, but Adams was struck head-on and launched over the vehicle. He was transferred first to PRMC in Salisbury and later Shock Trauma in Baltimore where he died two days later.
Absent any substantial criminal charges against Scott, the victim’s family filed a civil suit in August 2007 seeking a combined $1.75 million in compensatory and punitive damages against the driver. In September, Cornbrooks successfully argued against the punitive portion of the suit, citing punitive damages cannot be awarded without the existence of actual malice. The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint, followed by another motion for summary judgment by Scott’s attorney.
The plaintiffs argued Scott acted maliciously that night because he drank while underage, decided to get behind the wheel, sped through a red light and struck Adams before continuing on after the collision. The plaintiffs list several reasons why the standard of actual malice is met in the case, not the least of which was Scott has said he understood he was drinking underage and illegally, he was offered a ride by a sober driver yet refused and acknowledged that he understood he was impaired and should not have been driving.
However, the defense listed several reasons including Scott was only driving between 30 and 40 miles per hour at the time of the accident, the light was yellow when he passed through the intersection. The motion also states Adams was not in a crosswalk when he “darted” in front of Scott and he didn’t have enough time to stop to avoid hitting the victim.