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Maryland House Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Late Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates, in a close vote, passed a same-sex marriage bill, which will now be forwarded to the State Senate.  If passed by the Senate, Gov. O’Malley will sign it, and Maryland will join a number of states and Washington, D.C. that allow some form of gay marriage or civil union.  Although I am sure that the politics that have gone on publicly and behind the scenes are fascinating, this is not a political blog site, and I have no interest in making it one.  The gay marriage issue, though, is nothing if not headline-making, so it merits a brief look at how legalizing same sex unions may affect tort and insurance issues in Maryland.  Ultimately, the impact will probably be minimal, but a few items immediately come to mind:

1.  “Resident Relative” Coverage: In many personal liability policies, coverage is generally available to the “resident relative” of the named insured.  Currently, a same-sex partner would not fall into that category, but if the partner were to become a spouse, then presumably, he or she would become an insured by definition under the policy and be entitled to a defense and indemnity if an applicable tort claim was brought against the person.

2.  Loss of Consortium: A loss of consortium claim exists in favor of the spouse of a personal injury plaintiff for loss of affection, companionship, services, and the like.  Juries often have a difficult time placing a whole lot of value on loss of consortium claims, given the whole “in sickness and in health” thing, but just think of some of the debates that may go in inside of a jury room when the loss of consortium claim involves a same-sex couple.

3.  Joint Marital Assets: When an individual is sued in tort and a judgment is obtained, the prevailing plaintiff has many avenues of collecting if the judgment is not timely paid, including attaching bank accounts and placing liens on real property.  However, there is a catch – the judgment creditor can only go after the debtor’s personal property and generally has no rights to jointly held property.  With same-sex marriage, gay couples will likely accumulate and maintain more joint property than if there were no legal recognition of the union.  The family home, for example, will likely automatically be joint property of the spouses regardless of how it is titled, thus protecting the property from lien.

Reactions to Lead Paint Ruling Beginning to Surface

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

                                                         –         Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion

In October, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a very disappointing ruling in the lead paint case of Jackson v. Dackman Co., which nullified a long-standing Maryland statute that granted qualified immunity from lead paint liability to $17,500.00 for rental property owners who took legislatively mandated steps to ensure that their properties were lead free.  The Court’s decision was clearly inspired by the opinion that the compensation amount in the immunity provision was too low, but it failed to give any regard for the fact that the immunity only applied to owners who had substantial measures to ensure that their properties were lead free, and that owners who had not acted reasonably to eliminate lead paint from their properties were entitled to no immunity.  The action taken by the Court in deciding the Dackman case set off a firestorm of debate, and it was only a matter of time before property owners, legislators, and other interested entities reacted to the decision with new ideas to protect property owners who complied with lead paint abatement laws.  Read more

Protect Yourself When Settling a Minor’s Claim

                         The whole world is asleep
                         You can look at it and weep
                         Few things you find are worthwhile
                         And though I don’t ask for much
                         No material things to touch
                         Lord, protect my child

                                               “Lord Protect my Child” – Bob Dylan

One of the few universally accepted social mores in our country is that we, as a society, have an interest and duty to protect our children. This idea of protection is not limited simply to protecting children from physical harm, but rather to promote their overall welfare and best interests.  Not surprisingly, many laws have been enacted for the sole purpose of establishing safeguards to ensure that the best interests of a minor child are preserved when necessary.   Because a minor child lacks the legal capacity to take full advantages of the court system, specific emphasis has been placed on making sure that the rights of minors are adequately protected when their interests require involvement in the legal system. Read more