Court of Special Appeals Tackles Evidentiary Issues Associated with “Road Rage”
“All of Civility depends on being able to contain the rage of individuals.”
Joshua Lederberg, Scientist (1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology)
The term “road rage” has become such a part of the American lexicon that it has sparked spinoff words, such as “air rage.” The extent to which such a phenomenon exists as a psychological or sociological concept is open for debate, but regardless, when someone behind the wheel of a car loses his or her cool in a very profound way, bad things can happen.
In 2005, Marjorie Hendrix and Charles Burns were involved in what, at first glance, was a fairly common type of automobile accidnt: Ms. Hendrix, proceeding through an intersection with a green light, was struck by a vehicle driven by Mr. Burns, which had been traveling in a perpendicular direction and traveled through a red light. The plot thickens when it is discovered that Mr. Burns was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the occurrence and had a history of substance abuse, a criminal record, and driving violations. It also turns out that the reason that Mr. Burns drove through the red light was attributed to being in a fit of “road rage” that developed from an earlier incidend with another driver, whom he was apparently pursuing at the time of the accident. Ms. Hendrix file a lawsuit alleging negligence and battery against Mr. Burns and alleging negligent entrustment against Burns’ wife, who was the owner of the vehicle.
Prior to trial, the court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Burns on the battery charge, finding that there was no intent by Mr. Burns to strike Ms. Hendrix’s vehicle, which was a required element of battery. With the battery count out of the way, Burns’ defense team made a very wise decision: Mr. and Mrs. Burns admitted liability on the negligence counts, then moved the Court in limine to exclude Ms. Hendrix from presenting any evidence of Mr. Burns’ intoxication, his “road rage” incident, his attempt to flee the scene, or his prior unflattering history. Had the jury been permitted to hear this evidence, despite liability already having been established, it would have created the possibility that the jury’s award be less of an effort to fairly compensate Ms. Hendrix and more of an effort to penalize Mr. Burns. The Court agreed and precluded the testimony. Read more