ANNAPOLIS – When Doris Poulsen learned that the driver who hit her car in 1993 was deaf, illiterate and blind in one eye, she sued the Motor Vehicle Administration, saying it should never have issued the man a license.
The Court of Special Appeals ruled against her Wednesday, saying the state wasn’t liable for the actions of Daniel Lee Jones, who ran into Poulsen’s car on Route 152 in Harford County.
The case turned on whether the state had a duty to protect Poulsen from actions by Jones.
R. Bruce McElhone, Poulsen’s lawyer, said in an interview that Jones was also “mentally diminished,” and that the state had a chance to review the propriety of giving Jones a license after he was twice convicted for drunk driving.
Jones was legally drunk when he hit Poulsen, as well, for which he received a third drunk driving conviction in December 1993.
Giving Jones a license to drive was “like conferring permission upon a child to use a loaded gun,” McElhone said in written arguments.
Leight Collins, an assistant attorney general, said the state had taken all necessary precautions by placing an alcohol restriction on Jones’ license, meaning he couldn’t drive after drinking, even if he wasn’t legally drunk.
Collins said that even if the MVA had erred in letting Jones keep his license, it still had no specific responsibility to Poulsen, only a responsibility to the general public.
McElhone, however, said, “That is an intellectually questionable concept, [to say that] because the state owes a general duty to everyone that it owes a specific duty to no one.”
McElhone said the court’s decision means that if the MVA gives someone like Jones a license, “it does so with no liability on its part…. That should give people pause.”
The MVA’s failure to lift Jones’ license before he ran into Poulsen was “incomprehensible,” McElhone said.
Collins said that even if the MVA were potentially liable, it didn’t do anything wrong by issuing a license to Jones, or in letting him keep it.
“He was qualified to drive,” he said.
At the time of the accident, the state’s liability limit under law was $50,000, according to Janelle Cousino of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association. The limit has since been raised to $100,000, she said. Cousino said the association had no comment on the court’s decision. -30-