ANNAPOLIS- Maryland’s second most powerful court last week settled a bitter dispute in which a fourth-grade teacher jumped into a parking space to win a spot then was injured by another car vying for the same space. Experts say the case is yet another cautionary tale about the perils of road rage.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a Montgomery County jury’s decision to deny the schoolteacher’s $150,000 suit against an engineering student for injuries. That jury faulted both parties in the 1996 quarrel.
The case illustrates what can happen when emotions get out of control when drivers hit the road, experts say.
“You’ll get the most polite person in the world, but when they get behind the wheel, their whole mentality changes,” said Mantill Williams, spokesman for the American Automobile Association Mid-Atlantic.
“We always tell people: `When you’re driving, that’s the time when you completely forget about winning. It’s not a competition. It’s not a contest at all. It’s about getting there safely.'”
Sgt. Chris Rowe of the Baltimore Police Department said that in congested, urban areas, parking disputes are fairly common, but it’s rare for them to escalate into full-scale fights.
“It’s just a matter of being courteous,” Rowe said. “There are plenty of parking spots for everybody. Patience prevails.”
In the court case, both sides tell a different story, but the judges’ opinion said the trouble began in a packed parking lot at the Price Club in Gaithersburg.
Rochelle Rubin, a Prince George’s County teacher, sat in the passenger seat next to her girlfriend, Debbie Levine, who drove. Seeing no open parking spaces, the high school friends followed a man out of the store to his car.
But Rajen Shah, home from Cornell University where he studied engineering, was waiting in his car near the soon- to-be open spot.
Both drivers gestured wildly trying to indicate that the spot was theirs, and Shah allegedly flashed Rubin an obscene gesture.
Both cars tried to slip into the spot at the same time, but stopped before they collided. Rubin then got out of the car and stood in the spot.
Rubin said Shah deliberately ran into her. Shah said she walked into his car. Either way, the police were summoned and Rubin left in an ambulance for treatment of a minor knee injury.
Later Rubin hired the Silver Spring law firm Lipshultz & Hone, which filed a $150,000 civil suit on her behalf. Stanley L. Lipshultz, one of the attorneys who worked on the case, said it is very common for people to stand in a parking spot. And, he said, Shah’s reckless driving resulted in his client’s injuries.
“Maybe it was pedestrian road rage, I don’t know,” he said.
Lipshultz said he was disappointed in the Court of Special Appeals Decision because Rubin seemed to be a credible witness. “I thought she made a good appearance. She’s a schoolteacher.”
But Shah’s attorney, Robin F. Kessler, said the court made the correct decision.
“I think the plaintiff took on an obvious risk,” she said, “by standing in front of the car.”