Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? A Personal Injury Attorney’s Perspective.

Happy holidays, folks! Have you ever listened to the classic Christmas song, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," and wondered, “What if that actually happened?” Until now, me neither. Then, a good friend of mine asked me to take the fun out of a holiday “classic” and get the law involved. Well, get your kerchief or cap and grab a glass of holiday cheer, because we're about to dive into the intriguing (and hopefully humorous) analysis of what legal considerations impact whether compensation might be due to Grandma if a reindeer negligently ran her over. And on Christmas Eve, no less.
  1. The Unusual Suspect: Rudolph’s Legal Liability First things first: identifying the perpetrator. Was Rudolph in the lead here, as he was on the infamous foggy night that he got his first gig at leading Santa’s crew? From my memory of the song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (we have to look into all sources for relevant information), he was the least experienced operator of the bunch. I’m not sure what year he got his start, so maybe he’s gotten plenty more miles under his rein at this point, but it’s worth investigating. Lack of a driver’s license is not per se negligence in Maryland, which shocks most folks, so we can’t pin Rudolph with negligence just because he may not have passed his driver’s test in Maryland (or any other state). And I get that the red bulb on his nose is supposed to help him “drive,” but I have to think that, in reality, that bright red light blinking in front of his eyes constantly is going to obscure some pretty important details once he's on street level…like an elderly woman crossing the street, for instance.

Further, that area in the picture looks pretty well lit (the party Grandma was leaving sounded pretty lit, too, amirite?), so it begs the question: how did Rudy miss the lady in the well-appointed Christmas sweater? And where can I get a Christmas sweater with the Maryland flag knitted into it?

  1. Sleigh Traffic Rules: Santa’s Sleigh-negligence Let’s talk about the big man in red: Santa. Santa is responsible for his sleigh, no matter who he delegates its operation to. A driver is presumed to be the agent of the owner in Maryland and, here, it’s pretty clear the reindeer were operating as Santa’s agents at the time of the infamous crash involving Grandma. They were “driving” at Santa’s request (demand, maybe?) to further his interests, not theirs.

Was Santa treating his sleigh as if it was a self-“driving” sleigh after nodding off after too many rounds of milk and cookies? Well, he can’t avoid responsibility by claiming that the sleigh should have been on “cruise control” just because his trusted team of reindeer were in the lead. Not to mention, taking a look at the picture captured by a local resident’s Ring camera, it would appear that Santa didn’t even have his hands on the reins in the seconds prior to the incident! Somebody send a preservation of evidence letter to that homeowner pronto to make sure that footage isn’t destroyed! Ho-Ho-Hold the Reins, Big Fella!

And by the way, if Santa sees so much (he sees you when you’re sleeping, when you’re awake, when you’re bad or good), how did he miss seeing Grandma in the middle of the road (for Goodness sake)?

  1. Grandma’s Rights: SeekingCivilJustice in the Old Line State If Grandma was exercising proper care for her own safety when the infamous incident captured in the Elmo and Patsy song took place, and she did in fact suffer injuries, she’s got some options. Personal injury claims in Maryland are no joke. Pain and suffering, medical bills, lost earnings…and let’s not forget the trauma of missing out on important family events - like Christmas Mass the next day and the family’s Christmas celebration afterwards, long-standing family traditions. Depending on the severity of injury, Grandma may be out of commission for weeks or months. Based on the hoofprint on her head depicted in the song, she may have a Traumatic Brain Injury. Neurological injuries can be devastating. In short, Santa and his reckless reindeer may have crushed the quality of life Grandma will have for her remaining life expectancy. As morbid as it may be, how many more Christmases does Grandma have left with us? And Santa and his furry friends just took one of them (maybe her last) from her.

And for any of you cringing at the prospect of a lawsuit against Santa, fear not. An all-seeing being like Santa surely had adequate insurance on his sleigh; any claim for compensation would flow through that insurance. We’re not trying to take Santa’s workshop away from him to compensate Grandma for her injuries. And the same holds true for auto crash cases with resulting personal injuries in Maryland- a negligent driver’s insurance will cover compensation for the injuries they cause.

  1. The Egg-nog Factor: Contributory Negligence Maryland is one of just a very few states (and D.C.) that follows what’s called 'contributory negligence.' This means if Grandma was even 1% at fault for the incident, she is 100% barred from making a financial recovery. This is much different than the majority of states, where comparative negligence applies. This is an archaic legal axiom that unfairly punishes a person injured in Maryland, well out of proportion to any responsibility they may bare.

That said, the song indicates that Grandma may have had one too many glasses of eggnog before she left went on her merry way that fateful eve. Were those eggnogs alcoholic or NA? Intoxication alone will not impute negligence to her, but it will be relevant as to her ability to perceive (and later recall in testimony) what was going on in the moments leading up to getting run down by Santa’s helpers. Plus, she left the house party without her medications, per the song. What were the meds and what condition(s) were they for? Will we need a toxicologist to render an opinion about how the lack of her meds, plus the eggnog, may have impacted her ability to navigate the streets that evening?

Was this a one-way street? Should Grandma have expected traffic coming from that side of the street to begin with? We know we’re supposed to “look both ways” before crossing a street with two way traffic but, if traffic’s only expected from one side, isn’t it reasonable to only look to the side where traffic’s expected to be coming from? In Maryland, a person has a right to assume that others will obey traffic laws.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, was Grandma inside or outside of a crosswalk when she was struck? The respective duties of pedestrians and operators of a vehicle change depending on where the pedestrian was prior to being struck. Interestingly, the crosswalk need not be “marked” to provide the pedestrian legal protections. An “implied” crosswalk is sufficient to do so (oftentimes an “imaginary line” between curbs at corners that don’t have marked crosswalks).

  1. Witness the Christmas Magic/Tragic - Eyewitness Testimony:In any legal case, witnesses are key. The further removed they are from the parties, the better, as a non-biased witness, i.e., one without a “dog in the fight,” is more likely to be believed than one who is close with someone who is a party. For example, a judge or jury probably won’t give as much weight to what Donner says about the whole ordeal, with the idea that he might be covering for his friend, Rudolph, or feel compelled to cover for Jolly Old Elf who provides year-round food and shelter. But those windows in that townhome community look well lit. Did someone see something? Perhaps a child trying hard to fall asleep but way too excited awaiting Santa’s arrival, peering out their window at the moment of truth? Better canvas the neighborhood to see who might have witnessed what really went down. Any ring cameras besides the one in question that captured the image above? Best to “hoof it" around the neighborhood or hire a Private Investigator to do so in order to ensure you’re leaving no stone unturned. And don’t wait until after the holidays. That footage may be long gone by then, and so might be visitors to the neighborhood who were in town for just a few days.

Conclusion: Thanks for engaging in this fun holiday hypothetical. (Be sure to come back next year when we’ll consider ruining “Home Alone” by discussing how CPS would never have let a “Home Alone 2” situation occur.) Remember, whether you’re dealing with magical flying reindeer or fellow drivers you’re sharing the road with this holiday season, stay merry, but stay safe.

Disclaimer: This blog post is meant for humorous purposes and should not be taken as actual legal advice. If you (or your grandma) have any real legal concerns, please feel free to contact Jared at 443-3-INJURY for a free, no pressure consultation.