DO I HAVE A MARYLAND AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT CLAIM?

July 10, 2014

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgAn automobile accident can turn your life upside down. There's so much to do--find reliable transportation, get to the doctor, deal with insurance companies, and survive missed work. The easiest way to know if you have a claim is to consult with a lawyer--don't let the insurance company convince you that you have a claim (they are, after all, looking out for their own best interests).

Law School for Non-Lawyers


There are four requirements for every personal injury case. In order to recover in a lawsuit, each must be proven. For a settlement, the strength of one may help to overcome deficiencies in another.

  • Duty: The negligent driver must have had a duty to drive in a reasonable manner. This is usually a given.

  • Breach of duty: The negligent driver must have violated his duty by driving in an unreasonable way. Violating the standard of care (sometimes codified in a rule, like the Maryland Transportation Code, can help to prove a violation).

  • Causation of damages: The duty breach must have caused injury to the claimant/victim.

  • Damages: The claimant/victim must have some type of damage. This might include medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain, physical impairment, mental anguish and inconvenience.


Assuming there are no defenses (like contributory negligence of the victim, or statute of limitations).

What is the value of my case?


There is no way any internet site can tell you the value of your case. This is because there are many very case-specific factors. In general, the value is:
Medical expenses + Lost income + Property damage + Non-economic damages
For more on the numerous factors, see our recent series of blog posts:

For More Information


When in doubt, contact a lawyer (whether our firm, or someone else). The biggest risk early on is that you do not act quickly enough to preserve evidence, or send legally-required notices which may be necessary to preserve your right to make a claim. Let us know if you have any questions--443.850.4426, online or jcord@charmcitylawyer.com.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE SUING, PART II: TRIAL

July 9, 2014

Norwood jury box 2.jpgSo your lawyer made a claim to the insurance company, and the case didn't settle. Cases don't settle for several reasons, including:


  1. The insurance company denies liability, thinking that their driver wasn't at fault

  2. The insurance company believes that you were at fault for the collision

  3. The insurance company thinks the collision did not cause your injuries

  4. The insurance company doesn't believe your legal claim is worth what you think it's worth

Once it becomes obvious that the case won't settle, we transfer the case to the litigation department. Usually within a few weeks, we will prepare the necessary documents for a lawsuit. These include:

  • The complaint (the document beginning a lawsuit in court)

  • Written discovery (questions to be answered by the negligent party)

  • Notices of Deposition (in circuit court or federal court)(a request to speak to the negligent party)
The length of time depends on what court we are in. In Circuit Court, we will usually get to trial within one to one and-a-half years. In District Court, we will get a trial date about 4 months away (though this date often changes). The final trial date is usually within about 6 months from the time the lawsuit is filed.

These dates are just general guidelines--some cases go faster, and some slower. If you have questions, just ask--we'll explain the process in detail. And remember--sometimes the case will settle after a lawsuit is filed--settlement can happen at any time--right after the complaint is filed, or during trial.

See What to Expect When You're Suing, Part I: Pre-Trial Settlement

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE SUING, PART I: PRE-SUIT SETTLEMENT

July 8, 2014

Auto accident 2.jpgSo you've been injured in a Maryland automobile collision, and you want to get a settlement or verdict. What can you expect from the process? How long does it take? When will you get your money?

There are two possible phases--the steps leading up to a pre-lawsuit settlement, and the steps following that leading to a trial verdict or post-lawsuit settlement. We'll talk about pre-lawsuit settlements here.

In general, after an accident and once you hire a lawyer, the lawyer will perform whatever investigation is necessary (ordering police report, talking to witnesses, locating photographs or accident video). He will work on notifying the negligent people/corporations or their insurance companies that they are on the case. At that point, they should not be talking to you, but should communicate directly with your lawyer. Your lawyer will also begin ordering your medical records or bills, so he can see what treatment you've had in the past, and possibly monitor current medical treatment. Finally, he will apply for PIP (personal injury protection) or MedPay (medical payments coverage).

After that, though, the case doesn't really start until you finish medical treatment. Whether you are discharged at 100%, or your doctors tell you that your are at MMI (maximum medical improvement), in general, it is not a good idea to try to settle your case until you are done with medical treatment. When you finish, your lawyer will order final medical records and bills, and the clock starts ticking.

In general, I tell my clients that it takes 30 to 60 days from the time they tell me they finished treatment to the time I can get a demand letter out. This time will be shorter if the medical records come into the office quickly, and it will be longer if the hospitals or doctors need a little more persuading. Once the demand letter goes out, the insurance adjuster will usually evaluate it within 30 to 90 days. Anything earlier than 30 days is fantastic--45 days is a fairly typical response time. Then, we begin negotiating the case. This can happen over the course of hours, or may take a few weeks, ordinarily.

If the insurance company is not willing to negotiate in good faith, or if my client doesn't like the settlement offers (the decision on whether to settle a case is always yours--I'll give you my recommendation, but you get the final say), then we file a lawsuit.

If the case does settle, you will usually have your money within 30 days. The insurance adjuster and I have to agree on language for the release, and you have to sign it. You will also sign a power of attorney (allowing me to deposit the insurance check into my safe lawyer escrow account, from which I will write you a check), and a settlement and disbursement spreadsheet (showing where all the money goes, including attorneys' fees and expenses, medical expenses and liens, and you). I send the release back to the insurance adjuster, they send me the check, I deposit it into my escrow account, and write you your check about two days later.

See What to Expect When You're Suing, Part II: Trial.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS LIMITED INSURANCE AND MULTIPLE VICTIMS?

July 7, 2014

In some Maryland auto accidents, there is simply a limited insurance available. We see this frequently in bus accident cases and collisions involving multiple vehicles. If there are many people with injuries, the at-fault driver's insurance policy may not be large enough to pay for those injuries. How is the money divided up?

The Set-up

An example fact pattern will help to explain this. Let's say you are on a bus, which is hit by distracted teen who is texting on her cellphone. The teen driver has the lowest possible MAIF insurance--a policy of $30,000 per person, and $60,000 per accident in liability coverage. That means that her insurance company will pay a maximum of $30,000 for each victim, with limits of $60,000 to pay to all victims in a single accident.

The Exception: Underinsured Automobile Coverage

First, there is a way to protect yourself. If you have your own automobile insurance, you can guard against this problem. Your insurance company is on the hook to pay for your injuries if they are caused by someone else and there is limited insurance available. For example, let's say the value of your Maryland automobile accident lawsuit is $20,000. In the situation above, where the negligent driver had an insurance policy of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, and there were other people injured in the accident, you might be forced to take a low settlement. Let's say the negligent driver's insurance company decides that they can pay you $10,000 (and they pay a total of $50,000 to the other victims). Your insurance company, then, would step in and (either voluntarily, or more likely after being forced to by a court) would be responsible to pay you the other $10,000. This is why underinsured motorist coverage is important to protect you, your family, and your passengers. We urge you to contact your insurance agent immediately, and make sure you enough coverage--the more, the better. Otherwise, you could be in an accident with permanent injuries, and might get less than $30,000 for your troubles.

Dividing The Money

If you don't have underinsured motorist coverage, you may be limited to the available insurance. This means in the example above, the insurance company is on the hook for a maximum of $60,000 to be divided among all injured victims. If the driver was clearly negligent, the insurance company will usually offer the full policy to each claimant, and ask them to divide it among themselves.

Sometimes this is easy: the lawyers might get together and simply agree on an equitable distribution of money. One common method is to take every person's medical expenses, and give them a pro rata share of the money. So, if you have five victims with $5,000 in medical expenses each ($25,000 total), then they each have a one-fifth claim to the entire pot. If there is $60,000 to divide up among all of them, each plaintiff would receive $12,000 ($60,000 divided 5 is $12,000). Pro Rata Settlement (02-26-13).xlsx.

This gets a little hairy when there are outlier claims--for example, one person with a very significant injury. Also, if one or more claimants have injuries that are disproportionately represented by their medical bills--say, a permanent injury for which there was very little treatment, a simple division might be unfair. Finally, this does not consider things like respective pain and suffering or lost wages (which could be included in the calculation, if desired).

When it gets really complicated (which really means when the lawyers won't agree on a distribution formula), then there is litigation. The insurance company will often take the money, give it to the court in what's called an Interpleader action, and ask the court to divide it up. The insurance company files against all of the claimants, and then they can fight it out in front of a judge or jury.

Finding All Of The Claimants

One of the biggest problems is resolving these claims in a timely matter. A common situation is a bus case, where there are say 20 people on the bus. If only 5 people are injured, the insurance company will still demand that other 15 people waive their rights to a claim. In Baltimore City especially this can be difficult--it requires a Herculean effort to locate those other passengers. If they can't be located, a judge in an interpleader action must find them to have waived their rights by not responding to the lawsuit, otherwise, they have three years from the date of the accident to bring a claim. This can add a great deal of time to these claims.

For More Information

Negotiating multiple-claimant settlements can be difficult, particularly because the insurance company's responses are often so frustrating--early on, they will refuse to negotiate until all claims are in. To some degree, there's not much that can be done about the waiting period. However, it can be comforting to have someone explain the process. For more information, click the links below.

Proving Permanent Injuries

July 6, 2014

Trucking Accident (Smith)(11-27-11).JPGA permanent injury lawsuit is different from a garden variety injury case. In most cases (which are typically filed in the district courts), there is a car accident, an injury, discrete treatment for a up to about 6 months, and then the victim has fully recovered. In a permanent injury lawsuit, however, the victims will never recover, and will continue to have the effects of the accident for the rest of their lives.

Those effects may include an inability to work, or need for a lifetime of future medical or nursing care. The way we prove these to an insurance adjuster, judge or jury is through experts.

Common to most of these cases are the types of experts that required to prove the claim. These experts will typically come to trial and testify directly in front of the jury, or else their testimony will be recorded a few days or weeks before the trial, and played back before the jury.

Doctors and Medical Experts


Permanent injuries must be proved through medical testimony. We will ask your doctor, usually a specialist, to testify at trial or by video about your medical injuries. Doctors must explain the treatment required for your injuries, and the cost of caring for those injuries. Depending on the injuries, multiple experts may be necessary.

Life Care Planning


Life care planners can be very useful in proving the future needs of a catastrophic injury victim. Life care planners will work with the victim's medical providers to develop a plan of care for the future, including the costs of medicines, services, and treatment. A life care planner may include the costs of housing modifications, transportation (like a wheelchair accessible van), or part-time aides or nurses. When presented to a jury, the life care plan will be in the form of a list, allowing the jury to decide what options are necessary.

Vocational Rehabilitation


If the injury limits a victim's ability to work, a vocational rehabilitationist may evaluate the victim and determine whether return to work in the same or a different occupation is possible. Sometimes, a return to work is possible, but for a lower-paying job. The vocational rehabilitationist will outline the victim's options, and work with the economist to determine the net effect on future lost wages.

Economist


The economist will take the life care plan and lost wage information and put it together into something known as present day value. This is the cost today of future values. In the context of medical care, for example, we all know that health care costs rise with inflation. The economist can predict the future cost of healthcare, and can tell us how much money is required today (invested conservatively) to pay for that future care. The same thing holds for future lost wages. Wages increase over time with inflation and advancement--the economist can predict how much money now is necessary to build up to that future amount. The economist must do this because a personal injury victim cannot come back to the jury for more money--there is one chance to get everything he deserves.

In addition to economic damages, people with catastrophic injuries will have a lifetime of non-economic damages. This includes things like pain, suffering, disfigurement, inconvenience and physical impairment. These are more difficult for insurance adjusters to evaluate--indeed, it may be hard for six people on a jury to decide the value of non-economic loss.

We give them a number of tools to help. They know the past and future medical expenses, and some jurors may apply a multiplier based on how serious they think the injury is. For example, a jury could look at medical expenses of $100,000, and decide that non-economic damages are worth the same, double, or triple that amount. They might also look at the wages more closely--for example, if the plaintiff earns $10.00 per hour, the jury may determine the amount of pain and suffering expected for the life expectancy of that person. For example, the jury may award $10.00 for every waking hour for the rest of the victim's life--this number will add up quickly.

Conclusion


Let us know if you need help recovering from the insurance company because of a serious automobile accident. Our settlements and verdicts show that we take our clients seriously, and we will make the insurance companies take us seriously. You can reach us at 443.850.4426, or online.

Permanent Injury Lawsuits

July 6, 2014

Handicapped parking.jpgPermanent injuries take all forms, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), limited function of limbs, or severe organ damage. What they all have in common is that they significantly affect lifestyle and activities of daily living. Permanent injuries may require lifetime treatment and medication. In some situations, however, there is nothing medically to be done after the victim has reached maximum medical improvement.

In general, serious permanent injury lawsuits should be filed in Circuit Court or Federal Court, where there is a possibility of a higher verdict. Some permanent injuries may not qualify for that type of lawsuit--most "soft-tissue" injuries, for example, should be filed in the District Courts. A permanent injury that qualifies for a higher verdict is one that has abundant objective evidence--the injury is obvious by looking at it, or at the very least, with an MRI or x-ray.

Damages Recoverable in Permanent Injury Lawsuits

"Damages" is a lawyer word to describe the money that you can get by way of an accident settlement or verdict. For permanent injury cases, you can recover money for:
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Disfigurement
  • Inconvenience
  • Pain and suffering
  • Physical impairment
Each one of these things is separate and distinct, and a jury should be given the opportunity to make a verdict for each of them. This is a list that is contained in the Maryland jury instructions--guidelines given to juries in personal injury cases. Good lawyers will emphasize each one, explaining, for example, how the plaintiff-victim is disfigured (outward signs of the injury); how the injury causes impairment (inability to move or act as before); and how the injury causes inconvenience (for example, reliance on others for transportation).

The jury should be encouraged to compare the victim's post-accident life to his pre-accident life. Does the victim miss out on family time, sports, work, or recreational activities that she used to enjoy? Does it preclude fulfillment of any life goals? How does it affect her relationships with friends, family and co-workers?

We often encourage our clients to keep a journal or diary of their experiences after an accident--to record their daily frustrations, which can be used to help us understand the day-to-day difficulties caused by the defendant's negligence. If we understand, we can make the jury understand.

Distracted Driving Awareness

June 22, 2014

If you needed any more reason to put the phone down while driving, here's an incentive video.

Frivolous Lawsuits

June 9, 2014

As a nation, we are concerned with ambulance-chasing lawyers, frivolous lawsuits, and the increased costs of doing business. Much of the dialogue, however, comes from insurance companies, big-business, and soundbyte-seeking media.

Of course, lawmakers get into the act. A North Carolina bill recently proposed limiting lawsuits under certain circumstances, including limits to "a company's liability if it developed a product under government-approved guidelines." Interestingly, this would appear to apply to drugs approved by the FDA. Most people believe that the FDA independently researches, studies and evaluates drugs submitted for approval. However, the FDA typically only reviews the research submitted by drug manufacturers, and does not have the resources to perform much more.

Furthermore, the goal of reducing frivolous lawsuits--those lawsuits without merit--would not be realized. Instead, it would reduce all lawsuits in these areas to an absolute zero. A quick review of harmful drugs and devices over the past few years demonstrates that people were truly injured by dangerous drugs--pain pumps, Accutane, Granuflo, Baycol, Rezulin, and Fen Phen, to name a few.

Don't let big businesses write the agenda. We have a right to bring claims against businesses who negligently injure us. They shouldn't get a free pass.

Value of a Fingertip

June 8, 2014

Our firm recently received a referral from another law firm--it was a case that the insurance company would not settle, and the victim believed (rightly so) that her legal claim was higher than the offer.

The injury was a simple one--my client's right forefinger was hurt in an automobile accident--she was a passenger on a motorcycle, the defendant made a left-hand turn in front of the motorcycle, and a collision predictably occurred. When the motorcycle fell, my client attempted to brace herself, and her finger was injured.

That injury was masked for a couple of weeks in light of more immediate and visible injury to her wrist and hand. However, as the swelling went down in her wrist and hand, she realized that her finger was not right.

The insurance company assigned a value to this claim before we got involved--$5,400. The basis of that value was simple--my client's medical bills were under $1,500. She went to the preeminent hand specialists in Maryland, but her doctors conclusively stated that there was nothing to be done--she wasn't a candidate for surgery, and the injury was likely to be permanent.

Finger.jpgWhen we received the referral, we filed a lawsuit immediately. We continued negotiation efforts, and we highlighted to the insurance company the full scope of my client's injuries--she is a professional, and the injury affects her dominant hand. She had less sensation in the tip of her finger, her grip strength was weakened as a result (she frequently dropped dishware), and even typing was difficult--she couldn't always tell if she hit the correct key, or if she pushed hard enough. She had a slight disfigurement--a protrusion just below the nail. Knowing we filed a lawsuit, the offer was increased to $6,400.

As trial bore down, I told the adjuster (with my client's permission) that we were not willing to accept any offer less than five figures. They gave a final offer before trial of $10,000.00, almost double the pre-suit offer. My client opted to go before a judge instead of taking the offer--a courageous decision on her part.

At trial, the defense attempted to minimize the injury, arguing that it was just a finger; and also attempted to deflect concerns causation--my client did not complain about the finger for a good two weeks after the collision. The most effective argument was a human argument--the defendant was extremely apologetic at the time of the accident, and even at trial. He had even offered the driver of our motorcycle a temporary replacement from his personal collection.

The judge weighed the evidence and rendered a verdict of just over $16,000. This is about three times the pre-suit offer.

We tell many of our clients that the best way to receive justice in some cases is to file a lawsuit. Insurance companies (particularly GEICO and Progressive) will frequently increase their offer (even offers that were characterized as "our final offer").

For more on how to calculate the value of a case, see our Value series of blog posts here.

Summer of Teen Distracted Driving

May 26, 2014

Car Packed for Beach (05-26-14).jpgMemorial Day kicks off most dangerous one-third of the year for teen drivers (those from ages 16 to 19. The one hundred days from Memorial to Labor Day are risky-in 2012, there were almost 1,000 people killed in accidents involving teen drivers. Over half of those killed were teens, and this says nothing of injuries.

The reasons seem clear--it is summer, so school is out, teens are driving more frequently, and driving more often in unfamiliar areas. Additionally, teens are less frequently sole occupants of their vehicles--they are often driving with friends, perhaps a more significant source of distracted driving than cell phones. The National Safety Council estimates that passengers increase the risks of crashing by 44% or more.

For us non-teen drivers, it means we should be even more aware while on the road. Inexperienced drivers like teens, particularly distracted teens, have slower reaction times. Aggressive driving near those novices is more likely to result in a crash.

For parents of teens, we can take a page from the book of many states, which restrict passengers for newly-minted drivers, often prohibiting passengers in the first year or two of driving.

More on Distracted Driving Accidents

Maryland Federal Courts

May 20, 2014

US DistCtMaryland.gifEach state has at least one United States District Court. Maryland has two--one located Baltimore City (Northern Division), and one in Greenbelt (Southern Division).

Understanding the Federal Courts


The President of the United States appoints federal judges for life, after confirmation by the Senate. The salaries are set--in 2014, they make $199,100, an increase of $5,100 over 2013 (which had been stagnant since 2009). There are other judges called magistrates, who assist the federal judges, and are appointed by the federal district judges. Magistrates often resolve discovery disputes and pre-trial motions. With permission of the parties, they can oversee trials.

One of the best perks of the federal courts is electronic documents. Nearly all documents are filed electronically, and automatically e-mailed to all parties, or their lawyers. This eliminates the need and cost of mailing and printouts, and ensures timely receipt of pleadings and letters. The public can view documents through PACER by typing in the case number. Lawyers and litigants representing themselves can also file documents electronically. Most state courts still require documents to be filed with paper, and the case pleadings must be viewed in person at the courthouse.
Jurors in federal court are typically selected from voter's registration list and motor vehicle records.

Rules

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the federal courts. These rules dictate how deadlines are calculated, the process for filing complaints, service of suponeas and handling post-trial motions and appeals. Additionally, the individual courts each have local rules http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/localrules/localrules.html that discuss the preferences of that court. This can usually be found on the court's website, and often includes things like the time allowed for opening and closing arguments, and how to handle jury instructions.

Can My Case Be Filed In Federal Court?

Cases can be filed in federal court if there is diversity or a federal question. Federal question doesn't typically apply in automobile accident cases. Diversity means that the plaintiff (victim/injured party) lives in a different state from each of the defendants. Importantly, this is determined when the lawsuit is filed, not when the accident happens. Diversity is determined at the moment the lawsuit is filed (not when the injury or negligence occurred). One other requirement is that the case must be filed for more than $75,000.00.

Your lawyer will likely make the decision about the best court to proceed in. They will consider the jury pool, difficulty of the rules, the expected expenses, ease of getting experts, and the time to get to a trial.

Maryland Circuit Courts

May 16, 2014

Courthouse (Frederick)(05-17-14).jpgMaryland has one circuit courthouse for each of its 24 counties. These are for civil cases, like automobile accidents, where the plaintiff claims $15,000.01 or more. The plaintiff can file a request for a jury trial. If not, the defendant can file the request. Otherwise, the case will be heard by a judge (called a bench trial). Circuit courts have some significant differences, compared to the Maryland district courts.

Discovery
The circuit courts permit expanded discovery compared to the district courts. In the district courts, discovery is typically limited to only 15 written questions per party (called interrogatories). Once exception is small claims cases (valued at $5,000.00 or less), where no discovery is permitted. In the Circuit Courts, litigants can take advantage of:


  • Interrogatories: Each party can usually send 30 interrogatories to each other party.

  • Requests for production of documents: each party can send as many document requests as they want. In Maryland car accident cases, these usually include requests for accident reports, car photos, insurance contracts, expert reports and other relevant evidence.

  • Requests for admission of fact: Each party can send an unlimited number of requests for admission, which are often used to seek agreement that facts are uncontested, or that documents are true and genuine.

  • Depositions: Each party is allowed to conduct a deposition of any person (parties and non-parties). In a deposition the lawyers will ask recorded questions of the person, which are answered under oath and penalty of perjury. Typical deponents (people being deposed) are the plaintiff, defendant, witnesses and sometimes doctors or experts.

  • Medical Exams: Defense lawyers frequently try to have the plaintiff examined by one of their hired expert doctors. These doctors are typically hired to cast doubt on the plaintiff's medical condition.

Time to get to court
Each county has their own method of setting trial dates. Some counties set trial from the beginning, and in others the trial is set In some, the trial date is assigned very early with the court's scheduling order. The scheduling order sets the deadlines to get things done in the case, like designating witnesses, mediation and discovery deadlines. Baltimore County, for example, assigns trial dates after a mandatory settlement conference.

Some counties will assign a shorter or longer time from filing to trial based on the complexity of the case. Some cases, like products liability or medical malpractice, might get put on a longer track with more time for discovery, motions and experts. In general, it can take one to two and-a-half years to get to trial from the time of filing.
Unlike district court where trial typically takes an hour or so, trials in circuit court usually last a full day or a few days. Most Maryland auto accident lawsuits require two to three days of trial.

Presenting Medical Evidence
Just like a district court case, if filed for $30,000.00 or less, the plaintiff can use medical reports and bills to prove her case. In most circuit court cases, however, the plaintiff will rely on treating doctors or expert physicians to present that evidence.

That medical evidence is presented at trial either with the doctor testifying on the witness stand, or testifying days or weeks before, and being recorded and played back by video. The doctor must explain to the judge or jury that the accident caused the injury, the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the cost of treatment.

Maryland District Courts

May 14, 2014

District Court Logo.pngMost personal injury cases in Maryland go through the Maryland District Courts.

Background
A judge will hear your case if it goes to trial in what is known as a bench trial. There are no jury trials in the District Courts. After a complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons, which must be served (usually by private process or certified mail) on the defendants. When the summons is issued, the court will set a preliminary trial date, which assumes that the defendants are served by a specific deadline. The Plaintiff (the injured party who files the complaint) must serve the summons and complaint, along with any other important documents like written discovery (called interrogatories).

The defendants' response is usually in the form of a notice of intention to defend, sometimes called an answer. The initial trial date will usually move because of difficulties serving the defendant, or because of scheduling conflicts with the lawyers' schedules. In most cases, trial ends up being finished by about 4 to 9 months after filing.

Three Tiers of Civil Cases
There are three tiers of District Court civil cases:

Small Claims Lawsuits
Cases filed for $5,000 or less are small claims cases. The damages recoverable include medical expenses, property damage (for example, the repair cost of a vehicle) and pain and suffering (non-economic) damages. Small claims cases are like People's Court. Some people will file these lawsuits on their own, and this is possible because many formal rules of evidence, like hearsay don't apply. The proceedings are more informal. However, you can still have a lawyer represent you in these types of cases.

Middle Level: $5,000.01 to $15,000.00
The next tier permits recovery of between $5,000.01 to $15,000.00. The standard procedural and evidence rules do apply. Those rules can be difficult for unrepresented litigants (called pro se). For most, it's best to have a lawyer in these cases.

High Level: $15,000.01 to $30,000.00
Plaintiffs in the highest level of the District Court can recover a maximum of $30,000.00. Importantly, the defendant may choose to move the case to the Circuit Court and file a request for a jury trial. Plaintiffs must be careful when filing for over $15,000.00--the case must be able to justify the added expenses of a Circuit Court, which often include discovery and trial video depositions, expert witness fees. Also, Circuit Court cases can take much longer, sometimes a year or more from the time they are filed.

Proving Your Damages and Medical Injury
The best advantage of the District Courts is that medical evidence can be presented through medical records and bills. In most Circuit Court cases, that evidence must be provided through the testimony of doctors. The rules for this are MD. CTS. & JUD. PROC. ยงยง 10-104 and 10-105. The records simply need to describe the plaintiff's medical treatment, and state that the injuries were causally related to the automobile accident.

Because of procedures like this, District Court cases move quickly (usually finished in an hour or so), and the case expenses are usually minor.

Discovery
Discovery is limited in the District Courts. There are no interrogatories permitted in small claims cases, and only 15 interrogatories allowed in the two higher tiers. Depositions are not permitted without court permission, and requests for production of documents are limited to a few very specific types of documents, which can be requested by interrogatories.

Final Notes
Just like juries, judges come with their own education, experience, attitudes, and proclivities. They are the ones who listen to the case, decide liability (who was at fault), and determine damages. They will consider the reasonableness of medical bills, property damages, and assign a value to non-economic damages. Your job as a plaintiff is to make a good first impression--dress nicely, and be respectful to the judge and the defense attorney. It may not win your case, but it won't hurt.

Maryland Courts

May 11, 2014

PG Circuit Court (05-11-14).jpgIf you can't settle your Maryland automobile accident case, where will your lawyer file a lawsuit? We're going to do a three-part series on the Maryland trial courts, one for every type of court. Your case could be filed in the:


The specific court you and your lawyer choose depends on the value of your legal claim, and some specific details of the case, like where the defendant lives or does business.

If you have questions about your options, contact us at 410.252.0600, or send us a message through our internet contact page.

Charles Village Street Collapse: Who is Responsible?

May 3, 2014

CSX 1.jpgI lived in Charles Village for most of Maryland life--we recently moved to Hampden, but Charles Village was where I lived during law school, two apartments, my first new home, and the infancy of our oldest daughter.

By now, everyone knows about the collapse of the street at 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul streets. My wife called that area, pre-collapse, the most beautiful street in Baltimore. The rowhomes are idyllic, the greenery is perfect, and the whole area feels like a little island placed in the middle of Baltimore City. But now, it's just chaos.

Residents have lost cars, and have been evicted from their homes while the City and CSX try to figure out what happened, how safe it is, and what needs to be done to get everything repaired. Locals will tell you that it's too little, too late, and that there have been several complaints made over the years to the City and to CSX officials. The general consensus is that repairs to cracks have been piecemeal and little more than cosmetic fixes. Right now, the estimate is that residents will be displaced for about 40 days. There is a program to help ease the transition, but it's certainly inadequate. There have been reports so far that automobile insurers are denying coverage for vehicles lost in the street collapse.

Who is responsible? It's likely Baltimore City, CSX Transportation, or both. No answers have been given yet as to whether CSX was responsible for the retaining wall, or whether the City had the duty to maintain. There were several reports in the past years about the area's stability, which will be pored over with a fine-tooth comb.

Knowing the City and the corporate mindset, my bet is that they deny liability, and blame this on the "unpredictable" winter weather and recent storms. Of course, anyone who has lived in Baltimore knows that unpredictable weather is absolutely predictable. The street should have been designed and maintained to stand up to rough weather. Make no mistake, this is going to be a fight. Even if one or the other does the right thing and takes responsibility, they will likely fight tooth-and-nail over exactly what they have to pay homeowners and car owners.

If you've been affected by the Charles Village Street Collapse, here are some initial steps you should take:

  • Keep a journal--at least once a week (more is better) you should document how this has affected you. Record time spent dealing with the fallout, money and mileage to take care of consequences. Document every phone call. Don't hesitate to document your emotions.
  • Inventory all of your affected property--if your car was lost, be sure to identify what was in it, and what the value was.
  • Contact your homeowner's insurance and automobile insurance to get full copies of your policies. They may deny you coverage, and you'll need the policies to fight them.
  • Don't give a recorded statement to any insurance company. They'll just use this against you later.

If you have questions about your rights, give us call at 443.850.4426 (attorney's cellphone) or send us an message through our online portal.