April 2012 Archives

National Cell Phone Driving Ban on the Horizon?

April 30, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgU.S. Secretary Ray LaHood is continuing his crusade against cell phones and upping the ante, proposing a nationwide ban talking, texting and e-mailing while driving. His latest forum (see the news story by Reuters) was a distracted driving summit in Texas last week. His main argument centers around the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's estimate of 3,000 fatal traffic accidents in 2011, caused by distracted driving. The NHTSA also states that cell phone use delays reactions just as much as a BAC of 0.08.

According to LaHood:

It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn't arrest you. Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving.

Opponents believe that existing laws prohibiting distracted driving, whether it be because of food, make-up application, or unruly kids in the back seat, are sufficient. Certainly there may be existing laws against distracted driving, but do they really permit officers to write meaningful tickets in the absence of a car accident?

It's hard to know where this will lead. There is certainly a lot of momentum behind the distracted driving movement, and it is incredibly dangerous--none of us should be using cell phones behind the wheel. LaHood is investigating whether hands-free devices like Bluetooth and Ford's Sync have a similar effect on drivers.

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If you have questions about a Maryland auto accident auto accident, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation. We regularly try cases throughout Maryland, particularly in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

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The Do's and Don'ts of a Minor Car Accident

April 25, 2012

A blog post by a State Farm Employee has been making the rounds on a few lawyer listserves that I belong to. It is an entirely reasonable and well-written post titled "The Do's and Don'ts of a Minor Car Accident."

One point stated by the employee:

Don't assume there aren't injuries.
Do assess yourself and your passengers. Even low-impact collisions can cause injuries, some not appearing until days after the accident.

Again, entirely reasonable. We see this time and again--there really isn't any rhyme or reason behind why some people are hurt in minor car accidents, while some people walk away completely unscathed by collisions that reduce automobiles to scrap metal. Well, that might be overstating it a little--there are actually a number of reasons, but there are too many variables to make it easy. Here are some of those variables:

  • Were you aware that you were going to be in an accident? Most of us tense up before an imminent collision, and people with that tension often have more severe injuries than people who were completely relaxed at the time of impact.
  • What was your body position? If you were sitting straight, looking forward when you were rear-ended, your injuries might be more minor than if your neck was craned to the side while you tended to your child in the back seat.
  • Is your car a newer model or an old clunker? New cars tend to be safer, largely because of federal regulations and lawsuits. These cars also tend to show less damage in many cases; however, the body inside the vehicle still gets thrown about, which is where injury can manifest.
And State Farm knows (because they have done the research), that serious injuries can result from minor collisions. Even soft-tissue injuries (a nefarious term, designed to conjure images of lying lawyers and malingering "victims") like whiplash (see this CNN video) make sense when you think about it--even if there is no property damage and the car behind you impacted at 10 miles per hour, your body is thrust backward at the same time that your car moves forward at 10.466 feet per second. That's really fast.

But at trial, the first thing the insurance lawyers tell the judge and jury is that "it was a minor impact with little or no damage to the car, and the plaintiff didn't even go to the doctor for three days!" If I was on a jury, I'd have more respect for someone in a minor collision who tried to wait it out a few days or weeks after an accident, than one who went to the doctor right away. Sometimes these things do get better. But if you wait, the insurance companies (Allstate, for example, is no better) will be all over you at trial. Because they want juries to believe they are trying to game the system.

Sadly, this type of statement isn't likely to make its way into the average Maryland auto accident lawsuit. Lawsuits are usually against people and corporations--the insurance companies pay for the defense and pay any loss, but they are not the ones on trial. So this admission is not usually going to be admissible.

We'll have to be content with a "shame on you, State Farm, for talking out both sides of your mouth."

If you've been injured in a low-impact automobile accident (and we mean it--you have to have actual injuries), contact us at 443.850.4426, or online. We'll explain the process at our Timonium law office or at any other convenient location. If trial is in your best interests, we'll get you your day in court.

Lessons Learned From Second Shut-Down of Anne Arundel County Truck Company

April 19, 2012

18-wheeler truck accidentTruck drivers are subject to a great deal of regulation, and rightly so. These are huge machines, and the smallest errors, whether because of driver fatigue, inadequate pre-trip inspections, or distracted driving, can cause life-altering destruction. There is always an incentive by truck companies to cut corners, cut costs, and improve their bottom line. The good trucking companies ignore those incentives, and play it safe. The bad ones skirt the federal and state regulations, and cause Maryland truck accidents.

Here's the story of one really bad one. Unfortunately, it's a local business, based out of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In November 2011, trucking company Gunthers Transport LLC was forced by the federal government to close up shop. Gunthers, an "imminent hazard to the public," was cited for safety violations and seven collisions within a one-year period. The company was caught falsifying driver logs to circumvent driver rest and sleep requirements. In the 1990's a prior version of the company recently lost a civil lawsuit from a situation where one of its drivers killed one person and left another permanently disabled. The company declared bankruptcy, and still owes its victim a substantial amount of the $16.5 million judgment.

Just a few weeks later, a new company was born--Clock Transport LLC. Interestingly enough, it had the same address as Gunthers, and the person in charge was the son of Gunthers. Maryland State Police quickly noticed this, and made it a point to pull over every single truck from that address to check for safety violations.

By the last week in November, 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an out-of-service order against Clock Transport--pulling their trucks off of the road. It is based on a failed Clock Transport truck inspection in Ohio, along with the suspicious events surrounding Clock Transport's birth.
The news reports we've read (click here for the Baltimore Sun article) don't give any indication as to why the company can't pay the civil judgment. Perhaps it was uninsured, or perhaps it didn't carry a reasonable amount of insurance. That's just one more reason why this company was so bad, and one more indication that it was irresponsible.

The real lessons are that Maryland drivers should protect themselves--companies like this are out there every day, pushing the envelope and operating outside regulations and laws. We recommend that our clients get as much uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage insurance that they can afford. Insurance usually isn't a problem in trucking cases, because most carry more than enough insurance. But some truck companies don't (and many regular motorists don't), so uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage can help to protect you and your family after an auto accident.

If you've been in a Maryland truck accident, or would like help in knowing how to talk to your agent about insurance, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation. We have a proven track record of success in automobile accident and truck accident lawsuits.

Maryland Punitive Damages: Not For Auto Accidents, And Not For Drunk Driving Lawsuits

April 5, 2012

Beer.jpgMany clients come to us expecting that they will be entitled to punitive damages in their Maryland auto accident. This is especially true in cases where the negligent driver was drunk, or tried to flee the scene of the auto accident, or was driving while texting. Sadly, punitive damages are rarely available, even in these extreme examples.

Punitive damages are "damages on an increased scale, awarded to the plaintiff over and above what will barely compensate him for his property loss, where the wrong done to him was aggravated by circumstances of violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant." (Black's Law Dict., 1991 ed., pg. 390). These damages are intended to punish the defendant, to make an example of him.

Every state has its own law on punitive damages. In Maryland, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for egregiously bad conduct toward the plaintiff, and also to deter the defendants and others contemplating similar behavior. The standard in Maryland is gross negligence or actual malice.

This is extremely difficult to prove in almost any type of auto accident case. The plaintiff must show that the defendant's actions were characterized by an evil motive, intent to injure, or ill-will. Basically, the "negligent" driver would have had to deliberately hit the victim. Of course, intentional acts like that usually void insurance policies.

But what about drunk drivers? What about drivers who have been arrested countless times for drunk driving? What about drunk drivers who have been involved in prior drunk driving accidents? It's still not enough. Even though a drunk driver may be intentionally intoxicated, and may have intended to drive drunk, that still does not equate to an intent to injure. A 1993 Maryland Court of Appeals case, Komornik v. Sparks, clarified that drunk driving does not equal "actual malice."

In an effort to shake things up, one bill (House Bill 469/Senate Bill 351) before the Maryland legislature last session was an effort to allow juries to decide punitive damages where a negligent driver was drunk (either above 0.15 BAC, or above 0.08 BAC with other conditions). One interesting provision was that insurance companies could exclude coverage for punitive damages where their driver was drunk. Realistically, this means that it would be uncommon for anyone injured by a drunk driver to receive a penny in punitive damages--if insurance won't cover it, there isn't likely to be many assets available. Unless, of course, the drunk driver was the heiress to some family fortune. Sadly, that bill did not pass. Maybe next year.

So for now, no punitive damages.

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If you have been injured in a Maryland auto collision, call us at 443.850.4426, or contact us online for a free consultation.

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