June 2012 Archives

Dead Man's Curve: Jarrettsville Pike, Auto Accidents and Road Defects

June 29, 2012

Jarrettsville Pike.pngOne small stretch of road in Baltimore County is claiming more lives than it should. Auto accidents on Jarrettsville Pike in Phoenix, Maryland are averaging two per week, with 73 injuries in three years. There was one death in 2008, and four deaths this year. The Baltimore Sun discussed the history of this stretch of road in a recent article.

Local residents know it as "Dead Man's Curve." The ominous nickname has been in place for many years, even before the government sent engineers to alleviate its most dangerous characteristics. Even now, the sharp turn, steep hill and obtrusive vision-limiting trees form equal parts of the injury equation. Inexperienced drivers, drivers unfamiliar with the layout of the curve, and drivers who should know better fall victim to the sudden turn and the inability to quickly slow down on the hill.

The highway administration is quick to point out that the area is not defective, but they ignore the statistics. Are there cost-effective ways to make the area safer? Remove some of the surrounding trees so motorists can see dangers ahead, perhaps? The government has notice of the dangers, yet they choose to rest on the road change from the 1980's.

Motorists injured on Jarrettsville Pike may have an automobile accident claim against negligent motorists. In the right case, though, they may have a claim for defective roadway design against the government. That lawsuit will happen when someone is injured or killed in an auto collision, and the other negligent driver has insufficient insurance coverage to pay the claim. Maybe that's what it's going to take for change.

Nuts & Bolts of a MAIF Uninsured Auto Accident Claim

June 27, 2012

MAIF logo.jpgMost auto accident lawyers hate filing MAIF claims. First, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, including a 180-day notice requirement that, if not met exactly, can capsize the entire claim. Second, MAIF uninsured claims are limited to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident (see our recent post on the increased minimums). Third, MAIF is really hard to deal with--these claims often require twice the amount of work as one against any other insurance company, and most MAIF uninsured claims have to be resolved at trial. MAIF doesn't like to pay out under any circumstances.

Auto accident victims may have to look to MAIF for recovery in these circumstances:

  • Hit-and-run auto accident ("phantom vehicle")
  • At-fault driver was excluded from the vehicle's insurance policy
  • At-fault driver was an out-of-state driver with less than minimum insurance
For lawyers looking to make their first MAIF Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment (UCJ) claim, here's what you need to know:

The Rules
There are quite a few rules on MAIF claims. Here's where you need to look:

Notice Deadline
There is a strict 180 day deadline to make a MAIF UCJ claim. There are some exceptions (for example, a victim must provide notice within 30 days of a liability carrier's notice of disclaimer), but failure to make the claim could leave auto accident victims without any recourse.
A claim must include the following, where applicable:
  • MAIF Notice of Claim Form, signed by the victim (it hasn't changed since 1998)
  • Description of the accident, including date, time, location, names and addresses of witnesses, vehicles involved
  • All medical records and bills up to date of filing of Claim
  • Police report of accident
  • Documentation of property damage
  • Lost wage certification
  • MVA records
  • Insurance company cancellations /disclaimers
  • Recorded statement
MAIF Settlements and Lawsuits
As indicated, MAIF doesn't like to settle these claims. In the majority of cases, victims will have no choice but to file a lawsuit. Where the negligent driver is known, the lawsuit should be against that driver. Sending a copy to the MAIF adjuster will allow MAIF to come into the lawsuit.

If the negligent driver is unknown (for instance, in a hit-and-run accident), the victim can file a lawsuit against MAIF directly if they can show that they used reasonable efforts to identify the negligent driver, and were unsuccessful. MAIF is usually of the opinion that "reasonable efforts" include moving heaven and earth. I think most judges interpret reasonable to mean reasonable.

Contact Us
If you have been injured in a hit-and-run auto accident or the negligent driver did not have any insurance, you may have a claim against MAIF. Many lawyers don't accept these types of MAIF claims because they are more difficult, and have strict notice requirements (MAIF must receive a specific notice within 180 days of the accident. We handle these cases--contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.

More on MAIF and Insurance Claims

Where To File Your Maryland Car Accident Lawsuit

June 26, 2012

Talbott County Courthouse.jpgIn every case, and certainly every Maryland automobile accident case, the lawyer should consider what county the case should be filed in. In Maryland, you typically have the following options:

  1. File in the county where the car accident happened
  2. File in the county where the defendant lives

It is important, therefore, to be clear about where the accident happened, and where the negligent driver lives. Typically the police report, if one was listed, has both the county where the accident happened, and lists the negligent driver's address. However, in situations where the accident was on or near a county line, the police report may not be correct. Also, some lawyers don't realize that some cities actually straddle multiple counties. For example, an accident in Laurel, Maryland may take place in Prince George's County, Howard County, or Anne Arundel County. Likewise, the address the police usually put on the police report may not be accurate--it may be from an old driver's license or insurance card. Or, the person who caused the collision may move between the time the accident happened and the lawsuit was filed.

Sometimes there is no choice, and these two counties are actually the same county. Other times, the plaintiff's lawyer has the opportunity to maximize his or her client's recovery by choosing the specific jurisdiction in which to file a lawsuit. Here are some factors that go into this analysis:

  • The types of injuries
  • The amount of medical expenses--is it a District Court case or a Circuit Court case?
  • Whether the case will be a jury trial or a bench (judge-decided) trial
  • How bad the accident was (including, for example, the property damage)
  • The demographics and likeability of the plaintiff and defendant
  • Whether the plaintiff or defendant is generally known in the community

Contact Us
We have extensive experience in seeking out all possible options for lawsuits, and we can help you to direct your case to the most advantageous county in order to maximize your auto accident settlement or verdict. If you have questions, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.

Minimum MAIF Insurance: $30,000 Protection For Hit-and-Run/Phantom Driver Accidents

June 25, 2012

MAIF logo.jpgWe reported back in February that the Maryland legislature was considering a bill that would increase the minimum amount of MAIF insurance for uninsured drivers to $30,000 (Not Fair: Maryland Law Makes You Carry $30,000 Auto Insurance, But You Might Have a Maximum $20,000 Recovery).

The problem was that just over a year ago, the minimum amount of automobile insurance for all Maryland drivers was $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. Those minimums have been in place for over 35 years, and they were increased to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident. The law that increased the amount recoverable for Maryland automobile accident victims was missing one thing, though. It forget to mention the uninsured division of MAIF.

MAIF (Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund) is the insurance company of last resort for drivers who are rejected by most other insurance companies. They insure the uninsurable. MAIF also performs another function--when someone is involved in a Maryland automobile accident with someone who does not have insurance, or in a hit-and-run accident, MAIF will step in to help. They don't step in voluntarily--usually it takes a lawsuit, but if there is no other insurance available, MAIF will cover the accident up to the minimum amount. Even after the 2011 change, MAIF was still only on the hook for $20,000/$40,000.

The new law, approved by the legislature and signed by Governor O'Malley last month, requires MAIF to provide the same coverage as everyone else. So in any one accident where the victim proves that an uninsured or unknown driver caused the accident and no other insurance applies, MAIF is responsible to pay up to $30,000 (for one person) and $60,000 (for all people).

Contact Us
If you have been injured in a hit-and-run auto accident or the negligent driver did not have any insurance, you may have a claim against MAIF. Many lawyers don't accept these types of MAIF claims because they are more difficult, and have strict notice requirements (MAIF must receive a specific notice within 180 days of the accident). We handle these cases--contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.

More on MAIF and Insurance Claims

Trending: Lawsuits Against Employers For Encouraging Distracted Driving

June 23, 2012

Employee Handbook.jpgThe scourge of distracted driving is so bad that I predict many attorneys will be adding to their lawsuits complaints against employers for failure to have policies, procedures and protocols to discourage distracted driving. First, a little bit about agency.

An agent is someone who is working for someone else. When an employee gets in his car to go do something for his employer, he is the agent of the employer. When the driver negligently causes a Maryland auto accident, both the driver is responsible and the employer is responsible.

Because distracted driving is such a big deal right now, employers are jumping on the bandwagon to come up with policies about when their employees can and can't use cell phones while driving. Some companies are prohibiting the use of handheld phones; others are prohibiting all cell phone use, even hands-free conversation. Where an employer does not take the step to set a policy, they are setting themselves up for more liability in the event of an accident. Realistically, they will be on the hook for any auto accident injuries regardless of whether the company was negligent, but it gives one more reason for the judge or jury to decide that the company is responsible. Also, it puts forth negative conduct by the company, which makes a jury more likely to decide against them if the question of liability (whether the employee was negligent) is unclear.

Distracted Driving: Test Your Skills

June 20, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgA driving simulator called One Simple Decision, made by Virtual Driver Interactive http://www.driverinteractive.com/index.php is attempting to show driver's the short and long-term consequences of texting and driving. It starts with the driver driving, and then instructs the driver to begin texting. When the (hopefully) inevitable collision occurs, the driver goes through a first-person interrogation by police, medical personnel, and a judge in an attempt to show chronic texters the real-life consequences of distracted driving.

The allure of a simulation like this is the desire to beat it, like any videogame. I know the dangers of texting and driving, but (I suspect like most people), I think that I can do it relatively safely. So what happens when a driver beats the simulator? Is that a license to text and drive? I'd like to know the simulators statistics.

Regardless, it is clear that in a controlled situation, the driver is going to bring his or her A-game. In real life, there will be less attention to detail, and a higher likelihood of a distracted driving accident.

I did a drunk driving simulation at a museum in Colorado when I was a kid--the simulation would go through what it was like to drive when sober versus drunk. Granted, I didn't know how to drive then, but that simulator didn't work at all (I think something was wrong with the driving wheel). For $42,000 per simulator, One Simple Decision should be a little more realistic.

For More Information

Colossus: Using Artificial Intelligence To Value Automobile Accident Injuries

June 12, 2012

Colossus of Rhodes.jpgColossus is a software program used by many insurance companies to determine the value of automobile accident claims and lawsuits. The software program gets a bad rap from plaintiff's lawyers--probably because it <gasp!> undervalues those claims. Now, a former Allstate and Encompass Colossus expert and a former Texas insurance commissioner are informing the Consumer Federation of America's latest report, Low Ball: An Insider's Look at How Some Insurers Can Manipulate Computerized Systems to Broadly Underpay Injury Claims.

That report details the means by which adjusters can use the software to produce lower evaluations of claims. Insurance adjusters can discount medical bills, evaluate injuries differently than doctors, ignore the likelihood of future medical care, and decide that the claimant/victim was partially at fault for the auto collision.

It sounds like the report is concerned that insurance adjusters might be doing their job.

Don't get me wrong--I dislike the stupid "back-and-forth" process of negotiating claims with insurance companies as much as the next guy. In a recent GEICO case, for example, I went through three different adjusters. The Junior Adjuster negotiates with me to an offer that represents his "final, highest offer." It's not enough, and it's not fair, so I file a lawsuit. The Intermediate Adjuster then gives me another offer, and tells me she can't go any higher. So, I continue on, preparing for trial by working on discovery. Then, a week before the trial, Senior Adjuster calls me up, with (you guessed it) another final offer (and, the scent of desperation). In that case, the last "final offer" was just a tiny bit behind what was my first, and unchanging, demand (GEICO hates it when you don't give them counterdemands). My client was happy with that, so we resolved it. If the insurance company would have just offered that from the beginning, they could have avoided paying a defense lawyer. Basically, they lost out on this deal. But, they only operate like this because they win so many other times--many lawyers are afraid to go to trial, and they will accept these "low ball" offers.

The job of insurance companies is to make money for their shareholders. They will do this by hook or crook. Some insurance companies are more unreasonable than others. If they want, they can refuse to pay more than $1.00 for every single claim. That's why we have auto accident trials.

Here's why Colossus is completely irrelevant: Maryland auto accident victims who have a trial attorney advocating on their behalf will not accept low ball offers. Whether the insurance adjuster uses a computer program, their own education and experience, or a Ouja board to determine the value of a personal injury case, the reality is that a lawyer should make an independent decision, and advise the client accordingly. Colossus is not artificial intelligence--it is a tool used to help insurance companies determine the value of personal injury claim. If they want to cheat the software, they can. If they want to ignore medical records, they can.

But we don't have to accept these offers. The insurance companies keep offering low settlements because some lawyers do accept them. If an insurance company's adjuster gives a low offer and claims that "Colossus made me do it," then teach Colossus a lesson--file a lawsuit. The judge and jury won't care (and won't be allowed to hear) about what Colossus thinks of your case.

More on Colossus

Trucking Sleep Rules: Exceptions Are Dangerous

June 8, 2012

Oil Truck.jpgThe federal government has closed a loophole that was the cause of untold numbers of trucking accidents. Truck drivers who hauled material to and from oil drilling sites were limited to spending 14 hours of work before resting--the problem is that the former rule did not include time at the drilling site. So, truck drivers could spend 14 full hours on the road, and any amount of time on duty loading, unloading or performing truck maintenance at the site. Other duties could easily increase the time between significant rest periods to 15, 16 or 17 hours.

The New York Times wrote about the problem a few weeks ago, and included heartbreaking stories of preventable deaths. In one, the driver had been working for almost 21 hours straight. The data is striking: one-third of all oil worker deaths are caused by highway crashes, compared to one-fifth in all industries combined. That article may have motivated the Department of Transportation to change the rules, and hopefully save some lives.

Perhaps most disheartening is that the employers sometimes allow or encourage fatigue-related truck accidents:

In court papers, the supervisor of Mr. Roth's crew and two other workers described how, they said, the company taught drivers to falsify their logbooks. "All you got to do is say that you went into one of the campers and fell asleep for a couple hours, when actually you're out there working," Mike Lowther, one of the crew members, recalled being instructed. Mr. Lowther, who was driving, was injured in the crash that killed Mr. Roth, and he is suing the company, as is Mr. Roth's wife.

The company makes money, and safety of its workers or other drivers is not a concern. Lawsuits like this require trucking experts and lawyers who are familiar with logbooks, federal trucking rules, and the lies that truck drivers and their employers will tell to avoid prosecution.

If you have been hurt in a commercial truck accident, let us help you find out if it was caused by violations of federal law, including sleep and rest rules. We can get you the answers you need. Contact us at 443.850.4426, or online.

Savings Lives By Restricting Teenage Licenses

June 4, 2012

Teen driver.jpgThe Washington Post published an article last week, Graduated Licenses Can Save Lives, Says IIHS. It discusses the process for teenage drivers to receive a license. Here's the data:

  • Teenage driving fatalities are down over the past few years
  • Estimate: with stronger laws, twelve states could cut their fatal teen driving rates by half or more (500 lives saved, 9,500 collisions prevented)

All states and the District of Columbia now use graduated driver licensing (GDL). This means that teens start learning to drive with a supervised learner's permit, then have approval to drive in non-high risk situations after passing a road test, then receive full privileges.
Data from all states were analyzed, and it turns out that the states with the most restrictive GDL laws have the fewest fatalities. Some suggestions include:

  • Precluding younger teens from driving (South Dakota allows learner's permits at age 14)
  • Setting stricter night-driving provisions with earlier driving curfews
  • Setting bans on teen passengers

The article doesn't give much information beyond this--I wonder if the reduction in fatalities is truly because teens are more dangerous and cause more automobile accidents under certain circumstances (younger, night driving, having passengers) than other "aged" drivers, or whether the life-savings is simply a result of fewer driver-hours on the road. After all, if we restricted licenses to 21 year olds, we would see a massive reduction in collisions and fatalities. Even more if we restricted to 31 year olds. Or, if we imposed a nationwide driving curfew of 8:00 p.m. Fewer cars on the roads equals fewer opportunities for collisions.

Need help with an automobile accident?
If you have been in a Maryland automobile accident, contact John Cord Law, LLC at 443.850.4426, or online. We can help you navigate the complex maze created by the insurance companies.