January 2013 Archives

Maximize Your Auto Accident Non-Economic Damages

January 14, 2013

Headache 2.jpgMaryland allows auto accident victims to recover for non-economic damages. These are injuries that cannot be easily calculated, and they include items as stated in the typical jury instructions:

In an action for damages in a personal injury case, you shall consider the following:
  1. The personal injuries sustained and their extent and duration;
  2. The effect such injuries have on the overall physical and mental health and well-being of the plaintiff;
  3. The physical pain and mental anguish suffered in the past and which with reasonable probability may be expected to be experienced in the future;
  4. The disfigurement and humiliation or embarrassment associated with such disfigurement;
  5. The medical and other expenses reasonably and necessarily incurred in the past and which with reasonable probability may be expected in the future;
  6. The loss of earnings in the past and such earnings or reduction in earning capacity which with reasonable probability may be expected in the future.
In awarding damages in this case you must itemize your verdict or award to show the amount intended for:
  1. The medical expenses incurred in the past;
  2. The medical expenses reasonably probable to be incurred in the future;
  3. The loss of earnings and/or earning capacity incurred in the past;
  4. The loss of earnings and/or earning capacity reasonably probable to be expected in the future;
  5. The "Noneconomic Damages" sustained in the past and reasonably probable to be sustained in the future. All damages which you may find for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other nonpecuniary injury are "Noneconomic Damages";
  6. Other damages.

It is a relatively simple matter to show what the economic damages are--lost wages and medical expenses can often be calculated with exactitude. But non-economic damages are fuzzy--their value will depend on two things--how well the auto accident victim testifies at trial, and the feelings of the decision-maker (either a judge or jury).

Lawyers have a limited ability to choose the decision-maker. We can decide sometimes whether to try a case before a judge or jury, and sometimes we can choose which county the case is tried in. For jury trials, we have a limited ability to select the actual jurors who will select the case. The universal factor for a significant non-economic damages verdict, however, is how much the decision-maker likes the plaintiff-victim.

So, the plaintiff-victim must testify at trial, and must explain to the decision-maker how the injury affected him during treatment and, if the injuries are permanent, after treatment. The difficulty at trial is for the plaintiff to remember the specifics of how the injury affected him. We recommend that our clients keep a log during recovery. Make notes about missed opportunities, like exercising, going out with friends, or playing sports. Keep a log of medication used to show how often you were in pain. Record what household chores were difficult to do, and what you needed help with (laundry, mowing the lawn, etc...). Most importantly, keep a good record of how the injury made you feel. Listless because it was hard to be mobile? Frustrated because you constantly dropped things? Embarrassed because of a limp? Feeling inadequate because you have to miss work for doctor's appointments?

Use strong words to describe your feelings. Judges and jurors don't understand "pain." We can say that pain was a 6 out of 10, but that doesn't mean anything because everyone has a different understanding of pain. Unless the injuries are so horrific, it's likely that a description of "it hurt every day," is next to useless in convincing a judge or juror to render a high verdict for non-economic damages. Ask your friends and family about what they observed during your recovery (or better yet, give your lawyer their names and numbers so he can do it for you).

This isn't something that can be done on the fly at trial. Most people don't like to describe their pain and emotions like this--no one wants to come across as whiny. But if you give this information to your lawyer, he can help you to present it appropriately at trial.

If you have questions about an auto accident or other Maryland injury claim, contact our personal injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online.

Limited Insurance Proceeds

January 5, 2013

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgI've had a few sad cases recently. In each case, my client was injured in an accident. In each accident, there were other people injured, as well. My clients went to the hospital, and were treated for their injuries. Neither of my clients had health insurance. Neither of them had UM/UIM insurance (neither of them drove a car, and neither lived with a family member who drove a car).

After they finished medical treatment, we sent demand letters to the insurance companies. In each case, the adjuster informed us that they could not settle our claims because there were limited insurance proceeds available, and that other victims were either still treating or hadn't submitted their demand packages, yet. The limited insurance proceeds were in compliance with the Maryland minimums--$30,000/$60,000. That means that the most any one person in an accident can recover is $30,000, with the total allowed for all people in a single accident as $60,000.

So, not wanting to wait, we filed lawsuits. Other victims of each collision did, as well (though not all). When it was time for the insurance company to answer the complaint in one case, and when their discovery responses were overdue in another, they cried "uncle." They tendered policy limits in each, and washed their hands of the whole matter saying "you plaintiffs divide it up."

So we did in one case (the other case we're still working on). For the one that fully resolved, my client received something along the lines of 60% of her medical expenses. There were too many other victims, many of them with injuries far more serious than my client's. We were able to get other medical expenses reduced, and thankfully there was Personal Injury Protection (PIP) available, so my client had a little bit of a take-home. But, it wasn't what it should have been. And sadly, there was no other source of recovery--no UM/UIM, and no chance at recovering personal assets of the defendant driver.

So how do you divide up limited insurance proceeds with other claimants? It's tough, because the process pits a plaintiff's lawyer against other plaintiff's lawyers, and we usually like to be on the same side. However, we must each zealously advocate for our clients. These are some considerations if you ever find yourself in the same boat:


  • Perhaps the simplest way is for each automobile accident victim to get a pro rata share of the proceeds based on total medical expenses. So, if the total insurance available is $60,000, the total of all medical expenses is $100,000, and your client had $20,000 in medical expenses, your client would get total of $12,000. ($100,000/$20,000 = 20%; 20% x $60,000 = $12,000). This method has some appeal--it is completely objective, and there is no need to compare amounts of non-economic damages (pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc...).

  • For cases that warrant the expense, a mediator or arbitrator (often a retired judge) can be brought in to help settle the matter.

  • Another method is to allow the court to decide--everyone files a lawsuit, the cases are consolidated, the defendant admits liability, and the judge or jury decides what everyone gets. Or, the defendant could place the money into the court with an interpleader action, basically inviting all of the plaintiffs to come to court and fight it out.

  • One particular consideration should be other means of recourse. Some accident victims may have UM/UIM insurance coverage available--meaning that they are more likely to be able to recoup their losses elsewhere. Lawyers who have access to other potential sources of recovery may be hesitant to take a discount on the first part of the case, though, until they have some assurance about what they can indeed recover from the UM/UIM insurance company.

In any event, everyone is going to end up with less than they deserve. This is one reason why it pays to have good UM/UIM insurance. We recommend everyone get as much as they reasonably can afford. The increase in premiums isn't significant, and $100,000 is the bare minimum. We highly recommend more.

Do you owe more on your car than it's worth?

January 1, 2013

Total Loss (11-26-11).jpgOur usual recommendation to people is that when they lease a car, purchase GAP (Guaranteed Auto Protection) insurance. GAP insurance makes up the difference between fair market value of a car and what you owe on the car (the second figure is sometimes higher). This type of insurance is important because in an accident, you are only entitled to the fair market value of the car. The trap is that if you owe more than the Maryland property damage settlement amount, then you certainly won't have enough money to buy or lease a or new car. Then, you end up renting a car for far too long (which you won't get completely paid back, either). It's a terrible cycle of debt, and hard to get out of.

Now, some people will have another option (which they rightfully expected to have in the first place). The Daily Record wrote up an article, 4th Circuit Backs Consumers Whose Cars Are Totaled which outlined a new decision in Decohen v. Capital One. There, a consumer leased a used car. The lease included a debt cancellation agreement. Unlike insurance, debt cancellation agreements are not regulated by the Maryland Insurance Administration. It is simply an agreement between the lender and the person leasing the car that, if there is a problem, the most they will owe is the fair market value of the car. The lender simply forgives any excess owed. In exchange for this benefit, the consumer pays a little extra. In Mr. Decohen's case, he paid $600 extra for this added security.

Unfortunately for Mr. Decohen, the lender sold his account to Capital One (play Imperial Death March here) who decided to fight Mr. Decohen. Their argument is long and convoluted, but suffice to say that the evil bank argued that federal banking regulation override Maryland state law. Maryland's consumer-oriented laws were somewhat more favorable than the actual contract. The contract stated that the difference between the fair market value and another value would be cancelled. That other value was the larger of (a) cash paid by an insurance company; (b) the NADA value; or (c) the Kelley Blue Book value. Maryland law only permits (a) the cash paid by the insurance company. In Mr. Decohen's case, the bank argued that it didn't have to cancel the debt because the actual value of the car (it claimed) was higher than what the insurance company paid for it.

In Mr. Decohen's case, the consumer victory is grounded in the fact that the loan was assigned to a national bank. Had the loan (with the really bad language) been kept by the lender, the result may have been different.

The lesson for Maryland consumers who lease a vehicle is clear--if you are going to rely on a debt cancellation agreement, you should carefully read the contract and make sure that, under any scenario, you will not have to pay more than the insurance company pays you if the car is totaled. It might be better to simply get GAP insurance from your insurance agent. If you have questions, contact us.

More Maryland Automobile Accident Information