Recently in Automobile Accidents Category

Value of Your Auto Accident Case

April 15, 2014

Calculator.jpgOne question common to all Maryland auto accident victims is "what is my case worth?" It's a simple question with a complicated answer--so complicated, that we're going to spend the next seven or so blog posts breaking it down for you.

Here's the outline of what we'll cover:

  • Liability (how easy is it to prove that the other driver was negligent and you were not)

  • Economic damages (the total of your medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages)

  • Non-economic damages (your pain, suffering, inconvenience, and aggravation, etc...)

  • Venue/Jurisdiction (the court and location for your case)

  • Personal Injury Protection (the amount of no-fault insurance used to reduce your medical expenses)

  • Health insurance/medical reductions

  • Attorneys' fees

It's important to remember that every case is different. Your cousin's friend may have had an automobile accident, but if any one of these factors is different, it can be difficult to compare them. Ask your lawyer for advice--we've handled hundreds of cases, and can compare and contrast the variables. More importantly, we'll be able to tell you the fair value of your case.

TAKE PHOTOS OF THE ACCIDENT

April 10, 2014

Smartphone Camera (04-10-14).jpgWith smartphones everywhere, Maryland accident victims have the ability to record and document almost every aspect of an accident, almost in realtime. It's no surprise that witnesses in auto accident cases are scarce, negligent drivers frequently lie about what happened, and testimony in at trial is inconsistent. So what's a judge or jury to do?

Ideally, the judge or jury will have the opportunity to look at the vehicles, the accident scene, and overhead maps of the collision site. People involved in a collision should take pictures of their cars, the other driver's cars, and important landmarks that show where the accident occurred. Those photographs should include close-up shots, and wider views (you'd be surprised how hard it is to determine what a narrow angle shot shows). Pictures of the damage are important, but so are pictures of non-damaged areas.

What do these photos show? They can help a judge or jury to determine the exact area of impact, that is, where the cars came into contact. This can be crucial to determining who was at fault. They can help to show how bad the collision was. To be fair, though, the extent of damage does not always correlate with actual physical injuries. We've all seen people walk away unharmed from serious accordion-style wrecks; and we've also seen people require multiple surgeries from mere "bumper-tap" cases. But, high damage will almost always help in an effort to secure damages.

One more thing--don't just take pictures of the things, take pictures of the people. If the negligent driver claims he was not there, a picture will help prove he was there. If the negligent driver claims that he had others in the car with him--photographs will help to show that his car was empty. If a bystander saw the collision--photographs will help your investigator find him.

Don't Talk to the Insurance Company

April 9, 2014

Record Button.jpgAttorneys are an argumentative bunch. We disagree on many things, so when we agree on something, you should take notice. Something we agree on--don't give a recorded statement to the insurance company after an automobile collision. It doesn't matter if it is your insurance company, or the negligent driver's insurance company.

Let's talk about why the insurance companies want to get you on an audio recording. First, the mundane--they want to know the facts of the accident, the nature of your injuries, and what medical care you have received. They want to know what evidence you have, and whether there is anything that will help them to muster up more evidence.

Now, the insidious--the insurance companies want a recorded statement from you so that they can use it against you. They will take a recorded statement shortly after the accident. Down the road, when you file a lawsuit, you will answer written questions (called interrogatories) under oath. Then you may have a deposition, where they ask you more questions under the penalty of perjury. Finally, you will testify at trial, perhaps two or three or four years after the accident.

The insurance company, therefore, will have at least four opportunities to question you. Even though you are truthful at each of those moments, your memory will fade, and some insignificant details might change. The defense lawyer, in front of judge and jury, will point to those inconsistencies, and brand you a liar. Juries don't award money to liars.

But My Insurance Company Wants a Statement, and My Insurance Company Is My Friend!
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. There are at least two scenarios where your insurance company might be working against you. The first is if you have PIP insurance (personal injury protection). Your insurance company may be on the hook to pay for some of your medical expenses, lost wages and household expenses. PIP policies typically range from $2,500 to $10,000. We've seen PIP insurers fight really hard against their insureds, particularly where there is more at stake than $2,500. They may look for any good reason to deny you access to money that you've earned by paying premiums, year after dutiful year.

The second scenario involves an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim (UM/UIM). If the negligent driver is uninsured (which you may not find out about until weeks or months after the accident), or if you are involved in a hit-and-run, or if your injuries are extremely severe and will overwhelm the negligent driver's minimal insurance. In that case, you will be making a claim against your insurance company. Even though you are a loyal customer, they will want to limit their exposure, and they will look for any excuse to avoid paying your claim.

In either case--if you give a recorded statement, your insurance company will attempt to use that statement against you. It could mean the difference between settling your case, or having to slog it out all the way to a trial verdict.

Still Want to Talk?
If you still want to talk to the insurance company, don't let them record it. The information is just as valuable without a microphone. Of course, most lawyers agree that you shouldn't talk to them--they have their tricks, and it's better to have someone who knows them and knows how to avoid them.

Want to Know More?
Contact us by phone (443.850.4426), e-mail (jcord@charmcitylawyer.com), or internet. We can take the stress of your Maryland automobile accident away by dealing with the insurance companies, and letting you focus on more important things--getting better.

Deadlines in Maryland Auto Accident Cases

April 7, 2014

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgLawyers, like high-pressure used-car salesmen, want you to sign on the dotted line right away. Like all businesspeople, they understand the value of inertia--if you don't hire them now, then it's not likely that you're going to hire them later.
My goal is for you to get good representation when you need it. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's another lawyer. I just don't want you to lose your case. Partly, this is because I'm a plaintiffs' lawyer. Helping people is what I do. Partly, this is because I understand that businesses and insurance companies sometimes take advantage of people, which isn't very nice.

So, understand when I tell you that you should hire a lawyer within 2 weeks of your accident, I'm not trying to round up business for myself (though, that would be nice, and I'd be thrilled to help). I just want you to protect yourself. It's important to be concerned about Maryland deadlines in car accident cases. If you miss these deadlines, you might lose your claim forever. We'll start with the earliest deadlines first:

NOTICE (within 180 days of accident): If the negligent driver is employed by a local government (like Baltimore City or Prince George's County, or any police department), or if the local government is somehow at fault (for example, operating defective stop lights), then you must file a formal notice of claim within 180 days of the accident. That's only 6 months, and the notice must have very specific information. You can find these rules for Local Government Tort Claims Act in the statutes, MD. CODE, CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 5-301 et seq. Just because you provide notice doesn't mean you have to file a lawsuit--notice preserves your right to file a lawsuit and make a claim. Without it, you lose before you even begin.

NOTICE (within 1 year of accident): If the negligent party was the State of Maryland, or employed by the State of Maryland (or Baltimore City police), formal notice must be sent within one year of the accident. This is called the Maryland Tort Claims Act, and is found in MD. CODE, STATE GOV. ART. § 12-106. Again, this isn't a claim, just notice of a claim that preserves the right to make a claim for damages later.

NOTICE (within 1 year of accident): If the negligent party was the Maryland Transportation Authority (for example in a bus accident or light rail accident), formal notice is also required within one year of the accident. The notice must be sent to the MTA's administrator under MD. TRANS. ART. § 7-702.

PIP APPLICATION (within 1 year of accident): If you carry automobile insurance, your Personal Injury Protection policy, if you have it, will pay for lost wages and medical expenses. However, you must apply for this right within one year of the date of the accident. Then, you have until three years after the accident to submit copies of all medical reports and bills that you wish paid.

NOTICE (within 2 years of accident): If the negligent party was the United States government, or employed by the U.S. government, then notice is required within two years of the date of accident. Most auto accidents involving the U.S. government that we see are claims involving United States post office employees.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS (within 3 years of accident): Unlike the prior notice claims, the deadline to file an automobile collision lawsuit in Maryland is typically within three years from the date of the accident. If the case has not previously settled, and if a lawsuit is not filed within three years, the case cannot move forward, and the injured person will not be able to recover.

OTHER: Of course, there are other reasons to hire a lawyer early on. Most of this has to do with evidence--witnesses disappear, red light and traffic cameras/video is lost or recycled (sometimes within weeks), and 911 calls don't last forever. A lawyer can quickly identify what evidence will help your claim, and can secure it so that it can help you when needed at trial or in settlement negotiations.

CALL US IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS
You can contact us at anytime if you have questions about your case deadlines. We are responsive to phone (office: 410.252.0600, cell: 443.850.4426) and e-mail (jcord@charmcitylawyer.com), or you can send us a message through our website here.

New Maryland Driving Laws

October 12, 2013

This month Maryland drivers will have to live up to the state's new expectations. There are two important new rules for drivers, effective October 1, 2013.

Cell Phones


In the continuing march of more severe cell phone laws, the legislature has seen fit to increase penalties and make enforcement easier. In 2010 drivers were prohibited from talking on cell phones without a hands free device. These were only secondary offenses, meaning that drivers could only be cited if they were violating some other law (like speeding). In 2011 the use of a cell phone for writing, reading or sending text messages also became illegal, and it was set as a primary offense, meaning that drivers could be cited even without violation of another law.

However, it's difficult to prove that a driver was sending or reading a text message. Perusing a website? Using GPS navigation? Playing Angry Birds? Maybe not good driving practice, but not technically illegal.

The current cell phone law makes talking on a cell phone without a hands-free option punishable as a primary offense (no other lawbreaking required). The fines are set as $75.00 for the first offense, $125.00 for a second offense, and $175.00 for subsequent offenses. Maryland drivers should be careful, even if they have hands-free devices. Many drivers with such devices pick up the phone to see whose calling, or even push buttons on the phone to activate the hands-free. Those movements can be misinterpreted by police, even though they are not technically violations. The law states that "A driver of a motor vehicle that is in motion may not use the driver's hands to use a handheld telephone other than to initiate or terminate a wireless telephone call or to turn on or turn off the handheld telephone."

The new law can be found in Maryland's Transportation Code, section 21-1124.2.

Seatbelts

Of course, everyone should wear seatbelts. Everyone in the front seat must wear a seatbelt, or they can be pulled over and given a $50.00 fine. This is a primary offense. Rear passengers must also follow the law, but violation is a secondary offense.

Stay safe, Marylanders!

Winning an Auto Accident Lawsuit Where Defendant Lawfully Uses Cellphone

June 12, 2013

hands free study.jpgThe laws of most states are coming around to what public perception (not to mention science) understands very clearly--drivers are distracted when they use handheld cellphones for talking, texting and e-mailing. Those distracted drivers are more likely to cause accidents. Most states have some sort of cell phone laws. In Maryland, for example, we prohibit the handheld use of cell phones for any purpose (even while stopped at a red light).

So, in Maryland and other states, we rely on hands-free technologies, like Bluetooth. Many vehicles are now coming equipped with their own hands-free devices. My Honda, for example, allows me to push a button on my steering wheel to access my voice-recognition speed dial. Even cooler, when I receive text messages, my car will read the messages aloud, and allow me to dictate a response.

Here's the problem: these technologies may be no safer than the behaviors they were designed to replace. A new report, sponsored by AAA and conducted by the University of Utah, has determined that hands-free technologies don't actually make us safer. The CEO of AAA calls it "a looming public safety crisis." The report (found here). In the study, they used some rather high-tech looking devices to measure driver reactions and brain activity when listening to the radio, talking on a cellphone (with and without hands) and using voice-activated talk-to-text features.

Contrary to popular assumption, using the talk-to-text features were among the most distracting for drivers, who experience "a type of tunnel vision or inattention blindness."

For its part, the automotive industry wants more research, and believes that the study "focuses only on the cognitive aspects of using a device, and ignores the visual and manual aspects of hand-held versus integrated hands-free systems." I understand wanting more research to peer review this study, but the fact remains that drivers using this (according to the Utah study) are distracted. It's not an issue of what is better (hands versus hands-free), it's an issue of whether any of it is safe.

Putting the safety factor aside, the question is how lawyers will deal with this in real-world cases of accidents that happen while a driver is using these hands-free features. Lawyers should argue that the research is out there, and the public is aware that these features are dangerous (or at least potentially so). Heck, even NPR had an article on it. The hurdle will be whether a reasonable person would avoid using the technology--if so, it can be evidence of negligence. If not, the judge or jury could ignore it. We predict that this will be useful evidence--some day. But probably not until the first automobile manufacturer pulls hands-free from its line of cars.

Filing Lawsuits Against Corporations

June 10, 2013

18-wheeler truck accidentOften when an auto accident involves a business vehicle, there are two specific types of claim that should be alleged against the business--the first is that the business is liable simply by virtue of employing the negligent driver; the second is that the business is liable because it did something incorrectly.

No. 1: Respondeat Superior

Respondeat superior is Latin for "let the master answer." Lawyers frequently use Latin, mostly because that's how lawyers in ages past were trained, and as a profession we are hard-pressed to put things in the regular, understandable English. What it means is that the employer is going to be responsible for the negligence of his employee if the injury occurred in the normal scope of employment. There are many important exceptions to this, but in general, if a UPS driver falls asleep at the wheel and rear-ends another car, UPS is going to be responsible for that accident.

No. 2: Employer Negligence

The other type of claim that can be brought for an auto accident is some type of negligence of the employer. Here, the claim is that the employer did something wrong to cause the accident. Some examples include:


  1. Negligent hiring, retention, supervision or training: if the employer failed to do a background check that would have revealed excessive speeding tickets, road rage and a vehicular manslaughter conviction, the employer probably should not have hired that employee. Likewise, the employer must train and supervise their employees, and if they cannot act in accordance with the law, they should be fired.

  2. Failure to create or enforce policies and procedures: particularly in this age of distracted driving, it could be argued that an employer must have a company-wide policy on distracted driving. Are phones allowed in the car? What about hands-free phones (which some studies suggest is just as dangerous).

In many ways, the corporate negligence is more important than the employee negligence. When an employee makes a mistake, it can often be chalked up to "just a mistake." When a corporation makes a mistake, however, it can have long-lasting and foreseeable consequences, including the deaths of others. Those mistakes are so much more preventable, with a little bit of planning.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a business-related automobile accident, contact our personal injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or send us a confidential message online.

The Canary Project: Curbing Youthful Distracted Driving

May 18, 2013

Text Distracted Driving.jpgI am not unmindful that, in this business, I profit from the misfortune of others. Sometimes when clients are asking me questions about medical treatment I tell them that what is good for you (getting better quickly) is bad for your legal case, and vice-versa. Honestly, I wish that all of my cases were small, basic soft-tissue cases that resolved after a short week or two of treatment.

But they aren't.

We see the worst of the worst. We settled one case earlier this year where a gentleman was minding his own business at a stop light, and he was hit from behind by a woman who first claimed that she blacked out, then later hired an expert to state that she fell asleep because of undiagnosed sleep apnea (amazingly, if proven, that is a complete defense to responsibility). The poor guy was in shock trauma and had many surgeries, including one to remove a section of his bowel. That's a situation he will never totally recover from. Fortunately, there was a good insurance policy, and the case settled before trial for over $700,000.00. Clearly, the defense didn't place much stock in that argument.

All of this is to say that most accidents are preventable. The most preventable accidents nowadays are distracted driving accidents, particularly those where cell phones are the culprits. The ingenuity of tech-folks in finding ways for parents to combat youthful law-breaking is encouraging. One nice app we've come across is the Canary Project. It can notify parents when their child is in a speeding car or a car that goes out-of-bounds. It sends alerts when children talk or text behind the wheel. It can even "ping" your child so you know where he or she is at any given time. It costs somewhere between $10.00 and $15.00 for life.

There are other apps out there, and one thing this one doesn't do is block incoming calls and texts. There might be good safety reasons to keep that feature on, but we wish Canary gave parents the option.

My kids aren't old enough for cell phones yet, and they are certainly not old enough to drive. But, even at age 3.5 and 2, they have demonstrated love and aptitude for my cell phone, laptop and iPad. I didn't grow up with the cool gagets that they will grow up, and I feel a strong pull from my cell phone when I'm driving. It's going to be worse for them, and as a parent, my job is to protect them.

Questions about a distracted driving lawsuit? Contact our personal injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online.

Finding a Good Lawyer For Your Personal Injury Lawsuit

May 13, 2013

Norwood jury box 2.jpgBecause accidental injuries are unexpected, the need for a good lawyer can be immediate and unplanned. Too often people randomly select lawyers based on a television ads, phone book ads, or internet marketing. Selecting a lawyer solely on the basis of advertising precludes a well-balanced understanding of the lawyer's actual capabilities.

However you find your potential list of lawyers--whether from advertising, a referral from a friend, or even a lawyer you used long ago, it's a good idea to dig a little deeper to make sure that the lawyer is best equipped to help with your problem. Here are five things to look for:

Number 1: A Lawyer Who Handles Your Kind of Case

If your potential lawyer does bankruptcy, divorces, wills, car accidents and patents, you have found someone who, whether he admits it or not, is a general practitioner. Those types of lawyers might be okay in small towns or from 150 years ago, but modern law has become so complex that a general practitioner may not be able to keep up with changing laws in four or five different areas. Your lawyer should be focused on one or two practice areas. These are some examples of practice areas:
  • Personal injury
  • Bankruptcy
  • Family Law
  • Social Security Disability
  • Criminal Law
  • Trademarks and Patents
  • Contracts
  • Collections
Our firm only handles personal injury. There are several subsets of personal injury cases, but they are similar enough that it is manageable to keep up-to-date on all of them. Personal injury cases include:
    Automobile accidents
  • Tractor-trailer accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Slips-and-falls
  • On-the-job injuries (workers' compensation)
  • Medical malpractice
  • Product liability (defective drugs, medical devices and other products)
That's complicated enough without adding patents and trademarks to the mix.

Number 2: A lawyer who has been recognized by reputable organizations and peer-review

There are so many different rating systems out there that it can be difficult to tell the legitimate ones from the systems which are mostly advertising--designed by lawyers to simply pat themselves on the back. The top rating system is Martindale-Hubbell, which uses a 5.0 rating system to score lawyers. You can check with the state bar to see if your lawyer has ever been disciplined. If so, it is important to look into the reason. Most mistakes are simply that--mistakes. But if your lawyer has been punished for stealing from clients, you might take a second look.

Number 3: A lawyer who continuously betters himself

Your lawyer should never rest on his or her laurels. Instead, your lawyer should persist in reading legal books, attending seminars and going to continuing legal education events. It's called the practice of law for a reason--there is no perfect. But if your lawyer is not striving to better his or her technique, that lawyer will stagnate. When interviewing, find out when your potential lawyer's last CLE (continuing legal education) event was. If your lawyer doesn't attend at least two every year, it is time for a new lawyer.

Number 4: A lawyer who will talk with you

Every firm works a little differently. In some, your primary contact will be with a paralegal. In others, your lawyer will assign a junior associate. In others, you may get the ear of the senior lawyer in charge of your case. It is important that you have the full confidence of your lawyer. Your lawyer should never be reluctant to meet with you or take your calls. When you first meet with your potential lawyer, find out who your primary contact will be. If it's not with the interviewing lawyer, you should med the person who is responsible to you.

Number 5: A lawyer who will go to trial

Reputation, though not everything, is really, really important. The insurance companies keep tabs on lawyers--they know which lawyers are settling most of their cases, and which lawyers are refusing to accept lowball settlement offers by filing lawsuits and going to trial. Insurance adjusters are afraid of the lawyers who file cases--those lawyers should be getting verdicts that are higher than the settlement offers in most cases. Not to mention that taking a case to trial costs the insurance company more. The end result is that lawyers who take cases to trial get better settlement offers, and when they don't get offers that are good enough for their clients, they will take the insurance companies to task at trial.

Contact Us

If you need help with a Maryland personal injury accident, call us at 443.850.4426, send an e-mail directly to a lawyer at jcord@charmcitylawyer.com, or send us a description of your problem online. We will evaluate your claim and can help to guide you through the legal process.

Distracted Driving: Voice to Text

May 7, 2013

Text Distracted Driving.jpgI finally replaced my ten-year old car a few months ago, and have been happily learning about all of the new technology in modern cars. It's like a candy store, especially compared to my old vehicle which was limited to power locks and a car alarm.

One feature that I was surprised to learn about was voice to text. When a text message comes in, the car will connect to my phone and will ask permission to read it. The voice recognition software will pick up my command (yes or no), and the pronunciation, even for uncommon words in text messages, is remarkable. Then, it will extraordinarily ask me if I want to reply. I speak, and it will create a responding text message. This is also amazingly accurate.

Two things: first, this will make things a little more complicated for attorneys who are litigating distracted driving lawsuits. In Maryland, as you know, it is against the law (not to mention unsafe) for drivers to use handheld phones while driving. That means no e-mailing, no texting, and no holding the phone up to your ear. The exception is the hands-free option--right now, we are allowed to use the phone as long as it is through some sort of hands-free technology, like bluetooth. One common source of discovery in accident cases is for the negligent driver's cell phone data--was the driver receiving or sending texts at the time of the accident? If so, that is important evidence to show distracted driving. Now, however, lawyers must find out if the negligent driver's vehicle has these voice-to-text features, because those are within the boundaries of the law.

The second part of this, though is that the claim could be made that it is unsafe to use those features. One study (here's the Mashable cliffs notes, and here's the study) has found that there is no appreciable difference between manual texting (using the phone and typing out a message) and using a voice-to-text software like Siri. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it appears that the same degree of concentration is involved whether a driver is looking at the phone or not, and it yields the same amount of distraction.

Research like this hasn't really penetrated the consumer consciousness, but as it is developed it is likely that it will be recognized by the public and legislators. There are bound to be some states which will proscribe the use of a phone, even hands-free use, while driving. In a lawsuit, the standard of care is what a reasonable driver under similar circumstances would do. Could there be a day when a reasonable driver would not use hands-free?

For more information about distracted driving, or if you were hurt in an automobile accident, contact us at 443.850.4426 or online.

Collateral Source: Double-Recovery for Car Accidents

March 18, 2013

Car Accident (2 people)(11-22-11).jpgMaryland has a rule called collateral source. This is an important part of making sure auto accident victims get full value for their claims. It is the reason that accident victims can recover for medical expenses and lost wages through their personal injury protection (PIP) insurance (see our webpage here, and a recent blog post here) and, at the same, recover for those losses from the negligent driver's insurance company.

Here's why it matters: let's assume a car accident results in a hospital visit, some x-rays, and a couple of weeks of physical therapy. The total medical bills are $2,000, and the lost wages are $250. If the auto accident victim has $2,500 in PIP insurance, all of those medical expenses would be paid, and 85% of the lost wages would be reimbursed ($212.50). Then, the auto accident victim could recover full losses from the negligent driver's insurance company, getting $2,250 for the medical expenses and lost wages, and some other amount for noneconomic damages (pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc...).

Let's say the total settlement was a very modest $5,000. With PIP, the victim would recover a total of $3,545.83 after payment of all attorneys' fees (at 33.33%) and medical expenses (and including the lost wages paid through PIP). Without PIP, the victim would only recover $1,333.33, more than $2,000 difference.

If you are handling your Maryland auto accident lawsuit on your own, be careful. Many insurance adjusters will tell you that they are not responsible for paying medical expenses or lost wages that have been paid by PIP. This could be because they don't know the law, or because they are trying to get away with paying you less money.

If you need help negotiating a Maryland car accident settlement, call us at 443.850.4426, or send us a message about your case online.

Talk to your insurance adjuster, raise your PIP

March 16, 2013

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgWe recommend that all of our clients get as much Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance as they can--it's inexpensive, and it makes a huge difference in your Maryland auto accident case.

PIP is a type of no-fault insurance. In exchange for a small premium, it pays medical expenses and a portion of lost wages for the driver, passenger and pedestrians who are in an accident. Because of Maryland's collateral source rule, auto accident victims can recover for these medical expenses and lost wages twice--once through their own automobile insurance, and once from the negligent driver's insurance.

Most Maryland insurance policies are set for the default $2,500. That means the most any one person can recover is $2,500 for incurred lost wages and medical expenses. In exchange for slightly (barely perceptible) reduced premiums, drivers can waive PIP (there are very specific rules about the form of the waiver, and improper waivers are ineffective).

In combination with medical payments coverage, Maryland policyholders can typically get PIP coverage up to $10,000. I just got my policy renewal, and I'm being charged $4.00 per month for $2,500, and $6.00 per month for an additional $7,500 in medical payments coverage. This means I'm paying a total of $10 per month for $10,000 in coverage.

Not sure if it makes financial sense? Look at it this way: if you have high PIP premiums, let's say $8.00 per month for $2,500 in coverage, you are paying $96.00 per year. If you have one accident in 26 years, the premium would pay for itself. How many of us are that lucky?

If you want to learn more about personal injury protection insurance, visit our Personal Injury Protection webpage. If you need help dealing with your insurance company after a Maryland auto accident, contact us 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

Spying on Texting Drivers

October 17, 2012

Text Distracted Driving.jpgThe Federal government wants to know whether you've been texting and driving. They have authorized grants to two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, for anti-texting enforcement programs. Each state will get $275,000.00.

This money will be used to train police officers on how to detect texters--not only from their patrol cars, but from highway overpasses and more covert locations. I'm not sure how this will work, exactly. One police officer on a bridge, watching traffic come toward him. That officer radios to another officer on the road below, and tells him which car to pull over. Maybe it's as simple as that.

One thing is for sure--some people who flaunt Maryland's cell phone use laws are getting crafty--many keep the phones down below window-level to avoid police detection. Of course, that makes it harder to see the road, which is more likely to cause crashes.

Maryland automobile accident lawyers should have an arsenal of discovery ready to determine when illegal cell phone use may have contributed to an accident. In some cases, this involves written questions, requests for production of cell phone records, and subpoenas to cell phone companies.

See the U.S. Department of Transportation's press release and Ray LaHood's blog.