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Value of Your Maryland Auto Accident Case, Part 6: Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

April 24, 2014

Personal injury protection (PIP) is insurance that comes from the car you are in when you are hurt. It is sometimes referred to as no fault, and if you have PIP coverage it will provide benefits regardless of whether you caused the accident, or the accident was caused by someone else. It is also quick--in most cases, you can start to recover money from a PIP policy within 30 days after you submit the documents to the insurance company. Those documents might include an application, lost wage statements from your supervisor, medical records and medical bills.
PIP App (04-23-14).png

How do I know if I have PIP?


In most cases, if you are driving your own car, and you have insurance coverage, your insurance company will provide you with PIP benefits.

Of course, some people, in an effort to keep their insurance premiums low, will waive PIP benefits. To do this, they must sign very specific language. If they do, then their insurance company will not pay PIP benefits for anyone injured in or by that car, unless the injured person is 16 or under. We usually recommend against this--the slight increase in premiums is worth the benefits.

Now, if you are riding in a bus or taxi, the bus or taxi likely will not have PIP coverage--under Maryland law, they are not required to carry it. You may still be able to recover under your individual automobile PIP policy, however. Insurance companies can also decline to provide PIP for motorcycle riders. It's a silly rule, and probably based on the assumption that motorcycle riders are more dangerous, but it is the rule.

If you are riding in another person's car, you may collect PIP benefits from their insurer. There is one condition--you cannot have waived PIP insurance on your own policy. If you did, then they are entitled to deny providing PIP benefits to you.

Pedestrians are an interesting case--they can often collect PIP from the insurance company for the vehicle that hit them.

How much PIP am I Entitled to?


In Maryland, the default amount of PIP is $2,500, which is usually used to pay for medical expenses and lost wages. However, many insurers will permit you (for a very slight increase in premiums) to recover up to $10,000 in PIP benefits. It's worth it--we encourage you to get as much PIP as you can afford. The odds are, sometime in your life you will get into a car accident, and having a high amount of PIP will likely more than pay for the increased premiums. Click here for an explanation of why you should pay more to get more.

How does PIP Affect the Settlement Value of my Case


In a sense, PIP doesn't change the value of your case. Because of the rule on collateral source (which states that evidence of payments made by other insurance companies is not admissible), insurance adjusters, judges and juries aren't supposed to consider it. Given two identical cases, one with PIP and one without, they should both settle for the exact same amount.

However, having PIP will increase the amount of money that you will take home (after payment of all attorneys' fees, case expenses, and medical expenses), so it will increase your bottom line.

Value of Your Maryland Auto Accident Case, Part 5: Venue & Jurisdiction

April 23, 2014

Talbott County Courthouse.jpgYour auto case value is affected by the courts and counties where you are permitted to file the lawsuit. The reason is that (1) some courts have different limits on the amount of money you can recover; and (2), in general, the decision makers (judges and juries) have attitudes toward personal injury cases that makes them more or less likely to give a favorable verdict.
You might wonder why the court, judges or jury matters--after all, if you are seeking a Maryland car accident settlement, you won't go to trial, right? Well, it matters for a couple of reasons. First, not every case settles. Sometimes the other side will deny that they were negligent, or they will deny that their negligence caused you harm, or they will claim that your injuries (damages) are not as extensive as you think they are. If they won't settle your case for what you think it's worth, the only other choice you have is to file a lawsuit.
Second, even if your case will settle before a lawsuit is filed, the insurance adjuster should know about where you can file suit. Savvy adjusters will understand that the value of a case that can be filed in Prince George's County is likely higher than a case that can only be filed in Allegany County. That adjuster's perception of the attitudes of the decision makers will reflect the value they place on your auto collision case.
So, let's talk about the courts.

Recovery Limits in Courts

There are three different types of courts in Maryland where you can file a personal injury lawsuit.
District Court
The workhorse of the Maryland court system, most personal injury lawsuits are filed in District Courts. There are three levels of recovery: $5,000 or less (small claims), $15,000 or less, and $30,000 or less. As the plaintiff, you would have the option of deciding what level to file at. It does not guarantee that you'll get one of these amounts--only that your recovery cannot exceed the amount you filed for. There are important tactical decisions for filling for each of these amounts, which we'll cover in a different post. These cases are always decided by judges.
Circuit Court
Circuit courts have no maximum recovery, other than the legislatively-imposed non-economic damages cap (or amounts agreed to by the parties). These cases can be decided by judges or juries.
Federal Court
Personal injury cases are typically filed in federal court where the cases is worth more than $75,000.00, and the parties are from different states (called diversity). Diversity is complicated and has many nuances, but it is important to note that Federal courts are subject to the same limits as circuit court cases--the non-economic damages cap applies.

Comparing Maryland Judges and Juries

It is important to compare your court options when evaluating the value of your Maryland personal injury case. In any specific case, it is impossible to say what a judge or jury will do--it depends on the facts, the witnesses, and the evidence. However, in the aggregate, it is possible to compare the typical verdicts. An experienced lawyer will be able to decide the best place to file when there are multiple options. For example, when comparing circuit courts, plaintiffs' lawyers generally prefer Baltimore City and Prince George's County over the other counties. This is because experience tells us that Baltimore City and Prince George's County juries a generally comfortable in rendering high verdicts, when the situation allows for it. However, when looking at district courts, some plaintiff's lawyers are reluctant to file in Baltimore City, arguing that many judges there don't think favorably of general "soft tissue" cases with physical therapy or chiropractic care. This is of course a generalization, and there are indications that the attitudes of Baltimore City district court judges is changing for the better.

Choosing What County to File Your Case In

The rules generally make it easy to know what county your case can be filed in. Typically, it can be filed in the County where the accident happened, or where the negligent driver lives. If the negligent driver is a business, it can be filed where that business has its principal place of business.

Closing Notes

Clearly, before you or your lawyer starts to negotiate your case, you should have an idea about where the case can be filed. This will help you negotiate the highest possible settlement with the adjuster, who should know that the value of your case changes based on where the case could be filed.

Value of Your Maryland Auto Accident Case, Part 4: Non-Economic Damages

April 20, 2014

Norwood jury box 2.jpgWe've discussed how the strength of your case (liability and negligence) affects your case value, and we've discussed how the economic damages, like medical bills and lost wages, impacts your case value. Now we'll talk about non-economic damages.

Most people think of non-economic damages as "pain and suffering." Each state has its own rules, but in Maryland, non-economic damages are much more. The Maryland jury instructions explain that non-economic damages are recoverable for past and future:

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."
This list is important, because it is what judges and juries look at when determining the value of a personal injury claim. Let's go through them, one by one:
  • Pain: often used to describe physical discomfort caused by illness or injury
  • Suffering: a state of enduring or experiencing pain, often used to describe the mental state related to enduring that pain
  • Inconvenience: difficulty in one's life, including having to go to medical appointments, having to spend more time taking care of basic needs
  • Physical Impairment: impairment is the inability to do things, like reaching, lifting, or walking.
  • Disfigurement: particularly applicable in cases where there have been burns, scars or surgery, disfigurement is some sort of lasting or permanent physical sign of injury.
  • Loss of Consortium: in Maryland, loss of consortium is the loss of society, affection, assistance and conjugal fellowship (sexual relations). If an injury impacts a marital relationship, that can be loss of consortium.

Non-economic damages are tough to calculate because they are subjective--the value of each item in this list depends on who is assigning the value. The person who is calculating the value changes over the life of the case--it might include the victim, the insurance adjuster, the defense lawyer, the victim's attorney and, most importantly, the judge or jury. When the case is decided by a jury, each of the (usually) six people must agree on the value.

Non-economic Damages Cap


Unlike economic damages, the total recoverable non-economic damages is limited by a Maryland damage cap. The cap depends on two things: (1) the date of the negligence; and (2) whether the claim includes an action for wrongful death. Though we're talking specifically about automobile accident settlements and verdicts, it's important to note that medical malpractice cases have a different non-economic damages cap in Maryland. In general, non-wrongful death cases where the negligence occurred after October 1, 2013 (and before October 1, 2014) have a non-economic damages cap of $785,000.00.

Value of Your Maryland Auto Accident Case, Part 3: Economic Damages

April 18, 2014

Medical Bills (02-28-13).jpgProbably the most important factor in determining the value of your Maryland auto accident case is the amount and type of economic damages. Economic damages are, simply put, those things which can be calculated with mathematical precision. This is different from non-economic damages (which we'll talk about next time), which have no universal method of calculation.

Common economic damages include:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages
  • property damage
  • cost of services
  • mileage

Before an auto accident settlement, it is important to know exactly what your economic damages are. In most cases, we recommend that you do not settle your case until you are finished with medical treatment. This is because if you settle your case before you finish, then it can be difficult to know, and to prove, what future medical problems (and costs) you might have. So if you settle, you won't get the chance to go back for more money if your condition worsens, if you need surgery, or you need more time in therapy.

The exception is when you have reached maximum medical improvement. If your doctors tell you that you are as good as you are going to get, then you can settle your case. Ideally, your doctors can testify about the type of medical care that you will need in the future, whether it be a future surgery, the cost of regular pain management, or adaptive devices (like crutches or wheelchairs) which may need to be replaced over time.

Medical Expenses:

To figure out your medical expenses is usually a simple matter of contacting your medical providers and getting copies of all of your bills. If you have a lawyer, they will take care of this for you.

Lost Wages:

Proving lost wages can be slightly more complicated. If you are proving lost wages, you can use paystubs, a signed letter from your employer stating your hourly wage or annual salary and the number of hours you missed. If you were self-employed, tax returns can also help to show your average income, which can be used to calculate how much money you lost. Importantly, disability slips from your doctor (stating the time you should be off of work because of your injury) will help to prove your wages. Future lost wages, because of a permanent injury, can be proved in the same way.

Property damage:

Property damages can include any number of things. Your cell phone or glasses might be destroyed in an automobile collision. If your car is damaged or totaled, you can include the repair cost or fair market value in your auto accident lawsuit. However, if those costs were reimbursed by your auto insurer (through your collision policy), you may be able to recover the cost of your deductible.

Cost of Services:

If your injury caused difficulties in managing your life, you might need to hire others for lawn care, grocery delivery, or other services that you would normally take care of own your own. Those costs are compensable in your auto accident case.

Mileage/Parking:

One frequently missed item of economic damages is the cost of mileage and parking. If your accident necessitated medical care, like physical therapy, the cost of mileage to and from your appointments is compensable, as is any parking costs. Keep good track, and provide that information to your lawyer. Even small amounts add up, and can increase the value of your settlement.


These are the most common types of economic damages. In most cases, the higher your economic damages, the higher your settlement offers. It's important to be honest, though--don't overtreat with your doctors just to increase your medical expenses. Those ruses are typically transparent, and a judge or jury will penalize you for it.

Value of Your Maryland Automobile Accident Case: Negligence and Liability

April 16, 2014

Car Accident (2 people)(11-22-11).jpgTwo major factors in deciding the value of any automobile accident case are liability and damages. Damages, which we'll discuss in a later post, include things like medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering and incapacity.

Liability is used (often incorrectly) by lawyers to refer to negligence. In some cases, lawyers might tell the judge or jury that they have conceded liability, which is taken to mean that the defendant admits to being negligent. Technically, if a driver is liable, he was negligent, and his negligence caused damages. However, in some cases, a driver may admit negligence, but argue that his negligence did not cause damages.

So, though lawyers sometimes use the terms liability and negligence interchangeably, we'll use the correct term "negligence." Negligence is simply a fancy way to describe fault. A negligent driver is one who caused the accident--it's as simple as that.

So, why is negligence important in determining the value of your car accident case? Why is it important in your ability to get an accident settlement, or to convince a judge or jury that you were wronged? The reason is that a case with clear negligence is a simpler case--the only thing you need to prove is causation and damages (that is, you have to prove the at-fault driver's actions caused your injuries). A case with clear negligence is usually a winner, and the only issue is how much you will win.

However, if negligence is harder to prove (or, if the victim may have also been negligent, called contributory negligence), then it makes proving your case harder. Not only do you have to fight causation and damages, but you must also fight to prove who was at fault.

If negligence is easy, lawyers will typically take most cases, even if the damages are minor. Lawyers often analyze difficult negligence cases on a sliding scale. If proving negligence is hard or unlikely, we won't take minor damages cases. However, if negligence is difficult to prove but the damages are extensive (say, a broken bone, or some level of permanent injury), then we are more likely to accept the case. In those cases, the potential rewards may exceed the risks.

Applied to common auto accident scenarios, consider the following:


  • Victim's car was rear-ended by another vehicle. This is usually a good negligence case, and most lawyers would take it regardless of what the damages are.

  • Victim's car went through a green light intersection, and the negligent driver ran a red light, causing a T-bone collision. Damages include an ER visit and 5 visits to the physical therapist. If there are no independent witnesses, and no traffic camera video/photographs, then most lawyers will not accept that case.

  • Victim's car went through a green light intersection, and the negligent driver ran a red light, causing a T-bone collision. Damages include a broken leg, 2 days in the hospital, and a surgery, with 3 months of physical therapy. If there are no independent witnesses, and no traffic camera video/photographs, then many lawyers will accept the case.

In court, it's all about what you can prove. We all know that some people will remember the facts of an accident incorrectly, and some people will lie to protect themselves (or their insurance companies). The victim has must prove his case, and must prove that the other driver was more likely negligent than not. If you can do that, and if the insurance company knows you can do it, your case is more valuable. If there is a question about whether you can do it, any settlement offers will be discounted because of the chance that you may lose the negligence argument.

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.