Articles Posted in Insurance

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Crash (2 vehicles).jpgAn automobile accident can turn your life upside down. There’s so much to do–find reliable transportation, get to the doctor, deal with insurance companies, and survive missed work. The easiest way to know if you have a claim is to consult with a lawyer–don’t let the insurance company convince you that you have a claim (they are, after all, looking out for their own best interests).

Law School for Non-Lawyers

There are four requirements for every personal injury case. In order to recover in a lawsuit, each must be proven. For a settlement, the strength of one may help to overcome deficiencies in another.

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Norwood jury box 2.jpgSo your lawyer made a claim to the insurance company, and the case didn’t settle. Cases don’t settle for several reasons, including:

  1. The insurance company denies liability, thinking that their driver wasn’t at fault
  2. The insurance company believes that you were at fault for the collision
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Auto accident 2.jpgSo you’ve been injured in a Maryland automobile collision, and you want to get a settlement or verdict. What can you expect from the process? How long does it take? When will you get your money?

There are two possible phases–the steps leading up to a pre-lawsuit settlement, and the steps following that leading to a trial verdict or post-lawsuit settlement. We’ll talk about pre-lawsuit settlements here.

In general, after an accident and once you hire a lawyer, the lawyer will perform whatever investigation is necessary (ordering police report, talking to witnesses, locating photographs or accident video). He will work on notifying the negligent people/corporations or their insurance companies that they are on the case. At that point, they should not be talking to you, but should communicate directly with your lawyer. Your lawyer will also begin ordering your medical records or bills, so he can see what treatment you’ve had in the past, and possibly monitor current medical treatment. Finally, he will apply for PIP (personal injury protection) or MedPay (medical payments coverage).

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In some Maryland auto accidents, there is simply a limited insurance available. We see this frequently in bus accident cases and collisions involving multiple vehicles. If there are many people with injuries, the at-fault driver’s insurance policy may not be large enough to pay for those injuries. How is the money divided up?

The Set-up

An example fact pattern will help to explain this. Let’s say you are on a bus, which is hit by distracted teen who is texting on her cellphone. The teen driver has the lowest possible MAIF insurance–a policy of $30,000 per person, and $60,000 per accident in liability coverage. That means that her insurance company will pay a maximum of $30,000 for each victim, with limits of $60,000 to pay to all victims in a single accident.

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Trucking Accident (Smith)(11-27-11).JPGA permanent injury lawsuit is different from a garden variety injury case. In most cases (which are typically filed in the district courts), there is a car accident, an injury, discrete treatment for a up to about 6 months, and then the victim has fully recovered. In a permanent injury lawsuit, however, the victims will never recover, and will continue to have the effects of the accident for the rest of their lives.

Those effects may include an inability to work, or need for a lifetime of future medical or nursing care. The way we prove these to an insurance adjuster, judge or jury is through experts.

Common to most of these cases are the types of experts that required to prove the claim. These experts will typically come to trial and testify directly in front of the jury, or else their testimony will be recorded a few days or weeks before the trial, and played back before the jury.

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As a nation, we are concerned with ambulance-chasing lawyers, frivolous lawsuits, and the increased costs of doing business. Much of the dialogue, however, comes from insurance companies, big-business, and soundbyte-seeking media.

Of course, lawmakers get into the act. A North Carolina bill recently proposed limiting lawsuits under certain circumstances, including limits to “a company’s liability if it developed a product under government-approved guidelines.” Interestingly, this would appear to apply to drugs approved by the FDA. Most people believe that the FDA independently researches, studies and evaluates drugs submitted for approval. However, the FDA typically only reviews the research submitted by drug manufacturers, and does not have the resources to perform much more.

Furthermore, the goal of reducing frivolous lawsuits–those lawsuits without merit–would not be realized. Instead, it would reduce all lawsuits in these areas to an absolute zero. A quick review of harmful drugs and devices over the past few years demonstrates that people were truly injured by dangerous drugs–pain pumps, Accutane, Granuflo, Baycol, Rezulin, and Fen Phen, to name a few.

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CSX 1.jpgI lived in Charles Village for most of Maryland life–we recently moved to Hampden, but Charles Village was where I lived during law school, two apartments, my first new home, and the infancy of our oldest daughter.

By now, everyone knows about the collapse of the street at 26th Street between Charles and St. Paul streets. My wife called that area, pre-collapse, the most beautiful street in Baltimore. The rowhomes are idyllic, the greenery is perfect, and the whole area feels like a little island placed in the middle of Baltimore City. But now, it’s just chaos.

Residents have lost cars, and have been evicted from their homes while the City and CSX try to figure out what happened, how safe it is, and what needs to be done to get everything repaired. Locals will tell you that it’s too little, too late, and that there have been several complaints made over the years to the City and to CSX officials. The general consensus is that repairs to cracks have been piecemeal and little more than cosmetic fixes. Right now, the estimate is that residents will be displaced for about 40 days. There is a program to help ease the transition, but it’s certainly inadequate. There have been reports so far that automobile insurers are denying coverage for vehicles lost in the street collapse.

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The final piece of the puzzle is the attorneys’ fees. Attorneys’ fees don’t have anything to do with the full value of the case, but they have more to do with your take-home–with the final net value of your settlement.

There are a number of different types of attorneys’ fees for other types of legal claims. In criminal and family law cases, it is not uncommon for the client to provide a retainer fee, and then to be charged hourly for work done. Some types of cases are paid by a flat fee–a predetermined amount of money for a specific project.

Most personal injury cases use a contingency fee. This means that you do not make any up-front payment to your lawyer–in fact, you will never write your lawyer a check. If the case is lost, you will not owe your attorney for expenses. In this way, there is no financial risk to you of bringing a claim.

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BCBS.jpgPayment of your medical bills is an important issue in a Maryland automobile collision case. There are a few possibilities:

  • You pay out-of-pocket
  • You pay with health insurance, Medicare or Medical Assistance
  • You pay with PIP (personal injury protection)
  • You don’t pay, and the bills are still outstanding
  • Some combination of these

The reason payment of medical bills is important is that you will get one dollar in your pocket for every dollar already paid, after taking into account case fees and attorney expenses.

Also, there is a rule in Maryland called collateral source. This means that the negligent driver’s insurance company cannot avoid paying your medical bills at settlement simply because those bills have already been paid by PIP, health insurance, or any other source. If the bills are reasonable and caused by the accident, a negligent driver is typically going to have to pay for them. There are good policy reasons behind this–the negligent driver should be punished, and should not receive the benefit of your preparation. If you pay health insurance premiums, and that reduces your medical expenses, it would be unfair for the defendant to reap the advantages.

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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.