Articles Posted in Trial

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Pinocchio.jpgIt’s a simple word, credibility. Basically, it means a person’s believability. A person may not be credible because he has a history of lying, or because what he says doesn’t make sense when taken with other more believable facts.

In our recent trial, which was a liability dispute with no independent witnesses (we commonly call these “he-said, she-said” cases, regardless of gender), every single lawyer used the word credibility in opening statement and closing argument. Essentially, we all argued that our clients were credible, that the other side did not testify credibly, and sometimes that the witnesses were somewhat credible. It’s standard fare for a trial.

In a trial, credibility is the most important thing a witness or a party has. If the judge or jury has any reason to doubt that person’s truthfulness on any single point, even something unrelated, that doubt can cast a shadow on every point of that person’s testimony. That’s why some lawyers will fight hard to find a lie or a mis-rembering in testimony. It can be the difference between a win and a loss.

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Norwood jury box.jpgWe just finished a three day trial in the Baltimore City Circuit Court. It was a simple enough case in the beginning–we represented two clients who were injured when they were t-boned on Christmas day as they drove down to Our Daily Bread to help feed the homeless. Liability was disputed (meaning that the other driver’s insurance company believed our driver was at fault). Our clients had reasonable enough medical treatment, so we filed in the District Court for $30,000.00.

Unfortunately, the other side had other ideas. They immediately filed a cross-claim and moved us into the Circuit Court, something that the defense has a right to do when you file a case for over $15,000. Truth be told, our case probably should have been filed for less than $15,000. Our total medical bills were about $8,000 spread over two clients, and there wasn’t any significant permanency.

So, we slugged it out in Circuit Court. What would have been a one to two-hour trial in District Court became a three day trial in Circuit Court. It takes longer because we had to pick a jury, experts had to testify live (in District Court it is usually done by simply submitting the medical records and bills), and, of course, the jury needs to take a break from time-to-time.

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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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Our firm recently received a referral from another law firm–it was a case that the insurance company would not settle, and the victim believed (rightly so) that her legal claim was higher than the offer.

The injury was a simple one–my client’s right forefinger was hurt in an automobile accident–she was a passenger on a motorcycle, the defendant made a left-hand turn in front of the motorcycle, and a collision predictably occurred. When the motorcycle fell, my client attempted to brace herself, and her finger was injured.

That injury was masked for a couple of weeks in light of more immediate and visible injury to her wrist and hand. However, as the swelling went down in her wrist and hand, she realized that her finger was not right.

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US DistCtMaryland.gifEach state has at least one United States District Court. Maryland has two–one located Baltimore City (Northern Division), and one in Greenbelt (Southern Division).

Understanding the Federal Courts

The President of the United States appoints federal judges for life, after confirmation by the Senate. The salaries are set–in 2014, they make $199,100, an increase of $5,100 over 2013 (which had been stagnant since 2009). There are other judges called magistrates, who assist the federal judges, and are appointed by the federal district judges. Magistrates often resolve discovery disputes and pre-trial motions. With permission of the parties, they can oversee trials.

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Courthouse (Frederick)(05-17-14).jpgMaryland has one circuit courthouse for each of its 24 counties. These are for civil cases, like automobile accidents, where the plaintiff claims $15,000.01 or more. The plaintiff can file a request for a jury trial. If not, the defendant can file the request. Otherwise, the case will be heard by a judge (called a bench trial). Circuit courts have some significant differences, compared to the Maryland district courts.

Discovery

The circuit courts permit expanded discovery compared to the district courts. In the district courts, discovery is typically limited to only 15 written questions per party (called interrogatories). Once exception is small claims cases (valued at $5,000.00 or less), where no discovery is permitted. In the Circuit Courts, litigants can take advantage of:

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District Court Logo.pngMost personal injury cases in Maryland go through the Maryland District Courts.

Background

A judge will hear your case if it goes to trial in what is known as a bench trial. There are no jury trials in the District Courts. After a complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons, which must be served (usually by private process or certified mail) on the defendants. When the summons is issued, the court will set a preliminary trial date, which assumes that the defendants are served by a specific deadline. The Plaintiff (the injured party who files the complaint) must serve the summons and complaint, along with any other important documents like written discovery (called interrogatories).

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PG Circuit Court (05-11-14).jpgIf you can’t settle your Maryland automobile accident case, where will your lawyer file a lawsuit? We’re going to do a three-part series on the Maryland trial courts, one for every type of court. Your case could be filed in the:

The specific court you and your lawyer choose depends on the value of your legal claim, and some specific details of the case, like where the defendant lives or does business.

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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.