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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.

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.

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

Backlash Against Progressive

August 20, 2012

Progressive HQ.jpgThe internet has been in a furor over Progressive's treatment of a Maryland family following the wrongful death of young woman in an auto accident. Is the furor justified? Check out our Generation J.D. blog post to find out: Evil Insurance Company? Following the Law? Both?

Should You Hire A Lawyer For Your Maryland Auto Accident Case?

August 6, 2012

Car Accident (2 people)(11-22-11).jpgThis post won't go into detail about whether you can or should handle a Maryland auto accident lawsuit by yourself--that's a post for a different day (for information about filing a lawsuit on your own, see the legal Self-Help section of our website).

Instead, this is to help answer whether you should settle your case on your own, or whether you should hire a lawyer to do it for you. The analysis will depend on where you are in the process:

I Was Recently In An Accident And I'm Not Finished With Medical Treatment

Early on after an automobile accident, there are a few good reasons to hire a lawyer:
  • You need medical treatment, but you either have no health insurance, insufficient PIP insurance, and you can't pay a doctor to treat you
  • You don't want to deal with the paperwork (filling out a PIP application, or ordering medical records, for example) or time (dealing with insurance adjusters)
  • You want someone else to take care of your car's property damage
  • You're concerned that the insurance company (either yours or the negligent driver's) might take advantage of you

Of course, the converse of each of these is also true. If you don't mind spending the time to deal with the accident, you have enough PIP insurance, and you can handle your property damage issues, then you can do it all yourself. You can choose to hold off hiring a lawyer, or you might choose to just resolve the whole thing on your own. People who have limited medical treatment, for example a visit to the emergency room and maybe a primary care doctor appointment, can easily handle this on their own. The more medical treatment an auto accident victim has, though, the more complicated the case becomes. In those situations, it might be good to have the advice of a lawyer. Clearly, if the victim requires surgery, or is in treatment for more than 6 months, a lawyer is a good idea. Anywhere in between is something of a gray area.

I Have Finished All Of My Medical Treatment And I'm Ready To Settle My Auto Accident Case

If the case is ready for settlement, a person injured in an auto accident may try to settle the case on his own. He can probably do so if:
  • He's willing to spend the time and money to order all medical records and bills
  • He's willing to spend the time dealing with the insurance adjuster
  • He's willing to spend the time collecting other important evidence: witness statements, police reports, etc...

Beyond this, it becomes a simple mathematical calculation. A person who has reached this point might choose to try to settle it and, if the insurance company's offer isn't good enough, he can then hire a lawyer. The calculation to determine whether a lawyer is a good idea is as follows:

Unrepresented Settlement Offer ≤ 66.66% Represented Settlement Offer

Most lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they get a percentage of the final settlement or verdict. Most lawyers' agreements provide that the client gets 2/3 (66.66%) of any pre-lawsuit settlement, and 60% of any post-lawsuit settlement or verdict (this number doesn't include expenses, which are usually modest in the smaller District Court-level automobile claims). The real question is whether the lawyer, either by adding his name or by expert negotiation/litigation skills, can increase your settlement or verdict by more than 2/3 (if pre-lawsuit) or 60% (if post-lawsuit). If so, you will do better by hiring a lawyer.

The reality is that insurance companies do tend to make higher offers to auto accident victims represented by lawyers. Sometimes it is enough of an increase to justify the attorneys' fees; sometimes it is not. I suspect that the main reason is inertia--insurance companies know that an unrepresented accident victim who is negotiating his own case is already less likely to hire a lawyer under any circumstances--they will sometimes accept settlements because they don't know what their case is worth; or they will sometimes accept settlements because it is easier to be done than to go that extra step to hire a lawyer. Once a lawyer is involved, however, the proper response to a low offer is to file a lawsuit, which puts the insurance company's feet to the fire (some lawyers are settlement lawyers, and some lawyers are trial lawyers--you must make sure that you hire someone with a track record of going to trial).

The only difficulty for most people is that it can be hard to know what their case is really worth, and what offer a lawyer would get. Check out the Maryland Auto Accident Settlement Calculator for more information. As a very rough rule of thumb, if the insurance company is not offering you a settlement that equals at least double your medical expenses, plus your lost wages, then they are not even trying to give you full value. In some cases, that number should be much higher than even that.

The Value A Lawyer Brings To Your Case

So what can a lawyer do for your accident claim? Here's how they can help make your life easier:
  • Deal with your insurance company to ensure that PIP makes the proper payments
  • Deal with the negligent driver's insurance company to get your car's damage taken care of
  • Deal with the negligent driver's insurance company to settle your case
  • Help to recommend a doctor if necessary (I prefer that clients go to their own doctors; in some situations, however, this is not realistic)
  • Collect all evidence, including witness testimony, medical records and bills, and police reports
  • Educate you as to the settlement value and trial value of your case
  • Negotiate down the amount owed by you to your doctors or health insurance
  • File a lawsuit, if necessary

Contact An Experienced Maryland Auto Accident Attorney

You may be able to handle your own auto accident case, and that's great. If you have general questions, feel free to give us a call. If you don't want to take care of it by yourself, let us know at 443.850.4426, or send us a confidential online message.

Health Insurance and Auto Accidents

July 18, 2012

Pill and Rx pad.pngIn Maryland auto accident claims, the victim of a negligent driver is entitled to recover the cost of all reasonably related medical expenses. For example, if a driver runs a red light and hits another vehicle, the emergency room visit for the other vehicle's occupants should be paid by the negligent driver's insurance company.

Sometimes, however, the injured person's medical care is paid for by health insurance, or by personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. Maryland has a law called the collateral source rule, which says that the negligent driver cannot benefit from other payments made to the victim.

Under the collateral source rule, even if a victim's medical bills are paid by insurance, the negligent driver must pay the value of those bills directly to the victim. In some cases (notably, PIP), the victim gets to keep the money. This is something like a double-recovery in some cases. However, it helps many smaller accident victims by making them whole, when the attorneys' fees are factored in.

In other cases, however, the victim must pay back the insurance company. This is especially true where medical expenses were paid by medical assistance (Medicaid) or Medicare. But, it also typically holds true when private health insurance pays medical expenses. The contract between an insured and a private health insurer usually contains a provision that that requires a victim/insured to reimburse the health insurance company for payments made that were required because of the negligence of another.

The way that health insurance companies find out if the accident was caused by negligence is usually to send out a form to the insured, asking about the circumstances surrounding the injury. They send these forms out automatically when they find out about certain types of injuries that are typically caused by accidents--whiplash, back injuries, etc....

If there is an obligation to pay the private health insurance company back, the victim's lawyers can usually negotiate the amount owed down. One good argument is that the health insurance company would not have received any reimbursement at all, had the victim not hired a lawyer and paid his one-third to 40% in attorneys' fees. The argument we make is that the health insurer should have to pay the same fee by reducing the amount they are paid back. This gets more money into the victim's pocket.

If you have questions about paying back a medical provider after an accident, contact our firm at 443.850.4426, or send us an online message.

What If The Negligent Driver Was Not The Car Owner?

July 9, 2012

Insurance Policy (11-26-11).jpgInsurance is complicated business, and many of our auto accident clients get a crash course in coverage only after the collision. One common question from people involved in Baltimore auto accidents is whether there is insurance coverage for their automobile accident. Sometimes, this is in context of a negligent driver who was not the owner of the vehicle. There are three typical situations:

Auto Accident With Permissive Car Use

When the accident is caused by a non-owner, but the driver had permission of the owner to drive the car, the owner's insurance will cover the accident and all injuries related to it. In that case, any lawsuit filed will be against the driver, but the insurance company will step up to defend the case. The lawsuit can also include the owner of the car if that owner knew or had reason to know that the driver was a dangerous driver. That is a very high bar, and requires a clear showing that the negligent driver had a history of accidents that the owner should have known about.

Auto Accident With Non-Permissive Use or Excluded Driver

When the negligent driver is specifically excluded on the insurance policy, or if the negligent driver did not have permission from the owner to drive the vehicle, then that insurance coverage will not apply. This often happens in situations where the car is stolen. Typically, the only source of coverage in a situation like this is through the uninsured division of MAIF.

Auto Accident With Respondeat Superior--Agency

When an auto accident is caused by a driver who is employed and on the job, the driver's employer is typically going to be on the hook for all damages and personal injuries. In Maryland, the driver is treated as an extension of the company--a lawsuit will typically be filed against the driver, individually, and the company, as employer. That company's insurance coverage will apply to all claims.

Nuts & Bolts of a MAIF Uninsured Auto Accident Claim

June 27, 2012

MAIF logo.jpgMost auto accident lawyers hate filing MAIF claims. First, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, including a 180-day notice requirement that, if not met exactly, can capsize the entire claim. Second, MAIF uninsured claims are limited to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident (see our recent post on the increased minimums). Third, MAIF is really hard to deal with--these claims often require twice the amount of work as one against any other insurance company, and most MAIF uninsured claims have to be resolved at trial. MAIF doesn't like to pay out under any circumstances.

Auto accident victims may have to look to MAIF for recovery in these circumstances:

  • Hit-and-run auto accident ("phantom vehicle")
  • At-fault driver was excluded from the vehicle's insurance policy
  • At-fault driver was an out-of-state driver with less than minimum insurance
For lawyers looking to make their first MAIF Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment (UCJ) claim, here's what you need to know:

The Rules
There are quite a few rules on MAIF claims. Here's where you need to look:

Notice Deadline
There is a strict 180 day deadline to make a MAIF UCJ claim. There are some exceptions (for example, a victim must provide notice within 30 days of a liability carrier's notice of disclaimer), but failure to make the claim could leave auto accident victims without any recourse.
A claim must include the following, where applicable:
  • MAIF Notice of Claim Form, signed by the victim (it hasn't changed since 1998)
  • Description of the accident, including date, time, location, names and addresses of witnesses, vehicles involved
  • All medical records and bills up to date of filing of Claim
  • Police report of accident
  • Documentation of property damage
  • Lost wage certification
  • MVA records
  • Insurance company cancellations /disclaimers
  • Recorded statement
MAIF Settlements and Lawsuits
As indicated, MAIF doesn't like to settle these claims. In the majority of cases, victims will have no choice but to file a lawsuit. Where the negligent driver is known, the lawsuit should be against that driver. Sending a copy to the MAIF adjuster will allow MAIF to come into the lawsuit.

If the negligent driver is unknown (for instance, in a hit-and-run accident), the victim can file a lawsuit against MAIF directly if they can show that they used reasonable efforts to identify the negligent driver, and were unsuccessful. MAIF is usually of the opinion that "reasonable efforts" include moving heaven and earth. I think most judges interpret reasonable to mean reasonable.

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If you have been injured in a hit-and-run auto accident or the negligent driver did not have any insurance, you may have a claim against MAIF. Many lawyers don't accept these types of MAIF claims because they are more difficult, and have strict notice requirements (MAIF must receive a specific notice within 180 days of the accident. We handle these cases--contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.

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Minimum MAIF Insurance: $30,000 Protection For Hit-and-Run/Phantom Driver Accidents

June 25, 2012

MAIF logo.jpgWe reported back in February that the Maryland legislature was considering a bill that would increase the minimum amount of MAIF insurance for uninsured drivers to $30,000 (Not Fair: Maryland Law Makes You Carry $30,000 Auto Insurance, But You Might Have a Maximum $20,000 Recovery).

The problem was that just over a year ago, the minimum amount of automobile insurance for all Maryland drivers was $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. Those minimums have been in place for over 35 years, and they were increased to $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident. The law that increased the amount recoverable for Maryland automobile accident victims was missing one thing, though. It forget to mention the uninsured division of MAIF.

MAIF (Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund) is the insurance company of last resort for drivers who are rejected by most other insurance companies. They insure the uninsurable. MAIF also performs another function--when someone is involved in a Maryland automobile accident with someone who does not have insurance, or in a hit-and-run accident, MAIF will step in to help. They don't step in voluntarily--usually it takes a lawsuit, but if there is no other insurance available, MAIF will cover the accident up to the minimum amount. Even after the 2011 change, MAIF was still only on the hook for $20,000/$40,000.

The new law, approved by the legislature and signed by Governor O'Malley last month, requires MAIF to provide the same coverage as everyone else. So in any one accident where the victim proves that an uninsured or unknown driver caused the accident and no other insurance applies, MAIF is responsible to pay up to $30,000 (for one person) and $60,000 (for all people).

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If you have been injured in a hit-and-run auto accident or the negligent driver did not have any insurance, you may have a claim against MAIF. Many lawyers don't accept these types of MAIF claims because they are more difficult, and have strict notice requirements (MAIF must receive a specific notice within 180 days of the accident). We handle these cases--contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.

More on MAIF and Insurance Claims

Colossus: Using Artificial Intelligence To Value Automobile Accident Injuries

June 12, 2012

Colossus of Rhodes.jpgColossus is a software program used by many insurance companies to determine the value of automobile accident claims and lawsuits. The software program gets a bad rap from plaintiff's lawyers--probably because it <gasp!> undervalues those claims. Now, a former Allstate and Encompass Colossus expert and a former Texas insurance commissioner are informing the Consumer Federation of America's latest report, Low Ball: An Insider's Look at How Some Insurers Can Manipulate Computerized Systems to Broadly Underpay Injury Claims.

That report details the means by which adjusters can use the software to produce lower evaluations of claims. Insurance adjusters can discount medical bills, evaluate injuries differently than doctors, ignore the likelihood of future medical care, and decide that the claimant/victim was partially at fault for the auto collision.

It sounds like the report is concerned that insurance adjusters might be doing their job.

Don't get me wrong--I dislike the stupid "back-and-forth" process of negotiating claims with insurance companies as much as the next guy. In a recent GEICO case, for example, I went through three different adjusters. The Junior Adjuster negotiates with me to an offer that represents his "final, highest offer." It's not enough, and it's not fair, so I file a lawsuit. The Intermediate Adjuster then gives me another offer, and tells me she can't go any higher. So, I continue on, preparing for trial by working on discovery. Then, a week before the trial, Senior Adjuster calls me up, with (you guessed it) another final offer (and, the scent of desperation). In that case, the last "final offer" was just a tiny bit behind what was my first, and unchanging, demand (GEICO hates it when you don't give them counterdemands). My client was happy with that, so we resolved it. If the insurance company would have just offered that from the beginning, they could have avoided paying a defense lawyer. Basically, they lost out on this deal. But, they only operate like this because they win so many other times--many lawyers are afraid to go to trial, and they will accept these "low ball" offers.

The job of insurance companies is to make money for their shareholders. They will do this by hook or crook. Some insurance companies are more unreasonable than others. If they want, they can refuse to pay more than $1.00 for every single claim. That's why we have auto accident trials.

Here's why Colossus is completely irrelevant: Maryland auto accident victims who have a trial attorney advocating on their behalf will not accept low ball offers. Whether the insurance adjuster uses a computer program, their own education and experience, or a Ouja board to determine the value of a personal injury case, the reality is that a lawyer should make an independent decision, and advise the client accordingly. Colossus is not artificial intelligence--it is a tool used to help insurance companies determine the value of personal injury claim. If they want to cheat the software, they can. If they want to ignore medical records, they can.

But we don't have to accept these offers. The insurance companies keep offering low settlements because some lawyers do accept them. If an insurance company's adjuster gives a low offer and claims that "Colossus made me do it," then teach Colossus a lesson--file a lawsuit. The judge and jury won't care (and won't be allowed to hear) about what Colossus thinks of your case.

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Lessons Learned From Second Shut-Down of Anne Arundel County Truck Company

April 19, 2012

18-wheeler truck accidentTruck drivers are subject to a great deal of regulation, and rightly so. These are huge machines, and the smallest errors, whether because of driver fatigue, inadequate pre-trip inspections, or distracted driving, can cause life-altering destruction. There is always an incentive by truck companies to cut corners, cut costs, and improve their bottom line. The good trucking companies ignore those incentives, and play it safe. The bad ones skirt the federal and state regulations, and cause Maryland truck accidents.

Here's the story of one really bad one. Unfortunately, it's a local business, based out of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. In November 2011, trucking company Gunthers Transport LLC was forced by the federal government to close up shop. Gunthers, an "imminent hazard to the public," was cited for safety violations and seven collisions within a one-year period. The company was caught falsifying driver logs to circumvent driver rest and sleep requirements. In the 1990's a prior version of the company recently lost a civil lawsuit from a situation where one of its drivers killed one person and left another permanently disabled. The company declared bankruptcy, and still owes its victim a substantial amount of the $16.5 million judgment.

Just a few weeks later, a new company was born--Clock Transport LLC. Interestingly enough, it had the same address as Gunthers, and the person in charge was the son of Gunthers. Maryland State Police quickly noticed this, and made it a point to pull over every single truck from that address to check for safety violations.

By the last week in November, 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an out-of-service order against Clock Transport--pulling their trucks off of the road. It is based on a failed Clock Transport truck inspection in Ohio, along with the suspicious events surrounding Clock Transport's birth.
The news reports we've read (click here for the Baltimore Sun article) don't give any indication as to why the company can't pay the civil judgment. Perhaps it was uninsured, or perhaps it didn't carry a reasonable amount of insurance. That's just one more reason why this company was so bad, and one more indication that it was irresponsible.

The real lessons are that Maryland drivers should protect themselves--companies like this are out there every day, pushing the envelope and operating outside regulations and laws. We recommend that our clients get as much uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage insurance that they can afford. Insurance usually isn't a problem in trucking cases, because most carry more than enough insurance. But some truck companies don't (and many regular motorists don't), so uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage can help to protect you and your family after an auto accident.

If you've been in a Maryland truck accident, or would like help in knowing how to talk to your agent about insurance, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation. We have a proven track record of success in automobile accident and truck accident lawsuits.