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DO I HAVE A MARYLAND AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT CLAIM?

July 10, 2014

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.

  • Duty: The negligent driver must have had a duty to drive in a reasonable manner. This is usually a given.

  • Breach of duty: The negligent driver must have violated his duty by driving in an unreasonable way. Violating the standard of care (sometimes codified in a rule, like the Maryland Transportation Code, can help to prove a violation).

  • Causation of damages: The duty breach must have caused injury to the claimant/victim.

  • Damages: The claimant/victim must have some type of damage. This might include medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain, physical impairment, mental anguish and inconvenience.


Assuming there are no defenses (like contributory negligence of the victim, or statute of limitations).

What is the value of my case?


There is no way any internet site can tell you the value of your case. This is because there are many very case-specific factors. In general, the value is:
Medical expenses + Lost income + Property damage + Non-economic damages
For more on the numerous factors, see our recent series of blog posts:

For More Information


When in doubt, contact a lawyer (whether our firm, or someone else). The biggest risk early on is that you do not act quickly enough to preserve evidence, or send legally-required notices which may be necessary to preserve your right to make a claim. Let us know if you have any questions--443.850.4426, online or jcord@charmcitylawyer.com.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE SUING, PART II: TRIAL

July 9, 2014

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

  3. The insurance company thinks the collision did not cause your injuries

  4. The insurance company doesn't believe your legal claim is worth what you think it's worth

Once it becomes obvious that the case won't settle, we transfer the case to the litigation department. Usually within a few weeks, we will prepare the necessary documents for a lawsuit. These include:

  • The complaint (the document beginning a lawsuit in court)

  • Written discovery (questions to be answered by the negligent party)

  • Notices of Deposition (in circuit court or federal court)(a request to speak to the negligent party)
The length of time depends on what court we are in. In Circuit Court, we will usually get to trial within one to one and-a-half years. In District Court, we will get a trial date about 4 months away (though this date often changes). The final trial date is usually within about 6 months from the time the lawsuit is filed.

These dates are just general guidelines--some cases go faster, and some slower. If you have questions, just ask--we'll explain the process in detail. And remember--sometimes the case will settle after a lawsuit is filed--settlement can happen at any time--right after the complaint is filed, or during trial.

See What to Expect When You're Suing, Part I: Pre-Trial Settlement

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE SUING, PART I: PRE-SUIT SETTLEMENT

July 8, 2014

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).

After that, though, the case doesn't really start until you finish medical treatment. Whether you are discharged at 100%, or your doctors tell you that your are at MMI (maximum medical improvement), in general, it is not a good idea to try to settle your case until you are done with medical treatment. When you finish, your lawyer will order final medical records and bills, and the clock starts ticking.

In general, I tell my clients that it takes 30 to 60 days from the time they tell me they finished treatment to the time I can get a demand letter out. This time will be shorter if the medical records come into the office quickly, and it will be longer if the hospitals or doctors need a little more persuading. Once the demand letter goes out, the insurance adjuster will usually evaluate it within 30 to 90 days. Anything earlier than 30 days is fantastic--45 days is a fairly typical response time. Then, we begin negotiating the case. This can happen over the course of hours, or may take a few weeks, ordinarily.

If the insurance company is not willing to negotiate in good faith, or if my client doesn't like the settlement offers (the decision on whether to settle a case is always yours--I'll give you my recommendation, but you get the final say), then we file a lawsuit.

If the case does settle, you will usually have your money within 30 days. The insurance adjuster and I have to agree on language for the release, and you have to sign it. You will also sign a power of attorney (allowing me to deposit the insurance check into my safe lawyer escrow account, from which I will write you a check), and a settlement and disbursement spreadsheet (showing where all the money goes, including attorneys' fees and expenses, medical expenses and liens, and you). I send the release back to the insurance adjuster, they send me the check, I deposit it into my escrow account, and write you your check about two days later.

See What to Expect When You're Suing, Part II: Trial.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS LIMITED INSURANCE AND MULTIPLE VICTIMS?

July 7, 2014

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.

The Exception: Underinsured Automobile Coverage

First, there is a way to protect yourself. If you have your own automobile insurance, you can guard against this problem. Your insurance company is on the hook to pay for your injuries if they are caused by someone else and there is limited insurance available. For example, let's say the value of your Maryland automobile accident lawsuit is $20,000. In the situation above, where the negligent driver had an insurance policy of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, and there were other people injured in the accident, you might be forced to take a low settlement. Let's say the negligent driver's insurance company decides that they can pay you $10,000 (and they pay a total of $50,000 to the other victims). Your insurance company, then, would step in and (either voluntarily, or more likely after being forced to by a court) would be responsible to pay you the other $10,000. This is why underinsured motorist coverage is important to protect you, your family, and your passengers. We urge you to contact your insurance agent immediately, and make sure you enough coverage--the more, the better. Otherwise, you could be in an accident with permanent injuries, and might get less than $30,000 for your troubles.

Dividing The Money

If you don't have underinsured motorist coverage, you may be limited to the available insurance. This means in the example above, the insurance company is on the hook for a maximum of $60,000 to be divided among all injured victims. If the driver was clearly negligent, the insurance company will usually offer the full policy to each claimant, and ask them to divide it among themselves.

Sometimes this is easy: the lawyers might get together and simply agree on an equitable distribution of money. One common method is to take every person's medical expenses, and give them a pro rata share of the money. So, if you have five victims with $5,000 in medical expenses each ($25,000 total), then they each have a one-fifth claim to the entire pot. If there is $60,000 to divide up among all of them, each plaintiff would receive $12,000 ($60,000 divided 5 is $12,000). Pro Rata Settlement (02-26-13).xlsx.

This gets a little hairy when there are outlier claims--for example, one person with a very significant injury. Also, if one or more claimants have injuries that are disproportionately represented by their medical bills--say, a permanent injury for which there was very little treatment, a simple division might be unfair. Finally, this does not consider things like respective pain and suffering or lost wages (which could be included in the calculation, if desired).

When it gets really complicated (which really means when the lawyers won't agree on a distribution formula), then there is litigation. The insurance company will often take the money, give it to the court in what's called an Interpleader action, and ask the court to divide it up. The insurance company files against all of the claimants, and then they can fight it out in front of a judge or jury.

Finding All Of The Claimants

One of the biggest problems is resolving these claims in a timely matter. A common situation is a bus case, where there are say 20 people on the bus. If only 5 people are injured, the insurance company will still demand that other 15 people waive their rights to a claim. In Baltimore City especially this can be difficult--it requires a Herculean effort to locate those other passengers. If they can't be located, a judge in an interpleader action must find them to have waived their rights by not responding to the lawsuit, otherwise, they have three years from the date of the accident to bring a claim. This can add a great deal of time to these claims.

For More Information

Negotiating multiple-claimant settlements can be difficult, particularly because the insurance company's responses are often so frustrating--early on, they will refuse to negotiate until all claims are in. To some degree, there's not much that can be done about the waiting period. However, it can be comforting to have someone explain the process. For more information, click the links below.

Proving Permanent Injuries

July 6, 2014

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.

Doctors and Medical Experts


Permanent injuries must be proved through medical testimony. We will ask your doctor, usually a specialist, to testify at trial or by video about your medical injuries. Doctors must explain the treatment required for your injuries, and the cost of caring for those injuries. Depending on the injuries, multiple experts may be necessary.

Life Care Planning


Life care planners can be very useful in proving the future needs of a catastrophic injury victim. Life care planners will work with the victim's medical providers to develop a plan of care for the future, including the costs of medicines, services, and treatment. A life care planner may include the costs of housing modifications, transportation (like a wheelchair accessible van), or part-time aides or nurses. When presented to a jury, the life care plan will be in the form of a list, allowing the jury to decide what options are necessary.

Vocational Rehabilitation


If the injury limits a victim's ability to work, a vocational rehabilitationist may evaluate the victim and determine whether return to work in the same or a different occupation is possible. Sometimes, a return to work is possible, but for a lower-paying job. The vocational rehabilitationist will outline the victim's options, and work with the economist to determine the net effect on future lost wages.

Economist


The economist will take the life care plan and lost wage information and put it together into something known as present day value. This is the cost today of future values. In the context of medical care, for example, we all know that health care costs rise with inflation. The economist can predict the future cost of healthcare, and can tell us how much money is required today (invested conservatively) to pay for that future care. The same thing holds for future lost wages. Wages increase over time with inflation and advancement--the economist can predict how much money now is necessary to build up to that future amount. The economist must do this because a personal injury victim cannot come back to the jury for more money--there is one chance to get everything he deserves.

In addition to economic damages, people with catastrophic injuries will have a lifetime of non-economic damages. This includes things like pain, suffering, disfigurement, inconvenience and physical impairment. These are more difficult for insurance adjusters to evaluate--indeed, it may be hard for six people on a jury to decide the value of non-economic loss.

We give them a number of tools to help. They know the past and future medical expenses, and some jurors may apply a multiplier based on how serious they think the injury is. For example, a jury could look at medical expenses of $100,000, and decide that non-economic damages are worth the same, double, or triple that amount. They might also look at the wages more closely--for example, if the plaintiff earns $10.00 per hour, the jury may determine the amount of pain and suffering expected for the life expectancy of that person. For example, the jury may award $10.00 for every waking hour for the rest of the victim's life--this number will add up quickly.

Conclusion


Let us know if you need help recovering from the insurance company because of a serious automobile accident. Our settlements and verdicts show that we take our clients seriously, and we will make the insurance companies take us seriously. You can reach us at 443.850.4426, or online.

Frivolous Lawsuits

June 9, 2014

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.

Don't let big businesses write the agenda. We have a right to bring claims against businesses who negligently injure us. They shouldn't get a free pass.

Charles Village Street Collapse: Who is Responsible?

May 3, 2014

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.

Who is responsible? It's likely Baltimore City, CSX Transportation, or both. No answers have been given yet as to whether CSX was responsible for the retaining wall, or whether the City had the duty to maintain. There were several reports in the past years about the area's stability, which will be pored over with a fine-tooth comb.

Knowing the City and the corporate mindset, my bet is that they deny liability, and blame this on the "unpredictable" winter weather and recent storms. Of course, anyone who has lived in Baltimore knows that unpredictable weather is absolutely predictable. The street should have been designed and maintained to stand up to rough weather. Make no mistake, this is going to be a fight. Even if one or the other does the right thing and takes responsibility, they will likely fight tooth-and-nail over exactly what they have to pay homeowners and car owners.

If you've been affected by the Charles Village Street Collapse, here are some initial steps you should take:

  • Keep a journal--at least once a week (more is better) you should document how this has affected you. Record time spent dealing with the fallout, money and mileage to take care of consequences. Document every phone call. Don't hesitate to document your emotions.
  • Inventory all of your affected property--if your car was lost, be sure to identify what was in it, and what the value was.
  • Contact your homeowner's insurance and automobile insurance to get full copies of your policies. They may deny you coverage, and you'll need the policies to fight them.
  • Don't give a recorded statement to any insurance company. They'll just use this against you later.

If you have questions about your rights, give us call at 443.850.4426 (attorney's cellphone) or send us an message through our online portal.

Value of Your Maryland Car Accident Case, Part 8: Attorneys' Fees & Expenses

May 2, 2014

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.

Typically the attorneys' fees are structured on a two-tier basis. If your case resolves by settlement before a lawsuit is filed, the attorneys' fees will usually be one-third or 35% of the total settlement. If the case is filed in court, and it resolves afterward (by settlement or verdict), the attorneys' fees are usually 40%. The specific percentages may vary by attorney, but these amounts are customary.

Finally, in contingency cases the case expenses are taken out separately, after the attorneys' fees. In most district court cases, case expenses range from zero to $250.00. Circuit court cases are more complicated, and include depositions, experts, more expensive filing fees, and other costs. Expenses vary depending on the complexity of the case.

If you want to see how these figures are calculated, take a look at this sample Settlement and Disbursement Form: S&D (05-11-14).pdf.

A sidenote--if you have a personal injury case and call an attorney to make an appointment, move on to the next attorney if he/she charges a consultation fee. The majority of personal injury lawyers will meet with you at no charge.

Value of Your Maryland Auto Accident Case, Part 7: Health Insurance and Medical Reductions

April 28, 2014

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.

If your health insurance pays for injuries caused by an accident, it is likely entitled to be paid back (per your contract with the health insurance company). Shortly after an accidental injury, you may receive a questionnaire from your insurance company looking for more details--this is their effort to determine if someone else was responsible for your injuries. Likewise, Medicare and Medical Assistance, if they make payments, are entitled to be paid back.

Here's how paying medical bills with health insurance works to your benefit. Your medical providers issue a bill for services. Your health insurance has a contract with them that permits them to pay a lower rate. A statute permits you to pay back your health insurance company with a reduction of one-third of what they paid--sometimes we can even negotiate more. Part of the rationale is that you have to pay attorneys' fees to get a recovery, so they should have to pay, as well. So here's an example of how the math works:

  • Hospital bill: $2,000.00
  • Health Insurance pays: $1,250.00
  • Your obligation to reimburse: $833.33
So, when the negligent driver's insurance company pays the full $2,000 in settlement, and you only have to reimburse $833.33, you "earn" an additional $1,166.67. This increases your take-home from an auto accident settlement.

If you don't have health insurance, it may be possible to request reductions from your health care providers. Many orthopedists, physical therapy groups and chiropractors are willing to reduce the medical expenses when requested. Other health care providers can be reasonable as well--they understand the value of keeping their patients happy, and maintaining good relationships with lawyers.

The goal in any Maryland automobile accident settlement is get your medical expenses paid, and get you a suitable amount of money for your non-economic damages. Reduction of medical expenses is one tool we use to get you as much as we can.

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.

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.