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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.

Value of a Fingertip

June 8, 2014

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

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

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

The insurance company assigned a value to this claim before we got involved--$5,400. The basis of that value was simple--my client's medical bills were under $1,500. She went to the preeminent hand specialists in Maryland, but her doctors conclusively stated that there was nothing to be done--she wasn't a candidate for surgery, and the injury was likely to be permanent.

Finger.jpgWhen we received the referral, we filed a lawsuit immediately. We continued negotiation efforts, and we highlighted to the insurance company the full scope of my client's injuries--she is a professional, and the injury affects her dominant hand. She had less sensation in the tip of her finger, her grip strength was weakened as a result (she frequently dropped dishware), and even typing was difficult--she couldn't always tell if she hit the correct key, or if she pushed hard enough. She had a slight disfigurement--a protrusion just below the nail. Knowing we filed a lawsuit, the offer was increased to $6,400.

As trial bore down, I told the adjuster (with my client's permission) that we were not willing to accept any offer less than five figures. They gave a final offer before trial of $10,000.00, almost double the pre-suit offer. My client opted to go before a judge instead of taking the offer--a courageous decision on her part.

At trial, the defense attempted to minimize the injury, arguing that it was just a finger; and also attempted to deflect concerns causation--my client did not complain about the finger for a good two weeks after the collision. The most effective argument was a human argument--the defendant was extremely apologetic at the time of the accident, and even at trial. He had even offered the driver of our motorcycle a temporary replacement from his personal collection.

The judge weighed the evidence and rendered a verdict of just over $16,000. This is about three times the pre-suit offer.

We tell many of our clients that the best way to receive justice in some cases is to file a lawsuit. Insurance companies (particularly GEICO and Progressive) will frequently increase their offer (even offers that were characterized as "our final offer").

For more on how to calculate the value of a case, see our Value series of blog posts here.

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.

Maximize Your Auto Accident Non-Economic Damages

January 14, 2013

Headache 2.jpgMaryland allows auto accident victims to recover for non-economic damages. These are injuries that cannot be easily calculated, and they include items as stated in the typical jury instructions:

In an action for damages in a personal injury case, you shall consider the following:
  1. The personal injuries sustained and their extent and duration;
  2. The effect such injuries have on the overall physical and mental health and well-being of the plaintiff;
  3. The physical pain and mental anguish suffered in the past and which with reasonable probability may be expected to be experienced in the future;
  4. The disfigurement and humiliation or embarrassment associated with such disfigurement;
  5. The medical and other expenses reasonably and necessarily incurred in the past and which with reasonable probability may be expected in the future;
  6. The loss of earnings in the past and such earnings or reduction in earning capacity which with reasonable probability may be expected in the future.
In awarding damages in this case you must itemize your verdict or award to show the amount intended for:
  1. The medical expenses incurred in the past;
  2. The medical expenses reasonably probable to be incurred in the future;
  3. The loss of earnings and/or earning capacity incurred in the past;
  4. The loss of earnings and/or earning capacity reasonably probable to be expected in the future;
  5. 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";
  6. Other damages.

It is a relatively simple matter to show what the economic damages are--lost wages and medical expenses can often be calculated with exactitude. But non-economic damages are fuzzy--their value will depend on two things--how well the auto accident victim testifies at trial, and the feelings of the decision-maker (either a judge or jury).

Lawyers have a limited ability to choose the decision-maker. We can decide sometimes whether to try a case before a judge or jury, and sometimes we can choose which county the case is tried in. For jury trials, we have a limited ability to select the actual jurors who will select the case. The universal factor for a significant non-economic damages verdict, however, is how much the decision-maker likes the plaintiff-victim.

So, the plaintiff-victim must testify at trial, and must explain to the decision-maker how the injury affected him during treatment and, if the injuries are permanent, after treatment. The difficulty at trial is for the plaintiff to remember the specifics of how the injury affected him. We recommend that our clients keep a log during recovery. Make notes about missed opportunities, like exercising, going out with friends, or playing sports. Keep a log of medication used to show how often you were in pain. Record what household chores were difficult to do, and what you needed help with (laundry, mowing the lawn, etc...). Most importantly, keep a good record of how the injury made you feel. Listless because it was hard to be mobile? Frustrated because you constantly dropped things? Embarrassed because of a limp? Feeling inadequate because you have to miss work for doctor's appointments?

Use strong words to describe your feelings. Judges and jurors don't understand "pain." We can say that pain was a 6 out of 10, but that doesn't mean anything because everyone has a different understanding of pain. Unless the injuries are so horrific, it's likely that a description of "it hurt every day," is next to useless in convincing a judge or juror to render a high verdict for non-economic damages. Ask your friends and family about what they observed during your recovery (or better yet, give your lawyer their names and numbers so he can do it for you).

This isn't something that can be done on the fly at trial. Most people don't like to describe their pain and emotions like this--no one wants to come across as whiny. But if you give this information to your lawyer, he can help you to present it appropriately at trial.

If you have questions about an auto accident or other Maryland injury claim, contact our personal injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online.

How Much Will Maryland Save With Scooter Helmet Law?

October 3, 2012

50cc scooter.jpgWe posted recently about the new law requiring moped and scooter riders to wear helmets, procure insurance and have their vehicles titled (Maryland Helmet Law Now Extends to Scooters). An interesting question is what this will do for Maryland's finances?

One article cites that there are 3,500 scooters in Maryland--with a price tag of $25 for the title and decal, that means the state should get about $194,000 in net revenue.

But wait, there's more! The requirement to wear a helmet means that some injuries will be prevented entirely, and others will be less serious. It is estimated that it will save Medicaid $120,000.00 per year. That's money that they won't have to spend on serious, long-term care of people who were injured. Though, one wonders if there might in fact be more injuries--a rider without a helmet might be killed, though a rider with a helmet in the same accident might have a severe and permanent brain injury. It's hard to know where these estimates come from. Only time will tell, and that's only if someone comes in and analyzes the data.

Maryland Helmet Law Now Extends to Scooters

October 1, 2012

50cc scooter.jpgEffective today, moped and scooter riders must wear helmets.

Maryland has proudly required motorcyclists to wear helmets since 1992 (though, the law is not without its detractors, who try to repeal it at every opportunity).

This makes sense, of course: we require seatbelts, carseats and booster seats in cars, and the occupants there have two tons of steel to protect them other vehicles, trees, and the roadway. In a motorcycle accident, the sheer size and weight of any vehicle, compared to the slight size and weight of a motorcycle, can cause terrible injuries in what would otherwise be a minor impact. Motorcyclists are easily ejected from their bikes, and suffer a range of serious and permanent head injuries, if not death. There seems to me to be little difference between a motorcycle and a scooter or moped.

The new law also requires that mopeds and scooters be titled and insured. This brings motor scooters and mopeds one step closer to cars--in most respects, they are treated like bicycles.

In a motorcycle accident, and a moped or scooter accident, we argue that a rider's failure to wear a helmet is inadmissible. The rule in Maryland for car accidents is that non-use of seatbelts are inadmissible. The theory is that, if the negligence of the defendant caused the automobile accident, then the fact that a seatbelt/helmet was not used is basically irrelevant. Furthermore, we don't want judges or juries blaming the victim for his injuries, when they are primarily caused by the defendant driver. Of course, we'd be happier if all riders would just wear helmets. If it means fewer lawsuits, so be it.

$250,000 Per Leg: Texting Motorcycle Accident Case Settles

August 21, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgThe New Jersey couple who were hit by a texting driver while riding their motorcycle settled their case against the driver for $500,000. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kubert, who were on the motorcycle, lost a leg because of the motorcycle accident.

We wrote about this story in May (Distracted Driving Lawsuits: Suing the Sender, and Lawsuits Against Text-Senders: Conclusion). There, the trial judge ruled that the plaintiffs did not have a case against the person who sent the text message, only the driver who read it. The lawyer in the case is appealing that decision, though I still wonder how he will get paid if he wins.

The $500,000 settlement only applies to the driver of the car. It looks like that is the policy limit, so the driver's insurance paid everything it had.

For more on distracted driving lawsuits, see our archives.

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.

Lawsuits Against Text-Message Senders: Conclusion

May 29, 2012

Judge David Rand.jpgOur last post on Distracted Driving Lawsuits: Suing the Sender ended with one question: what will happen?

As predicted, the New Jersey trial judge dismissed the sender of the text message. The judge stated that it was reasonable for text-senders to assume that text-receivers will act responsibly. He also noted that drivers must deal with numerous distractions: phones, GPS devices, and road signs, to name a few.

Were I to extend this duty to this case, in my judgment, any form of distraction could potentially serve as the basis of a liability case.

The basis for the judge's ruling is important--it rests on the premise that a text-sender has no duty of care to other drivers. Under Judge Rand's interpretation, it would not matter if the text-sender knew that the driver was driving at the time, and it would not matter if the text-sender knew that the driver would read those messages while driving. I think that's the right decision, but it would have been easier for the judge to rely on the specific evidence in this case--the receiver was himself sent the last message, so reading a message did not cause the collision.

That case will move forward to trial against the texting driver, though the lawyer for the motorcyclists indicated that he will appeal the judge's ruling as to the text-sender.

Distracted Driving Lawsuits: Suing the Sender

May 24, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgIn a distracted driving lawsuit where phone use is the culprit, the recipient of the e-mail or the text message is obviously at fault, and a proper defendant. Drivers must use reasonable care, and if they are not able to pay attention to driving, and that lack of attention causes an accident, then they are responsible for any injuries or damages.

What about the sender of a text message that, when read by the driver, causes inattention long enough to lead to an accident? Does the sender have some duty toward the injured victim, and did the sender violate the standard of care expected of a reasonable texter?

One lawyer, Stephen Weinstein, thinks there might be a case here: David and Linda Kubert filed a lawsuit against text-receiving driver Kyle Best and his girlfriend, text-sender Shannon Colonna. No one can argue that the injuries aren't significant: Mr. and Mrs. Kubert, riding a motorcycle, each lost a leg in the accident.

Evidence from the New Jersey auto accident lawsuit indicates that the texting couple sent over two dozen text messages that day. The lawyer alleges that the girlfriend knew her boyfriend was driving while she was texting him. Complicating matters, the last text sent was from the driver--indicating perhaps that he crashed while he was typing. So, he wasn't reading her message at the exact time of the crash, but was sending his own message.

First, even if it is against the law to text, that law does not necessarily translate into an automatic finding of negligence. The girlfriend, while she may have known that the boyfriend was driving, likely did not know what speed he was traveling at, whether he was parked, or whether he was stopped at a red light.

Another question is one of recovery. This lawsuit isn't practical in most cases for another reason--how will Mr. and Mrs. Kubert get paid? If the driver has automobile insurance, that insurance will be used for the claim. The girlfriend's automobile insurance won't be responsible, mainly because she was not driving a car. So, unless her homeowner's insurance somehow covers this, the only source of recovery will be her personal assets (lawyers don't usually go after personal assets unless the defendant has a lot of them--one problem is that after substantial verdicts, most defendants will claim bankruptcy rather than suffer the long-term indignity of wage garnishment).

One analogy in favor of liability, though, is to dram shop liability (we don't have that in Maryland, though the law may be changing). In that case, when a bartender serves alcohol to someone who is clearly drunk and who later gets into an accident, the bartender may be responsible.

Last week the case was before a judge (Judge David Rand of the Morris County Superior Court) on a motion to dismiss the girlfriend. The ruling is pending. My bet is that the girlfriend gets dismissed. However, it's an interesting and innovative theory of liability, being raised by a smart lawyer. It will be interesting, whatever the ruling.

More on the Text-Sending Lawsuit:


Motorcycle Death Statistics

May 23, 2012

The Governors Highway Safety Association released statistics on motorcycle accident related deaths for 2011 (Motorcyclist Traffic fatalities by State: 2011 Preliminary Data). The 2011 data goes through September, as the remainder of the year's data is not yet finalized:

  • 2011: 3,580 motorcycle deaths (January to September)
  • 2010: 3,641 motorcycle deaths (January to September)
  • 2010: 4,502 motorcycle deaths (full year)
  • 2010: 65 motorcycle deaths in Maryland (January to September)
  • 2011: 52 motorcycle deaths in Maryland (January to September)
  • 2010: 1 motorcycle death in the District of Columbia (January to September)
  • 2011: 3 motorcycle deaths in the District of Columbia (January to September)

Motorcycle Death Statistics.png
There are some theories about why the motorcycle fatality statistics are not decreasing with the standard auto accident fatalities, which are down 1.7% in 2011. These include:
  • Economy: more motorcyclists on the road to save gas/cheaper transportation
  • Helmet use: there are only 19 states with mandatory helmet laws, and several are considering repealing their laws.
  • Weather: several states had better weather this year, meaning more motorcycle trips, which in turn leads to more motorcycle accidents

The most important factor in preventing motorcycle deaths is helmet use. Motorcyclists in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia are required to wear helmets, but those states are in the minority. Regardless of whether use is mandated, all motorcyclists should wear helmets for their own safety.

Contact Us
If you've been injured in a motorcycle accident or an automobile accident, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free discussion of your legal options.

Self-Driving Cars: Maryland Accident Prevention?

May 9, 2012

Self-driving car.jpgWe've all heard about Google's research into self-driving cars. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is getting into the mix, believing that 80% of automobile accidents can be prevented if vehicles are given the ability to communicate with each other (see article, Detroit Free Press).

This "vehicle-to-vehicle" communication and related technologies can be used to implement crash-warning systems, and lane departure alerts. According to the NHTSA's Administrator:

Our research shows that these technologies could help prevent a majority of the collisions that typically occur in the real world, such as rear-end collisions, intersection crashes, or collisions while switching lanes.

Actual self-driving cars aren't really on the NHTSA's radar yet, but they promised to look at the technology as it develops.

Maryland Punitive Damages: Not For Auto Accidents, And Not For Drunk Driving Lawsuits

April 5, 2012

Beer.jpgMany clients come to us expecting that they will be entitled to punitive damages in their Maryland auto accident. This is especially true in cases where the negligent driver was drunk, or tried to flee the scene of the auto accident, or was driving while texting. Sadly, punitive damages are rarely available, even in these extreme examples.

Punitive damages are "damages on an increased scale, awarded to the plaintiff over and above what will barely compensate him for his property loss, where the wrong done to him was aggravated by circumstances of violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or wanton and wicked conduct on the part of the defendant." (Black's Law Dict., 1991 ed., pg. 390). These damages are intended to punish the defendant, to make an example of him.

Every state has its own law on punitive damages. In Maryland, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for egregiously bad conduct toward the plaintiff, and also to deter the defendants and others contemplating similar behavior. The standard in Maryland is gross negligence or actual malice.

This is extremely difficult to prove in almost any type of auto accident case. The plaintiff must show that the defendant's actions were characterized by an evil motive, intent to injure, or ill-will. Basically, the "negligent" driver would have had to deliberately hit the victim. Of course, intentional acts like that usually void insurance policies.

But what about drunk drivers? What about drivers who have been arrested countless times for drunk driving? What about drunk drivers who have been involved in prior drunk driving accidents? It's still not enough. Even though a drunk driver may be intentionally intoxicated, and may have intended to drive drunk, that still does not equate to an intent to injure. A 1993 Maryland Court of Appeals case, Komornik v. Sparks, clarified that drunk driving does not equal "actual malice."

In an effort to shake things up, one bill (House Bill 469/Senate Bill 351) before the Maryland legislature last session was an effort to allow juries to decide punitive damages where a negligent driver was drunk (either above 0.15 BAC, or above 0.08 BAC with other conditions). One interesting provision was that insurance companies could exclude coverage for punitive damages where their driver was drunk. Realistically, this means that it would be uncommon for anyone injured by a drunk driver to receive a penny in punitive damages--if insurance won't cover it, there isn't likely to be many assets available. Unless, of course, the drunk driver was the heiress to some family fortune. Sadly, that bill did not pass. Maybe next year.

So for now, no punitive damages.

Contact Us
If you have been injured in a Maryland auto collision, call us at 443.850.4426, or contact us online for a free consultation.

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