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

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

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

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Car Packed for Beach (05-26-14).jpgMemorial Day kicks off most dangerous one-third of the year for teen drivers (those from ages 16 to 19. The one hundred days from Memorial to Labor Day are risky-in 2012, there were almost 1,000 people killed in accidents involving teen drivers. Over half of those killed were teens, and this says nothing of injuries.

The reasons seem clear–it is summer, so school is out, teens are driving more frequently, and driving more often in unfamiliar areas. Additionally, teens are less frequently sole occupants of their vehicles–they are often driving with friends, perhaps a more significant source of distracted driving than cell phones. The National Safety Council estimates that passengers increase the risks of crashing by 44% or more.

For us non-teen drivers, it means we should be even more aware while on the road. Inexperienced drivers like teens, particularly distracted teens, have slower reaction times. Aggressive driving near those novices is more likely to result in a crash.

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

Understanding the Federal Courts

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

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

Discovery

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Personal injury protection (PIP) is insurance that comes from the car you are in when you are hurt. It is sometimes referred to as no fault, and if you have PIP coverage it will provide benefits regardless of whether you caused the accident, or the accident was caused by someone else. It is also quick–in most cases, you can start to recover money from a PIP policy within 30 days after you submit the documents to the insurance company. Those documents might include an application, lost wage statements from your supervisor, medical records and medical bills.

PIP App (04-23-14).png

How do I know if I have PIP?

In most cases, if you are driving your own car, and you have insurance coverage, your insurance company will provide you with PIP benefits.