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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.

Honda Wins Small Claims Lawsuit

May 10, 2012

Honda Civic Peters.jpgThe ongoing saga of one woman's pursuit for justice against Honda is finally at an end. Heather Peters opted out of a class action lawsuit, and took her case to small claims court in California. She alleged that her Civic Hybrid did not receive anywhere near the gas mileage as claimed by Honda; and that the vehicle was harmed by software updates. She prevailed at the small claims court level, with a verdict of $9,867.19.

Honda appealed the decision to the Superior Court, where the court heard the case from the beginning (called a de novo trial). A three-day trial was held. Honda convinced the judge that Honda was permitted to advertise the EPA-approved gas mileage numbers, even though the numbers were later adjudged inflated by the EPA. Interestingly, the Court found that "[t]he majority of users report mileage very close to the EPA estimates."

In her press release, Ms. Peters commented that:

It's a sad day when regulations designed to protect consumers are used against them. I'm certain that the EPA and FTC never intended to shield Honda from liability for advertising claims that a court of law determined to be false.

Under California law, the Superior Court appeal was Ms. Peters' last chance. Ms. Peters also observed in closing out her press release that people who opted out of the class action lawsuit may still be able to opt back in. Perhaps that's an indication that she wishes she just took what little money she could get.

For my part, Ms. Peters was brave to go about it at her own, and she showed remarkable mastery of social media to bring attention to her cause. Even if she was ultimately unsuccessful, she brought much public attention to the problem. Honda claims that it has won 16 out of 17 similar cases brought since January.

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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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Don't Settle With Honda: Small Claims versus Class Actions

February 8, 2012

Honda Civic Timonium Small Claims Lawyer.pngHop on over to our other blog, Charm City Lawyer, for a series on the product liability lawsuit brought by one consumer against Honda over problems she had with her Hybrid. The judge just issued an opinion, and awarded her nearly $10,000.

Improving Technology: Avoiding Distracting Driving or Precursor to Product Liability Claims?

December 26, 2011

Star Trek Communications Panel.jpgIn light of all the concern about distracted driving being the new drunken driving (as if it were something fashionable, like "40 is the new 30"), we've been hit on both sides. On one hand, the government is proposing to take away our cellphones while we are in the car--this includes stop lights, this includes hands-free devices like bluetooth. On the other hand, we have emerging technologies becoming standard on new cars that have their own hands-free devices that automatically connect with our cell phones.

Ford is rolling out MyFord Touch (developed in conjunction with Microsoft) on more and more of its vehicles. It has many functions, including a hands-free calling feature and for sending/receiving text messages via voice, but it allows voice commands to control many car systems, for example, the climate. It's a little Star Trek for our own private shuttlepods (Majel Barrett Roddenberry's voice not included).

The warning on Ford's website states:

Only use mobile phones and other devices, even with voice commands, when it is safe to do so, and use extreme caution. Driving while distracted may take the driver's focus off the road, which can result in loss of vehicle control, accident and injury. The driver's primary responsibility is the safe operation of the vehicle.

These are the same types of warnings that we get with GPS devices and MapQuest directions. The MyTouch system is infinitely more hazardous, however. Why's that? Well, let's extend the Star Trek analogy for a minute.

Remember the Enterprise from The Original Series (TOS)--the one with Kirk? That starship had buttons all over the place. Big, colorful, buttons coming out of every flat surface. It's like a keyboard--you can concentrate on one thing, say, the viewscreen showing that Klingon battlecruiser making a beeline for you, while simultaneously firing phasers, all without having to look down.

Fast forward 150 years to Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG)--the one with Picard. No three-dimensional buttons. Flat panels everywhere. Like the Ford MyTouch, the screen changed depending on what buttons you pressed--like an iPad. Hit this button and its a word processing program with new buttons to push; hit that button and it's the latest iteration of Angry Birds with all new buttons in different places.

It must have been more difficult to do two things at once in TNG--you have to pay close attention to the "keyboard," or else you might do something stupid like hit the self-destruct button or steer the ship into that asteroid over there. Now, space is vast, and the chances of Wil Wheaton hitting another ship in a head-on collision while texting jokes to the Reading Rainbow guy are remote. On the road, however, those dangers are much more likely.

A lawsuit against Ford for some future hypothetical accident could work in one of two ways. Say Patrick Stewart (yes, we're still working the Star Trek references) is driving his 2012 Ford Explorer. He's using MyTouch to get news and stock quotes while warping (at the speed limit) down the road. Well, he veers off the road and hits a tree. He files a product liability suit against Ford, basically claiming defective design. In states like Maryland, contributory negligence is likely to be a problem, but under these facts I could see an automobile accident lawsuit being successful at least some of the time.

Let's put Patrick Stewart back in the captain's chair for the second example. Same situation, but he veers into oncoming traffic, hitting William Shatner. William Shatner could sue Patrick Stewart, who could implead Ford. Or, William Shatner could sue Patrick Stewart and Ford directly. An interesting issue is whether Ford owes a duty to William Shatner, who was not driving a Ford in the example. In this day an age, I think most courts would accept that as a jury question.

As much as I love technology, it is really a hazard in the car. Please--go boldly, but safely, down the road.

Recalled Cars: What If A Defective Vehicle Caused Your Auto Accident?

December 22, 2011

Cadillac recall.jpgCadillac announced a recall of their 2010 and 2011 SRX vehicles (yeah, I had to look it up--I drive a Saturn) because of potentially defective transmissions. This recall affects 8,789 cars. The problem is that a transmission shift cable may come out of the transmission bracket. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explains the potential problems:

THE DRIVER MAY BE UNABLE TO SHIFT THE TRANSMISSION OUT OF GEAR, RESULTING IN NO MOTION OR THE SHIFTER MAY INACCURATELY INDICATE THAT THE TRANSMISSION IS IN PARK WHEN IT IS NOT, ALLOWING THE VEHICLE TO ROLL AWAY AND CAUSE A POSSIBLE CRASH.

The interesting question here is how a recall like this affects Maryland automobile accident lawsuits? The answer: it depends on the type of case.

Let's say that Cadillac rolls backward down a hill, hitting another car at about 10 miles per hour. The person hit had just taken off his seatbelt after parking the car, had some minor injuries, and about $3,000 in medical bills (a hospital visit and a short stint with physical therapy). If settlement negotiations fail, that person will probably file a lawsuit in the District Court of Maryland for $15,000 or less. The Cadillac owner's insurance company will supply her with a lawyer to defend the case. With a maximum loss of $15,000, that lawyer will have a hard time justifying the massive expense required to get an expert to testify that the car accident was Cadillac's fault (through General Motors), as opposed to the owner's fault. That's the type of thing you need an expert for, so the defense lawyer will probably just admit liability and fight the case on damages (essentially arguing that it was a low impact collision that could not have caused much, if any, injury).

Let's change the hypothetical: the driver of the care behind the Cadillac parked his car, grabbed his groceries and began walking to the sidewalk. He crossed in front of his car, then was hit by the Cadillac, which pinned him to his car, caused massive internal organ damage, and required several surgeries to fix. That case could very well pass the $30,000 District Court threshold, particularly if the victim has permanent injuries.

In this second example, the plaintiff will file a car accident lawsuit against the driver of the Cadillac. The Cadillac driver has three choices: (1) defend the case like the District Court case with no expert testimony about the defective vehicle; (2) hire an expert to argue that this was a product liability case and that the owner was not negligent; or (3) bring General Motors into the case, and have an expert testify that the accident was their fault.

Here, depending on the extent of the plaintiff's injuries and the perceived monetary value of the legal claims, the plaintiff may choose to hire his own expert to work out the defective vehicle angle. That's going to cost a lot of money. Or else, he may just amend his claim to include the manufacturer, then sit back and let the owner and the manufacturer duke it out. Whether the jury rules that the accident was caused by driver negligence or manufacturer defect, the plaintiff has someone who will be paying his medical bills. One situation where spending money on a defect expert would be worth the expense is where there is limited insurance money available, compared to the plaintiff's damages. If so, the car manufacturer will certainly have enough to pay the court's final judgment.