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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.

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.

Maryland Federal Courts

May 20, 2014

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.

One of the best perks of the federal courts is electronic documents. Nearly all documents are filed electronically, and automatically e-mailed to all parties, or their lawyers. This eliminates the need and cost of mailing and printouts, and ensures timely receipt of pleadings and letters. The public can view documents through PACER by typing in the case number. Lawyers and litigants representing themselves can also file documents electronically. Most state courts still require documents to be filed with paper, and the case pleadings must be viewed in person at the courthouse.
Jurors in federal court are typically selected from voter's registration list and motor vehicle records.

Rules

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern the federal courts. These rules dictate how deadlines are calculated, the process for filing complaints, service of suponeas and handling post-trial motions and appeals. Additionally, the individual courts each have local rules http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/localrules/localrules.html that discuss the preferences of that court. This can usually be found on the court's website, and often includes things like the time allowed for opening and closing arguments, and how to handle jury instructions.

Can My Case Be Filed In Federal Court?

Cases can be filed in federal court if there is diversity or a federal question. Federal question doesn't typically apply in automobile accident cases. Diversity means that the plaintiff (victim/injured party) lives in a different state from each of the defendants. Importantly, this is determined when the lawsuit is filed, not when the accident happens. Diversity is determined at the moment the lawsuit is filed (not when the injury or negligence occurred). One other requirement is that the case must be filed for more than $75,000.00.

Your lawyer will likely make the decision about the best court to proceed in. They will consider the jury pool, difficulty of the rules, the expected expenses, ease of getting experts, and the time to get to a trial.

Maryland Circuit Courts

May 16, 2014

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:


  • Interrogatories: Each party can usually send 30 interrogatories to each other party.

  • Requests for production of documents: each party can send as many document requests as they want. In Maryland car accident cases, these usually include requests for accident reports, car photos, insurance contracts, expert reports and other relevant evidence.

  • Requests for admission of fact: Each party can send an unlimited number of requests for admission, which are often used to seek agreement that facts are uncontested, or that documents are true and genuine.

  • Depositions: Each party is allowed to conduct a deposition of any person (parties and non-parties). In a deposition the lawyers will ask recorded questions of the person, which are answered under oath and penalty of perjury. Typical deponents (people being deposed) are the plaintiff, defendant, witnesses and sometimes doctors or experts.

  • Medical Exams: Defense lawyers frequently try to have the plaintiff examined by one of their hired expert doctors. These doctors are typically hired to cast doubt on the plaintiff's medical condition.

Time to get to court
Each county has their own method of setting trial dates. Some counties set trial from the beginning, and in others the trial is set In some, the trial date is assigned very early with the court's scheduling order. The scheduling order sets the deadlines to get things done in the case, like designating witnesses, mediation and discovery deadlines. Baltimore County, for example, assigns trial dates after a mandatory settlement conference.

Some counties will assign a shorter or longer time from filing to trial based on the complexity of the case. Some cases, like products liability or medical malpractice, might get put on a longer track with more time for discovery, motions and experts. In general, it can take one to two and-a-half years to get to trial from the time of filing.
Unlike district court where trial typically takes an hour or so, trials in circuit court usually last a full day or a few days. Most Maryland auto accident lawsuits require two to three days of trial.

Presenting Medical Evidence
Just like a district court case, if filed for $30,000.00 or less, the plaintiff can use medical reports and bills to prove her case. In most circuit court cases, however, the plaintiff will rely on treating doctors or expert physicians to present that evidence.

That medical evidence is presented at trial either with the doctor testifying on the witness stand, or testifying days or weeks before, and being recorded and played back by video. The doctor must explain to the judge or jury that the accident caused the injury, the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the cost of treatment.

Maryland District Courts

May 14, 2014

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).

The defendants' response is usually in the form of a notice of intention to defend, sometimes called an answer. The initial trial date will usually move because of difficulties serving the defendant, or because of scheduling conflicts with the lawyers' schedules. In most cases, trial ends up being finished by about 4 to 9 months after filing.

Three Tiers of Civil Cases
There are three tiers of District Court civil cases:

Small Claims Lawsuits
Cases filed for $5,000 or less are small claims cases. The damages recoverable include medical expenses, property damage (for example, the repair cost of a vehicle) and pain and suffering (non-economic) damages. Small claims cases are like People's Court. Some people will file these lawsuits on their own, and this is possible because many formal rules of evidence, like hearsay don't apply. The proceedings are more informal. However, you can still have a lawyer represent you in these types of cases.

Middle Level: $5,000.01 to $15,000.00
The next tier permits recovery of between $5,000.01 to $15,000.00. The standard procedural and evidence rules do apply. Those rules can be difficult for unrepresented litigants (called pro se). For most, it's best to have a lawyer in these cases.

High Level: $15,000.01 to $30,000.00
Plaintiffs in the highest level of the District Court can recover a maximum of $30,000.00. Importantly, the defendant may choose to move the case to the Circuit Court and file a request for a jury trial. Plaintiffs must be careful when filing for over $15,000.00--the case must be able to justify the added expenses of a Circuit Court, which often include discovery and trial video depositions, expert witness fees. Also, Circuit Court cases can take much longer, sometimes a year or more from the time they are filed.

Proving Your Damages and Medical Injury
The best advantage of the District Courts is that medical evidence can be presented through medical records and bills. In most Circuit Court cases, that evidence must be provided through the testimony of doctors. The rules for this are MD. CTS. & JUD. PROC. §§ 10-104 and 10-105. The records simply need to describe the plaintiff's medical treatment, and state that the injuries were causally related to the automobile accident.

Because of procedures like this, District Court cases move quickly (usually finished in an hour or so), and the case expenses are usually minor.

Discovery
Discovery is limited in the District Courts. There are no interrogatories permitted in small claims cases, and only 15 interrogatories allowed in the two higher tiers. Depositions are not permitted without court permission, and requests for production of documents are limited to a few very specific types of documents, which can be requested by interrogatories.

Final Notes
Just like juries, judges come with their own education, experience, attitudes, and proclivities. They are the ones who listen to the case, decide liability (who was at fault), and determine damages. They will consider the reasonableness of medical bills, property damages, and assign a value to non-economic damages. Your job as a plaintiff is to make a good first impression--dress nicely, and be respectful to the judge and the defense attorney. It may not win your case, but it won't hurt.

Maryland Courts

May 11, 2014

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.

If you have questions about your options, contact us at 410.252.0600, or send us a message through our internet contact page.

Don't Talk to the Insurance Company

April 9, 2014

Record Button.jpgAttorneys are an argumentative bunch. We disagree on many things, so when we agree on something, you should take notice. Something we agree on--don't give a recorded statement to the insurance company after an automobile collision. It doesn't matter if it is your insurance company, or the negligent driver's insurance company.

Let's talk about why the insurance companies want to get you on an audio recording. First, the mundane--they want to know the facts of the accident, the nature of your injuries, and what medical care you have received. They want to know what evidence you have, and whether there is anything that will help them to muster up more evidence.

Now, the insidious--the insurance companies want a recorded statement from you so that they can use it against you. They will take a recorded statement shortly after the accident. Down the road, when you file a lawsuit, you will answer written questions (called interrogatories) under oath. Then you may have a deposition, where they ask you more questions under the penalty of perjury. Finally, you will testify at trial, perhaps two or three or four years after the accident.

The insurance company, therefore, will have at least four opportunities to question you. Even though you are truthful at each of those moments, your memory will fade, and some insignificant details might change. The defense lawyer, in front of judge and jury, will point to those inconsistencies, and brand you a liar. Juries don't award money to liars.

But My Insurance Company Wants a Statement, and My Insurance Company Is My Friend!
Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. There are at least two scenarios where your insurance company might be working against you. The first is if you have PIP insurance (personal injury protection). Your insurance company may be on the hook to pay for some of your medical expenses, lost wages and household expenses. PIP policies typically range from $2,500 to $10,000. We've seen PIP insurers fight really hard against their insureds, particularly where there is more at stake than $2,500. They may look for any good reason to deny you access to money that you've earned by paying premiums, year after dutiful year.

The second scenario involves an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim (UM/UIM). If the negligent driver is uninsured (which you may not find out about until weeks or months after the accident), or if you are involved in a hit-and-run, or if your injuries are extremely severe and will overwhelm the negligent driver's minimal insurance. In that case, you will be making a claim against your insurance company. Even though you are a loyal customer, they will want to limit their exposure, and they will look for any excuse to avoid paying your claim.

In either case--if you give a recorded statement, your insurance company will attempt to use that statement against you. It could mean the difference between settling your case, or having to slog it out all the way to a trial verdict.

Still Want to Talk?
If you still want to talk to the insurance company, don't let them record it. The information is just as valuable without a microphone. Of course, most lawyers agree that you shouldn't talk to them--they have their tricks, and it's better to have someone who knows them and knows how to avoid them.

Want to Know More?
Contact us by phone (443.850.4426), e-mail (jcord@charmcitylawyer.com), or internet. We can take the stress of your Maryland automobile accident away by dealing with the insurance companies, and letting you focus on more important things--getting better.

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.

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.

Backlash Against Progressive

August 20, 2012

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

Auto Accident Cases While On Vacation

August 4, 2012

Ocean City Postcard.jpgWe've had a spate of referrals from out-of-state lawyers lately that involve Maryland auto accidents, usually Maryland defendants, but out-of-town plaintiffs. The scenario is that an out-of-towner is traveling in Maryland, perhaps even on vacation, and is hit by a negligent driver here in Maryland. Some of these are Ocean City auto accidents, others are for less traveled destinations in our state. Those people may treat here in Maryland while they are here, usually an emergency room visit or two, and then they finish out their medical treatment in whatever state they come from. They contact a lawyer in their home state, and that referring attorney may attempt to settle the case on his own; if that doesn't work, he needs a Maryland lawyer to file and litigate the lawsuit here in a Maryland court.

There are a couple of other of permutations--Maryland drivers visiting a vacation spot in Maryland, and hit by a negligent out-of-town driver. Out-of-town driver visiting Maryland hit by another out-of-town driver in Maryland. In each case, the lawyer should consider the best place for the lawsuit if it doesn't settle.

In Maryland, the rules about where lawsuits can be filed are usually clear. Maryland Rule § 6-201 provides that lawsuits can typically be brought in a county where the defendant lives (if a person), or where a defendant has its principal place of business (if a corporation). Rule § 6-202 provides that a lawsuit can also be filed in the county where the accident occurred.

Particularly where accidents happen for a person on vacation, there may be multiple options on where to file a lawsuit. The police report will typically show the address where the defendant lives; if that is different from where the accident happened, the lawyer should compare the potential judges/juries, and make a decision about where the case will likely have the most success. Another consideration is the convenience of the plaintiff--if the victim is from another state, he or she may have to travel back to Maryland for a trial if an auto accident settlement is not possible. However, it may be more convenient for a local accident victim to choose one permissible venue over another. The lawyer's client should be included in the decision making process.

Winning your trial in front of jurors who don't want to be there

July 10, 2012

Norwood jury box 2.jpgThe vast majority of people don't want jury duty. As a lawyer, I've always hoped for the opportunity to serve and experience "our civic duty" firsthand. I've been called twice, but have not been selected. Still, hanging out with the throngs of "potentials" has verified for me that some people will say anything to try and get out of jury duty, but most people will just hunker down and go through the process. But, they might not be happy about it.

Baltimore City lawsuits require Baltimore City jurors, and until recently, most people were called once every 18 months if not selected for a trial, and once every three years if they were selected for a trial. That is changing. Baltimore City residents are now being called every year.

The source for our jurors is voting records and driving records. Baltimore Sun writer Michelle Alston correctly observes that many Baltimore City residents neither vote nor drive, so there should be another way to identify those residents. The number of non-drivers in the City is especially disproportionate, where many people rely on buses and light rail. She suggests using social security numbers. There are, in fact, any number of ways to do it. Most residents pay taxes--any resident who files a return should be subject to the rigors of jury duty.

The reality is, though, that jurors who are called more frequently are not likely to be significantly more resentful. Those jurors who are extremely upset are going to be upset if called once a year or once every five years.

Lawyers must address the problem at two points. The first is during voir dire, which is the time that judges and lawyers are allowed to ask the jurors questions to determine whether they can be fair. Strong feelings of resentment should be probed, and the lawyers should ask the judge to strike those jurors for cause, arguing that they cannot be fair, and they are wild cards--in particular, they are more likely to punish the plaintiff for filing the lawsuit and forcing them to be there. If the judge will not grant the strike for cause, lawyers should be prepared to exercise their peremptory strikes--each side gets a limited number of these, though, so it might not always work out.

The second opportunity to deal with resentful jurors is during the trial. Lawyers should of course thank jurors for their attention and time. Many lawyers acknowledge the difficulties and inconveniences of jury service. Most importantly, the case needs to keep moving--delays are likely to cause resentment to bubble over, and if the jury believes that one side is causing those delays, the verdict may turn out differently than it should.

Nuts & Bolts of a MAIF Uninsured Auto Accident Claim

June 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on MAIF and Insurance Claims

Where To File Your Maryland Car Accident Lawsuit

June 26, 2012

Talbott County Courthouse.jpgIn every case, and certainly every Maryland automobile accident case, the lawyer should consider what county the case should be filed in. In Maryland, you typically have the following options:

  1. File in the county where the car accident happened
  2. File in the county where the defendant lives

It is important, therefore, to be clear about where the accident happened, and where the negligent driver lives. Typically the police report, if one was listed, has both the county where the accident happened, and lists the negligent driver's address. However, in situations where the accident was on or near a county line, the police report may not be correct. Also, some lawyers don't realize that some cities actually straddle multiple counties. For example, an accident in Laurel, Maryland may take place in Prince George's County, Howard County, or Anne Arundel County. Likewise, the address the police usually put on the police report may not be accurate--it may be from an old driver's license or insurance card. Or, the person who caused the collision may move between the time the accident happened and the lawsuit was filed.

Sometimes there is no choice, and these two counties are actually the same county. Other times, the plaintiff's lawyer has the opportunity to maximize his or her client's recovery by choosing the specific jurisdiction in which to file a lawsuit. Here are some factors that go into this analysis:

  • The types of injuries
  • The amount of medical expenses--is it a District Court case or a Circuit Court case?
  • Whether the case will be a jury trial or a bench (judge-decided) trial
  • How bad the accident was (including, for example, the property damage)
  • The demographics and likeability of the plaintiff and defendant
  • Whether the plaintiff or defendant is generally known in the community

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We have extensive experience in seeking out all possible options for lawsuits, and we can help you to direct your case to the most advantageous county in order to maximize your auto accident settlement or verdict. If you have questions, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation.