Recently in Truck Accidents Category

New Maryland Driving Laws

October 12, 2013

This month Maryland drivers will have to live up to the state's new expectations. There are two important new rules for drivers, effective October 1, 2013.

Cell Phones


In the continuing march of more severe cell phone laws, the legislature has seen fit to increase penalties and make enforcement easier. In 2010 drivers were prohibited from talking on cell phones without a hands free device. These were only secondary offenses, meaning that drivers could only be cited if they were violating some other law (like speeding). In 2011 the use of a cell phone for writing, reading or sending text messages also became illegal, and it was set as a primary offense, meaning that drivers could be cited even without violation of another law.

However, it's difficult to prove that a driver was sending or reading a text message. Perusing a website? Using GPS navigation? Playing Angry Birds? Maybe not good driving practice, but not technically illegal.

The current cell phone law makes talking on a cell phone without a hands-free option punishable as a primary offense (no other lawbreaking required). The fines are set as $75.00 for the first offense, $125.00 for a second offense, and $175.00 for subsequent offenses. Maryland drivers should be careful, even if they have hands-free devices. Many drivers with such devices pick up the phone to see whose calling, or even push buttons on the phone to activate the hands-free. Those movements can be misinterpreted by police, even though they are not technically violations. The law states that "A driver of a motor vehicle that is in motion may not use the driver's hands to use a handheld telephone other than to initiate or terminate a wireless telephone call or to turn on or turn off the handheld telephone."

The new law can be found in Maryland's Transportation Code, section 21-1124.2.

Seatbelts

Of course, everyone should wear seatbelts. Everyone in the front seat must wear a seatbelt, or they can be pulled over and given a $50.00 fine. This is a primary offense. Rear passengers must also follow the law, but violation is a secondary offense.

Stay safe, Marylanders!

The Canary Project: Curbing Youthful Distracted Driving

May 18, 2013

Text Distracted Driving.jpgI am not unmindful that, in this business, I profit from the misfortune of others. Sometimes when clients are asking me questions about medical treatment I tell them that what is good for you (getting better quickly) is bad for your legal case, and vice-versa. Honestly, I wish that all of my cases were small, basic soft-tissue cases that resolved after a short week or two of treatment.

But they aren't.

We see the worst of the worst. We settled one case earlier this year where a gentleman was minding his own business at a stop light, and he was hit from behind by a woman who first claimed that she blacked out, then later hired an expert to state that she fell asleep because of undiagnosed sleep apnea (amazingly, if proven, that is a complete defense to responsibility). The poor guy was in shock trauma and had many surgeries, including one to remove a section of his bowel. That's a situation he will never totally recover from. Fortunately, there was a good insurance policy, and the case settled before trial for over $700,000.00. Clearly, the defense didn't place much stock in that argument.

All of this is to say that most accidents are preventable. The most preventable accidents nowadays are distracted driving accidents, particularly those where cell phones are the culprits. The ingenuity of tech-folks in finding ways for parents to combat youthful law-breaking is encouraging. One nice app we've come across is the Canary Project. It can notify parents when their child is in a speeding car or a car that goes out-of-bounds. It sends alerts when children talk or text behind the wheel. It can even "ping" your child so you know where he or she is at any given time. It costs somewhere between $10.00 and $15.00 for life.

There are other apps out there, and one thing this one doesn't do is block incoming calls and texts. There might be good safety reasons to keep that feature on, but we wish Canary gave parents the option.

My kids aren't old enough for cell phones yet, and they are certainly not old enough to drive. But, even at age 3.5 and 2, they have demonstrated love and aptitude for my cell phone, laptop and iPad. I didn't grow up with the cool gagets that they will grow up, and I feel a strong pull from my cell phone when I'm driving. It's going to be worse for them, and as a parent, my job is to protect them.

Questions about a distracted driving lawsuit? Contact our personal injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online.

Collateral Source: Double-Recovery for Car Accidents

March 18, 2013

Car Accident (2 people)(11-22-11).jpgMaryland has a rule called collateral source. This is an important part of making sure auto accident victims get full value for their claims. It is the reason that accident victims can recover for medical expenses and lost wages through their personal injury protection (PIP) insurance (see our webpage here, and a recent blog post here) and, at the same, recover for those losses from the negligent driver's insurance company.

Here's why it matters: let's assume a car accident results in a hospital visit, some x-rays, and a couple of weeks of physical therapy. The total medical bills are $2,000, and the lost wages are $250. If the auto accident victim has $2,500 in PIP insurance, all of those medical expenses would be paid, and 85% of the lost wages would be reimbursed ($212.50). Then, the auto accident victim could recover full losses from the negligent driver's insurance company, getting $2,250 for the medical expenses and lost wages, and some other amount for noneconomic damages (pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc...).

Let's say the total settlement was a very modest $5,000. With PIP, the victim would recover a total of $3,545.83 after payment of all attorneys' fees (at 33.33%) and medical expenses (and including the lost wages paid through PIP). Without PIP, the victim would only recover $1,333.33, more than $2,000 difference.

If you are handling your Maryland auto accident lawsuit on your own, be careful. Many insurance adjusters will tell you that they are not responsible for paying medical expenses or lost wages that have been paid by PIP. This could be because they don't know the law, or because they are trying to get away with paying you less money.

If you need help negotiating a Maryland car accident settlement, call us at 443.850.4426, or send us a message about your case online.

Talk to your insurance adjuster, raise your PIP

March 16, 2013

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgWe recommend that all of our clients get as much Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance as they can--it's inexpensive, and it makes a huge difference in your Maryland auto accident case.

PIP is a type of no-fault insurance. In exchange for a small premium, it pays medical expenses and a portion of lost wages for the driver, passenger and pedestrians who are in an accident. Because of Maryland's collateral source rule, auto accident victims can recover for these medical expenses and lost wages twice--once through their own automobile insurance, and once from the negligent driver's insurance.

Most Maryland insurance policies are set for the default $2,500. That means the most any one person can recover is $2,500 for incurred lost wages and medical expenses. In exchange for slightly (barely perceptible) reduced premiums, drivers can waive PIP (there are very specific rules about the form of the waiver, and improper waivers are ineffective).

In combination with medical payments coverage, Maryland policyholders can typically get PIP coverage up to $10,000. I just got my policy renewal, and I'm being charged $4.00 per month for $2,500, and $6.00 per month for an additional $7,500 in medical payments coverage. This means I'm paying a total of $10 per month for $10,000 in coverage.

Not sure if it makes financial sense? Look at it this way: if you have high PIP premiums, let's say $8.00 per month for $2,500 in coverage, you are paying $96.00 per year. If you have one accident in 26 years, the premium would pay for itself. How many of us are that lucky?

If you want to learn more about personal injury protection insurance, visit our Personal Injury Protection webpage. If you need help dealing with your insurance company after a Maryland auto accident, contact us at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online.

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.

Limited Insurance Proceeds

January 5, 2013

Crash (2 vehicles).jpgI've had a few sad cases recently. In each case, my client was injured in an accident. In each accident, there were other people injured, as well. My clients went to the hospital, and were treated for their injuries. Neither of my clients had health insurance. Neither of them had UM/UIM insurance (neither of them drove a car, and neither lived with a family member who drove a car).

After they finished medical treatment, we sent demand letters to the insurance companies. In each case, the adjuster informed us that they could not settle our claims because there were limited insurance proceeds available, and that other victims were either still treating or hadn't submitted their demand packages, yet. The limited insurance proceeds were in compliance with the Maryland minimums--$30,000/$60,000. That means that the most any one person in an accident can recover is $30,000, with the total allowed for all people in a single accident as $60,000.

So, not wanting to wait, we filed lawsuits. Other victims of each collision did, as well (though not all). When it was time for the insurance company to answer the complaint in one case, and when their discovery responses were overdue in another, they cried "uncle." They tendered policy limits in each, and washed their hands of the whole matter saying "you plaintiffs divide it up."

So we did in one case (the other case we're still working on). For the one that fully resolved, my client received something along the lines of 60% of her medical expenses. There were too many other victims, many of them with injuries far more serious than my client's. We were able to get other medical expenses reduced, and thankfully there was Personal Injury Protection (PIP) available, so my client had a little bit of a take-home. But, it wasn't what it should have been. And sadly, there was no other source of recovery--no UM/UIM, and no chance at recovering personal assets of the defendant driver.

So how do you divide up limited insurance proceeds with other claimants? It's tough, because the process pits a plaintiff's lawyer against other plaintiff's lawyers, and we usually like to be on the same side. However, we must each zealously advocate for our clients. These are some considerations if you ever find yourself in the same boat:


  • Perhaps the simplest way is for each automobile accident victim to get a pro rata share of the proceeds based on total medical expenses. So, if the total insurance available is $60,000, the total of all medical expenses is $100,000, and your client had $20,000 in medical expenses, your client would get total of $12,000. ($100,000/$20,000 = 20%; 20% x $60,000 = $12,000). This method has some appeal--it is completely objective, and there is no need to compare amounts of non-economic damages (pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc...).

  • For cases that warrant the expense, a mediator or arbitrator (often a retired judge) can be brought in to help settle the matter.

  • Another method is to allow the court to decide--everyone files a lawsuit, the cases are consolidated, the defendant admits liability, and the judge or jury decides what everyone gets. Or, the defendant could place the money into the court with an interpleader action, basically inviting all of the plaintiffs to come to court and fight it out.

  • One particular consideration should be other means of recourse. Some accident victims may have UM/UIM insurance coverage available--meaning that they are more likely to be able to recoup their losses elsewhere. Lawyers who have access to other potential sources of recovery may be hesitant to take a discount on the first part of the case, though, until they have some assurance about what they can indeed recover from the UM/UIM insurance company.

In any event, everyone is going to end up with less than they deserve. This is one reason why it pays to have good UM/UIM insurance. We recommend everyone get as much as they reasonably can afford. The increase in premiums isn't significant, and $100,000 is the bare minimum. We highly recommend more.

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.

What If The Negligent Driver Was Not The Car Owner?

July 9, 2012

Insurance Policy (11-26-11).jpgInsurance is complicated business, and many of our auto accident clients get a crash course in coverage only after the collision. One common question from people involved in Baltimore auto accidents is whether there is insurance coverage for their automobile accident. Sometimes, this is in context of a negligent driver who was not the owner of the vehicle. There are three typical situations:

Auto Accident With Permissive Car Use

When the accident is caused by a non-owner, but the driver had permission of the owner to drive the car, the owner's insurance will cover the accident and all injuries related to it. In that case, any lawsuit filed will be against the driver, but the insurance company will step up to defend the case. The lawsuit can also include the owner of the car if that owner knew or had reason to know that the driver was a dangerous driver. That is a very high bar, and requires a clear showing that the negligent driver had a history of accidents that the owner should have known about.

Auto Accident With Non-Permissive Use or Excluded Driver

When the negligent driver is specifically excluded on the insurance policy, or if the negligent driver did not have permission from the owner to drive the vehicle, then that insurance coverage will not apply. This often happens in situations where the car is stolen. Typically, the only source of coverage in a situation like this is through the uninsured division of MAIF.

Auto Accident With Respondeat Superior--Agency

When an auto accident is caused by a driver who is employed and on the job, the driver's employer is typically going to be on the hook for all damages and personal injuries. In Maryland, the driver is treated as an extension of the company--a lawsuit will typically be filed against the driver, individually, and the company, as employer. That company's insurance coverage will apply to all claims.

New Regulations to Prevent Truck Accidents

July 3, 2012

electronic truck driver log.pngHeavy Duty Trucking Magazine published a fantastic review of a new highway agreement. Here are the important points:

  • Trucking interests were denied their requested increase in truck weight restrictions to 97,000 pounds (see more on this at our earlier post: Cutting Bigger Big Rigs Off At The Pass)
  • Electronic driving logs will be required
  • the FMCSA will conduct a study of the 34-hour restart rule
Electronic driving logs, if implemented correctly, will ensure accuracy, can prevent tampering, and can foster accountability. Driving logs are one of the most important sources of information in Maryland truck accident lawsuits--we obtain those records and comb through them in order to find rest and sleep violations, which are frequently the cause of serious or fatal truck accidents.

Trending: Lawsuits Against Employers For Encouraging Distracted Driving

June 23, 2012

Employee Handbook.jpgThe scourge of distracted driving is so bad that I predict many attorneys will be adding to their lawsuits complaints against employers for failure to have policies, procedures and protocols to discourage distracted driving. First, a little bit about agency.

An agent is someone who is working for someone else. When an employee gets in his car to go do something for his employer, he is the agent of the employer. When the driver negligently causes a Maryland auto accident, both the driver is responsible and the employer is responsible.

Because distracted driving is such a big deal right now, employers are jumping on the bandwagon to come up with policies about when their employees can and can't use cell phones while driving. Some companies are prohibiting the use of handheld phones; others are prohibiting all cell phone use, even hands-free conversation. Where an employer does not take the step to set a policy, they are setting themselves up for more liability in the event of an accident. Realistically, they will be on the hook for any auto accident injuries regardless of whether the company was negligent, but it gives one more reason for the judge or jury to decide that the company is responsible. Also, it puts forth negative conduct by the company, which makes a jury more likely to decide against them if the question of liability (whether the employee was negligent) is unclear.

Trucking Sleep Rules: Exceptions Are Dangerous

June 8, 2012

Oil Truck.jpgThe federal government has closed a loophole that was the cause of untold numbers of trucking accidents. Truck drivers who hauled material to and from oil drilling sites were limited to spending 14 hours of work before resting--the problem is that the former rule did not include time at the drilling site. So, truck drivers could spend 14 full hours on the road, and any amount of time on duty loading, unloading or performing truck maintenance at the site. Other duties could easily increase the time between significant rest periods to 15, 16 or 17 hours.

The New York Times wrote about the problem a few weeks ago, and included heartbreaking stories of preventable deaths. In one, the driver had been working for almost 21 hours straight. The data is striking: one-third of all oil worker deaths are caused by highway crashes, compared to one-fifth in all industries combined. That article may have motivated the Department of Transportation to change the rules, and hopefully save some lives.

Perhaps most disheartening is that the employers sometimes allow or encourage fatigue-related truck accidents:

In court papers, the supervisor of Mr. Roth's crew and two other workers described how, they said, the company taught drivers to falsify their logbooks. "All you got to do is say that you went into one of the campers and fell asleep for a couple hours, when actually you're out there working," Mike Lowther, one of the crew members, recalled being instructed. Mr. Lowther, who was driving, was injured in the crash that killed Mr. Roth, and he is suing the company, as is Mr. Roth's wife.

The company makes money, and safety of its workers or other drivers is not a concern. Lawsuits like this require trucking experts and lawyers who are familiar with logbooks, federal trucking rules, and the lies that truck drivers and their employers will tell to avoid prosecution.

If you have been hurt in a commercial truck accident, let us help you find out if it was caused by violations of federal law, including sleep and rest rules. We can get you the answers you need. Contact us at 443.850.4426, or online.

Pre-Impact Fright: Fear of an Impending Collision is Compensable in Maryland

May 21, 2012

Skid Marks.JPGThe 1998 Court of Appeals decision in Beynon v. Montgomery Cablevision ruled that pre-impact fright is compensable in Maryland auto accidents. We all know what pre-impact fright is--those brief moments before an impending collision when you realize that another car is going to hit you. This is the moment that causes you to freeze, to shut your eyes, to pray, to hold your breath. It's that moment that the adrenaline shoots through your system.

The old rule was that damages could be recovered for injuries like fright only with physical impact, but that rule was done away with in 1909. For the run of the mill auto case though, a better case is made with some element physical impact or injury--a close call doesn't usuallycut it. The Beynon case was about whether pre-impact fright was compensable in a wrongful death case where the driver was killed in the collision. In that tractor-trailer collision, a driver collided into the rear of a truck. The allegations against the truck driver were that the truck did not have proper lighting in the rear, making it difficult to see. Leading to the point of impact were over 71 feet of skid marks--a clear indication that the driver knew what was coming. He died on impact. The trial jury decided that $1,000,000.00 in pre-impact fright damages were sufficient (according to Maryland law applicable at the time, that figure was reduced to $350,000.00).

A primary concern of the court was to prevent fabricated and speculative claims. Particularly in wrongful death cases, the family could claim that there was pre-impact fright, but it can be a difficult thing to prove. Unless you have over 71 feet of skid marks.

Pre-impact fright is one element of what are called "non-economic damages." Those include things like pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, and disfigurement. They are the things that cannot be calculated with logical certitude, like medical expenses and car repair costs.

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.

National Cell Phone Driving Ban on the Horizon?

April 30, 2012

distracted driving accident attorney.jpgU.S. Secretary Ray LaHood is continuing his crusade against cell phones and upping the ante, proposing a nationwide ban talking, texting and e-mailing while driving. His latest forum (see the news story by Reuters) was a distracted driving summit in Texas last week. His main argument centers around the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's estimate of 3,000 fatal traffic accidents in 2011, caused by distracted driving. The NHTSA also states that cell phone use delays reactions just as much as a BAC of 0.08.

According to LaHood:

It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn't arrest you. Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving.

Opponents believe that existing laws prohibiting distracted driving, whether it be because of food, make-up application, or unruly kids in the back seat, are sufficient. Certainly there may be existing laws against distracted driving, but do they really permit officers to write meaningful tickets in the absence of a car accident?

It's hard to know where this will lead. There is certainly a lot of momentum behind the distracted driving movement, and it is incredibly dangerous--none of us should be using cell phones behind the wheel. LaHood is investigating whether hands-free devices like Bluetooth and Ford's Sync have a similar effect on drivers.

Contact Us
If you have questions about a Maryland auto accident auto accident, contact us at 443.850.4426, or online for a free consultation. We regularly try cases throughout Maryland, particularly in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

For more information

The Do's and Don'ts of a Minor Car Accident

April 25, 2012

A blog post by a State Farm Employee has been making the rounds on a few lawyer listserves that I belong to. It is an entirely reasonable and well-written post titled "The Do's and Don'ts of a Minor Car Accident."

One point stated by the employee:

Don't assume there aren't injuries.
Do assess yourself and your passengers. Even low-impact collisions can cause injuries, some not appearing until days after the accident.

Again, entirely reasonable. We see this time and again--there really isn't any rhyme or reason behind why some people are hurt in minor car accidents, while some people walk away completely unscathed by collisions that reduce automobiles to scrap metal. Well, that might be overstating it a little--there are actually a number of reasons, but there are too many variables to make it easy. Here are some of those variables:
Whiplash.png

  • Were you aware that you were going to be in an accident? Most of us tense up before an imminent collision, and people with that tension often have more severe injuries than people who were completely relaxed at the time of impact.
  • What was your body position? If you were sitting straight, looking forward when you were rear-ended, your injuries might be more minor than if your neck was craned to the side while you tended to your child in the back seat.
  • Is your car a newer model or an old clunker? New cars tend to be safer, largely because of federal regulations and lawsuits. These cars also tend to show less damage in many cases; however, the body inside the vehicle still gets thrown about, which is where injury can manifest.
And State Farm knows (because they have done the research), that serious injuries can result from minor collisions. Even soft-tissue injuries (a nefarious term, designed to conjure images of lying lawyers and malingering "victims") like whiplash (see this CNN video) make sense when you think about it--even if there is no property damage and the car behind you impacted at 10 miles per hour, your body is thrust backward at the same time that your car moves forward at 10.466 feet per second. That's really fast.

But at trial, the first thing the insurance lawyers tell the judge and jury is that "it was a minor impact with little or no damage to the car, and the plaintiff didn't even go to the doctor for three days!" If I was on a jury, I'd have more respect for someone in a minor collision who tried to wait it out a few days or weeks after an accident, than one who went to the doctor right away. Sometimes these things do get better. But if you wait, the insurance companies (Allstate, for example, is no better) will be all over you at trial. Because they want juries to believe they are trying to game the system.

Sadly, this type of statement isn't likely to make its way into the average Maryland auto accident lawsuit. Lawsuits are usually against people and corporations--the insurance companies pay for the defense and pay any loss, but they are not the ones on trial. So this admission is not usually going to be admissible.

We'll have to be content with a "shame on you, State Farm, for talking out both sides of your mouth."

If you've been injured in a low-impact automobile accident (and we mean it--you have to have actual injuries), contact us at 443.850.4426, or online. We'll explain the process at our Timonium law office or at any other convenient location. If trial is in your best interests, we'll get you your day in court.