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Instagram-Icon-300x298It’s an increasingly connected world that we live in.  An important part of that connection is electronic—most of us interact with others electronically through social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat, to name a few.  Of course, there are also e-mail messages and text messages.

This is how we communicate with our family, friends, and the 10,000 other people who have friended us.  It’s fun to have an online presence, we encourage you to do so, if it is something that works for you.

But if you have a personal injury claim, we need to talk.  The title is a bit harsh—you don’t need to cut all ties with online social media, but you do need to be careful.  The problem, from my perspective, is context.  As a lawyer, I will search for the social media posts of my adversary.  We saw a post once from a defendant (who denied causing the accident) that said (and I’m paraphrasing for a G-rated post, here), saw a beautiful woman on the street, and got into an accident.  Now, maybe he was distracted, and the accident caused because his attention was elsewhere.  Maybe he was just trying to be funny, or make light of a serious situation because that the type of humor he has.  I don’t know.  But I can tell you that it was important evidence to show the jury, and that they didn’t trust his story at trial.

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Prince-Georges-County-Circuit-CourtTrial is scary.  If you have a trial, and you’ve never been, you probably have some anxiety about the whole thing.  Where do I sit?  What questions are going to be asked?  Can I bring notes?

You will have a long conversation with your lawyer to go over all of this before trial.  We’ve been through it before, and we’ll answer all of your questions.  There is one thing we need you to prepare in advance: a list of your non-economic damages.

Non-economic damages include the following, according to the Rules (Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 11-108):

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Prince-Georges-County-Circuit-CourtEvery case, whether a circuit court or district court, has a phase of discovery.  In the district court, this simply involves the exchange of written questions, known as interrogatories.  In the circuit court, this involves more interrogatories, plus some document requests, and likely depositions.

We’re going to cover what to expect in the discovery process for district court in this article.  In the district court, unless you are proceeding by way of small claims (case limited to $5,000.00 recovery), each side is permitted to ask the other side up to 15 written questions (interrogatories).  There is not specific required form, so we don’t always know what is going to be asked of us.  But, most lawyers tend to use the same interrogatories over and over again, so we can tell you the questions that GEICO lawyers usually ask, the questions that State Farm lawyers usually ask, and so on.  (For examples, click on these links: Allstate IROG (04-08-18), SF IROG (04-08-18))

Your lawyer will get these questions, and will usually do a first draft of the answers based on the intake with you, and a review of the file (including the police report, medical records, and other documents). Then, the lawyer will usually ask you to fill in the blanks.

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FAQ-03-25-18In most cases, there will come a time when your lawyers have negotiated the settlement offer as high as it will go—the insurance adjuster or defense lawyer tells us that there will be no further offers (whether true or untrue—we’ll help you determine whether we believe it or not).  The question becomes:  Do I settle or move forward.

Answering this question depends on you—I frequently tell my clients that they are in the driver’s seat—my job is to give the best advice that I can, but in the end, we will do what the client wants.  As the lawyer, we cannot settle a case without a client’s permission.  So, here are the facts that we give the client:

  • What does the settlement mean for you? I want my clients to know the amount of money they will receive in their pocket after a settlement.  This means, I tell them where every penny is going to go.  What medical expenses are outstanding, what health insurance liens exist, how much are case expenses and attorneys’ fees.  Depending on the stage of the case, some of that might not be fully ascertained, but we can usually give a very close idea (for example, Medicare liens take a long time to resolve).  Most clients don’t care what the final settlement amount is, they simply want to know, importantly, how much money they will get in their pockets after all expenses are paid.
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IMG_1314-1-300x225Don’t ever buy insurance with a family exclusion.  Here’s how it worked for a recent client of mine:

Mom was driving, didn’t pay attention to the slippery conditions of a Maryland winter, and her car slid into oncoming traffic.  Her vehicle was totaled, and more devastatingly, one of her twins the back car-seat was catastrophically injured.  She had brain damage, requires a feeding tube, and now needs 24-hour care. Thinking they had done the right thing when they purchased GEICO insurance, their policy provided for $250,000.00 if they injured someone else, or if someone without insurance injured them.

However, there was a caveat that they didn’t pay attention to: if a family member was injured because of the negligence of another family member, the most the insurance would pay out is $30,000.00.  That’s $30,000.00 for nursing care, medicine, therapies, wheelchairs, disability vans, and ramps to the front door.  From a legal perspective, it was easy—the insurance company offered $30,000.00 without much more evidence than the initial hospital bill.  From an emotional and financial perspective, however, it was devastating.  The family needed to go on public benefits, which do not provide nearly the level of care that sweet girl deserves.

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P1010814-300x225Insurance is an interesting thing.  You pay regularly (monthly, or semi-annually) to protect your family when they get hurt, and to protect other people that you may accidentally hurt.  However, many of our clients are steadfast in their efforts to avoid using their own car insurance at any cost, fearing an increase in their insurance rates.  What’s the point of having insurance if you don’t use it when you need it?

We understand the gut reaction—if I wasn’t at fault, why should my insurance pay?  There are three situations where you should go through your insurance policy.  Most importantly, you should know that your insurance company is not allowed to raise your premiums when you take advantage of these policies.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

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Calculator-III-03-25-18-278x300Every now and then we get a call from someone who has been slugging it out with the insurance company on their own in an effort to save legal fees and handle it themselves.  These calls often come at the time that negotiation is wrapping up because the callers want some advice about whether the settlement offer is a good one.  We try to be helpful to people who call us, and we take the position that lawyers should be responsible members of the community, so we will usually try to give some helpful general advice.  The truth that some lawyers won’t tell you is that yes, you can settle your own personal injury case.  Here are some criteria to determine whether you forgo a lawyer and settle a case on your own.

The main question that people have when talking to a lawyer while simultaneously trying to settle their own case is this:  “What happens if I hire you and we get more, but I personally get less?”  This is not a question with a simple answer. Until we evaluate your case, we cannot always make you a guarantee.  Every case is unique, and we will come up with an agreement that reflects the work you did on your case.  Without all the information about your claim, we don’t know whether the insurance company is undervaluing it or valuing it correctly.

The client needs to provide the attorney with as much information as possible regarding their case. This includes all treatment facilities, lost wages, and factors that have changed in the clients life due to the accident.

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Doctors-Invoice-300x268An Authorization and Assignment (frequently abbreviated as an “A&A,” or called a “letter of protection,”) happens when a medical provider agrees to hold off on collections proceeding until after a personal injury case is resolved (whether by way of settlement or a verdict).

Sometimes, this is the only way to guarantee that a client gets medical treatment.  Some providers are willing to provide treatment only if they have a better chance of getting paid, even if they have to wait until the case is over.  Doctors, running a business, would like assurance that they will be paid before they do the work.  Particularly for clients with no insurance, this is a good way to get treatment when they need it.

In exchange, the lawyers promise the doctors that they will paid before the client gets paid from a case.  Essentially, the doctor gets a lien on any recovery (settlement or verdict), and the lawyer promises (with the permission of the client) to pay the doctor when the case resolves.  Otherwise, the doctor runs the risk that the lawyer will pay all of the money to the client, and that the client will spend all the money or simply refuse to pay the doctor.

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McCoy-266x300Frequently, new clients ask me where they should go to the doctor.  I give the usual disclaimer—I’m a lawyer, not a doctor (it’s a reverse Leonard McCoy, M.D.).  But, I can offer suggestions.

My preference is for clients to find their own medical providers, typically through their health insurance.  The reason for this is twofold:  first, it prevents any claim from the insurance company that the medical treatment was “lawyer-directed,” which is their claim that the doctors and lawyers are in cahoots, and conspire to give fake treatment or inflated medical bills.  We know that the doctors we recommend are good, honorable physicians, but that doesn’t stop the claim.  Second, doctors we know might not accept a client’s health insurance plan, and we find that it is best to have medical treatment paid for by health insurance—it often makes it easier to settle the case or pay out the case at the end.  We might have to pay back the health insurer (usually not everything they paid—typically only two-thirds of whatever they paid), but at least if the worst happens and the case is lost, our client won’t have outstanding medical bills.

That said, sometimes we need to recommend medical providers.  In most cases, this is because our clients might not have medical treatment, or may not be able to afford the co-pays for extensive treatment.  Doctors we recommend are usually able to hold off on receiving payment until after the case is concluded—that means they won’t bill the clients during the pendency of the case, and won’t send the clients to collections (which could ruin their credit, if they can’t afford to pay).  If a client doesn’t have health insurance, they can usually tell a court that it is why they needed a doctor recommended by a lawyer, and it will often prevent any implication that the doctor is up to no good.

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Cash-300x150Pre-settlement loans are the scourge of plaintiffs’ lawyers for a couple of reasons.  The first is that they take so much time—shepherding an application from beginning to end, working out details of the money transfer, and making it all happen in time to help the client with the financial emergency that they are having—it can easily add hours to a case.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but for the second reason—loans are often an expensive waste of money for our otherwise deserving clients.

What is a pre-settlement loan?

A pre-settlement loan is a generic term used for money loaned to a client before they are paid from a case.  Sometimes they happen when a client is still receiving treatment, sometimes they happen before a lawsuit is filed, and sometimes loans happen after a settlement or verdict is received, but before the money has been paid.

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