Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

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

Discovery

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PIP App (04-23-14).png

How do I know if I have PIP?

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

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Talbott County Courthouse.jpgYour auto case value is affected by the courts and counties where you are permitted to file the lawsuit. The reason is that (1) some courts have different limits on the amount of money you can recover; and (2), in general, the decision makers (judges and juries) have attitudes toward personal injury cases that makes them more or less likely to give a favorable verdict.

You might wonder why the court, judges or jury matters–after all, if you are seeking a Maryland car accident settlement, you won’t go to trial, right? Well, it matters for a couple of reasons. First, not every case settles. Sometimes the other side will deny that they were negligent, or they will deny that their negligence caused you harm, or they will claim that your injuries (damages) are not as extensive as you think they are. If they won’t settle your case for what you think it’s worth, the only other choice you have is to file a lawsuit.

Second, even if your case will settle before a lawsuit is filed, the insurance adjuster should know about where you can file suit. Savvy adjusters will understand that the value of a case that can be filed in Prince George’s County is likely higher than a case that can only be filed in Allegany County. That adjuster’s perception of the attitudes of the decision makers will reflect the value they place on your auto collision case.

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Norwood jury box 2.jpgWe’ve discussed how the strength of your case (liability and negligence) affects your case value, and we’ve discussed how the economic damages, like medical bills and lost wages, impacts your case value. Now we’ll talk about non-economic damages.

Most people think of non-economic damages as “pain and suffering.” Each state has its own rules, but in Maryland, non-economic damages are much more. The Maryland jury instructions explain that non-economic damages are recoverable for past and future:

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.”

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Medical Bills (02-28-13).jpgProbably the most important factor in determining the value of your Maryland auto accident case is the amount and type of economic damages. Economic damages are, simply put, those things which can be calculated with mathematical precision. This is different from non-economic damages (which we’ll talk about next time), which have no universal method of calculation.

Common economic damages include:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages
  • property damage
  • cost of services
  • mileage
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Car Accident (2 people)(11-22-11).jpgTwo major factors in deciding the value of any automobile accident case are liability and damages. Damages, which we’ll discuss in a later post, include things like medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering and incapacity.

Liability is used (often incorrectly) by lawyers to refer to negligence. In some cases, lawyers might tell the judge or jury that they have conceded liability, which is taken to mean that the defendant admits to being negligent. Technically, if a driver is liable, he was negligent, and his negligence caused damages. However, in some cases, a driver may admit negligence, but argue that his negligence did not cause damages.

So, though lawyers sometimes use the terms liability and negligence interchangeably, we’ll use the correct term “negligence.” Negligence is simply a fancy way to describe fault. A negligent driver is one who caused the accident–it’s as simple as that.

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Calculator.jpgOne question common to all Maryland auto accident victims is “what is my case worth?” It’s a simple question with a complicated answer–so complicated, that we’re going to spend the next seven or so blog posts breaking it down for you.

Here’s the outline of what we’ll cover:

  • Liability (how easy is it to prove that the other driver was negligent and you were not)