Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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Front-End-Damage-1-300x225So you were in a car collision (we don’t call them accidents at trial, because it makes them sound unavoidable, or gives the impression that it was minor), and you’ve looked online, talked to friends, interviewed lawyers on the phone, and found one you like.

What is going to happen in that first appointment?  What should you bring with you to prepare?  What questions should you ask?  What questions will your lawyer ask you?

Things to bring (don’t worry if you don’t have all of this—bring what you have):

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Trucking Accident (Smith)(11-27-11).JPGA permanent injury lawsuit is different from a garden variety injury case. In most cases (which are typically filed in the district courts), there is a car accident, an injury, discrete treatment for a up to about 6 months, and then the victim has fully recovered. In a permanent injury lawsuit, however, the victims will never recover, and will continue to have the effects of the accident for the rest of their lives.

Those effects may include an inability to work, or need for a lifetime of future medical or nursing care. The way we prove these to an insurance adjuster, judge or jury is through experts.

Common to most of these cases are the types of experts that required to prove the claim. These experts will typically come to trial and testify directly in front of the jury, or else their testimony will be recorded a few days or weeks before the trial, and played back before the jury.

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Handicapped parking.jpgPermanent injuries take all forms, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), limited function of limbs, or severe organ damage. What they all have in common is that they significantly affect lifestyle and activities of daily living. Permanent injuries may require lifetime treatment and medication. In some situations, however, there is nothing medically to be done after the victim has reached maximum medical improvement.

In general, serious permanent injury lawsuits should be filed in Circuit Court or Federal Court, where there is a possibility of a higher verdict. Some permanent injuries may not qualify for that type of lawsuit–most “soft-tissue” injuries, for example, should be filed in the District Courts. A permanent injury that qualifies for a higher verdict is one that has abundant objective evidence–the injury is obvious by looking at it, or at the very least, with an MRI or x-ray.

Damages Recoverable in Permanent Injury Lawsuits

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.”

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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