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  • $10,000,000 Malpractice Verdict
  • $8,000,000 Car Crash Verdict
  • $5,500,000 Malpractice Verdict
  • $5,200,000 Malpractice Verdict
  • $3,800,000 Malpractice Settlement
  • $3,250,000 Malpractice Settlement
  • $2,500,000 Surgical Error Verdict
  • $2,100,000 Product Defect Settlement
  • $1,300,000 Truck Crash Settlement

The trucking business is a dog-eat-dog world.

Shippers want to get their products moved as cheaply as possible.  Smaller trucking companies are often the best choice to keep cost down.  Smaller trucking companies.  They have low overhead and simpler systems. Many trucking companies — usually smaller trucking companies — have less systemic checks and balances.  And they cut corners — safety corners — like crazy to keep costs down.

As a result of all of this, truck accidents happen.  Too many plaintiffs’ truck accident lawyers leave millions on the table because they do not explore potential claims against the brokers and shippers.

cross-examinationThe most important part of a personal injury trial is the plaintiff’s testimony.  Specifically, the most critical part of a trial is the personal injury plaintiff’s direct examination.  If it doesn’t go well when you are in total control of the process and the facts, it will be nearly impossible to get a favorable damages award. We believe in thoroughly preparing the plaintiff to testify, both on direct and cross-examination.  I would not be surprised to learn that our firm spends more time on direct examination preparation that any firm in Maryland.

Witness preparation is a broad term that covers any communication between a lawyer and a prospective witness done to get the most favorable possible substance or presentation of trial testimony.  It also helps the lawyer know precisely what the witness is going to say on direct examination.

By the time the trial draws near, most experienced personal injury lawyers will have a pretty good idea of what’s out there as far as potential cross-examination material. This comes from a variety of sources: interrogatory answers, medical records, deposition testimony, prior medical history, etc.  But you really do not know what someone is going to say until the tell you what they are going to say.  And, as experienced trial lawyers know, even then you are still not entirely sure what will come out of the witness’ mouth.

social-medi-300x256You know what’s funny about stuff you post on the internet? It’s public, and that means people can see it. This includes those you would rather not see it. For example, if you are a disability claimant, you may want to forego that chance to post a video on Youtube of yourself half-naked, covered in tin foil, breakdancing to “Magic Carpet Ride.” Once somebody sees it, you could have a problem with your total disability claim.

This is also very important for people who are making a personal injury claim. Nowadays just about everybody has some form of social media account, and just about all of them give the user the ability to post pictures or video. As a personal injury lawyer, increasingly I am seeing defense attorneys checking my clients out on the web, including social media accounts. Defense attorneys also seek access to these accounts in discovery. I always object to producing social media login information, and so far I have not yet had anyone take the issue before a judge.  Even posts without pictures that describe what you are doing or how you are feeling can be easily taken out of context.

But I do advise all of my clients that they should stay off social media entirely while they have a pending claim.  If that’s not possible, they should careful to never post anything that is even arguably inconsistent with the claim they are making- even to the extent of not posting a picture of yourself at a wedding, or outdoors smiling. It is very easy for that to be taken out of context.

Md-reporter-1Anybody who has seen the fantastic HBO series The Wire knows that the Baltimore Police have more than enough to do. Even with the recent drop in Baltimore’s murder rate, our police are still very busy.  The problem is not that they are offended by a subpoena.

This can cause problems for Baltimore injury lawyers who need police officers to appear in court for trials of injury cases. Because of the crushing workload these officers face, it can be difficult to contact them to serve a subpoena or to arrange for testimony.

Best Way to Get a Police Officer to Your Trial

For many lawyers, iPads have become indispensable for a wide variety of my litigation tasks. There are some things that I will never do the “old fashioned way” again. So I thought I would share a few of the ways this new technology has made my life easier.

Motions hearings/Pre-trial conferences: I rarely take a paper file to simple motions hearings or Pre-trial conferences. I will usually bring a courtesy copy of the Pre-trial statement or the motion at issue for the Court, just in case it hasn’t made it into the file. Otherwise, the only paper I bring is a legal pad. For a motions hearing, I use Dropbox to send .pdf copies of the motions, responses and replies, the cited case law, and my argument outline directly to my iPad. I have everything I could need available to me in an instant, without fumbling through a file jacket or flipping through a long opinion to find a particular passage. This makes my argument quicker and more organized, and gives me an advantage when the Court has a question about something that I may not know off the top of my head- I can generally find whatever it is and be able to respond more quickly than if I were using a traditional file.

Depositions: I do these in a very similar fashion to a motions hearing. When I do my deposition prep, I load any pleadings, deposition transcripts, medical records or produced documents onto the iPad (again, using Dropbox). My deposition outline goes on there too. It’s really a great way to carry 1500 pages of Bates-stamped medical records without lugging a long a 20 pound trial case. The only other thing I take is a leather presentation folder with a legal pad in it. Also in the folder are pre-printed copies of any photos or documents that I plan to use as exhibits.

Michie-Annotated-Code-225x300One thing we are seeing defense attorneys do more and more is using a Md. Rule 2-422 Request for Production to try to get plaintiffs to sign authorization forms permitting the defense to access medical and other information without a subpoena. For them, it’s a more efficient (some might say lazy) way to obtain the same material they could get by serving a subpoena on the person who has whatever records they want. For plaintiffs, it’s allowing the defense free license to root through anything they want without worrying about the protections afforded plaintiffs under the Maryland Rules and the Health-General Code.

Because we see this so often, I imagine there must be personal injury lawyers out there who allow their clients to sign them.  We have too, on occasion.  You want to be reasonable.  There are circumstances where there is wisdom in having the client to sign a defense authorization. In some cases we don’t have a choice. In first-party claims against an insurance carrier for UM/UIM benefits, for example, the carrier often arguably has a contractual right to obtain an authorization written into the policy. Or if the records being sought are maintained out of state (and therefore outside the subpoena power of a Maryland court) we will often agree to an authorization, as long as it includes appropriate limitations that we have approved in advance, like excluding records about mental health, substance abuse, or STD/HIV/AIDS treatment. If they don’t agree to our requested conditions, they are welcome to get an out-of-state subpoena issued the hard way.

It makes no sense to make opposing counsel’s life difficult just for the heck of it.  But that is not what we are doing here. We cannot just give away our clients’ privacy protections under the law for no good reason, and that is what I would be doing by allowing my clients to sign these broadly-drafted defense authorizations.

180px-Child_car_seat_By watching TV commercials, it seems that rear-facing backup cameras are all the rage in new trucks and SUV’s. They are supposed to reduce the risk of hurting a child, animal, or anything else that can be behind the vehicle but is short enough that you can’t readily see it through the rear window. But this article points out that backover injuries or fatalities may not really be as big of a problem as the commercials would have you believe, particularly when compared to the number of child fatalities that are caused by children being improperly restrained- not using a seatbelt, booster chair, or car seat. The article also argues that the cost of the cameras may not be justified because backover injuries are not as big of a problem as people think.

According to the article, in 2011 “back-overs” were the cause of 79 child deaths, while for the same year 371 unrestrained children under 15 died in car wrecks. I only see these backup cameras in new, usually expensive vehicles. If I am reading the graph in the article correctly, if backup cameras were required in all new vehicles, the estimated cost would be over 2 billion dollars a year. I wonder what it would cost (if it’s even possible) to install something that wouldn’t let you drive the car if a child was unbuckled or unrestrained?

I have been a personal injury lawyer for about 15 years. During that time I have handled hundreds, if not thousands, of car accident cases. Many of those cases involved cars that had children in them. In my entire career, I have never had a case where a child was seriously injured or killed in a crash when they were wearing a seat belt, or where they were in a car seat or booster chair. Not so much for unrestrained kids. The worst thing I have seen was a dead child on the floor of a minivan, right next to the car seat that nobody bothered to buckle him into. I can’t imagine how the parent looks in the mirror every day. Don’t be that parent. Make sure your kids are safely secured as the law requires, and save me from one more horrifying set of accident scene photos. Please.

Nobody ever calls me because something good happened. That’s an unfortunate reality for lawyers in my line of work.

Every time the phone rings, it is because something bad happened. At best, the bad thing is a totaled car and a painful, but treatable, injury. At worst, the bad thing is a catastrophic injury or the death of a loved one. Empathy is an emotional quality that is a job requirement for personal injury lawyers. If I can’t imagine myself in my client’s shoes, how can I hope to tell their story to a jury in a compelling, persuasive way? I don’t think I could.

Of course, I also need to retain my objectivity so that I am able to give my client sound, well-reasoned legal advice. Decisions such as whether to settle (or for how much) or to press on to trial should not be clouded by being too close to the case. That’s why it is a bad idea for lawyers to represent close friends or family members. I have been doing this kind of work for a long time, and I think I am generally able to balance the right amounts of empathy and objectivity to get the best results for my clients.

One of the many hats I wear at Miller & Zois is that of our in-office appellate specialist. What that really means is that I handle all of our law firm’s personal injury cases that wind up being appealed, and that I accept referrals (from other lawyers only) to handle civil appeals of all types.

One thing I see over and over is briefs from the other side that make the ill-advised choice to attack the trial judge or trial counsel. And I don’t mean with reasoned legal arguments, I mean things that are over-the-top, like allegations that the judge was biased, or ad hominem attacks on the opposing party or their counsel. There are a lot of things wrong with doing that, but the two main ones are 1) it’s unprofessional and 2) making yourself look like a jackass isn’t very persuasive.

If you handle appeals on a regular basis, you should take a look at “Professionalism On Appeal: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, an article by Howard J. Bashman, a Philadelphia-area appellate specialist. I think he sums it up nicely by saying: “Indeed, expressing animosity toward opposing counsel on appeal, or toward the trial judge, usually proves to be counterproductive rather than an effective strategy for victory.”

Today is my favorite workday of the year.

Obviously, I love being home with my wife and family during the holidays, but I can’t shake my affinity for working the days between Christmas and New Year’s. December 26th is the best day of the year to be in the office.

Like many offices, ours is half-empty because a lot of folks have decided to stretch the holidays into a week of family time. My phone will barely ring today because clients, opposing counsel, and insurance adjusters are busy vacationing or just enjoying family time. Other than new case intake (unfortunately, serious injuries don’t take the holidays off) I don’t expect to get many calls today.

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