COVID-19 Notice: We are providing FREE consultations via phone or video conferencing for your safety and convenience. Learn More »

Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Uninsured/underinsured motorist cases are probably the most complicated kind of car accident cases you will see. These cases are called “hybrid” actions because they combine contract and tort law. You have the underlying tort case against the negligent driver, along with a contract cause of action against the UM carrier. You will have the normal concerns about proving liability and damages that you would have in any car accident case. In addition, you must be careful to prove the contract elements that you need to show entitlement to UM benefits.

These are things like the existence and extent of the tortfeasor’s liability coverage, the existence and amount of the UM coverage, and the plainitff’s entitlement to benefits. Obviously, you would send interrogatories to seek to establish one or more of the contractual prerequisites. But another good way to get the needed proof is to use an under-utilized but very powerful discovery device called a Request for Admission.

These are governed by Md. Rule 2-424. Basically, they are a list of facts, the existence of which the defendant is asked to either admit or deny. If admitted, the admission is considered conclusive proof of the existence of the admitted fact for the purposes of the case. They are especially good for proving the existence of simple “paper” facts like the ones you encounter in a UM case.

Here is another great real-life trial preparation tip that I have forgotten myself in the past: Check the weather the day before!

I am finalizing my preparations for a trial tomorrow in a car accident case in Baltimore County Circuit Court. According to weather.com, there is a 60% chance of rain tomorrow morning. So my trial prep now includes making sure I remember my galoshes, raincoat, and umbrella. It is hard to make a good first impression on the jury when you look like you wore your suit in the shower. From a performance perspective, it’s nearly impossible to be at your best when you have wet, cold feet. I know I look like a dork in my galoshes. A warm, dry dork. So I don’t care.

I highly recommend the overshoes that I wear (pictured), the Neos Villager. They come up well over the ankle, so they work great in rain or snow. They are more costly than simple rubber ones, but they work better and last longer. Mine were a gift (thanks, Mom!) but if they ever wear out, I will gladly buy another pair.

In Part I, I talked about how useful a set of portable office supplies can be for staying organized at trial. But that is just a small part of the required level of organization. In this installment, I discuss another vital part of my overall organizational system- the trial box. Keep in mind that I am describing how I organize the typical 2-3 day jury trial. Longer, more complex trials travel in a larger set of boxes that are organized following the same basic outline.

I have a portable file box with wheels that all of my paper materials go in. This is a collapsible plastic box the size of a milk crate with wheels and a handle- the kind you see sales reps and business “road warriors” use. I organize it from front to back using file folders and large Redweld-style folders. Less important or less frequently used items go in the back, more important or often-used items are toward the front.

Starting at the back and moving forward, this is what it contains:

Earlier this month, I had a three-day jury trial in a car accident case in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. I tried the case along with the referring lawyer under a Rule 1.5 fee-sharing agreement. Although he is an experienced lawyer, he had never handled a jury trial before because his practice is primarily transactional. He sat second chair, handled a few of the witnesses, and did a great job.

We do this pretty frequently here at M&Z. We encourage our referring lawyers to stay as involved in the cases as they wish. This can range from a straight referral where M&Z has primary responsibility for the case, to a true co-counsel relationship with shared responsibility where we try the case together. I love trying cases with other lawyers, whether it is splitting a trial down the middle with another experienced M&Z trial lawyer or having a less-experienced attorney sit second chair as a learning experience. We had a great time, and our client ended up being very satisfied with the jury’s verdict (which was more than 5 times the last settlement offer of the medical bills only).

Our client was a young woman who had sustained a knee injury in the accident. The defense hired one of the local “usual suspects” to perform a defense medical examination and to give opinion testimony at trial.

When a driver gets sued for injuring somebody in a car accident, they don’t have to go out and spend their own money hiring a lawyer to defend the case. They call up their car insurance company and tell it that they have been sued. They send in the papers, and the insurance company provides them with a defense attorney.

Sometimes this is an “in-house” insurance defense lawyer, other times it is an outside lawyer selected and paid by the insurance company. Either way, the insurance company picks and pays for the driver’s defense attorney. So what you have is a three-sided (or “tripartite”) relationship- insurance company, defense attorney, and defendant driver.

Whether in-house or outside counsel, the defense lawyer has a paramount ethical duty to act in the best interest of his or her client- the defendant driver. This is true even though the insurance company selected the lawyer, is paying the lawyer’s fee, and controls most of the important decisions in the litigation, including whether to settle and on what terms.

As the Internet Age progresses, personal injury litigation will continue to change. This extends to the “toolkit” that lawyers use to prove liability in car accident injury cases.  Technology creates more weapons for and against us.

What is Google Earth

Google Earth is a computer program that allows users to get a bird’s eye view of almost any place on Earth.  Google obtains its images from NASA’s Landsat 8 Satellite system taken from far above the earth’s surface. You can type in GPS coordinates or manually add a marker by clicking any spot on the map.

It has been a very busy summer for me and there is no respite in sight. This is a good problem to have during a time when even large national law firms have been downsizing because of a lack of work.

I just finished a jury trial in Baltimore City against two defendants – the driver who struck my client and her uninsured motorist’s insurance carrier. This lady was hit by an uninsured driver. He was uninsured because he was an excluded driver on the insurance policy for the car he was using.

At first, it didn’t seem like a terrible accident. My client first noticed her back and leg pain at the scene that got progressively worse. She was taken to the emergency room by ambulance, and during her follow-up treatment she was diagnosed with two herniated discs from the accident. She was evaluated by an orthopedist who said that the two herniated discs were caused by the accident, and that her problem would be permanent. Her medical bills weren’t extreme—approximately $8,000.

Most lawyers who regularly handle car and truck accident injury cases are used to filing lawsuits in cases that happen at intersections controlled by traffic lights. These cases just seem to settle less often than other kinds of traffic accident cases.

I believe this is because these cases present more chances for insurance companies (and later, defense attorneys) to find a reason not to pay the claim. First, I think people are more likely to be seriously injured in intersection cases because at least one of the vehicles involved is moving at full speed. So there is likely to be more grist for a dispute about the value of the Plaintiff’s damages claim. Second, these cases lend themselves to disputes over liability- namely, who had the right of way. This is great for the defense because a liability dispute gives them a chance to beat the claim entirely.

In these cases, it can be nearly impossible to prove liability without a witness, and sometimes can be problematic even when there is a witness. You may get lucky, and find that the police located a bystander witness who was traveling in the same direction as the plaintiff or defendant, and can testify as to the color of the light for that person.

Update: This law was passed. 

Today, I will be testifying before the Maryland General Assembly’s House Environmental Matters Committee in favor of HB125. This bill will require the MVA to establish regulations requiring self-insureds to provide the name, address, self-insurance certificate number, and claims information for the self-insurer at the scene of accidents. A hearing before a committee is one of the first steps in a bill becoming a law. Remember the Schoolhouse Rocks? Even though this is a state bill instead of a federal one, check out “I’m Just a Bill” for a basic description of the process:

Most vehicles on the road are covered by standard insurance policies issued by insurance companies everyone has heard of — State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide, Progressive, etc. Maryland law currently requires drivers involved in an accident to give the other party his name, address, vehicle registration number, and insurance information. This is usually enough for the party who was not at fault to make a claim and have the vehicle damage repaired and any injuries addressed. If there is a police report, this information is included.