Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Most personal injury lawyers are well aware that “red light” auto accident cases are difficult to settle. Anytime we get an auto tort case involving an intersection with a traffic light, we know we will probably need to file suit and possibly go to trial to get fair compensation for the client. The simple reason for this is because insurance companies are more likely to dispute liability in intersection accidents. In this post we will look at the best strategies and approaches for navigating the liability battleground in red light accident cases.

Insurance Companies Often Contest Liability in Red Light Accident Cases

In most auto accident tort cases, it is obvious which driver was at-fault for the accident and their insurance company never bothers to dispute liability. Instead, insurance adjusters tend to focus on disputing the extent or validity of the plaintiffs’ injuries, or the amount of their damages. Roughly 80% of auto tort cases fall into this category where liability is undisputed.

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.

car accident lawyersAs most of you know, my primary practice area is representing people injured in car and truck accidents.

We just completed our sold-out fall seminar on “Maximizing Auto Negligence Claims.” The seminar included a judicial panel featuring five Maryland Circuit Court judges talking about their experiences presiding over car and truck accident cases.

This was a discussion that offered something for everyone, whether a new practitioner or an experienced lawyer. It would be impossible to reproduce all of the excellent advice given, but I want to pass along some choice pieces of wisdom from a few members of our panel.

Hello, everybody! In case you noticed my absence over the last few weeks, I was away getting married and honeymooning. Now I am back at the blog, albeit a little tired from watching late election results last night.

But as they say, all politics is local. In Maryland, some jurisdictions charge for ambulance service, while others do not. For example, Baltimore City charges a $410 fee for ambulance service, while Baltimore County charges nothing.

In May, the Montgomery County Council approved a $400 fee for ambulance service to assist with a 13 million dollar budget gap. After a trip to the Court of Appeals of Maryland and back, opponents of the fee could get the issue on the general election ballot for a referendum. Yesterday, Montgomery County residents voted against allowing the county to continue to charge fees for ambulance service.

Last night, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November raising the jury prayer amount in civil cases. Currently, in any civil case filed seeking more than $10,000.00, the defendant has a right to a jury trial. This provision does not have an escalator allowing it to rise along with the cost of medical care and wages lost.

This bill will permit a Constitutional amendment raising that amount to $15,000.00. Because this law relates to a constitutional amendment, it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. It will now appear on the ballot in November’s general election, where it will hopefully be approved by the voters.

This is an important issue for car accident lawyers in Maryland. As an example, consider a typical soft-tissue injury case. There is an emergency room visit with X-rays and a bill from the ER physician. That’s about $800, conservatively. The client needs 8 weeks of follow-up physical therapy. That’s about $4600. Then include two weeks missed from work, at about $1400 total. That’s $6800 in out of pocket losses. If the client needs an MRI to rule out a structural problem, you are looking at $8,000 in out of pocket damages for a relatively uncomplicated sprain/strain case. Filing for $10,000 does not really provide the potential to make a recovery to adequately compensate that client. But filing for more means that the defendant may pray a jury trial and delay the case for up to a year waiting for a trial date in Circuit Court, and requiring expensive, time-consuming discovery. The plaintiff may need to miss even more time from work to appear at a deposition, a court-ordered medical exam, and a settlement conference.

Last week I spent three days trying a car accident case in the Circuit Court for Charles County. There were two defendants- the driver who caused the accident, and my client’s insurance carrier. There was a direct suit against the insurance carrier because the defendant driver had the minimum insurance permitted in Maryland (20k per person, 40k per incident), and we alleged that the plaintiff’s damages exceeded the defendant’s policy limit. So we brought in my client’s insurance company as a defendant because there were underinsured motorists’ benefits available to cover the damages that exceeded the defendant driver’s policy.

When you are litigating against the tortfeasor and the UM/UIM carrier, there are two legal issues you should expect to address before the trial begins.

First, it is a near-certainty that the insurance company will make a motion to allow it to try the case without being identified to the jury. This makes sense from their perspective because they do not want the jury to know that any damages will be paid by an insurance company, or that the Plaintiff was forced to sue his own insurer.

I have been away from the blog for a few days because I have been preparing for an oral argument in the Court of Appeals of Maryland. See, when I ignore you readers it is only because I have been doing big, important lawyer-type things.

Yesterday, I argued two consolidated appeals where the issue is the scope of discovery that lawyers can obtain into the financial bias of retained expert witnesses. Nearly every Maryland personal injury case involves some type of expert testimony.

Generally, this falls into two categories. First are treating doctors who are drawn into cases simply because they happened to treat a patient who was injured in a way that later became the subject of litigation. These are not the people I am concerned with. Second, are experts who are only involved in the case because they are sought by one side or the other to give opinion testimony for money, specifically for the purpose of litigation. The way this mostly comes up in what I do is the defense side on an auto or trucking accident case hires a doctor to examine the plaintiff and to testify to one of the following: 1) There is nothing wrong with them; 2) There is something wrong with them, but it is not as bad as they say it is; or 3) There is something wrong with them, and it is as bad as they say it is, but it was caused by anything other than the accident.

The way people think and speak about time is a recurring issue in personal injury lawsuits, particularly those involving auto and truck accidents. All drivers are constantly required to judge speed and distance simply to get where they are going. This leads to the perception that drivers and witnesses can accurately estimate time, speed and distance. However, scientific studies by professional accident reconstructionists confirm that eyewitnesses are most often wrong when they try to estimate these factors.

Often, people speak in a very non-literal way about time. A minute is seen as a very short period of time by most people. A minute is about 1/1400th of a day. When a witness says something took “about a minute” they very rarely mean that it took 60 seconds. More frequently, they mean “not very long.”

This can be extremely important in intersection cases. It may arise in the context of how long the plaintiff or defendant had to see and react to oncoming traffic. Or where a vehicle was when a light changed, or how long it took for a vehicle to travel from point A to point B.

Today is October 14. Each month the Maryland Board of Physicians posts on its website a report of sanction proceedings against the physicians and other medical professionals it regulates. The sanctions for September, 2009 were just posted today.

This is a big deal. That list of sanction proceedings is pretty much the only way for Marylanders to know if there has been a proceeding against their doctor’s license. Here is a great example to show why this is important, and why the Board of Physicians gives mere lip service to the safety of Maryland patients.

I have a client who was injured in an accident on January 1, 2007. She did what most people would do. She had a visit at the ER, and then followed up for treatment with her regular doctor. She was treated by her primary care doctor from January 20, 2007 to December 12, 2007. The doctor prescribed medications, physical therapy and chiropractic treatment. That all sounds great, right? Perfectly appropriate.

I just finished a two-day jury trial in the Circuit Court for Cecil County. Based solely on the preceding sentence, any experienced Maryland personal injury lawyers reading this probably have an idea where this post is going.

I was trying one of the most difficult types of cases to present to a jury. A rear-end collision with no visible damage to the vehicles involved, allegations of a fairly serious injury, and venue in a rural, conservative county with a (well-deserved) reputation for not being plaintiff-friendly.

The defendant driver claimed that she merely took her foot off her brake pedal a little too early while stopped at a traffic signal and drifted into the back of my client’s car. The photos of the vehicle damage supported this version of events- there was no damage visible.