Articles Posted in Personal Injury

I just reached a settlement in a case that was set for trial next week. Obviously that is great news for my client, who now has some closure on a difficult period in his life. But memorializing the agreement and having the clerk remove the case from the docket doesn’t mean the end of my job when it comes to settlement.

I had subpoenaed three witnesses to appear for trial: an independent “bystander” witness, a traffic engineer from the State Highway Administration, and a police officer. I made sure to contact each of these witnesses as soon as the case resolved to let them know they would not need to appear. They really appreciated that I let them know. The traffic engineer in particular made it a point to let me know how often attorneys subpoena witnesses from his office and then do not let them know when the case settles. Then they travel to court for nothing.

I can’t believe that. It’s just unprofessional, and arguably violates Md. Rule 2-510(h), which states that “[a] party or an attorney responsible for the issuance and service of a subpoena shall take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or cost on a person subject to the subpoena.” As far as I’m concerned, not telling a witness under subpoena that the case settled and they don’t have to appear causes the witness “undue burden or cost.”

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.

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.

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.

I recently mediated a serious accident case with a retired Court of Appeals judge, where after a 7.5-hour mediation we were able to reach an agreement to resolve the case. This was a lot of work. A meeting to prepare the client. Draft a long (in this case 11 single-spaced pages) confidential statement to the mediator with all the facts of the case, my theory of liability, damages, and an analysis of the important legal and evidentiary issues. Add exhibits showing the scene, the injuries, and key documents (deposition excerpts, witness statements, medical records). Get the exhibits turned into PowerPoint slides for the opening statement.

A mediation like this amounts to about a week’s worth of work if you include the day of the mediation itself and you properly prepare for it.

Let’s talk about some of the roadblocks to a successful mediation.

Picture this: You need a medical procedure, for example, having your gallbladder removed. You arrive at one of the area’s fine local hospitals, where you are seen by a doctor and told “Sure, we can help you, as long as you sign this form giving up your right to sue us for damages if you are injured by malpractice.”

Sounds like a great deal for them, and a terrible deal for you, right? The Cato Institute has issued a paper advocating that agreements like this, in one form or another, should be allowed and upheld by the courts. Surely they can’t be serious? Yes, they are, and no, I won’t stop calling you Shirley. RIP, Leslie Nielsen.

Contracts like this are generally unenforceable. They are called “contracts of adhesion”, and are not allowed because of the extreme inequality in the bargaining positions of the patient and doctor, among other reasons.

Maryland has an increasingly diverse population. This means that our court system needs to keep pace with the needs of our residents. By law, this includes providing interpreter services to those who cannot communicate effectively in English.

Here is an article from the Baltimore Sun about how courts in Baltimore City and Baltimore County are addressing this issue.

Because my personal injury practice is statewide, I have noticed that some courts deal with the issue of providing interpreters more effectively than others. I have found Montgomery County to be most effective and best able to provide interpreters in many languages on short notice. I think this is because Montgomery County has long been one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the state, so they have developed substantial experience serving a variety of non-English speaking populations. There are generally Spanish interpreters available on a few minutes’ notice, and there is an established procedure for quickly and simply requesting interpreters in most languages, who actually show up when they are supposed to be there.

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.

In theory, human life is priceless. Under most belief systems, each human life is uniquely created by God and has an intrinsic value that cannot be measured in man’s terms.

But when you are talking about a death caused by a negligent driver, often the value of a human life ends up being the limit of the insurance coverage. For example, take a look at this Baltimore Sun article about a settlement of a lawsuit for wrongful death caused by an accident on the Bay Bridge in the summer of 2008. This case got tons of local media coverage when it happened. It was alleged that the defendant was driving with a blood-alcohol content of .03 when she crossed into oncoming traffic, causing the death of a truck driver when he swerved to avoid her and went through a traffic barrier and into the Chesapeake Bay.

The value of this truck driver to his family? Immeasurable. The recovery for his loss? $100,000. The limit of the available insurance coverage. And this defendant had five times as much insurance as the State of Maryland requires. Currently, Maryland drivers are only required to carry $20,000 in liability coverage, which will soon increase to $30,000. I have seen death cases where the only recovery is $20,000. Explaining this to grieving family members is an experience that I wish I had never had.

One of the most annoying parts of representing plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits is locating and serving the defendant driver with process. For non-lawyers, “process” refers to the summons issued by the court when a lawsuit is filed. The summons is an order from the court notifying the defendant of the lawsuit and directing her to respond within a particular time period. It is designed to make sure that anyone who is subjected to a lawsuit is given notice of the case and a chance to respond.

serving process defendant abroad
Most often, service of process is made by having a process server physically locate the defendant and hand her the papers. The process server executes a sworn affidavit documenting service, which is then filed with the court.

What if you can’t find the defendant to serve her? Or if the defendant has been served, but has never participated and seems to have vanished? You must consider filing a Motion for Alternative Service or a Motion for Entry of Order of Default.