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  • $10,000,000 Malpractice Verdict
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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.

The most time-consuming part of getting any case ready for trial is discovery. This is the process of the two sides learning (discovering, get it?) information about each other’s cases before trial. This is what the lawyers and clients spend their time doing for most of the year between when the case is filed and the trial.

Discovery happens two ways- by exchanging written material, and in person. In person discovery is usually in the form of a deposition, where witness testimony is taken under oath and transcribed for use later on. That’s not what this blog post is about.

Md-reporter
I am here to talk about written discovery, or more accurately, the often ridiculous objections I see used in an effort to avoid answering it. The two primary forms of written discovery are interrogatories and a request for production. Interrogatories are written questions to the other side that must be answered under oath. A request for production is kind of the same, except it is a set of written requests that the other side produces documents or other tangible things relevant to the case.

There has been some controversy recently in the community of Maryland lawyers who handle personal injury and worker’s compensation claims.

Md-reporter-1It can sometimes be difficult to locate medical providers who will treat patients who were injured in accidents or on the job. If the patient was injured in an accident, the physician may have to wait for payment until the personal injury case resolves. In the case of a work-related injury, the physician must by law accept payment according to the fee schedule set by the Maryland Worker’s Compensation Commission, which is usually far less than the rates paid by private insurers. Many medical providers aren’t willing to accept these conditions, so the few who will are an invaluable resource for Maryland personal injury lawyers and our clients.

One of the local medical practices willing to treat these sorts of patients has become involved in proceedings before the Maryland Board of Physicians. Some of their doctors have pending disciplinary charges, and some others have already consented to orders resolving the charges. This has attracted the attention of those in the legal community working on those sorts of cases, and has been commented on by industry bloggers.

I kind of view this as a tempest in a teapot. The charges are not the sort where I would expect any of the physicians involved to lose their licenses or have them suspended.

Perhaps most importantly, the existence of the charges and/or disciplinary orders before the Maryland Board of Physicians is not discoverable or admissible in any civil or criminal action in the State of Maryland.

The Statute on Point

We have a statute for this- Md. Health Occupations Code Ann. §14-410 (a). The statute says that:

(1) The proceedings records, or files of the Board or any of its investigatory bodies are not discoverable and are not admissible in evidence; and

(2) Any order passed by the Board is not admissible in evidence.

So if you find that you have a treating physician or an expert witness who has been involved in proceedings before the Maryland Board of Physicians, relax. Those proceedings are never going to come into evidence, and the jury will never hear about them. Provided, of course, that you are prepared with a motion in limine citing the law on the issue.

Not for nothing, the purpose of this statute is not to help personal injury victims but to protect doctors we are suing for medical malpractice.   But this by-product sometimes helps personal injury lawyers.

This Win Might Be a Loss

Of course, the question you have to ask yourself is whether you want a doctor who has been disciplined by the Maryland Board of Physicians.  There was a case a few years ago where some Maryland doctors in a group who do a lot of personal injury and workers’ compensation cases were disciplined for something that was said to me — according to the gossip mill of unbiased observers who handle these cases — trumped up charges.  I have no clue one way or the other.  But you want to think twice before willingly picking a doctor who has had disciplinary problems because where is smoke there is quite often fire.  Continue reading

A poll recently released by the Defense Research Institute found that an overwhelming majority of respondents found that our civil courts are fair.

Check out the DRI’s release here. Note that the headline says “41% Doubt Fairness of Civil Courts” when the article explains that 58% expressed confidence in court decisions.

There are other interesting nuggets here as well. 83% said that the side with the most money for lawyers usually wins. That’s really interesting in terms of personal injury litigation, where generally only one side has money for lawyers, and the other side only has a lawyer at all because of the existence of a contingent fee agreement.

Yesterday the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland released this opinion reversing the Circuit Court for Baltimore County’s entry of summary judgment against one of our clients. The case involves the application of Insurance Article §19-511 in settling an underinsured motorist claim.

Ron Miller offers some preliminary analysis here. I’m not going to steal Ron’s thunder by getting into the specifics myself. I will say that this opinion doesn’t mean that the case is over, there’s still a long way to go. There may be a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Court of Appeals of Maryland to hear the case, and even if there is no petition or a petition is denied, there are issues to be addressed on remand by the trial court.

But for the moment at least, this is a huge win for our badly injured client. Rod Gaston did a great job setting up the issue in the trial court, and I handled the case on appeal. Our law firm is best known for our trial practice, but we also take a lot of pride in the results we get for our clients on appeal. It matters to us that we are on the front lines of developing the body of law that applies to Maryland personal injury cases because that helps not just our clients, but injury victims all over the state.

Two weeks ago I had a trial scheduled to begin on a Monday.

It was a jury trial that was set for a car accident trial to begin on an agreed date that had been selected 8 months earlier.  My client and his three witnesses — two of them experts — all cleared their schedules to make sure they were available.  I had blocked off the time on my calendar, and so did the two lawyers involved on the defense side.

The Friday before the trial was supposed to start, I received a call from the court’s assignment office.  We wouldn’t be able to begin our trial as scheduled because there was no judge available.  This put us on standby.  That meant that I could be called anytime before 1:30 p.m., and I would have an hour to get to court with my client and my witnesses, ready to begin the trial.  If I wasn’t called by 1:30, I was instructed to call back at 3:30 to see if we would be assigned the next morning.  I called my client and all of his witnesses and let them know of this development.  They were not exactly pleased.

Although this blog is focused on topics related to personal injury litigation, every once in a while I see something off-topic that I feel compelled to address.

This is one of those times. The ABA Journal has a photo gallery of law-related vanity license plates (HT to Kristi Tousignant of the Daily Record). A sampling: ICNVCTU, ISUE4U, SUYAL8R, SUEYATOO, LITIG8R, the list goes on and on.

With all due respect (and yes, I mean that exactly as Ricky Bobby said it) to those who think these plates are cool, you are wrong. I feel comfortable saying this. My first reaction when I see one of these is “Haha, tool.” I do not believe I am the only person who thinks this. My research reveals that 98.76% of all people think law-related vanity plates are totally not cool. Although I made that up, I have never met a single person who thought vanity plates were cool that did not have one.

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