There are not many resources out there for people who are involved in a motor vehicle accident. Most lawyer websites simply advise victims to “call us for a free consultation,” but those free consultations, more often than not, are short, impersonal, and basically just a sales pitch to get victims to sign the retainer agreement and go home. That’s no way to treat someone who is in an unfamiliar situation, especially if that person has just been injured.
So, from the luxury of your home computer and without any high-pressure sales, here is some information about the process of dealing with a Maryland car accident case. Also included is the average time it takes to get from point A to point B. Please note that not every case is the same, and your situation may be slightly or significantly different from what is described below. That said, these are good generalities. If you have specific questions, give us a call at 800-553-8082.The Accident
Depending on the severity of the car accident, there are some things that you may be able to do to help your case. Here’s a short list:
- Be safe: Make sure that you are in a safe place and there is no risk of secondary collisions. Turn off the engine. If you are in pain, avoid moving unless absolutely necessary.
- Call the police and ambulance.
- Take photographs: Take photographs of your car, the car that hit you, the driver of the car that hit you, any witnesses, and the license plates of cars with drivers or passengers who may have witnessed the collision.
- Get the other driver’s information: Get the other driver’s name, address, phone number, insurance company and insurance policy number. Ask to see his or her driver’s license information, and write down the license number, date of birth, height and weight and the address, if different from what he/she told you.
- Get contact information for witnesses: Some people don’t like to stick around after an accident, especially if they think other people are taking care of the situation. In some cases, though, independent witness testimony can be crucial to proving your claim. Try to get as much contact information from witnesses as possible.
- Call a lawyer: It’s a good idea to get a consultation with a lawyer fairly quickly, if only so you know what the deadlines are. In Maryland, like all states, there are deadlines to file lawsuits and notice requirements. In some situations, you may have to give formal, written and technical notice to some entity (like a local city government) within 180 days (or other time period) after the accident. Sometimes it is hard to know if a local government or other notice-requiring entity was involved in your accident, so you should contact a lawyer to check.
If you think you need an advocate, and you want to talk to one, the most important rule is that you should not have to pay for the consultation. Most tort lawyers offer free informational meetings, but we are always a little surprised when we hear of one who doesn’t. The reality is, there are plenty of good, top-notch lawyers who won’t charge you. Honestly, if someone wants to charge you to meet in an injury case, it is generally unlikely, at least in our opinion, that you are dealing with someone who handles many tort cases if they are trying to make a buck off you in a consultation.
We offer consultations that are convenient to you—you can meet us in our office, call us over the phone, or we can arrange some other location. There are some things you should try to bring with you:
- Photographs: of the scene, the cars, the drivers, witnesses, your injuries (if visible) or anything else important to the case
- Contact information: of everyone who was involved or witnessed the accident
- Insurance policy information: your declarations page and the information of the other drivers in the accident
- Your driver’s license
- Recent paystubs if you missed time from work (even if you used sick time or vacation time)
- Medical records or bills related to the accident
- Estimates, invoices or bills for property damage (for example, the car, damaged articles of clothing, etc…)
- Your health insurance information
- Copy of the police report, if you have it
- List of all doctors or health care providers you have seen because of the accident
This information will help us jump right into your battle. If you don’t have everything, don’t worry. Just collect what you can, but don’t go to a lot of extra trouble. For example, if you don’t have a police report, we will order it. That’s what you are hiring a seasoned solicitor is for —to take care of the details.
At the initial consultation, your perspective counsel will ask you questions about how the accident happened, what medical treatment you received, what your injuries are, whether and to what extent your car was damaged, your insurance coverage, the other drivers’ insurance coverage, and other questions. Here is a sample completed intake. (If you call our office, you can expect to be asked these exact questions.) If you like the lawyer and want to move forward, here are a sample of the documents you’ll be asked to sign:
- Contingency Fee Retainer Agreement: This is the document that our firm uses. We do not take cases on an hourly basis, so there is no money to pay up front. In a contingency fee case, our firm’s fees are based on a percentage of the total settlement or verdict. If the case resolves before a lawsuit is filed, the fee is thirty-three and one-third percent (33-1/3%). If it resolves after the filing of a lawsuit, our fee is forty percent (40%). This is our fee agreement in every single case. Expenses are paid out the client’s recovery only if there is a recovery. Our firm accepts all of the risks of a case, so if there is no recovery, you do not pay anything.
- Limited Power of Attorney for PIP Only: The limited power of attorney allows us to sign your name to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) applications and forms. PIP is insurance coverage that you might have. It provides a limited amount of payment (usually between $2,500 and $10,000) for medical expenses, lost wages, and some other things. Without the power of attorney, we would have to send every piece of paper to you, which you would find to be rather annoying. (You can also skip this step by handling your PIP claim yourself. Our law firm does not charge our clients any fee or cost for processing their PIP claim.)
- AISG Form: There are some companies that keep track of insurance claims made by everyone. The insurance companies use this to determine if accident victims had prior accidents that may have caused injuries that they are now complaining of. For example, if you were in an automobile accident in 1996 and hurt your back, the insurance companies might say that your back pain from the 2012 collision is related to the prior accident. Sometimes the information in these databases is wrong, and we order it so that we know what the insurance companies know.
- Medicare/Medicaid Disclosure Form: If you receive Medicare or Medicaid (medical assistance), and if either of those entities paid money for medical care because of your car accident, they may be entitled to be paid back. This form allows us to talk with them to see what their demands are.
- HIPAA Authorization: This will allow us to collect your relevant medical records and to talk with your doctors about your injuries and case.
In many cases, your counsel will be able to make a decision on liability after you tell him what happened. Liability is basically “who was at fault.” For example, if your car was hit from behind, or if someone pulled out in front of you, it is very likely that the other driver was at fault. In other cases, where the cars collided in a sideswipe collision, for example, it may be difficult to prove who was at fault. This is why witness information is so important. If the lawyer decides that there is a good chance that the other driver was negligent, you will sign forms and he or she should begin immediately. Here are some of the things that your lawyer will investigate to prove the liability component of your Maryland automobile accident case:
- Police Report: if there was a police report, get it. The police report has important information, including (1) where the accident happened; (2) the identity of the other drivers involved in the accident and their insurance information; (3) a description of what the officer believes happened; and (4) most importantly, a list of the names and contact information of any witnesses that the police officer identified.
- Witnesses: The lawyer will then contact all witnesses listed in the police report, and all witnesses that you know about. Especially in accident cases that might be close calls, these witnesses can help to prove your claim.
- Cameras: Video footage can come from a variety of sources—traffic cameras, red light cameras, even cameras attached to nearby buildings sometimes pick up road activity. Your lawyer may seek out and attempt to preserve this type of evidence.
- 911 Calls: If a 911 call was made, the lawyer might need to obtain a copy of the recording. This may be the case where the 911 call was made by an unknown person (who might be a witness), or where the time of the accident may be important.
- Legal Research: There are a number of things your lawyer may need to research with regard to your case, particularly if there are uncommon legal issues that may arise. The lawyer will of course determine whether there are any deadlines, and what those deadlines might be. But the lawyer may need to look at the rules of the road that apply to the location of the accident, and the rules for drivers (for example, if the negligent driver was a commercial truck operator, there are very specific rules of conduct).
The liability investigation phase does not usually take long. Usually is the operative word. In some cases - particularly truck accident cases - the investigation can take months.
The ball usually gets rolling with the police report, which are in many Maryland counties are available instantaneously online. Some counties still require that they be ordered by mail, however, which can take one to two weeks. If 911 tapes or camera footage is necessary, those might take longer to obtain. Speaking to witnesses of course depends on their responsiveness. The liability investigation may be renewed if new information comes in at any later point in the case.Handling The Insurance Companies
At the same time as the liability investigation, your lawyers will work with the insurance companies. This is one of the best reasons to hire a lawyer—so the insurance companies will stop bothering you (we find that some insurance companies are overly aggressive, and some are very unresponsive). When you walk out of your accident lawyer’s office, he or she should immediately send letters of representation to the insurance companies so that they know you are represented. Here are the two typical types of insurance companies:
Your Insurance Company
Your insurance company will sometimes provide the following benefits that we will work out for you:
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP): If your insurance policy gives you PIP benefits, you will probably have somewhere between $2,500 and $10,000 that is quickly available to cover medical expenses, a portion of lost wages, and some other effects of a collision. Your lawyer will set up a PIP claim and make sure the insurance company has everything it needs to make these payments as soon as possible. Some people waive PIP—your lawyer should verify with your insurance carrier whether the PIP waiver complied with all of the rules. Otherwise, you may be entitled to PIP.
- Car Rental: If the negligent driver’s insurance company does not admit fault, or is still investigating the case, you may need to get a rental car while your car is out of commission (whether it is being fixed, or whether you will need to buy a new one). If you have rental insurance, your insurance company may pay for it. Most insurance policies that have rental coverage allow for a maximum of 30 days’ rental. Your lawyer will make arrangements for your rental vehicle.
- Collision: Again, if the negligent driver’s insurance company does not admit fault, or is still investigating the case, you may need to go through your insurance policy to use collision coverage (if your policy has it). Under a collision policy, your insurance company will pay to repair or replace (up to the fair market value) your car. You may have to pay a deductible, which is usually $250 or $500. Your lawyer will help to make collision insurance arrangements, and can help to negotiate the value of your vehicle if it is totaled.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM): In some cases, where the other driver either has no insurance, or has insurance that is too low to pay for all of your damages, your insurance company may step in to pay for the full claims or a portion of the claims. In this situation, your insurance company may become your legal enemy, and may fight you over whether and how much they must pay. Your lawyer will determine when and if you need to make a claim under these insurance policies.
- Repayment: If your insurance company pays for your rental car, car repair or car replacement, it may be entitled to be paid back. It will be reimbursed by the at-fault driver’s insurance company at a later date when the at-fault driver’s insurance company admits liability (in which case you will be reimbursed for any deductibles that you paid). If the other side does not admit fault, the insurance companies will usually engage in a form of arbitration. If your insurance company wins the arbitration, they will pay you back any deductibles that you paid.
The Negligent Driver’s Insurance Company
The other driver’s insurance company will either admit liability for the purposes of settlement, or will deny liability. If they deny liability, there is little choice but to file a lawsuit. If there are compelling facts, it may be worth your time for your lawyer to try to convince them with a demand letter, but this is not usually the case. If they accept liability, here is what they will take care of:
- Car Rental: The negligent driver’s insurance company will pay for your reasonable use of a rental car during the time that your vehicle is being repaired, or for a reasonable amount of time for you to find a new vehicle if your car was totaled in the collision. A “reasonable time” depends on the adjuster—it is usually no more than a week from the time they send payment. We always recommend that our clients use a rental vehicle for the shortest possible amount of time, because there is a risk that the insurance company will not pay costs beyond their deadlines.
- Property Damage: The negligent driver’s insurance company will also pay the lesser of the (1) repair cost of your vehicle; or (2) the fair market value of your vehicle. Your lawyer will help to negotiate the final number if the car was totaled. The insurance company will also take care of any other property damage that you can prove to their satisfaction—for example, broken glasses, clothing that had to be cut away by emergency medical personnel, and destroyed personal property.
Dealing with the insurance companies for most of these can take anywhere from a couple of days to weeks, on average. In extreme cases it can last longer.Damages Investigation
Personal injury attorneys must collect all information on your damages in order to prove your claim. Your attorney cannot complete his or her investigation of your damages until you are done treating with doctors and other health care providers.
- Medical Records: When you finish with each provider, your attorney will order all of the relevant medical records, including ambulance records, if necessary. Your attorney may also order medical records from prior accidents or injuries, and records from later accidents or injuries, depending on the issues in your case.
- Medical Bills: Along with medical records, your lawyer will need to obtain all of your medical bills, even if they were paid by PIP, your health insurance, or Medicare/Medicaid.
- Lien Information: If your bills were paid by Medicare or Medicaid, and sometimes if your bills were paid by private health insurance, your lawyer may have to get an itemized lien statement from that provider. Those providers are sometimes entitled to be paid back when they pay for care related to an accidental injury. Your attorney will check the lien statement, and negotiate whether all items are properly included. Later, your attorney may negotiate the final amount of lien repayment. In some cases, attorneys can get significant reductions.
- Lost Wages: Either you or your attorney will obtain a signed statement from your supervisor detailing the amount of time you missed from work, as well as your hourly wage. This is important, even if you used vacation time or sick time, because you are still entitled to the value of that lost time.
- Permanent Injury: If you are not completely better after the accident, but your doctors say you are at maximum medical improvement, it may be that you have some degree of permanent or long-term disability. Your lawyer will communicate with your doctors and may request that they provide a disability rating to be used in settlement negotiations or trial.
Ordering medical records and bills typically takes a few weeks after the treatment ends Lien information can be more difficult to obtain—health insurance providers usually aren’t bad, but Medicare and Medicaid can be terrible to work with. Sometimes the process takes months, but we speed it up as much as we possible can. The system is slow enough. Your car accident lawyers need to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem of getting your case resolved as quickly as possible.Negotiation
Once the damages information is all collected, a demand package will be written and sent to the insurance carrier (unless they have denied liability, in which case we usually just file a lawsuit). The demand package contains all damages information and a letter summarizing the contents. For sample demand letters, click here and here.
After the demand package goes out, we usually give the insurance company 30 days to evaluate it and respond. The trick here is keeping the insurance adjuster’s attention—most of them are overworked, and once it gets to the demand point, it can be hard to get them to respond to a demand letter unless you have a good working relationship with the adjuster. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we work with many of the same adjusters time after time.
The time spent negotiating a case is limited by our determination of whether there is any substantial progress. If the insurance company clearly evaluates the value of the claim differently than our firm, we will file a lawsuit instead of wasting time. If they seem to be negotiating in good faith, we’ll give them a chance to do the right thing. The entire negotiation process typically lasts for two to three months after the demand letter is sent out. Importantly, there will be no settlement unless you, the client, approves.Lawsuit
If the case does not resolve by negotiation, a lawsuit must be filed. Your lawyer should have a proven track record of success in the courtroom—be very wary of the auto accident lawyer who tells you he was most recently in court a year ago. Good lawyers try cases regularly, and refuse to accept inadequate settlement offers. The specific facts of the case will help the lawyers to determine what court to file it in. Usually, there are two choices:
District Court cases are always tried by a judge—there is no jury. District Court claims are claims that are $30,000 and under. If this is the size of your claim, our firm is unlikely to accept your case.) These are smaller cases. There are three types of District Court auto cases:
- Small Claims: cases filed for $5,000 or less are classified as small claims. The Rules of Evidence do not apply (though, evidentiary rules contained outside of the Rules of Evidence may apply), and there is no discovery permitted. The intent is that non-lawyers can easily go in and do their own case. It’s like a real life People’s Court. Lawyers won’t typically file automobile lawsuits for $5,000 or less, simply because they are comfortable with the Rules of Evidence, and there’s not usually any reason to limit the possible recovery to $5,000.
- Middle Level: Claims between $5,000.01 and $15,000 comprise a middle level in the District Court (there isn’t really a name for these cases—they are sometimes called $15,000 cases). The Rules of Evidence apply, and each party is entitled to fifteen interrogatories against each other party. There are no requests for documents or depositions allowed, except by permission of the court (it’s rare). The benefit of filing for $15,000 or less is that, once filed, the case stays in the District Court and cannot be moved. This means a quicker trial date.
- High Level: Claims between $15,000.01 and $30,000 occupy the higher level of the District Court. These cases have the same features of the $15,000 cases, but the difference is that the defendant may demand that the court “bump up” the case to the Circuit Court, and a jury trial. Plaintiffs’ lawyers must carefully choose whether they file for $15,000 or $30,000. This decision should usually be made in consultation with the client. In some cases, for example, where the medical bills are $2,000 or $3,000, it is extremely unlikely that a judge would return a verdict of over $15,000, so it can be filed in the middle level. However, a case with $10,000 in non-economic damages sometimes might get a verdict over $15,000, depending on the nature of the injury and the quality of testimony on non-economic damages. But, by filing for over $15,000, a client risks (1) losing a quicker trial date (months instead of, perhaps, years); and (2) expenses (circuit court cases are more expensive—for example, the parties may conduct depositions, and serious consideration should be given to having experts testify at trial).
Most District Court cases, when filed, get a trial date about three to four months later. The first trial date is typically pushed back by one or two months. When the case is filed, the plaintiff’s lawyer must deliver the court papers to the negligent driver. Sometimes the addresses are incorrect, or the driver evades service, which can delay things. One the papers are delivered, the driver will usually provide them to the insurance company, who will hire a lawyer. All of that takes time, and the lawyer sometimes requests a delay of the trial to get up to speed. Our firm usually consents to those requests, both because it is a nice thing to do, and because the judge would grant the request even if we opposed it.
In preparation for trial, your lawyer will send written discovery questions (interrogatories) to the negligent driver. The answers to those questions will be evidence in the case, and may even help to limit the issues at trial.
The negligent driver’s lawyer will also send interrogatories that you must answer. We will send them to you with our recommended answers based on our discussions with you and our review of the file. We will ask you to fill in the blanks and let us know if we got anything wrong. You will sign those answers under oath (you promise that you told the truth).
The trial notice will give a specific time to appear (show up early!), but your case won’t likely go at exactly that time. All cases are put on a morning or afternoon docket, and each case in each docket is set for the same time. Judges have different methods of deciding which cases go first. Usually, judges take the uncontested matters first (cases where the parties resolved their differences, or cases where one party didn’t show up), and then take the cases in order of quickest to longest. So, if your lawyer estimates a longer time for the trial, you will probably go last. The exceptions are sometimes when there is a police officer, language interpreter, or numerous independent witnesses—judges sometimes like to send them on their way.
A district court trial typically lasts between 35 minutes and a couple of hours, depending on how complex the case is. There aren’t usually very many witnesses. In most cases, it is just you and sometimes the negligent driver. If there are independent witnesses or damages witnesses (for example, your spouse, who can talk about how your injuries affected you), they may be asked to testify.
The judge usually makes his or her decision immediately after the trial. If you win, the other side has 30 days to appeal the decision. If you lose, you have 30 days to appeal the decision. There usually aren’t many, if any, reasons to appeal a case. If you win, the insurance companies will usually pay the bill within a few weeks.
Maryland Circuit Court
Cases in Maryland Circuit Court can be tried before a judge (a bench trial) or a jury. If the case is filed for $30,000 or less, the victim can present evidence directly through medical records and bills, or can choose to present evidence through expert testimony (usually in the form of a recorded deposition). If filed for more than $30,000, any medical evidence must be presented through an expert witness.
Cases filed in the Circuit Court take much longer than District Court cases. At the earliest, a trial date might be set within one year of the date the case was filed. More often, though, it is one-and-a-half to two years.
Discovery is expanded in Circuit Court cases. Each party is allowed 30 interrogatories (written questions) against every other party; can send requests for production of documents, and can demand depositions of the other parties and witnesses.
It is more common for the lawyers to have arguments about legal issues in a Circuit Court case. Sometimes, these arguments are conducted by written motions and responses, which can be argued before a judge on a specially set date.
Trial in automobile cases might range from an hour or two in bench trials; to half-a-day in jury trials where the only issue is damages; to three or four days where there are complicated issues to decide. A judge will usually decide the case immediately after the trial. A jury may decide it immediately, or may even take a day or two. The person who loses has up to 30 days to file an appeal. If the victim wins and the defendant does not plan to file an appeal, they will usually send a check within a week or so.Settlement After Suit is File
Even after a lawsuit is filed, it is possible that the other side will still try to settle the case. Sometimes they may raise their offer to an acceptable amount, or sometimes the lawyers may agree to have a retired judge or well-known lawyer mediate the case (this is not common in District Court cases). We find that when a defense lawyer enters the picture, that lawyer typically has some sway over the insurance company’s adjuster. In some cases, that new perspective can help to get a case settled. Not always, but sometimes.Hiring Our Law Firm
Again, our law firm handles only serious injury claims. If you call our office with a smaller claim, it may well be that we refer your case out to an advocate that handles smaller claims. But if you have a question, we are glad to try to answer it for you. Our car accident lawyers have the experience to sort through your complicated legal and medical issues and stand up to the insurance companies. We fight every day of our professional lives for fair compensation - and then some - for the victims of car accidents, truck accidents and motorcycle accidents. If you or someone you know has been injured in an auto accident call 1-800-553-8082 to speak to a Maryland accident lawyer experienced in handling auto accident claims or get a free on-line no obligation consultation requesting information or a phone call.Other Resources
Our website has a lot of information for other attorneys and accident victims. Here’s a sampling: