Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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What boggles peoples minds is the fact that a large number of Maryland car accidents that lead to death and disability settle for $100,000 or less.  Some settle for $30,000 in case where the liability is clear or even if the defendant was drunk out of his mind.

How to get more than the auto insurance policy limits?

How to get more than the auto insurance policy limits

How does this happen?  In many cases, the key to recovery is finding insurance.  You have to know where to look and you have to know how to look.  But sometimes there is nothing there even when you look in the right places.

Okay…so how can this happen?  Maryland requires that each licensed vehicle be covered by auto insurance of some kind.  But the  minimum auto liability insurance required is quite low in relation to the [30] potential that a vehicle will inflict harm. Consequently, a driver may be hit by another car that has as little as $30,000 in maximum liability coverage ($15,000 per person/$30,000 per accident). The non-negligent driver may have been severely injured by another driver who has few personal assets, in which case, even prompt payment of the negligent driver’s $30,000 in liability insurance will do little to compensate the severely injured non-negligent driver. As a result, every driver is constantly at risk of being severely injured by another, largely impecunious driver with low policy limits.

The first path to getting more than the at-fault driver’s policy is to find more coverage for the at-fault driver or use your uninsured motorist coverage. In these cases, the only way to get more than the insurance policy limits is to (1) get a verdict, and (2) the insurance company fails to offer the policy limits.  This happens more often than you think because insurance companies are willing to delude themselves about trial risk.  Insurance companies, at least in Maryland, do not make it difficult to collect more than the policy limits when this happens.

The purpose of this post is to generally explain the path and the law involved in getting more than the insurance policy limits in a car accident case.

Insurance Company’s Obligation

The insurance company for the at-fault driver has few practical obligations to the victim.  But it does have an obligation to protect the at-fault driver from having to pay a judgment beyond the policy limits that it should not have been put in a position to have to pay had they just acted reasonably.  When deciding whether to settle a case, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is required to act in good faith; so the person that caused the accident is not deprived of the benefit of the insurance bargain it earned, by writing that premium check every month.

So an insurer may be liable to its insured if it does not tender the insurance policy limits, even if a policyholder’s claim is not covered under the policy.   The major insurance companies in Maryland realize they have a conflict between protecting their insureds and rolling the dice on a claim.  So if the insurance company does decide to roll the dice, usually they just play it straight and make a promise to the insured that if there is a verdict in excess of the policy limits, they pledge they will pay the claim.  We have yet to get an excess verdict where the insurance company, even raised as a negotiating tactic the idea that the insurer only had responsibility up to the policy limits.

How the Stars Align

The key to getting more money for a case than the policy limits is the insurance company’s arrogance.  We have had so tried so many cases where I thought they must know something I don’t or have some trick up their sleeve because their valuation of the case was so divorced from reality.  But usually the insurer is too lazy or cocky to step back and make an honest evaluation. We tried cases where we have demanded the insurance policy limits; all the while hoping that they refuse to tender the policy, so our client would get a fair verdict from a jury that is greater than the policy limits.   Because if the insurance company does offer the policy limits, that is all they are obligated to pay and that is all that they will pay.

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insuranceOur main office is now in downtown Baltimore.  I love it here.  I really do.  But driving in Baltimore can be a pain. The daily commute usually involves at least one narrowly escaped crash, jaywalkers deciding to cross right as your light turns green, and the Circulator cutting you off a few times. It’s the price of doing business downtown.

Baltimore’s drivers aren’t the best, but they’re definitely not the worst. That’s because they’re only the second-worst. In 2013, Allstate rated Baltimore’s drivers 193rd out of 194 different cities in the US. D.C. was the only city that fared worse.  There is a reason Baltimore car accident lawyers keep pretty busy.  While this reality makes our drives a bit more perilous every day, it affects city residents’ wallets in a huge way.

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handsfreeMaryland has banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Obviously, this includes texting but it also applies to holding a cell phone up to your ear while you talk.

I’m glad we have this law.  It makes sense that you have both hands to drive and react to emergencies.  Right?  It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to figure this out.

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settlement3Valuing car accident cases for settlement in Maryland is a challenge. The most important thing in any case is the severity of the injuries. That is probably all that should matter.  But there are many more variables that drive how much money the insurance company will offer to settle an injury claim before a lawsuit is filed.  This is a list of 12 factors that really matter in determining the settlement value of any auto collision injury claim:

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elderlysigningBecoming the victim of an auto accident can have a profound effect on your life. Even though an accident can happen in the span of a few seconds, it can result in death or injuries and hardships that last months, years, or a lifetime. With that in mind, victims of auto accidents should seek an attorney to ensure that they are compensated for their injuries and/or losses. However, not every attorney is qualified to handle every case. Clients should ensure that they receive the representation that they deserve.   Here are five things to consider when hiring a Maryland car accident attorney:

History of Results

Car accident claims are about money.   That’s it.  The car accident lawyer’s goal has to be to maximize the amount of money the client can put in their pocket.   There is no reason to run from this.  Our civil justice system is based on the payment of money compensation to balance out the harm that was caused.  The point is that you want a law firm that has the goal of getting you as much money as possible and has a history of doing it for their clients.  So when dealing with an accident claim, why jeopardize your potential recovery by placing it in the hands of an attorney (or law firm) without a proven track-record of obtaining money for clients?  Really, it is like putting a high school kid in center field for the Baltimore Orioles.  While skill obviously matters when looking for a lawyer, anyone with a potential auto accident claim must seek the help of an attorney who can turn that skill into results for their client.


In any auto accident case, the need for an experienced attorney is a no-brainer. You need a lawyer with experience representing plaintiffs in these types of cases. But how can you figure out who has real experience and who is just running television commercials so frequently that people just assume they have experience.  First, go back to results, right?  There are a lot of lawyers that get good results because they get so many cases via good marketing because they are bound to get a few good scores just like a blind squirrel will still find acorns.  But it is still a pretty reliable barometer to use as a threshold test.  Next, try to get a flavor of how they are viewed in the legal community.  We always tell prospective clients to call other lawyers and ask for a list of names of the other law firms that handle these cases well.   Most lawyers will answer honestly and you will hear the same few firms over and over again.  Next, read what they write on line.  Are they really providing information that makes sense that you can use?  Do they seem like lawyers who will fight for and stand behind their clients?

Knowledge and Resources

You are probably starting to see how interwoven these categories are.  Our law firm offers free consultations on your case.  So does pretty much every other personal injury lawyer in Maryland.   So take plaintiffs’ lawyer up on this offer.  Talk to them.  You might not understand Maryland accident law and the best path through the system. But I bet you are smart enough to figure out who knows what they are talking about.  Again, also read what they put on-line.  Certainly, it is not a full proof plan.  I found great information on websites from lawyers who I do not think are qualified to handle the cases on which they are speaking quite eloquently.  They probably cut and pasted their wisdom from somewhere.  But, in combination with these other factors, it is a good gauge of who is who. Our firm puts our work on-line.  You can see our depositions.  You can read our trial transcripts.  We have videos on line where we talk about these cases.  Evaluate us and evaluate other lawyers, too.


Everyone wants a lawyer who respects them and will fight for them.  That’s obvious.  The question is how to find the lawyer and how do you find and evaluate which lawyer will do that for you.  You can look at testimonials, sure, but they do not give you a great flavor.  On-line reviews are very misleading because you either have a firm who is pushing for on-line reviews which might give you an incorrect impression or you are listening to a few angry people who usually are just upset that the firm investigated their case and then declined to represent them.  The best thing you can do is talk to the lawyer and ask the hard questions about the type of service you are going to receive.


You need someone with extensive knowledge of auto accident claims, vast experience of settling and trying cases, exemplary client satisfaction, and a track record of getting monetary awards for its clients.  One gauge is the legal awards.   The attorneys at Miller & Zois, for example,  have been recognized by all of the major outlets that give out legal distinctions for Maryland personal injury lawyers: “SuperLawyers,” “Best Lawyers in America,” and “Avvo” and so forth.  I’m proud of these awards.  These are useful, up to a point.  But only up to a point.  I certainly don’t think my inclusion on these lists is a critical component of why I’m qualified to handle you case.  I think you really need to talk to other lawyers to find out who the big players are in Maryland injury cases and, circling back one more time, look at the results these lawyers have gotten.

Hiring Miller & Zois

If you are the victim of an auto accident, or an attorney looking to refer an auto accident case, contact Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082. We offer a free initial consultation for clients and have the tools required to successfully argue your case.

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Pre-impact fright and conscious pain and suffering in Maryland

Pre-impact fright and conscious pain and suffering in Maryland death cases

Many years ago, a jury awarded my partner Laura Zois’ client $4 million in a survival action claim.  The sole evidence — the SOLE evidence — presented to the jury was that the decedent said “Oh s—!” before impact which caused his immediate death.  Since that case, I have had a very aggressive view when it comes to pushing these claims.  Because that case and other cases I have seen and tried show that juries take the most remote fear of grave harm or death as serious as they do any conscious pain and suffering.   I think too many plaintiffs’ attorneys in Maryland are too quick to accept the premise that the victim’s estate cannot make a pre-impact fright or conscious pain and suffering claim.   This post is about Maryland law in both pre-impact freight and conscious pain and suffering cases and why I think this helps the family’s victim recover great damages in wrongful death and survival action claims in Maryland.

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judge2The Maryland Court of Special Appeals handed down an interesting opinion in Asphalt and Concrete Services v. Perry, reversing a half million dollar verdict.  This case is a cautionary tale for lawyers who want to get every possible thing they can in to make the defendant look bad.  I understand the urge, believe me. But sometimes you are just asking for an appeal that is going to get your case reversed.  This is an opinion every Maryland personal injury lawyer — on both sides of the aisle — should read and keep in the back of their minds.   This case also has some good law and bad law for plaintiffs’ lawyers that is worth knowing.

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The Maryland Court of  Special Appeals decided a chain reaction automobile tort case last week in Cooper v. Singleton that leaves me confused about the current state of Maryland law as to how we communicate our presumption of negligence rule to juries in rear-end collisions… and hoping the Maryland high court steps in to clear up the confusion.rearend

This case involved a five car chain reaction car crash in Montgomery County.Four cars had stopped at a red light when a fifth car, driven by the defendant, crashed into the fourth car. The cars hit each other moving forward as you would expect that they would all the way up to the first car.   It must have been a pretty hard hit, obviously.
The plaintiff in this case is car #2; the defendant is car #4. The case goes to trial before Judge Terrance McGann in Montgomery County.  After a three day trial, the defendant wins.
Wait!  What? How do you lose that case?
But I think there was a viable defense to this case. Defendant’s argued sudden incapacity because he suffered a grand mal seizure.  The defendant’s treating neurologist testified that he was taking medication to control his seizures and it was reasonably believed that the medication would prevent future seizures. But, unexpectedly, he suffered a seizure that left him incapacitated.

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My position has long been that speed and red light cameras at least probably save lives. Why? I’ve painstakingly dug through the research, analyzed the underlying data, and made a thoughtful and informed conclusion.

Okay, that didn’t happen. What I did read was a newspaper article on a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that found that traffic deaths at speed and red light intersections dropped by 26 percent. So I concluded from this that the study was unbiased (probably because the IIHS has a reliable sounding name) and took the leap of faith that all cameras must be good.

Could this be flawed logic? Of course, But this is the way the sausage gets made for all of us when we are just coming up with a random opinion where our final decision really does not matter to anyone. We all do it.

So I really don’t know the answer. But I do know that public support for these cameras is now being held together with Scotch tape and the magic of children’s laughter. Why? Because everyone has taken a closer look at the studies? Get serious. The contractors who run these cameras – and the systems designed to compensate them – are fatally flawed.  Continue reading →

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We can all agree that texting while driving is a death wish.  We don’t need an educational campaign.  Everyone knows this now.  The questions is just whether you are stupid enough to risk your life and mine.

The bigger question engendering more real debate is cell phone use in general. I have always been in the camp that the big issue is distracted driving generally. I don’t use the phone when I’m driving with my kids in the car. (No, I can’t explain why I don’t extend this to your kids who are on the road with me when I drive alone.)

accident 4

The real issue is distracted driving

I’m still in that camp. I’ve seen a ton of information that says that handheld phones are not the problem. It is the talking and taking your attention off the road. There is tons of data and studies – literally hundreds – out there about this. But I read this seemly well done study that goes the other way. I don’t know who funded this research but I can’t find anyone dismissing the findings based on bias.

So I don’t know exactly what to think. One plausible approach is to error on the side of safety and quit talking on your cellular phone when you drive because there are conflicting theories. This is a fine position to take but good public policy is a little more complicated. People are just not going to take every precaution. Every billboard that says, “don’t talk and drive” might be better used to remind people that a Maryland resident dies every 40 hours in a drunk driving accident, as Judge Adkins just reminded us (in an instant classic dissent, by the way).

No Want Wants to Believe This Inconvenient Truth

People are so skeptical anyway. My mom stuffed Vitamin C down our throats like our lives depended on it only to find out later it was probably useless. We all have a million examples of this. It is 1000 times worse in 2013 because we get so many facts and statistics and studies online that they all lose significance. If I sent around a Facebook post saying the FDA has approved a drug that will knock 20 years off your life, most of you would hit like button out of courtesy (thanks for that) and go about your day. (That hypothetical didn’t really work. You have to assume that the mass media never reported on it to make sense of it. I tried, okay? Actually, I took a 30 second shot at making it grittier by making it about sex but could not come up with something that was not stupid or offensive.)

So my advice is that we should keep sounding the horn on alcohol and texting and really take a good look at cell phone use and figure out what really matters. Does a hands free option really make a difference or it is just the distraction? We need to figure it out or else public safety advocates are going to be the boy the cried wolf. Some people say that people died from AIDS because the CDC did not have credibility in the late ’70s and early ’80s because they had sounded the alarm too early and often without enough evidence.