Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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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.

Experience

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.

Respect

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.

Reputation

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.)

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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.

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Today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said we should lower the blood-alcohol limit from .08, the current standard, to .05. The NTSB argues that the U.S. is too lenient when it comes to drunk driving and wants the U.S. to adopt the same standard as other countries, such as those in Europe.

Even "just a little" drinking and driving leads to deaths in Maryland

Even “just a little” drinking and driving leads to deaths in Maryland

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells us what we have known for a zillion years: alcohol plays a role in nearly one-third of traffic deaths in America.

But the NTSB tells us something incredibly new, providing data that the risk of a crash is reduced by half when the definition of “drunk driving” encompasses the .05 standard instead of the .08 standard. Depending on body size, the difference between .08 and .05 is one to two drinks over a three hour time span.

It is hard not to cut to the chase on this. There are 12,000 deaths, give or take, a year in this country from drunk driving. Now imagine in your mind 6,000 people in a room that could have been saved by everyone having just a few less drinks. Then imagine everyone who loved those 6,000 people in a room. I have to think the NTSB is on the right side of history on this.

(I just pulled a little trick there. The NTSB says “car crashes” and I turned that into “car crash fatalities.” But if you reduce that 6,000 to 3,000, does it really detract from the point I’m making?)

We had been reducing drunk driving deaths for a while but we have hit a stopping point. We either need to increase penalties or reduce the BAC. Those, it seems to me, are the two weapons we have in our arsenal to get past the bottleneck.

This idea that a few drinks do not impact driving is crazy.  Play a video game and try to get your high score on two beers.  You just can’t do it.  Alcohol is dose responsive.  Every little bit makes you a little less competent to drive.

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The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill this week which would make talking on a handheld cellphone while driving a vehicle a primary offense. If the bill is signed by Governor O’Malley, as expected, a police officer would be able to pull a driver over under this bill for talking on a handheld while their vehicle is in motion. The bill would allow you that quick phone call at a stop light and you can still use your GPS on your phone.

rearendA first handheld offense would be punishable by a fine up to $75 fine. A second offense could be $125, and a third could be $175.  A fourth offense?  Geez, do we need to even figure that out?  I think if you drive through the city screaming “Hey, look, no seat belt” you still are probably not going to get charged with this three times.

This is the progression of things. It is easier to pass the bill as a secondary offense and then bump it up in a few years. We are sheep and accept change a little better that way.

The problem is that there is data that suggests that it’s not the holding of the phone, but the distraction in general that causes more accidents. It may be that it is not so much where your hands are when you are driving – not many of us are in a 10-2 position anyway – but where your mind is.

So should we eliminate talking on the phone while driving? Honestly, we probably should. I talk on the phone constantly when I’m driving but never with my kids in the car. But there is zero – absolutely zero – inertia to ban cell phone use while driving because the real problem we are fighting is not driving and talking about driving and being distracted at all.  Everyone turns a blind eye to these statistics because we believe what we want to believe and we don’t want to give it up. Ironically, there is just one group that sees it my way: insurance companies.  To use a 2104 reference, it is like us fighting ISIS which aligns us nicely with the Syrian government who we nearly bombed just a year or so ago.

The Libertarians scream why not ban people from changing the radio station while driving.  First, stop screaming again.  You guys are always screaming.  Second, why not?   While the car is moving is not a great time to be changing the radio station.

But moreover, it is just a matter of degree.  I know there is a slippery slope but life is lead on a slippery slope. We can have a police without being a police state and we can draw the line cleaning in between talking on the phone while driving and changing the radio station while driving.

Marylanders young and old are dying on our roads from distracted driving.  They don’t upset us too much because they are theoretical and abstract.  I hope it stays that way for me and you.  Because some people are not so blessed.

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A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that Baltimore County’s contract with its speed camera vendor is illegal, because it allows the contractor to get a cut of every ticket generated. Although Judge Susan M. Souder’s ruling dismissed only a single ticket, this decision is believed to be the first time a judge has ruled against the legality of this so-called “bounty system” practice.

In this case, Baltimore County’s contractor, ACS Xerox, received a whopping $19 from every $40 ticket. As you might imagine, the bounty system has raised many objections because it incentivizes contractors to maximize the number of tickets issued, which can lead to mistakenly generated tickets. In one instance, a motorist was cited for traveling 57 mph in a 25 mph zone despite the fact that the driver was actually sitting still.

Maryland law, however, specifically seeks to eliminate profit incentives by banning bounty systems. Transportation Article § 21-810(j)(2) of the Maryland Annotated Code states, “If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.” In practice, however, this restriction is effectively nullified as long as contracts avoid using the term “operate.” The Office of the Attorney General even provided an advisory letter in 2008 instructing Montgomery County to change the wording of its contract to specify that the county, rather than the contractor, operated the speed cameras, thus skirting the restriction.

The present case is not the only lawsuit that has been introduced. The bounty system previously ignited a legal clash in 2008 when ticket recipients filed suit against Montgomery County and several municipalities in the county. The Maryland Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the plaintiffs did not have the power to sue under the law, but did not decide whether governments can pay contractors a contingency fee based on the number of tickets generated by the speed cameras. Continue reading →