Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

Knee dislocations are relatively rare in automobile accidents.  But we have seen a number of these recently so I’m writing today about these injuries and to give you some idea of the potential settlement value of these claims.

Knee Discloations in Car Accidents

knee-200x300Knee dislocations occur from athletics,  high energy impacts, such as a car crash, or low impact falls in people that are extremely overweight.  A dislocated knee is non-functional, often painful, and induces large abnormal strains on the collateral ligaments.   Because of the potential for neurovascular damage associated with the injury, knee dislocations are considered to be one of the most serious knee injuries.

I have long said it is an open question under Maryland law as to whether you are required to give a recorded statement to your own insurance company if you are making an uninsured motorist claim even if the insurance contract obligates you to do so.

The theory is that Maryland has a statutory scheme that preempts any contractual obligation imposed by the contract.  I didn’t make this up, I stole it from Janquitto’s book on Maryland insurance law.  (You should own if you are a lawyer handling auto tort cases in Maryland.)

I’m not sure whether this argument was advanced in Dolan v. Kemper, a new Maryland Court of Special Appeals case decided last week.  But if it was, the CSA has shut the door on it.

Insurance Companies Put Up a Fight

Get Your Case Settled for a Good Value

I believe car crash injury victims are always better off hiring counsel for many reasons not worth fully exploring here. But if there is any type of claim where an injured victim can justify proceeding without a lawyer, it is in the classic neck or back soft tissue/whiplash injury traffic collision case with clearly no permanency.

My belief has always been that the benefit of experienced counsel can bring to a case is going to vary inversely with the severity of the injury.  If you have a permanent injury, you are foolish if you don’t hire a lawyer.  (I wouldn’t handle my own case either because that is also an awful idea.)  A quality attorney in those cases is statistically going to get you a lot more money – put a lot more money in your pocket – than you would get for yourself.  The same is probably true in soft tissue neck/back injury cases, too.  But the difference is much less significant.  Some people just prefer the path where lawyers are not taking money away from their settlement.  So be it.

But the reality is that millions of Americans walk away from a settlement with an insurance company with a smile without knowing they just got completely ripped offI DON’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN TO YOU.  

Before I get into the list of things you need to do when trying to reach an out-of-court settlement for your case, let’s be clear what you are not going to specifically find here – or anywhere – that many of you are looking for: the specific value of your case. It is not hard to figure out who much money you should get for a whiplash type case. It is really not. But it requires reading the medical records and knowing where the case would go to court. The Internet won’t do that for you. So, seriously, you can quit looking. I won’t be able to tell you in this blog post how much money your soft tissue case is worth. (You can get some real information, however, here.)

While, obviously, I’m not offering legal advice to you because you are not a client of our law firm, this is a generalized list of what you should consider in handling your own soft tissue whiplash injury case in Maryland without a lawyer:

Recorded Statements

You can settle your own case and still not give a recorded statement. The myth is that if you are honest, a recorded statement can’t hurt you. It is not true, for reasons that are discussed more fully here. There is no obligation to give a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company in Maryland (I do not think there is a state that does).

That is the short answer. The longer answer is more complicated. In some cases, our accident lawyers allow the client to give a statement for reasons that are too complex to address here. In uninsured motorist cases in Maryland, arguably you are required to give a recorded statement as a condition of recovery.

Get Pictures of Accident and Injuries

Get photos of your car, any visible injuries that you have, and the scene of the accident. This is critical to establishing liability and the scope of your injuries. There are lots of studies that say there is no correlation between the severity of the property damage and the victim’s injuries. But, intuitively, these studies don’t make sense to any of us. We all figure that the more serious the accident, the more likely there are to be serious injuries. Insurance companies definitely feel that way and offer more money in “good impact” cases.

Collect All of the Medical Records and Bills

The guts of a soft tissue injury claim are contained in the medical records and medical bills. Collect them all. Yourself. The insurance company is obligated to compensate you for all medical bills that you incurred from the accident, regardless of whether these bills have already been paid by PIP or health insurance. Insurance companies have made billions pretending this rule – called the collateral source rule – does not exist when settling accident claims with victims without lawyers (or with clueless lawyers).

Medical Treatment

Insurance settlements

Settling soft tissue case without an attorney

How much medical treatment should you get? If you treat too little, the insurance company says you are not really hurt. If you treat too much, the insurance company says you are milking the bills to try to get a better settlement offer.  In a soft tissue case, the insurance carrier is likely to hold it against you either way.   That’s the reality of it.

In the end, the best way to maximize the value of your soft tissue injury case is to listen to your body and your health care providers and do what you and they think you should. Serendipitously, this also happens to be the best thing for your case. (Parenthetically, if you are thinking of getting additional medical treatment or tests because you want to increase the value of your case, please stop reading this. I don’t want to help you.  You are taking money away from people who are really hurt.)

Figure Out the Statute of Limitations

Again, going forward without a lawyer – actually, going without a good, experienced accident lawyer – comes with risks. One of those is getting the statute of limitations wrong. It seems easy enough. But there are so many ways to get it wrong. Without having a lawyer review your case, you are taking a risk because there are general statutes of limitations and sometimes more specific statutes in some jurisdictions. In most cases, you will be fine without a full analysis of the details of the statute of limitations issues, but obviously, you are running a real risk.

If you think this is a risk worth taking, at least do some research. In many states, including Maryland, the time allowed for bringing a claim against a governmental agency or its agents or employees has a statute of limitations that is a small fraction of the general statute of limitations (and it is hard to always know in what capacity the defendant driver was acting at the time of the accident).  I’m begging you, don’t assume that justice will be done in the end because the judge will not let you lose your entire claim on some dumb technicality. Believe me, it happens all of the time.

Talking to Your Health Care Providers

Tell your doctors and your health care providers everything that they need to know about your current condition and past medical history. Be completely honest or it will most likely end up coming back to haunt you.  I’ve told clients this who refused to listen.

But… also keep in mind that everything you tell a health care provider may well show up in your medical records. You do not need to offer additional information that is unrelated to your case.  So if you knocked over a convenience store 10 years ago, you might want to keep that under your hat.

Don’t Lie to Your Doctors… Or the Insurance Company

I just touched on this but it is worth repeating.  The big mistake we see people make time and time again is that they shade the truth or flat out lie, thinking that no one will ever know. Who could possibly know that I hurt my back 8 years ago in a skiing accident in Colorado? The insurance company – that is who.

It is counterintuitive for some. But the best way to maximize the value of your case is to be completely truthful to everyone at all times. You don’t have to offer up every skeleton in your closet. But it does mean that you should not tell anyone anything or put it in writing unless it is 100% accurate.

Do liars sometimes get over on the insurance companies? Absolutely. But, I’m telling you, statistically, the liars and exaggerators do not do as well as clients who play it straight.  These companies have access to a lot of information, including any prior claims you have made of any kind.  Just do the right thing.  Play it straight and you will help your case and you can sleep at night.

Is There a Formula I Can Use to Calculate the Value of My Case?

There really is not. But I’ll give you a few anyway. There are 2 different formulas that insurance companies may occasionally use to calculate pain & suffering damages in accident cases: (1) the multiplier method; and (2) the per diem formula.

The multiplier formula looks at your economic damages (lost wages, medical expenses, etc.) and multiplies them by 3 to calculate pain & suffering.  So if your lost wages are $2,000 and your medical expenses are $8,000 your total economic damages = $10,000.  Using the multiplier method your pain & suffering damages would = $30,000.

The per diem formula calculates pain and suffering based on a daily rate multiplied by the number of days you were injured.  So if your daily rate is $100 and it takes you 50 days to recover from your injury your pain and suffering would be $100 x 50 = $5,000.

I like the per diem settlement formula better because it takes into account the scope of the victim’s injuries.  Just multiply the medical bills and special damages is a completely foolish way to settle cases.  Why does anyone even talk about “times bills and specials” as a formula for settling cases?  It is the easiest to calculate.

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Some of the most serious personal injury cases our firm handles involve motorcycle accidents.  Too often, other drivers don’t pay attention or fail to yield to motorcycles.  Even a minor collision can result in significant injury or even death for a motorcycle rider.  Our lawyers have been successful in obtaining significant settlements and verdicts in Motorcycle cases throughout Maryland.  Our singular focus is to assist our clients in getting the maximum amount of financial compensation for their motorcycle accident case.

How Much is a Motorcycle Accident Case Worth?

There is no definitive answer to this question of the settlement value of Maryland motorcycle accident cases.   If anyone spends more time trying to figure out how to objectively understand the range of possible settlement and trial values for personal injury claims, I want to meet that person. I regularly track analytics on average financial awards for all types of accident cases, not just in Maryland but around the country.  But the truth is that every case is unique making value comparisons very difficult.  Moreover, the many motorcycle accident cases — including a large number of ours – are resolved with confidential settlements that are not reported.

Our lawyers handle lawsuits involving anoxic brain injuries.  Anoxic brain injuries can result from medical negligence, childbirth malpractice or a serious accident.  Our firm is very familiar with the science of anoxic brain injuries.

What is an Anoxic Brain Injury?

The brain is the most important and complex organ in the human body.  The brain controls everything in the body.  The cells in the brain require a constant supply of oxygen.  When deprived of oxygen, even for a short time, cells in the brain can die.  Anoxia is a term meaning the absence of oxygen.  Hypoxia is a related term meaning low or insufficient oxygen.  An anoxic brain injury is damage to cells in the brain caused by total oxygen deprivation.  The oxygen loss causes cells in the brain to die.  The extent and severity of an anoxic brain injury will vary depending on how long the brain cells are deprived of oxygen. Once brain cells die they do not regenerate.  An anoxic brain injury can result in permanent mental and physical disabilities.

I met a really nice woman last week who young high school son was tragically killed in a car accident in which he was a passenger.  I meet the nicest people in this job and I always wish it was under different circumstances.

Anyone who drives is very familiar with this scenario in this wrongful death case.  You’re out on the road and see another driver who is trying to make a turn or change lanes.  Empathy is natural because you have been in that same situation yourself.  You recognize that you’re in a position to maybe help them out a little so you back up a few feet, make some eye contact and graciously hand signal for them to “go ahead.”  Most of the time the other driver gladly advances, gives a thanks signal, and everyone drives away with warm, fuzzing feelings of roadway civility (unless they do not give “the wave” which should be a felony).

But what if they proceed with their turn in response to your friendly signal and get t-boned by an oncoming truck in the next lane that neither of you saw coming?  I knew the answer to this question but it was sort of “The Law of Ron” type thing — I had no real source for my conclusion and a few lawyers at my office disagreed.  So I thought my research would make a good blog post for other lawyers.

I wrote last week about a bill pending in the Maryland House of Delegates that would authorize punitive damages against drunk drivers who caused “injury or wrongful death while operating a motor vehicle.” For whatever reason, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee rejected the bill which means it is not happening.

2018 Update

I wrote this post originally in 2012.  In 2018, this bill keeps getting held up.  Last year, Senator Bobby Zurkin and other sponsored a bill that would allow for puntive damages if the drunk in question caused physical injury or death while driving with a BAC of .15, nearly twice the legal limit.  The burden of proof would be higher — clear and convincing evidence — making the burden higher for plaintiffs.  But the bill failed once again.

hotgirls3Early Saturday morning, the United States Senate passed a bill that, if enacted, will be a boon for car accident lawyers in Maryland and around the country.  The Senate’s tax reform bill included language which would decrease the federal alcohol excise taxes by 16 percent and lead to steep cuts in the cost of beer, wine, and liquor.  It is a “car accident lawyer jobs bill” although sources tell me this is not the official title of the bill

The newly passed Senate’s bill would, for example, cut the federal taxes on beer from $7.00 to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels and from $18.00 to $16.00 per barrel on the next six million barrels. I am unfamiliar with how big a barrel is, but I know that it is going to cut the cost of buying alcohol.

Fewer people die in drunk driving accidents than when I was a kid.  Even though billions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate drunk driving, we have not gained much ground.  Every year, over 10,000 people die in drunk driving accidents.  That is not the half of it.  An estimated 88,000 deaths every year are attributable to alcohol, which makes it the third leading cause of preventable deaths after smoking and poor diet/lack of exercise.  But we are not talking about just deaths.  Alcohol destroys families and leads to crime, illness, and non-fatal car accidents.  Not for nothing for those who are excited about the ostensible economic benefits of this tax plan, alcohol use slows down economic productivity and leads to job losses.

You’ve met your injured client, executed your fee agreement, gathered your facts and put your file together. Your client is asking whether it is time to settle her personal injury case. Is it time to consider a settlement?  If you settle a case too soon, you are leaving money on the table.  If you wait too long, you are wasting time…. or worse.

Be Clear on Notice and Filing Deadlines

when can i settle personal injury case

When can I settle my client’s personal injury case?

When deciding whether it is time to settle your case, first and foremost, check the statute of limitations.  If you have a statute problem, all bets are off. If you have less than six months, file suit.  You can worry about settlement later.  You do not want to lose your right to bring a claim. There are exceedingly few to exceptions to a statute of limitations.

You can always serve the defendant, send a copy to the claims representative with whom you’ve been dealing, and agree to take no further action during a fixed time period, during which it is understood that settlement negotiations will be addressed. Also, be sure early on, when opening your file, whether there are any statutory notice provisions with which you must comply pre-suit.  Sometimes they are obvious — clearly county-owned vehicle — and sometimes you are never going to be able to know unless you file suit and get defendant’s discovery responses. 

You can always serve the defendant, send a copy to the claims representative, and agree to take no further action during a fixed time period, during which it is understood that settlement negotiations will be addressed. Also, be sure early on, when opening your file, whether there are any statutory notice provisions with which you must comply pre-suit. Claims against state and local governments typically have provisions such as these, which require specific notice to be given to designated officials.  If you are an inexperienced lawyer or a pro se plaintiff, read that last sentence carefully.  Because “Oh, come on, I’m sure it got to the right person” is not going to fly.

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When should you retain an expert in a personal injury accident case?  The short answer is early, usually earlier than you think.Experts recommend

This is never a problem in medical malpractice cases, because it is well understood that medical malpractice claims are predicated on expert  testimony, to even bring forth a claim in the first place.  But lawyers — both Plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense attorneys —  typically wait too long.

How do you know whether or not you need an expert?  Investigate.  Early.  Do you have a problem with speed, with drinking, with highway design, or with a “dangerous condition?” You will not know if you have any of these problems, without investigating your claims properly.

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