The lure of a settlement loan is clear: upfront money. The interest rate for settlement loans? Imagine the interest rate that Gazzo (Rocky Balboa’s loan shark boss in Rocky I) must have charged. Then double it. Even the lowest rate lawsuit loans that our lawyers have seen are still unbelievably high.
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 a sort of “The Law of Ron” type thing — I had no actual 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.
I wrote this post originally in 2012. In 2018, this bill keeps getting held up. Last year, Senator Bobby Zurkin and others sponsored a bill that would allow for punitive 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.
Early 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 will 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 gained little ground. Every year, over 10,000 people die in drunk driving accidents. That is not the half of it. About 88,000 deaths every year are because of 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 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 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 will never be able to know unless you file suit and get the 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” will not fly.
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 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.
I’m don’t use this blog much for safety tips. Not because they are unimportant, but because you can get that information elsewhere. However, with Labor Day weekend coming upon us, I have to drive to the Eastern Shore so I’d like to be safe. And I get to feel unbelievably superior when I write these things. So let’s talk about using car mirrors properly because it seems like few people know how to use them and fewer understand their limitations. Please read this in a condescending, know-it-all tone.
Mirrors are one of the most vital parts of an automobile. Too many drivers on Maryland roads today, view mirrors as important as getting a NFL Red Zone is to the “Kinky Boots” musical cast playing at the Hippodrome later this month. They are jerking their heads around, like a madman before every aggressive, unsafe lane change they make.
Why? Generally, I think in most liability dispute cases, jurors feel like they have all the information to make the call. Jurors think they understand basic physics and who is telling the truth and rarely look for help from an accident reconstructionist. We had a young lawyer trying his first case against a big law firm in a liability dispute case. The defendants hired one of the best accident reconstructionists in Maryland. Our client barely spoke English. We did not bring an expert. But we won because the jury heard the facts and believed our client.
What boggles people’s minds is the fact that many Maryland car accidents that lead to death and disability settle for $100,000 or less. Some settle for $30,000 in cases where the liability is clear or even if the defendant was drunk out of his mind.
How does this happen? In many cases, the key to recovery is finding insurance. 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 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 an impecunious driver with low policy limits.
Our 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. 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 busy and why Maryland ranks 9th in the cost of car insurance premiums. While this reality makes our drives more perilous every day, it affects city residents’ wallets in a huge way.