Serious auto accident cases have been a central focus of our law firm since we opened our doors 18 years ago. We have earned our clients over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in motor vehicle accident cases. We believe this blog and our website does more than anything else online to educate victims about their rights and let them better understand the opportunities they have for compensation… and how to get it.
Depending on the severity of the accident, the first thing that you should do is seek medical treatment for anyone who needs it. Granted, if it is a fender bender, EMS might not be necessary. At an accident scene, be vigilant of all the details. Make sure you know who your witnesses are, the amount and severity of the damage to the involved vehicles. Also, know the circumstances including the conditions, the precise location, and even the positions of the vehicles. This can only help you in the long run. Remember what they told you in kindergarten: silence is golden. Try to say as little as possible at the accident scene. You do not need to prove your case to the police officers or anyone else at the scene of the accident. Do not estimate speeds, predict who was at fault, or speculate about the accident and the evidence. Instead, seek medical treatment if you need it, then contact a lawyer when your claim is fresh in your mind and accident reconstruction evidence can be accumulated if necessary.
The vast majority of car accident cases settle. Most car accident cases are filed against the insurance company of the negligent driver. These companies handle a lot of claims. They do not have the resources to try even 10% of the accident claims that are brought against them. So the companies and their lawyers are looking to get these cases resolved. Granted, plaintiffs and plaintiff’s lawyers are interested in settling them as well because it places some certainty in an uncertain system and because, all things being equal, people want their money sooner rather than later. But you have to be able to use this fact to your advantage to get more money from the insurance company. If you do not have an attorney, your back is already up against the wall in negotiations, meaning you need to hire an attorney to increase your chances of coming to a fair settlement. Is this true in every single case. No. There are smaller cases where you probably do not need a lawyer to get something resembling a reasonable settlement. Would you get as much as our law firm would get for you? It is extremely unlikely. But if your injuries are minor, what we can do for you is far less than what we could in a serious injury or death case. We have gotten victims more than 50 times the settlement offer they got from the insurance company before the hired us. But that is only going to happen in serious injury cases and death cases. Our firm cannot — no firm can — get you 50 times what you would otherwise get for yourself in a garden variety soft tissue injury case. What is the take home message in all of this? First, you are always safer getting a lawyer then handling a case yourself. Always. But some people hate the idea of anyone taking a portion of their money. If you are of this mindset and don’t mind the work, hassle and risk, you can handle it yourself if you case is small. I’m talking about less than 6 weeks of treatment and at the end you are 100% sure you are just like new. If you think you might have a permanent injury, I think it is absolutely insane to try to handle your cases on your own. This would be true even if you were a lawyer yourself. This is a self serving point that also happens to be true: you want to hire an attorney who has a solid reputation and a history of large verdicts and settlements because insurance companies offer higher settlements to those types of clients who have counsel that will give them a run for their money…literally.
Venue is a big deal for personal injury lawyers, especially in car accident cases. By venue, I mean the jurisdiction that will actually hear the case. The problem is, not all venues are created equal (for personal injury attorneys at least). Depending on the composition of the potential jury pool, some jurisdictions tend to award higher verdicts than others. Insurance companies know this and tend to to make settlement offers that correlate with the potential amount that a jury may award. Take Maryland for example: juries in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County are much more likely to award a higher settlement than those in a a more rural area. Can we win in places like the Eastern Shore or the western part of Maryland? Absolutely. But we are taking about settlement values of cases. There is no denying that where the claim is brought is a big part how a claim is valued.
There are a couple different things to keep in mind when dealing with insurance companies and insurance policies in general. First, car insurance in most states is mandatory. States set mandatory minimum amounts of coverage that drivers must maintain. Policies in some states also give the option of having personal injury protection (PIP). PIP is insurance that covers medical bills, lost wages and other incidental expenses that come along with being involved in an auto accident. This coverage kicks in a lot sooner than recovery from a lawsuit, so PIP is a great way to protect against medical bills or lost wages that could result from an accident. Maryland also require uninsured or under-insured motorist coverage (UIM). Unfortunately, not every driver is insured, and when one of those drivers causes an accident, it is unfair to leave the innocent driver high and dry. UIM is a way for you to make a claim against your own insurance company to cover the costs associated with an accident from an uninsured driver. The same goes for under-insured coverage, except in this scenario the negligent driver has insurance coverage, just not enough to cover the extent of their negligence.
Taking Your Case to Court
Even though most cases settle, there is always a chance your case will have to go to trial. Winning a car accident case means proving four different things:
- That the defendant had a duty to operate her vehicle as the “ordinary, reasonable, prudent person” would in similar circumstances.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- There was actual injury or loss.
- The injuries suffered were the proximate cause of their negligence.
These are the elements of negligence, which is what nearly every car accident claim is based upon. Sometimes car accidents can result in wrongful death lawsuits, but even in those instances the underlying cause of action is still negligence.
Types of Injuries Sustained in Car Accidents
Given the unique set of factors involved in each car accident, all manner of injuries can be sustained. Soft tissue damage is a general term which describes injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the body. Soft tissue damage is found in nearly every car accident, and is actionable by itself. Car accidents can also produce broken ankles and legs as a result of the lower extremities hitting the pedals with excessive force. Of course, broken glass produces cuts that can result in permanent scarring and disfigurement. Unfortunately, the possibility of fatal injury is always there when it comes to car accidents as well. Every car accident is different, meaning every injury sustained in a car accident is different as well.
Below are sample settlements and verdicts in car accident case in Maryland. These are mostly Miller & Zois cases but we threw in a few extra to give you a larger feel. Let’s talk for a second about what these example settlements and verdict will not do for you. These are not an exact predictor of how a jury will award even if you case seemingly identical. This is particularly so of verdicts. Five different juries may give five very different awards. Settlements are a little better predictor because they have settlements tend so soften some out some of the highs and the lows. But in comparing cases, you are still left with another problem. Two cases that seem alike are rarely alike. Every personal injury case is unbelievably fact intensive. You do not know what factors really drove the insurance company and the plaintiff to settle. Sometimes, it is a factor one side is not even aware of that pushed the case towards an out-of-court resolution. So the take home message is to use example settlements and verdicts as a tool along with other tools that
- 2015, Maryland: $700,000 Settlement: In Carroll County, a commercial trucking vehicle ran a flashing red light and struck an elderly couple. Plaintiffs were transported by air and admitted to the hospital. Due to the accident, the couple suffered rib fractures and the female endured a collapsed lung. Defense counsel contended that both claims were limited in value, due to Plaintiffs completing medical treatment within a five week span. As a result of the commercial trucking vehicle conducting business in Baltimore City, Plaintiffs filed suit in the Baltimore City jurisdiction. Although the Baltimore City venue contributed to the significant settlement amount; other factual issues listed below were considered: Both Plaintiffs were in their 90’s and been married for approximately 70 years. The female Plaintiff was not only blind, but frightened by the collision and being separated from her husband while being transported in the helicopter. The male Plaintiff was hard of hearing and lost his hearing aids in the collision; therefore, he could not understand what was being said during transportation to the hospital. Prior to the accident, both Plaintiffs were very active, despite their age and disabilities. Although, both Plaintiff’s recovered from their significant injuries; their mobility and daily activities were permanently limited due to ongoing pain stemming from their injuries. Miller & Zois handled this case.
- Maryland: $390,000 Settlement: In Harford County, a 5 car automobile accident occurred on an interstate highway. As a result of the collision, Plaintiff, a 53 year old accountant, was knocked unconscious and suffered a closed head injury, an internal carotid artery aneurism, a vertebral artery dissection, rib fractures, a celiac artery injury and blunt abdominal trauma. In addition, Plaintiff suffered from post-traumatic amnesia; therefore, he could not testify as to what actually occurred during the collision. Plaintiff hired our firm, Miller & Zois for legal representation because he thought maybe the other parties involved would sue him for causing the collision. The insurance companies contested liability, due to the sequence in which the vehicles struck each other. To make the matters worse, the police report even had the vehicles listed in the wrong sequential order. Our firm investigated the collision through numerous depositions and accident reconstructions and found that Plaintiff was not only rear ended by a commercial vehicle, but also cut-off by another vehicle, who changed lanes in front of our client’s automobile at the same time he was rear-ended. Both the commercial vehicle’s insurance company and the lane changing vehicle’s insurance company contributed to our client’s settlement. Miller & Zois handled this case.
- 2015, Maryland: $190,000 Settlement: Plaintiff was a 42 year old female who was rear ended in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Her vehicle sustained mild damage. Following the collision, she complained of injuries to her neck and back. She sought treatment from an orthopedist and a neurologist. A neck MRI revealed a significant disc herniation at C6-C7 with nerve impingement. After two years of conservative treatment, she underwent a cervical fusion with minor residual pain. Her related medical bills totaled roughly $75,000.00. Prior to filing suit, the insurance company did not offer any money. After suit was filed, the case resolved in mediation for $190,000.00. Miller & Zois handled this case.
- 2015, Maryland: $101,097 Verdict: When driving through an intersection, a car suddenly veers out in front of a woman driving her car. A broadside collision ensues. After the accident, the woman complains of pain in various parts of her body. When she seeks treatment, it is revealed that she has a fractured pelvis and dental injuries. She files suit against the other driver, alleging that they failed to yield the right-of-way to her in the intersection and failed to maintain a proper lookout. The defendant admits liability, but denies the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, especially her dental injuries. After the accident, the plaintiff requires dental surgery, prompting the defendant to claim that the surgery was not brought on by the accident. The jury returns an award for $101,097, of which around $30,000 is comprised of lost wages and previous medical expenses.
- 2015, Maryland: $32,463 Verdict: A 22 year-old woman is driving her car in the city of Baltimore, when the defendant strikes her vehicle. The two driver did not dispute the details and both describe the impact as “significant.” When the woman elects to sue the defendant, there is no dispute over the facts, only a dispute over whether the injuries were caused by the accident. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that she suffered from serious back and neck injuries. Although she sought treatment for them, she claims that they are permanent and will require attention for the rest of her life. The plaintiff seeks a bench trial, and a judge awards her $32,463.