Car Accidents

Neck Pain Now Equals Neck Pain Later

I read an interesting article in the European Spine Journal titled “The association between a lifetime history of a neck injury in a motor vehicle collision and future neck pain: a population-based cohort study.”

Yes, that’s a big title. But the study looked at an incredibly simple issue: are neck injuries in car accident a harbinger of neck pain later in life after the injury has resolved. So the study looked at the association between a lifetime history of neck injury from a motor vehicle collision and the development of troublesome neck pain.

The answer was what plaintiffs’ car accident lawyers were sure to tell you would be the case: patients with a history of neck injury in a traffic collision are more likely to experience future neck pain.

This is a good study. It took 919 randomly sampled Saskatchewan adults with no or mild neck pain in September 1995. At baseline, participants were asked if they ever injured their neck in a car, truck or motorcycle accident. Six months and a year later, they looked into the whether the patient had meaningful neck pain on a chronic pain grade questionnaire.

The researchers found a positive association between a history of neck injury in car crashes and the onset neck pain The conclusion is that patients history of neck injury in car accidents are at greater risk for developing neck pain in the future.

This is a study worth sending to your experts in some cases to strengthen permanency opinions.

Risk of Accidental Death Rating

When I’m in another state, particularly on the West Coast, I’m always amazed at how far our culture extends. Going to Starbucks in Seattle is like getting Starbucks in Baltimore; people look the same, act the same, and largely talk to the same way (although they don’t seem to know how to say “hon”).

But, boy, when it comes to the risk of accidental death, its like we all live in separate and very different countries. New Mexico residents are nearly three times more likely to die as a result of injuries than inhabitants of New Jersey. Mississippi residents are about four times (get that, four times!) more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than those in Massachusetts or New York. Statistics can put you to sleep sometimes, but these are incredible. I’m not even sure I believe it.

You can find the results of the study and see how Maryland does here. (Sneak preview: we are pretty safe here.)

Can Your Insurance Company Demand a Statement in Maryland?

As a matter of law, I believe that the uninsured motorist carrier cannot require any statement – recorded or otherwise – from their insured after a car accident. Notwithstanding the fine print language in almost every Maryland car insurance contract that requires a statement, Maryland law requires your own car insurance company to pay all damages that the insured is entitled to from the person that caused the accident up to the uninsured motorist limit, if the “bad guy” has insufficient insurance.

The Maryland high court has affirmed that Maryland insurance law substantially rewrites car insurance contracts and that provisions that are not authorized by Maryland law are unenforceable. This would clearly seem to fall into that category because, if the insurance company is imposing any additional conditions on payment, then it is not providing the compensation required by the statute.

So you can just ignore your own insurance company’s request for a recorded statement just like you can ignore the at-fault driver’s insurance company’s request for a statement, right? Not so fast. The law I just gave you is what I call “The Law According to Laura.” This law comes with an important caveat: it is often wrong. The Maryland Court of Appeals has never ruled on this issue and could disagree completely or limit the coverage without a recorded statement to the minimal limits.

Therefore, you have to balance competing interests in giving recorded statements to the carrier. One compromise that often works: a non-recorded statement which gives the carrier the information they need without the ability to try to hang you later on trivial (or not so trivial) differences between the recorded statement and deposition and/or trial testimony.
Six years ago, my partner wrote a blog post about recorded statements to the UM carrier and to the at-fault carrier that is equally true today and worth reading.

What Does SIU Mean in Accident Claims?

I disagree with insurance companies as to how prevalent the practice is, but there is no doubt that many people either exaggerate their injuries in car accidents or manufacture the injuries all together. This we know.

Insurance companies set up “special investigation units” called “SIU” (GEICO) or some other similarly covert sounding name to try to determine whether victims in car accident cases are clients that are exaggerating the scope of their injuries, getting unnecessary medical treatment to try to increase the value of their case, or even staging the car accident. The SUI units of insurance companies try, as GEICO puts it, “to detect, deter, and defeat insurance fraud.”

Good car accident lawyers in Maryland know that largely these SIU units are our friends? Why? Because ridding the system of fraudulent accident claims leaves a larger pie – and a more differentiated pie – for people who are really injured in car accidents and deserve compensation.

I have not had a claim that was investigated by an SIU unit of an insurance company in years. We take few soft tissue injury cases without compelling facts these days, because we have figured out that juries view cases without an objective injury almost as skeptically as insurance companies.

That said, insurance companies are often incompetent and put meritorious cases in SIU. Good accident lawyers address the issue head on, investigating the claim, and provide further information to explain where the confusion arises. (If your investigation reveals strong suspicions of fraud, I think you have to back out of the case.)

One thing I found of interest in writing this post is GEICO’s advice on dealing with potential fraudulent claims. They tell their insureds to “look out for large, older vehicles with three or more occupants.” Aren’t you also on the lookout for poor people? I mean, it might be statistically true but it seems a little ill advised to point this out. I mean, really, has anyone ever seen a car on the roadway, identified it as an old car, and avoided an accident by steering clear of it? I bet this has never happened in human history.

Why People Hate Claims Adjusters

Reason #75,353: Nuggets like this one I just found on how car insurance adjusters view diminished value claims.

    There are rarely statutory guidelines that govern how much is owed, if anything, due to diminution of value. After all, is there really any diminished value until the owner sells the car, discloses the accident and suffers diminished value as a result of the disclosure?

Do you realize you just said this in your out loud voice?

Sample Friendly Suit

When you settle a large case with a minor in Maryland, the parties typically file what is called a “friendly suit” advising the court of the settlement – and asking the court to bless the agreement.

Maryland law does not require this. This does not, naturally, stop defense lawyers from demanding that you file a friendly suit. They do it this way because, arguably, the law required it before 2004 and because they think – probably incorrectly – that a judge’s blessing gives them more protection in the event that the minor seeks to disavow the settlement.

To file a friendly suit, you file your lawsuit along with a joint motion for settlement and a draft order for the court to sign.

Dealing with Insurance Companies

Accident lawyers can’t help but to homogonize insurance companies. But the reality is that they are all very different with different models and agendas.

On our Maryland car accident claim overview on our website, we provide on the bottom right hand side a summary of our lawyers’ thoughts on dealing with 18 – count them, 18! – insurance companies who handle claims in Maryland.

Traffic Deaths: A Gruesome Map

David Stratton, a defense lawyer with Jordan Coyne & Savits, provides a link on his blog to an interactive map that shows the location of road accident fatalities between 2001 and 2009. If you allow yourself to move past the dry statistics and really think about what you are seeing – even for an instant – it is terribly depressing. It makes me wonder: exactly how much would it cost – in time and money – to cut this figure in half? Lower the speed limits? Require car makers to build safer cars? More restrictions on truck drivers? I’m not saying we should do this. But I sure would like someone to do an estimate so we can figure out what the tab would be.

Maryland/DC Traffic Means Less Serious Car Accidents

I have never thought about the correlation between severity of injury in car accidents and the amount of congestion on the highway. But it certainly makes sense that (1) traffic jams lead to more accidents because the traffic is stop-and-go, and (2) high traffic means low speeds which means less serious accidents.

A new study bears this out. Washington, D.C., which includes Maryland for the study, has the worst congestion in the United States. But the cost of car accidents is low in comparison to the rest of the nation. Some car accident lawyers like to pretend that there is no correlation between impact and severity of injury because people do get seriously hurt and killed in accidents with little property damage. But common sense tells us that serious accidents are likely to lead to more serious injuries and more deaths.

The overall national cost of accidents – which includes the fender benders, the medevacs, the lawsuits, and the lives lost, was estimated at a whopping $300 billion a year. Statistics like this tend to be a little dry but $300 billion is an amazing amount of money.

Of that, $7.4 billion is attributed to the roads in and around Washington. Researchers concluded that the cost per capita of a crash in this region is $1,363, compared with a national figure of $1,522. Why? Because the slow-speed accidents of cars caught in congestion do less damage, and cause fewer deaths and injuries, than those that occur at highway speeds.

To obtain these figures, researchers did a little more than just add medical bills to property damage bills. Researchers used “sophisticated” federal guidelines that place a value on a lost life, and consider lost wages, time lost on the job, effect on the quality of life and other factors. To draw their local conclusions, researchers examined federal crash data from the Washington region. That area, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, includes the District, and parts of Maryland and Virginia. Specifically, in Maryland, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. The areas of Virginia included were the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, as well as the counties of Arlington, Charles, Fairfax, and Loudon. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 350 traffic deaths in this region, with another 42,566 injured.

But again, those who sit in countless hours of traffic (estimated to be more than three days a year) may not agree with the “silver-lining” argument because they focus on the fact that Maryland drivers have the longest average commute in the nation, thousands of whom drive to work in D.C. and Virginia. Just like when we see a big car accident on the side of the road we don’t allow ourselves to worry for the victims as much as worry about whether we are late for our appointments. But, intellectually, you can’t help but see less death and destruction as more than an ancillary byproduct of driving slower.

Frequent Flyer IME State Farm Doctors: Admissible at Trial?

One interesting issue we encountered during our last trial was whether we could point out that the defense doctor was a frequent flyer for one particular insurance company in a case that did not involve the insurance company that was a party to our matter.

The defendant’s IME doctor was testifying by videotape. The doctor is one that can most generously be described as a frequent “independent” expert witness for State Farm. Obviously, as the plaintiff’s attorney, I wanted to make hay to the jury of the fact that the doctor makes over $300,000 a year from a limited number of lawyers and that this colors his testimony.

The defendant argued that we used the word “insurance” to tell the jury that the defendant has insurance. I don’t think it did that. The purpose of the cross on bias – which I later learned was meaningful to the jury – was to underscore our leitmotif of why this otherwise qualified doctor has it so wrong: he is in the back pocket of a small group of defendants.

Why not just throw up the number and leave State Farm out of it? Our argument was that “State Farm” is a necessary element of this categorization. Otherwise, we would have to break down every law firm that does State Farm work. If we went through this burdensome task, the “small, captive group” point would be lost.

Ultimately, the trial judge disagreed and we redacted – actually the better phrase is turned down the volume for a second – the State Farm references. The jury still got the point loud and clear and awarded $545,000.

I think this is a good sample trial cross of a defense expert that is vulnerable to the charge that he is so well-paid by the insurance companies that it influences his objectivity.