Articles Posted in Car Accidents

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Defense costs are rarely a big factor to the major insurance companies in 2011

I think there is a conventional wisdom out there that insurance companies will settle cases because they fear litigation costs. I really think, on the micro level in which Maryland accident lawyers deal, all they fear is verdicts. As a result, defense costs seem to be a factor of decreasing significance in settlement negotiations. Most large insurers have “captive” staff counsel offices in major metropolitan areas. Sure, this still costs real money. But the insurance companies don’t quite see it that way. Because these lawyers are direct employees of the insurer, and who do nothing but defend against lawsuits brought against that carrier’s insureds, the cost – the significant cost – get obscured.

Insurance companies – and the Baltimore Sun for that matter – seem sold on the cost savings on in-house lawyers. I get the logic. These lawyers (and their offices and staff) are a fixed cost, so adding one more case to defend does not appreciably change the carrier’s costs, or its settlement analysis on any particular case.

An Illinois jury awarded $1.275 million to the family of a 25 year-old woman who had almost completed her nursing degree and was killed while driving to her job at a hospital. Tired driving appeared to be the cause of the car accident: the Defendant just fell asleep and hit the Plaintiffs’ decedent.

The damages only trial lasted four days. The jury heard four grueling days of testimony from the family. Not that a tragedy like this can get worse, but this young girl had already been through a lot: surviving two kidney transplants only to be senselessly killed by someone driving down the road.

You hate to say only $1.275 million. That is a lot of money. That said, it seems like an extremely low verdict for the death of a 25 year-old girl. In Maryland, jury awards are cut in cases like this – it is unlikely there was significant economic damages for the family of this young woman. Still, juries in Maryland and in most states are not told about a cap and I think, just symbolically if nothing else, the award should be higher for a 25 year-old girl who overcomes such adversity to survive and thrive.

I have been trying car accident cases for almost 16 years. I never realized until reading this article that August is the most dangerous month for car accidents.

Something to keep in mind when after you pile your kids in the car. Of course, you have to hope the other guy on the road is thinking the same thing.

In accident cases, our lawyers make sure we know what expert testimony defendants are will see at trial. One weapon in our discovery arsenal is a good expert interrogatory.

Identify any and all experts you intend to call as witnesses, and whose reports you intend to mention and/or introduce at trial or in any Motion, including his/her area of expertise, and identify and attach to your Answers any and all written reports prepared by said experts, and indicate the content of any and all opinions reached by said experts and the factual basis for each such opinion and the amount of compensation paid to each such expert.

In its response, State Farm says, “Hey, cool your jets, we will produce experts pursuant to the discovery order.” Technically, State Farm’s answer is not satisfactory. This interrogatory, served with the Complaint, is due within 30 days of service. But there is the rule and there is the way things are done. Filing a motion to compel to answer an expert interrogatory before the scheduling order requires expert designations would be just too ticky-tacky. It is a tell to State Farm and the judge hearing the motion that you are more interested in fighting for the sake of fighting than really trying to engage in legitimate discovery.

So, we wait for the expert deadline. We get a cut and paste document that tells us absolutely nothing.

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How can you make your way to jail if you kill (or nearly kill) someone on a Maryland road? A Fort Washington man who nearly killed two people was sentenced yesterday to six months in jail and a year of house arrest. The key is being drunk. Otherwise, Maryland law continues – in spite of a bill pending before the Maryland legislature this year – to let you off with a few traffic citations. In this case, the man pled guilty to causing life-threatening injuries while driving drunk. As part of the plea bargain, other related charges were dismissed.

Personally, I think we could save lives by being tougher on drunk drivers that cause serious and fatal accidents. The more difficult call is the one Maryland legislators are dealing with now. Is there justice in letting people slide who negligently kill another person in a Maryland car accident? Usually, the at-fault driver is a good guy/gal who just made an awful mistake any of us could make. But, believe me, this nuance is often lost on the person who lost the love of their life, or their mother/father or son/daughter.