In our practice handling serious car accident cases, we regularly spar with insurance companies over the conditions for “independent” medical exams where an insurance company hires a doctor – usually a doctor they have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to over the years – to testify for them. Some of these doctors take incredibly bizarre and illogical paths to concluding that the plaintiff was not really hurt or, if the injuries are extreme, that the plaintiff has made a full recovery or that the injuries were not caused by the accident. If you are a lawyer regularly handling serious car accident cases, you know what I’m talking about. If you are not, please trust me: this is a ridiculous racket that gives justice a black eye.

It looks like the insurance companies in Maryland workers’ compensation cases want to end run any battles over anything and everything related to independent medical exams. They have proposed a new Code of Maryland Regulation (COMAR), regulation, that would pretty much give defense lawyers carte blanche to both schedule and compel plaintiffs claimants IMEs at will with potential stiff penalties for the failure to appear.

Take a look at these regulations. They begin with an insult. “Either party may schedule an independent medical examination.” Gee, thanks for the equanimity but when does the plaintiff schedule an IME in a workers’ compensation case?

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.)

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.

In every state, there is a stretch of the highway or an intersection where car accidents commonly occur. We certainly have them in Maryland.

A group of folks got together (let’s be honest, a creative car accident lawyer got them together) and filed a class action lawsuit against the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The lawsuit claimed that a particular stretch of highway on Interstate 44 was dangerous and the state should have done something to make the road safer.

The trial judge certified a class action finding that there were common questions of fact as to whether the pavement surface lacked proper skid resistance and was otherwise dangerous.

In the real world, people have damage to their cars that they would just rather not get fixed. They would rather pocket the insurance money and drive around with a big dent in their car.

If there was a liability dispute, it has been hard to pull this off in Maryland because there was no way to get the property damage estimate into evidence unless you brought the guy who did the estimate to trial as a witness (If you actually had the repairs done, you could get the cost in under Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Annotated § 10-105).

Now, under a new Maryland law passed last week, you can get a repair estimate into evidence at trial, at least in District Court. Now, a plaintiff can testify that a written vehicle repair estimate, prepared by an insurer or its authorized representative is admissible, without the testimony of the preparer of the estimate, as evidence of the authenticity and the fairness and reasonableness of the estimate that you would otherwise need.

Accident reconstructionists are often used by lawyers in auto accident and truck accident cases to answer questions about how the accident occurred. An accident reconstructionist might be able to tell you who was driving, how fast the car or truck was going, whether the driver and/or occupants of the vehicle were wearing seat belts, where on the road the accident occurred, and so forth. Sometimes, they are useful in car accident cases on discreet issues. But, there is a growing sentiment in car accident cases that juries just don’t listen to accident reconstruction experts. Juries, this thinking goes, want to figure out how an accident happened on their own. They don’t need any help. (My view is not quite this strong on whether you should use accident reconstruction experts in liability dispute cases. Certainly, I don’t think they hurt in most cases.)

Reconstructing truck accidents is more complicated than car accidents, and there is a larger role for accident reconstruction experts who understand the nuances of truck accident cases and can communicate effectively with a jury. Unlike car accident cases, juries understand that they don’t understand trucks the way they understand cars.

One of the big issues our lawyers typically face in auto accident and truck accident cases is the debate as to the speed of the vehicles. The biggest difference in investigating truck accidents as opposed to car accidents is the number of different variables at play with respect to stopping or slowing. Car accidents are relatively easy, the investigator looks primarily to the skid marks and the type of surface on which the vehicle skid. Truck accidents are far more complex. Trucks generally take 30% to 75% longer to stop than a car. Because large commercial trucks are more difficult to stop, a truck accident reconstructionist must include other variables beyond the usual friction values to calculate vehicle speed, such as brake balance and brake lag time. If speed calculations do not include these adjustments, then the calculated speed of the truck will be off base and Plaintiff’s theory as to the speed of the truck can look ridiculous and inconsistent with the witnesses to the accident. In cases like this, the truck accident lawyer needs to find a neutral accident reconstructionist to recreate the speed of the truck and to take into account all of the relevant considerations.

A Jury Verdict Research study found that the median award in rear-end truck accident cases throughout the country is $93,909. Remarkably, plaintiffs recover damages in only 63 percent of truck accident cases that go to verdict. That study is based on verdicts rendered throughout the United States from 1997 to 2007. I wish I had newer data but this is all we have.

There is a lot of confusion about median and average verdict data in accident cases. Lawyers who are not exactly math wizards, except when computing 40%, use median and average interchangeably. This study provides median, not the average truck accident verdict. Clearly, the average truck accident verdict would be substantially higher because a full twelve percent of the verdicts in rear end truck accident cases are over $1 million. There is a lot of debate about which figure is better but, certainly, the median figure is more useful in computing case values.

Generally speaking, rear end accident cases are less serious than most other types of truck accidents. But, when you are dealing with big rig trucks, that conventional wisdom goes down the tubes. There is a great deal of wrongful death rear end accident truck claims, just because rear end accidents are common and large trucks kill.

The Maryland Court of Appeals will jump into the battles of whether it is reasonable to allow speed and red light camera merchants to receive a “commission” every time the camera catches a violator. A group of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County residents says the payments, made by Montgomery County, Gaithersburg, and Rockville, are illegal. [2018 update: the court found it reasonable.]

This is the latest in a long, long battle between libertarians and their brethren and the photo enforcement technology industry, that operates speed cameras and red light cameras for local municipalities. The two most common photo enforcement systems are red light cameras, designed to detect motorists who enter an intersection after the light has turned red, and speed cameras, designed to detect motorists going a certain amount over the posted speed limit. There is no question that people die in Maryland because people run red lights and they drive too fast.  The purpose is to discourage this activity.  Are companies and the government profiting off this effort?  Of course they are.

One stunning example of this is the case of the former CEO of Redflex.  This company is one of the leading providers of traffic cameras in the country. She pled guilty to bribery in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago. She apparently posted a help wanted ad for a bagman in Chicago.  This is the kind of stuff that drives libertarians, and a lot of the rest of us, crazy.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post explaining what car insurance special investigations units (SIU)do and their purpose. Today, I stumbled across a new opinion that went up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The basis for the lawsuit seems that the plaintiffs were annoyed that Progressive Insurance – undoubtedly an aggressive car insurance company – sent their claim to their special investigations unit.

The case involved the plaintiffs’ claim that someone had stolen and damaged their car. Progressive Insurance referred the claim to its Special Investigations Unit because: (1) the vehicle was for sale at the time of the loss, (2) the column was not compromised, (3) the vehicle was a “gas guzzler” (the claim arose at the height of the gas prices in 2008); and (4) both sets of keys were in the Walkers’ possession at the time of loss.

Progressive Insurance asked the plaintiffs to produce photos from the vacation they were on at the time of the loss. The plaintiffs sent them some pictures which overzealous Progressive thought were altered. Goofy stuff that all got squared away. The Special Investigations Unit concluded the loss was legitimate and paid the claim.