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Auto Accident Blog

Injuries while in uniform: Am I covered if I am injured in my own personal vehicle?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

It is a fact of life that police officers, on occasion, find themselves in their own personal vehicles but in uniform. Whether it is on the way in to the barracks, on the way home after a shift or for a multitude of other reasons, accidents and injuries do occur under these circumstances. The question arises, under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation law, as to whether these injuries are covered or “compensable.” Generally, the law provides that injuries suffered going to or coming from work are not compensable – this is the “going and coming rule.” Then there are the exceptions to the rule – many of which have created a great amount of litigation.

Act One – Montgomery County, MD v. Pamela Wade (1991) - Montgomery County police officer Pamela Wade was operating her marked police cruiser, off duty - not in uniform and on a personal errand – driving her mother to her grandmother’s house for dinner. She was rear-ended and injured significantly – so much so that she eventually had to retire on disability. The undersigned filed a Maryland workers’ compensation claim alleging that the use of the police cruiser, in full compliance with the County’s personal patrol vehicle program was a significant benefit to the County and that, as such, the “employer conveyance exception” to the going and coming rule applied. A jury and both Courts of Appeal agreed. Officer Wade’s injuries were therefore compensable under the law – and this rule has state-wide application for all law enforcement officers by virtue of the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Act Two – State of Maryland v. Oliver O. Okafor(2014) – Trooper First Class Oliver Okafor was operating his own vehicle, in uniform, while on his way in to the Forestville barracks on January 25, 2013. His purpose – to obtain a fleet vehicle for use on patrol because his assigned cruiser was disabled. The evidence demonstrated that the State provided Trooper Okafor with a take home cruiser for his use - and typically, the officer would call in upon entry of that cruiser - at his residence - that he was “in service.” When Okafor was involved in an accident and sustained injuries on January 25, 2013 while in route to the barracks, it was at a time when he would have been, but for the fact that his cruiser was disabled, operating the take home cruiser and in service. The Court of Appeals considered the “going and coming “rule but determined that the evidence supported a finding that the “free transportation” exception to the “going and coming” rule applied. When the State agreed to furnish free transportation to Okafor to and from work, Okafor’s work day started when his commute to work started and ended when that commute was over. Significantly, the Court noted that the injury would have been covered even if the free transportation was not being used at the time – because the employment begins, under this exception, when the work day began – at the beginning of the commute – whether it was by means of the “take home cruiser”, personal vehicle, or public transportation. (Note: The Court, in part, utilized a 1977 non-public safety case, Ryan v. Kasakeris, to reason that when the employer provides the commute, an injury occurring anywhere during the commute arises out of and in the course of the employment) The Okafor case made significant advances in coverage for law enforcement officers who are provided take home cruisers.

Act Three – The future? There can be no doubt that future cases will deal with accidents with other factual scenarios – such as injuries that occur while an officer, who is assigned a take home vehicle – is injured on his way to retrieve it at the County line – because he/she lives outside the County. Will this commute be compensable given the free transportation exception to the “going and coming” rule? We take the position that this commute is within the course of employment because law enforcement officers have jurisdiction state wide to exercise their powers depending upon the circumstances. If the officer would normally be using the take home cruisier, the fact that he/she lives outside the County and must retrieve it at the County line should be insignificant to the greater purpose of providing law enforcement services to the public at all times when the officer would normally be utilizing a police vehicle. Stay tuned.

You Always Hurt The One You Love, So Make Sure They Are Covered By Your Insurance

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

You may not know it, but your large insurance policy may not cover the people closest to you. This issue comes up occasionally, and involves drivers causing collisions which injury their family members riding as passengers. Recently, I read of an instance of a husband driving his car with his wife as a passenger. The husband caused an accident, which resulted in a substantial injury to his wife. The husband and wife carried a large policy, I think their liability limits were it was either $300,000 or $500,000 per person, per incident, but when the wife made a claim, the insurer informed the wife’s attorney that the coverage for her was reduced to $30,000 (the Maryland state minimum).

The adjuster was not lying. The policy had a VALID EXCLUSION. The policy stated under the Exclusions section that the liability coverage does NOT apply:

To bodily injury to any insured, or to any relative of an insured residing in his household in excess of the financial responsibility limits required by Maryland law. This exclusion does not apply if the first named insured has purchased Supplemental Resident Relative Liability coverage.

This is a big deal. If you cause an accident that injures your husband, wife, child, or other resident relative, there may not be enough money to even cover their bills. You may think you have a $100,000, $300,000, or even a $1,000,000 policy, but when you cause injury to the people that drive in your car the most, you may have the lowest possible coverage allowed in Maryland.

This exclusion has been litigated and held to be valid. The reasoning:to prevent collusion between the driver and the injured family member. What this means is that the Court or the legislature believe that claimants are so likely to conspire to build a claim, that it is okay to permit an exclusion that does not require a written waiver. What the Court or legislature fail to realize is that when damages reach $100,000, $3000,000, and $1,000,000, the injuries are primarily objective and cannot be faked.

My home auto insurance has the above exclusion as well, but my insurer offers separate coverage that can be purchased to cover resident relatives. How much do I pay for that coverage? About $17 every 6 months. It is a terrible exclusion that most people are not aware of until it is too late, so be careful.

My advice is to check your policies. Whether you have Geico, USAA, State Farm, MAIF, the Elephant, or whatever, make sure you have all the coverages you need; read your policy; and make sure you understand it.

If you don’t understand your policy, you may wish to speak to an attorney, and not just rely on your insurer to explain it.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

How Fast Can I Go?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pop quiz hotshot. You pull onto a roadway and you don’t know what the speed limit is. How fast can you legally drive?

Many motorists don’t know this but there is a speed set for each and every roadway in the State of Maryland, regardless of whether there is a sign and regardless of if you drove passed it. Imagine you are driving on a side street. You turn onto a roadway, you begin driving, but you have not passed a speed limit sign. You have no idea what the speed limit is. How do you know how fast you can go?

Now imagine that you pulled onto the roadway. You haven’t passed a speed limit sign, and you are going about 50 mph. There are no businesses or homes fronting the road. You feel like you are traveling at a safe speed, and then it happens. Red and light lights start to flash behind you, you are being pulled over. The officer tells you that she measured your speed at 52 mph in a 40 mph zone. Have you violated the law? The answer is easy, yes and no.

There is a statute in Maryland that lists the speed limits for roadways when there is no speed limit sign. Why isn’t there a speed limit sign? Maybe it was knocked down, but most likely, you entered the roadway AFTER the sign, and have not been put on notice by the State of what the speed limit is. In that situation, you are permitted to rely on the statutory speed limits listed in Maryland Transportation Article, § 801.1. These statutory speeds include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Baltimore County alleys: 15 mph
  • Highways in a business district: 30 mph
  • Undivided highways in a business district: 30 mph
  • Divided highways in a residential district: 35 mph
  • Undivided highway in other locations: 50 mph
  • Divided highway in other locations: 55 mph

In short, always know your speed limit, but if you don’t, at least know the statutory limits.

Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

You Must Replace Your Car Seat After A Moderate Or Severe Collision

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Most car safety seats work by holding your child snuggly in place during a collision, and by absorbing or redirecting the energy in a collision away from your child’s body. Quality car seats also drop the child vertically to redirect the energy from the collision, and prevent the child from striking the backs of the front seats. Much like the bumper of a car, the car seat is designed with materials that break down, and in so doing, reduce the likelihood of injury to your child.

I am a big fan of the Britax child safety seats. These seats are known as some of the safest car seats available, and are generally highly ranked by consumer reports. A quick review of the features will help to understand how car seats function in general to protect your child. First, the seats generally are plastic with a metal reinforced body. Britax, like most other brands utilize energy absorbent foam throughout the seat. Also, like most other brands they use a five point harness that is designed to keep the child in place. Some more technologically advanced features you may find are a staged tether. This device is a strap, much like a seatbelt. It attaches to the top of the seat and to a built-in latch on the rear deck of a passenger car or SUV. Upon impact, the latch stretches, slowing the forward deceleration of the car seat. In addition, it purposefully “gives” at several points to allow the car seat to move forward, but without snapping it back. The seats also have soft “cells,” like a beehive, that sit below the child. In the event of an impact, these cells essentially rupture, and the seat is directed downward instead of simply forward. This absorbs energy and also prevents the child and seat from moving forward and striking the back of the front seats.

It is clear from the technology that once the seats are used, and the energy is absorbed, the seat is damaged. The more energy the seat absorbs, the less energy is directed to your child. Much like an airbag, however, once the safety device is used, it is spent, and cannot be used again. After the seatbelt-like structures and tether have been stretched and after the foam and cells have been damaged, the seat will never function the same again, it is not as safe, and must be replaced.

Insurers generally don’t volunteer this information, but your car seat is covered by your property damage coverage. That means that you are entitled to a new car seat after an accident. Don’t let the insurer tell you that you don’t need one or that it is not covered, it is. Expect, however, for the insurer to collect the old car seat to take it off the market and prevent it from being used in the future.

Remember that any time you have a moderate to severe motor vehicle collision, you MUST replace your car seat.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

Middle Car Syndrome

Monday, July 15, 2013

I tried a case not too long ago in Baltimore County. My client was the driver of a car that was rear ended and, as a result, was pushed into the rear of the car in front of him. He was injured and made a claim against the rear driver’s insurance, which was denied. I then filed a lawsuit to recover his medical bills, lost wages, insurance deductible, and pain and suffering.

When there are three cars involved in a motor vehicle collision, usually one of two things happens:

  1. The Front car (F) stops, and is rear ended by the Middle car (M),. M is then hit by the Rear car (R), which then pushes M back into F. This results in two hits to F. Here, both R and M are at fault and must split the cost of F’s damages.
  2. Or, R hits M and pushes M into F. The result is one hit to F. Here, only R is at fault. R is solely responsible for paying F’s damages.

The question from the police, insurance adjustors, and attorneys is always the same: Did the Front car’s driver feel one hit or two? Generally, the front driver is a reliable witness. She shouldn’t have any bias because she collects no matter what, either from R or both R and M. The total amount of her recovery does not change, only who pays.

In my case in Baltimore County, it was a little different. The reason the front car was stopped was because it had already rear ended another vehicle about 5 minutes before, and was stopped as a result. My client was the middle car, and stopped behind the front car, when he was rear-ended and pushed into the front car. The result was one hit. The rear driver claimed that he was not solely at fault because he said my client hit the front car first, and therefore my client cannot collect from the rear vehicle, because my client would have caused or contributed to the collision. In Maryland, you cannot win a lawsuit for damages if you caused or even contributed to your own injury.

To win at trial, I had to show that my client was telling the truth, and that both the front driver and the rear driver were “incorrect.” For the rear driver, I was able to show that he could not see the front car’s rear bumper and that he did not see my client strike the rear of the front vehicle. He admitted on cross examination that his belief that my client struck the rear of the vehicle in front was a conclusion, and not something he personally witnessed. Done, his testimony was neutralized.

Next, I had to show that the front driver , who is usually considered the most reliable witness, was not telling the truth. There are several ways to do that. One is to show that the witness is not credible, another is to show that the witness was biased. On cross examination of the witness, I elicited testimony that she had her own personal injury claim, and that it benefited her to overemphasize the severity of the collision involving my client. I was able to show that she had to prove later, to win her own claim, that she could not have been injured when she rear ended the vehicle in front of her a few minutes earlier. I was showed that she benefited from claiming two impact because that would mean that she would be more likely to suffer an injury from the collision involving my client, as opposed to when she rear ended the car in front of her. If her injuries were from the collision where she was at fault, she could not prevail in her lawsuit she planned later, but if they were from being hit two times and not from the prior collision, then she had a viable claim.

When confronted with the property damage, her testimony collapsed. My client had a severe amount of property damage to the rear of his vehicle, and only a few pieces of his plastic grill broken on the front. The front driver had no visible property damage to her rear bumper. On closing I argued that the two witnesses, the front and rear drivers, were not credible, that their testimony was biased and self-serving, and that the property damage clearly showed a large impact to the rear of my client’s vehicle with very little impact to the front. This was consistent with my client being hit very hard in the rear, and then being pushed into the rear of the vehicle in front of him, which he hit only lightly.

We won on the issue of liability, and were granted a significant award for damages.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

The Insurance Adjuster vs. The Officer: Who Will Win?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I often have clients ask, if the police report says the other driver is at fault, then why won’t the other driver’s insurer pay my claim? The police report (also known as a Vehicle Accident Report) has nothing to do with whether a judge or jury will find a driver at fault, and therefore has no real bearing on your case. What happens is that there is a collision, someone calls the police, and the police respond. In most counties in Maryland, the officer will not file a report unless someone claims an injury at the scene or if one of the vehicles is disabled.

The officer who responds to the collision is not a witness, and so she does not record her personal account of what occurred, but instead, what other people have told her happened. It is often a compilation of multiple people’s observations, and worse yet, opinions.

Just because the police officer writes in the report that Driver 1 was exceeding the posted speed limit, or that Driver 2 was traveling in lane 1 lane, does not mean that that is what happened. Sometimes one driver is taken to the hospital, and the report is based on one person’s account; sometimes there is a witness, and the officer only records what that witness says. The insurance adjustor for the at-fault driver does not have to rely on the vehicle accident report, and even though it says that the other driver is at fault, the insurer does not have to pay. Remember, the insurer is not in the business of paying claims, it is in the business of avoiding paying claims.

The police do their best, and 99/100 times, they do an excellent job in obtaining information and recording it in the report; but, since the information is often second hand, it is not admissible in court.

The police report is most helpful when it records the officer’s own observances. For instance, it may state, “The driver of vehicle 1 stated that . . . ” or that the officer arrived on the scene and “vehicle 1 came to a rest at . . . .” In that case, the officer is a witness, not to what happened, but to the driver’s admission or what she saw at the scene. The insurer will likely give significant weight to such a report because the officer has recorded her own observances. If the at-fault driver admits fault to the officer and the officer records it in the report, there is virtually no way for the at-fault driver to escape responsibility. If the insurer does not accept fault, then the officer’s testimony in court will be enough to win the case.

The police report is a helpful tool, but you must know how to use and what its limitations are.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

You Will Not Be Happy With The Total Loss Value Of Your Car

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I tell every new client whose vehicle is totaled the same thing: “You will not be happy with the total loss value of your car.” It is true. When you add up your monthly payments, maintenance, subjective love of your car, and memories, no total loss value will do it justice.

For the most part, the companies that the insurers use to calculate the total loss value of vehicles are pretty accurate; not flawless, but relatively accurate. Nonetheless, I always review the total loss offer for my clients and try and get them a few extra dollars. This starts with going beyond the simple offer and obtaining a copy of the market report the insurer uses. The insurers don’t provide this to the claimant (that’s you) unless you ask. Most people don’t know how to read it anyway.

In reviewing the total loss report, the first thing I do is to make sure the insurer has the right year, make and model. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the insurer will mistakenly list your LE as a CE, or your 2009 model as a 2008. Next, I make sure they have listed all of the options; the insurer may forget to give you credit for fog lights, a sun roof, or an upgraded sound system. After that, I look at the “comps.” The insurers base their offers on how much other similar cars sell for you in your geographical area. I check the comps to make sure they have proper similar cars, but I also check to make sure they have the right geographical area. For example, if you live in Montgomery County, Maryland it is important to make sure that the total loss value is not based on Baltimore or Hagerstown pricing.

By following the above steps, you may sometimes increase the offer, but even with that, you won’t be happy with the offer. That is the simple truth of total loss value.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

You Can’t Split Your Claims

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I was in court a few weeks ago at the cashier’s window and I overhead a gentleman asking some questions on how to serve an insurance company. I generally try not to listen to other people’s business when in court, it can be personal, but on the other hand, I also try to help if I can. The gentleman was involved in a motor vehicle collision and was unhappy with the offer for the total loss of his vehicle. He was suing the insurance company for what he thought was the fair market value. I asked a few questions and learned that he was also injured as a result of the collision and had started a bodily injury claim with the same insurance company. He was nowhere near the statute-of-limitations, so I stopped him from filing his lawsuit.

The gentleman I spoke to in court that day was splitting his claim. Unless there is a law otherwise, you must file all claims arising out of a single event against the same person (or company) at the same time. That means if you have both property damage and bodily injury claims, you cannot sue for one, wait until the other claim ripens, and then file for the other. The effect is that after the first claim has been resolved, the other claim dies. It is important not to make such a mistake.

Of course there are statutory exceptions. For instance, you are permitted to file a PIP lawsuit separate from any other liability-based or uninsured/underinsured lawsuit. But, it is important not to extinguish one set of rights by pursuing another.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

Car Crash Case Study Part I

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not long ago, I had a case where a husband was driving in Baltimore City on a Saturday morning with his wife in the front passenger seat. As the husband approached an intersection, he faced a green light. At the same time and place, on the intersecting street, another motorist (other guy) approached the intersection facing a red light. The other guy had a passenger, his cousin, whom he was taking to the bus station. As the husband entered the intersection, so did the other guy.

The cars crashed violently. There were pieces of bumpers, turn signals, and other parts everywhere.

Immediately after the collision, the husband checked to make sure there were no life-threatening injuries to anyone in either car. He then pulled his damaged vehicle to the side of the road and made sure his car was in a safe place. He then called the police. An officer arrived but refused to make a report; he only did an information exchange. In addition, while the other guy apologized no fewer than half a dozen times prior to the police officer’s arrival, he told the police officer and later his insurance company that it was the husband that ran the light. While the police officer was at the scene, the husband took photographs of the scene, damages, and parties.

There were several witnesses to the collision including a car directly behind the husband, but no one stopped to provide their contact information. In the excitement, neither the husband nor the wife took down the license plate numbers of any of the potential witnesses. Eventually, the cousin admitted that admitted that the other guy was on the phone, was lost because he could not find the bus station, and was not paying attention. Even with her admission, however, a lawsuit had to be filed.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

Case Study Part II: The Husband

Thursday, December 30, 2010

As you recall, we were following a husband and wife involved in a motor vehicle accident. The husband had immediate pain in his neck at the scene of the accident. The pain was not severe so he decided to go home, take some Advil, and see how he felt the next morning. When he woke up, he had severely stiffened and was in significantly more pain than the day before. This is very common with sprains and strains. Since it was a Sunday, and he was in pain, the husband went to the emergency room, where he was examined and x-rays were taken. He was released with medication and told to follow up with his doctor.

As it turns out, the husband had a prior sports injury to his lower body and was already under the care of chiropractor. On Monday, he contacted his chiropractor and went to see him. Because the husband already had a pre-existing injury, unrelated to a motor vehicle accident, it was important for the chiropractor to define exactly what the husband’s condition was prior to the accident so he could give an opinion as to the worsening of the husband and the changes that he underwent.

The chiropractor’s examination showed spasm and trigger points (essentially knots). The chiropractor prescribed conservative chiropractic care including chiropractic manipulation, massage, and electrical stimulation. After about three to four months, he was back to his pre-accident condition. Several months after that, a demand was sent to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The demand described the accident and how the husband was thrown forward and backward and into the driver’s side door. It included property damage photographs showing the totaled vehicle. It included a summary of the medical records and bills and further described the inconvenience and pain the husband endured during after the accident. The insurance company made an offer, I negotiated with them over a week or so, and eventually, the insurance company made a reasonable offer to which the husband agreed and the case settled. All in all, the husband was happy with the result.

The husband’s case was a typical soft tissue case. He followed the doctor’s instructions, he got better, and the case settled. The wife’s case was another story.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

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