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Auto Accident Blog

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.

Welcome To The Party: Third Party Cases

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When a worker is injured on the job by the fault of another person, she has the right to make a worker’s compensation claim, but may also pursue the at-fault person for damages. The claim or lawsuit against the at-fault person is called a third party claim. Why is it a third party claim? You (the injured worker) are the first party, the employer/worker’s comp. insurance (employer/insurer) is the second party, and the person that injured you is the third party. So why bother with the third party claim?

Good question.

It isn’t always worth it, but mostly it is. Under the Worker’s Compensation Statute, when you are injured on the job, you are entitled to your pay (minus 15%), you are entitled to have your medical bills paid, and you are entitled to compensation for any permanent injury. You are not entitled to any pain and suffering. Under the third party claim, you are entitled to your full lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering. This includes those losses in the past, and those that you can show will be incurred in the future. Clearly there is overlap between worker’s compensation claim and the third party claim. Maryland has rules regarding double recovery, so as you may imagine, the employer/insurer will have a lien on your recovery as a matter of law. But much like the situation in which a private health insurer pays for benefits, it is still generally worth pursuing the claim. Just like with private health insurance, medical providers accepting worker’s compensation are paid at a fee schedule that is lower than their a la carte rate. That means that if you go to your doctor, unrelated to an on the job injury, she may charge you $200 for a visit, but under the worker’s compensation statute, that same visit may only be paid at $75. Under Maryland law, specifically the Collateral Source Rule, you are permitted to recover the full $200 from the at fault driver, even if only $75 is paid. The employer/insurer will pay the $75, you will pay nothing, but the employer/insurer will also have a $75 lien on your case. You are already ahead; however, you don’t have to pay the fully $75 back form the proceeds of your case. Under Maryland law, your lien is reduced proportional to the attorney’s fee. That means that if the attorney charges 1/3, then you will only have to repay $50 of that lien, with a net recovery of $150.

It is important to view the worker’s compensation claim and the third party claim as one big claim. Individually the claims may be smaller than a regular car accident case, but when combined, the total recovery and benefits to the client are generally greater.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

Pay My Bills! Or, Brother Can You Spare A Dime, For Just A Little While?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

After you have been injured in a car crash, someone has to pay your bills. That someone is generally YOU. It doesn’t matter whether you were at fault or if someone else caused your injuries, the legal responsibility to pay those bills is yours. So what do you do?

First, if you have personal injury protection (PIP), then you should start with that. But most people don’t have enough PIP to cover all of their bills. Next, you should switch to your private health insurance, if you have it. If you don’t have health insurance, that is a topic for another article.

Under Maryland law, if a private health insurer provides payment for medical services, then it is entitled to recover money from your settlement or judgment. This is called a lien. It is a property right that is created by law for the benefit of the insurer. It is not a debt, meaning, you don’t have to pay it back unless you recover money for your injuries. But, this amount must be paid before you receive anything in your pocket.

The statutory health insurance lien is not as bad as it sounds in that also under Maryland law, you are entitled to a maximum one third reduction of the lien.But watch out, this does not apply to federal liens including ERISA based health plans, GEHA, Medicare, and other similar plans. But generally, you are much better using your health insurance than not.

The real benefit of using health insurance doesn’t come from the lien reduction so much, but really comes from your ability to make use of health insurer’s contracted rate. If you go to your doctor for a checkup and don’t use insurance, it may cost you $250, but if your health insurance pays, they pay a lesser maybe $100. This is the true benefit of your health insurance, because the provider generally cannot bill you for that $150 balance, just your co-pay.

Here is an example: Assume you are injured in a car crash and have $2,500 in PIP coverage plus private health insurance. You treat with a medical provider that is in-network and receive $15,000 in medical care. The first $2,500 will be paid by PIP, leaving you with a balance of $12,500. That remaining balance should be billed to your private health insurer. Of that $12,500, the insurer may only pay $7,000; the remaining balance is written off under the terms of the health insurance contract. You may have already paid a few dollars in co-pays or maybe you used your PIP for that; but for the sake of this article, we will assume the co-pays are negligible. The balance after the $7,000 is written off because you treated in-network. The private health insurer, having paid $7,000, will have a lien on your case for $7,000. There is nothing you can do to avoid this. However, you won’t pay the insurer back the full $7,000; you are entitled to a 1/3 reduction, and will only pay back the insurer $4,666.67. Under Maryland’s Collateral Source Rule, when the time comes to settle your case, you will be able to collect the full $15,000 from the at-fault driver’s insurer, but you will only have to pay back $4,666.67, with a net gain of $10,333.33. If you did not have private health insurance, after PIP paid you would have to reimburse the doctor the full $12,500. This makes a big difference.

It is very important to use your health insurance whenever you can after a car crash. You might face some resistance from the medical providers, but you paid for your health insurance, and should be permitted to enjoy the benefits.

By 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.

Dear Maryland, Please May I Sue You? Or, Rex Non Potest Peccare

Monday, October 07, 2013

Believe it or not, the only reason you can sue the State of Maryland, its counties, or other governmental entities is because the State of Maryland allows it? It is true; the concept arises from when the U.S. was part of England. The legal concept, and of course the latin, is Rex non potest peccare, which translates to, “The King can do no wrong.” In England at the time of King George III and his predecessors to the throne, you could not sue the King.

When the United States was formed and we didn’t start our legal system from scratch, we incorporated laws and concepts we brought with us from England. The inability to sue the King is called sovereign immunity, and it persists today in several forms. First, you cannot sue the State for a purely governmental function. If you feel that you have been wronged by an action of the State, but it is simply the result of how the government works, you cannot sue. Second, for a tort (negligence, battery, assault, wrongful imprisonment, etc.), you can only sue if you place the State on notice within one year of your injury. This notice requirement is strict and requires a certified letter to the treasurer with specific information. If you fail to not only place the treasurer on notice, but fail to do it properly, you will be forever barred from suing the State. Finally, there is a cap. No matter how bad your injuries, in a tort claim, you cannot recover over the cap. Similar to tort claims, you can only bring a claim against the State in contract if you file your lawsuit within one year of the breach. Although the State will allow you to sue it, it places limits, and it protects itself. In a sense, it can do some wrong, but not too much.

Similar to the tort claims against the State, there are limitations in tort claims against local governments. Local governments include the Counties, cities, WSSC, National Capital Park and Planning, and many other entities. Again, like the State, there is a designee to whom you must send notice, only with a local government, you only have 180 days to place the proper designee on notice. If you fail to place the proper person on notice within the proper time, you can never sue.

One might think that in a democratic society, we have abandoned the constraints of the monarchy, but sovereign immunity remains. You can sue the State or the local governments, but only if they let you.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

Health Insurance Liens: That’s Not A Get Well Card

Friday, August 30, 2013

After being injured in a motor vehicle collision, you may receive a letter from your health insurer telling you that it looks like you were injured in an accident. At first, you may think, “How nice.” But if you read further, you will see, THEY WANT YOUR MONEY! Even worse, they are entitled to it by law, at least some of it.

The letter will generally tell you that the type of treatment you received is generally consistent with an injury that could have been caused by the negligence of someone else. It will ask you to fill out a form and return it to them. Generally, the form will ask how your injury occurred, it will request the liability insurance information for the person that caused your injury, and it will ask whether you have an attorney. The insurer is looking to exercise its right of subrogation: its right to stand in your shoes and collect back the money it paid for your health care. This may surprise you.

Luckily, the insurer’s subrogation right takes the form of a lien on any money you recover, and is not a debt that you must pay out of your own pocket. A lien is a property interest that the insurance company has in your legal case either created by law, or by your health insurance contract. If you don’t pursue your case, you never have to pay them back.

The lien upsets many injured people, but it is really not as bad as it seems. The reaction I hear the most from clients is, “Why do I have to pay them?” or “What have I been paying for all these years?” On some occasions, clients have not believed me when I have explained the lien to them. But it is true. The public policy behind the lien is that you have health insurance to protect you, but it is not the health insurer’s fault you were injured. It would be unfair to the health insurer if you collected money for your injuries, which includes payment of medical bills, and then did not have to reimburse them. The term is double dipping. But really, if you use your health insurance, for the most part, you are going to wind up ahead, even if you have to pay them back.

Let’s start with the basics of health insurance and its involvement in your personal injury claim. First, you should always use your insurance, don’t let the fear of a lien prevent you from using the benefits that you and your employer have paid for. Although it may seem unfair, if you look at the math, it’s really okay. For example, if you examine a one of my client’s bills, you will see a scenario where a client went to her doctor three times and went to about ten physical therapy sessions. The bills total about just over $3,000. Ignoring other insurance such as PIP (personal injury protection) and ignoring any other treatment (hospital, MRI, etc.), if she did not use her insurance, she would have to pay the medical providers back the full $3,000 at the end of her case, win or lose. Sure, I may be able to negotiate the bill down, but legally, she owes the full $3,000. Now look at the same treatment with health insurance. The providers billed $3,000, but because she had health insurance, the contracted rate is lower, and the insurer might pay $1,800. Then, under Maryland law, when the case settles and the time comes to pay the lien, we only have to pay back $1,200. In our demand to the at-fault driver’s insurer, we are permitted to demand the full $3,000, that is paid (along with lost wages and pain and suffering), but we only pay $1,200 back to the insurer, that nets $1,800. We are permitted to claim the larger amount due to the Collateral Source Rule. This rule states that since the client paid for the health insurance, she gets the benefit. In other words: Why should the injured person pay thousands of dollars a year for insurance that in reality benefits the at-fault party? Health insurance makes a huge difference in the amount of money a client receives at the end of the case.

One issue may arise when the health insurance policy is controlled by federal law as opposed to Maryland law. These policies (for example, ERISA insurance policies) are not controlled by state law, and the insurer may not be required to reduce the lien. Whether they must reduce is contract specific. The attorney must look at the subrogation language to see what her client’s rights are. In addition, she must also check the policy’s legal status to see if it is truly the type of policy that can refuse to reduce.

If you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, or suffer any type of bodily injury, you should almost always use your health insurance. Don’t worry about the liens, relax, take care of yourself, get better, and let your attorney worry about it.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

What Does It Mean When A Driver Receives A Citation After A Collision?

Monday, August 19, 2013

After a motor vehicle collision, one or even both of the drivers may receive a citation. Both drivers invariably ask the same question:

“What does this mean in a future lawsuit?” The answer depends what the driver does after the citation.

The law in Maryland is that a guilty plea is an admission against interest. This means that if a person pleads guilty to a crime or citation, it can be used against her later. She is permitted to appear in court at a later civil trial and explain why she plead guilty, but she cannot claim that she did not commit the crime. There are essentially three possibilities:

The Driver Pays The Citation

The fact that a driver paid her traffic citation is not considered an admission of guilt in Maryland. Drivers pay citations for many reasons unrelated to guilt. For example, a driver may not wish to take an entire day off of work to fight a $50 ticket; or, she may be scared to appear in Court; or she may simply have “better things to do.” The Legislature has given her the option of simply paying the ticket, accepting any related points, and not having to appear. For public policy reason, it cannot be used against her in a later civil trial.

The Driver Appears in Court and Pleads Not Guilty

If the driver appears in Court and pleads not guilty, but is found guilty by the judge, the guilty verdict cannot be used against her in a later civil trial. The basis for this is that there is less at stake in a simple traffic citation hearing than a civil trial for damages. Many drivers will defend a traffic citation much less vigorously than a civil trial. The result is that it would be unfair to bind her to a guilty verdict in traffic court, where she plead not guilty. This is also a public policy decision.

The Driver Appears in Court and Pleads Guilty

This is what we are hoping for. If the driver appears in Court and pleads guilty, it is an admission that she did whatever it is she was cited for. It can be used in Court in a civil trial, and is admissible for any relevant purpose. Although this is not an automatic win on liability, it is as close as you get.

No matter what the plea, if the driver appears in Court and gives any testimony, that testimony can be used in a subsequent civil trial. It does not matter what the plea is. For example, if the driver is charged with running a red light, and then pleads not guilty, but admits to running the red light in her testimony, a guilty verdict cannot be used against her. Her testimony, nonetheless, that she ran the red light can be used against her.

Any time there is testimony in Court related to one of my civil cases, I order a copy of the recording from the Court. A simple reading of the docket is insufficient to indicate actual guilt. Even if the opposing driver pleads not guilty, I can often find useable testimony from the traffic Court session to help further my client’s civil case. It is amazing what the cited driver “forgets” about her traffic Court testimony; having the traffic session on CD can change the outcome of a civil case.

By Craig I. Meyers, Esq.

So, You Ignored My Previous Article And Got Hit By A Car

Thursday, August 01, 2013

One of the worst types of collisions is the pedestrian strike. There is no real positive outcome when a 2,000 lb. vehicle strikes or runs over a person. Generally, the law in Maryland is that pedestrians have the right-of-way in a crosswalk; after that, each case has to be reviewed individually. A few years ago, the state of the law was that anyone who crossed the street outside the crosswalk was at fault as a matter of law, until proven otherwise. That meant that a pedestrian struck outside the crosswalk started the case off with the presumption that she caused or contributed to her injury and could not win her case until she proved that the collision wasn’t her fault. That is called burden shifting. That was a difficult uphill battle for both claimants (injured people) and attorneys. Although that is no longer the law, the idea that the pedestrian contributed to her injury still prevails among many, if not most, Maryland citizens and jurists. The shifted burden is difficult but not impossible to overcome.

For a pedestrian to have contributed to a collision, the fact that she was outside the crosswalk must be an actual and legal cause of her injury. In legal terms, this is called the legal cause or the “proximate cause.” For instance, if a pedestrian is two feet from the crosswalk, it is often fair to say that the motorist should have seen the pedestrian. The cause of the collision was not, in such a case, the fact that the pedestrian was not in the crosswalk, simply being a step or two out makes no difference on whether a motorist should anticipate the pedestrian being there or whether the pedestrian was visible. The failure to walk in the crosswalk did not cause or contribute to the collision.

Another example is if a pedestrian crosses the street mid-block, and a motorist who has been traveling straight for a half mile fails to see the pedestrian and strikes her, the driver should have seen the pedestrian. In this case, the driver could have slowed, stopped, or otherwise avoided the pedestrian, notwithstanding the fact that she was outside of the crosswalk. The fact that the pedestrian was outside the crosswalk was unrelated to the fact that the motorist did not see her. This is because if the motorist did not see the pedestrian prior to the strike then she wouldn’t have seen the pedestrian if she was in the crosswalk. Here, the pedestrian was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time; and under Maryland law, that is not negligence.

From the other perspective, where you have a pedestrian step off the curb directly in front of the and into the path of a moving car, the pedestrian is usually at fault. It does not matter if the pedestrian steps off the curb mid-block, or in the crosswalk, it is impossible for the car to stop. Another important fact to remember is that the driver must yield to the pedestrian in the crosswalk, not the pedestrian on the sidewalk who is thinking about crossing. While the driver owes a duty to the pedestrian, the pedestrian also owes a duty to both herself and the driver. A pedestrian must make sure it is safe before she steps off the curb.

Pedestrian strike cases that occur outside of a designated crosswalk are difficult, but not impossible. Before pursuing such a case, a client must know that there are no guarantees and that the odds of winning and losing are about equal.

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.

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