Personal Injury attorneys are everywhere. Just turn on the TV during the day, and you’ll likely see one or more ads promising to fight for you if you’ve been involved in a car accident. They promise you won’t pay a fee until they recover your money. They demonize insurance companies and warn you that they will take advantage of you.
It’s not so much that insurance companies want to rip you off as they are simply in business to make a profit.
Like all businesses, insurance companies will do things in their best interest. If they can settle a claim for less than it is worth, they will take that opportunity every time. They profit by generating more income from premiums and investments than they have to pay out in claims. Insurance companies often settle claims with unrepresented victims of an accident because those individuals don’t know their rights, aren’t familiar with how the process works, and can’t effectively advocate their claim in the same way they can when an attorney is involved.
Establishing Your Case
When clients come to see us about an injury claim, there are two main things we want to know right away.
- How did the person get injured? This is important to establish liability. With personal injury claims, the first step in analyzing and prosecuting a claim is establishing who caused the accident. Sometimes this part is easy, and sometimes, this part is the subject of extensive dispute. An injury claim is based on the negligence of the defendant.
To prove negligence in Maryland, the plaintiff must establish three elements. First, that there is a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; Second, that the defendant breached that duty; and Third, that as a result of the defendant’s breach of the duty, the Plaintiff suffered damages.
- What is the extent of our client’s injuries? As you can imagine, injuries come in all shapes, sizes, types, and degrees. As injury attorneys, we often categorize injury cases as soft tissue or fractures. Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains, generally any injury that only damages muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Most injuries fall into the soft-tissue variety.
After the initial consultation, we put together a demand package. We may skip this step if we know that liability will be in dispute. However, we usually don’t know whether liability will be contested at this stage of the process.
A demand package consists of copies of our client’s relevant medical records and bills, along with proof of any other expenses incurred due to the claim.
Generally, a claim for property damage and car rental costs will be settled well before a claim for injuries and is not part of our analysis. When we put together a demand package, we include a letter explaining how the accident occurred, our client’s injuries, and the economic losses. We cover how these financial losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and injuries, affect our client.
The value of a claim is affected by many factors, including the severity of the injury, the client’s previous medical history, whether the client lost time from work, and whether a permanent injury has been sustained.
How Maryland Statutes Impact Your Claim
There are special statutes in Maryland that govern the settlement of your property damage claim. They provide that the insurance company may not deny or delay payment of a claim for property damage because the claimant or another person has a claim for bodily injury arising from the same or another accident.
The insurance company must pay promptly for property damage where there is coverage and no significant dispute concerning liability for the payment of the full property damages or the amount of those damages, including a rental car.
Payment for property damage is not to be construed as an admission of liability in any subsequent claim for personal injury.
Economic and Noneconomic Damages
After the demand package is sent to the insurance company, it is reviewed by an adjuster. The adjuster’s job is to assess liability and, where applicable, settle the claim for as little money as possible. Our job is to try to recover as much money as possible for our clients.
There are two types of compensation to be considered in evaluating an injury case – economic and noneconomic damages. These are typically referred to collectively by attorneys as damages.
Economic damages are the types of things that are easily quantifiable in terms of dollars and cents.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Cost to repair property damage
- Rental car expenses.
Noneconomic damages are things that are not easily reduced to dollars and cents. These typically include pain and suffering and loss of consortium. In our experience, people who attempt to settle their claims often sell themselves considerably short in the area of noneconomic damages.
Assessing the Value Of Your Case
When we put together a demand package, we will assess the value of your case. Generally, we’ll try to predict a settlement range that accurately reflects the case’s value. Many factors affect the value of a case. In addition to the factors explained above, these factors also include the type of injury sustained, where the accident occurred, whether liability is likely to be disputed, and whether the client will need additional medical treatment.
Other intangible factors may also apply, such as whether the plaintiff comes across as a likable person, whether a judge or jury will hear the claim, and where the case can be tried.
To Settle or Not To Settle
In the typical case, the insurance adjuster will make a settlement offer. However, we must file a suit to proceed if liability is disputed and no settlement offer is made.
In most cases, liability is not seriously disputed. A typical example is when a person is in traffic and hit from behind. In cases without dispute of liability, the only issue is damages. There are a whole host of reasons why an insurer might dispute damages. The most common include a disagreement over the accident’s severity or the existence of a pre-existing medical condition on the claimant’s part.
Once a settlement offer is made, we discuss the offer with our clients. One of the first things we’ll do is go back to our previous prediction about the case’s value and see how close the settlement offer is to what we believe the case is worth. Depending on the gap between the settlement offer and what the case is worth, we’ll either recommend presenting a counteroffer or filing suit.
Whether or not to file a suit or take a case to trial is always a decision made by the client.
While we will provide our opinion, no client is compelled to accept a settlement offer they disagree with. Likewise, even if we believe a case should go to trial rather than be settled, we only proceed if our client agrees.
If a settlement agreement is reached between the parties, the insurance company will send us a check and a release. The release, signed by the client, ensures that the client will not sue the person who caused the accident. If a suit is pending, when a settlement is reached, that suit is dismissed as part of the settlement. A settlement agreement is a contract that resolves the claims between the person that was injured and the person who caused the injury. It provides for compensation for the injuries sustained and protects the defendant from any potential liability in the future.
When And Where We File A Lawsuit
If a settlement is not reached shortly after the demand package is sent, or if liability is in dispute, the next step is to file a lawsuit.
When filing a lawsuit, we look closely at the case’s value to determine in which court we want to file suit.
There are generally two decisions we make at this point. The first is whether we want to file in District Court, where we will get a judge or bench trial, or file in Circuit Court, where we can request a jury trial.
Second, a decision must be made regarding the county where the lawsuit should be filed.
A lawsuit is commenced by filing a complaint. The complaint identifies the parties to the lawsuit and explains why the plaintiff requests the court’s assistance and what relief is requested.
Whether to file in District Court or Circuit Court is primarily determined by the case’s value. If the case will likely result in a judgment under $30,000, we will usually file suit in the District Court.
If the case will likely result in a judgment over $30,000, we will file suit in the Circuit Court. We generally request a jury trial in cases filed in Circuit Court.
Which county we can file suit in depends on which court has jurisdiction over the claim.
Generally, the suit must be filed in a county that has some connection to the events giving rise to the claim or the defendant. For example, a lawsuit can be filed in the county where the defendant lives, carries on a regular business, is employed, or habitually engages in a vocation.
A corporation can also be sued where it maintains its principal place of business. A claim for personal injury may also be filed in the county where the accident occurred. A claim against a non-resident defendant may be filed in any county in the state. The county that has jurisdiction to hear the claim will likely affect the value of the claim. This is due to demographic differences and tendencies of juries in some counties and Baltimore City to award higher verdicts than in other counties.
Following the filing of a personal injury claim, the next steps depend on whether the claim is proceeding in Circuit Court or District Court.
In District Court, the claims are smaller, and the rules of procedure are less complicated. A claim filed in District Court cannot exceed $30,000. When a claim is filed in District Court, we file under a special law that allows us to introduce evidence of the plaintiff’s medical bills and records without requiring the plaintiff’s doctor to testify. This is sometimes called a “10-104 case” or “10-104 notice.” These terms come from the section of the Maryland Code, which governs these cases, Section 10-104 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.
If we file a claim for over $30,000, we must file in the Circuit Court. The rules do not permit us to proceed as a 10-104 case in these cases. If the case goes to trial, we must take testimony from an expert witness, usually a doctor, concerning the plaintiff’s medical treatment and the reasonableness of the medical bills. Trying a case in which a doctor’s testimony is required is expensive. In addition to paying the doctor a fee for the deposition (typically $1,500 or more), we must hire a court reporter and a videographer. These expenses are not something that the court can award as damages. Therefore, we must carefully evaluate a claim before deciding whether hiring a doctor to testify merits the extra expense.
Discovery And Pre-Trial
Once a lawsuit is filed in District Court or Circuit Court, the court will generate a summons.
The summons and a copy of the lawsuit must be served on each defendant in the case.
The defendant is under no obligation unless and until they are served. After service, the defendant will have a period to file an answer. In most cases, the defendant will file a response and serve discovery on the plaintiff. We also serve discovery on the defendant, usually when the answer is received, but sometimes with the suit itself.
In a District Court case, there is little pre-trial discovery. The parties are limited to one set of fifteen interrogatory questions. Interrogatory questions are exchanged in writing before trial and must be answered and signed by the answering party. The judge can consider them if introduced into evidence.
Often, interrogatory questions are used to determine who the witnesses in a case might be, what pre-existing medical conditions the plaintiff has, and what evidence of damages will be presented at trial. As plaintiff’s attorneys, we usually seek to establish two main things in pre-trial discovery – the defendant’s liability and the existence of insurance to cover a judgment.
In a Circuit Court case, there can be extensive pre-trial discovery. This can include multiple sets of interrogatory questions – up to thirty per side – request for admissions of fact and genuineness of documents, requests for production of documents, and depositions.
Circuit Court cases typically will include a deposition of the plaintiff in which the plaintiff will be required to come to an office and answer questions about her claim, including her medical history, pre-existing conditions, and other issues that may be relevant to the proceedings.
In a District Court case, if the damages claimed exceed $15,000, the defendant may request a jury trial. If the defendant requests a jury trial, the case will be removed from the district court and transferred to the Circuit Court for the county where it was filed. The District Court does not have jurisdiction to hear jury trials. A defendant may also request a jury trial in a Circuit Court case if the plaintiff has not already done so. It is rare that we would file a case in Circuit Court and not request a jury trial.
Presenting the Case In Court
An injury case is presented in court, whether before a judge, or a jury, through the testimony of witnesses and the introduction of exhibits into evidence.
The typical exhibits will include copies of the medical records and bills relating to the injury, photographs of the accident scene, pictures of the vehicles involved, and photographs of the injuries sustained. Other types of exhibits may be relevant depending on the specific case.
Even though the suit is filed and discovery is completed, there is still a significant chance that a case may settle before trial.
Often, we’ll have clients tell us that they don’t want to go to court. However, being ready, willing, and able to present your case to a judge or jury is the only way to ensure that you receive fair and just compensation for your injuries.
While most cases never go to trial, we prepare and prosecute every case assuming it will go to trial. We believe that this approach shows insurance companies that we are serious about our client’s cases and are willing to step up to the plate and try a case when it’s in the client’s best interest.
Compensation After The Trial
After your case, whether a trial or a settlement agreement, wraps it up, there is a recovery of money from the defendant in most cases.
Usually, a check is received by us a few days after the parties settle or the trial concludes. The check, made payable to the client and our firm, is endorsed by both parties and deposited into an escrow account. After the check clears, disbursements are made to pay medical bills, litigation costs, attorney’s fees, and compensation to the client.
Advocating For You During A Challenging Time
Various other issues can arise during a personal injury case. For example, we often assist our clients in fending off collection calls, dealing with health insurance liens, and various things that are collateral to their personal injury claim.
We generally provide these services to our personal injury clients at no additional cost.
We understand that dealing with the aftermath of a personal injury can be overwhelming. Our goal is to reduce the stress and anxiety our clients experience due to the legal issues arising from the accident to allow them to focus on their recovery and get their lives back to normal.
To find out what to expect in your Personal Injury case, schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. The law offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz handle accident and injury claims throughout Maryland.
The information contained on this page is provided as general information and does not constitute legal advice. The experienced attorneys at Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz can assist you if you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation for any injury-related claim. The law offices of Baldwin, Briscoe & Steinmetz handle accident and injury claims throughout Maryland.