There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Questions
Bob Katz wants Maryland, Virginia and DC accident victims to have all the facts so they can make the right decision when hiring an attorney. Accordingly, this section of our website is meant to provide basic insight into the issues we deal with for our clients on a day to day basis. It is NOT meant to be a substitute for real legal advice or opinion applicable to your particular situation. Please note therefore that the following materials are NOT Legal Advice or Legal Opinion.
All materials provided herein are prepared for a general audience for general informational purposes only. Their sole purpose is to better educate accident victims about a variety of general legal issues so these victims they can become more educated consumers of legal services. Information provided on the Sites should never be a substitute for consulting with a lawyer. Please contact us directly for advice on your specific situation.
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What is the Role of an Expert Witness in a Personal Injury Case?
The Role of Experts in Personal Injury Cases
Generally, there are two types of witnesses that may be involved with an accident case:
- Eyewitnesses who were present at the scene of the incident and have personal knowledge of what they saw or heard; and,
- Expert witnesses who may be hired by your attorney to assist with matters of proof.
An expert witness is a unique participant in the trial process because he or she did not actually “witness” anything related to the accident. Instead, these individuals help prove different elements of your case because they bring specialized knowledge to the table. Typically, they offer their services to support your attorney’s trial preparations as:
- Consulting Experts: A consulting expert is often described as an extension of the law firm, assisting lawyers with developing trial strategy, reviewing documents, and providing other advice. Attorneys have education and experience in legal matters, but may require support when it comes to medical, technical, financial, and other topics.
- Testifying Experts: This specialist will actually be called by your attorney as a witness at trial, to help explain complicated subjects in language that the jury or judge understand.
At times, a single individual may serve as both a consulting and testifying expert witness. Depending on the details of your case, there may be multiple experts involved – covering a number of different topics.
Accident Reconstruction Specialists
When there is a degree of speculation involving fault in the incident that caused your injuries, your lawyer may utilize an accident reconstruction specialist. These experts typically have backgrounds in physics and other fields that enable them to assess the science behind accidents. By using their own knowledge and the assistance of technology, accident reconstruction experts can establish links between actions, conditions, and fault.
An accident reconstruction specialist is especially useful considering the chaos and confusion that usually surround accidents. Drivers, passengers, and witnesses may not have a clear recollection of what happened or they may provide conflicting accounts of what they experienced. Alternatively, as in the case of the woman killed in the College Park accident, the primary witness may be unavailable.
Other Types of Experts
In addition to accident reconstruction experts, your attorney may also retain the services of other specialists, including:
- Physicians and Medical Experts: One of the most common types of experts in a personal injury case is a doctor, usually a specialist in a certain medical field. A physician may participate in your case to review your injuries and treatment, which is especially useful when your lawyer must establish proof for non-economic damages. It is hard to put a dollar value on pain and suffering, or quality of life; a doctor can use the information in your medical records, including details on procedures, surgeries, and prescriptions, to support your claim for these types of losses.
- Mental Health Experts: When your injuries have a significant emotional impact on your life, your attorney may use a mental health expert. These specialists can act as a consulting expert or testifying witness just as other physicians; however, the focus would be on how the accident and your injuries have resulted in emotional distress.
- Actuaries and Financial Specialists: Part of your claim in a personal injury matter may involve lost income if you are unable to work for health reasons. Proving your lost wages is not difficult in certain cases, such as when you are out of work for two weeks while you recover from your injuries: Your pay stubs can be used to establish your claim. However, your professional future may also be affected by your injuries. For example, if you are unable to ever return to work in a job that requires certain physical capabilities, or you suffered a brain injury that impacts your cognitive abilities, so you cannot return to a profession that requires mental skills, these are issues to which a financial expert can testify. These experts are useful in proving loss of future income that would otherwise be speculative and difficult to measure. Your amount of compensation will be higher when you can prove what you would have earned in wages had the accident never occurred.
Depending on the complexity of the evidence involved in your personal injury case, it is possible that your attorney will call upon one or more of these types of expert witnesses to assist. These specialists have meticulous skills in their respective areas of expertise, and they are able to take complicated subject matter and turn it into concepts that average people like those who may serve on a jury can comprehend. Of course, you can expect that the responsible party or insurance company will also retain experts to contest your allegations. For this reason, it is important to work with a knowledgeable attorney who has extensive experience utilizing experts, whether for consultation or to testify in court.
If you have been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence in Maryland, Washington D.C. or Virginia, please contact the Baltimore headquarters office Bob Katz Law. Our lawyers have access to a wide range of experts in different fields, and we retain these individuals as necessary to prosecute personal injury claims on behalf of our clients. We are happy to answer your questions or schedule an assessment to review the details of your case.
If I Make a Personal Injury Protection Coverage Claim (PIP), Can My Insurance Company Raise My Premiums?
NOTE: the following is not legal advice. If you have questions about your specific case, right to make a PIP claim or how to make a PIP claim, please consult with an attorney.
Generally speaking: Personal Injury Protection is a form of coverage offered to purchasers of motor-vehicle insurance and is governed by Maryland laws and the Maryland Insurance Code. The main function of PIP coverage is to serve as a way to help injured parties obtain reimbursement or payment for medical bills and monetary loss due to injury after an accident. In the State of Maryland, PIP coverage is mandatory. That is, insurance companies are required to provide this basic form of coverage to all applicants at the time they apply for insurance unless those individuals choose to affirmatively waive coverage. Pursuant to Maryland laws, which dictate the amount of coverage that must be provided, an insured who elects not to waive PIP coverage should expect that their automobile policy will hold at minimum, PIP coverage of up to $2,500.
Historically, there was always the potential that an insured individual could sustain a policy premium increase when making a PIP claim against his or her own policy. Insurance companies can and will raise premium rates for a variety of reasons. However, recognizing that insurance carriers were able to penalize insured individuals for benefits they were paying for, the State of Maryland in 2009 passed a law rectifying this matter.
In 2009, the Maryland General Assembly amended § 19-507(c) of the Maryland Insurance Article to prevent Insurers from raising insurance rates after a claim is made under this portion of the policy. The chief aim of this law is thus protect the rights of an injured person to make a claim for payment of medical expenses on their own insurance policy without the fear that their insurer will retaliate and raise their insurance rates. It protects their rights by enforcing the rule that a policy premium cannot be increased should a PIP claim be presented on your personal automobile insurance policy. The full changes to the law are summarized in a memorandum by the Maryland Insurance Administration and can be read here.
What is Discovery?
What is Discovery in a Maryland Car Accident?
There is a lot of activity that goes on outside the courtroom as attorneys are preparing a civil case for trial. Discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit where the parties use different tools, as designated by Maryland law, to obtain information and evidence about the other side, or sides, in a situation involving multiple parties.
Scope of Discovery
In general, a party may use discovery methods to obtain any information that does not qualify as privileged. Privileged information would include communications between the parties and the lawyers working on the case. The information must also be relevant to the cause of action, relating to a claim or defense of any party. It is important to note that information may be subject to discovery rules even if the evidence would not be admissible at trial. As long as the information sought could lead a party to find information that would be admissible, the discovery would be allowed.
The Purpose of Discovery
Through discovery methods, the parties are seeking to determine the existence, description, condition, and location of documents and tangible things, including electronically stored information, such as email communications. When the respective attorneys have a full picture of the evidence involved in a case, they can better assess the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The lawyers can also determine which issues they agree upon and where there are contested matters. Often, the discovery process leads parties to engage in settlement discussions rather than go to a full trial, where the risk is considerable.
Methods Used for Discovery
There are different methods allowed by law for parties to engage in discovery. Asking another party for information is a discovery request, and Maryland law allows for five types.
- Production of Documents: Attorneys use a production of documents request to obtain paperwork that is relevant to their clients’ claims or defenses. In a Maryland car accident case, these documents may include police reports, medical records, statements of witnesses, statements of parties, and other written or electronically stored materials. A party is required to turn over this information as long as it is not privileged, but it is not necessary to give information that is not within the party’s possession.
- Interrogatories: An attorney may use written interrogatories to ask questions to other parties involved in the litigation. The questions may be “Yes or No,” or open ended. The party answering the interrogatories must give truthful responses to the inquiries because the information is sworn on oath: Dishonesty is a perjury offense that may be punished under Maryland law.
- Mental or Physical Examinations: It is common in a car accident case for the defendant to use discovery methods to arrange a medical examination of the injury victim. These exams may be mental or physical, depending on the circumstances. A party may want to retain their own medical expert to conduct a mental or physical assessment of the plaintiff, instead of relying on the plaintiff’s medical records. The exam may lead to information that disproves the victim’s claims or supports the defendant’s defense.
- Requests to Admit Facts: This discovery tool is similar to interrogatories, but instead of supplying questions, the requesting party states facts and asks the other party to admit or deny them. The request for admission may also ask the party to admit or deny the genuineness of a document. Timing is critical when a party receives a request to admit, as the facts are considered as truth by a court if they are not specifically denied within 30 days after service.
- Depositions: A deposition is a question-and-answer session attended by a party, his or her own attorney, and the lawyer for the requesting party. The process begins with a notice of deposition, requiring the party to appear for the proceeding. There will be a court reporter present to record the deposition through audio and written transcript. At the start of the deposition, the person is sworn in by the court reporter. Like interrogatories, the deponent must give truthful answers to deposition questions, or be subject to the penalties of perjury.
What is gap insurance and why do I need it?
Gap insurance usually costs a few hundred dollars and may cover you if you are in an accident and your car is deemed a total loss but the total loss offer is not enough to pay for you loan.
Example: John owes $20,000.00 to his bank after taking out a new car loan to purchase a vehicle. John is involved in an accident a month later and the vehicle is totaled. The insurance company offers John $18,000.00 for the total loss of his vehicle, however if John accepts this offer and uses the money to pay off the loan, he will still owe $2000.00 to the bank and will have no vehicle. If John cannot recover additional funds for the car, he will be personally liable for the difference between the total loss value and what he owes to the bank.
Bottom line: If you have Gap insurance then it may pay the difference in your loan balance and what the insurance company pays out on a damaged vehicle. Vehicles depreciate the minute you drive off the lot so frequently, owners are suprised when their vehicles are totaled and they end up owing money to the bank.
When is an owner liable for his dog biting another person in Virginia?
Virginia does not have a specific statute that controls personal injury liability for dog bites. Instead the practice is for owners of dogs and other animals to be held liable only if the claimant can show that the owner should have known that their animal was dangerous. This is the “one bite” rule that is often used to deal with these cases.
What are the Shared Fault Rules of Neligence in Virginia?
Virginia has a shared fault rule that is relatively harsh on the claimant when compared to other states in the USA. This is one of the few states that retain the law of Contributory Negligence. What it means is that the person that is injured shares some level of blame for the incident in which they were hurt. Most states have instead opted for the comparative negligence framework which allows the court to adjust the damages bearing in mind the percentage of fault that lies with the claimant.
In Virginia there is no such sliding scale of adjustment. No matter how small your fault is as a claimant, the entire lawsuit is dismissed and you get no compensation. In other words you must be totally blameless in order to make an effective claim. Your attorney can advise you on whether you are liable to be denied compensation under these somewhat harsh rules in Virginia. This advice should be based on the circumstances of your case.
What are the Limits on Damages in Virginia Personal Injury Cases?
Generally speaking, there are no damage caps on personal injury cases in Virginia. That essentially means that on standard claims, the amount of economic and non-economic damages is not limited by provisions of the state law. However there are exceptions depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Your attorney and the courts will notify you if these rare limitations apply in your case. In particular you should take note of two exceptions as follows:
Medical Malpractice: These damages are limited to no more than $2 million in Virginia.
Punitive Damages: These can be no more than $350,000
It is important to note that punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury claims cases. This is because the standard of proof that is required for punitive damages is so high that few claimants ever attain it. Mere negligence is not enough to obtain a punitive damages award. Rather, the claimant must prove that the defendant engaged in conduct that amounts to malice recklessness, or gross wanton negligence. For example, in a case where someone takes an action that consciously disregards the risk of harm to another human life, they may be held to have acted recklessly under the law.
When is a Driver Negligent?
In it's simplest form, "Negligence" is the failing to do what a reasonable person would do under the same or similar circumstances, or otherwise taking some action that falls outside the reasonable person standard. It can be an action or an omission and is usually judged by the "reasonable person" standard. The law usually imposes on most people a duty to act reasonably and considers a breach of this duty to be negligence. The standard of care required often varies depending on the circumstances, the age and mental status of the actor and may also be affected by the educational status of the actor. For example, professionals such as doctors may be held to a higher standard of care than a layperson would be held to, in the same or similar circumstances.
Determining whether someone was negligent often depends as well on the cause of the accident.
The Cause of Your Accident is Important to Know
For example, responsible drivers usually do not cause auto accidents -- negligent drivers usually do. Some examples of negligent driving include:
- Distracted Driving: Many activities divert drivers' attention from safely navigating. Electronic devices are at the top of the list, but other tasks are great offenders, including operating the car radio, eating, drinking, talking with passengers, putting on makeup and reading.
- Speeding: "Speed Kills." This is a fact. When vehicles travel at higher rates of speed, it is harder to stop and reaction time is less. Some drivers ignore the speed limits on Maryland, Virignia and Washington DC city streets, highways and rural roads. Exceeding the speed limit is a common cause of wrongful injury or wrongful death.
- Reckless Driving: Often combined with speeding, reckless driving includes weaving in and out of traffic, fast lane changes, following too close to the car ahead, cutting off another driver, and road rage behavior.
- Drunk Driving: Operating a motor vehicle in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is illegal. A person driving under the influence and drunk or on drugs runs an extremely high risk of injuring or killing someone else, or him or herself.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit in Maryland after being injured in an accident?
Maryland Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are procedural laws that set how long a plaintiff, or a person who is injured, has to file a lawsuit. A statute of limitations is, in essence, the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Although the statute of limitations may be different depending on the type of lawsuit that the plaintiff files, there are some common aspects to statutes of limitations, in general.
In Maryland, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives you three years from the date of the injury to file your complaint. If you do not comply with the statute of limitations deadline your claim will likely be barred and your case disallowed.
Typically, statutes of limitations deadlines in automobile, slip and fall, battery, and most injury claims are objective and clear. However, Maryland recognizes the “discovery rule” exception to the statute of limitations in products liability cases, fraud cases, and cases of malpractice. Under the discovery rule a statute of limitations does not begin to run until the wrongful act is noticed.
In addition, in the case of minors or incapacitated persons the statute of limitations is tolled until the child reaches the age of majority, or the in competency ends.
A statute of limitations begins to run on accrual. Accrual is when the person knows, or should know, that they have a legal claim. In most situations, this will be on the date of an accident. Think of the statute of limitations like a clock or a timer that starts to tick the day that an accident occurs. If there is fraud or a plaintiff was not aware that he or she suffered a harm, the statute of limitations may not start to run until the fraud or the harm is discovered. After the statute of limitations has expired, a lawsuit may not be filed.
For other claims, such as workers compensation claims, there may be additional time periods and procedures that apply. For example, under Maryland Workers' Compensation laws, there is a shorter statute of limitations (2 years) and the employee must comply with more stringent notice requirements by notifying the employer promptly after the accident date or occupational disease onset date is known or the claim will be similarly time-barred.
Maryland also has several different statutes of limitations, most of which are located in Title 5 of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. However, most of the statutes of limitations for civil lawsuits are three years. The following types of lawsuits have a three-year statute of limitations:
- Personal Injury;
- Products Liability;
- Property Damage;
- Wrongful Death; and
- Medical Malpractice (although in some instances this can be 5 years, depending on when the injury was discovered).
Example of How Maryland Statute of Limitations Works:
For example, suppose that Peter the Plaintiff was in a car accident with Dan the Defendant on June 1, 2014 and suffered personal injuries and damage to his car. In Maryland, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is three years. Likewise, the statute of limitations for a property damage lawsuit is three years. Because Peter is aware that he was in an accident and suffered damages, Peter’s date of accrual is June 1, 2014. He may file a lawsuit to recover damages for his medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damage to his car at any point on or before June 1, 2017. If Peter files a lawsuit on June 2, 2017, Dan will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit because the statute of limitations has expired. In this situation, a Maryland court would likely agree with Dan.
As with most legal matters, limitations deadlines can sometimes be unclear. Therefore it is wise to consult with a lawyer early on after an accident, as to the facts applicable to your specific case to determine the statute of limitations in your case.
Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to My Case?
One common legal question that persons who are injured often have is “how long after the accident do I have to file a lawsuit?” In some instances, an injured plaintiff may want to file a lawsuit as soon as possible to receive financial help for their injuries. In other cases, an injured plaintiff may want to wait until they have a more complete idea of how much their lost wages, medical treatment, and/or rehabilitation will cost.
As disucssed about, the law that relates to the time period for filing a lawsuit is called a “statute of limitations.” In most cases, it is a hard deadline. However, as each case is unique, a different timeline or strategy may be warranted in your case. If you have been injured in a car crash, dog bite, slip and fall, or any other accident, you may want to contact one of our Maryland personal injury attorneys to find out what the statute of limitations is in your case and whether or not you will need to file a lawsuit to protect your rights.
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What are the compensation limits on a Maryland personal injury claim?
If you were the victim of a negligent act by a non-employer third party, it is important you know what damages you can and cannot be compensated for. Like many states, Maryland law places caps, or limits, on the amount a plaintiff can recover for non-economic damages in personal injury claims.
Economic and Non-Economic Damages
In general, there are two distinct categories of damages: economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are considered both past and future medical expenses, lost income, lost future wages and earning capacity, and other financial expenses attributed to the wrongdoer. These damages do not have a cap, or ceiling, in the State of Maryland. The only requirement is that they are substantiated at trial.
Non- economic damages include compensation for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and the loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the negligence. These damages are more subjective, not easy to quantify, and vary from plaintiff to plaintiff.
Personal Injury Caps
At the urging of Virginia lobbyists for hospitals and the insurance industry, caps on damages were passed by the Maryland House of Delegates. The caps are modified and increased slightly from year to year to account for inflation and other factors. The Maryland statute places an $830,000 cap on non-economic damages for injuries and wrongful death cases arising in the the 2016 calendar year. The cap increases to $1,245,000 in wrongful death cases if you include the cap on survival actions. If there are two or more claimants in a wrongful death case, the cap increases to $2,075,000. Jury awards in Maryland that exceed these caps in the applicable circumstances will be reduced by the Trial Judge in a legal process known as remittur, pursuant to the laws of Maryland.
Medical Malpractice Caps
Maryland has a separate cap for non-economic damages in medical malpractice and nursing home lawsuits. The cap is at $770,000 for malpractice cases arising in 2016. The cap rises to $962,500 in wrongful death cases made by two or more family members. This cap applies to a broad definition of health care providers including, dentists, nurses, nursing home employees, and chiropractors. Again, this cap only applies to non-economic damages. There is no limit or cap on the amount that can be awarded for actual sustainable economic losses.