BMORE ATTORNEY BLOG

Quick take: What’s a bench trial?

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few different bench trials, so it occurred to me that it might be helpful to do a short post to help explain what that is, for those who are interested or curious. 

A bench trial is a case in court where the judge makes the decision. As opposed to a jury trial, where the judge just calls the balls and strikes on the law and objections, but the jury renders the ultimate decision, in a civil case where a bench trial is pursued, the judge calls the balls and strikes AND determines the outcome and, in a civil case, the value it deserves.

Most bench trials occur in the district courts in Maryland. There, cases of more limited value proceed, and jury trials are not even an option in most instances. But bench trials can occur in circuit court cases, too, where the values are typically higher. I find these latter instances much rarer.

So let me give you some recent examples to show the difference.

A few weeks back, we had a case in the circuit court but, for strategic reasons, we did not pray (ask for) a jury. Likewise, the defense – who could have elected to demand a jury given the stakes – opted not to do so. Fortunately, this led to an earlier trial date that was not disrupted by covid-related postponements that otherwise affected jury trials for most of the past two years. In that case, we were fortunate to beat the last offer made by the insurance company by 5 times.

More recently, we had a case that was filed in the district court for $30,000. There, the defense could have prayed a jury and taken the case to circuit court (currently, any case where more than $15,000 is sought, a defendant may elect a jury trial) but chose not to. Since the matter remained in district court, the case was presided over and decided by a judge – a bench trial. In that instance, in a case that had been postponed numerous times due to covid-related closures, we were finally able to successfully close that chapter for our client, getting a $25,000 verdict in a case where there had never been an offer made by the insurance company.

Where to file a case if litigation is required and for what amount is an important strategic decision that an attorney must give careful consideration. Whether or not to request a jury trial is another layer to that analysis that attorneys, both plaintiffs’ and defendants’, need to be aware of as they litigate cases. These decisions can make the difference between winning and losing, or how satisfying the victory is – or how sour the loss.

If you have any questions about any of this material, please feel free to contact me. Please know that all of this information is based on Maryland law and is informational only, i.e., not intended to be viewed as legal advice and certainly not creating any attorney client relationship between me and the viewer. Thanks for reading, and stay well.

05/10/2022

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – A Tribute to the Bmore Attorney Squad

The late, great John Wooden, the legend of UCLA and college basketball – and leadership, in general – is credited as having said, “A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group — that’s teamwork. The star of the team is the team. ‘We’ supersedes ‘me.'”

As we leave the week where we celebrated Administrative Professionals’ Day, I feel it appropriate to take some time to dwell on the importance of the team concept and how its successful application is so important to a small business and, by extension, all those that business serves.

Simply put, Bmore Attorney is blessed to have a great team. Everyone on the team knows the goals we’re trying to achieve and the steps necessary to attain those goals. (I should mention at the outset that I take no credit for any of this. I’ve been beyond fortunate that so many quality people with tremendous work ethic, dedication, and emotional intelligence have found their way into the Bmore Family.) Everyone knows their role but – importantly – is willing to adapt to assume different responsibilities as the day, task, or project may require. Everyone is willing to step up and step in to help a colleague who may need assistance due to illness, personal circumstances beyond their control, or any other reason.

In theory, it may sound simple; but how many teams have you been a part of where one (or more) person(s) declines to help out or consistently does the bare minimum, saying “That’s not my job,” or “They don’t pay me to do that,” ignoring the fact that their refusal to help doesn’t just hurt the business, it hurts their teammates around them.

Mindset within a team is so critical, as well. Admittedly, working “in the weeds” on some of the minutiae within a project may not “spark joy.” But these details are essential to finishing a job efficiently, quickly, and successfully. Keeping an eye on the bigger picture while dialing in on the minute details of a task is of paramount importance.

Taking stock of the “wins” that result from a job successfully completed – individually and collectively – is critical, as well. I will say that, as a small business owner, and as a law firm owner of a practice that tends to be litigation-heavy, the past few years have been difficult – particularly where courts have been closed or, still now, operating at a significantly lower capacity than pre-covid. But having a team that felt more like family than a group of employees, and knowing that we had each other’s backs, particularly during a difficult time, made it easier to push through. To be in “thrival” mode instead of survival mode. And celebrating the wins along the way – and keeping a healthy sense of humor when things weren’t going so smoothly – helps to bring everyone together and maintain the vision of the bigger picture.

And so I enjoy this time to take stock of Bmore’s biggest WIN of all: the people that make Bmore what it is – a team. The Bmore Fam. To paraphrase Coach Wooden, I’m blessed to have not just great players individually, but players who happen to be great- but who make the team even better. I get a lot of credit as the attorney when things go right, but my team knows (because I tell them as often as I can) that they deserve all the credit. Anything I can do to make my case in court is because of innumerable steps and tasks along the way that have been proficiently and deftly handled by various team members. Our clients are better served because of the great squad behind each case. The credit goes to where it is most decidedly earned and deserved – to the Bmore Team.

On behalf of myself and all our clients, past and present (and future!), I say: thank you to the Bmore team! There’s no one else I’d want to huddle up with every day to ensure that our clients get what they deserve – the best in client service, from Day 1 all the way through to their case’s conclusion, whether by settlement or in the courtroom.

05/02/2022

Overview of Car Insurance Coverages

Overview of Car Insurance Coverages

Overview of Car Insurance Coverages

Overview of Car Insurance Coverages – Selecting the proper coverages for auto insurance will help protect you and your recent investment in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong on the roads. While no one wants to think something bad will happen to them, a number of recent studies place Maryland driver’s among the country’s worst. And as a former insurance defense attorney for one of the nation’s largest auto insurers, and now as a personal injury attorney with a practicing consisting of a high number of auto crash cases, I’ve seen how not paying attention to insurance issues early on – before a person thinks they need the help – can cause serious issues for them later on.

While reviewing your insurance coverage isn’t going to excite anyone, it’s a good idea to revisit whatever coverages you may already have and upgrade your coverage, if necessary. Of course, if you have any questions, please consult your insurance agent or feel free to call me, if you think I can be of assistance.

Please note that these points are applicable in Maryland, so if you’re driving in another state or purchasing a policy in a different state, these points may not apply. Further, none of this constitutes legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is created by reading this information. Now that the “fine print” is out of the way…

GAP INSURANCE

The law only requires auto insurance (yours or the at-fault driver’s) to cover the actual cash of the vehicle just prior to the crash, if it’s deemed a total loss after a crash. As such, if you owe $20,000 on a vehicle, but the market value was only $15,000, you would be responsible for the difference of $5,000 – even if you weren’t at fault. Purchasing this coverage will make sure that that gap in what is owed versus what is reimbursed is handled by whichever entity you purchase this coverage through.

PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION (“PIP”)

PIP will cover you for medical billing and/or 85% of your lost earnings or a combination of both, regardless of whether you were or weren’t at-fault for a crash, up to the limits you purchase with your auto carrier. These limits are typically $2,500 or $5,000. Many carriers convince people to waive this coverage altogether, even though it is very inexpensive to add/keep on a policy. Carriers are not allowed to raise your rates for using this “first party” coverage.

LIABILITY-ONLY v. FULL COVERAGE FOR PROPERY DAMAGE

For property damage after a crash, it is important to consider these options. It is cheaper to have liability-only coverage, but it will only cover you if you’re the one who is at-fault, and only for the other driver’s damages. If you select liability only, get in a wreck, and don’t believe you’re at-fault, but the other driver isn’t accepting responsibility for the crash either, neither carrier will repair the vehicle, provide a rental or, if your vehicle is totaled, provide actual cash value for your vehicle for you can purchase a replacement.

LIABILITY COVERAGE FOR PERSONAL INJURIES

If you cause a crash that results in personal injuries to someone else, that person can make a claim against you. You and your assets will be protected only up to the policy limits which you purchase from your carrier. The minimum required in Maryland is $30,000 which, in my opinion, is only sufficient in the most minor of injuries. If a person causes a serious injury to another and has insufficient policy limits to cover the settlement/judgment, they risk exposing any assets they own to attachment after a judgment, if it is in excess of the policy limits protecting them. Other levels of coverage include 50/100, 100/300, and 250/500. These numbers indicate how many thousands in coverage there is. The first number is the “per person” level of coverage. The second number is the “per occurrence” coverage. For instance, if you have 100/300 coverage, you are protected for up to $100,000 per person injured, but capped at $300,000 per occurrence. There are also “single limit” coverages available, where there is one amount to cover the entire incident, regardless of whether you injure one person or a bus-full of people.

UNINSURED/UNDERINSURED MOTORIST (“UM/UIM”) COVERAGE

This coverage comes into play if you are injured by a negligent driver who either has no insurance (UM), flees the scene and is never identified (UM), or has insufficient policy limits to cover your personal injuries (UM) – most commonly medical billing, lost earnings, and pain & suffering. As noted above, the state minimum is $30,000. It is important to consider purchasing enough coverage to protect you, your family, and any other passengers in your vehicle against the possibility you’re struck by a vehicle that is uninsured, flees the scene, or sticks around but is underinsured. Typically, your UM/UIM coverage mirrors your liability coverage in terms of the amount.

STACKING/ENHANCED UIM (“EUIM”)

Typically, UIM works like this: whatever coverage the at-fault driver has in play is deducted from the coverage amounts you have for UIM. So, if a bad driver hits you and they have $30,000 in coverage, but you have $100,000, your carrier could be liable to you for compensation of damages related to the crash up to $70,000 (since the at-fault driver is responsible for the “first” $30,000, per its coverage). If, however, you purchase EUIM, you can then “stack” the total of your UIM policy on top of the one policy of the at-fault driver. As such, in the example above, rather than have an additional $70,000 in protection after the at-fault paid the $30,000 on its coverage, you’d ADD the $100,000 to the at-fault’s policy for $130,000 total in coverage.

PERSONAL LIABILITY UMBRELLA POLICIES (“PLUP”)

If you have considerable assets that you wish to protect, you may want to investigate a PLUP. These are typically written for $1,000,000 and stack on top of the other liability coverage you have per person/per occurrence. As with other coverages, it is best to consult your agent when considering this coverage to determine which is right for you.

IF YOU’RE INVOLVED IN A CRASH

If the unfortunate happens, there are some steps to take right away that may seem like common sense but that may escape us when the adrenaline is running high. Please feel free to contact us to receive a free Bmore Attorney Collision Card to keep in your wallet, purse or glove box as a reminder of what to do following a crash. Once you’ve gotten home after leaving the scene or after obtaining necessary medical treatment, I highly recommend calling an experienced lawyer who specializes in personal injury law to go over your rights and how to proceed from there. There are instances where even your own insurance company is going to be against you (for example, see UM/UIM above), as its ultimate goal is to pay out each and every claim as cheaply as possible. And it’s my job to make sure they pay you what’s fair for what you’ve lost.

11/05/2021

Coming Soon – Bmore Bel Air!

Coming Soon – Bmore Bel Air!

The Silberzahn and Bmore Attorney families are proud to announce the next step in the firm’s expansion. In light of our steady growth over the past few years, and in order to continue to provide the top-notch client service that has generated more and more referrals during that time, it was necessary to consider acquiring a second location. We are happy to report that Bmore Attorney will be making its second home in Harford County (Bel Air) once renovations on the property are complete. 

This expansion is a significant benchmark for the firm, the culmination of much hard work and dedication from those a part of the Bmore Attorney team. It is extremely rewarding to look back at our successes and their fruits (as well as the losses, fortunately few, and the lessons they bear) and remember that the late nights and other sacrifices of all those involved will have “built a home” for Bmore Attorney, from which we can help countless other clients in the years to come. 

And yet, it also signals just a new beginning for how we intend to take our practice to the next level. While important to celebrate this success for what it is, it is equally important to not pause long to do so, as there are many other clients who do and will need our assistance, and who will, rightfully, expect the same level of attention and results that they’ve come to expect. Just as any big settlement or verdict deserves to be celebrated, there are others to come that need to be prepared for. 

But before moving on to “the next success,” I’d be hugely remiss if I didn’t recognize all of the people who share in this one. I have learned a lot about myself in this journey into building our practice; one such lesson is that, while I have a tendency to want to do everything myself (possibly why I opened my own firm), the ceiling for growth is low if you’re not willing to ask for help. The following folks have all helped, perhaps more than they know and, for that, I’m forever grateful. I’ve been truly blessed to be surrounded by people who want to help us succeed. 

I know people say “I couldn’t have done it without…” and maybe they mean it. Well, I mean it when I say we could not have done this without the hard work and support of my wife, Jess. From understanding the many, many late nights and other sacrifices our family has endured during this process, to digging deeper into the business from a multitude of different angles (to include our charitable arm, which we’re very proud of), Jess wouldn’t let us be anything but successful. She is the voice that says, “You’ve got this,” in those moments of self-doubt, and has been since I was merely thinking of starting my own firm. I’m invigorated by the prospects of the successes to come as Jess gets even more involved in various Bmore projects along the way. 

It’s also impossible to overstate how much my team at Bmore Attorney has meant to our growth and to this specific expansion. Our clients expect and deserve the same level of service that the friends who referred them got or that the former client in the review that led them to us received. I’m proud that my team brings a consistently high level of commitment and diligence to the office each day, delivering to our clients the impeccable service, with empathy and great skill. We don’t have an advertising budget, so we grow because people refer us to their friends, family, and colleagues. They have done so on a large scale because no matter who they’re speaking with, our clients know they can have confidence that their matter will be handled with the same focus as if it was literally our own case. 

My financial dream team, comprised of Scott and Diane Mattingly of Mattingly & Associates and Mark C. Pallack of Harvest Investment Consultants, LLC deserve high praise and were an integral part of making this recent dream become a reality. Being able to lean hard on folks who are experts in areas I am not, and being able to trust 100% what they’re saying, is a blessing to have had during a sometimes difficult process. 

And, of course, I cannot end without thanking countless others who have helped get us to this recent success “mile marker”: 

My own friends and family, who have not only provided much needed moral support but have also referred people they know who have been injured and are in need of legal services to our office;

Colleagues (and some who have become friends that could be considered in the above group) who have recommended our services to their own clients when a death or injury has unfortunately occurred after a negligent act;

Insurance adjusters and insurance defense attorneys (supposedly “the enemy,” depending on some of my competitors’ views of what we’re doing) for also recommending us to their clients or family and friends. All referrals are valuable and appreciated, but there is something exceptionally rewarding when an adversary who has “done battle” against you has enough respect for your abilities to send a referral your way.

And last, but certainly not least, my own family deserves much credit for this success, as with any other. I was blessed to be raised in one that ingrained in me the belief that working hard, treating people the right way, and doing my best day in and day out is always a recipe for success and, in time, will get you where you want to go. I not only heard this growing up; I had role models showing me. I’m hopeful that the lessons I learned from my mother, father and brother are being passed down to my boys and that they recognize that the sacrifices I make in time away from the family are not only for my clients but for them, as well. But whether I’m doing that part of my job at home or not, my family needs to be recognized for their understanding, when it seems as though the family business is all-consuming.  

Thank you all for your enduring support. We appreciate and are grateful for your referrals and recommendations and look forward to serving them, whether out of our Towson office or, soon, out of our Bel Air location. We’re proud that we’ll have two locations in the years to come to better serve our deserving clients. 

09/18/2019

Honoring a Friend’s Lasting Legacy

Honoring a Friend’s Lasting Legacy – I’ve spoken and posted about an upcoming event that means a lot to me and, thankfully, some close friends have asked for more details. It made me realize that, if I shared a bit more about WHY it means a lot to me, perhaps more folks would get behind this very worthy cause. 

On October 16th, from 5-9 p.m., the Y of Central Maryland is hosting an event at the gym at Leadership Through Athletics, to raise funds in order to renovate the gym at Cardinal Gibbons School, my alma mater, into a state-of-the-art facility for the community’s use for years to come. That strikes home because that acreage is hallowed ground- not just to me personally, but also to the hundreds of others who spent their formative years mentored under knowledgeable men who guided us to future successes with daily teachings and role-modeling. 

But even more importantly, especially for this initial event, is the cause at hand. On October 16th, the event is designated to honor the memory of one of Gibbons’ finest. This is a strong statement, particularly since this individual was not even a Gibbons alum. But more important than where he graduated from, he embodied the spirit of the Gibbons community and lived it, in his daily interactions with his family, friends, and colleagues, and on the campus when he came to impart his wisdom to students fortunate enough to have known him. I am one such fortunate soul.

Neil Jones became my basketball coach in sophomore year of high school. I had dreams of playing D-I basketball. At 5-7, you can imagine how that panned out. Nonetheless, Neil made an instant impact on the team. I was best friends with his younger brother, Brandon, who was also on the team. We had a solid JV squad that year that routinely won in a highly competitive Catholic League. But more important than winning were the lessons he imparted to us on a daily basis, win or lose. 

Neil came in as an assistant to a much more established head coach who’d been in the program for a long time. Everyone loved this coach, and for good reason. But most realized that his strength was management and motivation as opposed to the Xs and Os. But Neil didn’t just barge in and take over. He was patient in expressing his ideas. He was diplomatic in how he entered the team dynamic. He was careful to assuage any feelings that might’ve been hurt if he had exerted more control right away. It was an important lesson in leadership that I’ll never forget, i.e., knowing when and where to insert yourself, understanding team dynamic, suppressing one’s ego for the betterment of the larger group, knowing when and how to speak one’s mind and stand ground when necessary, and maximizing the impact of interpersonal relationships. 

Neil also taught by example. He led by showing and doing as opposed to just by talking or yelling. When the court would clear after any (all) practice, Neil would start working out. As a player who’d just worked out for 2+ hours, it was infectious to see someone else how had also poured themselves out for that time to continue on. A few dedicated others would grab a ball and press on with their training, motivated by Neil’s example. I’ll never forget that example of continuing to do what needs to be done, even when everyone else has called it quits- and you’d like to, too. 

Neil knew how to motivate. And he knew how to motivate each particular player differently. He was keenly aware that each individual responded differently based on different situations. I’d be motivated by his hollering. I’d been motivated by his boisterous cheering. I’d been motivated by his ass-chewings. The messages might have been different each time. And they were definitely delivered with different tones. But I can affirm that, outside of my immediate family, Neil’s the only person who’s chewed me out in public where I thanked him for it 30 minutes later…while working out with him after practice, one-on-one. I knew I deserved it, and I thanked him for getting in my stuff. Neil was that voice in my head telling me to quit my bitching and push on when my own voice had convinced me to quit. 

Neil taught these lessons to many more kids after I’d moved on. Brandon and I parted ways. We played against each other a few times in college. Brandon scored 1,732 points and broke the scoring record at St. Mary’s College. I scored maybe 12 points at Salisbury and broke my ankle running a secondary fastbreak in sophomore year. Maybe Neil saved some of the secrets for his brother. 

But the shame with this life is that the people who should stay the longest- the ones who are so dedicated to those around them- aren’t promised their time. Neil was shot and killed in Baltimore in 2005. A family man, married with children-  Kameron (then 5-years-old), Kai (then 2-years-old) and Kolby (then just 6-months-old) – was murdered while walking to his car after hanging out with a friend in Canton, earlier having played in an adult-league basketball game. Neil could have impacted hundreds, if not thousands, more with his time here, but for this senseless act. Neil’s parents, Gerald and Martina, forgave their son’s killer in an unprecedented act of forgiveness. Their powerful and, in my opinion, supernatural ability to forgive another for taking something and someone so precious from them (and us) is a true testament to Neil’s lasting legacy. 

Neil’s ability to impact young men like me was taken from him. But his memory continues to inspire, and this upcoming event is geared towards raising funds to affix Neil’s name to the lobby area of the Y to-come. It gives me comfort knowing that the money raised in his name will go towards a foundation that will continue the work that Neil was so passionate about: mentoring, sharing skills, giving time to others, being an example to others who need that example, and so much more. 

I realize that these words fail tremendously in doing Neil’s memory justice. I only hope that my failure in better demonstrating Neil’s impact on me and those around him does not deter my friends and colleagues from donating to this very worthy cause. If you are interested in donating, attending, or otherwise supporting this worthy cause and event, please feel free to contact me. Also, https://fundraise.ymaryland.org/event/paying-tribute-to-our-beloved-friend-brian-oneil-jones/e229907 to the event’s contribution page; I’d be humbled if you’d consider giving.

08/06/2019

Bmore Attorney Advocates For Injured Parties

Bmore Attorney Advocates For Injured Parties – When I’m in the courtroom, I’m advocating for one specific injured party. A few weeks ago, before the House Judiciary Committee, I had the privilege of being an advocate for many injured parties when I testified in support of Senate Bill 102. The bill, if passed as it left the Senate Judiciary Committee, would allow Plaintiffs to sue insurance companies directly instead of the individual wrongdoer, as is currently required in Maryland (assuming the Plaintiff was willing to cap his/her recovery at the insurance proceeds of the applicable policy). A few other states already allow this. The law, if passed, would protect many individuals from having their personal assets subject to potential judgments, so it would be a great outcome for consumers. 

Instead of looking out for their insureds, however, the insurance companies fought the bill. Instead of fighting for a bill that would protect their insureds from the prospect of potential excess judgments, saving consumers considerable angst and, in some situations, actual economic peril, the insurance companies lined up to fight AGAINST it, spending considerable resources to make sure that their insureds are still subject to excess verdicts. Why? Because the insurance companies perceive that, if jurors know the truth, that is, that they are paying verdicts, not the consumer, verdicts will go up. Imagine that- insurance companies fighting for profits over policyholders. Priorities. 

It’s past time for jurors to know the truth about insurance involvement in these cases, instead of allowing the defense to perpetrate the myth that individuals themselves are going to have to pay certain verdicts in negligence cases, which is exactly what happens in these cases at trial. Jurors are kept in the dark about insurance companies’ roles in these trials, from paying the defense attorney to paying the verdicts. 

I’m proud to have been part of a group of attorneys (a few pictured, some still inside the hearing room) who took time away from their practices to advocate for individuals over the insurance companies. It’s important to remember that we’re not just personal injury attorneys- we’re advocates for the injured and consumers at large. Hell, in this particular instance, we were also trying to help every insurance company insured, in that this bill would have protected them from the prospect of excess verdicts in the overwhelming majority of these cases. If only the insurance companies could have seen that over their stacks and stacks of profits. 

Bmore Attorney Advocates For Injured Parties
04/10/2019

What Does It Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?

What Does It Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney? – The question gets raised often by injured parties worried that they don’t have the resources to hire a lawyer to fight for their compensation following an injury: how am I going to be able to afford an attorney? These folks, no matter their financial status prior to the injury, are at a disadvantage after an injury because they are oftentimes facing economic stressors due to an inability to work because of the injuries, the loss of their vehicle, or disparities between what their vehicle was worth and what they’ve been compensated (in the case of an auto crash).

The good news is that personal injury attorneys should be operating off of a contingency fee model, which means that a) there is no retainer fee owed up front, b) there are no hourly fees owed along the way, and c) the attorney is only owed a fee if s/he recovers a settlement/judgment for the client. And that eventual fee comes from the settlement/judgment itself.

Therefore, there’s no valid reason not to look into hiring a personal injury attorney to fight on your behalf. The only risk lies in not retaining an attorney.

When confronted by those who indicate a willingness to “go it alone” against the insurance company, believing that their case is “cut and dried” and will be easy to resolve, or believing that they’re going to profit more by not paying an attorney, I tell them this: I’m confident that my presence in the case and the skillset I’ve developed over the 16+ years I’ve been in the personal injury field will increase that person’s potential recovery by more than the 1/3 of the settlement they will eventual pay me if I’m retained. Plus, my office will do all of the heavy lifting, allowing that person to focus on their treatment and everyday living to decrease the disruption to that life as best as possible. As such, the better question is “what is the cost if I DON’T hire a personal injury attorney”?

That, I think, is easier to quantify. You could lose very valuable segments of your case, if you attempt to negotiate the matter on your own. The insurance companies aren’t obligated to tell you what they’re supposed to pay out. You could lose earnings, if you think that, since your sick time paid your lost time from work, that you’re not entitled to recover it. You could lose the diminished value of your vehicle if it’s repaired but lost its resale value and you’re not aware that that is a compensable element of your recovery (or you don’t know what expert to use to prove that element of your case). You could lose the amount of reimbursement of medical billing if you fail to retrieve all of your medical bills prior to the settlement discussions. You could wind up paying some of your settlement back to your health insurer months after that settlement, if you’re not familiar with the concept of liens and when your health insurer has a right to recover amounts it paid out related to your treatment. And, perhaps most importantly, you are not likely in a good position to know what your pain and suffering is worth. The number one question I get, even above “can I afford an attorney with your experience,” is “what is my case worth?” That answer rests on many different factors that are heavily case-dependent. It would be almost impossible for the average person, even one who’d had prior cases, to know with confidence what value they should be seeking from the insurance company as fair compensation for their claims.

If you have questions about your claim, feel free to contact me so that I can address your questions or concerns. And, as this article has shown, there is no fee owed unless and until your case is concluded in your favor, so you have nothing to lose by retaining our services in a personal injury matter. There’s a lot for you and your family to lose by not doing so, though. We look forward to being able to help.

02/11/2019

I Don’t Want to Be One of Those People

I Don’t Want to Be One of Those People – I hear it at least once a week, or some variation of it. “I’m just going to let it go. I don’t want to make a claim.” When I inquire why they want to surrender their ability to exert their legal right to protect themselves after an injury caused by someone else’s carelessness, they often say something about not wanting to be “one of those people.” Another common one: “I’m not litigious. I’ve never made a claim.”

Well, making a claim for your legal right for reimbursement, whether it be for personal injury or property damages or lost earnings or pain and suffering, is not being litigious. More often than not, these claims are resolved via amicable settlement negotiations. This, of course, presumes that the insurance company involved is reasonable, which is not always the case. In those instances, yes, litigation may be warranted. But otherwise, a settlement is typically the end result. Making a claim does not involve litigation.

For those people that say, “I’ve never made a claim,” they’re either extremely lucky to never have had any injury or property damage EVER or they’re basically admitting to being taken advantage of. Because if you’ve paid into a fund for later reimbursement in the event of a certain event (the purpose of insurance), that event occurs, and you’re entitled to recover, but you ignore your right to recovery, you’re either letting the insurance company make your financial decisions for you, or you’re donating your money to the wrong “charity.” When you die, and your life insurance policy is getting ready to issue its payment, do you want your family to say, “Well, we don’t want to profit from our loved one’s death”? It’s the same thing, but somehow the insurance companies have twisted our thinking on the issues at play.

Another common refrain: “I don’t want to seem like I’m taking advantage of the situation.” Trust me, the average person fighting with an adjuster will not get what’s fair, let alone get enough to come even close to ever being accused of taking advantage of the situation. Even by getting an attorney who’s trained in this field, you won’t be able to “take advantage” of the situation. An attorney is going to still have to fight to get you just what you’re owed. Bottom line: if you’re thinking like this from the start, you’re the one being taken advantage of. The insurance company has already groomed you to help them increase their margins by not collecting funds that you or someone else has paid into for this very occasion. (All of this presumes what is true in 99.9% of instances, that is, that there is a legitimate injury and right of recovery.) When you go to a car dealership to get a new car, do you negotiate the price or let the dealership take advantage of you by paying the sticker price? It’s a similar mindset if you’re foregoing a right to legal recovery.

But this goes to prove the point that the insurance companies have largely won the battle of perception in the public eye, meaning that they’ve been able to portray anyone who needs to make a claim as someone who’s somehow less of a person than someone who just “goes away” and declines to seek the compensation that they’ve oftentimes already pre-paid for in their insurance policies.

When you get sick and go the doctor, and the front desk tells you that you only owe a $50 co-pay because your insurance covers the balance of the $250 visit, does this person who “doesn’t want to take advantage of the situation” politely decline to use his or her insurance and, instead, pay the full $250? Of course not. They’ve paid into the fund for just this situation. It’s not “taking advantage” to recoup what you’re entitled to receive.

Are there instances where abuses exist amongst those who make claims or file suit? Absolutely. But for every one of those cases, I’d argue there are hundreds more that are either wrongly denied by the insurance company or otherwise devalued by its adjusters. And for every one of those instances of abuse of the system, there are another hundred cases where the insurance companies get off scott-free from making any payments because someone has volunteered to relinquish their rights to what they’re owed. The trouble for personal injury attorneys and claimants is that the news loves sharing that one-in-a-thousand case that is, even amongst personal injury attorneys, regarded as baseless or perhaps worse, absurd.

So, let’s take the typical auto collision where someone is rear-ended, has property damage to their vehicle, and is injured. I’ve spoken with a small, but significant, subset of folks who insist that all they want is to make sure their vehicle is repaired but refuse to make a claim for personal injury…despite significant and, sometimes, permanent injuries (though they don’t often realize how lasting the injury is going to be at that point). I ask them: what is the difference between making a claim for property damage and making a claim for personal injury? Why are you “only seeking what’s deserved” in the property damage half of the case but “being litigious” when seeking reimbursement for reimbursement for personal injuries? Why are you willing to hold the insurance company accountable for their insured’s negligence when it comes to the property damage but unwilling to hold them accountable for something much more valuable? Put another way, why is your vehicle more important than your physical health and wellbeing?

The answer is, quite obviously, that it’s not. You can get another car. But you’re “stuck” with your body for the rest of your time here on this planet, for better or worse. But the insurance companies have done a hell of a job portraying personal injury as a dirty word (or phrase). They make it seem like they hold a firm spot atop moral high ground when they take this position but, in all reality, it’s only geared towards increasing profits by decreasing the amount of people that recoup what they’re otherwise entitled to after an injury.

Have personal injury attorneys helped the insurance companies sell this pitch to the public? No doubt. The cheesy commercials and the attorneys who’ll take any case, even illegitimate ones,  certainly don’t help the general cause of personal injury attorneys who are trying to do what’s right.

But at the end of the day, these attorneys (whether they have terrible advertisements or bring terrible cases) are a small minority of the much greater whole of personal injury attorneys and firms who genuinely care about people, only take legitimate cases, and do what’s right: fighting for fair compensation for clients who are otherwise at a big disadvantage against insurance companies that make billions in profits and train their employees to shortchange claimants at every step of the way.

If insurance companies were serious about tort reform and wanted to get rid of personal injury attorneys, all they’d have to do is start paying people who are owed settlements fair and reasonable compensation, and the need for lawyers like me would cease. And I’d be fine with that. But they never will because, to do what is right and pay people what they’re owed, it will dip into their massive profits. Instead, they’d rather invest time, energy and funds into a public campaign to convince good people that they should relinquish their rights to fair compensation for injuries. And if that doesn’t work and a person brings a claim, they’d rather invest more time, energy and funds to have an adjuster resist the claim. And if that doesn’t work, they’d rather pay an attorney to fight the case in court versus pay what is rightly owed.

In short, if you’ve been injured but are reluctant to make a claim, at least talk to an attorney before giving up your rights. And don’t just talk to any attorney; talk to an attorney who has spent his/her career in personal injury law and knows the intricacies of the law. Better still, talk with a personal injury attorney who has a track record of trying cases, so that the insurance companies know they can’t bully the attorney into a settlement that is less than what otherwise is warranted based on the very specific facts of your case.

If you’d like to discuss a case, please feel free to contact me. There’s never a charge for a consultation, so you have nothing to lose by investigating the matter further before making a decision on what you want to do. Conversely, you have a lot to lose by not investigating your rights and options.

You might be telling yourself you don’t want to be “one of those people” or “take advantage of the system” but, I assure you, if you don’t consult an attorney after an injury, you’ll be the one taken advantage of.

01/14/2019

Stacking is Here

Stacking is Here – A law passed in the 2017 legislative session requiring insurers writing policies in Maryland to offer “stacking” of underinsured (UIM) automobile insurance coverage. This law went into effect in July 2018, but it hasn’t gotten much, if any, publicity.

What’s Stacking, and Why Is It Important?

Before we get to that, let’s take a quick step back for a brief overview of insurance coverage in general in the auto accident context. If you are injured in a car crash by a negligent driver, their insurance coverage is responsible for covering your damages, to include your personal injuries and other harms and losses. The state mandates that a driver have at least $30,000 in coverage for instances like this, though a person can purchase much, much more (to include personal liability umbrella policies, also known as PLUPs). Unfortunately, many drivers in Maryland carry only the state minimum. In that scenario, if your damages- typically your medical bills, lost wages, and harms and losses (sometimes termed pain and suffering) exceed the $30,000 afforded by the at-fault driver’s $30,000 policy, you would then turn to your own insurance policy’s coverage for Underinsured Motorist (UIM) protection, a protection you pay for every time you pay your premium.

Currently, if your UIM policy matches the policy of the at-fault driver (for instance, if you have a $30,000 UIM policy and they have a $30,000, or if you have a $50,000 policy and they have a $50,000, and so on and so forth up the ladder), then you are not afforded any further coverage for your injuries and damages. Also, currently, if you have a larger policy than the at-fault driver, you are afforded only the difference between those coverages. So, for example, if you have a $50,000 UIM policy but the at-fault driver had $30,000 in coverage, you would be entitled to the $30,000 from the at-fault driver and then $20,000 more from your own carrier under UIM coverage (this presumes your damages warrant these amounts, of course). If you had a $100,000 policy of UIM and the at-fault driver had a $30,000 policy, after you received the $30,000 policy limits from the at-fault driver’s carrier, you would then turn to your own UIM coverage and could potentially receive $70,000, that is, the difference between the two policies.

As of July 2018, however, insurers writing policies in Maryland have to offer stacking UIM as an option to their insureds. This is critical because you are now able to drastically increase your coverage and protection in instances where an at-fault driver causes you or any loved one in your vehicle injuries and other damages.

How Will Stacking Work

Taking our first example above, let’s assume the at-fault driver has $30,000 in coverage and you have $30,000 in UIM benefits. If you do not opt in to stacking, you will not be afforded any more coverage that the at-fault driver has paid for. If, however, you opt into the stacking being offered after July 2018, you will be afforded a total of $60,000 of coverage instead of $30,000. Extrapolating further, if the at-fault had $30,000 in coverage but you have $100,000 in UIM, without stacking you’d be entitled to $70,000 in additional coverage if you proved your case was worth more than the $30,000. With stacking, you would have $130,000 in total coverage available ($30,000 plus the $100,000 in UIM). With stacking, therefore, you’d simply add the amount of the at-fault driver’s policy to the total of your UIM policy to determine the maximum coverage available.

It’s bad enough when someone who is careless causes you harm, but it’s even worse after the fact when you find out that they had limited insurance proceeds to cover your damages. It’s not always possible, no matter how carefully you drive, to avoid another’s negligence. But you can protect against their having opted for a limited insurance policy ahead of time by choosing to protect yourself with adequate insurance in case this happens. Having good UM/UIM coverage and opting in to the stacking option is one way to do this.

What Should I Do?

Call your agent today to speak with him/her to discuss the possibility of opting IN to the stacking provision being offered as of July 2018. While you’re doing so, take the opportunity to review your coverages. For instance, consider adding Personal Injury Protection (PIP) if you have previously waived it. This is another very inexpensive way to better protect yourself in the event of a crash and related injuries that lead to medical bills and/or lost earnings (With PIP, you and your passengers are afforded limited coverage even if you were at-fault. PIP limits are typically $2,500, $5,000 or $10,000.)

Please know, however, that the insurance companies fought this law hard and didn’t want to have to offer this stacking protection in Maryland. Why would an insurance company not want to have another product to sell and make more money, you may ask? Well, you can be assured that they did not believe it was cost-effective for them. Therefore, it’s even more important that you’re proactive about protecting yourself; because the insurance companies do not view this product as being a revenue driver, they will not be the ones advertising this change or incentivizing their agents to make sales of stacking additions to existing policies.

If you’d like to discuss this matter or these issues in greater detail, please feel free to give me a call or email me. Likewise, if you’d like to speak with an insurance agent but either don’t have one or would like to speak with a new one, please contact me, and I’d be happy to make a recommendation or two.

01/08/2019

Insurance Companies Want Jurors In The Dark To Keep Verdicts Lower

Insurance Companies Want Jurors In The Dark To Keep Verdicts Lower – Those who bring personal injury claims in Maryland face a number of hurdles in achieving satisfactory recoveries for their damages. Some of these are fair, such as the burden of proof resting with a plaintiff to prove their case (although oftentimes jurors hold plaintiffs to a higher burden of proof than should be applicable, incorrectly raising the threshold of proof as the amount claimed increases). Other obstacles are inherent in the procedural aspects of civil law, leading to jurors being misled, which causes inequitable verdicts that fail to properly compensate injured parties for their losses.

One such example is the fact that jurors are left to believe that, in every case, individual defendants in personal injury suits are personally responsible for payment of the verdicts they render. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, there is insurance coverage applicable that will pay all amounts eventually allowed by the jury. This is often the case whether you’re talking about a medical malpractice case, a personal injury suffered after a car crash, or an injury sustained on a business’s premises.

But in Maryland, the law requires that a plaintiff file suit directly against the negligent party as opposed to that person’s (or entity’s) insurance carrier. Because of this, a case is captioned as Ben Hurt v. Sally At-Fault as opposed to Ben Hurt v. “INSERT SALLY AT-FAULT’S INSURANCE COMPANY HERE.” Further, the rules of evidence preclude the admission or mention of liability insurance coverage except for limited exceptions, such that a jury will rarely hear the word “insurance,” let alone whether it applies in any particular case.

Let’s take the “average” personal injury case arising from a car crash. A jury hears the case caption of Ben Hurt v. Sally At-Fault. The jurors hear the defense attorney say that he or she represents Sally At-Fault. They never hear anything about insurance during the trial, whether through the course of testimony or in closing arguments. They see the parties individually named on the verdict sheet and, again, there’s no reference to insurance. Sometimes jurors will ask the judge whether insurance is applicable, but they are instructed that they have all the evidence they need to render an opinion and to make their verdict based on what they’ve seen and heard at trial only. Therefore, despite the fact that the average person knows that Maryland is a state that requires insurance coverage on any vehicle being driven on its roadways, jurors are kept in the dark about the matter and, as such, misled into believing that, since it wasn’t mentioned, it must not apply.

This misconception, which is created and perpetuated by the law – and strongly preferred by the insurance companies that are required to pay the vast majority of civil judgments in instances like those described above – leads jurors to believe that an individual defendant who caused an injury is going to be personally responsible for the amount of the judgment. As such, that jury is likely to reduce the amount it otherwise would have awarded had it known the truth, that is, that an insurance company that has already been receiving premiums to cover its insureds for situations like this (and investing and making more money off that premium) is going to pay the verdict (along with the attorney’s fee for the defense attorney).

Insurance companies don’t want this to change, as keeping jurors in the dark leads to lower awards. They argue that, if the jury were to know that insurance was applicable, jurors would tend to award more monetary damages. But the question is, if jurors award less money than they should when they don’t have accurate information available to them, and award “more” in damages when they know the truth, which is the more just outcome? Just because awards are higher when based on truthful information doesn’t mean they are “too high,” exorbitant or otherwise unjust. Rather, the lower awards that are based on incorrect or incomplete information are patently unjust. Put another way, which result is more just: a verdict that is based on complete information or one that is based on incomplete, misleading information?

The law should strive to assist jurors in making the best decision, and that goal requires arming them with more information rather than less, irrespective of whether the awards would then become lower or higher.

12/11/2018