Articles Posted in Uninsured Motorist

For those who have been injured in a Maryland car accident, understanding the types of available damages that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit is essential. Generally, damages are divided into two categories:  compensatory and punitive damages. Simply stated, compensatory damages are focused on the harms caused to the plaintiff, whereas punitive damages are focused on deterring the defendant’s behavior that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

Compensatory damages are very common, and they are awarded in almost all successful car accident cases. These include damages based on past medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional harm, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages are much less common in Maryland. To obtain a punitive damages award, a plaintiff must show that the defendant exhibited “actual malice.” Thus, a plaintiff cannot receive a punitive damages award by showing mere negligence, or even recklessness. Not only that, but also the showing of actual malice must be established by clear and convincing evidence – a higher evidentiary standard than is typically applied in personal injury cases.

A recent case illustrates the type of situation that may result in an award of punitive damages.

Car accidents happen all of the time and often result in serious injuries. Normally, an injured party can recover compensation for their injuries from another driver if the other driver was at fault for the accident. However, many drivers fail to obtain the proper insurance for their vehicles. In that situation, this means an injured motorist can only recover compensation if they have uninsured motorist coverage through their own insurance.

In a recent case, a court considered a claim for uninsured motorist coverage and found the driver was able to receive his award without having it reduced by the money already paid by his insurer. The man was in a car accident with an uninsured driver and sustained serious injuries. The man had car insurance, which provided a total of $300,000 in uninsured motorist coverage and $5,000 in medical payments. His insurer paid the man’s medical bills up to the policy limit of $5,000 for medical payments in his policy. The man also made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, but his insurer disputed the claim.

The man filed a lawsuit against his insurer for refusing to pay. The court found in his favor and awarded him over $68,000. But the court reduced the award by the $5,000 already paid by his insurer for medical bills. However, the state’s supreme court found the award should not have been reduced by $5,000. The court explained that statutory language barred the reduction in this case. As a result, the award was reinstated.

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Earlier this month, a Florida appellate court issued a written opinion in a case brought by a motorist against his own insurance company, after he was involved in a collision with an uninsured motorist. In the case, Fridman v. Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois, the plaintiff was injured after being struck by an uninsured motorist, and he sought compensation within the $50,000 policy limit of his insurance policy with the defendant. However, the defendant denied his claim. Ultimately, a jury awarded the driver $1,000,000 based on the insurance company’s bad-faith denial of the claim, and the court upheld that verdict.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a 2007 motor vehicle accident. Since the other driver was uninsured, the plaintiff filed a claim with his own insurance company for $50,000. The insurance company denied his request. He then filed a lawsuit against the insurance company, alleging bad faith in failing to settle his claim and seeking the full amount of compensation for his injuries, which “shall include the total amount of the claimant’s damages, including the amount in excess of the policy limits.”

The insurance company then cut the plaintiff a check for $50,000, the limit of his policy. The plaintiff refused the check as an offer to settle the case and opted to allow a jury to determine what his compensation should be. The jury ultimately determined that the plaintiff was entitled to $1,000,000 in compensation for his injuries, as well as for the bad faith of the insurance company. The insurance company filed an appeal, asking the court to consider the $50,000 check a final settlement that preempted the plaintiff’s case at trial.

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Earlier this month, a West Virginia woman was convicted of driving without a license after she caused a fatal accident that took the life of a five-year-old Maryland girl. According to one local news report, the woman claimed that she was unaware that her license had lapsed. However, at trial, on cross-examination it came out that her license was revoked due to several previous citations and accidents.

Evidently, the woman rear-ended a car driven by the young girl’s great-grandmother on Route 67 in Washington County. The girl was in the back seat, as is recommended. However, she tragically died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the accident.

The woman faced criminal charges relating to her decision to drive without insurance. Just last week, the criminal case against the driver ended in a conviction. The woman’s sentencing will be coming up in the next month or so. However, she faces up to a year in prison. She was also issued two traffic violations and fined $410.

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In a previous post we discussed the possibility of more than a few drivers out on Maryland roadways who may be risking their insurance coverage, not to mention their family’s financial future, by underinsuring themselves and trying to save on their monthly insurance premiums. Is it worth it? We would have to say, emphatically, No. This is especially true when one considers the extreme downside of such as strategy, if one could even call it that. Yet, in light of all this, there is a percentage of the motoring public plying the roads of Annapolis, Bowie, Gaithersburg and The District who may be in even more danger of a catastrophic auto or motorcycle accident: these individual constitute the ranks of uninsured drivers.

As Maryland personal injury lawyers we are not about to lay odds that you or anyone you know will NEVER be involved in a car, bike or commercial trucking collision; statistics tell us that a certain number of people will be caught up in a traffic wreck at some time in their lives. This is, in fact, why we have car, home and business insurance in the first place. To go through life without insurance is only to tempt fate. Of course, insurance companies are businesses and they will do their best to avoid paying or limiting what they will pay to the best of their ability. This is why automobile and personal injury attorneys like our firm exist to help those who may be facing difficult circumstances following a bad accident.

Still, some individuals who may feel that they have little to lose sometimes forego car insurance in an effort to avoid paying for coverage. Some of these people may have such a bad driving record that insurance companies either will not offer any coverage or will charge such a high premium that it is financially impossible for that individual to make ends meet. Yet, instead of finding alternate methods of transportation, they choose to drive without coverage and against the laws of this state.

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As Maryland and Washington, D.C., personal injury attorneys, my firm is dedicated to helping those individuals who have been injured or hurt as a result of another person’s negligent actions. Because we cover automotive, trucking and motorcycle accident cases, we have the skills to represent motorists who are suffering the effects of a bad traffic collision. For those families who have lost a loved one to a senseless roadway accident, we also handle wrongful death lawsuits, as well.

The point we would like to make today is that there are likely numerous motorists one the road throughout Maryland who either do not carry insurance on their vehicle or who have knowingly or unknowingly under-insured themselves. For those who choose to drive uninsured, they risk fines and other penalties for simply not following the law. For those who may unfortunately be injured by an uninsured driver, additional problems exist.

If one is caught up in a traffic accident with an uninsured or under-insured driver, the only way the victim can become compensated is if that person carries uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from his or her automobile insurance company. In such instances, the victim’s insurance company must pay for all of the victim’s loses incurred by that roadway collision. This includes, but is not limited to, vehicle damage as well as medical treatment and even loss of income due to the inability to work.

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Most anyone who has been following the news over the past few months likely could not help but notice the spate of hit-and-run motor vehicle accidents involving cars, pedestrians and bicyclists throughout parts of Maryland. Of all the different kinds of roadway collisions that can occur, pedestrian accidents are among the most likely to cause serious bodily harm and even death.

People on foot or riding their bikes who are hit by a passenger car, motor scooter or commercial delivery truck can be thrown to the ground with tragic results. While the lucky ones may only receive bumps and bruises, other injuries, such as cuts and lacerations, broken bones and contusions, as well as head and back injuries can also occur.

Closed-head trauma (or traumatic brain injuries) are not uncommon and can place the life of the victim in jeopardy depending on the severity of the impact and the extent of the damage inflicted to the individual’s brain. Partial or complete paralysis, trouble with motor function and cognitive ability and other life-threatening conditions can result from a blow to the head or injury to a person’s spinal cord.

A recent news article made clear the concern that Maryland residents are feeling in the wake of recent hit-and-run accidents around the state. As Maryland auto injury attorneys and Washington, D.C., personal injury lawyers, we too are shocked by the apparent heartless, thoughtless and callous actions of those few individuals who leave the scene of an injury accident without so much as a thought for fellow human beings who may be hurt or critically injured in the wake of a roadway accident.

According to reports, Anne Arundel County police released a surveillance photo of a vehicle that allegedly struck and killed 38-year-old James Schreiber, Jr., just one of many people killed or injured by careless individuals plying Maryland’s roadways. In the Schreiber case, police believe that the vehicle which killed the man had a temporary dealership or vehicle transporter tag affixed to the tailgate on the driver’s side tailgate, just below the rear window.

While police investigators suggest that this upswing in hit-and-runs is simply an anomaly, the observation is little comfort to the victims of these potentially deadly collisions. Crashes like the one that sent a 20-year-old Bulgarian university student to the hospital with a broken clavicle after he was hit by an unidentified vehicle on August 23 while bicycling with friends along a stretch of Forest Drive.

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We hear about it all of the time; people being hurt in accidents by another driver who is either under-insured or carries no insurance whatsoever on their vehicle. Of course, by law, every driver must maintain insurance coverage on their vehicle. This not only a good idea, but it can protect you from difficult financial times if you cannot afford to pay for extensive vehicle repairs following an accident.

As a Maryland automobile accident lawyer, I know that car crashes happen with alarming frequency. As drivers, we may not expect to be caught in a highway collision with an 18-wheeler, but it could happen. Similarly, nobody wants to think about having their car stolen or vandalized, but in dense urban centers such as Baltimore, Annapolis and the District, this is always a concern.

From time to time it’s a good idea to look at auto insurance and reacquaint oneself with the available policies and coverages. We ran into an article on choosing the right car insurance and it had several important points to make. In general, however, automobile insurance boils down to deciding how much one is willing to pay out-of-pocket for possible repairs versus how much the insurance company may have to pay.

Many car owners feel that purchasing car insurance to be a bit confusing. The first step is to figure out your needs and then examine available policies in order to understand what your potential risk will be and how much you will be willing to take on yourself. There as a number of factors to consider, such as understanding your specific needs, knowing which discounts you may qualify for, being aware of Maryland’s specific legal requirements, among others.

One key is picking a policy with a balanced deductible. This is the key to choosing a policy because it states the amount that you, the owner, are willing to pay to have the vehicle made right after a crash. The deductible you choose will usually have a direct bearing on the size of the premium you end up paying for you car insurance policy.

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As a Maryland auto accident attorney, I know how costs can add up for the average family. When a car, truck or motorcycle accident causes a wage earner to be hospitalized for injuries suffered during a crash, medical costs and lost earnings can put many families into a terrible bind. Because carrying auto insurance on your vehicle is required by law, premiums are another cost that simply cannot be avoided.

Recently, news out of Annapolis shows that the state legislature is working on a bill that would likely increase insurance premiums for nearly every one of the 61,000 Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund customers. At the time of the news article, the bill passed through the House despite the protestations of the Republican side.

The bill would require policyholders to carry a minimum security of $30,000 for individuals and $60,000 for multiple drivers. Currently those minimums are $20,000 and $40,000 respectively and have not changed since 1972 when MAIF was established following legislation that made auto insurance mandatory.

In my Baltimore injury law office we often hear of accidents involving service vehicles. Taxi cabs, hire cars, limousines and shuttle busses can all be involved in traffic collisions. As passenger, you can be seriously injured in even the simplest automobile accidents. It doesn’t take much to cause an unbelted occupant of a motor vehicle to sustain broken bones, cuts and bruises and even debilitating injuries.

Every Maryland resident who rides as a passenger in a cab, bus or other type of fare-paying transportation should be aware of the potential problems associated with uninsured carriers. And even if you don’t travel in these potentially costly conveyances, you may have an elderly relative or friend who often uses one to get to and from the supermarket or other metropolitan location.

This is especially important because, as we all know, automobile accidents can happen anywhere, any time. People on a fixed budget will find uninsured cabs and hire cars particularly difficult to turn when they offer such low fares. But you must ask yourself the question, “Is it worth the possibly devastating medical or work-loss costs should you become a victim of that driver’s error or negligence?”

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