Maryland, like most states, uses a fault system to determine liability for an accident. That determination dictates who must pay for any injuries, property damage, or losses suffered by the other party.
If you’ve been involved in a car accident in Maryland, it’s important to understand the basics of liability and how to protect yourself and your rights. Here’s what you need to know:
What Are the Parts of a Car Accident Claim?
Baltimore personal injury lawyers look at two factors when evaluating a potential car accident claim: liability and damages. Each part plays an essential role in determining who’s at fault in a car accident and the potential value of a claim.
Liability means who caused the accident through either negligence or carelessness. In order to have a successful car accident case in Baltimore, you need to prove that the other driver did, or failed to do, something that led to the collision. Examples might include:
- Speeding or driving faster than conditions warrant, such as during an ice or snow storm or heavy rain
- Distracted driving. This can include cell phone usage, eating, using dashboard controls, or even talking to other occupants of the vehicle
- Following too closely and being unable to stop
- Making an illegal turn
- Running a red light or a stop sign
- Changing lanes in an unsafe manner
- Failure to signal a lane change.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Any unlawful driving activity could be grounds for negligence, However, there are many legal activities that contribute to distracted driving and could be used to prove liability.
Damages is the term used to describe the economic and financial impact the accident caused the victim. Damages are generally categorized as either property (your car, personal property, child safety seats, etc.) or bodily or personal injury (all economic and non-economic losses as a result of injury). In Maryland personal injury law, damages can include any and/or all of the following:
- Medical bills
- Loss of wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress or anguish
- Disfigurement and/or physical disability
- Damage to a marital relationship as a result of the accident
How is Liability Determined?
If you are involved in a car accident, you can protect your rights by calling the police to come to the scene and prepare a report. This report is usually key to determining who is at fault in an accident.
Ultimately, however, the insurance company will make its own determination of fault. Insurance companies are looking for ways to mitigate, or limit, their liability when one of their covered drivers is involved in an accident.
This is why they employ their own investigators. It’s best to consult your own Baltimore personal injury attorney, someone who advocates only for you before you speak with anyone from the other driver’s insurance company.
Here are some things you should remember if you are involved in a car accident in Baltimore:
- Do not admit fault or imply you are to blame. State only the facts and avoid offering your personal opinion. Let the police and investigators do their work and draw their own conclusions based on evidence.
- If you are able, write down the facts at the time of the accident. Draw a sketch of the area where the accident occurred.
- Use your phone to take plenty of pictures of the accident scene. Take photos of your vehicle, the other driver’s vehicle, any relevant details at the scene, such as traffic conditions, lines of vision at the intersection—anything that might impact liability.
- Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. Ask them to write down their version of the accident; record them describing the accident using the memo function or video on your phone if they agree to be recorded.
- Don’t sign anything or verbally agree to anything from the other driver’s insurance representative until you’ve consulted your own Baltimore personal injury lawyer. Even if you decide later you don’t have a claim, it’s best not to limit your options until you fully understand your rights.
Evidence Used to Determine Fault for Car Accidents in Maryland
There are multiple forms of evidence that can be used to determine who is to blame for your car crash. The following are all common examples of evidence used to prove fault for accidents in Maryland:
Evidence from the Scene
First, evidence from the scene can be highly valuable. Photos taken immediately after the crash may be used to establish factors that contributed to your accident. For example, a photo of your severely damaged car may be used to show that the other driver was speeding when they struck you. Additionally, photos from the scene can help disprove defendants’ alternative theories of fault. If the defendant in your case suggests that your collision actually happened as the result of poor road conditions, then our Aberdeen car accident attorneys can use photos from the scene showing clear weather to discredit their argument. You should always take photos at the scene of your accident if possible.
Physical evidence from the scene of your crash can also be used. For instance, broken parts from the other driver’s vehicle may be used to identify them as the at-fault party. Additionally, drug paraphernalia found at the scene may help prove that the defendant was impaired when your crash occurred.
Statements from Eyewitnesses
Furthermore, eyewitness statements are one of the most valuable forms of evidence that can be used to establish fault for accidents. Witnesses can offer written and oral testimony that explains how or why collisions occurred. For example, a witness may state that they saw another driver commit an illegal lane change before causing an accident. You should attempt to retrieve contact information from witnesses in the aftermath of your accident if you can.
Footage from Private Security Cameras
Surveillance footage from private security cameras may also be used to determine fault for your car accident in Maryland. For instance, a business’s security camera may capture a collision that occurred in their parking lot. Furthermore, a driver’s dashboard camera may capture the events that unfolded before, during, and after a crash. Parties in control of pertinent surveillance camera footage may not want to cooperate with victims.
Testimony from Expert Witnesses
Expert witnesses are professionals who have completed the necessary training, education, and experience in their fields. They are often used to explain complicated theories of fault. For instance, if an accident occurs because a car was equipped with malfunctioning parts, then an engineering expert may be called on to demonstrate how the parts were defective. Also, after a highway crash, an accident reconstruction expert may be summoned to help determine who is at fault.
Official Accident Reports
Lastly, information form accident reports can be very helpful when determining fault for your car accident. After any crash that causes injuries, a police officer should come to the scene to create such a report. These reports may provide a wide range of information that helps attorneys and insurance companies gain an understanding of how collisions occurred. For example, the police report for your accident may provide a crash diagram, statements from drivers, or the drafting officer’s personal notes regarding who is to blame.
What is Contributory Negligence?
Maryland is one of four states that uses a very strict interpretation of the concept of “contributory negligence.” the contributory negligence rule in Maryland means that if you are found to have contributed in any way to the accident, you have no claim for damages against the other driver.
In some states, contributory negligence is proportional: If the other driver is 60% at fault and you are 40% at fault for the accident, you can still collect 60% of the damages from the other driver. Maryland, however, is all or nothing. the other driver must be 100% at fault, or there is no claim.
The contributory negligence standard can complicate even an accident that seems straightforward, like a rear-end collision. In most rear-end collisions, a driver who crashes into the car in front of him is found to be at fault.
But in Maryland, you don’t automatically have a claim if someone crashes into the back of your car. If, for example, you failed to signal a quick lane change and cut the driver off, you could be found to be partially at fault. While it may not seem fair, it is the law, so it’s extremely important that you know the law and your rights before you speak to anyone but your own lawyer after you’ve been in an accident.
Examples of Negligent Actions Committed by at-Fault Drivers in Maryland
There are several forms of negligent conduct that can lead to car accidents. One of the more common actions exhibited by at-fault drivers is distracted driving. Drivers can become distracted when they take their hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or attention away from the task of driving. Some common examples of activities that distract drivers are speaking with passengers, texting, picking music for the radio, and interacting GPS systems. Thankfully, distracted drivers can be held accountable for crashes they cause.
Speeding drivers are also a common cause of accidents. While speeding, motorists are prone to losing control of their vehicles and swerving out of their lanes. Furthermore, while travelling at illegal speeds, drivers may not be able to slow down in time to avoid a collision if cars in front of them begin to brake. If your car accident was caused by a speeding driver, you may be able to sue them for the injuries you sustained.
Furthermore, many car accidents in Maryland occur because drivers commit improper left turns. When drivers fail to yield the right-of-way before making left turns at intersections, catastrophic collisions can happen.
What About Liability if I Am Injured?
A Baltimore personal injury lawyer will tell you the importance of documenting any injuries you suffered as the result of an accident. Keep a log of your doctor and hospital visits and any physical therapy sessions you may require.
It’s also important to keep a written record of how you feel, including the amount of pain you’re experiencing or any physical limitations you’ve suffered since the accident occurred. Non-economic damages can be difficult to evaluate.
That’s why it’s critical to document the way that the accident is affecting your life in terms of added stress, marital difficulties, or problems at work. Your written records can be crucial to determining the amount of non-economic damages triggered by the accident.
Remember, the other driver’s insurance company will do everything possible to prove that the accident isn’t the root cause of any physical or emotional symptoms you may experience.
They may suggest that a previous injury or accident is to blame, or that another medical problem caused your suffering. Be sure to document everything you can that demonstrates a connection between your physical and emotional suffering and the accident.
Partial Fault and Injury Claims
If you are partially to blame for your car accident, then you will not be able to recover monetary damages. Maryland courts follow the rules of contributory negligence when apportioning damages in car accident cases. This means that if you are found to share the slightest degree of fault for your crash, you will be prohibited from suing the other driver.
Many defendants and their insurance companies attempt to shift blame onto plaintiffs during car accident lawsuits. However, you should not let this deter you from seeking the monetary damages you deserve.
What Can I Do if I Don’t Have a Liability Claim?
If you aren’t eligible to file a claim against the other driver, you may still have an avenue to recover damages for your injuries. In Maryland, if you did not sign a waiver at the time you purchased your own automobile insurance, you may be able to file a claim for damages with your own insurance company.
Your personal injury lawyer can help you determine if you have Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, with your car insurance policy.
Unlike Maryland car accident laws that hinge on who’s at fault, PIP is no-fault coverage that protects you even if you are partly to blame for your accident. PIP covers your medical bills and a percentage of any lost wages up to the limits of your policy.
You can usually purchase up to $10,000 worth of PIP coverage and if you use this protection as a result of an accident, it will not affect your insurance rates. PIP benefits are typically paid quickly to help you meet your expenses.
If you’ve been in a car accident, a Baltimore personal injury lawyer can help protect your rights and recover compensation for the damages you suffered. the lawyers with the Randolph Rice Injury Law Firm, have years of experience getting money for clients who were injured as a result of a car accident in Maryland.
Mr. Rice, a former Assistant States Attorney, has been recognized by Super Lawyers, is ranked Superb 10 out of 10 by Avvo and Lead Counsel Rated in Personal Injury Law, all legal resources for consumers. Contact him for a free consultation at (410) 694-7291 if you have been involved in a car accident.