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?
Randolph Rice, a Baltimore personal injury lawyer, looks 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
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 straight forward, 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 Baltimore personal injury lawyer after you’ve been in an 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 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.
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 effecting 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. Your Baltimore accident lawyer will use your journal to help put a value on your claim so you get everything you are entitled to from the other driver.
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 Baltimore 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, and 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.