Maryland Personal Injury Attorneys
When a person is injured in an accident someone is often legally responsible. Personal injury is a branch of law that is designed to protect persons harmed by the careless or intentional actions of others. The personal injury legal system sets out the parameters for compensating victims who have been injured by such careless actions.
Personal injury law encompasses a broad range of claims, including wrongful death, motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall, defective products, work injuries, animal bites, pedestrian accidents, premises injuries, and numerous others.
To establish a personal injury claim the injured person must be able to demonstrate that another party has the legal responsibility for the injuries. To establish responsibility for the personal injuries, two factors must be proven: 1) liability (culpability), and 2) damages (losses).
Liability: Liability in personal injury law is largely divided into three categories: intentional wrongs, negligence, and strict liability. These areas are discussed in detail below.
Damages: Depending on the circumstances of the case, an injured person can seek damages for physical injury, lost earnings, impairment of future earnings, lifestyle changes, loss of support to loved ones, property damage, and past, present and future medical care and expenses.
If you have been injured you should recognize that a personal injury action can be a complicated endeavor. It would be wise to consult an experienced and reputable personal injury attorney as soon as possible after any accident that causes injury to you or a loved one. Here at The Speier Law Firm, we specialize in all aspects of personal injury law in Maryland and Washington DC and offer Free Consultation to discuss your case at 301.830.4091.
One Of The First Questions Is Who Is Responsible For Your Personal Injuries?
In order to pursue a personal injury claim, you must establish that someone is liable (or culpable) for your personal injuries. There are three broad areas of liability which allow an individual to pursue a personal injury claim: 1) intentional wrongs; 2) negligence, and 3) strict liability. Negligence is by far the most common basis for a personal injury action, but we will look at all three.
1. Intentional Wrongs
This type of personal injury requires an intention by someone to act in a way which results in harm to someone else. For example, if someone strikes you, even as a practical joke, that person could be liable for a battery. In many instances of intentional wrongs, the personal injury victim may pursue a civil personal injury lawsuit in addition to criminal charges. Victims of domestic or sexual abuse, for instance, may file both a civil lawsuit and a criminal complaint claim with the police.
Intentional wrongs are not insurable in Maryland and Washington DC. A claimant generally has to seek the personal assets of the defendant to obtain compensation for intentionally-caused injuries. Because of difficulties that exist with collecting damages against individuals, few attorneys are willing to take cases for personal injuries caused by intentional wrongs, unless the defendant has substantial resources. It is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney in order to determine if you have been subjected to an intentional wrong, and the practicality of pursuing remedies for your damages. We offer free consultation in this as well as all other areas of personal injury law with a call to (301) 830.4091.
Under the law of negligence, a person is liable for your personal injuries if he was careless in causing your injuries. Persons who act negligently do not intend to cause injury. Their liability is a result of careless or thoughtless action. The test of whether a person has acted negligently includes asking how a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation.
During a negligence trial, either the judge or the jury decides what a "reasonable person" would have done after hearing all the facts in the case. The reasonable person is not an actual person or any individual member of the jury, but represents the community's expectations of how a person should act to avoid damages and personal injuries to others.
The question of what is negligent and what is reasonable is an objective one and does not take into account specific abilities of the defendant. For example, a defendant with low intelligence or inexperience is held to the same standard as a person of higher intelligence or more experience. Likewise, intoxication is not an excuse for negligence because the person chose to have impaired judgment.
In the case of individuals with specialized training or knowledge, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, etc., their standard of conduct is compared to how a reasonable person in those fields or professions would act. This type of negligence is covered by a special area of law called "malpractice."
In order to prevail in a personal injury claim under the law of negligence in Maryland (and most other states) the injures party has the burden of proving that:
Duty: The defendant owed you a duty of care under the circumstances. In general, people have a duty to act reasonably in order to protect others from harm, especially when a relationship exists between the parties. For example, a store owner has a duty to protect customers from falling on a newly mopped floor because there is a legally recognized relationship between the parties: the property owner and customer (the customer is sometimes called the "invitee"). In another example, the driver of an automobile has a legal duty to his passengers and all other drivers to operate a vehicle with reasonable caution. A pre-existing relationship also creates a duty, such as an employer's duty to protect employees from personal injury during working hours.
Breach of Duty: The defendant breached the duty of care. A defendant breaches a duty of care when he or she fails to act as a reasonable person would have acted under similar circumstances. If the store owner mentioned above fails to post a warning sign after mopping the floor and a customer slips and falls, the store owner has breached his duty of care. The question, decided by the jury or judge, is whether the defendant exercised reasonable care in his or her actions to prevent the customer from sustaining personal injuries.
Causation: The defendant's breach of duty caused your personal injury. It must be shown that the defendant's actions actually caused the victim's personal injuries. This is often called "but-for" causation. In other words, but for the defendant's actions, the personal injury would not have happened.In addition, the injured person must also show that the personal injuries were foreseeable by the defendant. A defendant is only responsible for personal injuries which could have been foreseen before he engaged in the actions which caused the injuries. This is called "proximate cause."
Damages: You have suffered personal injury and/or other damages. Damages must result from the breach of the defendant's (responsible party) duty of care. These damages usually take the form of physical injuries, financial loss, and/or property damage.
3. Strict Liability
Under the strict liability theory of personal injury, the defendant can be held responsible for your personal injuries and damages without regard as to whether he was careless. This means that you do not have to show that the defendant was negligent for your personal injuries for you to recover. This doctrine of "liability without fault" is usually applied to the following types of personal injury cases:
Animals. Originally, strict liability applied to cases such as damage to property from trespassing livestock or injury caused by wild animals, even if their owners or keepers exercised the utmost care. Currently, the most common example in this category are personal injuries caused from dog attacks. Many states, including Maryland, have passed strict liability statutes which hold an owner strictly liable for personal injuries caused by dog bites, even if the owner had no idea that her dog could be vicious.
Abnormally dangerous activities. If the nature of an activity is extremely dangerous, persons who engage in that activity can be strictly liable if someone is injured as a result of that dangerous activity, even if they exercised reasonable care. Some examples include storage of explosives or flammable liquids, crop dusting or fumigation, and maintaining a hazardous waste site.
Products liability. The most prevalent strict liability cases are those involving defective products. Under the strict liability theory of personal injury law a manufacturer or seller can be held liable for placing a defective product in the hands of a consumer. When a defective product causes personal injury there are several potential responsible parties. These include: the manufacturer of the product, or the manufacturer of a component part of the product, the wholesaler, the retail store that sold the product to the customer, and anyone who assembled or installed the product. Some considerations in product liability cases include:
Regular course of business: The sale of the product must be made in the seller's regular course of business. Therefore, someone who sells a product at his garage sale would not be liable.
Foreseeable victims: The purchaser of the product is not the only party who can bring a personal injury legal action based on product liability. Any person who could have been foreseeably injured by a defective product can recover for injuries caused by that defect. In this type of personal injury action, it must be shown that the product was defective and that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.
Type of defects: There are three types of defects: 1) defects that are present in the design of the product before it is made, 2) defects that occur in the assembly or manufacturing process, and 3) marketing defects, such as improper labeling, insufficient instructions, or inadequate safety warnings.
After being injured in an accident, it is very important to protect your rights to all legal remedies available to you. Following are steps that you should take following an accident:
- Seek Immediate Medical Attention For Your Personal Injuries. If you or a loved one is injured, you should seek prompt medical help. Clearly convey all of your personal injuries to the attending physician or emergency services personnel and explain how you sustained your injuries. Reporting your injuries will be memorialized in your personal records, which will help doctors manage your treatments. However, it will also provide evidence that your injuries are connected to the accident, which is necessary in your case to establish that the accident caused the injuries.
- You or a loved one should also: 1) take photographs of all injuries; 2) keep records of all medical appointments and treatments, medications taken, lost time from work and other activities, pain experienced, limitation of activities, and all incurred expenses; and 3) keep notes of all conversations with doctors and medical personnel.
- Preserve Evidence. If possible, write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of all potential witnesses to the accident. If motor vehicles are involved, get all the license plate numbers and the names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information of all drivers. Take photographs of the accident scene and surrounding area from different angles, and the source of the personal injury if possible.
If you have been injured by a defective product do not return it to the retailer or manufacturer, and do not throw it away. Make sure that it is kept in a secure place and do not alter it in any way. Your attorney will need the product to have it examined by experts. If the product is in the possession of someone else, seek an attorney's help. An attorney may be able to file for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to avoid destruction of the product.
- Contact An Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer. Your chances of recovering adequate compensation for your injuries in an accident could change at any moment. Not knowing important steps that should be taken early on in your case can result in irreversible damage to your case. It is essential to consult an effective personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident in order to protect your legal rights and to ensure that evidence is preserved.
- Do Not Talk To An Insurance Company Without Consulting Your Personal Injury Attorney. Insurance companies do not make profits by paying out personal injury claims. It is in their best interest to avoid payment altogether or to settle quickly for the least amount of money possible. In the majority of personal injury cases you cannot ask for additional compensation once you have agreed to a settlement. Often, an injured person will discover as time goes by that his personal injuries were more extensive than they appeared initially.This could lead to additional unexpected medical bills and longer disability. Do not discuss anything pertaining to your personal injuries or about the accident which caused them without consulting a personal injury attorney first.
The concept of negligence in a personal injury action is not limited to an individual's action. Small businesses, organizations, companies, partnerships, and even large corporations can all be liable if they have breached their duty of care and caused personal injury or other damages to someone. This is especially true in cases of defective products. Other types of responsible parties include the following:
Employers. Employers can usually be held responsible for the negligent acts of its employees. However, an employer can only be liable for personal injury damages if the wrongful actions of the employee occurred while the employee was working and the actions were within the scope of his duties.
For example, if an employer sends an employee on an errand and the employee injures a person after running a stop sign, the employer would normally be held liable. However, if the employee instead of going on the work errand goes to a baseball game and injures someone while driving there, the employer would not be liable. In the latter case the employer is not liable because the employee was not in the course and scope of his duties.
- The employer also has a duty to protect its own employees from accidents and personal injury while at work. However, these rights and protections exist under a specialized area of law known as workers' compensation.
Government entities. Often, an accident occurs on public property. In such cases a government entity may be a responsible party. For example, your child could be injured on city playground equipment that was poorly maintained, or you could have an automobile accident that was caused by a state employee driving a state-owned vehicle. If your personal injury claim is against a federal, state, local government, or an employee of a government entity, there are government guidelines, including deadlines which must be strictly followed.
Under the U.S. Constitution, government entities are immune from liability. However, most governments have passed laws that waive their immunity and allow for the filing of injury claims against them. Examples include the California Tort Claims Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act. These laws have very specific requirements for giving notice of your injury and for filing claims. If these rules are not followed you can automatically lose your right to receive compensation from the government. The complexity of filing a personal injury claim against the government makes it imperative to get the assistance of an attorney experienced in government entity claim lawsuits.
Property owners. Property owners also may be liable for injuries in a personal injury lawsuit. If you are injured in an accident that is caused by a dangerous condition on someone's land, the property owner could be liable for being careless in maintaining the property, even if the owner did not create the dangerous condition. In California, a land owner owes a duty of reasonable care to anyone who enters the property, whether as a social guest, a business customer, or even sometimes as a trespasser.
Multiple parties. Maryland's law of joint and several liability holds that when various parties bear fault for someone's personal injury, each party is liable for the entire amount of that person's "economic" damages, regardless of his extent of culpability. Economic damages would include such things as medical expenses and lost wages.
- "Noneconomic" damages on the other hand would be divided among the individuals and entities which caused the personal injury, based on their percentage of fault. Noneconomic damages include such things as emotional distress and pain and suffering.
A defendant will often try to introduce evidence to negate one of the elements needed to show negligence as discussed above, such as claiming that no duty was owed to the plaintiff or that reasonable care was exercised. Two of the most common defenses used to eliminate or limit liability are "comparative fault" and "assumption of the risk."
Comparative fault. If an accident is partly due to your own carelessness, you can still recover from the party that was primarily responsible for your injuries. However, the amount of your recovery will be reduced under what is called "comparative negligence," or comparative fault. The opposing party's carelessness is compared to yours, and that determines the percentage of liability and the amount of damages that each party must pay.
Assumption of the risk. Another defense to a claim in negligence or strict liability is called "assumption of the risk." Under this defense the claimant is precluded from recovering for his or her injuries because the risk of injury was known to the plaintiff and he chose to assume that risk and engage in the activity anyway. For example, if you choose to ride the bumper cars at a fair, you are assuming the risk that you might get a neck injury. Unexpected injuries related to the ride would not be assumed, such as where faulty equipment caused you to be thrown from the car. In product liability cases you may not be able to make a claim of strict liability if you knew about the product's defect and continued to use it anyway.
Another defense can be raised if you used the product in a way that it was not intended to be used. For example, if you turn a lawn mower on its side to trim the hedges and are injured, there is no strict liability because a lawn mower is not intended to be used as a hedge trimmer. Likewise, if you alter or modify a product you cannot claim strict liability for any resulting injuries.
If you have been injured by someone's intentional act, negligent act, or by a defective product, it is important that you consult an experienced lawyer without delay. Personal injury cases are often quite complex and will require an attorney's expertise from the beginning, in order to ensure all relevant evidence and potential claims are preserved.
If you have been the victim of an accident and have been injured, you have a right to be compensated for your losses. There are two main types of personal injury damages: 1) compensatory or actual damages, and 2) punitive damages. Punitive damages are discretionary and are usually awarded to a victim in addition to actual damages when the defendant's conduct has been especially malicious or egregious. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for his or her reprehensible conduct and to act as a deterrent to prevent the defendant and others from acting the same way.
Compensatory or actual damages are intended to cover all the expenses and aliments caused by the personal injury. Your family members may also be entitled to recover if your injuries in certain circumstances. Damage awards can include the following:
Medical expenses. This includes bills and expenses for services from doctors, hospitals, ambulance fees, medication, and services from nurses or other health care providers related to your injury.
Pain and suffering. This is an award to compensate you for past and future physical pain caused by your accident.
Lost wages. This award represents the amount of money you would have earned from the time of the injury to the final judgment or settlement.
Impairment of earning capacity. If the injuries from your accident have reduced your ability to earn money in the future, compensation can be awarded for that loss.
Future medical expenses. This applies to continued medical care needed as a result of your accident or injury.
Mental anguish. This type of damage applies to certain circumstances of mental suffering or emotional distress, including mental suffering from disfigurement, or witnessing the death or catastrophic injury of a loved one.
Loss of consortium. These damages apply to the deprivation of the benefits of married life after an accident or injury, including companionship, affection, comfort, or sexual relations between spouses. Usually the spouse of the injured person is the party who makes these claims.
Loss of society and companionship. This is a damage that may be awarded in wrongful death cases to immediate family members of the deceased for the loss of love, comfort, and companionship they would have enjoyed if the deceased had lived.
Property damage. An award for expenses related to property damaged in an accident, such as a wrecked vehicle.
Personal injury cases are serious matters that can have devastating and long-lasting effects on your health, finances, and family relationships. Most accident victims must depend on the damages they are awarded to cover the costs of their medical bills and lost income. Choosing the right Maryland personal injury lawyer is therefore a critical decision. Here at The Speier Law Firm we are committed to protecting your rights and seeing to it that you gain the absolute most favorable outcome possible for your case.
Have a personal injury matter you'd like to discuss? For free consultation regarding your case give us a call at 301.830.4091.