What You Need to Know About Car Accident Cases in Maryland
The Complete Legal Guide
A car accident is a stressful interruption at best. At worst it can turn your whole life upside down. You have questions and need answers now – in plain English – not legalese or insurance jargon. When you have answers you can make informed, intelligent decisions.
We are Maryland personal injury lawyers. We wrote this guide so you can quickly & easily discover the answers to your legal questions. Know your options and be informed before you make big decisions about your car accident case – like hiring a personal injury lawyer.
You can learn a lot in just 15 minutes by reading this guide now.
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This guide is free legal advice about Maryland car accident cases. It covers the most common questions you will have if faced with a car accident case in Maryland. The answers to some of the questions are a bit more complex. So we tried to give a “short answer” to each question before the longer (and more complete) answer.
If the topic is really involved, we link to a separate blog post on our website that explains the issue in greater detail.
You can get the basic information from the short answer, but we do recommend you read the long answer too so you know the details. This stuff isn’t always easy to explain in a few sentences.
This guide was written by Tucker Clagett, a Waldorf personal injury attorney at Southern Maryland Law - Andrews, Bongar, Gormley & Clagett, in Waldorf, Maryland.
Our Best Advice: This guide contains general information about Maryland personal injury law as a helpful resource for the public. Simply reading this guide does not create an attorney-client relationship with our law firm.
Reading this guide is no substitute for hiring a Waldorf attorney. If you have any serious legal issue, you should get personal advice from a Waldorf attorney who understands the unique facts of your situation.
We hope you will choose us to handle your Maryland personal injury case. If not, at least talk to another attorney who knows what they are doing. Don’t try to handle this alone. That is the best advice we can ever give you.
If you have been in a car accident in Waldorf, Maryland, you should read our post here explaining exactly what you should do in a step by step process. The full post is too long to fit here, but in a nutshell – these are the steps to take:
- Call 911.
- Gather as much information as possible about location, drivers, road conditions, etc.
- Watch what you say.
- Listen carefully to what the other driver says.
- Get names and contact info for witnesses.
- Take pictures of the scene and the cars involved.
- Write down how the accident happened – as soon after it as you can.
- Report the car accident to your own insurer (but don’t give a recorded statement!).
- Get proper medical care.
- Get a free consultation from a Waldorf, Maryland personal injury lawyer.
If you take our advice here, you will be well on your way to making sure things do not get any worse now that the car accident has happened.
And, after the dust has settled, read our post here explaining what you should NOT do after a car accident. These are the six mistakes that will ruin your Maryland car accident case. Again, it is too long to repeat here, but in a nutshell the six things NOT to do are:
- Giving a recorded statement.
- Take a quick settlement offer.
- Fail to get proper medical care.
- Getting too much medical care.
- Seeing a doctor who is too cozy with the attorney.
- Failing to at least get a free consultation from a Waldorf, Maryland car accident lawyer.
And whatever you do, do NOT leave the scene of a car accident! That will get you in big trouble, and will do nothing to help in making a personal injury claim after your car accident.
Short answer: The person who caused the accident by violating one of the many “rules of the road” is responsible for your damages, unless you also did some small thing to contribute to the accident.
Long answer: The very first question an attorney asks is – who was at fault for the accident? You only have a valid car accident case in Waldorf, Charles County, or elsewhere in Southern Maryland if the other driver caused the accident. And, they must have caused the accident by doing something “negligent.”
Negligence is a word that has specific meaning to Waldorf, Maryland car accident lawyers. Generally, it means somebody made a mistake that caused an accident.
You can be negligent by doing something you should not do, or by failing to do something you should do.
Most often, the other driver violated a law, or one of those “rules of the road” you learned in driver’s education classes. If one of those mistakes causes an accident, then you have “negligence” under Maryland law.
Contributory negligence is a legal defense the other driver can use against you, believe it or not.
Maryland is one of the few states that still follows the legal doctrine of contributory negligence. This doctrine examines what YOU did that may have contributed to the car accident.
If you contributed to a car accident in Maryland through your own negligence, no matter how small, you lose the right to make any claim against the other driver.
This legal doctrine can create some harsh results. If you are just 1% negligent, and the other guy is 99% negligent, you get nothing under current Maryland personal injury law.
That can be extremely harsh!
So if you fail to completely stop at a stop sign one night, and the other guy comes down the road drunk, with no lights, doing 90 miles an hour, you could still lose the right to sue him for anything, all because you technically didn’t come to a full stop.
In any Maryland car accident case, the insurance company will be looking for that 1% fault on your part, so they can deny your claim based on contributory negligence.
That is why it is important NOT to give a recorded statement. Giving a recorded statement before you consult a lawyer is one of the big mistakes we warn against in car accident cases.
The person taking that statement is usually looking for contributory negligence when they take your statement.
The law on this subject gets very complicated. You can read more about the issue of contributory negligence, and the efforts to change it, here in our post explaining in more detail.
And you should also be aware that you can be guilty of contributory negligence even if you are a passenger – if you and the driver had been drinking!
Do not assume you have contributory negligence in your case! The rules can be complicated.
If you think you may have an issue of contributory negligence, you should ask a Maryland car accident attorney. Remember, it’s free!
Short answer: Your damages are any harms and losses you suffer as a direct result of the car accident. This includes non-economic damages often called pain and suffering.
Long answer: In order to have a valid personal injury case in Maryland, you must have “damages” of some kind.
If you have a minor accident and you are completely unhurt, you have no personal injury case. You may have a case for your property damage (any collision is probably going to cause some damage to your car) but you do not have a personal injury case.
And you must have personal injury damages that are actually caused by the car accident.
Your treating doctor must say that he or she relates your personal injuries to the car accident “within a reasonable degree of medical probability.” This is a fairly high standard.
If a doctor cannot say that – you do not have a good personal injury case in Maryland, at least for those particular injuries.
Sometimes the insurer will claim your injuries were not caused by the car accident, but by some other problem. Most often, they will claim you had pre-existing injuries that were not related to your car accident.
This claim can be defeated by the testimony of your treating doctor, and by your own testimony as to when the pain started to bother you.
We fight about this a lot in court. You can win this battle. But do not be surprised if the insurance company tries to blame the pain caused by your Maryland car accident on the old injury you had years ago.
Under Maryland personal injury law, your damages usually consist of three things:
(1) Your medical bills
This is true even if the bills were paid by your health insurer. The full medical bill is still a measure of your damages.
Medical bills are seen as a good indicator of the size of your car accident case in Maryland. The idea is – the higher your bills, the more treatment you had, so the greater your injuries were. Judges and Juries generally give great weight to the size of your medical bills. (Unless, of course, you run up the bills unnecessarily. They will punish you for that.)
(2) Your lost wages
Most people who are injured in a car accident in Waldorf, Maryland lose time from work. You should get that back.
Even if you took paid leave, your lost time is a measure of your damages. That is your leave, after all. And you should be compensated for having to use it. You would have been paid for it at a later date, so why shouldn’t you be compensated for it?
(3) Your non-economic damages
This category of damages is all the stuff you cannot put a real price tag on. It includes your physical pain and what you went through after your injury to recover. But it also includes your inconvenience and your time.
This is usually the largest part of your jury award in a Southern Maryland personal injury case. However, it is also the hardest to value properly.
There could be any number of other damages in your particular case. The list above is just the most common . If you feel that something else should be included, make sure to tell your attorney.
Short answer: This is always hard to answer. The truth is, your case is worth whatever the Charles County, Maryland jury thinks it is worth at the end of a trial. Figuring that out is the tricky part.
Long answer: Juries are different in different counties. That means your Maryland car accident case is going to be worth different amounts depending on the Maryland county where the car accident happened.
This may seem arbitrary and unfair, but it is how the Maryland personal injury system works.
Juries in Maryland are usually more conservative in awarding damages than elsewhere in the country. And if you live in Southern Maryland, you live in one of the more conservative areas of the state. A car accident in Waldorf or Charles County is going to normally be worth more than the same accident in St. Mary's County. That will affect the value of your Southern Maryland car accident case.
We will not know the full extent of your medical bills or pain & suffering until you are finished medical treatment. We will not know the value of your lost wages until you go back to work.
After you are finished with medical treatment and back to work, we can give a reasonable estimate of the value of your car accident case in Maryland.
Even then, many other factors come into play.
Do you have permanent damages or are you fully recovered? How did the accident happen? How bad was it? Who is the negligent driver? The proverbial little old lady driving to church on Sunday is going to have sympathy from a jury. The drunk coming home from the bar on Saturday night is not.
All of these considerations will affect the value of your car accident case in Waldorf, Maryland.
Short answer: The insurance company for the negligent driver will pay for your damages up to the limits of that driver’s insurance policy.
Long answer: Technically, the negligent driver is on the hook to pay for your damages under Maryland personal injury law. One of the primary principles of personal injury law is that you must pay for your mistakes.
However, the actual payment almost always comes from an insurance company.
Maryland requires everyone driving a car to have insurance that covers them if they cause a car accident. The insurance company must provide the other driver with a lawyer, and will pay for the damages caused in the car accident.
But they will only pay up to the limits of the insurance policy. So your damages in a Maryland car accident will almost always be covered by insurance – up to the limits of the other driver’s insurance policy.
How much insurance coverage does the other person have?
You won’t know that at first. They do not have to disclose that unless we write a letter demanding it and providing certain items.
But the minimum level of car insurance in Maryland is $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident no matter how many people are involved. This is called a 30/60 policy.
That is NOT enough to cover you while driving on the road. In fact, it is ridiculously low.
With the cost of medical treatment today, that is not going to cover you if you cause a car accident resulting in even medium sized injuries, much less serious injuries.
People should have more than the state minimum vehicle insurance. If you get in an accident, you have to hope that the other driver has a policy large enough to cover your damages.
What if the negligent driver had no insurance, or too little insurance?
Don’t fear. You actually have your own insurance for that situation.
This is called uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) and you will probably see it on your car insurance policy if you look. It also covers you for a hit and run driver, known as a phantom vehicle case. We explain how uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage works here.
Also, be aware that making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim will likely lead to litigation. We explain why you should be prepared for a fight with your own car insurance company when making a UM or UIM claim here.
Look on your car insurance policy’s declarations page (the page with the numbers on it showing all your coverage) and see what level of UM/UIM coverage you have.
If the other driver has less than that amount of coverage, you can make a claim for up to that total amount (the other person’s car insurance plus the remaining amount from yours).
For instance, if you have $100,000 UM/UIM coverage, and the other person only has $30,000 liability coverage, you can get a maximum of $100,000 in your case ($30,000 from their insurance, plus $70,000 from your own car insurance policy equals $100,000 total).
But the law has changed somewhat for this issue. Click here to read why we believe all Maryland drivers should take advantage of the new Maryland law to get enhanced uninsured motorist coverage.
Of course, having enough car insurance is its own topic. To discover what you need to know about insurance coverage, including our recommended amounts and why we recommend those levels, click this link to our blog post on automobile liability insurance coverage.
We actually have a lot of posts about car insurance, since it is so tied into personal injury cases involving car accidents. Click here to read about how a child can sue a parent for personal injury (but only for the limits of insurance). You can find out when your car insurer can cancel or refuse to renew your claims here. You can see our post about types of insurance we think everyone needs here.
When a Business Causes Your Injury
If you are injured in an accident caused by a truck or tractor trailer, or another vehicle owned by a business, the insurance company covering the business will pay. This is known as vicarious liability.
When a business is on the hook for your personal injuries, through the legal concept of vicarious liability, that usually means there is a lot more insurance available, because businesses will have more insurance than an individual.
Just like the adverse driver (or their insurance company) has to pay for your personal injury damages, they also have to pay for damages to your property.
This is a separate claim. You can settle your property damage claim separately from your personal injury claim under Maryland law.
You can find out exactly how to handle your property damage claim in Maryland by reading our post on the subject here. We explain what damage is covered, what is not, and what you can do to quickly and easily get paid for your damaged vehicle.
So how are you going to get around while your car is in the shop, or until you can buy a new car?
The other driver’s car insurance company must provide you with a rental during this time period.
Rental cars often create headaches for the victim of a Maryland car accident case. Be prepared to have some hassles, and to have to do some arguing with the insurance company.
Under Maryland law, you get paid for the damages in your personal injury case in one lump sum at the end of the case.
The other driver’s insurer does not pay directly for your medical bills, and does not directly pay you for lost wages at the time you are losing them.
When they settle any personal injury claim in Maryland, they give you one lump sum designed to cover all of your damages – medical bills, wages, and non-economic damages.
That brings up a very good question: who pays for your medical bills and lost wages before you get your settlement, after a car accident case in Maryland?
If you get a lump sum settlement at the end of the case, who covers your lost wages and pays for your medical bills until then?
Short answer: Unfortunately, you do!
Long answer: You will have to cover these immediate expenses yourself the same way you would cover them if you had an accident that was not someone else’s fault.
Hopefully, you have health insurance to pay your medical bills. They will have a lien on your case. Hopefully, you have leave to pay for your lost wages. If so, you can cover them now (with your insurance or leave) and you will get reimbursed later from your settlement.
This is inconvenient. It is an inconvenient system. But this is how it works.
As long as you have health insurance, the Maryland personal injury system can work pretty well.
Your health insurer foots the bill, and you pay the co-pays. When you settle the case against the adverse driver, you must reimburse your health insurance company for the money they paid for your medical care.
This system may actually work in your favor, because your health insurer pays less than the full amount of your doctor’s bill. Therefore, you reimburse them for less than the full value of the medical bill.
For example, if your doctor bills $500 for some procedure, your health insurer may only pay her $250 for that procedure. Your damages are the full value of the bill ($500), but you only need to reimburse the health insurer the $250 they actually paid out.
However, you do have a friend who will pay some of your medical bills, and even some of your lost wages, after a Maryland car accident.
And if you do not have health insurance, this friend may be your only help.
Your friends name is PIP.
Short answer: PIP stands for Personal Injury Protection. This is an insurance policy available to you through your own car insurance, and it covers your medical bills and lost wages after a car accident in Maryland.
Long answer: Almost every driver in Maryland has $2,500 worth of PIP. That is the minimum PIP coverage in Maryland.
It is not very expensive to get higher limits. We recommend you consider getting $5,000 or even $10,000 worth of PIP from your car insurance company.
Please note you must bring your PIP claim within one year of your Maryland car accident. You should also know there is no PIP available on motorcycles in Maryland.
Use PIP for Medical Bills
PIP will pay the first $2500 of your medical bills. So you will get at least that much of your doctor’s bills paid – even if you don’t have health insurance.
Use Leave for Lost Wages
If you choose to use PIP to cover your lost wages, it will only pay 85% of the full value of your lost time after a car accident.
Of course, you can get 100% of lost wages covered if you use your sick leave, so we usually recommend people use their sick leave after a Maryland car accident.
We know people hate to do that. But that is what sick leave is for, and you would lose 15% of your pay to use PIP. So it makes more sense to use your sick leave.
Of course if you don’t have sick leave, you should use PIP.
Your settlement compensates you for medical bills and pain. That is not “income” under IRS definitions.
The only exception to this involves money you receive for lost wages. If a jury for your Waldorf, Maryland car accident case awards you a certain sum for lost wages, then you have to pay taxes on that part of the jury award only.
This makes sense. You normally pay taxes on your wages, so you should pay taxes on money that compensates you for wages.
But you would not normally pay taxes on money given to you for medical bills or pain. That isn’t money you earned.
You must file your car accident case in court before a certain date called the “statute of limitations,” which is set by Maryland personal injury law. If you do not file your Maryland car accident case by the statute of limitations, your claim will be forever lost, no matter how serious your personal injury case is!
Long answer: That can be shorter or longer depending on the details of your case.
For example, you must make a claim against a government, including county and city governments, within a shorter time period. If the injury is to a minor child, the statute of limitations is 3 years from their 18th birthday. That can be a long time down the road.
If you do not file your Waldorf, Maryland car accident case by the statute of limitations, your claim will be forever lost, no matter how serious your personal injury case is!
Do not wait until the last minute. If you do, a personal injury lawyer may not take your case because it is too close to expiring!
And if you want to settle your car accident case without going to court, you need do so way before the Statute of Limitations runs out.
Most car accident cases in Waldorf Maryland follow the same pattern. To read a detailed explanation of what happens in a Waldorf, Maryland personal injury case, click here to read our post about it.
In a nutshell, the process is:
- You get medical care and get well.
- We get all the documentation we need (police report, medical records & bills, proof of lost income).
- When you are fully recovered and released from your doctor’s care, we send a demand to the insurance company; and
- We negotiate for a fair settlement.
- If that is not possible, we file suit and your case will be litigated. It may still settle before trial, or it may go to trial and a judgment will be rendered by the jury.
In the beginning, your will have two main jobs in your own case:
- You must follow doctor’s orders and get well soon, and
- You must keep us informed about your progress and medical treatment.
Most people hire a personal injury attorney for their Maryland car accident case. The consultation is free, and the attorney is paid on contingency, meaning they take a percentage of what they win for you. The attorney will also advance the costs for you.
Therefore, you pay nothing out of pocket for your Maryland car accident case, so it is easy. (See more about fees below.)
We will gather the medical records, the medical bills, and your lost wage information. We will get the police report, and hire someone to investigate the car accident, if we think we need to. We will put together the demand and negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance company. We will file suit and litigate if the case does not settle. We will communicate with you along the way and make sure everything is handled properly.
Short answer: There is no way to tell at first if your Charles County personal injury case will go to court. We will usually try to settle your personal injury case. But, what will they offer?
if we cannot settle your car accident case, then we will have to file suit and litigate your case in the Charles County Maryland court system.
Long answer: The process of litigation is long and hard. Your attorney will do most of the work, but there is plenty for you to do as well.
You will have to help us answer written questions about you (called interrogatories) and gather additional documents (like tax returns). You will probably have to sit for a deposition. We will be there to protect you during it. Then you may have to be a witness at your trial, which may last 2-3 days (or more).
For a full description of what happens during litigation and court, click here to read our post about it. All of this takes work on your part that is unavoidable. In fact, the outcome of your case will depend on how helpful you are during this stage. You can still settle your case before a full blown trial.
Many of our clients receive a reasonable settlement offer prior to trial. The insurance companies often make you fight, but then try to settle.
You never have to accept their settlement offer, but they will usually try to make some offer to resolve the case before the day of trial.
Sometimes the insurance company is not willing to be reasonable, or there is a significant dispute over one or more issues, and a trial is necessary. There may be a dispute as to who caused the car accident and how. Or, there may be a dispute about the amount of medical treatment you receive, or how much a pre-existing condition played into your case.
Many things can cause a car accident case to go to trial in Charles County, Maryland. It is impossible to predict whether or not your car accident case will settle or not.
Regardless, we promise to see you through the process from start to finish – even if that involves a trial.
You do not pay up front for a car accident attorney in Waldorf, Maryland. Our fee comes out of the amount you recover in settlement or trial. This is known as a “contingency fee.” Our fee is contingent on your recovery.
We charge 1/3 of the total settlement to handle your Waldorf Maryland car accident case. If the case goes to litigation, that fee may increase to 40%. This is exactly what most Waldorf, Maryland personal injury attorneys charge.
We also put up the money for all of the costs in your Charles County car accident case. We get reimbursed for those costs out of your recovery.
So you pay nothing up front if you hire us for your personal injury case, and we don't charge a fee unless we win.
We definitely recommend you retain a Waldorf, Maryland personal injury attorney to help you with your Southern Maryland car accident case. Of course, we hope you will choose us. But if not, retain another competent, honest personal injury attorney to handle your car accident case in Waldorf, Maryland.
The insurance company has deep pockets and heavy resources they will use against you. They will act in their own best interests, and their interests are to pay you as little as possible. This is true no matter how nice they treat you now. The insurance companies did not get those deep pockets by paying out claims freely.
Most people mistakenly believe the insurance company is there to take care of them. That is simply not true in the real world. They fight hard to pay you as little as possible.
I guess in a perfect world I would not have a job, because everyone would be fair. But that is not true in the real world!
For better or for worse, our legal system is an adversarial system. That means the two parties are on opposite sides of the fence, and must battle it out to get to the truth. That means the insurance company is on the opposite side of the fence from you after your car accident.
You need someone on your side to assist in getting a fair settlement for your Maryland personal injury case. We firmly believe that the insurance company will never give you as much for your car accident case if you do not have an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney.
Our firm has been handling Maryland personal injury cases in Waldorf & Lexington Park for over 40 years. We have the experience to guide you through the process and get a fair settlement for your car accident case. If your case needs to go to trial, we are experienced litigators.
There is a lot at stake in a Waldorf, Maryland personal injury case, so it pays to have a professional on your side.
We have a ton of other resources for our Southern Maryland clients about personal injury law & the legal process. Click this link to our Client Resources page for an in depth explanation of everything you need to know.
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