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Ridesharing services such as UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar have been getting a lot of attention in the press lately. Ridesharing services are essentially just taxi services with a technological twist without the regulations ensuring passenger safety. They utilize smartphone apps to connect car owners (usually amateur drivers) with people looking for a ride. The potential passengers drop a pin showing their location, and any drivers logged into the app respond, pick up the potential passenger, and ferry them to their destination.

These ridesharing services only started operating in the D.C. area early last year, but have quickly gained a strong following of city-dwellers who have sworn off traditional cabs completely. Because of the open questions surrounding the service’s liability, it would benefit anyone utilizing these services, or anyone representing someone injured in a collision involving s ridesharing vehicle to pay attention as these questions are answered.

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MPD

Police reports can be a vital source of information when investigating any personal injury claim.  This is because the police arrive on scene almost immediately, are able to investigate the collision, and they make an initial determination of who was at fault.  Police reports can provide an attorney with key information in the early investigation of a claim.  For this reason, one of the first things we ask clients when they come in is if there was a police report taken at the scene.  If so, it is one of the first things we request.

Anyone that has requested a police report can tell you that it isn’t always as easy as you think it might be.   There are a number of things that can delay a report being ready.  It may be that the client doesn’t have the report number, or the officer may not have processed the paperwork yet, or maybe he did, but there was a mistake and it had to be sent back to him for correction.  Since we are located in Washington DC, most of the reports I request are from the DC Metropolitan Police Department.  Generally when I request a police report, I just walk down to the station by our office and pick it up in person.  When I recently requested a report, I discovered that they now require anyone not named in the report to provide a copy of a retainer agreement, or a notarized letter signed by the client authorizing them to release the report.  Although this isn’t a very onerous requirement, if you’re like me and didn’t know about it, you may end up taking a second trip down to the station, or the report may be delayed for a couple days if you’re mailing the request.  We have since added an authorization letter as part of our standard intake documents that the client signs so that anyone named in the letter can pick up the report.

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In a recent opinion, the Maryland Court of Appeals in Mummert v. Alizadeh, No. 5 (Md. Oct. 18, 2013), clarified the language of Maryland’s wrongful death statute, and did so in a manner that is helpful to beneficiary plaintiffs.  Specifically, the Court held that under Maryland law, a wrongful death claimant’s right to sue is not contingent on the decedent’s ability to file a timely negligence claim for medical malpractice before death.  Accordingly, the statute of limitations applicable to claims for medical malpractice, Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-109, does not apply to a wrongful death claim, even when that claim is based on alleged medical negligence.

The facts of the case are relatively simple.  Between 1997 and 2004, Margaret Varner routinely visited Massoud B. Alizadeh, M.D., her family practitioner.  During this time period, Mrs. Varner lost a significant amount of weight and experienced diarrhea and constipation.  Despite her symptoms, Dr. Alizadeh failed to order or perform a screening colonoscopy, digital rectal examination, or any other screening tests.  After finally performing a digital examination in May 2004, Dr. Alizadeh referred Mrs. Varner to a general surgeon, who performed a colonoscopy which revealed a large tumor in her colon.  Mrs. Varner was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer with liver metastasis.  She died in March 2008.  Continue reading →

 

insurance insurance

Over the years, I have offered this advice this for hundreds of clients, so why not offer it to you?  Have you reviewed your auto insurance coverages lately?  Ever?  If you know your coverages and have read your policy, stop reading this immediately and go out and have some fun!  Seriously though, this would not be high on my list either if I didn’t deal with it on a daily basis.  All too often, clients who come in have insufficient coverage.  This can be disastrous if the other driver either has insufficient coverage, or none at all!  You should protect yourself and your family by having sufficient coverage, which is usually much more affordable than you might think.

Can you answer these questions?

– What is PIP/MedPay?  Should I have it?  How much should I have?  What does it cover?

– What is the difference between “collision”, “liability” and “comprehensive” coverage? Which of these coverages, and   how much of each, should I have? What is 25/50?

– What is UM/UIM coverage?  How much should I have?

If you can answer them, take the advice offered above, and stop reading! Go for a bicycle ride, or take a walk. As for the rest of you, don’t worry, I have a few answers … Continue reading →

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“Just Say NO!”  Most of you probably recognize this phrase from Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign of the 80’s and 90’s, and if your elementary school experience was anything like mine, you spent countless hours in assemblies having this phrase drilled into your head over and over again.  Well, today I am going to encourage you to throw out every thing you learned in those assemblies, and advise you to always say yes – at least when it comes to purchasing no-fault auto-insurance coverage. Continue reading →

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When representing a minor client, or a client that is a parent of an injured minor, many attorneys are surprised to learn (myself included in a recent case) that D.C. law has several requirements that must be met before settling such a case and disbursing the settlement funds.  While the relevant law, D.C. Code § 21-120, has long been on the books, it is only recently that the Court (and insurance companies) seem to be consistently enforcing compliance with it.  As such, § 21-120 can be a trap for the unwary attorney who is nearing the finish line of a settlement and is trying to get their client (and themselves) paid.  Although requirements of § 21-120 are not particularly complex, they are onerous enough that any attorney with a minor client needs to be aware of them before reaching the settlement stage to avoid delays in receiving payment.

Section 21-120(a) provides that although a person entitled to maintain an action on behalf of a minor (usually the minor’s parents) is presumed to be competent to settle the action and execute a release, “such a settlement is not valid unless approved by a judge of the court in which the action is pending.”  Section 21-120(b) further requires that when the minor is entitled to receive more than $3,000 from a settlement (after the deduction of costs, fees and other expenses), a person may not receive any money on behalf of the minor “before he is appointed by a court of competent jurisdiction as guardian of the estate of the minor to receive the money or property, and qualifies as such.”

The instructions below will help walk you through the process of appointing a guardian and obtaining judicial approval of the settlement.  If your minor client is entitled to receive less than $3,000, you can proceed directly to Step 2.  Continue reading →

question marks

You could probably find hundreds of articles about this on the internet. So why read this one? Because this is the “no BS” version you won’t find elsewhere. Sure, there will be some overlap with other articles. But I’ll give it to you straight, as I always do, whether you’re sitting there, or sitting here across the desk from me.

First, and this should be obvious, tend to your injuries.  (Of course if you’re able to, also tend to the injuries of anyone else involved in the accident.)  In an ideal world, while you’re lying there on the ground (as is the case in most bicycle and pedestrian accidents), or sitting in your car waiting for the haze to clear from your brain, someone will have already called 911. That may not be the case.  Often times you’ll be the one calling 911. If you’re not sure if you need an ambulance, call anyway. It’s better to err on the side of caution.  I can’t stress this enough.  I once had a client who lost consciousness at the scene, but then seemed fine. He did not go to the hospital. Later that day, he was found passed out.  His brain had been bleeding the entire time.  He died days later.  Please take this advice to heart.

That said, if it’s a minor accident and you’re sure you don’t need an ambulance, don’t call one just to build up your claim. Why not? (1) It’s a waste of scarce resources. (2) It will only marginally increase the value of your case (if at all) if the hospital records don’t show anything other than a very mild injury.  (3) It’s a waste of your time.  If you start to feel bad hours after the accident or the next day (which often happens), then you should go to the hospital (or your doctor, if you’re able to get in that day.)

Second, call the police. They won’t always write a report or issue a citation, but they often will. Different jurisdictions have different thresholds for writing reports. For example, some jurisdictions will not write a report if both cars are drivable and nobody leaves the scene by ambulance. These criteria are absurd.  Many of these accidents are rear-end collisions where it’s clear that someone broke the law! For goodness sake, issue a citation! Next time the rear-ender might cause a really bad wreck. It’s not enough to exchange insurance information. The offending party should be cited and have to pay the consequences, not just in the form of higher insurance premiums. Continue reading →

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In a recent case filed in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of a plaintiff who lived in Ashburn, Virginia, the defendant filed a motion that I had ever seen before: one requesting that, because the plaintiff wasn’t a D.C. resident, he put up $11,000 as security for costs in case the defendant prevailed.  While we were ultimately successful in defeating the motion, it occurred to me that having to give security for costs could be devastating to a plaintiff’s case if the attorney was not properly prepared to defeat it.  Here’s what I learned while researching for our opposition.

D.C. Code § 15-703(a) (“Security for costs by nonresidents”) states, in part:

“The defendant in a suit instituted by a nonresident of the District of Columbia, or by one who becomes a nonresident after the suit is commenced, upon notice served on the plaintiff or his attorney after service of process on the defendant, may require the plaintiff to give security for costs and charges that may be adjudged against him on the final disposition of the cause.”

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your judge), per D.C. Code § 15-711, whether to require a nonresident to put up security for costs, and in what amount, is entirely within the discretion of the trial judge.  Adding to the confusion is the fact that § 15-703 is not often invoked by defendants, and no standard exists to assist the judge in determining when to apply it.  It has only been cited in two cases: once in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, where the court held that application of § 15-703 is not mandatory in federal proceedings, In re Adamson, No. 09-00623, 2010 WL 122904 (Jan. 6, 2010); and in a D.C. Court of Appeals case in which the court stated that application of § 15-703 is at the discretion of the trial court, but did not supply a standard or test for doing so as the ruling was held to be not appealable, Landise v. Mauro, 927 A.2d 1026 (2007).   Continue reading →

insurance

I Have Full Coverage! I’m All Set, Right? Well … Not So Much

Having been a personal injury for 19 years, I can’t tell you how many times I have explained various insurance coverages to clients and heard in reply: “I had no idea!” or “My agent never told me anything about that!” With the hope that you will never have to say anything like this (because you’ll be in the know), I’m going to share something that is obvious to anyone dealing with insurance every day, but would almost never occur to the general public. Today’s post is about “full coverage.”

When I first meet with a client , of course we always discuss the client’s insurance coverage (even if the other party is at fault. More on that in a later post.). The client routinely declares, usually with great pride, “I have full coverage.” While this is better than having liability only (meaning the coverage only applies to accidents you cause – it doesn’t cover damage to your vehicle), the truly important factor is the dollar limit of your policy. You can have full coverage, but have the state minimum limits ($25k in Washington, DC, $30k in Maryland, and $25k in Virginia if you choose to have it! You can pay the DMV a $500 “uninsured motor vehicle fee” and drive around with no insurance! Brilliant!)

The dollar limits of your “full coverage” are extremely important. Why? If you have the minimum limits and you cause an accident resulting in serious injuries to another, any assets you have could be at risk. (This could be avoided with slightly higher premiums. Unless your driving record is really ugly, higher limits are surprisingly affordable.) Additionally, and most relevant to a personal injury lawyer, if someone with minimal policy limits injures you, you will only be able to recover what you are entitled to if YOUR limits are higher than the at-fault driver’s limits.

How does this work in practice? … Continue reading →

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It goes without saying that in order to be effective, testimony from a witness needs to be precise.  The entire purpose of deposition or trial testimony is to get the facts from a witness as clearly as possible to help the jury or judge understand the information that they are providing.  An entire case can turn on whether the witness is clear and understandable.  Consequently, phrases like “a lot” or “sometimes” are grating to a lawyer’s ears, because they are open to so many conflicting interpretations.  A good lawyer will make sure that if a witness utters something ambiguous, that it is clarified so that it is not only clear, but that it can’t be used against them.  This is especially true with slang, which are by their nature novel, imprecise, and defy traditional means of definition.  To many lawyers (and much of the population), most if not all slang is essentially a foreign language.

For instance, in one of my favorite depositions that I’ve had the pleasure of attending, the witness remarked that another person had called her “shawty,” which led to the fantastic follow-up question: “he called you short?”  In another, when asked if he knew a particular individual, the deponent said that he didn’t, but he “may chuck him the deuces every once in a while.”  The lawyer didn’t bother trying to define that phrase, but instead made a record that the witness “just held up two fingers.”  And here is where the problem lies.  It is entirely probable that everyone left that deposition with different interpretations of what was just said.  The deponent obviously knew what he was trying to convey.  I thought I understood him.  The other lawyer that didn’t ask any follow-up questions almost certainly had no idea what he was saying.   Continue reading →