Maryland car accident law is based on a fault system.

That is, the driver who was at fault and caused the accident must pay damages to anyone (other driver, passenger, pedestrian) who was injured or harmed by the accident.

Those of us who focus on Maryland car accident law usually describe car accident claims as having two components which we commonly call “liability” and “damages.”

Liability

Liability means “Who caused the accident?”

Technically, a car accident claim is a “negligence” claim. Basically, negligence means carelessness. Therefore, you have to be able to show that the other driver acted carelessly and caused the accident by doing such things as these . . .

  • driving too fast

  • not paying attention

  • making an unlawful turn

  • following too closely

  • running through a red light or a stop sign

  • unsafely changing lanes

  • driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • or the like

In some types of accidents, such as a rear-end collision, liability is presumed when a stopped vehicle is struck from behind by another vehicle. However, even in the case of rear-end collisions, there can be exceptions to the general rule.

Therefore, your first concern should be to nail down the evidence of what happened.

  • Write down the facts.

  • Make pictures of the scene and of the vehicles involved.

  • Identify witnesses and get statements from them.

  • Get a copy of the State of Maryland Motor Vehicle Accident Report, if one was written.

Maryland car accident lawyers are experienced and skilled at gathering the necessary facts. If you hire a Maryland car accident lawyer, your lawyer will investigate the facts of your case and gather the necessary proof of liability.

One thing is certain. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will immediately investigate the facts of your case, looking for reason to “deny liability” so they can refuse to pay you anything.

If you decide to hire a Maryland car accident lawyer to help you, you should do that as soon as possible to give your lawyer time to investigate and thoroughly prepare your case.

Defenses To Liability Claims

The insurance company for the at-fault driver may simply deny that their driver did anything wrong.

Or, the insurance company may raise defenses to your liability claim such as “contributory negligence.”

Contributory Negligence

The alternative to contributory negligence that exists in most states is called “comparative negligence,” a much better and more fair rule.

Under comparative negligence, which varies slightly among the states that have this rule, the fault of the two drivers is “compared” and the one who is more at fault pays while the one who is less at fault has his or her claim reduced by the percentage of their fault. For example, if Jones is 90% responsible for causing an accident and Smith is 10% at fault, Smith can recover from Jones for her injuries, but Smith can only recover 90% of full compensation.

Unfortunately, Maryland is one of only 4 states that has a very harsh rule called “contributory negligence.” If it exists in your case, contributory negligence defeats your claim.

According to the contributory negligence rule in Maryland, if you contributed in any way to causing your auto accident, you have no claim against the driver who was the primary cause of your accident. In theory, if you are only 1% responsible for causing an accident and the other driver is 99% at fault, under Maryland car accident law you are not entitled to recover from the other driver!

Under Maryland car accident law, if you can prove that the other driver caused your accident and that you did nothing to contribute to causing the accident, there is ‘liability.’

Damages

“Damages” is the term that refers to the consequences of the other driver’s carelessness. In other words, “What harm did the carelessness cause?”

There are two main categories of damages in Maryland car accident law, property damage and personal injury damages.

Property Damage

Property damage, or “P.D.” as it is sometimes called, refers to the damage to your property, mainly your vehicle. The at-fault driver must pay to have your vehicle repaired. The concept underlying Maryland car accident law is that the careless driver has to give you back what s/he took from you — in this context, an undamaged vehicle.

If it would cost more to repair your vehicle than the vehicle is worth, your vehicle is a “total loss.” For example, if you have a car that was worth $5,000 before it was damaged, and it would cost $10,000 to repair it, your vehicle is totaled. In that case, the careless driver has to pay you the actual cash value (ACV) of your vehicle. In my example, that is $5,000. The underlying theory here is that the $5,000 you are given will make it possible for you to get another vehicle just like the one that was destroyed. (Unfortunately, that is almost never a realistic possibility.)

Under your P.D. claim, the other driver must also give you a replacement vehicle — a rental car — while your vehicle is being repaired. Or, if your vehicle was totaled, the other driver must give you a rental car until you are paid for your destroyed vehicle.

Here’s a TIP about an overlooked property damage claim. If your vehicle has been badly damaged, especially if it is relatively new, it may be that even after it is repaired your vehicle will be worth less than it was before it was damaged. The common sense notion here is that, as between two similar vehicles, a knowing buyer would pay less for the one that has been badly damaged and repaired than s/he would pay for the one that has not been badly damaged. In this situation, you may be able to prove the diminished value of your vehicle as part of your P.D. claim.

Injury Damages

“Damages” also include injury claims. Some insurance companies call these personal injury claims, or “P.I.” claims. Others call them bodily injury, or “B.I.,” claims. By whatever name, this is your claim to be compensated for the injuries that the other driver’s carelessness caused.

Under Maryland car accident law, P.I. (or B.I.) damages include economic losses and noneconomic losses.

The economic losses that you can recover include . . .

  • all medical bills you incurred treating injuries that resulted from the accident,

  • any loss of income, such as employment income, and

  • any other economic losses that result from the accident.

If Maryland car accident law merely required the careless driver to pay for your financial losses, you would not be fully and fairly compensated.

The economic losses are not what you will remember years later about this experience. What you will remember more is the pain of your injuries, the mental uncertainty, the sleepless nights (or whatever your symptoms were) and the disruption to your life that the careless driver caused.

Because you did nothing to cause these losses, fundamental fairness — and Maryland car accident law — require the one who caused your injuries to compensate you in money damages for such noneconomic losses as . . .

  • physical pain

  • mental anguish

  • disfigurement

  • inconvenience

  • physical impairment

  • damage to your marital relationship.

To be able to prove these losses, keep a diary which answers this question: How has this accident affected my life?

If you hire a Maryland car accident lawyer, your lawyer will help you gather and develop the evidence of your noneconomic losses.

Defenses To Damage Claims

You must be able to prove that the other driver’s negligence caused your injuries and damages.

Often, the defending insurance company will raise the defense that something other than their driver’s carelessness caused your damages. They may claim that the “real cause” (their term, not mine) of your damages was an earlier accident, a later accident, the normal aging process . . . or anything else they can think of.

Normally, you will defeat these claims with expert testimony, such as your doctor’s opinion that your injuries are the result of your car accident.

How Much Are You Entitled To Recover For Your Injuries?

The amount of compensation you are entitled to receive for your injuries depends on the circumstances of your case. Obviously, in addition to the amount of your financial losses, that determination will depend on such things as . . .

  • how seriously you are injured

  • how long you suffer with your injuries and

  • whether you recover fully

What you want is a full and speedy recovery from your injuries. If that happens, you will still have a claim against the careless driver, but it will be for less than the claim you will have if you do not recover quickly or completely.

Fair compensation for your injuries under Maryland car accident law includes the full amount of the medical bills that were caused by your auto accident, the full amount of the income that you lost as a result of your auto accident and an additional amount for pain, suffering, inconvenience and the like.

The end result could be as little as about 1 1/2 times your out-of-pocket losses for your medical bills and loss of income to an amount 10 times your financial losses, or more, if your injuries are very severe and permanent.

Here’s a rule-of-thumb to keep in mind: the more seriously you are injured, and therefore the more you are entitled to recover as damages, the more the at-fault driver’s insurance company will resist you. If you have been seriously injured and have substantial losses, you should have an experienced Maryland car accident lawyer on your side protecting your interests.

PIP No-Fault Claim

One final, but important, point about Maryland car accident law.

Everything that I have told you so far about injury claims concerns your claim against the careless driver who caused your accident. (Actually, in almost all cases, although your claim is against the careless driver, you will deal with that driver’s insurance company and that company, not the driver, will pay the claim under the driver’s liability insurance coverage.)

However, unless you waived this right when you bought your car insurance, you have another injury claim that you can make under your own insurance policy.

Unless you specifically rejected it when you purchased your auto insurance, you have a coverage called “PIP” — which rhymes with “sip” — and which stands for “personal injury protection.” Actually some insurance companies have other names for it — such as economic loss protection — but everyone in the industry knows this coverage as PIP.

Although Maryland car accident law is based on fault, PIP is an exception. PIP is a no-fault claim. That means that, after an accident, you can make a PIP claim under your PIP coverage without proving who caused the accident. You simply have to prove that an accident occurred and that, as a result, you suffered damages that are covered by PIP.

PIP covers your medical bills and (85% of) your lost income, up to the policy limit. The policy limit must be at least $2,500, and some insurance companies will sell you up to $10,000 of PIP coverage.

Car insurance policies are pre-printed forms, but they include a page which is not part of the pre-printed form. That page, called the Declarations Page — or in the lingo of the industry, the “Dec Page” — shows what coverages you have and the policy limit for each coverage. So, look at your Dec Page to see if you have PIP coverage. If you do, check the maximum amount that you can receive under this coverage.

The real value of PIP — in fact, the reason that it came into existence — is that it can provide benefits much sooner than your liability claim against the at-fault driver.

As I discuss elsewhere at this website, you should not even present your injury claim until you fully recover from your injuries (or, at least, recover as much as you are going to), but you can submit your PIP claim without delay. Then, if you have additional medical bills or lost wages, you can send a supplement to your PIP claim. In fact, you can keep submitting supplements until your medical bills and lost income stop or until you have received the policy limit of benefits.

Here’s an insurance TIP. I recommend that you purchase as much PIP coverage as your insurance company will sell you. It doesn’t cost much, and it is awfully handy if you are in a serious auto accident that disables you for a lengthy time.

You can safely make a PIP claim without fear that your insurance rates will increase or that making the claim will affect or limit in any way your claim against the careless driver. It won’t.

To learn more about Maryland car accident law, contact us.

What To Do If You Have Been
Injured In A Car Accident In . . .


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