You’re uncertain, or perhaps even confused, about the Maryland injury claim process.
You’ve been injured due to someone else’s carelessness and you’re wondering what the procedure is for having your claim resolved.
With the understanding that there are exceptions to these general procedures of the Maryland injury claim process, let me tell you what usually happens.
If you hire a Maryland personal injury lawyer to guide you through the Maryland injury claim process, your lawyer will do virtually all of these things for you or in conjunction with you.
You can click here to see a list of personal injury lawyer services that you can expect if you hire a lawyer.
First, the occurrence that caused your injury must be investigated.
This could be as simple as getting a copy of an accident or incident report to make sure that the evidence of the other party’s fault is clear. Or, it could involve more extensive investigation, including witness interviews, the use of an investigator or even consultation with experts about the cause of the occurrence in which you were injured.
You also have to begin what will be an ongoing process — gathering the medical records and bills that will be needed when it is time to resolve your claim.
Should You Try To Settle? When?
In almost all cases, you should try to resolve your claim only after you are fully recovered from your injuries or, if you are not going to recovery fully, only after you reach “maximum medical improvement,” or MMI.
Only when you get to this point will you know the full nature and extent of your injuries as well as their consequences.
When you present a claim, you tell a story — the story of your accident and what it caused. Until you recover or reach MMI, you don’t know the full story.
Until MMI, It’s As Simple As 1-2-3!
Until you recover from your injuries or reach MMI, your job is as simple as 1-2-3.
First, you should focus on getting better. Get whatever medical treatment you need and continue with the treatment until you are released by your physician. Your purposes for getting the treatment are to get better and to minimize your symptoms while you are recovering. An additional result of you getting necessary medical care is that the physician’s records of treatment document your condition and the treatment you received.
So, Rule 1 is: “get necessary medical care.”
If you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will notify the appropriate insurance company of their representation. They will ask the insurance company to deal with them, not with you. After this is done, it is unlikely that the insurance company for the at-fault party will contact you.
However, before you hire a lawyer or if the insurance company contacts you even though you have a lawyer, don’t talk to them. If you have hired a lawyer, direct them to your lawyer. If you haven’t hired a lawyer, politely tell them that you don’t wish to talk now and that you will contact them later.
There are important reasons for not talking to the opposing insurance company.
We have seen a number of cases where statements that an injured person made to an insurance company — often very soon after a serious injury and perhaps while under the influence of potent medications — have been misunderstood, misinterpreted or, possibly, even misrepresented.
Why risk it? There is no penalty for declining to talk to “The Bad Guys.” It is completely lawful. You can still settle your claim. It will not be delayed.
So Rule 2 is “don’t talk to the Bad Guys.”
I call the adjuster and the adverse insurance company the Bad Guys to remind you that they are not on your side. Their purpose is not to help you. It is to protect them and their policyholder. Don’t forget this reality as you proceed through the Maryland injury claim process.
Third, you should make notes along the way so that you will not forget any important details. It usually takes months, or even longer, to resolve claims. If you don’t write details down, you will forget some of them . . . guaranteed. If a lawyer instructs you to make these notes, they are “privileged” which means that only you and your lawyer can see them. You will not have to give them to your adversaries. On the other hand, if you make the notes on your own, and not in response to your lawyer’s directions, you will probably have to diclose those notes to the Bad Guys if you end up in court.
Making notes includes making photos of the scene of your injury, the damage to your vehicle if you have had a motor vehicle accident and of injuries that can be shown by photographs.
Let’s call this what it is. You have to become “evidence conscious.” You have to preserve ways that you can explain later, to someone who has not lived through it, what you went through.
Rule 3: “keep notes and records,” or “be evidence conscious.”
How Your Claim Will Be Presented
After you have recovered or reached MMI, it is usually a good idea to try to settle your claim out-of-court before filing it in court.
Before a case is filed in court, there is an incentive for both sides to avoid the time, hassle and expense — not to mention the uncertainty — of the court process.
You — or your lawyer if you have one — will prepare a “settlement letter,” which is also (and more commonly) called a “demand letter,” that will be sent to the opposing insurance company.
The settlement letter will explain how the incident that caused your injury occurred and why the insurance company’s policyholder is responsible.
The settlement letter will also explain all of the injuries and damages that you have suffered. Medical bills and records, and perhaps other evidence, such as accident reports, reports of experts and photos of injuries, will be submitted with the settlement letter.
After the letter is sent, the Bad Guys usually respond within one to four weeks.
In their response, the insurance company will point out whatever they think is a weakness in your case. However, if responsibility for the incident is clear, they will also make a settlement offer.
Unless the two sides are irreconcilably far apart in their positions, negotiations will continue until an agreement is reached, or until you decide that you can’t reach an agreement.
If you have a lawyer, s/he will report all settlement offers to you. Part of your lawyer’s job is to advise you, to explain the offer and to make a recommendation to you.
Remember, however, that only you can settle your claim. Your lawyer works for you . . . not the other way around.
Frankly, negotiating is more art than science. Some lawyers are better at it than others.
If an offer is made that you will accept, all that remains is processing the paperwork. Within about two weeks after an agreement is reached, the proceeds of your settlement should be in your hands.
When you settle a claim, you make a trade. The insurance company, on behalf of the person who caused your injuries, pays you money to compensate you for all of your injuries and damages. In return, you sign a release giving up your right to ever make any further claims as a result of your accident.
Obviously, you do not make this trade unless you are sure it is what you want to do.
Going To Court
On the other hand, if you cannot reach a settlement, you will have to file your case in court.
Actually, there are two courts in Maryland, the lower District Court and the higher Circuit Court. So, the first decision is which court to choose.
If you have a lawyer, s/he will advise you concerning this decision.
Remember this: even if you have a lawyer, only you can decide to take your case to court. Your lawyer cannot take your case to court without your approval.
If you file your case in court, can you still reach a settlement? Yes, you can.
However, once the case is filed in court, settlement possibilities are usually slim until you get close to the time of trial. There are exceptions, but this is the way it usually works.
Pretrial Discovery Procedures
After your case is filed in court, there is a stage of the Maryland injury claim process where the two sides exchange information about their cases. This is called pretrial discovery.
As part of the discovery process, you will probably be asked to answer written Interrogatories (questions about the case), to produce documents, to appear and answer questions at a deposition and, perhaps, to submit to a medical examination by a doctor chosen by the insurance company. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will prepare you for these procedures and be with you when you go through them.
Simultaneously, you will be using the same procedures to learn the details of the other side’s case.
This exchange of information is usually governed by an order from the court that establishes deadlines for completing various procedures, and there are serious penalties if you miss the deadlines. So be sure to always act promptly when your lawyer asks you to help with these pretrial procedures.
Arbitration And Mediation
Normally, before trial but usually after the pretrial discovery is completed, the court will ask you to try once more to settle your case by going to mediation.
Mediation is different from something else that you have probably heard of, arbitration. Arbitration is a “rent-a-judge” procedure where the parties hire an experienced and respected person to hear the evidence at a hearing and then decide the case.
A mediator, on the other hand, has no authority to impose a solution on you. Instead, the mediator acts as a facilitator, trying to help the two sides reach an agreement. There is usually a charge for mediation, but if it results in a settlement it will be money well spent.
If this all fails to result in a settlement, your case goes to trial. To learn more about what that means, see our explanation of Maryland trials.
If you have a question about the Maryland injury claim process that isn’t answered here, contact me.