Truck Accidents In Maryland: Do You Have A Good Case?
Maryland truck 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 truck accident law usually describe truck accident claims as having two components which we commonly call “liability” and “damages.”
Liability means “Who caused the accident?”
Technically, a truck 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 your accident by doing things such 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 addition to these usual concerns, under Maryland truck accident law, there are a myriad of additional issues such as these . . .
- Was the truck tailgating?
- If there was a rollover, how did it happen?
- If there was a jackknife, how did it happen?
- Was the driver driving appropriately for the weather conditions?
- Was the driver driving appropriately for the traffic conditions?
- Were there any mechanical defects that caused or contributed to the collision?
- Were the truck’s air brakes working properly?
- Was the driver qualified to drive the type of rig involved?
- Was the driver properly licensed?
- Was the driver properly trained?
- Did the driver have a history of previous accidents?
- Had the truck been maintained properly?
- Was the truck properly loaded?
- Was the truck oversize in weight or size?
- Was the driver fatigued or driving in violation of “hours of service” regulations that control how much a driver can drive?
- Had the vehicle been inspected and tested in accordance with legal requirements?
- Were alcohol or drugs involved?
If the truck traveled in interstate commerce (between states), there are federal laws that apply. If the truck only drove within Maryland, Maryland truck accident law applies, however Maryland has adopted many federal rules as its own.
As you can see, Maryland truck accident law can be complicated.
Therefore, if you have been involved in a truck accident in Maryland, even one such as a rear-end collision where liability is usually clear, you should promptly contact an experienced Maryland truck accident lawyer.
Defenses To Liability Claims
The insurance company for the at-fault driver may simply deny that their driver did anything wrong. This often happens if the at-fault driver claims that s/he was not negligent.
Or, the insurance company may raise defenses to your liability claim such as “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, 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!
So, 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” 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 truck accident law, property damage and personal injury damages.
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 truck 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 it is worth, your vehicle is a “total loss.” In other words, if you have a vehicle 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 your vehicle’s actual cash value (ACV). 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.
“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 truck 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 result from the accident,
- any loss of income, such as employment income, and
- any other economic losses that result from the accident.
If Maryland truck 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 truck accident law — require the one who caused your injuries to compensate you in money damages for such noneconomic losses as . . .
- physical pain
- mental anguish
- 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 truck accident lawyer, your lawyer will help you gather and develop the evidence of your noneconomic losses.
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 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 that you will have if you do not recover quickly or completely.
Fair compensation for your injuries under Maryland truck accident law includes the full amount of the medical bills that were caused by your truck accident, the full amount of the income that you lost as a result of your truck 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 “Bad Guys” 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.
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.
PIP No-Fault Claim
One final, but important, point about Maryland truck 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 you will deal with that driver’s insurance company who will pay the claim under the other 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 truck 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, 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 truck accident law, contact us.