Monthly Archives: January 2009

Five Books Every Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer Should Own

Here are five books I use all the time that I think every Maryland personal injury lawyer should have:
1. Pleading Causes of Action in Maryland, by Paul Mark Sandler & James K. Archibald. This has the elements of just about every cause of action you can think of, and sample Complaints. It is a great aid for drafting suits, and includes cites to the relevant law. I can’t think of a reference book I use more than this one.
2. Maryland Rules Commentary, by Paul V. Niemayer & Linda M. Schuett. I find this to be invaluable for motions practice, both discovery-related and otherwise. The authors were both very involved in the drafting of the Maryland Rules, so this work offers valuable commentary about how the Rules work. I have found that just about every court in Maryland considers this to be very persuasive authority for anything to do with the application of the Maryland Rules.
3. Maryland Automobile Accident Deskbook, Editors: Debora Fajer-Smith & H. Patrick Donohue. This is a great resource for lawyers who handle auto accident injury cases. It is a great place to begin legal research, and has the law organized by common factual situations. If the answer you need isn’t already in here, it almost always has a few relevant cites to use as a starting point.
4. David Ball on Damages: The Essential Update, by David Ball, Ph.D. Every Plaintiff’s lawyer should read this book. It is full of useful ideas on presenting damages proof to juries, including tips on weaving the theme of damages throughout every phase fo the trial. If you try injury cases in front of juries, you need to read this. I really can’t say enough about how useful this book is- if you are a plaintiff’s lawyer and you haven’t read this, you are trying cases at a disadvantage.
5. Appellate Practice for the Maryland Lawyer: State and Federal: Paul Mark Sandler & Andrew D. Levy, Editors. Many lawyers handle appeals only occasionally. This book has all of the important rules collected in one place, as well as excellent descriptions of the inner workings of Maryland’s state and federal appellate courts. Even though the best course of action is always to read the rules yourself, this book is a great way to get a head start on what may be unfamiliar material.
I am sure there are a ton of useful reference books I have forgotten, but these are the five I use the most. If anyone has suggestions for other really useful works, send me a comment!

More On Representing Deaf Clients

Here is a great resource for personal injury lawyers who are contacted by hearing-impaired clients. This is an effective introduction to bridging the communication gap. Thanks to Jacksonville (FL) Area legal Aid for this valuable resource.

As a personal injury lawyer, one of my main functions is to balance a playing field that is tilted against victims and in favor of wrongdoers.

This cannot be accomplished without effective communication and mutual understanding between the attorney and client, and this guide is a valuable aid in achieving that goal.

Suing Washington, D.C. Corporations

I am filing a lawsuit in a Prince George’s County, Maryland car accident injury case. Although the accident took place in Maryland, one of the defendants is a Washington, D.C. corporation that owned the other vehicle involved, and may have employed the defendant driver.

The following link allows you to look up the resident agent of D.C. corporations for service of process:
http://mblr.dc.gov/corp/lookup/index.asp
If the resident agent cannot be located, or there is no resident agent, substitute service may be made on the Superintendent of Corporations, 1-202-442-4432. They will need 2 copies of all documents, a check for $15.00, and an affidavit of the reasonable efforts made to locate and/or serve the resident agent.

This would be valid substitute service under Md. Rule 2-124 (d) because the Superintendent of Corporations is “expressly or impliedly authorized to accept service of process.”

Attacking Defense Medical Reports

Here in Maryland, we have a procedure that allows a Plaintiff’s medical records and bills to be admitted into evidence without the tesimony of a medical provider. This requires service of a list of the records to be offered at least sixty days before trial. This procedure is available in any case filed in the District Court of Maryland, or any case in a Maryland Circuit Court that is filed within the jurisdictional limit of the District Court, presently $30,000.00.

The defense also has the ability to admit a medical report using the same procedure. Often, insurance company lawyers will hire a doctor to review the medical records of the Plaintiff and other documents and then create a “peer review”report. Usually this report says something like the plaintiff treated for an unreasonable period of time, the palintiff’s injuries are less severe than claimed, or the medical bills are unneccessary, unreasonable, or not related to the accident.

In cases in the District Court, these reports are easy to address because judges are used to seeing them and are usually familiar with how they are created. It gets trickier when the case is to be tried before a jury (usually when the defense requests a jury trial). Here are some tips for attacking these kinds of reports in jury trials.
I ignore these reports in opening. I never mention these reports in opening statements. What if the defense attorney doesn’t put it into evidence? I wasted my time. Plus, the jury will never see this report until they go into the jury room to deliberate, so there isn’t any real reason to address it at the beginning of the trial.

The best time to address such a report is in rebuttal argument to the jury. This is when I have already made my primary closing argument, and the defense attorney has given his closing using the report to attack my damages case. I then have an opportunity to give rebuttal argument. What’s great about this is that you can really go after the report, and the defense doesn’t get another opportunity to contradict anything I say.

The first thing I do is read the jury the address where the report was sent. This is always the defense attorney’s law firm, and often it is directed to the attorney personally. Then I read the first sentence which says something like “thank you for the chance to review the medical records on [Plaintiff].” Then I point out that the next sentence says the doctor reviewed the medical records that the defense attorney sent him. I tell the jury this means that the defense attorney picked out a doctor, who then reviewed the records that the defense attorney selected and sent to the doctor.
Sometimes these records include photos of the damage to the vehicles. When this happens I tell the jury I hurt my back a few years ago moving a bed, went to the doctor, and wouldn’t you know, my doctor never asked to see a picture of the bed I was moving even though he was sure that was how I got hurt.

Also make sure that he defense doctor is accurate in his review of the records. In my last trial, the defense doctor said the client had two MRI scans that were normal, and went on to say that the MRI’s were unneccesary. Problem was, those MRI’s both showed bulging discs at multiple levels.
I also point out that the doctor doing the records review never examined or treated the plaintiff, and that the defense is asking the jury to accept his opinion instead of that of the treating doctors.
In that last trial the last thing I did was read the jury the last two sentences of the report, which state: “I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate these files. If I can be of additional assitance, do not hesitate to contact me.” Then I told the jury this means “thank you for hiring me to do this work for you, and please call me if you would like me to do some more work for you.”
I told the jury that people don’t get a lot of repeat business if they are not providing the customer with what they want.

The key is that in a case like this you can expose the report for what it is- biased and not credible, and the defense never gets a chance to counter your argument.

Reduction In Ethics Complaints Against Maryland Personal Injury Lawyers

The Daily Record reports that ethical complaints made against all Maryland lawyers dropped 24 percent in the last six months of 2008 as opposed to the same period in the preceding year.
More specifically, the complaints against Maryland personal injury lawyers dropped from 48 the year before to 37 for 2008. Keeping in mind that I graduated from a liberal arts college, my math says that is a 33 percent drop.

That is refreshing to see. I am a big proponent of continuing legal education and participation in professional associations because I think raising the skill level of the plaintiff’s bar as a whole is good for our profession and our clients. I think every Maryland personal injury lawyer should be a member of the Maryland Association for Justice, and should regularly attend continuing education programs.

Hopefully the recent drop in ethical complaints is a trend that will continue. Even though the article points out that those numbers are preliminary results, I think this is a good sign.

Representing Hearing-Impaired Clients in Maryland

I am presently representing several deaf clients in personal injury cases in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, and Frederick County.

Our firm frequently gets inquiries from hearing-impaired injury victims. I think this is because of the quality of the information provided on our website, and because our site has an interface where potential clients can submit their case facts or questions in writing. As a result, I have developed some useful tips for injury lawyers representing hearing-impaired clients.

First- telephone conversations can be conducted through a free relay service. The client calls in, and all conversation is interpreted by an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. This is a lifesaver for communicating between face-to-face meetings, where email will not provide sufficient attorney-client communication.

Second- call ahead to arrange an ASL interpreter for all court appearances. This service is provided by the state free of charge, and is essential to constitutionally adequate proceedings. I have found that if you arrive early, the assigned interpreter is usually more than happy to provide interpretation for a brief attorney-client conference before the proceeding begins.

Third- law offices are considered public accomodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). This means we are required to provide an interpreter for client meetings. Even though arranging for an ASL interpreter for private meetings has a cost attached, that cost may not be passed along to the client in the form of a case expense. Moreover, there is a very real probability that the attorney will not be able to satisfy the ethical duty of client communication under MLRPC 1.4 without use of an interpreter.

Hopefully this is helpful. I confess, I didn’t know about the ADA requiring lawyers to provide interpreter services until a client pointed it out to me. Check out some mroe useful information here: http://www.nad.org/legalservices