Monthly Archives: June 2009

Is There Value In Being First To Sue?

Unless you live somewhere there is no tv, radio, or internet (which makes you seeing this unlikely), you know there was a big train crash on the Washington, D.C. Metro last week.

This was a bad accident that involving several deaths and many more injuries. Whenever something like this happens, I think it is expected that there will eventually be litigation. The litigation about this accident has already started. Train accident: June 22, 2009 at 5:02 p.m. First lawsuit filed: June 24, 2009. Two days later. The legal system generally moves like global climate change- slowly and inexorably. A lawsuit being filed two days after the injury is very, very fast.

Maryland has a three-year statute of limitations. This means that an injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of the injury or it is forever barred. In this case, the victim is fifteen. Under Maryland’s SOL, his lawsuit would need to be filed within three years of his eighteenth birthday.

My practice on injury claims is to avoid filing a lawsuit until the client is at Maximum Medical Improvement. All this means is that the injured person has recovered fully, or has reached the point where further medical intervention would not be helpful. The reason is that I want to have a full and complete picture of the client’s damages before filing suit. This helps in many ways, such as in selecting and identifying the proper experts, determining the amount of damages to be sought, and allowing pre-suit settlement negotiations. It also helps to minimize playing catch-up, like trying to collect medical records and bills for a client who is still in treatment while simultaneously preparing the case for trial.

I don’t know the attorneys representing the plaintiffs who have already filed suit. I’m not saying they did something wrong- there are a lot of “right ways” to handle a personal injury case. Sometimes cases are filed early because that is what the client wants. I am sure there are other reasons as well. I just usually take the opposite approach.

I am curious as to what the advantage to the client is as a result of filing so quickly. Obviously, starting the process sooner means completing it sooner. Other than that time savings, what does such an aggressive stance get the client? Maybe the publicity translates into a stronger negotiating position for settlement?

More Legal Shenanigans Involving Baltimore Officials

The Baltimore Sun and The Daily Record report a new lawsuit involving a high level staffer of the City Solicitor’s Office.

There are three government employees involved in a 5 million dollar lawsuit against a Domino’s pizza franchise in Ocean City, Maryland. DeMaune Millard, Mayor Dixon’s chief of staff, Jonathan Carpenter, a state Department of Transportation executive, and Donald R. Huskey, an assistant city solicitor, are the plaintiffs.

These three folks are suing the pizza place because they were denied service, and because it took the restaurant’s staff approximately ten minutes to let them back out of the restaurant after the decision not to serve them. These plaintiffs were in O.C. for the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference in August, 2008. They left an official event that ended at 10:30 p.m. at about 1:30 a.m., and were shortly thereafter buzzed into nearby pizza place. They say they weren’t drunk, and were denied service for no reason.

Unsurprisingly, the pizza place says the opposite- that they were intoxicated, loud and uncooperative, and that they made a threat.
Specifically, that they said the manager was “a punk, and that if he was in the city, things would be handled differently.”

There are no allegations of race discrimination in the suit, although it notes the three plaintiffs are African-American and that the store employees are “Middle Eastern”, Asian, or white.

The three are being represented by an attorney in the city solicitor’s office who is moonlighting on his own time. City Solicitor George Nilson was unaware of this until asked by the media.
I have a few thoughts about this. I doubt I would gotten involved in this case if these plaintiffs had contacted me.
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More Controversy in Baltimore’s Circuit Court

The Baltimore Sun has recently reported an incident that took place in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The whole thing arose in the context of a criminal proceeding being held before the Hon. Alfred Nance. It appears that a woman was causing a disruption in Judge Nance’s courtroom. She was calling out “I love you” and blowing kisses to her brother, a criminal defendant. This offended Judge Nance, who is known for strictly regulating the behavior (including attire) of those who appear in his court. Apparently, Judge Nance held the woman in contempt of court on the spot, and sentenced her to ten days in the Baltimore City Detention Center. Luckily, a public defender who was in the courtroom intervened on the woman’s behalf and Judge Nance reversed his ruling.

The news articles make a big deal of the fact that Judge Nance has had judicial discipline issues in the past. I agree that the ten days was probably an excessive punishment. The detention center, particularly in the summertime, is a miserable cesspool. But I don’t have a problem generally with judges insisting upon the proper respect and decorum while court is in session. Yelling out and waving is not acceptable in court or in any other formal setting. Even elementary school children know that if they want to talk, they need to sit quietly and raise their hand.

I have only briefly appeared before Judge Nance, and I have never seen him do anything I though was improper. Some of the commentators in the various news pieces have claimed that attorneys are reluctant to report improper conduct by judges because of fear of retaliation. I think one part of the news coverage tells the most important part of the story:
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Monday Thoughts

Did you have a good weekend? Me too. Busy, but good.
I spent the majority of the weekend working on trial preparation for a serious traumatic brain injury case that goes to trial in Mongomery County Circuit Court at the end of the month. I was a big L.A. Law fan in my youth, and I don’t remember ever seeing Susan Dey spending the weekend summarizing deposition testimony and medical records. If CSI can make forensic lab tests seem dramatic by playing “science music” in the background, why don’t lawyer shows ever show the boring but neccesary stuff that leads up to the fun part?

I got a good break Saturday by getting in touch with my Baltimoron roots at Honfest. I enjoyed watching the crowd, especially the people dressed up as “Hons”, and the people not dressed up as “Hons” (and the two were not that easy to tell apart). Apparently Honfest is an irony-free zone. This costuming issue also spawned a detailed discussion of whether a passerby was a man dressed up as a 1950’s Baltimore Housewife, or just a poorly outfitted transvestite. A great way to spend a pretty summer afternoon enjoying a cool beverage. I did think it was strange that the only beers for sale were Heineken, Newcastle Brown Ale and Miller Lite. How can you celebrate the glorious quirkiness of the biggest small town in America with no Natty Boh? That ain’t no Bawlmer, Hon.

This morning I was back in my old stomping grounds, Baltimore City Circuit Court for a hearing on a defense Motion for Summary Judgment in a slip/fall on ice case. I was before the Hon. Lynn K. Stewart for the motions argument. I had never appeared befpre Judge Stewart before in a civil case, but I had been in her court many times on criminal cases (in another life I ran the civil department at a Baltimore law firm specializing in criminal defense, so in the course of “helping out” I was before Judge Stewart many times). I have always loved being in that court because Judge Stewart is always prepared and on top of the issues, moves the docket along promptly, shows a quick sense of humor and does not suffer fools.

Slip/fall cases are always tough to prove, and have only gotten tougher recently with the Court of Special Appeals’ opinion in Allen v. Marriott. The defense contended that I had no proof of notice of the dangerous condition because the area of my client’s fall was inspected four times that day and no ice was discovered. I opposed the motion by arguing that since the temperature was never below freezing the day of the fall, the ice had to have been present, but not discovered, during each of the four inspections.

This argument did not change my opinion of this particular judge. She was familiar with all of the issues raised in the parties’ motion papers and cut directly to the issue at the heart of the motion. I won the hearing, and my case will now go to trial. Moreover, our 10 a.m. hearing started at 10:03, and I was back in the car on my way to the M&Z mothership in Glen Burnie, Maryland by 10:39. That’s how a motions hearing should work!

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