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, I will tell you what usually happens.
If you hire a lawyer to represent you, 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 all of the things your lawyer will do for you.)
Investigation could be as simple as getting a copy of an accident or incident report to confirm that the other party’s fault is clear. Or, it could be much more extensive. For example, there may be witness interviews and witness statements. In addition, there may be consultation with experts about the cause of the event that injured you. Consultation with medical experts may also be necessary.
You also have to gather the medical records and bills that will be needed to prove your injuries and damages.
Should You Try To Settle? When?
In almost all cases, you should try to resolve your claim before filing it in court. However, you should only begin settlement negotiations after you are fully recovered from your injuries. If you are not going to recover fully, you should wait until you reach “maximum medical improvement,” or MMI. Only then will you know the full nature and extent of your injuries and their consequences.
Remember this, you can only resolve your claim once. You get one trial in court, or one settlement. To ensure that you recover for all of your accident-related problems, you should wait until you know the full story before beginning settlement negotiations.
Until MMI, It’s As Simple As 1-2-3!
Before you recover from your injuries or reach MMI, your job is as simple as 1-2-3.
Rule 1: Get Necessary Medical Care.
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. Moreover, the physician’s medical records document your condition and the treatment you received.
Rule 2: Don’t Talk To The Bad Guys.
If you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will promptly 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 opposing 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, tell them that you don’t wish to talk now. Tell them that you will contact them later.
There are important reasons for not talking to the opposing insurance company.
We have seen a large 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 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 simply because you choose to wait to talk to them. Or, better yet, to give you time to hire a lawyer who will deal with them for you.
I don’t call the adjuster and the adverse insurance company the “Bad Guys” because they are bad people. Instead, I use this to remind you that they are not on your side. Their purpose is not to help you. To the contrary, it is to protect the company and their policyholder. Don’t forget this reality as you proceed through the Maryland injury claim process.
Rule 3: Keep Notes And Records.
Third, you should make notes as you recover 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.” That 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 disclose those notes to the Bad Guys if you end up in court. This is another reason why you should hire a lawyer as soon as you decide that you need one.
Making notes includes taking photos. Take pictures of the scene where you were injured. If you have had a car crash, take photos of all vehicles involved. In addition, make pictures of injuries that can be shown in photographs. Use video where it would tell the story better.
Let’s call this what it is. You have to become “evidence conscious.” You have to preserve ways to explain what you went through to someone who has not lived through it.
How Your Claim Will Be Presented
After you have recovered or reached MMI, it is normally a good idea to try to settle your claim out-of-court.
Reasons To Try To Settle
Why? Because before a case is filed in court there is an incentive for both sides to settle. Both sides should want to avoid the time, hassle and expense — not to mention the uncertainty — of the court process.
Your lawyer, if you have one, will prepare a “settlement letter” that s/he will send to the opposing insurance company. (The settlement letter is also (and more commonly) called a “demand letter.”) The settlement letter explains how the incident that caused your injury occurred. In addition, it shows why the insurance company’s policyholder is responsible. It will also explain all of the injuries and damages 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.
The Insurance Company’s Response
The opposing insurance company usually responds to the settlement letter within one to four weeks. Most often the response is at the end of this time period.
Normally, the insurance adjuster calls the claimant’s lawyer. Sometimes, the response is a letter, but usually it is a call. In the first conversation, the adjuster points out whatever s/he thinks is a weakness in your case. However, in spite of that, if responsibility for the incident is clear, s/he will also make a settlement offer.
Next, you will respond to the settlement offer. Since the insurance company’s initial offer is rarely its best offer, you will reject it and make a counter demand. After that, your lawyer and the insurance adjuster will exchange offers until either an agreement is reached or it becomes clear that the two sides cannot agree.
If you have a lawyer, s/he will report all settlement offers to you. Part of your lawyer’s job is to advise you of any offers, explain the offer and 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. In this area, as in most aspects of life, experience is immensely valuable.
If you accept an offer, all that remains is processing the settlement paperwork. Within approximately 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 accident-related injuries and damages. In return, you sign a release giving up your right to ever make any further claims against the at-fault driver 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
If you cannot reach a settlement and you have a strong case, you should not hesitate to file your case in court. There is nothing to fear.
Maryland’s Two Trial Courts
The first step in that process is to choose one of Maryland’s two trial courts.
The lower District Court is faster, simpler and less expensive. Normally, trials occur three to five months after you file your case. However, you cannot recover more than $30,000 in the District Court.
The higher Circuit Court is different from the District Court in many respects. First, cases take longer. Trials normally occur somewhere between 12 and 18 months after your case is filed. In addition, the Circuit Court has more complicated procedures and involves more expenses. However, you can get a judgment for as much as your evidence supports in the Circuit Court. If you have a lawyer, s/he will advise you concerning which court to file in.
Remember this: even if you have a lawyer, only you can decide to take your case to court. Your lawyer cannot file your case to court without your approval.
Can You Still Settle After You File In Court?
I am often asked: 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 reduced 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, the two sides exchange information about their cases. This is called “pretrial discovery.”
Types of Discovery
In discovery, you will normally be asked to answer written Interrogatories (questions about the case). In addition, you will have to produce documents such as your medical records and bills. And, you will probably have to answer questions at a deposition. Finally, you may have 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 they occur.
Simultaneously, your lawyer will be using the same procedures to learn the details of the defense’s case.
This exchange of information is governed by a Scheduling Order that establishes deadlines for completing various procedures. Be sure to comply with these deadlines. There can be serious penalties if you do not. So, be sure to always act promptly when your lawyer asks you for information.
Differences Between District and Circuit Courts
What I just described is the Circuit Court discovery process.
In the District Court, written interrogatories are the only discovery. Within the Interrogatories, it is possible to request production of a limited number of documents. There are no depositions or other discovery in the District Court.
Arbitration And Mediation
In addition to a court trial, there are several other procedures that can be used to resolve a case.
One such procedure is arbitration. This is a “rent-a-judge” procedure where the parties hire an experienced and respected person to consider the evidence at a hearing and then decide the case.
Another alternative way to resolve a case is mediation. A mediator, unlike an arbitrator, 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 normally a charge for mediation, but if it results in a settlement it will be money well spent.
Normally, before trial — but usually after the pretrial discovery is completed — the court will ask the parties to try once more to settle the case by going to mediation.
If these procedures are not used or fail to lead to 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, contact us.