What you don’t know CAN hurt you

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Jan 04, 2019 | Shaketta A. Denson

The United States is one of a hand full of countries that trusts its citizens to self-correct by allowing a jury of their peers to sit and come to an agreement when there is a dispute between parties. It is a system that goes back to Ancient Athens 900-146 BC, when a process called “Diskastai” was used to ensure that people could not select jurors for their own trials. The bigger the issue, the larger the group of Diskatai were used. This has trickled down to the justice system that we all know and love. Now, we get that magic notice in the mail summoning us to sit in a room for 8 hours praying that we won’t get picked.

Our justice system, while not perfect and sometimes an inconvenience is something of a marvel. Having a collective of folks from our neighborhoods and communities coming together to set the standards for safety and behavior that we want is special. However, despite the fact that most folks by age 30 have been selected or summoned for jury service, they do not know a lot about how it works. Jury trials have a mystery to them that is confounding not only the lucky souls picked for duty, but also to those on either side of the issue. As a practicing trial attorney, I am often confused, confounded and alarmed at the things that we can and cannot say and do during a civil trial. It’s not something that they teach you in law school. There they build our jury system up on the foundation of justice and truth and that every person: man, woman and child is equal before the law. The most important thing we are taught is the search for the truth the search for that which is hidden. That all things in the dark will come to light. The reality however, is that there are several things you, as juror, are not allowed to know. Things that the mighty decision makers from on high, the judiciary, have decided are not worthy of your consideration. The system has begun to take for granted the intelligence of the modern juror and their ability to decipher the good, the bad and the ugly. My mother taught me that ALL information is good information and, in that vein, I share this information with you.

Insurance is the name of the game

When a person is injured in a car crash, slip and fall, or any kind of incident that results from someone else’s actions, they have the opportunity to file a civil action. That civil action, or lawsuit, is based in what we call negligence or tort. A tort is a wrongful act or infringement on the rights of another. The injured person files a claim against the person who injured and becomes a Plaintiff. By filing that suit, the legal system ensures and that this is the last time that the “wrongdoer” or Defendant is really involved. The insurance company for the Defendant tags in on the behalf and from then on they control the process. The insurance company is the one who decides if this is a case that is worth settling or not, or whether it should go to trial or not. They are the ones who assign an attorney and a random adjuster who was not involved in the actual happening of the event/tort and has never met either person involved, but still makes major decisions. The adjuster is the person who holds the purse strings, controls the money. They say what a case is worth to the insurance company and what should be paid, if anything, for the affect the injuries had on their life. They are also the people who fight the most to keep the truth away from the jury.

Often times the person who was actually sued has no say in how things proceed. It is all about protecting the insurance company’s and their bottom line. Insurance companies are in the business of making and keeping money. Insurance companies are not in the business of paying claims, as that is not how they make money and stay solvent. When the case gets to trial and a jury picked, despite the fact that the Insurance Company are the ones who provide the defense and ultimately the ones who will pay any verdict obtained, we are not permitted to tell you this. It’s a big secret, a Wizard of Oz “Pay no attention the man behind the curtain!” farce. This would not be so bad if that same man behind the curtain were not allowed to argue the point that a just verdict would financially harm or even bankrupt their client. The Defendants can talk all day about what a verdict would mean for poor old Ms. Simpson who is retired and living off of Social Security, when the reality is that she will not spend a dime on that verdict. Her insurance company will. Our justice system is set up to make you believe that the person being sued is who is paying the bill. They aren’t, and we cannot pull back that veil. There is no Toto to expose the wizard. In some local states, even when the person being sued IS an insurance company the jury is still not permitted to know who they are. In effect, they get to hide completely from Lady Justice.

Is drunk driving really a bad thing?

Let’s say that you are involved in a car collision with someone who is intoxicated. Pretty devastating huh? Pretty scary? We all know that drunk driving is not safe, and that using alcohol and/or drugs then getting behind the wheel kills thousands of people every year. Judges in MD and DC have decided that the fact that someone is drunk or high behind the wheel is NOT RELEVANT to your case. Even if you wind up injured, permanently hurt and they have been convicted of driving under the influence that fact will never see the light of day in front of a jury. As long as the Defendant says they were drunk and/or high and caused a crash, they get to hide the fact that they were drunk at trial. Despite the fact that the law says that the person suing has to show all the dangers that could happen and that the Defendant appreciated that danger, the fact that they were aware of the dangers of driving drunk is not important. In essence, we are saying that people do not have to take responsibility for their actions and can continue to put those on the road with them at risk day after day. The rationale handed down by the courts is that that fact of the Defendant driving drunk unfairly prejudices the jury against the Defendant, but should they not have to bear that prejudice? They knew the law when they chose to drink and get behind the wheel, they should have to bear all of the consequences.

They have been in how many crashes?

How many car crashes or collisions has the person who hit you been in before hitting you? Do you think this is important? Would you want a jury to know this when thinking about whether or not that person has a reason to lie, or if they should be held to a higher standard? While they can mount a pretty effective defense that you as the Plaintiff are just out looking for money because of the unfortunate events that have happened in your past, the Defendant can hide behind the curtain yet again. Did they fall asleep behind the wheel and hit a pole just 40 minutes before hitting you? Have they been convicted 10 times in the year before for reckless driving too bad so sad, the powers that be have said that prior car crashes are not relevant, even if they happened the SAME DAY as the one that you were in. This person could be Evil Kanevil on the streets and the jury will never know because the courts have deemed it “not relevant” and “not important”.

Where’s the beef?

So let us say you are injured and call the police. They talk to everyone involved and they create a report. In some situations they make a decision about who was at fault or what the circumstances are surrounding what happened. We get a copy, the Defendant gets a copy but guess who doesn’t get to see it? The Jury! This is probably the number one thing that jurors ask for. “What about the police report. Is there one? What does it say? Can we see it?” Well, yes and no. We are not allowed to talk about its very existence unless we have the cop there in trial to testify. However, here in lies the rub. The Defendant can simply say “Oh I did it, but they were not really hurt” and BOOM! You talk about the police report “not relevant”. On the other hand, let’s say that the Defendant is contesting what happened in the crash, Police officers are really really busy and notoriously hard to track down. They move around, they transfer and sometimes it’s not always in their best interest to take a day off from work to testify in a civil trial. You can admit the police report to prove observable conditions for example the weather, the condition of the road, time or place and position of the vehicle, but in a drunk driving situation is that the meat?

If you are starting notice a common theme of relevance, you are correct. The irony is, that the very people, that the justice system works so hard to keep in the dark, the jury, are the very people who are charged with deciding the facts and if something and someone should be believed or not.

So, how does this information hurt or help you? Well, it is important to know the truth. Our current justice system, while a beautiful dance of brain vs. brawn, has become a game. A cat and mouse game where The Plaintiff spend time trying to expose the truth, while The Defendant goes through great lengths to keep it from you. The Jury should know how it all works so that you know and understand your rights, should you ever unfortunately be involved in a situation where you are hurt as a result of someone else’s actions.

You should know that, no matter what they tell you, it all comes down to the insurance company. They are the ones in control, they foot the bill, and they make the hamster wheel turn. There is rarely a situation where they are not the person actually paying the bill and you should not be ok with them lying to you about it. You should not be ok with them being able to hide anything from you, whether it be a prior accident history, drunk driving or a police report. You should go in with your eyes open, whether you are a Plaintiff, Defendant or Juror.

This is not Fahrenheit 451. Our jury system works because our jurors are SMART, way smarter than they system gives them credit for. Why else would we have trusted them to make decisions, for thousands of years. Jurors are discerning and compassionate and attentive. My idea of justice, true justice, would be to lay it all out on the table things that are a benefit and harm to both sides and let jurors do what we charge them to do, figure out the truth and decide what amount if any should be allowed as compensation.

Will this always benefit the Plaintiff? No. It will however not always benefit the Defendant either. It is truly a balancing the scales of justice. And that is why most lawyers, at least the ones that I know, got into this business. The very definition of Justice is just behavior or treatment. “A concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.” Webster’s Dictionary 2018. Let’s start treating our jurors with the respect of the TRUTH.


Don’t Be the Strong Silent Type: How to Talk to Your Doctor to Ensure Your Rights are Protected Following a Work-Injury

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Nov 20, 2018 | David Kapson

If you read my first blog, you will recall that two things I am very fond of are pop culture and stories. One of my favorite all-time pop culture phenomena is the acclaimed HBO original series, The Sopranos. I think I have watched the series in its entirety at least three or four times. Anyone who is familiar with the series knows, Tony Soprano, the anti-hero lead character and mob boss extraordinaire spends a lot of time in therapy session with his psychiatrist following panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. No doubt, those symptoms are related, at least in part, to his Tony’s work as a career criminal, but that’s not why I bring up the reference.

I often find myself thinking about a bit of dialogue between Tony and his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi in the very first episode when I advise my clients about how to communicate with their doctor following a life changing work injury. Struggling with the fact that he has to open up to his doctor in order to get to the root of his problems in therapy Tony says the following:

Tony Soprano: Let me tell ya something. Nowadays, everybody’s gotta go to shrinks, and counselors, and go on “Sally Jessy Raphael” and talk about their problems. What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do. See, what they didn’t know was once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings that they wouldn’t be able to shut him up! And then it’s dysfunction this, and dysfunction that, and dysfunction vaffancul! The Sopranos Pilot (season 1, episode 1).

You may find yourself asking how does this reference apply at all to communicating with your medical provider in a workers’ compensation setting? The answer is quite simple, do not be Gary Cooper, John Wayne, or Tony Soprano when visiting with your doctor after a work injury. Put another way, to be the strong and silent type could be the kiss of death when it comes to making sure all of your rights are protected, including your entitlement to causally related medical care and treatment and money benefits.

In my first blog post I stressed the importance of telling the truth after a work injury and how that honesty has two components, one obvious, and one less so. I want to focus on this honesty and truthfulness in the context of communicating with the doctor. The obvious component is to not lie or make anything up. I’m less concerned about the obvious element. It’s easy, it speaks for itself, and frankly, I do not want to represent anyone in a legal matter that is not an honest and credible person.

I’m more interested in the less obvious component, the “do not hold anything back” side of telling the truth. I always tell clients at our very first meeting that the doctor is not a mind reader and is only going to address the complaints that the patient makes when taking a history. Not holding anything back means paying attention to your body and documenting all symptoms and complaints, in all affected body parts following a work injury. In this scenario, all means all, including all symptoms and complaints whether they are a direct result or a consequence of the work injury.

Telling the doctor all of your symptoms and complaints, means telling every doctor you see, whether your treating doctor, or the doctor the insurance company sends you to for an evaluation, all of the symptoms and complaints and when you experience them. I tell clients all the time, you need to make sure the doctor understands what you feel and go through on your worst day, not your best day. Sometimes symptoms can wax and wane, but the bottom-line is that an injured worker is not seeking treatment for how they feel on their best day, its about how they feel at their worst. This allows the doctor to get an accurate picture of the condition or conditions the injured person is experiencing and develop a treatment plan to get the person feeling better. That’s the ultimate goal after all!

Consequential Injuries

A consequential injury is an injury or medical condition sustained as a result of an employment related injury or illness. Often times, when a person has an injury on one side of their body, like knee or ankle injury, or a shoulder or elbow injury, they overcompensate for the loss of use the injured side of their body and put more stress, wear and tear on the opposite, non-injured side. Consequential injuries can develop due to this overcompensation. It’s very important to not go all Gary Cooper or Tony Soprano when this situation occurs. I urge clients to make these complaints to the doctor immediately when they begin to have these problems. I also ask clients to make certain their doctor is actually documenting the complaints in the medical reports and making treatment recommendations based on the complaints. This is especially important in the workers’ compensation setting because the insurance company may choose to deny authorization to treatment for consequential injuries, so the sooner the complaints are documented by the treating physician, the easier it tends to be for consequential injuries it is to be accepted. Whether that’s on a voluntary basis by the insurance carrier, or through the worker’s compensation court system.

Head Injuries

Sometimes folks who experience severe injuries to their bodies also strike or injure their head as a result of the work accident. Unfortunately, these conditions can go unnoticed or undiagnosed at first, especially if there is the need for emergency triage or treatment for a bodily injury immediately after the incident. Injured workers find themselves experiencing post-concussion symptoms, or neurological problems as they seek treatment with their primary care physician or an orthopedic specialist following the injury. The rule against being the strong silent type applies in this situation as well. If you find yourself if this predicament it is very important to make all of these symptoms and complaints related to a head injury to your doctor so that he or she documents them in the reports and provides a referral to a neurologist or other specialist with the skills to treat the specific problem. The same rationale as outlined above in consequential injuries about getting approval for the requested consult and treatment from the insurance company or through the court system.

Psychological Injuries

A life changing work injury can impact a person’s life many ways, including leading to feelings of anxiety, mental anguish, and depression. These conditions are compensable and if you experiencing psychological complications following a workplace injury you have the ability to seek treatment at the expense of the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. If you find yourself in this situation, do not hold anything back, make the complaints to your treating physician, get a referral for a psychological consultation, get it submitted to the insurance carrier for approval and get yourself into treatment and on the road to feeling better.

In response to Tony Soprano’s question, about whatever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong silent type. My hope is that by properly educating injured workers about their rights and how to communicate with their doctors as a means to protect those rights we can eradicate the strong silent type mentality from the culture of workers’ compensation. In doing so, it should help the injured worker get faster access to reasonable, necessary, and causally related medical treatment for any and all condition related to their work injury and make it harder for the insurance companies to deny honest hard working people access such treatment.


A Worker’s Guide to Navigating Longshore and Maritime Workers’ Compensation Law

Nov 07, 2018 | Krista DeSmyter

Thousands of men and women are injured at work every day. Different state and federal laws can apply to the rights of these injured workers depending on several factors. Factors that determine which set of laws applies to a work injury include the place of injury, the location of the employer, the nature of the work, where the contract for employment was made and what government entity has an interest in protecting the health and sustainability of a particular work force. The overarching purpose of each state or government having workers’ compensation laws should be the same (See this post). However, there can be major differences in each state’s laws. This is because each state is sovereign, meaning it has its own laws that apply within its borders, and there can be significant differences in the laws as they apply to each work injury depending on how the legislature writes the laws. There are some groups of workers who fall under the jurisdiction of federal laws, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, where the United States has a specific, Constitution-based interest in protecting the class of workers. No matter what state or country the worker is from, workers covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act are entitled to uniformly applied federal law under the oversight of the United States Department of Labor.

Explosions, fires, equipment failures, falls and other mental and physical traumas are just a few common accidents that cause serious injuries on the job. Even the most minor injury suffered on the water or on a military base can quickly lead to a devastating and lasting condition. Many times, these conditions are not covered by state workers’ compensation laws. Sometimes, such injuries can be covered under state law as well as under federal law. If you are injured in a work accident, how do you know where to file your claim and what jurisdiction’s laws best support your family and protect your family’s future? This blog will teach you basic procedures of some federal workers’ compensation claims and will advise individuals navigating their rights to seek an attorney who will help best protect an injured workers’ rights no matter what law applies to their case.

What laws protect longshore and maritime workers?

Federally mandated laws established to protect workers injured while working on waterways, overseas or on military bases include:

  • The Jones Act ­– Protects workers injured on ships or vessels due to the negligence of a ship owner, captain or fellow employee. Under the law, injured workers can recover medical care and cost of living expenses.
  • The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act – Protects land-based maritime workers, such as vessel repairmen or cargo loaders, who suffer injuries or illnesses related to their work. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act will cover workers injured while loading, unloading, repairing or making maritime vessels. The United States government has a basis in the Constitution to oversee admiralty injuries and to uniformly protect the work force that is so important to the national economy through commerce and defense. See United States Constitution, Article III, Section2 and Article 1, Section 8. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides compensation for medical care and wage loss/disability benefits.
  • The Defense Base Act – Provides protection to employees working outside the United States on United States military bases or under a contract with the United States government for public works or for national defense. Examples of such workers are linguists, security/police forces, cultural advisors, translators, construction workers, truck drivers, engineers, and project managers. The United States government has an interest in protecting this unique work force who are protecting the interests of the United States overseas. The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and applies the same provisions to the workers it protects. The Defense Base Act provides compensation for medical care and wage loss/disability benefits.
  • The Non-Appropriated Funds and Instrumentalities Act – Protects civilian employees providing services to the U.S. Armed Forces, including those who work for Army and Air Force Exchange Services, Army and Air Force Motion Picture Services, on-shore Navy Ship Stores, Navy Exchanges, Marine Corps Exchanges, Coast Guard Exchanges and other agencies of the United States under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces conducted for the comfort, pleasure, contentment and mental and physical improvement of personnel of the Armed Forces. See https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/nfia.htm. The Non-Appropriated Funds and Instrumentalities Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and applies the same provisions to the workers it protects. The Non-Appropriated Funds and Instrumentalities Act provides compensation for medical care and wage/loss disability benefits. 

Is there a time restriction for making a claim?

Yes. In general, the time you have to file a legal claim after a work injury is limited. You must notify your employer of the work injury as soon as possible, preferably in writing, after a work injury. The time for filing an actual claim within the jurisdiction under which an injury is covered is limited. Also known as the statute of limitations, the time limitation to file a claim can be as short as one to three years from the date of injury. Specifically, under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the extensions of the Act described above, the time for filing a claim is within one year after sustaining a work injury or from the last day of payment of benefits, whichever is later. This statute can vary depending on the nature of your case. If you wait to file a legal claim until the statute of limitations has expired, you may lose your rights to compensation. That’s why it’s important to seek legal help as soon as you can after a work injury. An attorney at ChasenBoscolo is ready to help you protect your rights and meet any time requirements for making a claim under the laws of whatever jurisdiction best protects your rights.

Why do you need an attorney?

 Without the help of an experienced attorney, you may not receive the full amount of compensation you are entitled to under the law. Insurance companies may think they can take advantage of you and offer you less money than you deserve for your injuries and lost wages. Insurance companies try to save money by steering an injured worked toward a jurisdiction with less injured worker protections. This is wrong. An experienced attorney knows how to preserve your claim for workers’ compensation benefits in a timely manner in the jurisdictions that cover your claim, and they can pursue your claim under the laws most favorable to sustaining and protecting your and your family’s present and future. Like much of life, the answers to these questions usually are not crystal clear. An attorney at ChasenBoscolo is ready to help. We will take the time to talk with you about your goals, find out how we may be able to fight for you and put your best interests first in determining how to advance your case. Whether you were injured on an unseaworthy vessel or while loading cargo onshore, if you are a seaman, longshoreman, harbor worker or military contractor and were injured on the job or due to someone else’s negligence, you will benefit from experienced legal help.


What is My Case Worth and How is it Determined?

Sep 20, 2018 | Tom Teodori

If you’ve made it to this page, its probably because you, a family member or friend sustained injuries resulting from the negligence of a company or individual. According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle crashes in the United States during 2017 resulted in 40,100 deaths and 4,500,000 seriously injured people. Those numbers are mindboggling—110 people die each day in a motor vehicle collision and more than 12,328 are injured daily. For teenagers, car crashes are the number one cause of death. Tragically, you have a 1 in 102 odds of dying in a car crash during your lifetime. Being struck as a pedestrian is 1 in 561 and for those riding motorcycles, the odds are 1 in 846. Slip and fall statistics are also alarming. You have a 1 in 119 odds of dying as a result of a fall. The above numbers are ridiculously high, and you can see the real life and close-to-home tragic consequences of such events.

Negligence is frequently the result of somebody’s violation of the safety rules which are designed to protect us and keep us safe. Some sort of distraction, lack of proper attention, inadequate training, not following protocols, taking short cuts and otherwise not doing what a reasonable person would do creates the negligent conduct. When that safety violation occurs, the negligent party has an obligation to make things right. The question is—what is right?

How much money is right? What factors are considered in valuing an injury claim?

Although some might think it unseemly to value injury claims in dollars, that is the only method our system of justice allows. The United States’ system of justice derived from the common law system developed in England. Although many changes and modifications were made following our Declaration of Independence in 1776, we still hold to the judicial system that requires a negligent wrongdoer to fully compensate an injured party for his or her losses. Failure to do so is a failure to do justice. We are very fortunate to have the system we do because a justice system used in other parts of the world dates back to around 1754 B.C. Known for Babylonia King Hammurabi, its called the Code of Hammurabi. You are likely familiar with this justice system based upon retribution, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.

So, returning to your inquiry, what is a case worth? Numerous factors dramatically affect the value of an injury claim. Many will be discussed below, but some common factors include the defendant’s conduct, the injuries sustained, medical care, lost wages, permanent injury and where the injury occurred. Although you may have heard from a friend or family member about a formula for determining case value, that system or process really has not existed for decades. Insurance companies today use computers to determine case value. Experienced injury attorneys are aware of this and have the tools and resources to fight for fair compensation.

Are there any liability issues?

The first step in assessing proper case value is resolving any and all liability issues. Liability simply means who is at fault. Is the at fault party completely at fault, or only partially at fault? Is fault disputed? Depending on the state where the negligence occurred, fault is crucial. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are three of the five jurisdictions in the United States that follow the concept of contributory negligence. In most states, comparative negligence is the standard. Why is that important to case value? In contributory negligence states, if the injured person is even 1% at fault then he or she is not entitled to any money—nothing! A harsh result, but that’s the legal standard in contributory negligence jurisdictions. In most of the US, the standard is one of comparative negligence. In such states, a comparison is made between the negligence of the parties and the injured person’s money award is reduced by his/her comparative negligence. So in a contributory negligence jurisdiction, if the injured party is found 1% at fault for a car crash, there would be no recovery. However, if with same set of facts the car crash occurred in a comparative jurisdiction (Pennsylvania) and the jury awarded $100,000.00 to the injured person, the award would be reduced by the injured person’s negligence (1% = $1,000.00), so the award would total $99,000.00.

Click here to learn more about how contributory negligence effects slip and fall cases.

How does an insurance company evaluate the value of your case?

In the past, an insurance company adjuster would use his/her common sense, education, training and experience to determine case value. However, in the mid 1990s, the claims departments of most large insurance companies underwent a radical transformation based upon suggestions by McKinsey Consulting. The suggestions were designed to reduce the amounts insurance companies were paying to injury victims, thereby dramatically increasing profits. So currently, most insurance companies use computer software based upon potentially hundreds to thousands of different data points to determine case value. One such program is called Colossus, which was originally created by Computer Science Corporation and leased to hundreds of insurance companies. The human element in reviewing claims has been significantly reduced, and at times, all but eliminated. The insurance industry cost savings have been huge while payments to injury victims have been dramatically decreased.

So, if an insurance company is going to use computer software to reduce the value of a case, what can be done about it? First, it’s important to retain a law firm experienced in handling claims with insurance companies using the computer software. Accurate documentation of injuries, type of medical care, body parts, loss of enjoyment, medical procedure codes, supporting records, medical billing codes, permanent injuries, etc. are important when preparing settlement demands that will be assessed by the computer.

Second, it’s critical to retain a lawyer and a law firm with a well-earned reputation for going to court. Insurance companies track and record which law firms fight for their clients by filing suit and which lawyers are more likely to just take the money and run. If your lawyer has a reputation for settling, you will get less of an offer than another lawyer with a reputation for fighting for his/her client. Normally, settlement value increases after suit is filed and may continue to increase as you get closer to the actual trial date.

Third, be prepared for a fight and you must remain patient. If the insurance company makes you an unfairly low offer and suit is filed on your behalf, the insurance company may hold on to its money until very close to trial. Insurance companies understand that they have the money and it doesn’t make much difference whether they pay today or one year from now. It’s not going to have much, if any, impact on the large insurance company. Insurance companies make money over time on their money through investments, so the delay is normally nothing but beneficial for insurance companies. You, on the other hand, have lost time from work, received less than you thought for the value of your vehicle, incurred medical bills that threaten to turn you over to credit agencies, spent through your savings and now feel the need to settle your claim. The insurance company now has you at a disadvantage. Again, an experienced injury lawyer will assist you through this difficult process and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of the factors to consider in assessing case value include:

  1. The defendant’s behavior – The more outrageous the negligent behavior, the better the case value.
  2. The defendant – Will the defendant make a good or bad witness?
  3. The amount of insurance coverage
  4. The type of negligence claim – Minor rear-end crash versus tractor trailer setting off chain reaction collision.
  5. What county suit could be filed in – Certain jurisdictions are more favorable and insurance companies are aware.
  6. The injuries sustained and their extent and duration – Muscle strains versus herniated discs, brain injuries, fractures
  7. How the injuries effect your overall physical and mental well being
  8. The physical pain and mental suffering in the past and expected in the future
  9. Scarring – Scar to the face worth more than scar on back
  10. Medical expenses in the past and expected in the future
  11. Loss of earning in the past and expected in the future
  12. Past and future pain, permanent impairment, loss of mobility, companionship, enjoyment of the things you enjoy

No two cases are the same, and even similar facts and injuries frequently lead to widely different outcomes. What may be relatively minor for one person may be devastating for another—how can a computer make that determination? The problem is, insurance companies rely upon them to perform that function thousands of times per day. There is no humanity in using a computer to determine the seriousness of an injury and how it impacts and changes a person’s life. For that, you need an experienced lawyer on your side, one the insurance company knows will file suit if a fair offer is not made. Even so, because of the use of Colossus or similar programs, the insurance adjuster doesn’t have the flexibility to go above the computer value, so the decision must be made—settle or sue?

Ultimately, your case is worth this— what you’re willing to accept in settlement and if not, then what you are awarded at trial. A skilled trial attorney should be able to give you a pretty good idea of the value range of your claim based upon their experience.

A lawyer should also explain the settle or sue options so that a decision in the client’s best interests can be made. If the case ultimately proceeds to trial, then the value will be determined by a jury using many of the twelve criteria listed above.


Anatomy of a Work Injury Through the Eyes of a Lawyer That Cares

Aug 29, 2018 | Matt Peffer

One of the first things that I learned as a trial lawyer is that I should be educating, advising and litigating for my client. For that to happen, I need to know the same things that we were all taught as young children. What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who knows what happened? Why did it happen? And most importantly, what do you expect me to do for you? So with that, let’s explore all the areas of law that a work injury can spread to.

The Worst Day of Your Life

As part of your work day, you are asked by your branch manager to drive from your Dupont Circle worksite to the Vienna, Virginia, office to cover for a sick colleague. As you discuss this with your boss, you let her know that you have a conference call with the Atlanta office at 1 p.m. She tells you no worries; you should attend by telephone on your way to Vienna. That sounds like a plan, and before you leave, you check in with your significant other who is on their way to a job interview since they have been out of work for the last six months. Oh, and you send a text to your son that you will watch his game on Game Changer, since there will be no way you will make it back home to Maryland in time for his game. Just another day in your life, and it can’t end soon enough, you think to yourself. However, somewhere west of Falls Church, Virginia, while relaying the data to the Atlanta office, something happens. The next thing you see is your significant other holding your hand in the hospital. You are told that you are lucky to be alive because your car looks like an accordion. The tractor trailer that crashed into your car also hit another car, and that driver was not so lucky. As you try to piece this together, you notice the pins and rods sticking out of your ankle, and your back and head are throbbing with pain. You ask your significant other, what are we going to do? Unfortunately, this kind of day plays out all too frequently. As a trial lawyer, my sole goal is to try to help you put your life together again through the use of the laws that exist to protect you and everyone when this happens. So, let’s begin.

Let’s examine what happened to you. We know from the discussions at the hospital that you were involved in a vehicle crash and that your injuries were caused by that crash. There are many ways to investigate how this crash happened. We can examine the police report, the first responders’ notes and the hospital records for x-rays taken of body parts that you might not know are injured. These are just some of the initial steps I take to make sure I have a basic understanding as to how your life was changed that day.

Let’s examine when it happened to you. We know from the arrival of the first responders that your life was changed at 1:32 p.m. We know from the examination of your phone records that you were on a work call to Atlanta at the time of the crash. We know from your car data, as well as the surrounding road cameras, that you were not speeding and did not leave your lane. We also know from the letters we sent out to the company of the truck driver that they cannot dispose of the phone records or other communications that may have been taking place at the time of the crash or it will be held against them later.

Let’s examined where it happened. We know from the road cameras, towing reports, police reports and reconstruction reports (as you recall, the other car driver was not so lucky) and hospital reports that the crash happened in Falls Church, Virginia.

Let’s examine who knows what happened. We know from the investigation so far that your colleagues in Atlanta heard the crash. We know from the various reports by police that other drivers witnessed the crash. We know from the hospital that your significant other was called to the hospital and given a description of what happened, as was your boss. You also found out that statements were given to all the insurance companies involved.

Let’s examine why it happened. We know from our investigation so far that you were not the cause of this crash. However, that is not the full picture. We also have to know why your injuries happened as a result of the crash. I need to examine not only all the medical reports and tests from the hospital, but also all the treatment reports from the doctors you will need to see and pay to recover from your injuries.

How a Lawyer That Cares Protects You

As a trial lawyer, I have a pretty good idea of why injuries happen, and it usually never starts with “I meant to do that.” The fact of the matter is that all injuries can be prevented—it’s just a question of when it could have been prevented and did the person or entity want to invest the time or money it would take to prevent the injury. Now join me on a journey to put your life together again through the laws that may be available to you.

I know of only two ways that I, as a personal injury lawyer, can put your life together again under the laws: medical treatment and money. I put them in that order because if I take care of your needs, the money will take care of itself. Your first cause of action to rectify the harms brought to you and your family is to pursue a negligence action against the responsible parties. We look at many things when considering who to hold responsible for your harms, including where should we hold those parties responsible. The responsible parties to take care of you medically and financially can be the driver of the truck, the company who employs the driver of the truck, the parties responsible for the design of the roadway you were on, your employer or your own car insurance, among others. In your case, we will decide together which state or federal court we should hold the parties responsible in so that we can put your life together again. In a negligence action, the laws are designed to address both your economic and non-economic harms (pain and suffering), and depending on the state, we will want to pursue it in a court that provides the fullest recovery. However, this will take a considerable period of time, and you have bills to pay and a life to continue while you receive medical care.

We should also look at what other laws there are to protect you. Your injury arose out of and in the course of your employment, and therefore the workers’ compensation laws are available to help you medically and financially. While you are recovering and not able to work, the workers’ compensation laws of at least the District of Columbia, and maybe the surrounding DMV, will provide you with lifetime medical care at the expense of your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, as well as tax-free weekly income replacement benefits to help financially during your recovery. This is an important law that is sometimes overlooked, but for injuries at work it is invaluable to you, since your employer is required to purchase them as part of your employee benefits.

If we believe that this life changing injury has permanently restricted you from engaging in certain job duties of your employment, you may have rights under the American with Disabilities Act. It is not okay that your career and your family’s right to happiness has been put in jeopardy as a result of this injury. Although a personal injury attorney may not specifically handle this part of your case, he or she should be able to educate as to who may be able to help.

If we believe that this life changing injury has completely eliminated your ability to ever return to gainful employment, you may have access to medical care and financial assistance under the social security laws of your state. This may include a claim for social security disability benefits which you have been paying into because of your employment. Once again, a personal injury attorney should be able to educate you as to what steps to take to protect this right. You may also have been prudent enough to have purchased a disability policy in case of your inability to work, or even your employer, as part of your employment, has a disability policy on your behalf that you could turn to for medical and financial assistance.

What You Should Expect

Now that you have been educated about your rights, you need to be advised as to what your best course is to put your life back together. We will discuss not only the time and effort it will take, but a personal injury will be open and honest about what it will cost you. In most cases, it will cost you nothing as personal injury cases are handled on a contingency basis. This basically means that your personal injury lawyer will not get paid unless you get paid. As all of us are aware, if it’s not worth fighting for, then it is not worth pursuing. I never have represented a person with a life changing injury and heard them say, “My life and my family’s life is not worth fighting for.”

At each step of the process, timely advice is the key to putting your life back together. Therefore, communication with your personal injury lawyer is a sure sign that they care about you. This is all about you. Without you, there is no personal injury case. This relationship is the foundation on which your recovery will begin.

As the saying, “put up or shut up” implies, we are going to have to fight for your rights. Your life changing injury happened, and somebody has to say, “I was the responsible party.” As simple as it is to say, I’m sorry for what I have done, it’s not that simple when money and reputation are involved. In order to put your life back together again, a personal injury lawyer may need to go to trial to have a jury of your peers hold the company of the truck driver responsible, or to force your underinsured insurance policy to pay if they refuse to pay you the benefits you purchased from them. However you choose your fight and against whom you fight, make no doubt about it, you will need a personal injury lawyer to lead the way.

As I said earlier, one of the first things I learned many years ago about what a personal injury lawyer should do: Educate, Advise, and Litigate for your clients, I have spent over 20 years of my life discovering that those are the tools of a personal injury lawyer. I have also discovered that in order to be a personal injury lawyer, I must always strive to be:

A lawyer that will always have time to listen to you. A lawyer that will always have time to put your interest first. A lawyer that will always fight for you.


Results: An Experienced Trial Lawyer’s Understanding of Brain Injuries in Personal Injury and Sports Injury Cases Takes Care of the Client

Aug 20, 2018 | Ben Boscolo

How does a trial lawyer who understands concussions, head injuries and traumatic brain injuries take care of people who are hurt in car wrecks, falls or sports?

If you have hurt your head in a car accident or crash, a trip or slip and fall or a sports injury, you may be having many problems that you do not connect to your head injury. If you are have injured in any of these ways, a concussion or brain injury can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Headaches or feeling of pressure in the head
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Memory problems or amnesia about your accident
  • Dizziness or if you see stars when you were hurt
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Appearing dazed
  • Problems responding to questions
  • Problems with word finding
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

Questions about how brain injuries cause these kind of symptoms are answered in this blog.

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If you remember one thing, choosing to have your case handled from the beginning by an experienced trial lawyer who understands representing injury victims with head injuries increases your chance of getting justice.

Here are two examples of the results we secured for clients who asked for our help after they suffered a concussion:

Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury While Playing Soccer

A soccer player reached out to CHASENBOSCOLO to help him deal with the complications of a concussion that occurred as a result of playing soccer. As a result of the player’s choice to hire an experienced trial lawyer who understands traumatic brain injuries, he received almost three quarters of a million dollars in benefits. More importantly, the player will receive all of the medical care he needs for his traumatic brain injury for the rest of his life.

Some people think a brain injury to a professional soccer player does not have much to do with the problems they experience from a concussion in a motor vehicle collision or a fall. Hearing the player’s story will help anyone who has a head injury understand: (1) the symptoms they can have; and (2) how the insurance company will behave.

Our client suffered a concussion when he was elbowed in the head. After the hit, our client experienced immediate symptoms included a loss of consciousness, dizziness and confusion. Over the course of the next two days he was dazed, confused and struggling to participate in the daily activities of life. However, like many folks who suffer traumatic brain injuries, he was in denial. Having grown up in a sports culture that encouraged him to “shake off” minor injuries like hitting his head, he did not think these symptoms prevented him from playing. More importantly, as a person who did not let anything stop him from accomplishing his goals, he was committed to not missing any games.

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The player was cleared by the team’s orthopedic surgeon, not a doctor who generally takes care of head injuries, to return to play. Based on his desire to play soccer and the opinion of the doctor, the player chose to play in another game two days later. He will regret this decision for the rest of his life. He started the game despite having ongoing symptoms of the concussion two days earlier. During the game, he was hit in the head for a second time. This hit caused a dramatic worsening of his post-concussion symptoms.

Since suffering that concussion, our client never regained full brain function. For about a year, his employer gave him a front office job that simply required him to sit at a desk, use the computer and telephone and talk to people. Even these simple job duties proved to be too great for him. This former elite athlete was not able to answer the phone or use a computer due to the symptoms of his brain injury.

Even worse, his life’s plans were derailed. While playing soccer, he had formed a business running soccer camps and coaching youth soccer players as a way to both supplement his income and to begin planning for his post-career life. Before the injury, he was involved in all of the activities that go into running a business. He marketed the business, entered into contracts, coached players, made personal appearances and participated in the day-to-day operation of the business. Before his concussion, he had no problems balancing the e-mails, phone calls and meetings that were required to build and run his business with the demands of his work as a professional athlete. Multitasking was part of his daily life. After the traumatic brain injury, he tried to keep his business running. Although he could no longer participate in camps or coach kids, he tried to help by making personal appearance and performing administrative work for the business. The player did what he could to market, negotiate contracts and respond to daily e-mails. As time passed, he learned that he could not even do these simple activities that required virtually no physical activity. Looking at the computer screen for an extended period of time worsened his symptoms. Attempting to multitask worsened his symptoms. He had no choice but to give the business to his partner

As a result of these back-to-back concussions, the player is now unable to work in any meaningful way. While he can function as a husband and father for a few hours each day, these back-to-back concussions prevent this former professional athlete from engaging in the simple activities of daily living for more than a few hours at a time. He is now forced to spend most of his time in his home without much noise or light in an effort to prevent the worsening of his post-concussive symptoms.

The player’s health was gone and his ability to care for his family was in danger. He asked us to protect his family. We decided that the best way to do this was to file a workers’ compensation claim.

When we did, his former team denied that he had any ongoing symptoms as a result of the concussions he suffered. The claim was contested from beginning to end. The club contended that the player did not have a traumatic brain injury. The club accused him of exaggeration. The club said he was doing this just to get money. Since there is no test that can prove a person has a traumatic brain injury, the club used that fact to support its argument.

We presented his case to an Administrative Law Judge. To overcome the fact that there were no tests prove there is a brain injury, we presented the testimony of two neurologists and a neuropsychologist who had cared for the player.

While the Judge was considering the case, the club agreed to a settlement that will allow the player to protect himself and his family. The player’s medical expenses, which to date exceed $100,000.00, have all be paid by the workers compensation insurance company. The club will continue to pay for the medical care he needs for the rest of his life. Finally, as a result of our efforts, our client received in excess of $600,000 to make up the wages he lost as a result of the end of his career.

If insurance companies doubt that a highly motivated professional athlete actually suffers from traumatic brain injury, you can be sure that they will doubt all hard-working men and women who suffer with post-concussion symptoms. If you have suffered a head injury while working, talk to a trial lawyer who is knowledgeable about traumatic brain injuries. If you do so, he or she will fight for an outcome that protects you and your family

Concussion or Traumatic Brain in a Car Accident or Motor Vehicle Collision

If you suffer a concussion in a motor vehicle collision, you should talk with a trial lawyer who understands traumatic brain injuries. A lawyer with experience in representing people with head injuries will help you get the results that you deserve.

In 2013, a woman who was a community fixture in a Maryland suburb of the District of Columbia suffered a head injury in a wreck. She was a long-time employee of the community’s school system. At the time she was injured, she co-owned a toy store in the center of town. Prior to the motor vehicle collision, she was in perfect health and had an excellent memory. She was responsible for maintaining her toy store’s inventory. Her former business partner told us that she had a computer-like recall of toys the store had in stock and what each toy cost.

On the day of the injury, the woman was leaving the store’s parking lot. A traffic light controls the exit. The woman stopped at the traffic light and waited until it turned green. She looked to her left, her right and back to her left to be sure that traffic was stopped. When she was sure it was safe, she entered the intersection. A driver coming from her left in the left hand lane of traffic ran the red light and crashed into the driver’s side of the woman’s car. The airbags deployed. The woman was tossed from side to side hitting her head during the collision. She immediately developed a lump on her forehead and had cut on her head. She was dazed but did not lose consciousness.

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In addition to injuring her head, she suffered injuries to her left shoulder, upper and lower back, and the left leg from the knee down.

At the emergency room, she denied she had lost consciousness. But, she could not remember anything between hearing a boom and realizing that someone was at her door asking her if she was all right. She has absolutely no recollection of the period of time right after the crash.

In the days, weeks and months that followed the collision, she had headaches, dizziness, balance issues and memory loss. Simple things like finding her keys or remembering what toys were out of stock escaped her mind.

Our client is a very tough person. She does not like or trust doctors.

Other than some treatment that was designed to try to improve her balance problems, our client chose not to get much medical care and treatment. When she was still experiencing memory loss, headaches, balance problems and dizziness, we sent her to see a top-notch neurologist. That neurologist determined that our client had a brain injury. He recommended neurological care. Our client chose not to get this care because it would only provide temporary relief and she does not like going to doctors. The neurologist concluded that our client lost 15% of the function of her brain.docotrhart

Our client also was afraid to drive because she thought another irresponsible driver would ignore the traffic safety rules and hit her again. Our client was sure that she was going to be in another crash. Her driving anxiety is so bad that she never drives past the intersection where the collision happened. In order to help her overcome her fear we sent her to see a highly regarded psychiatrist. That doctor determined that our client suffered from depression and anxiety as a result the motor vehicle collision. He recommended psychological care. Our client chose not to get medical care because it would only provide temporary relief and she does not like going to doctors.

The insurance company, as they always do, based its evaluation of the case on the medical care and its costs. Since our client did not like doctors and did not get much medical care, her medical expenses were not very high. In the weeks and months leading up to trial, the insurance company offered only $57,000 for the life-changing traumatic brain injuries that our client suffered.

We decided that the case had to be presented to a jury. The case was tried for two days. The neurologist explained how the traumatic brain injury occurred and a friend, family member and former business partner all testified as to their observations of how the motor vehicle collision changed our client’s life.

After learning about traumatic brain injuries in general and how our client’s life was changed, the jury returned a $500,000 verdict.

This is why it is important to have a trial lawyer who is knowledgeable about traumatic brain injuries handle your personal injury or workers’ compensation case

The Most Important Thing to Remember

The simple truth is that concussions and traumatic brain injury are serious, life-changing injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are common in car wrecks, fall or sports injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are hard to understand and treat. It is very hard to prove that a person has a traumatic brain injury. Insurance companies and their lawyers know how to get their clients off the hook if you suffer a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck, fall or sports injury. If you want the results you deserve, you should talk with a trial lawyer who has actually tried cases involving traumatic brain injury.

CHASENBOSCOLO has more than twenty experienced trial lawyers waiting to help you, and we’re ready to help day or night.


Authorization Denied: When Health Insurance Becomes a Barrier to Treatment

Jul 23, 2018 | Ashley Strandjord

Nestled between the Bronx and Manhattan, the most serene location I’ve ever found in New York City is the Harlem River at 6:00 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

The murky water reflected the impending sunrise off its oily sheen. After attaching the riggings to the shell and climbing in, both the stillness and the serenity of the river rippled away.

I rowed for three years in college. The dreaded two-a-days workouts and indoor erg pulls were the only downside to trolling between Yankee Stadium and the Broadway Bridge. At some point during my third year, I began to notice a dull ache in my hip after practice. Nothing some rest (and ice cream) couldn’t fix. As race season ramped up, the pain intensified and was less willing to subside with my self-prescribed therapy à la mode.

I sought treatment with the athletic department’s trainer. “Just ice it and it will go away,” they said. It didn’t. Back to the trainer’s office. “Have you tried heat? It will help.” The pain persisted. I then went to my family practitioner. “Have you tried a course of anti-inflammatories?” Yes, but just like everything else so far, no relief.

In the meantime, race season had ended, finals were approaching and I found I was having trouble walking back from the subway after work. I was given a referral to see an orthopedic surgeon. After performing a few quick tests, my orthopedic surgeon told me we needed an MRI and it was possible I had torn “something” in my hip.

Jumping Through Hoops for Insurance Authorization

The MRI order was promptly denied by my health insurance company. However, they approved an x-ray of my hip. My doctor and I agreed that although the MRI was what he had ordered, I should go ahead and get the x-ray taken.

Results: “Unremarkable.” Back to the doctor so he could inform my insurance company I needed an MRI. Again, it was denied with a note indicating it was “unlikely a 22-year-old female is having difficulty walking.” However, they approved a CT scan with contrast. Not a procedure I’d ever like to repeat, but I got it done (at, of course, the facility my insurance company identified).

Back to my surgeon who said, “We still really need an MRI to see what is going on.” Turns out, the CT scan had been inconclusive. On the plus side, they had injected some lidocaine and I was feeling great! (For a mere two days.)

The MRI was finally approved and done (again at a facility identified and approved of by my insurance company). The results were in. I had “an acetabular labrum tear and possible degenerative changes.” In English, please? I tore a small piece of cartilage near the femoral head and the pelvis, and there were indications of arthritis.

I was then informed the surgery did not come with a guaranteed success story. In fact, it was unclear whether the effects of the surgery would last a few months or the rest of my life. “What about if I want to have kids?” We don’t have the research. “Will I be able to go back to rowing?” Absolutely not. “What about hiking? Walking a strong dog on a leash?” You should be okay. “Dancing? Running? Bicycling?” All of those are fine—but no yoga or Pilates. After this surgery, you will be forever restricted from those activities and anything that isolates the hip muscles and joint. I was 22 and contemplating what my life would look like with a perpetual cloud of uncertain future surgery and/or restrictions.

I went for a second opinion (as you might imagine, not covered by my insurance company) and a review of all the studies performed on my hip. I went to a prestigious hospital in New York City to consult with a doctor that spends the large majority of his time on torn acetabular labrums. It turned out to be an incredible waste of time. I was seen by the doctor’s physician’s assistant, who listened to my description of the pain and its duration. The doctor himself came in for less than four minutes. During that time, he spoke rapid-fire and there was no time for any of my follow-up questions. He told me my MRI images were “far too fuzzy to even interpret,” and, “I’d have to measure your legs if I’m going to do this surgery—it might have to be a total hip replacement, I’m not sure yet,” and, “You’ll have to get new MRIs done at the place I like down on 58th. Go there and have them sent back over to me and we’ll go from there.” And then he was gone. And so was I.

It was time to schedule surgery with my orthopedic surgeon, which my insurance company again denied. My doctor appealed the denial on my behalf, explaining I was an otherwise perfectly healthy 22-year-old who could not walk without pain.

Denied again. My surgeon called to explain the denial. He indicated that often the denials are decided by employees of the insurance company who have little to no medical training or background, but rather follow a set of parameters provided. He again appealed on my behalf, using the multiple studies as support for the surgery. At this point I was tired of the run-around and constantly having to rely on someone else to advocate on my behalf. A short time later, the surgery was finally approved.

Becoming My Own Advocate

I was elated to find out that not only was the surgery approved, but so were 24 visits to a physical therapist after surgery. The physical therapy was to be performed at a location entirely inconvenient to both my home and office locations. I did some research of physical therapy centers closer to my home and office and sought the advice of friends and officemates. I was fortunate enough to work as an administrative assistant in a law firm specializing in medical malpractice at the time—so the advice was well taken. I took that information and called my insurance company myself.

I explained that the location they had identified to attend physical therapy sessions was inconvenient and was not the location where I wanted to seek treatment. I gave them the name of the facility not two miles down the road from my office, which was accessible during my lunch hour and okay with my employer. I expressed my willingness to attend physical therapy (I really wanted to get better and get back to what I was doing) and that I took my healthcare very seriously. I was told a decision would be made but that there were no guarantees and I shouldn’t get my hopes up.

To their credit, the insurance company approved my physical therapy at the location I designated. I got the approval letter in the mail and it seemed like it was all coming together. The surgery was a few days away, and I had the physical therapy all lined up—now all I needed to do was rest, recover, and get back to my daily life. Until I scrutinized the letter—which indicated they had only approved 18 sessions of therapy at that location. I rooted through all my paperwork (and there was a mountain of it) to find the other approval letter that allocated 24 physical therapy sessions. I looked at them. And read them again. Read each one over—placed them side by side and upside-down. One said 24 sessions. The other 18. Apparently, asking to have the same treatment at a different facility resulted in the loss of 6 sessions.

I gave the papers to family members to read to ensure I wasn’t missing anything. I asked the attorneys in the firm to glance over them. Nobody could explain the loss of 6 sessions of physical therapy on the eve of surgery simply by switching locations, and I still had unanswered questions that no one seemed to be able to answer. But I knew someone who could.

A telephone call to my insurance company confirmed they had unilaterally decreased the number of sessions I needed post-surgery. I placed a call to my doctor’s office to let him know what had happened. He agreed the facility I was now going to attend was superior to the one identified by the insurance company, but there appeared to be no rationale as to why they slashed 6 sessions from my treatment. He told me not to worry—we would start with the 18 treatments, and he would prescribe more if I needed them.

The surgery was a success. I awkwardly clunked around on crutches for two weeks until my post-operative visit with the surgeon. He had the biggest smile and asked (with far too much enthusiasm) if I wanted to see the photos from the surgery. No, I did not. Turns out, it wasn’t a question; we were going to review them together. We looked at the tear—which was much worse than previously seen on the MRI. We looked at the femoral head, which had a lot of arthritic bone that was removed during the surgery. We reviewed every detail of the surgery—and I was finally given clearance to attend physical therapy and take a proper shower.

Hitting the Wall

After 18 sessions of lunch-hour physical therapy, the physical therapist and my doctor agreed I needed at least 18 more sessions to ensure proper healing and that the surgical repair would last. They both prescribed 18 more sessions. However, the insurance company had not made its decision regarding the continued treatment before my next scheduled session.

I asked the physical therapy facility if they would be able to provide treatment in the interim. They were willing to help, provide treatment and lend support wherever they could. A few days later, I received an approval letter for continued physical therapy sessions from the insurance company. Six more sessions. One-third of what had been prescribed by treating professionals.

I grumbled and fought with the insurance company, roping in my doctor and the physical therapist. The insurance company wouldn’t budge and refused additional treatments. 24 sessions in total were the most they would cover, and if I wanted to continue I certainly could—paying out of pocket, of course.

I attended my last 6 sessions, keeping in close communication with my surgeon and the physical therapist. I asked if I could have them draft and approve a home exercise program that I could do at home in lieu of paying out-of-pocket for continued visits. They both agreed this was an excellent idea—but if there was any pain I was to return to their care immediately.

Creating the Spark

While all of this was going on, I had been working in a law firm while trying to figure out whether I really wanted to go to law school. I had been working in the same firm for over seven years at that point, and I wanted to make sure that law school was really and truly my dream. Going through this experience only solidified my desire so that I could advocate for others. Along the way I learned how to effectively advocate for myself both in and out of a legal forum, and I am always enthusiastic about using my skill set to the benefit of others.

It’s been over eight years since the surgery. I can live without yoga and Pilates. My husband and I (attempt to) ride a tandem bicycle on occasion. I’ve hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail while pregnant. I chase after my son on uneven terrain and skillfully dodge dump-trucks in my living room.

It’s no longer the dark waters of the Harlem, but I’ve found serene places all over the DMV—and I can’t wait to find more.

Useful Tips for Those Dealing With Injuries:

  • Be your own advocate.
  • Talk to your doctor and ask questions.
  • Bring a notepad with questions you have and space to write down what the doctor says.
  • Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and ensure you both have a clear understanding of the course of treatment.
  • Ask why your health insurance, or your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance (if you were hurt on the job), is denying treatment recommended by your doctors.
  • Work with your treating providers to find alternatives while you’re waiting on authorization (or if authorization is denied).
  • Be persistent. Sometimes, it will take several “nos” to finally get a “yes.”
  • If insurance is requiring you to go to a provider that doesn’t work for you, see if there are alternatives available. Do the research to find a better location that accepts your insurance.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to advocate on your behalf for necessary treatment.

The Life-Changing Impacts of Injuries

Jul 16, 2018 | Kyle Shoemaker

Many people may know someone injured in a traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle collision or a fall. However, many people don’t, or the people they know who’ve been hurt have kept this information private. As personal injury lawyers, it is our job to help others, particularly juries, to understand the real and meaningful ways that an injury disrupts the lives of our clients, particularly when that injury is caused by another’s actions and decisions.

As anyone who commutes in the Baltimore-Washington metro area knows, rear end collisions occur every day. Sometimes, the drivers and passengers involved walk away with no problems. Other times, they are not so lucky. To illustrate the unseen effects of injury, consider this relatively simple example for a car crash involving Gary. (To be clear, Gary is not a real person, he exists only for this example). Gary is 32 years old and works as a welder for a utility company. He is driving work on an ordinary Monday morning when, while waiting at a red light, his car is rear ended. The police are called, the parties exchange information and both vehicles are able to drive away. Gary goes on to work. After all, he doesn’t feel too badly immediately following the crash, and he has bills to pay and a family to support. Since Gary works for a utility company, his work is physical. He has to move and lift heavy tools, move large metal objects, and engage in other physical activity. As the day wear on, what began as tightness in his neck and back became worse.

To an outside observer, neck and/or back pain may not seem like something that is terribly serious. Someone who doesn’t have first hand experience with this sort of traumatic injury may think that a bit of neck or back pain is no big deal. And Gary himself may not know how serious the injury is. The true severity of an injury like Gary’s may not always be apparent in the immediate aftermath of the collision.

So let’s take a look at some of the ways in which Gary’s injuries will impact his life. To begin with the broadest view: he will experience physical pain. Back and neck pain can cause even the most mundane of movements to be painful. What will that pain actually mean to Gary in concrete, real life terms? What will that mean for his relationships, his work, his hobbies, his goals? Let’s break that down in more detail.

How Physical Injuries Effect Family Relationships

Gary is relatively young at 32 years old. He has two young children: a 3-year-old boy and a 4-month-old girl. As any parent can attest, caring for young children requires a tremendous amount of work, even on the good days. Now imagine that Gary has arrived home after a long day of physical work. Even without his injury, he is tired and probably a bit sore. Layer on top of that the pain and stiffness from Gary’s injuries, and all of a sudden playing with or caring for his children is a much more difficult task. No parent wants this kind of interaction turn into a physically painful and difficult experience. A three year old may not understand why Daddy doesn’t want to pick him up when he gets home from work. Imagine how that makes Gary feel when he sees the hurt on his child’s face when he tells them no, Daddy can’t carry you.

But that’s not the only relationship that suffers when someone is injured. These days, many two-parent households are ones where both parents have to work to make ends meet. This means that both parents need to find time to take care of ordinary household chores (anything from major home repairs, to everyday tasks like carrying in groceries) in between work, sleep, and taking care of the children. When one of those parents is dealing with some kind of physical injury, that division of labor can be upset. So an injured person like Gary, who is already trying to get better, may be dealing with the feelings that come along with feeling like he is not doing his part to keep the family operating day to day. Effects such as those described above can stress on a relationship, which might already be strained thanks to the daily grind of working and taking care of young children. This isn’t to imply that Gary’s wife (or the partner of any injured person) wouldn’t be understanding in a situation like this. But even “minor” neck or back injuries can have effects which can persist. When you add the psychological stress brought on by some of the other factors discussed, even the healthiest relationships suffer.

When Injuries Prevent You from Working

How do Gary’s injuries affect his work? As I mentioned, Gary is a welder for a utility company. This means he may be working outdoors. Or maybe he works in confined locations inside power plants. He may find himself bending, crouching, or climbing. Welding is a skilled trade that is in demand in many areas. Welders have the potential to make a decent wage, but the work is physical. If Gary is temporarily placed on a limited or off work status, his family will likely face financial hardship. Only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. In the D.C. Metro area, there’s no way $1,000 covers rent or a mortgage; never mind utilities, gas, food… the list goes on and on. If Gary’s off work (or “disability period”) lasts a long time, or if he loses his job entirely, that financial hardship goes up tenfold – putting even more pressure on him and his family.

But that’s not all. Gary, like many Americans, takes a certain sense of pride and identity from his work, and from his ability to provide for his family. When an injury threatens Gary’s ability to go to work and provide for his family, more than just his job is threatened. Part of Gary’s very identity is threatened, and that is something that is impossible to put a price on.

When You Can’t Do the Things that Keep You Sane

Depending on what Gary likes to do for fun, his hobbies or recreational activities could be impacted by his injuries. If Gary enjoys physical activities like cycling, or playing basketball, or bowling with friends, he may not be able to do these things at all, or might find himself dealing with even more pain if he tries. But sports aren’t the only hobbies hampered by injury. Imagine that Gary enjoys working on cars as a way to enjoy his free time. If he has a neck or back injury that causes him pain, the last thing he will want to do after a long day of work is to get under the hood of a car. Further, if Gary is unable to spend times taking part in activities with his friends, those friendships may suffer, all because Gary was in a car crash. Even relatively stationary activities like reading a book can be affected if Gary’s neck or back pain make it difficult to sit in one position for an extended period of time.

Now, one may say that it is pessimistic to assume that all of these things will happen to Gary because he got hurt. But ALL of these things don’t necessarily have to happen to one person for that person’s life to be impacted in unexpected ways due to an unexpected injury. Even if just SOME of these things occur, that is enough to change a person’s routine, or make the challenges of daily life more difficult than they were before the injury.

What About Driving Anxiety?

All of these factors can combine with each other to create a profound psychological impact on an injured person, particularly through feelings of anxiety, fear, isolation, anger, or helplessness. Gary, or any other victim of a motor vehicle collision, may experience fear or anxiety related to driving. This can be crippling to a person who has to drive to meet their daily needs, such as going to work, shuttling children around, or running other routine errands. Additionally, a person who curtails their own driving due to fear or anxiety loses the freedom of mobility that comes with driving. This can cause a person to limit their engagement with other people in their lives and potentially grow isolated. Let us assume that Gary had a rich social life before being involved in his collision. If he doesn’t like to drive to different places and if it hurts to take part in physical hobbies, that social life is going to suffer. Through his diminished ability to perform his job, his inability to participate in the lives of his children, and his loss of ability to travel or do the things that he used to do for fun, Gary is left with a much different daily life than the one he enjoyed before. For a relatively young adult in the prime of his life, the feelings of isolation, the lack of control over one’s situation, and the uncertainty about one’s recovery can be overwhelming and debilitating.

Getting Medical Help

It may go without saying, but injuries like Gary’s will probably require some kind of medical treatment in order to resolve. As alluded to above, neck or back injuries from a car crash can be relatively minor, in the case of “soft tissue” whiplash injuries such as sprains. Or the same kind of crash may result in more serious injuries such as a disc herniation or even a fractured vertebrae. More serious injuries like this could even require surgical treatment if more conservative treatment measures turn out not to be successful. Surgery of any kind is risky even under the best of circumstances. Neuro surgery or orthopedic surgery carries with it risk of side effects, potential for failure, or other complications. Some injured people have good health insurance that can help ease the burden of the cost of surgery and follow up care, but other injured people may face the uncertainty of not knowing how such a bill will be paid. Still others may undergo surgery in an emergency setting and then get stuck with a huge medical bill with no way to pay it. Even assuming that a is successful, a person with a serious injury may never fully recover and may be left dealing with the effects of that injury for a life time.

But Why Do Injured People Need Attorneys?

So why do injured people need attorneys? Well, let’s look back at Gary’s case: The insurance company for the vehicle that ran into him wants to close his claim as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Gary is not in a position to truly understand the real value of his claim and the insurance company knows this. That’s why Gary needs an experienced attorney that’s looking out for him. Obtaining representation when you find yourself in Gary’s position is not about taking advantage of anyone or anything. It is about making sure that the insurance company (which makes a profit by finding a way to not pay a fair claim value) does not take advantage of a person who is in a rough spot. That is why it is so important for someone who’s been injured in a car crash, slip and fall, or some other circumstance caused by another’s carelessness, to contact an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney to determine their rights and see if they need an attorney. Make sure you talk to someone who is looking out for you, and willing to go to bat for you when the insurance company tries to play games.

If you are reading this post and you’re lucky enough to have never been injured as the result of someone else’s negligence, I hope this information can give a bit of insight into what it’s like for someone who has had their life disrupted by circumstances outside of their control. If you have been injured in a car crash, a slip and fall, or as the result of another’s carelessness, I hope this has helped you understand why its important to at least consult with an attorney to help understand your rights and what you’re entitled to.

 


When It Happens In Your Town: What Survivors of Mass Shooting Events Should Know About Their Rights

Jul 10, 2018 | Elizabeth Payne-Maddalena

This post was co-authored by Benjamin Boscolo.

Recently, a mass shooting event happened at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, not far from our Greenbelt office. Five Marylanders and committed journalists lost their lives when a gunman opened fire on the newsroom, and two more were seriously injured. Our hearts go out to the reporters who were simply doing their jobs when the shooter targeted them.  ChasenBoscolo stands with the Capital Gazette, Sun Newspaper Group and the Annapolis community.  

As of the posting of this blog, there have been 168 mass shooting events in the U.S. just this year. Unfortunately, as Americans know all too well, these events can and will happen anywhere. This number will continue to go up as long as lawmakers choose to ignore the root cause of the problem. In the meantime, those who are left behind – survivors and family members of those lost – have a long, arduous road to recovery that goes on long after the cameras leave and the attention of our leaders moves on to the next tragedy.

Many people do not know are their legal rights in the wake of these events. These rights vary from survivors left with physical injuries and mental scars, to the families left behind. Our hope is that this blog helps people understand what their rights are as they try to cope and heal. This isn’t just meant for those impacted by the Gazette shooting, or the Great Mills High School shooting, or the survivors in Parkland; but also the people who’ll be targeted in the inevitable next one.

Red Flags Ignored

When I was in college, back in 2007, I did a research project focused on the psychological mindsets of mass school shooters. One thing I discovered, which still rings true today, is that there are almost always warning signs of the coming violence – warning signs that many people, including people with the power to prevent the attack, knew about. In all of the mass shootings I studied, I learned that for a variety of reasons, these red flags are ignored. When the people in power ignored the warning signs, the result was the shooter being allowed to carry out his plans uninterrupted.

While these institutions or businesses may not have actually pulled the trigger, their choosing to turn a blind eye to the threat make them civilly liable for their negligence. That is what creates the legal right for survivors and family members of victims to bring civil lawsuits in order to be compensated for the damages they suffer as a result of the shooting.

Who has the right to sue?

The law only gives certain people the right to recover in these kinds of situations. Generally, the only people with the right to sue are those survivors directly impacted by the event, and certain surviving family members of those killed in the shooting. For those unfortunate people who were at the place where the shooting occurred, they can only recover if they are in the “Zone of Danger.”

Survivors of the Shooting

People who were actually present when the event occurred rarely walk away unscathed. They either suffer physical injuries from being shot or, more significantly, emotional and mental trauma, such as post-traumatic stress; or both. Survivors have the right to file civil lawsuits for damages to help pay for:

  • Hospital treatment
  • Rehabilitation and medical treatment
  • Psychological counseling and treatment
  • Expenses related to permanent injuries, such as making a home handicap friendly
  • Lost income due to injuries
  • Pain and suffering – both physically and mentally

Anyone with a physical injury has a right to be compensated for these injuries. This includes any mental or emotional distress, trauma, and treatment needed. Survivors have the right to be compensated for the previously mentioned costs and effects of the shooting.

But what about people that only suffered mental distress as a result of the shooting?

This is much more complicated. Generally, D.C., Maryland and Virginia first require that that the person was in the “Zone of Danger”. This means you were there, in the immediate area of the shooting (same room/floor/office) and were actually afraid of being shot.  Whether or not a survivor of a mass shooting is in the zone of danger is a very fact-specific determination.  To make things more challenge there are little differences in the law in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia that make it very hard to really break down the Zone of Danger here.  For example, each state and the District of Columbia have different rules about whether or not a person has to display physical signs or symptoms of their mental trauma to recover.  That’s why it’s absolutely essential for a survivor left behind with mental scars from trauma to talk to an attorney who is experienced with mass shooting cases.

Physical Wounds and Medical Treatment – Who Pays?

For many physically injured mass shooting survivors, the types of injuries they suffer require immediate emergency medical treatment. They’re taken from the scene straight to the hospital, by ambulance, helicopter, or, the backseat of emergency responders’ cars. For those with only minor injuries – broken bones and concussions from trying to escape the gunman – they’ll be quickly released. But survivors who suffer gunshot wounds face a long road to recovery, one that may take months, or even years.

Either way, a trip to the hospital alone costs thousands of dollars, money most Americans simply don’t have. Survivors who needs extensive treatment are faced with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.  So who pays for it? And who should pay now?

If you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, you should absolutely use it to cover the bills now. Many people think if they think they use health insurance, they can’t claim those medical bills paid for by their insurance in their cases. That is untrue. You can still claim those medical bills. Ultimately, the negligent party should pay for the medical bills, but in order to protect yourself in the meantime, health insurance can step in and pay for the care needed for recovery.

The Scars of Trauma – Getting Psychological Treatment

Immediately after a mass shooting event, local charities and organizations do a great job offering survivors grief counseling and making sure mental health hotlines are available. But for many, regardless of whether they were physically harmed in the shooting, the mental and emotional aftereffects last far longer than a few weeks – and require more help than what these resources can offer.  Victims deal with everything from survivor’s guilt to flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks. Some survivors find that the mental effects can be even more devastating and harder to heal than their physical injuries.

Luckily, grief counselors and crisis hotlines are incredibly helpful for finding mental health providers that specialize in helping trauma survivors. Be sure that whoever you see is experienced in dealing with post-traumatic stress.  It is even better if they’ve helped survivors of mass shooting events before. Either way, getting help as soon as you can is extremely important to help you process and recover from the trauma you’ve endured.

Just like with medical treatment, if you have health insurance, mental health treatment should be covered.

For Those Left Behind – Wrongful Death and Survival Claims

Unfortunately, many mass shooting events result in the loss of innocent lives: children, parents, friends, co-workers, brothers and sisters taken far too soon in an act of violence. Left behind are heartbroken family members and loved ones struggling to fill the holes left in their lives. They’re suddenly planning for funerals, which, according to https://www.parting.com, cost between $7,000 and $10,000. Many victims of mass shootings are young people, meaning they hadn’t financially planned for their deaths, leaving their loved ones shouldering heavy costs. When a parent is killed, the loss of income can devastate a family. This financial loss is magnified by the sudden and violent loss of their loved one and the accompanying public attention.

In these situations, there are two kinds of claims certain family members can bring: wrongful death claims and survival claims.  Let’s briefly explore these together

Wrongful Death claims:

A wrongful death claim is a claim brought by certain family members of the departed person which allows them to be compensated for the loss of their loved one. Only certain family members have the right to bring these kinds of claims. Those who have these right depends on whether or not the victim was married and has children, as well as surviving parents, brothers and sisters.  Finally, the people who have these rights differs between Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. This is another reason it is important for surviving family members to talk to an experienced, knowledgeable attorney.

Wrongful death claims allow the family to be compensated for the following losses:

  • Any medical bills for treatment to the departed person as a result of the shooting
  • Funeral expenses
  • The loss of current and future income the victim would’ve earned
  • Grief, pain and suffering that the family endures from the loss of their loved one, both past, present and in the future.

One particularly tricky part of wrongful death claims is that (generally), the law only allows one claim to be made for all the family members who have the right to bring these claims. That means that everyone who wants to bring a claim, or wants to bring a claim, needs to be part of one action. Maryland requires all of the family members with the right to be a named party in the case, even if they do not want to participate or bring a claim at all. It’s important for close family members to discuss this option together, and keep the lines of communication open. Some families pick one person to be the main point of contact for any discussions with an attorney.

Survival Claims:

The other kind of claim available are survival actions. This is for the actual pain and suffering the deceased victim suffered during and after the shooting but before they pass away. This includes their fear as they realized what was happening, as well as when they realized that they were not going to escape unscathed. If the victim was unfortunate enough to survive after being shot – even if it was for just a few minutes – these claims also allow damages for their pain, anguish and suffering during their last moments.

Unlike wrongful death cases, survival claims are brought on the behalf of the victim’s estate – the legal entity that exists after a person dies. Any compensation is then paid to satisfy any of the victim’s outstanding debts, and then to any people who get to inherit from the estate. Who runs the estate (the “personal representative” or “administrator”) and who gets to inherit depends on a couple of things. First, whether or not the victim had a will. Second, if there was no will, who the law allows to serve as a representative. The family members who can inherit again depends on the law of the state where the mass shooting event occurred and whether or not the victim was married or a parent.

The Challenge of Proving Negligence in Mass Shooting Cases

These cases aren’t easy. There are a lot of weird legal nuances, as well as factual, evidentiary, and societal hurdles that survivors and the families of the victims have to face. We do not want to discourage anyone from exploring their rights, we just want to be completely honest and candid.

We’ve already hinted at some of these problems: proving that the survivor was actually in the zone of danger; overcoming laws limiting the kinds of actions survivor with only psychological injuries can bring; making sure all the right people are named and involved in wrongful death lawsuits. But there are a couple other big issues that we haven’t talked about.

Notice

Ok, so, as we mentioned above, these cases center around the ignored red flags around the shooter and his behavior before the shooting occurred. This brings up an obvious point: we not only have to prove that these red flags existed, we also have to prove that the entity we think is responsible knew about these red flags. Then we need to prove that the responsible entity chose to ignore the red flags, allowing the shooter to take his plans and turn them into a tragic reality.

We also have to prove that the responsible entity that knew about the red flags had a legal responsibility to protect the people who were eventually targeted. Not a moral responsibility, but a legal one. This is a very fact-specific determination (like so many other things in these cases) and is something an experienced attorney can definitely help you figure out.

Suing the Shooter Directly

There’s a very obvious party we haven’t talked about yet: the shooter. After all, he’s the one who pulled the trigger, he’s the one who chose to take the lives of innocent people.  Why aren’t we going after him?

The very simple reason is that these cases – meaning civil cases – only allow us to get our clients monetary damages. That’s the way the law works. Period. So, when there’s no money available to get – these cases are just simply not worth our clients’ time. It is not worthwhile for them to go through years of litigation (yes, we do mean years) to get nothing but a piece of paper in the end saying they won. There’s no question of who was in the right or the wrong here: we all know the shooter did something unspeakably evil.

So when we sue a shooter, unless they were a multi-millionaire, there’s nothing for our clients to collect. Homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover these cases. Their contracts specifically deny coverage for intentional crimes like this.  That’s why we’re not talking about suing the shooter themselves: because we don’t want to force survivors and grieving family members to go through all this for nothing in the end.

The other reason is that when an entity picks to ignore a red flag, they are responsible. They made a choice, and then decided for some reason not to warn anyone, not to do anything to try to stop the shooter, limit the risk he prevented, or add extra security or safety to keep people safe. They didn’t pull the trigger, but their silence makes them complicit.

Immunity

One of the most important things to remember is that depending on the situation and where the shooting took place, there may be laws in place that shield those at fault from civil liability. This is called “immunity”, and who has immunity depends on what state the shooting occurred in. This is a very fact-specific determination, and is why it’s important for survivors and family members to talk to experienced lawyers who know what to look for.

One group of companies that families and survivors often believe should be held responsible are gun manufacturers. Unfortunately, Congress passed a law giving gun manufacturers total immunity from civil lawsuits, meaning these companies are legally shielded from responsibility. The only way that will change is if the law itself is changed.

If you have been the victim of or lost a family member to a mass shooting, it is important for you to contact a trial lawyer who is experienced in handling cases arising out of mass shootings. No matter what, we hope this blog has helped you get a better idea of what rights you have, legally, as you begin the long process of picking up the pieces left behind.


Contributory Negligence and Slip and Fall Cases: Why Your Fall May be Your Fault

Jun 25, 2018 | Shari C. Boscolo

According to the National Safety Council, falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the United States, resulting in approximately 8.9 visits to the hospital every year. Oftentimes, these injuries occur because a landowner did not warn of a dangerous condition on his/her property or created a dangerous hazard on his/her property. Under Maryland, D.C. and Virginia law, anyone who owns or maintains any type of property is legally responsible for ensuring that the property is safe for the public. If they fail to do that, they may be responsible for any injuries that occur as the result of a fall on their property.

Although landowners bear responsibility for keeping their properties safe, our three jurisdictions still adhere to an archaic defense called contributory negligence. If an injured person is found to have contributed to the incident in any way, they cannot recover compensation for their injuries. The law does not allow an apportionment of fault; any contribution, no matter how slight, can completely bar an injured person’s right to recover damages.

How Contributory Negligence is Used in Slip and Fall Cases

Contributory negligence is argued in many ways. For instance, if an injured person is not looking where they are going, or if they have on some clothing that might impede their mobility, or if they are distracted in any way, this could form the basis for arguing that they contributed to their own injures and so are not allowed to recover compensation. Ignoring a warning sign or walking through an area which is not open to the public can also provide the basis for this defense.

Slip and fall injuries often occur in grocery stores. It is not unusual for produce and liquids to be left on the floors after being spilled or dropped by other patrons at the store. These spills, which are oftentimes left on the floor for long periods of time, create dangerous conditions for customers who could slip on this debris and become seriously injured. If a claim is made, the insurance company will argue that the customer was contributorily negligent by not watching where he or she was walking. Or, if there is a warning sign present, and the customer slips near that sign, the insurance company will again argue that the customer is wholly at fault. Once again, under our law, any fault at all on the part of the injured party precludes any recovery.

Oftentimes, when an injured person falls, the insurance company will put blame on the injured person by arguing that their choice of clothing made them contributorily negligent. For instance, they will argue a person contributed to their own injuries by wearing high-heeled shoes or that their floppy hat impeded their eyesight. Or, the insurance company may argue that the injured person was carrying lots of packages and that their decision to do this, while walking at the same time, caused the injury. Texting while walking or using the phone in any manner while in a public place subjects the injured person to an argument by the insurance company that they are responsible for their own injuries.

Any consumption of alcohol could bar recovery of a claim. It is very common for falls to occur at social gatherings. A person or an entity hosting a social event has a duty to all of the guests to ensure that the property is safe and free from any defects. If the host knows of a problem that you do not know about, the host has the obligation to warn you of the problem. For instance, if there is a staircase in the home that is missing a railing or has a loose step, the host must warn you of that problem so that you are not hurt. However, if you had been drinking at the party, and you fall down this dangerous staircase, your claim could be barred by your own negligence. It doesn’t matter how dangerous this staircase is; your decision to consume alcohol may become an issue in resolving your claim.

Many injuries occur on private property, perhaps in a neighbor’s yard, in their pool or around the house. Common sense suggests that if your neighbor creates a hazard, such as leaving a hose strewn across the lawn or allowing ice to accumulate on the sidewalk, that your neighbor would be responsible for the injuries that their carelessness creates. However, you too are responsible for your own choices when you visit your neighbor’s home. When you fail to “see what there is to be seen,” or when you choose to cross over the icy part of the sidewalk, the insurance company may decide that your conduct gives them the ability to withhold any settlement of your case.

How You Can Help Change the Law

For many years, lawyers who represent injured people have been lobbying their state legislatures and bringing cases before our states’ highest courts in an attempt to nullify the defense of contributory negligence. Our jurisdictions make up three of the five states that continue to completely bar recovery to injured people if they are at fault at all. Maryland’s highest court has recently ruled that any change in Maryland’s contributory negligence law must be enacted solely through the legislature, which has the ability to pass a bill to preclude this defense. For Marylanders, this means lobbying your elected officials in Annapolis is an effective way to change this dated and harmful defense.

A vast majority of the states adhere to a doctrine called “comparative fault.” This generally means that if the injured person is partially at fault, the jury may reduce the amount of damages by the percentage of the injured person’s own fault. For instance, if a jury finds that the injured person is 10% at fault, the verdict would be reduced by that amount. This system apportions fault among the parties and generally results in fairer verdicts.

Unfortunately, slip and fall incidents are likely to occur. Parking lots are slippery, stores are not maintained and repairs are not made in a timely manner. It is difficult in everyday life to fully insulate yourself from the poor choices made by others. Protection against injury and against a claim of contributory negligence requires some diligence and a constant awareness of your surroundings.

What should I do if I’m injured in a slip and fall?

If you are injured in a store, or a home, or a parking lot or any premises, it is important to take pictures of the area where you fell, to document the clothing you were wearing, to write down the names and addresses of all witnesses and to obtain a copy of any incident report that is made. It is also important to write down the exact details of how you fell and what caused you to fall. For more information about what kinds of information and evidence you should collect after being hurt in a slip and fall, take a look at my colleague Patrick Stewart’s blog post.

Do not speak to the insurance company about your case. It is prudent to retain an attorney early on in these types of cases so that you and your attorney can review your own actions. When you retain an attorney, make sure to disclose every detail of your fall; particularly what you saw, what you heard and how you acted.

Slip and fall accidents can result in serious and permanent injuries. Remember, if you fall, the insurance company and their lawyers are always looking for ways to make your fall your fault.