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Top Ten Defenses to Maryland and Virginia Personal Injury Claims

Posted by attorney Jonathan Portner

Liability - Many Maryland and Virginia auto accident cases involve a dispute over who is at fault. In a simple rear end collision, liability is often accepted when the claim is filed. If the accident involves a lane change, sudden stop, multiple impacts or two different accounts of the accident with no police report or witness, the automobile insurance company often denies liability(almost always if the carrier is Geico or MAIF). These claims end up in court where an experienced personal injury attorney has the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the other driver was at fault. The term preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not. In other words, the fate of your accident recovery often depends on the experience of the trial lawyer you retained.

Contributory Negligence - Maryland and Virginia’s contributory negligence doctrine is cut throat and can be a complete bar to an injured victim’s recovery. Maryland personal injury attorneys often struggle to help clients because of this all or nothing rule. Under contributory negligence, the accident victim’s failure to exercise a reasonable degree of care and caution, no matter how slight, is an absolute bar to recovery. If the defendant’s lawyer can convince a jury that the victim was only 1% at fault, that individual will not recover any damages. Maryland personal injury lawyers have been struggling against the doctrine of contributory negligence since it was adopted by the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1847. The last clear chance doctrine allows recovery by an accident victim, who would other wise be barred from recovery due to contributory negligence, if the defendant had the last chance to avoid the accident.

Low Property Damage - Some automobile accident claims, where liability is not disputed, don’t settle. One of the main reasons these cases fail to settle is because insurance adjusters refuse to offer fair settlements in accidents where the property damage to the injured victim’s vehicle amounts to less than $1,000. Insurance companies often argue, in these cases, that the medical treatment received by the injured party was not warranted considering the low impact and that the injuries suffered could not have resulted from a minor accident. The adjusters’ low impact argument often fails in court. There are several arguments that can be made on behalf of a plaintiff by an experienced Maryland accident attorney or Virginia accident lawyer. First, large accidents with significant property damage can result in little or no injuries to those involved, while minor accidents often result in serious injuries. Second, especially in rear end collisions, the injured victim does not have a chance to brace for impact. Third, sometimes the types of vehicles involved can explain the extent of the property damage. Forth, the evaluation of the accident victim’s injuries and treatment is done by medical professionals who, absent evidence to the contrary, give medical treatment that is fair and reasonable and medically necessary.

Preexisting Injury or Underlying Condition - The injured victim may have a preexisting injury or underlying condition. In these personal injury cases, insurance companies’ attorneys will argue that the individual was already injured, experiencing symptoms before the accident and that the injury was not caused by the accident. If the injured accident victim has a preexisting injury, such as a degenerative back condition, the fact that the condition was exacerbated or that there was a predisposition for an injury could explain why the accident resulted in significant injury. This argument is based off of the "Egg Shell Theory" which dictates that the condition of the victim prior to the accident does not mitigate the liability of the negligent party for the injuries resulting from the accident. In other words, "you take the victim as you find them".

(a) Causally Related - Sometimes insurance companies and there lawyers will argue that the injuries are not causally related to the accident, and that there is no reasonable connection between the accident and the alleged injuries. For example, if an individual is involved in an automobile accident and claims that, as a result, he or she had an appendix removed there is a strong argument against that claim. However, if a person is involved in an accident, which leads to a panic attack and an overnight stay in a hospital, there is a strong argument to be made that the condition was caused or exacerbated because of another person’s negligence. Again, the Maryland personal injury attorneys and Virginia accident lawyers have to prove by, a preponderance of the evidence, that the injury was caused by the accident, which means that the injury was more likely than not caused by the accident.

(b) Medically Necessary - This defense is often used when an injury victim pursues alternative healthcare such as acupuncture, acupressure and aquatic therapy. Insurance companies and there attorneys argue that this treatment is not legitimate. At trial, defense attorneys will often make a pretrial objection to any type of acupuncture treatment. The Maryland and Virginia personal injury attorneys at Portner & Shure represent many Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese accident victims. Our Maryland and Virginia accident attorneys defeat the objections of defense attorneys. Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine and to argue that an injury victim does not have an option to be treated by an acupuncturists is rarely successful at trial. In Maryland accident cases and Virginia personal injury cases that involve more serious injuries, defense attorneys often argue that invasive procedures such as surgery and epidural steroid injections are not medically necessary. This argument is easily overcome by the expert testimony of a treating physician.

Assumption of the Risk - The concept of "assumption of the risk" is fairly basic. For example, bee keepers assume the risk of being stung and rock climbers assume the risk of falling to their death. Simply put, a person who engages in risky activities cannot complain when the result is injury or death. The legal concept of "assumption of the risk" is based on the same principle, but does require a more detailed explanation. In Maryland, a person assumes the risk if that individual voluntarily engages a particular action or inaction known to that person to be inherently dangerous. If that particular action or inaction leads to an accident which results in injury, there can be no claim of negligence. For example, if a person is having a particularly good time and decides to dance on top of the bar, that individual cannot claim negligence if he or she slips on a spilled drink and falls.

Subsequent Accident or Injury - If an accident victim is involved in a subsequent accident the insurance companies and their attorneys can argue that the subsequent accident superceded the prior accident. An experienced Maryland personal injury lawyer or skilled Virginia accident attorney can overcome this defense by examining the medical records. If the plaintiff’s complaints were resolved before the subsequent accident then the defense is without merit. In cases where the subsequent accident was minor and there was little to no treatment, the personal injury attorney can argue that the subsequent accident was merely a blip on the radar and did not impact the more serious injuries resulting from the prior accident.

Gaps in Treatment - Too often Maryland and Virginia accident victims wait several days before they are seen by a doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor. The longer the gap between the accident and the initial medical evaluation and treatment the stronger the argument that the accident victim did not require treatment. Defense attorneys like to argue that because an accident victim didn’t immediately go to the hospital or doctor that the plaintiff’s complaints lose credibility. Experienced Maryland personal injury attorneys and Virginia accident lawyers should know that, in many cases, symptoms such as pain and stiffness do not manifest until a few days after the accident. Once an initial evaluation is done, gaps between treatment can be damaging to a personal injury claim. Most treatment plans follow a schedule prescribed by a medical professional designed to reach optimal recovery. Deviation from the treatment plan should be avoided. A defense attorney, who is presented with gaps ranging from a week to a month between treatment dates, has a very strong argument against the plaintiff’s claims.

Fair and Reasonable - This is a term based off of community standards. This argument is often used when an injury victim double treats with two chiropractors and neither of the chiropractors knows. Defense attorneys will argue that an injury victim over treated and that the length of treatment was too long. In some cases, an injury victim may get MRI’s of parts of the body that weren’t injured in the accident. Sometimes healthcare providers over charge or over treat. When this unfair practice occurs the healthcare provider actually comes under attack and those bills may be nullified by the Court’s determination. The basic rule to follow in order to avoid this defense is to treat until your injuries are resolved.

Poor Witness - The insurance company will often contend the accident case is worthless because the plaintiff does not present well, or is a poor witness. In these instances the carrier must be pressed to give the exact reason for this contention. Often adequate trial preparation can overcome this issue.

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