February 2010 Archives

February 26, 2010

Medical Malpractice Non-Monetary Damage Cases in Maryland and Virginia are Capped

The personal injury bar won a decisive victory recently when the Supreme Court of Illinois struck down a state law limiting damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases, finding that the law interferes with the power of the judicial branch to reduce jury verdicts.

The decision stems from a case in which plaintiffs alleged malpractice against a hospital and a doctor involved in the delivery of a baby that suffered brain-damage. The proposed law advocated by the health care industry, would have limited non-monetary damages to a $1 million recovery against the hospital and its personnel and to a $500,000 recovery against the individual doctor.

Maryland currently has a cap of $575,000 for non-monetary damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, which is being challenged by [name some trial lawyer association]. Similarly, Virginia has a cap of $1.5 Million for total damages . Washington, D.C., however, has no cap on awards for pain and suffering for victims of medical malpractice.

The Illinois case featured several prominent Washington, D.C. players, such as professor and attorney Michael Gottesman who teaches at the Georgetown University Law Center, and Attorney Robert Peck, who heads the Center for Constitutional Litigation located in the nation's capital. They both argued the case on behalf of the injured party. Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Washington Attorney with law firm Gibson Dunn, argued for the defense.

February 24, 2010

New Drivers in Maryland Will Face Tougher Road Tests

In the state of Maryland over 500,000 people take the driving tests to obtain a drivers license each year. However, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) has updated the educational curriculum by implementing new standards from the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. These changes will call for parents of young new drivers to complete an orientation and for new drivers themselves to demonstrate a higher driving ability, then just the ordinary closed course, that tests stopping, parallel parking, three point turns and the use of turn signals.

According to Buel Young, spokesman for the MVA, students are going to be tested on their individual skills as a new driver. The on-the-road test will allow for the examination of new driver's driving ability, which includes driver's awareness of hazards, understanding of traffic signals and the ability to maintain intersections, curves and lane changes.

These changes for new drivers are being implemented in order to make roadways safer and reduce fatal crashes among new drivers. Statewide there were over 95,000 accidents reported in 2008, by the Maryland State Highwat Safety Foundation, which researches traffic safety.

As of October 2009, Cell phone use by driving instructors while teaching students behind the wheel has been prohibited.

The Highway Safety Foundation is also pushing for a change to the current text messaging, and overall use of cell phones while driving. Currently, if you use a cell phone, whether it is for texting purposes or phone use, you can face a fine of $500.

All of these changes will ultimately make driving safer for all of us. Of course there changes will take time, but the first step is to make the public aware of these changes and hope that the new laws are respected and obeyed.

February 22, 2010

6 Common Causes of Automobile Crashes in the U.S.

Who would have ever guessed that since the first automobile-related fatality reported in London in 1896, that we would be faced with over 25 million peoples death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the number of deaths continues to rise, even with all the advancements in vehicle safety technology. The WHO has reported that close to 1.2 million people die each year all over the world as a result of automobile accidents. This number is expected to rise by 65 percent by 2020.

The question now is what is causing all these accidents?. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are six major cases for automobile accident related fatalities among people aged 3 to 33:

1. Distracted Drivers

The Director of Traffic Safety at the American Automobile Association, Mark Edwards stated, "The Research tells us that somewhere between 25-50 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in this country really have driver distractions as their root cause."
The most common distractions are rubbernecking (the slowing down to look at another accident), cell phone use, looking at scenery, other passengers and/or children, adjusting the radio/cd player and reading newspapers, books, maps and other documents. Out of these distractions, cell phone use quadruples the risk of automobile accidents, and is therefore being fined by Police Departments in Maryland, DC and Virginia.

2. Driver Fatigue

100,000 accidents each year in the United States are caused by drowsy drivers, according to the U.S. National Traffic Safety Administration, this risk is greatest between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m..

3. Drunk Driving

An estimated 16,654 people were killed in 2004 as a result of alcohol-related crashes, according to the NHTSA. This means that every half-hour a person dies as a result of drunk driving.

4. Speeding

Speeding increases the risk of crashing, the severity of the impact and reduces the time necessary to avoid a collision. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), reports that when speed is increased from 40 mph to 60 mph, the energy released in the crash more than doubles.

5. Aggressive Driving

Tailgating, flashing lights at other drivers, aggressive/rude gestures, verbal abuse, disregarding traffic signals and changing lanes frequently/unsafely are some examples of aggressive driving.

6. Weather

Heavy rain, hail, snowstorms, ice, high winds and even fog can make driving more difficult. Inclement weather increases our chances or being involved in a collision, therefore, one must take more time to get to where you are going, drive more attentively and make sure and keep enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you. This will decrease your chances of being another fatality.

In conclusion, driving is a responsibility we all must take seriously and try and avoid these six common causes of automobile related fatalities into consideration every time we get behind the wheel.

February 19, 2010

Maryland Personal Injury Cases and Virginia Medical Malpractice Cases are Capped

Maryland's Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) is scheduled next month to hear a case which challenges Maryland's cap on awards in personal injury lawsuits. Non-economic damages are currently capped at $725,000 for personal injury cases brought in Maryland. The case on appeal involves a child who drowned in a pool. The jury in that case awarded the child's parents $2 million. However, the award was later reduced to approximately $1 million in order to comply with Maryland's cap.

The cap was put in place in 1986, and plaintiffs' lawyers have been fighting it ever since.

In Fairfax County, Virginia a jury awarded nearly $3 Million to a family of a man, Hector Alvarez, who died after his esophagus tore while he was swallowing a piece of steak, finding an Alexandria radiologist liable for misdiagnosing the man's condition as a hiatal hernia. The state of Virginia, however, has a cap on medical malpractice judgements set at 1.85 million, therefore the award given by the jury in this case will be cut by more than half.

In the specific case of Mr. Alvarez, the jury was not advised of the state cap on medical malpractice and therefore, had no idea that their award would be cut by almost half. Mr. Alvarez was an Information Technology Specialist for the Defense Information Systems Agency and a retired Air Force. He was survived by his wife and two adult children.

February 1, 2010

Virginia Considers Toughening Stance on Seat Belts

Virginia lawmakers are considering passing legislation that would make it a primary offense if a motorist failed to wear a seat belt.

Virginia's seat belt laws are currently less strict than seat belt law in other states. In Virginia, a driver or passenger of a motor vehicle can only be cited for failing to wear a seat belt if a police officer catches the driver committing another traffic infraction, such running a red light or exceeding the speed limit. This is known as a secondary violation.

Maryland and other states, by contrast, have seat belt laws that make failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense.

Traffic statistics show that over 60 percent of people killed in car accidents were not wearing seat belts at the time of the car crash. In addition to contributing to car accident fatalities, failing to wear a seat belt often results in a high cost of medical treatment for those that do survive serious car collisions. In fact, some reports suggest that medical treatment costs are on average twice as expensive for car crash victims who fail to wear seat belts than for those who wear seat belts.

Del. William Barlow, who introduced the bill, cites increasing traffic safety as a primary reason to pass the bill. Barlow also maintains that enforcing a seat belt law is cost-free.

A link to the text of the BILL § 46.2-1094 of the Code of Virginia, relating to the use of safety lap belts and shoulder harnesses in motor vehicles may be found in this pdf document.