March 2010 Archives

March 29, 2010

The Use of Hand Held Cell Phones While Driving Is Banned in Maryland, D.C. and V.A.

On March 23, 2010, The Maryland Senate passed legislation making it illegal for drivers in the state of Maryland to use hand held cell phones while driving. 20 other states, including the District of Columbia and Virginia have implemented a similar ban. U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood says that some states have even banned the sending and receiving of text messages while driving as well. These states are requiring drivers to use hand free devices/blue tooth headsets.

The implementation of these laws in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are taking us a step closer to banning cell phone use all together while driving. The National Safety Council blames 1.4 million automobile accidents a year on drivers who use their cell phones while driving, whether it is texting or simply talking on the phone.

The fine for the first offense would be $40.00, but would not apply to emergency calls.

These laws provide a platform for education and enforcement efforts for safer roads in Maryland. 17,344 young drivers in Maryland were involved in automobile accidents in 2008, this number represents 18.2 percent of total crashes in Maryland. Out of these, 106 resulted in deaths. It is no wonder that the Department of Transportation continues to push for stronger traffic laws.

Maryland, is however, the fourth safest for Teen drivers in the United States. Neil J. Pederson, a Safety Representative for the Maryland State Highway Administration and Governor's Highway Safety says, "there is room for improvement and we have more work to do to protect and educate the State's youngest and arguable most vulnerable drivers."

March 23, 2010

Estranged Spouses Waiting to Get Divorced Because of the Recession in MD, VA and DC

Breaking up is hard to do in time of Recession. Divorce has become something that some couple can not reach because of the decrease in house values and the increase in unemployment. Often, there is not enough money to hire attorneys, pay for separate households, fight for child custody and go to court.

A growing number of couples are deciding to wait until this economic storm passes to get divorced. Some are even taking new approaches, and living together as they separate in order to make ends meet.

David Goldberg, a divorce attorney in Gaithersburg, Maryland says he has a lot of files just sitting in his drawers because people can not move forward with a divorce. He has worked with families for over 40 years and says that he has never seen a time like this one. He has experienced that a lot of divorced couples are also having to file for bankruptcy in order to get by.

Paulene Foster, a federal worker from Olney, Maryland says she had to wait a year to get divorced because of precarious finances. She had to share her house with her estranged husband - he lived in the basement, while she lived upstairs. She finally filed for divorce last month with a $105 check after having to go to a self-help law clinic in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Other couples have to face the reality that they owe more on their family home than they would get if they sold it. In the past, couples were able to divorce quicker because they had enough equity in their homes so that both spouses could re-create lives not so different from their old ones. Now more divorced people go from homeowners to renters.

The National Marriage Project states that in 2008 (the first year of the recession) a modest decline in divorces was reported due to the Recession. That was about 838,000 divorces granted in 44 states. In 2007, however, 856,000 divorces were finalized, at a time when there was a growing economic strain in the United States. This shows a link between tough times and divorce.

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says that some families are pulling together in this time of economic turmoil, and others are postponing divorce until there is a rebound in the economy and home values. The cost of a divorce can range from $100 on a do-it-yourself basis with little dispute to up to $20,000 or more for a divorce that ends up going to court.

Kirk Wilder, a lawyer in Manassas, Virginia says that in some cases, spouses are not fighting for the home, but are more willing to let the other spouse keep the home. That is a huge change from years pasts.

In the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia it is a little easier for spouses to divorce since they can live in the same house during the required separation period, while in the State of Maryland spouses must be physically separate and living in separate residences for a required full year.

In other words, the longer this severe economic downturn continues, the larger the backlog of divorces will be.

March 17, 2010

As Health Care Cost in the United States Rise Malpractice Awards Fall

Since the creation of the National Practitioner Date Bank in 1990, which tracks medical malpractice payments nationwide, the number of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of physician was the lowest in 2009.

Even as doctors and their supporters urge Congress to revamp medical malpractice as part of a health care system overhaul, payments in malpractice cases continue to go down.

Maryland currently has a cap of $575,000 for non-monetary damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. 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 report, The Public Citizen, states that just one out of 57 deaths in the United States are compensated, meaning that between 83 percent and 98 percent of deaths from medical negligence did not result in a damage award, based on estimates of medical errors and deaths from malpractice.

The argument is that damage awards are a major reason for the soaring malpractice insurance premiums doctors have to pay. The threat of being sued and facing a big damage award forces doctors to practice defensively, which in turn drives up the cost of healthcare.

Patients and their survivors are finding it harder and harder to find attorneys that are willing to take on malpractice cases because the financial awards are too small, specifically for people who are retired. It is believed that this is because certain damage awards weigh heavily on lifetime earnings.

President Obama did say, however, that he is open to incorporating lawsuit reform and other GOP ideas into the health care legislation, according to the Associated Press.
Therefore, once the new health care reform goes into effect we will see how malpractice awards will be affected.

March 2, 2010

Maryland, D.C. and Virginia Are Considering Ignition Breathalyzers as a Punishment for First Time Offenders

States are increasingly mandating the use of ignition breathalyzers for first-time offenders in order to deter more citizens from drunk driving. Twelve states in the United States already use this as a punishment for drunk driving and Ten States, which include Maryland and Virginia are debating on whether to take the same step.

Congress is also considering whether to push states to mandate the breathalyzers for first-time offenders by withholding federal highway funds.

The Ignition interlock devices will not let the engine start until the driver successfully breathes into a device. These devices are not new, but the technology has become more sophisticated and reliable.

Advocates of these devices believe that they are the most effective tool to come along in the last 30 years. Senator Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) believes that the punishment implemented now just does not work and that is why we must implement the ignition breathalyzers.

Federal data that was compiled two years ago showed that in Maryland, 25,120 drivers had three or more drunk driving convictions, 4,000 of which had five or more and nearly 70 had more that ten. In the District of Columbia, 34 drivers had more that three convictions.

Lon Anderson of the AAA Mid-Atlantic believes that First-time offenders probably are chronic offenders and have probably escaped detection many times. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said last year that studies suggest interlocks "may be necessary as a long term or permanent condition of driving for repeat offenders."