If you have ever been injured in an accident, you will know that getting medical treatment is not the only thing that you have to deal with in the aftermath. For instance, you often have to file a claim with your insurance company or you may want to bring charges against the person that injured you. In Maryland, the courts apply a standard of contributory negligence to accident claims. Contributory negligence is still used by only five states and is a defense that’s available to someone who is charged with injuring another. It holds both parties accountable for their role, however small, in the accident at the center of the claim. This means that if the court finds the plaintiff has contributed to their loss at all, then they are completely barred from any recovery. Therefore, as a claimant, it is important to recognize the steps that you can take to protect your ability to recover for the harm you have suffered.
- Be wary of signed statements
Soon after an accident, insurance representatives seek to determine what happened. Often, this involves conducting interviews and obtaining signed statements that might admit fault of a party. However, it is generally not advisable to give a signed statement to an agent for the insurance company right after the accident, as it could bar any claims you might have going forward. Giving an interview or an unsigned statement is sufficient and will protect your rights in the event that the insurance company attempts to deny your claim based on contributory negligence.
- Pay attention to time constraints/Statute of Limitations
As with a majority of claims, there are time constraints (aka “statutes of limitations”), which limit how long you have to file a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations vary by state and by the kind of case at issue. For example, Maryland’s relevant time limits for car accidents are three years for filing a personal injury suit or a suit for property damage. These do not apply to insurance claims. However, in negotiating with your insurance company you want to pay attention to the time constraints so that you preserve your legal claims.
- Nail down exactly what happened
Immediately following the accident, it is essential to determine exactly what happened in order to preserve your claim and hopefully to show that you did not contribute in any meaningful way to the accident. The claimant should be diligent and write down the facts, take pictures of the scene, identify witnesses and get statements from them, and get a copy of any accident reports that were filed. Additionally, if you think that you were in fact negligent, it is important to determine if you were the right kind of negligent. This is because it has to be proven that the negligent behavior actually contributed to the injuries in the accident in a meaningful way. Therefore, if you were negligent in a way that had no effect on the actual damages, then contributory negligence will not work as a defense and you will not be barred from recovery.
- Personal Injury Protection
Another way to protect your claim is through Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) in your insurance plan. PIP coverage is applicable to car accidents, and is an exception to Maryland’s contributory negligence laws that are based on fault. PIP is a no-fault claim, which means that you can make a PIP claim after an accident without needing to prove who caused the accident. All that is required to prove is that there was an accident and you suffered damages as a result. A PIP claim will not increase your insurance rates or limit your claim against the other driver in any way. It will cover your medical bills and a portion of your lost income up to the policy limit (which must be at least $2,500). Further, you have PIP coverage unless you specifically rejected it when you signed up for your auto insurance.
- Seek immediate advice from an attorney
Overcoming a contributory negligence defense can be difficult, and often requires skilled lawyers who are experienced in Maryland tort law. Thus, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. In addition to time constraints mentioned above, hiring an attorney can also maintain the value of your claim. Alternatively, if you are on the other side of the accident, and are being wrongfully blamed, it is equally as important to seek legal help right away.
Preserving the rights of Maryland’s residents
With over 40 years of experience representing clients, The Law Office of Jack Sturgill is prepared to help you preserve your claims. If you have been involved in an accident and need help in determining your rights, contact us at 410-296-6485 to discuss your claim.