Serving Carroll County and Central Maryland

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General

What kind of law do you practice?

The Finch Law Firm concentrates on Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation, Trusts & Estates and Elder Law.

Our Personal Injury practice is exclusively for plaintiffs. Our Workers’ Compensation practice is exclusively for injured workers, and includes claimants from every sector of the labor market.  Within our Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation practices, we handle a wide variety of cases, including but not limited to the following:

  • Car Accidents
  • Construction Accidents
  • Dog Bites / Animal Attacks
  • Motorcycle Accidents
  • Nursing Home Injuries
  • Occupational Diseases
  • Pedestrian Accidents
  • Premises Liability
  • Slip & Fall Injuries
  • Trucking Accidents
  • Uninsured Motorist Claims
  • Work Related Accidents
  • Wrongful Death

If your case falls into any of the above areas, chances are we can handle it.  Please contact our office to see if we may be able to help you.

Our Trusts & Estates and Elder Law practices consist of estate planning, drafting of documents, and estate administration. We can draft, produce and notarize a variety of legal documents to help you achieve your goals. Within these areas, we handle a wide variety of matters, including but not limited to the following:

  • Advanced Directives
  • Disability Planning
  • Estate Planning
  • Estate Administration
  • Family Mediation
  • Financial Powers of Attorney
  • Guardianships
  • Health Care Powers of Attorney
  • Living Wills
  • Medicaid Planning
  • Probate
  • Revocable Living Trusts
  • Special Needs Trusts
  • Wills

Do you ever take cases from a practice area outside of those listed above?

Generally speaking, no.  From time to time we will accept a case that falls outside of our normal practice areas.  If your case does not fall within our normal practice areas, we can sometimes refer you to a trustworthy, competent attorney who handles that area of law.

In what states are you licensed or permitted to practice law?

Each of our attorneys has been admitted to practice law in the State of Maryland.

Within Maryland, what areas or counties are you licensed or permitted to practice in?

In Maryland an attorney does not need to seek a separate certification or other license to practice within individual counties or cities.  That being said, our attorneys have appeared in courts in many counties throughout this state, and our clients are drawn from every area of Maryland.

What do you charge for your services?

The answer depends on the kind of service for which we are hired.  We typically work on a contingent basis for personal injury cases and workers’ compensation cases.  This means that we receive a percentage of the recovery earned by our client – the more our client receives, the more we receive.  We charge a flat rate for preparing wills and other estate planning documents.  Please contact our office if you need more specific details.

Do you charge for an initial consultation?

Generally no. For personal injury, workers’ compensation and estate planning cases, all of our initial consultations are free.

Should I get a second opinion if another lawyer thinks I have no case?

We believe so.  Every lawyer is entitled to his or her own opinion.  One lawyer may feel that a case is not worth pursuing; another may believe that it has merit.  Some lawyers may not have the expertise that is required to handle the case.  Or they may lack the motivation, time or resources to pursue the case.  You should always seek a second opinion if your case is rejected by another lawyer.

How do I find the right lawyer for me?

In the legal world, reputation matters. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors to see who is respected in the local legal community. But word of mouth from neighbors and friends is only a starting point.  Get several names and then contact those attorneys and ask who they would recommend for your type of case.  This procedure should provide you with the names of several lawyers who are respected by other lawyers in the legal community for your type of case.  Research the lawyers online and visit their websites. Then schedule a face to face meeting.  You should generally hold off on making a decision until you have met with the lawyer face to face.

Why should I choose your firm over any other firm?

Professional. Honest. Compassionate. Those words are our motto and they exemplify everything we do.  At our firm, we focus on a few practice areas and we bring years of experience to the table in each of those areas. We know what we do and we do it well.

Moreover, you want a lawyer that will take the time to work on your case properly, and also take the time to talk to you and address your concerns.  We give every case the time necessary to bring about the best result for our client.  And we treat every client with equal importance.  We strive to treat all our clients with the courtesy, time and respect that they deserve.  We do our best to return your calls promptly, respond to your emails, and take the time to talk to you about your case.

Make sure that you make the right choice when you hire a lawyer – whether it is our office or another office.  If you are interested in hiring us, contact our office and we will be happy to meet with you in person to discuss your case or other legal needs.

Personal Injury

I was recently injured due to someone else’s fault. What should I do now?

First of all: Recover from your injury.

The most important thing for you to do, quite simply, is to recover from your injury.  Maryland law requires injured people to “mitigate their damages.”  In other words, the law requires you to try and improve your physical condition and recover from your injury.  For you this may mean some, or all, of the following steps:

  1. Seek medical attention, if you have not yet done so. Not seeking medical attention when you are injured may delay your recovery from your injuries. In addition, your failure to seek medical attention within a reasonable time following your injury may later be used to suggest that you were not injured all that badly or even that you were not injured at all.
  2. Keep your doctor’s appointments and other medical appointments. Stay in touch with your doctor and be certain to maintain your appointments.  If you have to cancel, provide the doctor with as much advance notice as possible.  The words “no show” on a doctor’s record sheet can be used against you at the time of settlement or trial.
  3. Do what your doctor tells you to do.  If your physician prescribes certain medications, therapy exercises, or limitations on activities, you need to follow your doctor’s orders.  If you resist your doctor’s advice and do activities that have been limited, it will not only prevent a speedy recovery, it could also affect the legal aspects of your case.  Even though staying out of work may have an impact financially, it is important that you follow such medical advice so that your body can heal properly.  Not following your doctor’s advice can be used against you at the time of settlement or trial.

Secondly: Document what happened.

After an accident or other incident, there will probably be a lot of things happening all at once. It is easy to get overwhelmed and stressed out. Nevertheless, it is important to gather as much information during this time as possible.  Depending on your case, you should try to do some or all of the following:

  1. Take pictures of the scene of the incident. In some instances, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Try to take pictures of the scene of the incident as soon as possible, preferably before it is cleaned up or altered in some way.  For example, if you were injured in a slip & fall incident, a picture of the object or condition that caused you to fall will assist greatly in evaluating and/or the resolution of your claim.  If you were injured in a car crash, take pictures of the vehicles involved in the crash and of the intersection or area where the crash took place.
  2. Take pictures of yourself that show your injuries. Many of the injuries you suffer during a traumatic event – bruises, cuts, scrapes, etc. – heal within a few days or weeks of an incident. Even more serious injuries often begin to heal within a short period of time.  If you wait until after that time to take pictures there will be no photographic evidence that shows the true extent of your injuries.  Just remember that the pictures you take will be viewed by others, so do not take any pictures of yourself that you would not want others to see.
  3. Write down everything that you remember about how the incident occurred.  As difficult as it is to imagine a day when we won’t remember exactly how a traumatic event occurred, scientific research and the experience of handling many cases has taught us that our memory of events – even unusual or traumatic events – deteriorates much more rapidly than we expect.  By writing down what happened soon after the incident, while it is still fresh in your mind, you will be able to later use the writing to refresh your memory and ensure that what you remember is accurate.
  4. Write down everything that any of the involved persons said at the scene of the incident. The things that people say during and shortly after an exciting, traumatic or unusual event may later be brought into evidence at trial.  In addition, the things a person says immediately after an event – while the event is still fresh in his or her mind – is often more likely to be true than things said long after the event.  Make sure to write these statements down.

Unfortunately, you may be unable to do some or all of the above due to your injuries.  If that is the case, try to have a family member or friend do them for you.

Third: Contact an attorney as soon as possible.

The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner your attorney can begin helping you with your case.  During the aftermath of your injury, while you are worrying about recovering, the at-fault party has notified his or her insurance company, which will begin to investigate the case on behalf of its policyholder.  We have handled many personal injury cases where some period of time has elapsed between the injury and the time the client comes to our office.  In some of those cases, the client has made a mistake in handling their case that would not have been made if an experienced attorney had been involved early on.  For example, in some cases, evidence will be lost unless immediate legal action is taken to preserve it.  An experienced lawyer will understand whether or not your case involves evidence of this variety, and if so, how to make sure that it is preserved in case it is later needed at trial.

In addition, the fee for your attorney’s services is normally based on a percentage of the recovery obtained at the end of the case.  That percentage is generally the same regardless of when you hire the attorney.  Therefore, by hiring an attorney at the beginning of the case, you receive more legal assistance for the same fee as compared to hiring an attorney later on in the process.

Will the insurance company for the person or company who caused my injuries pay my medical bills as the case goes along?

No.  Most insurance companies for the at-fault party will not automatically pay your medical bills as the case goes along.  Most insurance companies prefer to conclude or settle the claim with one lump sum of money at the end of the case.

How do I pay my medical bills?

Your lawyer will discuss the payment of your medical bills in detail with you.  In summary, your medical bills may be paid by one or more of the following methods:

  1. Your own health insurance plan.
  2. Medical payments insurance coverage (“Med-Pay”) or personal injury protection benefits (“PIP”) from your own auto insurance policy if you were driving your vehicle and were involved in an accident.
  3. Medical payments insurance coverage or personal injury protection benefits from the person you were riding with if you were a passenger in a vehicle that has auto insurance coverage.
  4. Medicaid or Medical Assistance, if you meet certain means-based qualifications.
  5. Workers’ compensation insurance if your injury occurred while you were working on the job and the injury occurred as a result of your employment.
  6. Other possible sources.

Depending on the nature of your case, your medical bills may be covered by more than one of the above possibilities.  If there is no insurance coverage, your bills should be saved by you and your lawyer, and can be paid at a later date if and when your case settles or after a successful trial.

What’s the difference between a claim and a lawsuit?

A claim is an attempt to settle a case with an insurance company without going through the court system.  Most personal injury cases are resolved in this way.  Generally, your attorney will communicate with the at-fault person’s insurance company and try to work out a settlement.  If the parties cannot work out a fair settlement, your lawyer may recommend filing a lawsuit.

A lawsuit, unlike a claim, is a formal legal action that goes through the court system.  A lawsuit begins a process that, if not resolved beforehand, will eventually result in a trial between the parties and a decision by a judge or a jury.  A lawsuit is considerably more involved than a claim and requires filing many papers and complying with a variety of deadlines.

Essentially every personal injury case is a claim.  Only a fraction of personal injury cases are not resolved through informal negotiation, and become lawsuits.  Even lawsuits, however, are often resolved before the case goes to trial.

Can I make a claim if my bills are paid through insurance?

Yes.  In Maryland you are entitled to be reimbursed for your bills even if those bills were paid, for instance by your health insurance.  The at-fault person is not entitled to a discount just because the injured victim was smart enough to have purchased health insurance prior to the injury.  In fact, Maryland permits the injured victim to claim the full amount of the bills as damages, even if those bills were reduced or only paid in part.

The same rule applies for lost wages.  Even if your missed time from work was covered by sick or vacation time, you are still entitled to be reimbursed for the time that you missed.  Again, the at-fault person is not entitled to a discount just because you have a good employer who offers you sick time or vacation time.

Finally, whether or not your bills were paid does not affect the portion of your damages that account for the pain, suffering, and inconvenience that you endured as a result of your injury.  Regardless of whether your bills were paid or not, you can always make a claim for these and other “non-economic” damages.

Why should I hire a lawyer?

Never assume that the at-fault party’s insurance company cares about your injury or about giving you full compensation for it.  The playing field is NOT level.  Insurance companies have many experienced attorneys and seasoned adjusters who know how to handle these cases.  You will be at a significant disadvantage when dealing with these people because you will not know what all of your rights are and you will not know if your claim is being handled properly.  Only an attorney’s expertise will ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the maximum recovery to which you are legally entitled.

In addition to protecting your rights and securing the best possible outcome for your case, an attorney is also invaluable in handling the day-to-day matters associated with your case.  You will likely be more stressed out, and in more physical pain, in the beginning of your case than at any other point.  You will likely be dealing with a multitude of issues – recovering from an injury, trying to get back to work, making sure medical bills are paid, dealing with the rental car company, etc.  Why add the headache of handling your personal injury case by yourself on top of all those other things?  By hiring a lawyer, you take a significant source of time and stress off your plate and can concentrate on the things that are most important to you – getting healthy, getting back to work, and taking care of your family.

How will my lawyer handle my case?

After an initial meeting with you, your lawyer will investigate your claim.  This usually requires a review of some or all of the following: witness statements, police reports, photographs or videos of the scene of the incident or of the persons involved, medical reports, medical bills, statutory law (laws enacted by your legislature), case law (laws made by judges who interpret statutory law), and local ordinances and regulations (laws enacted by local governments or other regulatory bodies).  Your lawyer may also visit the scene of the incident or hire an investigator to investigate the details of the incident.

In addition to investigating your case, your lawyer will also communicate with the insurance company for the person, persons, or company who caused your injuries.  Under no circumstances should you contact the other side or his or her insurance company once you have retained an attorney.  Your lawyer will keep the other side abreast of the status of your case and will provide them with any information that is needed to properly evaluate your case.

Your lawyer will also conduct his or her own evaluation of your case.  Once you have finished treating for your injuries, your lawyer will discuss your case with you to arrive at a possible settlement range.  Your lawyer will then negotiate with the other side in an attempt to settle the case.  In no event, however, will your lawyer settle your case without your permission.  While most personal injury cases do settle, a small percentage of cases do not settle and must be taken to trial.  If your case must be tried, your attorney will guide you through the litigation process and will prepare and try your case.

At all times, your lawyer will attempt to handle your case so as to ensure that you obtain the highest possible recovery, in the least amount of time, and with the least amount of aggravation and inconvenience on your part.

How will my lawyer be paid?

In almost all personal injury cases, your lawyer will be paid by keeping a percentage or portion of the final settlement or court award resulting from your injury.  The percentage will be discussed with you and will be the subject of what is called a contingent fee agreement.  Maryland law requires, for your protection and that of your lawyer, a written contract which specifies the contingent fee he or she will charge so there will be no misunderstanding about how much your case will cost.  Most contingent fee agreements provide that you do not have to pay your lawyer for his or her services unless, and until, the case is settled or is resolved by a court verdict in your favor.  The agreement will provide that your lawyer will work diligently on your case in exchange for the percentage or portion outlined in the agreement.

Certain costs, such as fees for obtaining medical records, hiring experts, and other out-of-pocket expenses, will be assessed regardless of the outcome of the case.  These costs go to pay other persons or entities who may be involved in the case and do not count as attorneys fees.  What is important to remember, however, is that your lawyer does not make any money from handling your case unless he or she obtains a recovery on your behalf.

Does hiring a lawyer mean that I must file a lawsuit?

No.  In most personal injury cases a lawyer does not need to file a lawsuit in order to obtain compensation for your injuries.  Contrary to popular opinion, lawsuits are filed in only a fraction of personal injury cases.  In some cases, your lawyer may advise you that it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit.  Even in this situation, however, the choice of whether or not to follow your lawyer’s advice and file a lawsuit is ultimately up to you.  At the Finch Law Firm, we do not file a lawsuit without our client’s express permission.

How long will it take to resolve my case?

The answer to this question varies greatly depending on the unique circumstances of your case.  Some cases can be resolved within a few months after you have finished treating for your injuries; for others (particularly those that go to trial) the process can take a few years.  As your case develops, your attorney will have some idea as to how long your case will take to resolve.  As can be expected, your lawyer will always attempt to obtain the best possible outcome in the shortest possible time.

Will my case go to trial?

Although most personal injury cases are resolved without the need for a trial, in some cases a trial is necessary in order to obtain just compensation for the injured victim.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict which cases will need to go to trial at the time that they come into our office.  All that we can say is that most – approximately 95% – of personal injury cases are resolved without going to trial.  This 95% figure includes cases that settle without a lawsuit and cases that result in a lawsuit, but that settle before actually going to trial.

Will I hurt the person I am suing?

No.  In almost all cases, the person that you are suing will be covered by insurance.  That person’s insurance company will pay for a lawyer to defend the case, and will pay any judgment or verdict obtained against the defendant.  So in the end the person you are suing will usually not have to pay any money out of his or her own pocket.

What if I was at fault in causing my injuries?

Unfortunately, under Maryland law a person is generally not entitled to recover anything if their own conduct was negligent and helped cause their injury.  This is known as the rule of “contributory negligence.”  Therefore, if you are at fault in causing your own injuries you will likely not be able to recover anything from the other side, even if the other side was also at fault.

However, just because you believe you were at fault does not necessarily mean that you were actually at fault.  In fact, even if a police officer or other investigator determines you to be at fault, you may not necessarily be at fault. Particularly in car accidents, police officers must sometimes make a determination of fault based on an incomplete understanding of the facts.  In some cases, the officer must simply choose between one driver’s version of events and another’s, without being able to do a thorough investigation of the accident.  In these and other cases, a determination that you were at fault may not bar you from obtaining compensation for your injuries.  You should discuss the facts of your case with a lawyer to determine whether you have may be able to make a valid claim.

Moreover, the rule of contributory negligence is inapplicable in certain circumstances.  If these circumstances apply, then even if you are at fault you may still be able to recover for your injuries.  If you believe that you were at fault, you should discuss your case with your attorney to determine if these circumstances apply to your case.

Is there any time limit for making a personal injury claim?

YES.  All personal injury claims are governed by the statute of limitations, which is essentially a deadline by which you must have either resolved your claim or have filed suit, or you will be forever barred from recovering for your injuries.  The deadline varies depending on the type of claim you are making.

Most personal injury claims are negligence claims, which in Maryland normally have a 3 year statute of limitations.  Regardless of the amount of time before the statute of limitations expires, the sooner you consult with an attorney, the better your prospects will be of settling the case and the sooner your case can be resolved.

Workers' Compensation

What is Workers’ Compensation?

Workers’ Compensation is insurance your employer is required to have in case you are injured at work, aggravate a pre-existing physical problem at work, or develop certain occupational diseases from your job. The insurance provides a package of benefits – see below for more info. Benefits are paid by private insurance companies. The cost of workers’ compensation insurance itself is borne entirely by the employer. No payroll deductions are taken out of individual employees’ paychecks. If your claim is found to be compensable, your weekly income benefits and all medical bills will be paid directly by your employer’s insurer. You are covered under workers’ compensation from the first day you start working.

The only exceptions to workers’ compensation coverage are:

  • Some types of volunteer workers
  • Independent contractors
  • Some types of agricultural workers
  • Casual employees
  • Some types of domestic workers

However, just because your employer says you are an independent contractor, or that you fall into one of the categories above, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. If you believe your job falls into one of the categories above, you should discuss your case with an attorney for more specific guidance.

What if I was at fault in causing my injuries?

Under workers’ compensation laws, it does not matter who is at fault in causing the work-related accident. The injured worker is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits regardless of fault. As long as you were working when your injury occurred, you are covered – even if it was your carelessness that caused your injury.

What if my employer was at fault in causing my injuries. Can I sue my employer?

No.  By law, an injured worker cannot file a lawsuit against the employer, even if the employer is at fault in causing the accident, unless your employer does not purchase workers’ compensation insurance or your employer intentionally caused your injury.  Then you can sue your employer.  Usually, a workers’ only recourse against the employer for an on-the-job injury or occupational disease is to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Although you are not entitled to sue your employer for an on-the-job injury, there may be circumstances where a claim or lawsuit can be made against another party, other than your employer, who may be responsible for your injury.  This is called a third party claim. For example, if you are in the course of employment and are involved in a car accident that was caused by another person, you may collect workers’ compensation benefits as well as sue the other “at fault” driver.  Similarly, if you are a machine operator and were injured while operating a defective and dangerous piece of machinery, you may collect workers’ compensation benefits as well as sue the manufacturer of that machine.  There are countless other factual situations where you might have a third-party claim.  Your lawyer can advise you in those situations.

What injuries are covered by Workers’ Compensation?

The Workers’ Compensation Act covers disability or death resulting from “an accidental personal injury” or an “occupational disease” sustained by the employee that “arises out of and in the course of employment.”  The quoted words constitute the crucial elements for determining compensability and have been the subject of innumerable Maryland cases.

You may have heard that you must have been injured by something unusual to be compensable.  This is no longer the case in Maryland.  An injury is considered ‘accidental’ as long as it was unexpected or unintended.  You still must be able to point to an event or a moment of your accidental injury.  The inability of the employee to identify with certainty the exact date of the accident does not bar a compensation claim, but it is far better if you can pinpoint the moment of your injury.

Generally, you must either be “on the clock” or on your employer’s premises when your injury occurs for the injury to be compensable.  However, there are situations where you may be entitled to benefits even if you are not on your employer’s property at the time of injury, or even if you are not “clocked in” when your injury occurs.  Your lawyer can advise you on this point.

If your job causes or contributes to any injury, illness or disease, you are entitled to benefits.  There does not have to be an “accident” in the traditional sense of the word, and your job does not have to be the only cause of your injury.  The following injuries are all considered compensable under Workers’ Compensation:

Traditional ‘accidental’ injuries – slips, trips, falls, knocking a limb or head on something, car accidents, having limbs caught or trapped in machinery, and countless other types of ‘accidents’ are all generally compensable.  Even something innocuous such as straining your back while lifting a box is generally compensable.

Aggravation of pre-existing health problems – Your job does not have to be the only cause of your injury.  You are entitled to benefits if your job aggravates or exacerbates a pre-existing medical condition.  For example, if you had a bad back when you started the job, and injure your back further while working, you may be entitled to benefits.

Repetitive use injuries – If your injury is caused by doing the same thing over and over again, you may be entitled to benefits.  This type of injury is called a “repetitive trauma injury.”  A repetitive trauma injury may include carpal tunnel syndrome caused by job duties such as repetitive typing, computer work, assembly work or machine operation over a period of time. There are many other types of repetitive trauma injuries. These types of injuries are usually classified as occupational diseases.

Repetitive exposure injuries – If your injury is caused by being repeatedly exposed to an environmental hazard over and over again, you may be entitled to benefits. A repetitive exposure injury may include lung diseases caused by job duties such as mining or fire fighting over a period of time. There are many other types of repetitive exposure injuries. These types of injuries are usually classified as occupational diseases.

Occupational deafness – If you have suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of exposure to loud noise on the job, you may be entitled to benefits. The hearing loss can be caused as a result of an exposure to a single very loud noise or from prolonged exposure to lesser levels of noise.

What should I do when I am injured at work?

Give notice of your injury to your employer immediately – The law requires that you report your injury immediately to your supervisor or employer.  Provide the date, time, place and nature of your accident.  If you do not tell your employer about your injury right away, you may lose your benefits.  It is not in your best interest to postpone giving notice of your injury to your employer.  Even if you do not believe that you will make any claim for workers’ compensation benefits, you should still report your injury to preserve your rights.

Seek medical treatment for your injury – You may be treated by the doctor of your choice. Maryland law does not require that you treat with the doctor selected by the insurance company.  Your doctor will prescribe a treatment program and will release you to return to work when your condition has improved.  To receive wage benefits, your doctor must find that because of your accidental injury, you are unable to work.  Be sure to tell every doctor you see that your injury is work related, and how you got hurt.  Discuss with your doctor your ability to work.

It is very important that you strictly follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations.  Return to your doctors as often as they feel it is necessary.  You should always report each of your symptoms to your doctors.  Do not minimize your ailments to your doctors.  Your doctor cannot properly diagnose and treat your injuries unless you completely describe all of your symptoms.

Obtain a disability slip or work note from your doctor if you are to remain out of work on doctor’s instructions – It is important that you obtain a work note each time you go to the doctor covering the full period of time that your doctor wants you out of work.  Make sure that you keep a copy of these work notes.  The Commission will not order wage benefits without written off-work notes. If your doctor wants you to return to work with restrictions, or on a part-time basis, make sure you have a written work note or disability slip spelling out all of your doctor’s restrictions.

Contact an attorney as soon as possible – The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner your attorney can begin helping you with your claim.  Many of the most important decisions in your claim will be made at or towards the beginning of the process.  Without legal assistance during the crucial early phases of your claim, you run the risk of jeopardizing the entire future of your claim and/or reducing the amount of benefits you would otherwise be entitled to receive.

In addition, the fee for your attorney’s services is based on a percentage of the award for permanent partial disability at the end of the case.  That percentage is generally the same regardless of when you hire the attorney.  Therefore, by hiring an attorney at the beginning of the claim, you receive more legal assistance for the same fee as compared to hiring an attorney later on in the process.

Maintain regular contact with your employer – Conscientious employers will try to accommodate their injured workers. Therefore, you should maintain regular contact with your employer, either through the personnel department or your supervisor. You should keep them reasonably advised as to your medical situation and/or anticipated return to work date (if known). As long as you are cleared by your doctor, you should seek and accept light duty if it is available. It is often easier to return to the same job than to try to find a comparable new job.

Will I lose my job if I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

The Workers’ Compensation Act provides that an employee may not be discharged “solely” because the employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  If an employer fires an employee for that reason, the employee would have a wrongful discharge action against the employer.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Act which prevents an employer from discharging an employee incapable of performing his or her work duties.  In other words, you cannot be discharged for filing a workers’ compensation claim, but the employer is not required to hold your job open while you are unable to work.  The exceptions to this would be if you had a specific employment contract that protected you, you are a union member subject to a collective bargaining agreement, if you are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, or where the Family and Medical Leave Act applies.

How do I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

A special workers’ compensation claim form must be filled out and filed with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. This is not an insurance claim form. It is a special form that must be filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Moreover, this is not the form that your employer must file. Your employer is required to file a First Report of Injury form. The First Report of Injury form will protect your employer’s rights, but it will not protect your rights.  Your rights will only be protected if you officially file a workers’ compensation claim, and you can only file a workers’ compensation claim by submitting an Employee Claim Form.  After the proper form is completed, it must be formally filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission in Baltimore City.

What benefits can I receive?

The most common benefits to which you may be entitled are:

Lifelong medical treatment – The employer and insurer are responsible to pay any and all reasonable expenses for the treatment of your injury.  This includes all forms of care and treatment, whether hospital, therapy, nursing, diagnostic testing, surgery, physical rehabilitation, or pain management. The right to medical care and treatment continues for the rest of your life for conditions related to your injury.

Income payments while you recover and cannot work – During any period when you are in the process of healing and completely unable to perform your work duties, you will receive payments from your employer’s insurance company, called “temporary total disability” benefits (TTD). These benefits compensate you for the time you miss from work. The amount of your temporary disability benefits depends on your “average weekly wage,” (AWW) subject to certain minimum and maximum amounts established by law.

Vocational rehabilitation – If, after you have reached your full level of recovery (Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI), and your physical condition does not allow you to return to your old job, the employer and insurer are responsible for providing you with vocational rehabilitation services. Essentially, the employer and insurer are required to pay a professional whose job is to help you find a new job. Vocational rehabilitation services include the provision of a vocational assessment, followed by needed training and job placement assistance.

Permanent disability benefits – If as a result of your accidental injury you are left with a permanent medical problem or impairment, then you have a claim for monetary compensation for the permanent medical problem or impairment.  This is your final award.  Your lawyer is usually paid from this part of your award.  The benefits are based on a percentage of disability to the part of your body which is affected.  They are paid over time on a weekly basis at a rate established by law.  Permanent impairment benefits are paid even if you have returned to work full time at the same or greater salary.

Disfigurement – If your head, neck or face or any other part of your body is permanently disfigured as a result of an injury or disease, you may be eligible to receive “disfigurement benefits.”

Future disability benefits due to worsening of your condition – Workers’ compensation provides long-term benefits for the future effects of your injuries.  You can have your case reopened, if the injury you sustained on the job worsens after an initial award of temporary or permanent disability benefits.  The request to reopen your claim must be made within five years of the date on which you last received compensation. However the payment of medical bills does not count towards this five year time period for reopening your claim.

Death benefits – If an injury or occupational disease causes, contributes to, or accelerates an employee’s death, the surviving spouse and dependents may be eligible for benefits.  The benefits include coverage of funeral expenses.

Why should I hire an attorney?

Never assume that an employer or their insurance company cares about your injury or if you receive fair compensation for it.  Without proper legal representation, the playing field is NOT level.  Employers and their insurance company representatives have many experienced attorneys and savvy adjusters who know the workers’ compensation system.  You will be at a significant disadvantage when dealing with these people because you will not know what all of your rights are and you will not know if your claim is being handled properly.  Only an attorney’s expertise will ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive all of the benefits to which you are entitled.

In addition to protecting your rights and securing the best possible outcome for your claim, an attorney is also invaluable in handling the day-to-day matters associated with your claim.  An injured worker already has a lot to deal with on his or her plate – recovering from an injury, trying to get back to work, making sure household bills are paid, etc.  Why add the headache of handling your workers’ compensation claim by yourself on top of all those other things?  By hiring a lawyer, you take a significant source of time and stress off your plate and can concentrate on the things that are most important to you – getting healthy, getting back to work, and taking care of your family.

How will my attorney be paid?

By law every attorney handling a Maryland workers’ compensation claim is paid on a contingency basis.  This means that the attorney is paid a percentage of the amount disability benefits recovered on your behalf.  The percentage that the attorney is paid depends upon the type of benefits that you are receiving and the total amount of benefits you are awarded.  If you lose your case or do not receive any award of benefits, you do not owe any fee to your attorney.  This also means that the initial cost to hire an attorney is nothing.  Even if your attorney wins your case and earns a recovery for you, your attorney will not be paid until the end of the case.

The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission has established a schedule of attorney’s fees.  Attorneys are not permitted to negotiate a fee above the fee established by the schedule.  A copy of this schedule is available from our office upon request.  The schedule is extremely technical because attorney’s fees are calculated differently based on the type of award received by the claimant.  Generally speaking, however, attorneys fees will not exceed 20% of your final award.

Other than the attorney’s fees referred to above, the only other amounts that would normally be deducted from your recovery would be any amounts paid by your attorney to obtain your medical records from your health care providers, and the fee charged by the physician who provides you with a permanent partial disability rating or opinion.

Trusts, Estates & Elder Law

Why Should I Have a Will?

If you pass away and do not have a will, Maryland law determines how your assets are distributed, as well as who will administer your estate and may even determine who will be the guardian of your minor children.  The way the Court decides to handle these issues may not necessarily be the way you would have wanted them to be handled.  Planning ahead by executing a will and other estate planning documents can preserve the value of your assets and direct them to the beneficiaries you choose, either directly or through trusts.

Can’t I write my own will? Why do I need a Lawyer to write my will for me?

Anyone can write a Will, but without a lawyer’s expertise, the Will may not conform to legal requirements or the language of your Will may be misconstrued by a Court and applied in a way that was different from your intentions. A lawyer who is experienced in this area will ensure that your Will is drafted properly and conforms to your wishes. A lawyer can also advise you as to other documents – such as a Revocable Living Trust – that may serve your legal interests in ways that a traditional Will simply cannot.

What is a Living Will? Why would I need one?

A Living Will is a Health Care Advance Directive which sets forth a person’s wishes in the event that the person is unable to communicate medical decisions and has been diagnosed by health professionals to be in 1) a permanent unconsciousness (called a persistent vegetative state), or 2) an end-state condition which is an advanced, progressive, and incurable condition resulting in complete physical dependency, or 3) a terminal condition where death is imminent despite the application of life-sustaining procedures.  The person may delegate decision making responsibility to a person of their choosing, spelled out in the Living Will.

Without a Living Will, family members may be called upon to make difficult decisions regarding medical procedures which may extend life or terminate life without knowing your wishes.  When family members cannot agree, medical professionals or the Courts will determine what medical treatment will be administered.

What is a Financial Power of Attorney? Why would I need one?

A Financial Power of Attorney allows a person to designate someone else (which may be a family member) to act as their trusted agent in accordance with the directions set forth in the written document when the person is unable to care for his or her property.  The Power of Attorney can be customized to suit the needs of the client.  For example, if you are planning to leave the country for an extended period of time, you may wish to execute a Power of Attorney to allow a trusted person to manage your financial affairs.  If a person becomes unable to take care of his or her financial affairs and has not executed a Power of Attorney, the Court may have to appoint a guardian of the person’s property.

What is a Health Care Advance Directive? Why would I need one?

A Health Care Advance Directive allows a person (the principal) to appoint an agent to speak for them and make health decisions based on the principal’s wishes.  The directive may be as expansive or limited in delegated powers to the agent as the principal desires.  If a person is determined by medical professionals to be unable to make health decisions and there is no Health Care Directive in place, the Court may have to appoint a guardian of the person to make health decisions.

How can I take care of my elderly parents?

Depending on the needs of the client, a variety of options may be explored including general estate planning and preparation for the possibility of future incapacity.  Which option works best for you will depend on your individual circumstances.  Evaluating the available alternatives for long term support within the family and/or a facility before the need arises can protect family assets and provide the best possible care for the senior.

Can you help me apply for Medicare or Medicaid?

Yes.

My siblings and I can’t agree as to how to best take care of our parents. Can you help us?

Yes. Providing for the elderly typically requires cooperation of many different persons, who sometimes have many different ideas as to the best course of action. A trained mediator is available to work with family members to determine the best plan for all interested parties.

I want you to draft one of these documents for me. How will you be paid?

We charge a flat fee for Estate Planning documents (Wills, Living Wills, Power of Attorney, etc.).  The fee varies depending on the type of document prepared.  Please contact our office if you wish to inquire further.

A close family member just passed away. What happens now?

If the decedent (the recently deceased family member) had a Will, Maryland law requires that the Will be filed – even if the decedent had no assets in his or her name. If the decedent has assets solely in his or her name, an estate must be opened to pay creditor claims and distribute the assets as directed in the Will or according to Maryland law.  An estate attorney is helpful with preparation of the required court documents, searching for assets, paying claims and distributing assets.  Depending on the family dynamics, having a neutral professional handle the estate may also prevent disputes between family members and preserve family harmony.

How are you paid for Estate Administration?

We charge an hourly rate for Estate Administration. Our fee is subject to the approval of the Orphan’s Court.

Diminished Value

What is diminished value?

Diminished value is the loss in market value of your vehicle after it has been in a crash, even though it is fully repaired. The fact is that, once your vehicle is in a crash, that crash becomes part of your vehicle’s history. CarFax and other vehicle history services make that information easily available to prospective buyers. So if you were to ever try to sell your vehicle or trade it in, you would get less money for it than if the vehicle hadn’t been in a crash in the first place. That’s not fair to you. You shouldn’t have to take less money from a buyer just because your vehicle was in a crash that was someone else’s fault.

Fortunately Maryland law allows you to be compensated for that loss of value from the person or entity that caused the crash. This is called a diminished value claim. The idea is to compensate you – the innocent party – for making your vehicle be worth less money now than it was prior to the crash. The amount of the claim is the amount of market value that your vehicle lost as a result of being in a crash.

Can I make a diminished value claim if my vehicle is totaled?

No. If your car is totaled then you have a claim for the market value of the vehicle at the time of the crash. You can only make a diminished value claim if your vehicle is damaged in a crash, but not totaled.

Is it worth it to make a diminished value claim?

This is a complex question that requires a case-by-case analysis by an experienced attorney. Diminished value claims are based on a loss of market value. Because vehicles tend to depreciate in value, once a vehicle is old enough it can get to a point where being in an accident won’t have much of an impact on its value. Since there is a cost to make a diminished value claim – in both time and money – it might not make sense to pursue the claim if the loss in market value isn’t that high. On the other hand, a newer or more expensive vehicle may lose substantial value if it has been in an accident – even if fully repaired. Whether the damage to your vehicle justifies making a diminished value claim is a question that is best answered by an experienced attorney.

Why should I hire an attorney to help me with my diminished value claim?

First of all, an attorney can help you answer the most important question in a diminished value situation – whether to make the claim at all. Making a diminished value claim takes time and money, and depending on your particular case, might be worth making or not worth making. Your attorney can help you answer this question.

Secondly, if you do decide to bring a diminished value claim, you have to be aware that the at-fault party’s insurance company is looking out to protect the at-fault party’s interest – not your interest. Never assume that the at-fault party’s insurance company cares about giving you fair compensation for the loss of value of your vehicle. The playing field is NOT level.  Insurance companies have many experienced attorneys and seasoned adjusters who know how to handle these cases. Handling the claim yourself will put you at a significant disadvantage because you will not know what all of your rights are and you will not know if your claim is being valued properly. Only an attorney’s expertise will ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the maximum recovery to which you are legally entitled.

Thirdly, an attorney is also invaluable in handling the day-to-day matters associated with your case and taking care of the logistical requirements needed to make a diminished value claim.

How will my attorney be paid?

For diminished value claims, generally we work on a contingent basis. This means that we receive a percentage of whatever you recover from the at-fault party. If your claim does not result in any financial recovery for you, then we receive no fee for our services. In addition, if after looking at your claim we advise you not to pursue a diminished value claim, we would not charge a fee for our services.

Vehicle Property Damage

Can I process my claim directly through the at-fault driver’s insurance company instead of mine?

Yes, but there are several pitfalls with this approach.  One is that the other driver’s insurance company may not immediately accept responsibility for the accident, and therefore may delay the processing of your claim.  Until they have accepted responsibility, they will not pay for your vehicle to be towed or repaired, nor will they pay for a rental car.  By contrast, your own insurance company will pay for these things right away.

Moreover, you must be extremely careful as to what you say to the representatives from the at-fault driver’s insurance company because anything you say can later be used against you when you attempt to resolve your bodily injury claim.  The insurance adjuster may attempt to have you state that you have no personal injury claim or to otherwise minimize your claim.  Or the adjuster may require you to give your description of how the accident occurred.  If it turns out later that your description was in error – perhaps because you did not know all of the facts – your statement made to the at-fault insurance company can be used against you at settlement or trial.

The one significant advantage of processing your claim directly through the at-fault driver’s company is that you do not have to pay any deductible.  If the at-fault driver’s company accepts fault, and you cannot afford to pay the deductible on your own policy, it may be worth it to process your claim directly through the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

What if I was at fault in causing the accident?

If your automobile insurance policy provides for collision coverage, you are entitled to the same coverage regardless of whether you were or were not at fault in causing the accident.  The only difference, in terms of your property damage claim, would be that if you are found to be at fault, you will not be able to have your deductible reimbursed.

The at-fault driver’s insurance company has accepted liability. Does that mean that I’ve won my case?

No.  By means of a special law, an auto insurer can accept liability on the property damage portion of your claim, and subsequently deny liability on the bodily injury portion of your claim.  The fact that the insurance company accepted liability for property damage cannot be used against them in the bodily injury portion of the claim.  What this means is that if the other driver’s insurance company accepts liability for property damage, then that part of your case will be resolved in your favor, but the outcome of your bodily injury claim may still be up in the air.

If my vehicle is totaled, will the insurance company pay me for the cost of a similar replacement vehicle?

No.  Under Maryland law, a person whose car is totaled in an accident is entitled to the fair market value of the vehicle, NOT the cost to replace the vehicle (i.e. replacement value).  Unfortunately for most consumers, the cost to buy a replacement vehicle of similar quality to the vehicle that was totaled is more than the fair market value of the totaled vehicle.  This is an area where the law is simply unfavorable to many consumers.

If my vehicle is totaled, will the insurance company pay off the loan I owe on it?

No.  Again, under Maryland law, a person whose car is totaled in an accident is entitled to the fair market value of the vehicle.  The fair market value is what you could sell the vehicle for, NOT whatever amount is left over on the vehicle loan.  Sometimes the fair market value exceeds the amount left on the loan, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Again, this is an area where the law may be unfavorable to some consumers.

You can protect yourself in this area by purchasing GAP insurance when you take out your car loan. GAP insurance will pay the difference between the fair market value of the car and your loan payoff figure in the event your car is totaled.

If my vehicle is repaired, it will be worth less money because it was in an accident; can I be compensated for that?

Yes. Because your vehicle was in an accident, it will be worth less money on the open market than a comparable vehicle that wasn’t in an accident. This is especially true thanks to the popularity of CarFax and other car history services. Fortunately, Maryland law allows you to be compensated for this loss of value, through a diminished value claim. See our Diminished Value FAQ for more information on this type of claim.

I use my vehicle for work and I’ve lost work or income as a result of not being able to use it while it’s being repaired or replaced; can I be compensated for that?

In some cases, yes. If your vehicle is necessary for you to perform your job and you aren’t able to use it because it was in an accident and spent time in the repair shop, you are able to be compensated for your inability to use the vehicle. This is called a loss of use claim. This type of claim may be complex, so you will need to consult with an attorney for further guidance.

Am I liable for storage fees?

Generally speaking, yes.  Maryland law requires a person to mitigate their damages.  This means that you are not permitted to let a vehicle sit and accrue storage fees while you wait for the insurance company to process your claim.  You should have your vehicle towed and repaired as soon as possible so as to avoid incurring storage fees, even it means paying out-of-pocket for these things.  You can always seek reimbursement for these expenses later, but excessive storage fees are generally not reimbursed.

How long can I stay in the rental car?

Generally, you can stay as long as your regular vehicle is being repaired, or in the case of a totaled vehicle, once you receive payment for it.  Some policies will cover rental car expenses only for a certain period of time; if your policy is of this type then you may have to seek reimbursement from the at-fault party’s insurance company for any rental expenses beyond that period.  However, once your regular vehicle is repaired or you receive payment for it, you must attempt to mitigate your damages, which means returning your rental car and resuming the use of your regular car.

Do I need a lawyer to help me with my property damage claim?

Whether or not you need a lawyer is up to you. We find that most people are able to competently handle their own property damage claim without the assistance of a lawyer, unless they have a diminished value claim, a loss of use claim, or a special kind of vehicle. In those situations we recommend retaining a lawyer to assist with the property damage claim.

At our firm, we help our clients process their property damage claims as part of our services in handling their bodily injury claims. If you have questions regarding your property damage claim, we may be able to help.  Please contact us to inquire further.

How do I handle my own property damage claim?

If you would like to handle your property damage claim on your own, you may find this guide helpful.

A) Report the accident to your insurance company.

You should report the accident to your auto insurance company as soon as possible.  Provide whatever information your claims adjuster asks for to help them process your claim.  Failure to notify your insurance company may void your policy and leave you without coverage.

B) Document the damage to your vehicle.

Take pictures of your vehicle that document the damage to it.  If the claims adjuster asks for them, be prepared to send copies of the pictures.  The purpose of this is two-fold.  One, it shows the extent of the damage and allows the claims adjuster to properly handle the claim.  Two, it preserves the evidence of your damaged vehicle for the bodily injury portion of your claim – which will likely be handled much later after the damage has been repaired, or in the case of a totaled vehicle, after the vehicle has been replaced.  Just make sure to take photos yourself instead of relying on the adjuster or the repair shop to take photos – photos taken by others have a tendency to disappear after the property damage claim has been resolved.

C) Have your vehicle repaired.

Unless your vehicle is declared a total loss, you must take your vehicle to a repair shop to be fixed.  Do not delay and allow your vehicle to incur storage fees.  Your insurance company will have a list of repair shops that they will recommend that you use.  In truth, you may use whatever repair shop you like.  But most insurance companies will only pay an amount that they consider reasonable, and sometimes a repair shop may charge an amount for repairs that exceeds that amount.  If you choose a repair shop other than one of the ones on their list, you may have to pay the difference between what the insurance company considers to be reasonable and what the repair shop charged.

If the insurance company is slow to respond to inquiries or the claim otherwise becomes delayed for some reason, you should take your vehicle to be repaired anyway if it means avoiding storage fees.  You are generally responsible for paying storage fees even if the insurance company is responsible for the delay in the process.  It is better to pay for repairs up front and have them reimbursed later than to pay storage fees for which there is no reimbursement.

D) Obtain a rental vehicle while your vehicle is in the shop.

Talk to your insurance adjuster about obtaining a rental car.  You will likely be advised to communicate directly with a local rental car agency.  When you speak to the rental car agency, make sure you let them know what kind of vehicle you were driving so that they can find a comparable vehicle.  If you need a certain type of vehicle – i.e. a pickup truck because it is necessary for you to haul things around on a regular basis – insist that the rental agency provide that type of vehicle.

When your vehicle has been fully repaired, return your rental car and pick up your regular vehicle as soon as possible.  Most policies only cover rental fees for as long as it is reasonably necessary for your regular vehicle to be repaired.

E) If your vehicle is declared a total loss.

Your car will be declared a total loss if the cost to repair it exceeds its market value.  If this occurs, your insurance company will pay you the fair market value of the vehicle.  Be prepared to negotiate with them as to how much your car is worth.  Use third-party valuation guides such as Kelly’s Blue Book or NADA to make your case.  If you have a record of regular maintenance, you can use that to bolster your claim that your vehicle was in good condition at the time of the accident. Make sure to inform the adjuster of non-standard items that may increase the value of your vehicle, such as new tires, a towing package, etc.

F) Obtain reimbursement of your deductible.

After your car has been repaired, or you have been paid the fair market value for it if it was totaled, instruct your insurance company to subrogate against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.  The insurance companies will decide between themselves who was at fault.  If the companies decide that the other driver was at fault, then his or her insurance company will generally reimburse you for your deductible.  Often the reimbursement will be made first to your own insurance company, who will then reimburse you at some later point.

In some cases your deductible may not be reimbursed for one reason or another.  If this occurs, you may include your unreimbursed deductible as damages in a subsequent bodily injury action.