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Trial ‘victories’

I had the privilege last week of carrying the briefcase for my senior partner, Bruce Plaxen.

In a Prince George’s County trial we represented a woman who was injured when an undercover police car, driven by an off-duty police officer, moved into her lane of travel and hit her head-on. Her medical bills were nearly $400,000.

She had fractures in her hip, her pelvis, her right foot and her jaw. She needed double knee surgeries. She spent three months in the hospital, and another two months in a wheelchair. Our 45-year-old client now walks with a cane, and is not able to work. More than two years after the collision, she still goes to physical therapy three times a week.

The jury’s verdict: $3,091,291.67.

Verdicts like this are sometimes like monopoly money. The jury probably thinks they did a great thing for this woman — they probably think that she will now be able to take care of herself and her children. They gave her money for her medical bills, her past and future lost wages, and $1.75 million in non-economic damages (damages for pain, mental anguish, disfigurement and physical impairment).

The jury did its job, and from their end, justice was served. But now, we have the aftermath.

Maryland has a statutory cap on non-economic damages. That means that the most our client can recover for non-economic damages is $710,000. If that was the only issue, our client would end up with $2.05 million. But the deeper problem is insurance coverage. There are two issues:

First, Prince George’s County was self-insured to the minimum statutory amount — then $20,000. That level of insurance, given the high cost of medical care, is simply irresponsible. The net effect of that low level of coverage is that people with serious injuries (to say nothing of those with catastrophic injuries) will not be able to pay back their medical bills.

The woman injured in the collision was forced to rely on her own underinsured motorist coverage.  Unfortunately, it only provided an additional $30,000 in benefits, leaving her with a total recovery of $50,000. That is a fraction of what the jury intended.

Situations like this are not uncommon. People involved in collisions caused by others are frequently forced to rely on the negligent driver’s paltry insurance coverage.

All drivers should review their uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage with their insurance agents. A minimum of $1 million in coverage is a little added security (but, talk to your insurance agent to determine what is best for you), and for most insurance companies the increase in premiums is not extreme.

This is one little thing we can all do to protect ourselves and our families from being truly victimized by the negligence of others.