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I was injured at work.

I was involved in an accident.

I have a property damage claim.

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Dislcaimer: The information in this FAQ is provided for general information only. The information presented may not be suited to your personal, specific, or particular legal problem or situation. The information presented in this FAQ should not be construed as formal legal advice. In addition, the Law Offices of William O’Brien Finch, Jr., is a law firm that is located in Maryland and handles matters arising under Maryland law. As such, all of the information presented in this FAQ is tailored to matters arising under Maryland law. Furthermore, none of the information in this FAQ should be construed as forming a lawyer/client relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dislcaimer: The information in this FAQ is provided for general information only. The information presented may not be suited to your personal, specific, or particular legal problem or situation. The information presented in this FAQ should not be construed as formal legal advice. In addition, the Law Offices of William O’Brien Finch, Jr., is a law firm that is located in Maryland and handles matters arising under Maryland law. As such, all of the information presented in this FAQ is tailored to matters arising under Maryland law. Furthermore, none of the information in this FAQ should be construed as forming a lawyer/client relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dislcaimer: The information in this FAQ is provided for general information only. The information presented may not be suited to your personal, specific, or particular legal problem or situation. The information presented in this FAQ should not be construed as formal legal advice. In addition, the Law Offices of William O’Brien Finch, Jr., is a law firm that is located in Maryland and handles matters arising under Maryland law. As such, all of the information presented in this FAQ is tailored to matters arising under Maryland law. Furthermore, none of the information in this FAQ should be construed as forming a lawyer/client relationship.

GENERAL

PERSONAL INJURY

WORKERS' COMPENSATION

TRUSTS, ESTATES & ELDER LAW

HOW TO HANDLE THE PROPERTY DAMAGE PORTION OF YOUR AUTO ACCIDENT CASE WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY


GENERAL

1. What kind of law do you practice?

The Law Offices of William O’Brien Finch, Jr. concentrates on Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation, Trusts & Estates and Elder Law.

Our Personal Injury practice is exclusively for plaintiffs, and most of our cases arise from automobile accidents.  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:

  • Automobile Accidents
  • Construction Accidents
  • Dog Bites / Animal Attacks
  • Food Poisoning / Foreign Objects in Food
  • Motorcycle Accidents
  • Nursing Home Injuries
  • Occupational Diseases
  • 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
  • Asset Protection
  • 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
2. 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 type of case.

3.  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.

4. 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 open court in many counties throughout this state, and our clients are drawn from every area of Maryland.

5. 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 fee 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 are paid.  We charge a flat rate for preparing wills and other estate planning documents.  Please contact our office if you need more specific details.

6. Do you charge for an initial consultation?

No. All of our initial consultations are free.

7. What should I bring to the initial consultation?

What you should bring depends on the type of case that you have or the type of service that you need.  Please contact our office or consult the following list to determine what you should bring with you. Materials to bring to your initial consultation.

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

Of course you should.  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.

9. How do I find the right lawyer for me?

It is difficult to be an informed “legal consumer” unless you are constantly in need of legal services and can then evaluate the performance of your lawyer over time.  Constantly needing a lawyer, however, is great for lawyers but not an ideal situation for most people.  So how do you find a lawyer for your particular problem?  Word of mouth from neighbors and friends is only a starting point.  Get several names and then call those names and ask who the lawyer would recommend for your type of case.  This procedure should provide you with the names of several lawyers who are respected in the legal community for your type of case.  Visit the lawyer’s web site, if he or she has one, 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.

10. Why should I choose your firm over any other firm?

Only you can decide which firm is right for you.  When it comes to hiring a lawyer, you want one that is experienced in the particular area that pertains to your case.  At our firm, we focus on a few practice areas and we bring years of experience to the table in each of those areas.

You also 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.

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PERSONAL INJURY

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

a. 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 do that which is necessary to improve your physical condition and recover from your injury.  For you this may mean some, or all, of the following steps:

i. Seek medical attention, if you have not yet done so.  Failure to seek 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.

ii. Do not miss doctor’s appointments or physical therapy sessions.  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.

iii. 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 physical recovery will be enhanced.  Failure to follow your doctor’s advice can be used against you at the time of settlement or trial.

b. Secondly: Document what happened.

In the aftermath of an accident or other incident, it is probable that you will be very stressed out and that a lot of things will be happening all at once.  Nevertheless, it is important to gather as much information during this time as possible.  Depending on the nature of your case, you should try to do some or all of the following:

i.  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.  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 an automobile accident, take pictures of the vehicles that were involved in the collision and of the intersection or area where the collision took place.

ii. Take pictures of yourself that document 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 documents 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.

iii. 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.

iv. 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.

c. Third: Contact an attorney as soon as possible.

The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner your attorney can begin helping you with your claim.  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 claim, you receive more legal assistance for the same fee as compared to hiring an attorney later on in the process.

2. Will the insurance company for the person or company who caused my injuries pay my medical bills as they are incurred?

No.  Most insurance companies for the tortfeasor (the person, persons or company who caused your injuries) will not automatically pay your medical bills as they are incurred.  Most insurance companies prefer to conclude or settle the claim with one lump sum of money at the end of the case, primarily because they are not in a good position to fully or fairly evaluate your claim until your medical treatment is concluded or you have achieved your maximum medical improvement.  Therefore, most liability insurance companies will wait for the formal demand from your attorney and then try to conclude the case all at once with one payment.

3. 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 of the following methods:

a. Your own health insurance plan.

b. Medical payments insurance coverage (“Med-Pay”) or personal injury protection benefits (“PIP”) from your own automobile policy if you were driving your automobile and were involved in an automobile collision.

c. Medical payments insurance coverage or personal injury protection benefits from the person you were riding with if you were a passenger in an automobile that has automobile insurance coverage.

d. Your own personal funds if you were not insured and are able to pay medical bills as they are incurred.

e. Workers’ compensation insurance if your injury occurred while you were working on the job and the injury occurred as a result of your employment.

f.  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 will be paid at a later date when and if your case settles or after a successful trial.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Why should I hire a lawyer?

Never assume that the at-fault party’s insurance company cares about your injury or if you receive 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.

7. How will my lawyer handle my case?

After initial meetings 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 for 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 Office, we do not file a lawsuit without our client’s express permission.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. What if I was at fault in causing my injuries?

Unfortunately, under Maryland law a person is not entitled to recover anything if their own conduct was negligent even in a slight degree and that slight negligence proximately contributed to their injury.  This is known as the doctrine 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 at fault.  In fact, even if a police officer or other person determines you to be at fault, you may not necessarily be at fault.  Particularly in automobile 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 doctrine 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.

14. 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 time limit 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 time limit varies depending on the type of claim you are making.

Most personal injury claims are negligence claims, which 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.

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WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

1. 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.  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 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:

  • Volunteer workers, with some exceptions
  • Independent contractors
  • Agricultural workers, with some exceptions
  • Casual employees
  • Domestic workers, with some exceptions
2. What if I was at fault in causing my injuries?

Under workers’ compensation laws, it does not matter who is at fault in the happening of 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.

3. 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 lawsuit can be filed against another party, other than your employer, who may be responsible for your accident.  For example, if you are in the course of employment and are involved in a motor vehicle accident which is some other person’s fault, you may collect workers’ compensation benefits as well as having the right to sue the other “at fault” driver.  Similarly, if you are a machine operator and were injured while operating a piece of machinery, you would be entitled to sue the manufacturer of that machine if it was found to be defective and the defect caused your injury.  There are countless other factual situations where you might have a third-party lawsuit. Your lawyer would be responsible for advising you in those situations.

4. 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 will 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.

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.  These types of injuries are usually classified as “occupational disease claims.”

Hernias – A hernia may be compensable even though it did not result from an accidental injury, but merely from a strain arising out of and in the course of employment.  In hernia cases, however, the claimant must prove that the hernia did not exist prior to the injury or strain or that the pre-existing hernia became aggravated in such a way that an immediate operation was necessary.  A second requirement is that the injury or strain must be reported to the employer within 30 days after its occurrence.

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.  Any permanent disability in this situation would be apportioned between the pre-existing health problem and the aggravation of that problem caused by your employment.  The insurer would only pay for the part solely attributable to the accidental injury or occupational disease.  Medical bills, however, will be paid in full under the new claim even if the medical condition partially pre-existed the date of the new accidental injury. 

Occupational diseases – The workers’ compensation statute also provides coverage for certain occupational diseases if the worker suffers a disablement or dies as a result of the disease.  The statute defines the term “disablement” as the event of becoming partially or totally incapacitated because of an occupational disease.  Your lawyer will help you determine whether your situation qualifies as “disablement”.  In the absence of a disablement, an employer and insurer are not liable even if the worker was diagnosed as having the occupational disease and was receiving treatment for it.

Examples of occupational diseases might include asbestosis for a shipyard worker, scoliosis for a miner, hypertension for a police officer or firefighter, or carpal tunnel syndrome for a worker involved in repetitive wrist motions.  Medical documentation is both necessary and critical to prove an occupational disease case. 

5. 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 jeopardize your benefits.  You may lose your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits if you do not report your injury immediately.  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.  The 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 income replacement 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.  Obtain a disability slip from your doctor if you are to remain out of work on doctor’s instructions.  It is important that you obtain a disability slip 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 out of work slips.  The Commission will not order income replacement benefits without written off-work slips. 

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. 

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.

6. 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 exception to this would be if you had a specific employment contract or you are a union member subject to a collective bargaining agreement or under the limited circumstances where the Americans With Disabilities Act applies or where the Family and Medical Leave Act applies.

Conscientious employers will try to accommodate their injured workers.  In this regard, a claimant should maintain regular contact with his employer, usually through the personnel department or his or her supervisor and keep them reasonably advised as to your medical situation and/or anticipated return to work date (if known).  In this regard, an employee 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.

7. How do I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

A special workers’ compensation claim form must be filled out.  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 a special claim form.  After the proper form is completed, it must be formally filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission in Baltimore City.

8. 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, medical, 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 accident or occupational disease. 

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).  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.  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.

Scheduled Member Benefits – If your injury results in a loss of vision, partial or total loss of hearing, loss of use or amputation of arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers or toes, you are entitled to benefits.  Specific member benefits are paid even if you do not lose time from work.  Loss of use does not mean total loss of use, but means that your condition or injured body part is not back to what it was prior to the injury. 

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 are 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 last date on which you last received compensation.  The payment of future medical bills is not considered in calculating the 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.

9. 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.

10. 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 or below 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.

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TRUSTS, ESTATES & ELDER LAW

1. Why Should I Have a Will?

If you pass away and do not have a will, a State Court will determine 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.

2. 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 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 so as to conform 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.

3. 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, the Courts will determine what will happen to you or may appoint a third party to make decisions for you.  A Living Will can help ensure that such a situation does not happen to your family if something should happen to you.

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

A Financial Power of Attorney allows a person to designate someone else (usually 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 and 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Can you help me apply for Medicare or Medicaid?

Yes.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.  Where the decedent does have assets solely in his or her name, an estate should 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.

11. 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.

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197 East Main Street Westminster, MD 21157 (410) 871-1234 contact@finchlawoffice.com