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Personal Injury Representation by Attorney Marc J. Atas

I will get you the compensation you deserve

Free Initial Consultation and NO Fees or Costs Unless We Win

When a person or family is struck by the tragedy of a death or serious personal injury, they want a personal injury attorney who will handle the case personally from start to finish, a personal injury attorney who will listen to them, a personal injury attorney who will take their problems seriously and who will deal with their concerns in a sensitive and professional manner. Personal Injury clients have the absolute right to be kept fully informed of their options in personal injury representation and the consequences of each decision they make as well as the progress of their case every step of the way. Baltimore attorney Marc Atas is committed to fulfilling these obligations to you.

Nothing is worse than being injured through no fault of your own, possibly due to someone else’s negligence. Whether you have slipped and fallen, been hurt by a defective product or been harmed by some other form of negligence, you deserve to have your side represented with competence and care. It is important that you educate yourself and learn the basics of how to deal with a personal injury case.

Ultimately, in a personal injury case, the most important result is how much money was my attorney able to deliver as part of a settlement or jury verdict.You need an attorney who not only asks for large amounts of money, but also knows how to make it happen.

Who you hire as your attorney is just as important as the case itself.Remember, you get what you pay for. If you hire an inexperienced lawyer, who is not willing to go to war for you, and who is intimidated by the high price lawyers the insurance companies hire, than you will be disappointed with your result.If you hire my office, you will not be disappointed.

If you have been hurt through no fault of your own, contact the law office of Marc J. Atas for a consultation with a personal injury attorney today!

I Will Fight For You!

Top 10 Questions For Your Attorney

Let’s be honest: no one likes hiring a lawyer. It is considered by many to be a distasteful necessity of life. Contrary to popular belief, not all lawyers are the same. Asking these questions will help you select the right lawyer and, in the long run, save you a lot of aggravation and grief.

The questions below are from an October 1997 article in the Sacramento Business Journal and were designed to help you select the right lawyer and make your job easier.

What type of experience do you have?

Although it’s nice to tell your friends and neighbors that your lawyer graduated No. 1 in his or her class from Harvard Law School, it will not be comforting when you are in court for the first time and you find out it’s the lawyer’s first time too!

Obviously, it is important that the lawyer has passed the state bar exam and is properly licensed. However, there is no substitute for experience. Ask the lawyer how many similar cases he or she has handled. How long ago? What was the outcome? Get the specific details. If the lawyer doesn’t have experience, what will he or she do to get it? Is the lawyer willing to work with another experienced lawyer and learn? see attached article on how to choose an attorney

What is your specialty?

Some lawyers limit their practice to a certain area, which is becoming more common because of all the rapid changes in laws. Determine if the lawyer specializes in the type of case you have. Furthermore, the state bar certifies lawyers in certain limited areas (i.e. family law, tax, and workers’ compensation). Determine from the lawyer whether a certification for your particular area of interest exists and whether the lawyer is certified.

What will it cost?

One of the most common disputes between lawyers and clients involves fees. The main reason: poor communication. Ask, up front, what it will cost to handle your case.

Get into the specific details. Ask if your first visit is free. Determine whether you will be billed for telephone conversations with the lawyer. Although it may be difficult for an attorney to predict exactly what the fee will be, an experienced lawyer should be able to give you an estimate or range.

Ask about the billing policies. Will you pay an hourly fee, a fixed fee or a contingency fee? Ask about costs (i.e. filing fees, experts, court reporters, etc.), who will pay them and when. Also ask about whether the lawyer charges for copies, faxes, postage and long-distance telephone calls. If so, how much? If your matter will exceed $1,000, the lawyer’s fee agreement must be in writing. Make sure you carefully read the fee agreement before signing.

Fees in a personal injury case.

What references can you provide?

These include references from other lawyers, judges and especially clients. Past or present clients have valuable insight and knowledge about the lawyer and his services. Ask for client references and call them.

What is the policy on returning phone calls?

Lawyers not returning calls on a timely basis is another complaint of disgruntled clients. Ask how quickly you can expect a return telephone call.

How long will my matter take to reach a conclusion?

Ask about the process and how long each stage will take.

Will I be regularly updated?

Another complaint from unhappy clients is that after retaining the lawyer, they never hear from him or her again except when they receive a bill. Ask whether you will receive copies of documents generated or received by the lawyer. Ask whether you will be advised of contacts made by your lawyer.

Who will handle my matter?

If the lawyer works in a firm, determine who will be primarily responsible for your case. It is not unusual or unethical for a senior lawyer to oversee and supervise a junior lawyer handling a case. In fact, if your legal issue involves lengthy research, it may be more economical to have the work done by a junior attorney at a lower billable rate. However, ask so there are no surprises later.

Would handling my case involve a potential conflict with another client?

If a potential conflict exists, you may have to continue looking for another lawyer. If the conflict is not significant, it may be possible to waive the conflict with your full written consent.

Do you have malpractice insurance?

Under rules governing lawyers, the lawyer must advise you in writing whether she or he maintains malpractice insurance.

Personal Injury Cases From A to Z

Feeling angry and hurt with nowhere to turn? Suffer in silence no more! Seek the support of an attorney who can channel your emotions and help you get the compensation you deserve. Start with the basics and familiarize yourself with the elements in a personal injury case by looking at the information below.

How to prove fault in personal injury claims other than automobile accidents.

To pursue a claim against another party for unintentionally causing an injury, you must prove that he/she has been negligent. Negligence is the legal word for carelessness. The legal definition of negligence requires four elements:

  • that there is a legal duty owned to you by the other party
  • that the party breached that duty to you
  • that as a result of said breach of duty you sustained injuries
  • that those injuries were caused by the negligent action or breach of duty

A more simple definition is that the person who caused the injuries did not act in a normal way in which a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances. Negligence can occur in many different circumstances. If an accident is caused on property that is dangerous because it is poorly built or maintained, the owner of the property is liable for being careless in maintaining the property, regardless of whether he or she actually created the dangerous condition.

For example, if you are on someone else’s property either as a visitor or a tenant and are doing business on the property, the owner of that property has a responsibility to keep the premises properly maintained. If that owner knows or should have known about a dangerous or defective condition but fails to remedy the situation in a timely manner despite adequate time, he/she is liable and is considered negligent for not preventing your injuries.

These situations frequently arise in slips and falls on an owner’s piece of property or when a tenant or one of his guests is injured in a rental property. To hold the owner of a property liable, it is not sufficient to merely say that the injury took place on that property; you must also prove that the owner owed you a duty in that you were some sort of patron or authorized guest and that the owner either knew or should have known of the dangerous or defective condition that caused the accident.

If the landlord or business owner has a defective condition or slippery area and is unaware of it, because he/she has not been notified and had no way of doing a reasonable inspection to discover the situation, he/she may not be liable, because he/she did not have enough notice to remedy the situation.

For example, if you are in a store and a customer spills a foreign substance on the floor prior to you walking in that area and nobody notifies the store owner, the owner of that building is not liable for your injuries even though it happened on those premises because he did not have proper notice and had no way of knowing about the slippery condition. On the other hand, if the substance had been there for a long period of time and there was sufficient time for the owner to have done reasonable inspections or for someone to have notified him, he may be liable even if he had no notice.

In typical landlord/tenant situations where the tenant lives in the property and doesn’t notify the landlord of the problem, he/she may not be able to file an action against the landlord because he/she failed to notify the landlord of the dangerous condition. Without adequate time and notice, the landlord or owner cannot be held accountable. If, however, the tenant notifies the landlord of the dangerous and defective condition and the landlord fails to properly fix the condition, the landlord may be liable because he/she has had notice and still failed to do his/her duty.

What is strict liability or product liability?

If an accident is caused by a defective product, the manufacturer and the seller of the product may both be liable for the injury. Defective products are everywhere, including cars, baby cribs, medicines, etc. In these particular cases you don’t normally have to prove negligence and may proceed on a theory of strict liability.

Maryland Dog Bite Law

Maryland is a one bite state, does not recognize a separate cause of action for dog owner negligence, and will not permit a victim to recover if his own actions contributed even just one percent to the cause of the accident.

Overview

The traditional doctrine that makes a person liable for harm inflicted by a domestic animal is referred to as “scienter” (the Latin word for “knowingly”), “common law strict liability,” and “the one bite rule.” As it applies to dog bites, this doctrine holds that a victim can recover compensation from the owner, harborer or keeper of a dog (a) the dog previously bit a person or acted like it wanted to, and (b) the defendant was aware of the dog’s previous conduct. If either of those conditions are not met, however, this doctrine prevents the victim from recovering anything.

With the exception of pit bulls, Maryland adheres to the one bite rule. The owner or keeper of an animal, if he has actual or constructive knowledge of its ferocious or dangerous propensities, may be responsible, depending upon the circumstances, for all proximately caused injury or damage. Twigg v. Ryland, 62 Md. 380 (1884). The defendant will be held liable whether the incident happens on a public street (Bachman v. Clark, 128 Md. 245, 97 A. 440 (1916)) or the defendant’s own premises (Hamilton v. Smith,242 Md. 599, 219 A.2d 783 (1966)), but in the latter case the victim cannot recover if he is an intentional or inadvertent trespasser Bramble v. Thompson 264 Md 518).

The one bite rule is the foundation of dog bite law. It exists in every state. The majority of states, however, have statutes that supplement the one bite rule. These dog bite statutes or animal liability statutes make dog owners responsible for all bites including the first one. Additionally, the majority of states impose liability on dog owners and others under a variety of other legal doctrines, including negligence, premises liability, nuisance, and negligence per se for a violation of an animal control law such as a leash law, a law prohibiting dogs from being at large, or a law prohibiting dogs from trespassing.

This particular state does not have a dog bite statute. Critics have asserted that not having a dog bite statute is at odds with modern American beliefs about personal responsibility, because the one bite rule shields a dog owner from liability each time one of his dogs bites a person for the first time unless it can be proved that the owner knew that the dog had the propensity to bite people without justification. Whether one agrees with these critics or not, it nevertheless is true that a dog bite victim has more to prove in the absence of a dog bite statute.

This state also has sharply limited the dog bite victim’s cause of action for negligence. Negligence is the lack of ordinary care; that is, the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise in similar circumstances. If a person’s conduct in a given circumstance doesn’t measure up to the conduct of an ordinarily prudent and careful person, then that person is negligent. For example, letting a stray dog into a day care center is negligence. . To recover compensation on the ground of negligence in this state, however, the victim must prove the elements of the one bite rule (i.e., that the dog had the propensity to bite people without justification, and that the owner, harborer or keeper knew it). See below, Liability based upon common law strict liability. Therefore the dog bite victim in this state has to satisfy more requirements than victims who are negligently injured by other means. For example, if a dog owner brought his pit bull to a day care center, and the dog mauled a toddler, the dog owner would have no liability at all unless the parents of the child could prove that the dog had demonstrated the specific dangerous propensity to bite people. The sheer stupidity and recklessness of bringing the dog there in the first place would not be enough to make the dog owner liable in this state.

The violation of an animal control law can result in liability on the part of the violator, whether or not he owns the dog. States, counties and cities often have laws requiring dogs to be on leash, or prohibiting them from being at large or from trespassing. With few exceptions, courts have ruled that violating such laws can be the basis of liability. In this state, the violation constitutes evidence of negligence. (Moura v. Randall, 119 Md. App. 632, 705 A.2d 334 (1998).)

There is one circumstance in which owners and harborers of a dog will be held strictly liable without the proof required by the doctrines of scienter or negligence. Maryland has imposed “a strict liability standard in respect to the owning, harboring or control of pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls in lieu of the traditional common law liability principles.” In Tracey v. Solesky, the state’s highest court ruled that pure pit bulls are inherently dangerous as a breed, making their owners and harborers strictly liable for injuries inflicted by these dogs. As revised, the decision applies to “pure” pit bulls, leaving open the question as to whether the strict liability standard shall be applied to owners and harborers of cross-bred or “mixed” pit bulls in the future.

Liability based upon common law strict liability

The basic rule of liability in Maryland was stated as follows in Herbert v. Ziegler, 216 Md. 212, 139 A.2d 699 (1958):

To hold liable the owner of a domestic animal that has caused injury, the claimant must show that the owner knew, or by the exercise of ordinary and reasonable care should have known, of the inclination or propensity of the animal to do the particular mischief that was the cause of the harm. Twigg v. Ryland, 62 Md. 380, 386 [1884]; and May Co. v. Drury [160 Md. 143, 153 Atl. 61 (1931)], Evans v. Upmier [16 N.W. 2d 6 (Ia. 1944)] and Lynch v. Richardson, [39 N.E. 801 (Mass. 1895)], all supra; Prosser, Page 457} Torts (2d ed.), Sec. 57, pp. 323-325; Restatement, Torts, Sec. 518. Id. at 216.

In Hamilton v. Smith, 242 Md. 599, 608, 219 A.2d 783 (1965), it was established that the owner of three dogs who had savagely attacked a nine-year old boy had actual knowledge of the dogs’ vicious propensities. The court held that “there are three elements which must be proven against a defendant in order to show negligence on his part: (1) owning or harboring of an animal; (2) with vicious propensities, (3) with knowledge (scienter) of its vicious propensities.”

Scienter means knowledge of dangerousness and does not necessarily require a prior bite. In Twigg v. Ryland, 62 Md. 380 (1884), it was held that:

The owner or keeper of the dog or other domestic animal must be shown to have had knowledge of its disposition to commit such injury, and the burden of proving this fact is on the plaintiff, though it would be otherwise if the animal was of a nature to be fierce and untamable, such as bears, tigers, etc. Spring Co. v. Edgar, 99 U.S. 645. The notice which will charge the owner or keeper with liability for the vicious conduct of the animal must be notice that it was inclined to do the particular mischief that has been done. Hence, notice that a dog is ferociously disposed towards cattle, is no notice that he will attack persons. It is not necessary to show that the owner or keeper of a vicious dog has seen the animal attack mankind; but it is sufficient to show that the vicious propensity of the animal has, in some way, been brought to the knowledge of the owner or keeper, so as to admonish him to take the necessary precaution to prevent injury in the future. Hence the question in each case is whether the notice was sufficient to put the owner or keeper on his guard, and to require him to anticipate the injury that has actually been done. Id. at 385-86.

Knowledge of dangerousness can be proved by circumstantial evidence that infers knowledge of dangerousness on the part of the dog owner. Bachman v. Clark, 128 Md. 245, 248, 97 A. 440 (1916). In that case, there was evidence that the dog was always kept in an enclosure; that the dog would jump on people entering the enclosure; that the dog would become excited, bark and run up and down the fence, attempting to bite a stick thrust between the palings by boys upon the outside; that the dog would growl; and that the dog was always kept within the enclosure except when on a strap. On the basis of that evidence, the court held there was legally sufficient evidence to go to the jury as tending to show the defendant’s knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity or inclination to bite mankind.

It must first be shown, in order to render the owner liable for damages to one bitten by his dog, that the dog had a vicious propensity, and second that such vicious propensity or inclination was known to its owner. But the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity need only be such as to put him on his guard and to require him as an ordinary prudent person to anticipate the act or conduct of the dog resulting in the injury for which the owner is sought to be held liable. 3 C.J. 96. The owner’s knowledge of the propensity of the dog may be, and most generally is, acquired from its conduct and behavior, although such knowledge may be acquired from other persons, and in some cases the knowledge of others is imputed to the owner.

However, knowledge of dangerousness is not implied if it is based solely on breed, as least in a case that did not involve a pit bull. In McDonald v. Burgess, 254 Md. 452, 255 A.2d 299 (Md.App. 07/01/1969), a child apparently was injured by a German Shepherd when the owner took the child into the dog’s dog run. The plaintiff argued that the fact that the dog was a German Shepherd should have put the dog owner on notice that the dog might be dangerous. The court rejected that argument.

Landlord Liability

“`[W]here a landlord leases separate portions of his property to different tenants and reserves under his control the passageways and stairways, and other parts of the property for the common use of all the tenants[,] he must then exercise ordinary care and diligence to maintain the retained portions in a reasonably safe condition.’ Langley Park Apts. v. Lund Adm’r, 234 Md. 402, 407, 199 A.2d 620, 623 (1964).

The duty to maintain these areas in a reasonably safe condition extends not only to the tenant but “includes the members of his family, his guests, his invitees, and others on the land in the right of the tenant.” Landay v. Cohn, 220 Md. 24, 27, 150 A.2d 739, 741 (1959). “It has been held that a child on the land at the invitation of the child of the tenant is entitled to the benefit of the landlord’s obligation in this respect.” Landay v. Cohn, supra, 220 Md. at 27-28, 150 A.2d at 741.

Accordingly, in Shields v. Wagman, [citation needed], the Supreme Court held that landlords of a strip shopping center may be liable for injuries sustained by a business invitee and a tenant when they were attacked by a pit bull dog owned by another tenant and kept on the leased premises. The injuries in Shields occurred in a common area, the parking lot of the shopping center, on two occasions when the pit bull escaped from the leased premises.

Where a landlord agrees to rectify a dangerous condition in the leased premises, and fails to do so, he may be liable for injuries caused by the condition. See, e.g., Sacks v. Pleasant, 253 Md. 40, 44-46, 251 A.2d 858, 861-862 (1969) (landlord held liable for injuries caused by a defective toilet seat where the landlord promised but failed to repair the same); Farley v. Yerman, 231 Md. 444, 448, 190 A.2d 773, 775 (1963) (“a tenant . . . may maintain an action for injuries sustained as a result of an uncorrected defect . . . if there was a contractual obligation to repair the particular defect and a reasonable opportunity to correct it. . . . A promise made in the face of a threat to move or a request by the landlord that the tenant remain creates a contract supported by consideration”).

Similarly, if a landlord voluntarily undertakes to rectify a dangerous or defective condition within the leased premises, and does so negligently, the landlord is liable for resulting injuries even though he was not contractually obligated to correct the condition in the first place. Miller v. Howard, 206 Md. 148, 155, 110 A.2d 683, 686 (1955); Miller v. Fisher, 111 Md. 91, 94, 73 A. 891, 892 (1909) (“although a landlord, in the absence of a covenant to that effect, is ordinarily not bound to repair, yet if he assumes to do so, and performs the work so negligently as to cause an injury thereby, he is responsible”).

Defective or dangerous conditions in the leased premises which violate statutes or ordinances may also be the basis for a negligence action against the landlord. See, e.g., Richwind v. Brunson, supra, 335 Md. at 671, 645 A.2d at 1152 (adopting Restatement (Second) of Property: Landlord and Tenant 17.6 (1977)).

The doctrine of strict liability applies to cases involving pit bulls on the leased premises. A landlord may be held liable for injuries inflicted by a pit bull which is owned, kept or harbored on the leased premises, provided that the landlord has the right to prohibit such dogs on the premises and knows or has reason to know that the dog is a pit bull. See the discussion of Tracey v. Solesky, supra.

Defenses to dog bite cases

Contributory negligence

Maryland is one of the few American states that adheres to the ancient rule of contributory negligence, as opposed to the modern variants of that rule. In a contributory negligence state, a victim cannot recover any compensation for his injuries if he contributed even slightly to the occurrence of the accident. “One who by his own negligence has contributed to an  accident in any essential degree cannot recover damages therefore.”  Baltimore & O. R.R. Co. v. State, 29 Md. 252 (1868).

Negligence of parents as a defense

A parent’s negligence will be deemed to constitute an “independent and superseding cause of the child’s injuries” in only an “extraordinary situation.” Caroline v. Reicher, supra, 269 Md. at 130, 304 A.2d at 834.

Negligence of child under five years old not a defense

The case of Miller v. Graff, 196 Md. 609, 620, 78 A.2d 220, 224 (1951) held that “a child four years old cannot be guilty of contributory negligence under any circumstances.” If the victim is 5 or over, he may be contributorily negligent if he failed to exercise that degree of care of reasonable person of like age, intelligence, and experience under like circumstances. Taylor v. Armiger, 277 Md. 638, 358 A.2d 883 (1976). In other words, a child is not judged by the same standards as an adult.

Lack of time to evict tenant not a defense where no attempt was made to evict

A landlord can be held liable for injuries inflicted by a tenant’s dog under certain circumstances, described above. One of the landlord’s defenses is that he lacked the time to evict the tenant who harbored the vicious dog. In the case of Matthews v. Amberwood Associates Limited Partnership Inc., 351 Md. 544, 719 A.2d 119 (Md. 10/07/1998), the landlord defended on the ground that the victim could not prove that the landlord had enough time to evict the dog owner. The plaintiff won, however, because defendant landlord had taken no steps to initiate the eviction.

Trespass

A dog owner is not liable when his dog bites a trespasser, whether the trespass is intentional or inadvertent. Bramble v. Thompson, 264 Md. 518 (1972).

Assumption of the Risk

In Benton v. Aquarium Inc., 62 Md. App. 373, 489 A.2d 549 (Md.Sp.App. 04/03/1985), a delivery man saw a sign in a warehouse that said “Guard Dog on Duty.” Despite reading the sign, the man opened the door of an office, where he was attacked by a dog. His conduct was deemed to have constituted an assumption of the risk of injury, and on that basis his case was lost.

 

Proving slip and fall cases

The following are guidelines that will help you determine who is responsible in a typical slip, trip or fall case on property belonging to someone else. Thousands of people are injured each year in slip, trip or fall cases. Sometimes the owners of a property are responsible and other times they are not.

Remember it is a normal part of living for things to fall on or drip onto a floor and that someone who owns or occupies a property cannot always be responsible for accidents. Further, the property owner is not responsible where someone slips or trips on something that an ordinary person would expect to find there and would ordinarily see and/or avoid. We all have an obligation to watch where we were walking. In determining whether a property owner should have known of a defective condition when in fact they did not have actual knowledge of the condition you would have to look at the following factors:

  • How long has the dangerous area been there? Was it there long enough that the owner should have known about it?
  • Does the property owner have a regular procedure for examining, cleaning or repairing the premises? If so, what proof does the owner have of this regular maintenance? If you tripped over an object that was on the floor for a good reason, does there still exist a good reason to have the property on the floor or is there another place that the particular object could have been placed that would have been more safe without any greater inconvenience or expense to the property owner?
  • Could a simple barrier have been created or a warning have been given to prevent people from slipping or tripping?
  • Did the lighting in the particular area contribute to the accident?
  • Defenses to your negligence action can destroy your cause of action. If a defendant in a slip and fall case or a products liability case or a landlord/tenant negligence case can prove that the plaintiff was in way contributory negligent or assumed the risk then that is an absolute defense to any claim that may be made. Maryland is a contributory negligence state, which means that in order for a plaintiff to prevail in a personal injury claim the plaintiff must be 100 percent in the right and must not contribute in any way to the accident. If the plaintiff contributes even 1 percent to an accident, the plaintiff loses and cannot recover anything. While this may seem very harsh, many defendants use this legal theory to disavow liability.

    For instance, in a typical slip and fall on ice in front of a business, the landlord will prevail if he can show that the tenant saw the ice prior to walking on it but made a conscious decision to walk on the ice anyway. The landlord can then assert the defense of contributory negligence and/or assumption of risk and can successfully dodge liability even though he may have been negligent in not cleaning up the ice in the first place.

Consultation: matas@ataslaw.com
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