According to data published by the United States Federal Courts, there were 1,221,091 bankruptcy filings between December of 2011 and December of 2012.  Of these bankruptcy filings, 1,181,016 were non-business filings.  In total, 828 filings occurred in the District of Columbia, 23,200 occurred in the state of Maryland, and 28,726 occurred in the state of Virginia.

Many factors can lead to someone making the decision to file for bankruptcy.  Medical expenses, job loss, uncontrolled spending, unexpected disasters, and divorce are commonly cited as factors contributing to the decision to file for bankruptcy.


Divorce comes with significant financial burdens.  Partners who were accustomed to sharing routine expenses, now have to maintain separate households.  In addition, divorce entails significant legal fees, the division of marital assets as well as, child support and/or alimony obligations.  These changes can have serious consequences on an individual’s financial health.  As such, it is not uncommon for individuals to file for bankruptcy during or immediately after a divorce.


If your former spouse is considering filing for bankruptcy, you may be wondering how this will affect your divorce.  There are several things that you should keep in mind.

1. Bankruptcy does not eliminate domestic support obligations.

Filing for bankruptcy will not eliminate your domestic support obligations such as, child support or alimony.  In 2005, the Federal government passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Act (BAPCPA).  This legislation was enacted to prevent former spouses from filing for bankruptcy in order to avoid their domestic support obligations.  Pursuant to this new law, domestic support obligations are considered priority claims which cannot be discharged during bankruptcy.

2. Chapter 7 bankruptcy does not eliminate property settlement debts.

BAPCPA also prevents former spouses from avoiding property settlement debts when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves the liquidation of assets.  However, property settlement debts remain dischargeable in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which involves the adjustment of debts.

3. Unless you are a co-signer on your former spouse’s credit cards, you will not be responsible for their debt after bankruptcy.

When it comes to credit card debt, that which is incurred during the course of a marriage is the joint responsibility of both parties only if you are both co-signers on the credit card.  You are not responsible for your former spouse’s credit card debt just because you are or were an authorized cardholder.  There is an exception to this rule in community property jurisdictions, but this does not apply to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.  Therefore, if your former spouse is filing for bankruptcy, you do not have to worry about creditors coming after you for the debt unless you were a co-signer on the credit card.

If you or your former spouse are considering filing for bankruptcy, you should contact an attorney immediately to discuss how this will impact your financial obligations and entitlements.

RELATED BLOG POSTS: Social Security Payments as Child Support, Modification of Child Support.

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On March 28, a one-year-old child was injured in an accident involving a school bus in Columbia, Maryland.  The accident occurred when the car being driven by the victim’s mother attempted to make a left turn in front of a school bus on Little Patuxent Parkway.  The vehicle was struck by the school bus on the rear passenger side, where the victim was seated in a child safety seat.  There were five people in the school bus, including two students, two aides, and the driver.  However, no other injuries resulted from the accident.

The students were en route to Forbush School in Hunt Valley, an institution that provides special education to children with autism.  After the accident, a second school bus reported to the scene in order to transport the students to school.


Every day, nearly 22 million students ride school transportation.  According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) School Transportation Related Crashes report, over 1,200 fatal school transportation related accidents occurred between 2001 and 2010.  In total, these collisions resulted in 1,368 deaths.  On average, there were 137 fatalities annually as a result of school transportation related accidents.  The study defined a school transportation related accident as one which directly or indirectly involved a school bus or other vehicle functioning as a school bus, while transporting students to and from school or a school related activity.

The majority of school transportation related accident fatalities involved individuals who were occupants of other vehicles.  These individuals account for approximately 72 percent of reported fatalities.  21 percent of fatalities in this type of accident involved non-occupants, such as pedestrians and cyclists.  The remaining 7 percent of fatalities in this type of accident were occupants of school transportation vehicles.

In addition to these deaths, many individuals suffer serious injuries that severely impact their health and quality of life as a result of school transportation related accidents.


If you or your loved one are injured, or if your loved one is killed, as a result of a school transportation related accident, it is important to contact an attorney in order to ensure that your legal rights are protected.

Depending on the circumstances of your school transportation related accident several parties may be responsible for your injuries and losses.  These parties include the school bus driver, the school board, and the company contracted to provide student transportation services.

The school board or the company contracted to provide student transportation services could be held liable for the negligent acts or omissions of the school bus driver under the legal theory of respondeat superior.  Under this theory, an employer is held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees, which are committed within the scope of employment.

This is important because school boards and private companies are usually better suited to compensate accident victims for their injuries because they have greater financial resources and more substantial insurance policies.


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According to a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), highway fatalities increased by over 7 percent in the first nine months of 2012.  The total number of fatalities increased from 1,696 to 25,580 during this time period.  These numbers represent the largest increase in highway fatalities since the federal government began collecting data on traffic related deaths in 1975.

Teenagers are dying in highway accidents at even higher rates.  The Governors Highway Safety Association recently released a report which found that traffic related fatalities among teenagers has increased by 19 percent nationally.  For example, in the first six months of 2012, there were 240 traffic related fatalities involving teenagers.
Several factors may contribute to the higher rates of highway fatalities amongst teenagers.

For example, as the economy improves, the number of teenager drivers and the amount of discretionary driving is also increasing.

However, the most significant contributing factor to higher rates of teenage traffic accident fatalities appears to be distracted driving.  Teenagers represent the largest group of distracted drivers on the road.  Distracted driving involves actions which limit the driver’s ability to process what is going on around them.  This includes visual distractions that take a person’s eyes off the road, manual distractions that take a person’s hands off the wheel, and cognitive distractions that take a person’s mind off driving.  These distractions are brought on by activities such as, cell phone use, changing music, and eating while driving.

One out of every four car accidents involves distracted driving.  Near 40 percent of American teenagers report being in a car where the driver used their cell phone in a matter that put themselves and others at risk of danger.  In addition, 43 percent of teenagers acknowledge talking on their cell phones while driving.  Moreover, distracted driving is the cause of 11 percent of all car accident fatalities amongst teenagers.

In order to combat this dangerous trend, the Federal government recently announced a $330 million initiative which aims to combat distracted driving.

The State of Maryland has also established laws aimed at preventing traffic accidents resulting from distracted driving.  In Maryland, it is illegal for drivers to use their cell phones without a hands free device.  However, this law is classified as a secondary offense.  This means that the driver must commit a primary offense before they can be charged with this offense.  Primary offenses include speeding and reckless driving.  If charge for this offense, the driver will be fined $40 for the first infraction and $100 for each subsequent infraction.

In addition, the State has a law against texting while driving.  This includes writing, sending, and reading texts and other electronic messages.  Violating this law is a misdemeanor crime.  If charged with this crime, you may also receive a fine not to exceed $500.  However, there are exceptions carved out to allow drivers to use their cell phone GPS functions as well as, for contacting 911.

If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in a traffic accident involving distracted driving, contacting an attorney can help preserve your legal rights and ensure that your receive compensation
for your injuries.

Related Blog Posts: Mom-Mobiles for Honda Recalled for Rolling Away, DC Metro Area Poses Heightened Accident Risk.

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New Study Finds Teen Driver Deaths Increased In 2012

A couple weeks ago, we addressed the increasing problem of distracted driving and the effect it is having on motorist safety.  That post discussed the AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety report finding that distracted driving is a significant concern and quite common behavior among drivers.

Now, a report released late last month by the Governors Highway Safety Association (“GHSA”) has concluded that the number of sixteen and seventeen-year-old drivers who have died in traffic accidents has increased dramatically for the first six months in 2012.  The report found that deaths of sixteen and seventeen-year-old drivers jumped from 202 to 240 between 2011 and early 2012, an increase of nineteen percent.

Compiled by researcher and former chief scientists for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Dr. Allan Williams, the report is based upon surveys conducted of GHSA members, consisting of many state traffic safety agencies including the Maryland Highway Safety Office.

Dr. Williams believes that the sharp increase in teen driving deaths can be attributed in large part to the leveling off of the benefits of Graduated Driver Licensing programs.  Dr. Williams also concluded that an improvement in the economy has resulted in more teen drivers, exposing them to a greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Although the increase is certainly not a movement in the right direction, Dr. Williams emphasized that the number of teen driving deaths remains historically low.  “We are still at a much better place than we were ten or even five years earlier.  However, the goal is to strive toward zero deaths, so our aim would be that these deaths should go down every year,” indicated Dr. Williams.

According to the report, the number of sixteen-year-old driver deaths increased twenty-four percent from 86 to 107, and the number of seventeen-year-old driver deaths increased fifteen percent from 116 to 133.  Twenty five states reported overall increases in teen driving deaths.  The numbers were not all bad, however, as seventeen states reported decreases, and eight states and the District of Columbia reported no change.

Executive Director of GHSA, Barbara Harsha, advised that, in order to reduce the number of teen driving deaths, states should consider driving programs that involve parents in the learning process.  According to Harsha, “Parents have a huge responsibility to ensure safe teen driving behavior. States can facilitate this by providing innovative programs that bring parents and teens together around this issue.”

The attorneys of Edwards, Phillip, Amourgis, PC are particularly concerned with the results of this new report and encourage all states to heed the Harsha’s advice by implementing and strengthening teen driving programs.

If you, your family or friends have been involved an accident in which you sustained injuries, you may need legal representation to protect your right to compensation.  The qualified Maryland car accident attorneys at our firm have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured by negligent drivers.  If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, contact us today.

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Mom-Mobiles by Honda Recalled for Rolling Away

The Honda Motor Co. recently issued a recall for its popular Odyssey mom-mobiles due to an ignition switch default.  This default allows the ignition key to be removed without the car being shifted into the park position, which increases the risk of rollaway crashes.  The New York Times recently estimated that the recall covers over 807,000 vehicles.

Which Specific Models are Recalled?
The Honda Odyssey model years 2003 and 2004 are on the recall list, as well as the Honda Pilot model years 2003 and 2004 and the Acura MDX model years 2003 through 2006.  These are models with lots of room to fit kids and their acquired school bags, sports bags, and other accouterments.

The specific default occurs through repeated engine starting ultimately deforming the ignition switch.  Considering a busy mom’s schedule of getting to and from work, chauffeuring kids to various after-school activities, and running most family errands, repeated use of the family car is pretty much a given.  If a busy mom forgets to put the car in park, usually the ignition key will not be removable.  But this default allows the key to be removed.  Even if the car is on just a slight incline, the car can roll and cause not just damage to itself, but other cars and people in the vicinity.  This can open you up to liability for damages.  Considering the costs of family life today, this is an expense that any family doesn’t need.

Honda gave official notice of the recall to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on December 11, 2012, (NHTSA campaign number 12V573000).  Notices to owners were sent at the end of February 2013.  The site Auto Recalls for Consumers lists a number of complaints made to Honda regarding this defect.  While no deaths have been reported, there was at least one leg crushed due to a rolling car.  It was not until NHTSA began investigating the complaints that Honda looked into the issue and issued the recall.

In October 2012, the New York Times mentioned the NHTSA investigation in an article detailing another Honda recall.  The Times noted that Honda added vehicles to a March 2012 recall relating to faulty headlight wiring and to an ongoing Accord recall about leaking power-steering fluid causing a fire hazard.

Protecting Precious Cargo
If you have a Honda Odyssey or Pilot or Acura MDX, it is still drivable.  The caveat is to double check that you have shifted into “park” before going to remove the key.  You could also get into the habit of engaging the emergency brake to prevent the car from rolling away as you or your kids try to step out.  These steps also protect you from hitting another car or person and opening yourself to being liable for injuries.

You can go to Honda’s owners website and enter your car’s VIN number to determine if it is part of the recall.  You can also call American Honda Motor Co., Inc., at 800-999-1009 or the NHTSA’s Auto Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.  If you have been injured, our legal team is here to assist you and we will assess your situation with a free consultation.

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Premises Claims Against the Government

One of the most common premises liability situations occurs when a member of the public is injured by a defect on a public sidewalk or roadway. Premises liability holds owners and occupiers of property legally responsible for accidents and injuries that occur on the property. Many people do not consider the large number of properties that are government-owned, including public parks, government office buildings, public sidewalks and bridges. Injuries on government property may be caused by defects on a public sidewalk, a faulty traffic signal, ice that was not cleared in front of a government building, or even a cut from broken playground equipment.

In the past, governments were protected from lawsuits by “sovereign immunity,” which prevented the government from being sued and found liable. Now, however, the federal and many state governments have passed tort claims acts that allow the government to be found liable in certain situations. The applicable statute will depend on whether you are injured by or on federal government property, state government property or local government property.

It is important to note that, under most state tort claim acts, you must send a notice of claim to the appropriate governmental representative within 90 days of the accident. If you do not deliver the notice within 90 days, or if the notice is not properly delivered, then your claim will fail. Delivery may fail simply by sending the notice to the wrong person or governmental entity. Additionally, the statute of limitations for bringing a claim against a state governmental entity is often shortened.

Slip and fall cases present their own challenges, beyond added challenges of bringing a lawsuit against the government. Property owners have several defenses in premises liability cases. First, the defect or problem that caused the accident must have been present long enough for the property owner to know about it. It can be difficult to prove knowledge, because you will need witnesses to testify about how long the defect existed. In addition, property owners may seek to prove that the defect was “open and obvious.” Property owners are not expected to provide warnings against obvious dangers. An open and obvious danger is one that the average person would be able to discover and foresee the danger.

It is also important to note that a property owner, whether government or private, does not generally owe any duty to trespassers. A trespasser is someone who is not authorized to be on the property. Trespassing is an issue with premises liability injuries, particularly in playgrounds and public parks. Many playgrounds and parks close after dusk, and by law, the government may not be held liable for an injury that occurs. However, there are exceptions to this rule where the property owner knows (or should know) that there are frequent trespassers on the property. Property owners also remain liable where they know or should know that young children are likely to trespass, like a playground or park.

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Social Security Payments as Child Support

During most divorces involving children, one parent is required to pay the other parent child support. Unfortunately, some parents paying child support die before their child support obligation ends. In those situations, the child may be entitled to the paying parent’s Social Security benefits.

Social Security is a federal program most well-known for paying benefits to those citizens that reach a certain age, also known as Retirement Insurance Benefits. Generally, a person must be fully insured by the Social Security system, have obtained the age of 62 and either applied for the benefits to receive their benefit payments. The benefit amount is based upon several factors including the amount of payroll taxes paid into the system, the age at which benefits are claimed, the current earned income of an individual and military service.

While Social Security is mostly viewed as an “old age” benefit, some of the money paid in Social Security taxes goes toward providing survivor’s insurance for a worker’s family. When a worker dies, certain members of their family, including children, are eligible for survivor’s benefits.

A child is eligible to receive benefits if they are unmarried and younger than 18 (or up to the age of 19 if they are a full-time student in secondary school). In addition, a child can receive benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

When applying for a child’s benefits, you will need the child’s birth certificate and both the parent’s and child’s Social Security numbers. In addition, you will need proof of the parent’s death, like a death certificate. If your child is disabled, then you will also need to provide medical proof of the disability. The Social Security Administration will tell you if you need tax returns for the deceased parent or bank information

A child can receive up to half of the parent’s full retirement benefit, or three-quarters of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit. Each family has a limit to the amount of money it may receive. The family maximum payment can be anywhere from 150 percent to 180 percent of the parent’s full benefit amount. In addition, if the child meets certain requirements, they are eligible for a one-time death benefit payment of $255.

It is very important to contact the Social Security Administration as soon as the paying spouse is deceased. The application may be done over the phone or at your local Social Security Administration office. Even if you do not have all of the required information, you may still start a Social Security claim. The Social Security Administration may even assist you with acquiring the records you need. The most important reason to file as soon as possible is that the benefits will be paid from the time the application is filed. So the longer you wait to file, the fewer benefits you will receive.

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Maryland Wrongful Death Recoveries: Unborn Children

Automobile accidents are an ever-present danger in today’s society.  Each day, dozens of Maryland residents are seriously injured in collisions between automobiles or while walking as pedestrians.  Sadly, a significant percentage of these people die from their injuries.  Maryland wrongful death lawyers, unfortunately, see this all too often.

There is no debate that a victim’s family can collect a wrongful death award in the event that their loved one was killed as the result of someone else’s negligence.  However, many people are not aware that wrongful death statutes very often apply to unborn children as well.  That is, if an unborn child is killed as a result of an accident in which its mother was involved, the survivors of that unborn child have a legitimate cause of action against the negligent party.

In Maryland the law currently states that a complaining party can sustain a cause of action for the wrongful death of an unborn fetus if it can be established that the child would have been viable at the time of the accident.  That is, the child would have to be capable of surviving outside the mother’s womb had the accident not occurred.

This is in stark contrast to a recent development in Nebraska, where legislators recently passed a bill that would allow a wrongful death recovery by the family of the unborn fetus at any stage of the pregnancy.  What’s the connection?  It was a Maryland family who had the misfortune of being the first people to which the new law would apply.

Sadly, all four members of the Schmidt family died in the collision on that Nebraska stretch of Interstate 80.  However, the real issue was whether the surviving relatives could recover damages for the death of the unborn child in Mrs. Schmidt’s womb.  Post-mortem examinations suggested that Mrs. Schmidt was pregnant at the time of the collision, but that the fetus was not sufficiently developed to survive outside of Mrs. Schmidt’s womb.  Lawyers for the victims’ families eventually brought suit under the new fetal wrongful death law, but the case has yet to be decided.  If the current statute holds up (and the plaintiffs’ attorneys are able to establish proof) it will be the first time the statute will have been successfully invoked.

This case is a clear example of how public perceptions on social issues can influence the outcomes of legal cases.  Because Nebraska is a more conservative jurisdiction, the family members may very well be able to recover for the unborn fetus despite its not being viable at the time of the accident.  By contrast, a Maryland plaintiff would have to introduce medical evidence as to the fetus’s viability at the time of the accident if the family members are to have any hope of recovering on a fetal wrongful death theory.

If you have sustained injury or perhaps lost a pregnancy as a result of someone else’s negligence, consider contacting a Maryland wrongful death attorney for a consultation.  There may yet be justice for your loss.

See related blog posts

DC Metro Area Poses Heightened Accident Risk

Why Maryland Personal Injury Cases Sometimes Fail

Posted in Car accidents, Motorcycle accidents, Pedestrian Accidents, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Claims Against the Federal Government

Every year thousands of residents of Maryland and Virginia receive medical care at military base facilities, share the road with postal trucks and visit national parks. If any of these people suffer an injury at the hands of a federal employee, they can bring a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act. In the past, you were not permitted to sue the government under the theory of “sovereign immunity.” Fortunately, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows certain kinds of lawsuits against federal employees acting within the scope of their employment.

The Federal Tort Claims Act is intended to provide an avenue to recovery for injury, property loss or death caused by the wrongful act or omission of any employee of the federal government.

Limitations to Liability

One of the first requirements to bring a lawsuit against the federal government is that the negligent person is a federal employee. If there is no employer-employee relationship, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit under the Act. For example, an independent contractor hired by the government will not result in an employer-employee relationship. Without the require relationship, there is no government liability.

The Federal Tort Claims Act dos have limits to recovery. The Act specifically excludes 11 common law claims for which a private person would be liable:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • False imprisonment
  • False arrest
  • Malicious prosecution
  • Abuse of process
  • Libel
  • Slander
  • Misrepresentation
  • Deceit
  • Interference with contractual rights

If you are injured in any of these particular situations, you will not be able to file suit against the government.

The Act also excludes several classes of plaintiffs, including:

  • Active-duty servicemembers and their families injured incident to service
  • Federal employees injured while performing their duties

Whether a servicemember or federal employee is barred depends primarily on the circumstances of the injury.

Administrative Claims

Once it is established that the government may be liable, you must file a claim with the federal agency responsible for the alleged misconduct. For example, if you are struck by a mail delivery truck, you would file your claim with the U.S. Postal Service.

In the administrative process, you have two years to bring your claim or it will be barred. The agency then has six months to respond, where they can admit wrongdoing and pay you or deny liability. If the agency denies liability, then you have six months to file a lawsuit. It is important to note that the six month time period only begins once the agency renders a decision, if they do not make a decision then the clock does not start. This process is often referred to as exhausting your administrative remedies.


Federal District Court

You must file your lawsuit in the United States District Court where you live or where the incident occurred. For example, if your claim involved an accident at a national park, you have the option of filing your lawsuit in the federal court where you live or where the national park is located. Your district court lawsuit cannot be greater than the administrative claim, unless you present newly discovered evidence that adds to the value of the injury.

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In Maryland, a parent owes child support until the child reaches the age of 18, or until the child is 19 if the child is still in high school full-time. The process to modify child support in New Mexico begins with a motion to modify child support stating the grounds for the modification. Either spouse may file the motion. For example, if the supporting spouse loses their job, they can file a motion to lower their child support obligation. However, if the non-supporting spouse finds out that that the supporting spouse has received a raise, they can file a motion as well to increase child support.

The timing of the motion filing is important as well. The motion may be awarded retroactively to the filing date, so filing as soon as a change occurs, or as soon as a change is discovered, is very important.

In order for a court to change the amount of child support you are paying, you must convince them that a “material and substantial” change has occurred in your circumstances. Small changes are not worth the time, effort and money involved, but typically if a change in income will result in a 20% difference in child support, it is considered substantial. Alternatively, if more than a year has passed since a modification was requested, the court will consider the change material and substantial as well.

Where a parent loses income, it must be a situation beyond your control, like involuntarily losing your job. You cannot generally receive a modification of a support order because you voluntarily quit your job or took a lower paying one. Generally, judges are more interested in the parent earning as much as they can to support the child, not a parent’s desire for a different career or lack of fulfillment in a current job.

It is important to note that your child support obligation can go up or down, depending on your current salary. And all child support orders contain a provision for the annual exchange of financial information by both parties. Spouses can request:
·      Federal and state tax returns
·      W-2 statements for the preceding year
·      IRS Form 1099s for the preceding year
·      Work-related daycare statements for the preceding year
·      Dependent medical insurance premiums for the preceding year
·      Wage and payroll statements for four months preceding the request
If your spouse requests your financial information, you are required to provide it. There is no way to hide if you have received a raise or your compensation has gone up in some way, so it is best to be honest. Again, the court is most interested in the best interest of the children, so if it is possible to provide additional money for them, the court will modify the support obligation.  Be sure to contact a Maryland child support attorney for help on these issues.

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