Safety Tips for the New Year in Maryland

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are among the most dangerous times of the year to be on the roads in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metro areas.  While the occasion is marked by joyous festivities and celebrations amongst friends and loved ones, many people, unfortunately, also choose to mark the occasion by consuming alcohol in large quantities.  Couple that with the time of night at which the calendar changes and you have a dangerous mix of inebriated and fatigued drivers in the hours following the ball drop in Times Square.  And despite law enforcement’s best efforts to keep these kinds of drivers off the roads, Maryland personal injury and DUI lawyers always tend to see an uptick in new clients in the weeks following the New Year.

On the personal injury front, people are more likely to encounter a severely impaired driver around the New Year’s holiday who has been binge drinking and/or maybe using other drugs as well.  These impairments dull the senses, slow reaction times, and make it more difficult to process the types of simple decisions one has to make every time he or she is behind the wheel of an automobile.  It is these impairments that result in the greater prevalence in personal injury claims this time of year.

Your best bet during this time of year is to stay off the roads as much as possible.  However, if you are unable to refrain from being on the roads and if you are the victim of one of these impair drivers, it is important to contact a Maryland personal injury attorney as soon as you’ve received adequate medical attention.  Your attorney will help ensure that you are properly compensated for your medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.

We’d like to extend a similar caution to regular law-abiding citizens during these festivities.  It is quite common for upstanding people to attend a New Year’s party and consume one-too-many alcoholic beverages.  Perhaps there was a midnight champagne toast to salute the calendar change.  Perhaps you leave that party feeling awake, alert, and uninhibited by the little bit of alcohol you’ve consumed over the course of the night.  It may be that champagne toast that can dramatically impact your life.

Law enforcement officers are trained to spot the slightest hint of impairment on the roads.  Perhaps the officer didn’t like one of the times you swerved within your lane.  All of a sudden, you’ve been pulled over and asked to submit to a Breath-a-lyzer test.  You blow a .08, the exact threshold of legal impairment in Maryland.  In what seems like the blink of an eye, you may be facing steep fines, license suspension, and even jail time.

That’s where an experienced Maryland DUI attorney can help.  Thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens are hit with DUI charges every year, and many of them posed no threat to themselves or others while on the road.  A good attorney can present your clean record and your side of the story in a way that might convince the judge to reduce your criminal penalties or even expunge your records.

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Maryland Child Support Collection

Today is December 21, 2012, the date the Mayans prophesized the world would end.  If the Mayans were right, you can disregard the rest of this post.  If the world keeps spinning tomorrow, thousands of parents in Maryland are still going to be left with the same problem of collection back child support from their delinquent partners.  Maryland child support lawyers know the right ways and the wrong ways to go about collecting arrearages in child support, and can connect you to the state and federal government resources that you may not have known were at your disposal.

A great place to start is the family law section of the People’s Law Library of Maryland network (http://www.peoples-law.org/categories/4449/2), a free online learning and information resource operated by the Maryland State Law Library in Annapolis.  The PLL network contains useful links to all of the county, state, and federal agencies who are charged with investigating child support arrearages and locating the delinquent parent so that the child support order can be enforced.  It also contains plain-English explanations of the applicable laws involved in child support enforcement and resources for contacting attorneys on their child support matters.

Clients often come into a family law office with an incomplete understanding of the different ways he or she can enforce a child support order.  They have a general idea about wage garnishments, but do not realize that there is a host of other different ways to compel child support payments.  According to the PLL network website, “If the noncustodial parent does not pay on time, or does not pay in full, the child support enforcement office may:

  1. Withhold child support from wages and unemployment benefits, Workers’ Compensation claims, etc.
  2. Intercept federal and state tax refunds to pay child support arrears
  3. Report parents owing past-due support to credit bureaus
  4. Refer parents owing past-due support to the Motor Vehicle Administration for driver’s license suspension
  5. Intercept Maryland lottery winnings to pay child support arrears
  6. Garnish accounts at financial institutions
  7. Request the suspension or revocation of a professional or recreational license
  8. Bring contempt of court actions against that parent
  9. Deny the issuance or renewal of a passport
  10. Refer cases for federal prosecution when non-custodial parents move to another state to avoid paying child support” (Source:  PLL website – http://www.peoples-law.org/node/263).

The People’s Law Library network is a great resource to tap for information about child support.  However, it should be treated merely as a starting point, and not as official legal advice.  Collecting child support involves filling out many complicated forms and corresponding with a number of different local, state, and perhaps federal agencies.  This is where a Maryland family law attorney can be helpful.  Your attorney can help prepare your forms and see to it that the forms make it to the appropriate state agency.  If your partner decides to mount a legal challenge to your child support collection efforts, your attorney will also be there to help defend your financial interests by proving your necessity for child support at a rate acceptable to your quality of life.

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Maryland Boating Accidents Can Be Catastrophic

The vast majority of Maryland’s population lives within a short drive of the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and dozens of other major navigable waterways.  Even residents of Garrett County are within a short drive of Deep Creek Lake, a major sport boating destination in the summer.  This proximity to water means that Maryland residents are more likely, on average, than most Americans to own a boat or to have occasion to be on a boat.

With these statistics comes another sobering statistic.  Each year in Maryland’s sovereign waterways, hundreds of people are seriously injured in boating accidents and dozens more are killed.  In light of these realities, it may come as no surprise that Maryland courts, for the most part, treat boating accidents the same way they treat automobile accidents.  And just like you would if you were injured in an automobile accident, if you are a victim of a boating accident, one of the first calls you should make after you seek medical treatment is one to a Maryland personal injury attorney.

Why are boating accidents so prevalent in Maryland?  For starters, Maryland’s waterways are much more unpredictable than its roadways.  The surface of the water is an ever-changing condition that can sometimes afford the boat operator less control than an automobile driver.  Additionally, most waterways have very few rules as to the direction and speed of boat traffic.  Sure there are no-wake zones and speed limits near high traffic or shallow areas, but there are no designated lanes of travel.  This makes the actions of a neighboring boat operator much more difficult to predict.  Finally, boating is a social activity that most often occurs in the summertime.  This naturally makes people more inclined to consume alcohol and drugs for social purposes, which can impair a boat operator in much the same way it impairs an automobile driver.  Despite the perception that alcohol, drugs, and boating go hand-in-hand, make no mistake that there are strict laws in place that mirror the DUI and DWI laws.

Some people are surprised to learn that the average injury in a boating accident can be more devastating than one in an automobile accident.  Water has the unique properties of a liquid in that it can be displaced fairly easily at slow speeds.  At high speeds, however, a person or object that comes in contact with a body of water will experience the same instant gravitational forces that one would expect if the surface was concrete.  This being the case, many boating injuries are quite severe, and range from whiplash injuries to broken bones to concussions and everything in between.

Fortunately for Maryland boating injury victims, the mechanics of proving a personal injury suit resulting from a boating accident is much the same as proving the same for an automobile accident.  As a result, a skilled Maryland personal injury attorney is more than likely going to know exactly how to proceed with your case and to recover the maximum monetary damages for your injuries.

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Social Media Becoming a Leading Cause of Divorce

The Information Age has ushered in a wave of useful tools for modern living.  Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and others are now ubiquitous fixtures in the daily lives of most Americans.  With this explosion of social media, Maryland divorce attorneyshave observed a few unintended side effects.  Despite their goal connect people, many of these social media outlets are actually becoming the leading causes for modern divorces.

Photo courtesy of john_a_ward

It doesn’t take a huge logical leap to understand why this phenomenon might be occurring.  Facebook, in particular, is the most extensive way to publish one’s own information on the internet.  Despite the availability of numerous privacy filters and security measures, most Facebook users post things about their private life that almost anyone can see.  Additionally, Facebook has the infrastructure to allow users to publish messages to as many or as few users as they wish.  Users can send a private message to a single person, shout out to only the users on their friends list, or speak their mind to the entire world.

While these features are innovative, mistakes occur all the time.  Think about the last time you mistakenly clicked “Reply-All” for an e-mail message when you meant to send something sensitive to a single person.  The same occurs on Facebook on a daily basis, with users mistakenly publishing to the world some messages that were meant for one person’s eyes only.  It is in this way that many Facebook users’ significant others learn of infidelity or an alternate lifestyle that they were unaware their partner maintained.  Countless divorces occur as a result of this kind of mishap.

Similarly, many divorces occur due to the prying eyes of a significant other who suspects their spouse is having an affair.  Facebook’s infrastructure allows an internet browser to save the login information of its users, meaning that someone other than the user could conceivably login to the account and discover evidence of infidelity.  Even if the account isn’t accessible this way, an inquiring individual need only input the user’s e-mail address and venture a few guesses if the user has a relatively weak password.

It is commonplace for prospective clients to meet with a Maryland divorce lawyer and present a folder full of Facebook messages and screenshots.  Citing these as evidence of an extra-marital affair, these clients ask their attorneys to file a divorce proceeding on fault-based grounds.  Evidence of infidelity from Facebook, by itself, is not indicative of fault.  However, it may be a good starting point for further investigation.  Some people might consider hiring a private investigator at this point, considering that fault may come into play in the determination of whether to award custody of children to the at-fault party.  Alimony awards may also be partially determined by fault.

Whatever the case, if you are considering divorce based on evidence you have collected from social media outlets, it is best to contact an experienced Maryland family law office for a consultation.  The right attorney is crucial if you intend to divorce  on the best emotional and financial terms.

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Why Maryland Personal Injury Cases Sometimes Fail

When you are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you want to recover as much as you possibly can for your medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and your pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, hundreds of Marylanders miss out on money they are entitled to because they (and their attorneys) play right into the insurance companies’ hands.  The following are some common pitfalls that can potentially doom a personal injury case and reasons you need an experienced Maryland personal injury attorney.

In car accident litigation, one of the most common claims made by an insurance company is that a plaintiff could not have suffered such catastrophic injuries if there was comparatively little damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle.  They are often prepared to present experts in court that will testify to the lack of force during the impact given the modest damage.  Fortunately, experienced plaintiffs’ attorneys know that there is not always a direct correlation between vehicle damage and the injuries to the plaintiff.  There are an infinite amount of factors that contribute to what injuries a plaintiff sustains, including the orientation of the vehicles at impact, the relative frailty of the plaintiff, and the types of automobiles involved.  Only you can feel the pain of your injuries.  Therefore you need a skilled litigator who can force a good settlement or win the courtroom battle.

Another complicating factor in car accident litigation is the possible existence of a pre-existing injury or condition.  Insurance companies will be quick to examine your medical records to determine whether any injuries you sustained in the auto accident affect any areas of your body that had previous medical issues.  They will claim that the pain you are experiencing is due to the previous injury or condition and try to minimize the impact of the accident on those areas of the body.  An experienced attorney will not let an insurance company bully you into a lower settlement just because you have pre-existing conditions.  Your auto accident was a separate event and caused separate pain and treatments.  You are entitled to your money despite what they say.

The final complication that insurance companies like to jump on is a gap in treatment.  Their favorite gap in treatment is any gap between the time of the injury and your first medical attention.  The larger this gap, the more likely an insurance company will claim that you weren’t really injured.  Their logic is that if you were truly injured, you would have sought medical treatment sooner.  However, this logic does not always hold water.  Sometimes accident victims are intimidated by the prospect of beginning a long course of treatment.  Sometimes victims are afraid of the hospital or the doctor’s office.  Sometimes symptoms do not manifest themselves immediately.  Experienced plaintiffs’ attorneys can explain any gaps in treatment so that they don’t jeopardize your case.

Insurance companies will stop at nothing to make sure they pay as little as possible on your personal injury claim.  Shouldn’t you have someone in your corner who is just as motivated?

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Can a Child Choose Who Gets Custody?

The short answer is no, but it would be unwise to dismiss the idea entirely.  In recent years, courts in Maryland have increasingly become more willing to hear testimony from children in order to make the determination of which parent will be awarded primary custody.  After all, the legal standard the court must consider is what would be in the best interest of the child.

It’s no surprise that this practice has come under fire.  It doesn’t take a legal scholar to identify the inherent dangers in letting a child testify on these matters.  For one, does the child demonstrate enough mental and social sophistication to understand the consequences of their testimony?  How do you measure if and when a child has reached the requisite level of sophistication?  Would you hold each child to the same standard, given that each child has a different comprehension level, even if they are the same age?

Moreover, isn’t there a distinct possibility that one or both parents are trying to sway the child’s testimony in their favor?  How credible can the child’s testimony be if the child may be threatened with punishment or incentivized with rewards?  Is there an attribute of one of the potential living situations that might sway the child one way on another?  For instance, does Dad’s house have a pool while Mom’s house has a better television?  Children are sometimes fickle:  “Has Mom or Dad been nicer to me lately?”  Is it really appropriate to entrust this type of solemn responsibility with a child, especially if it’s unclear if the child is able to comprehend long term consequences.

Maryland courts do not take these matters lightly.  If a judge were to allow a minor child to testify on the matter of custody, the judge must be sure that the child has the requisite maturity to understand what has happened, is happening, and will happen.  In all other cases, it is incumbent on the opposing parents to present their own evidence as to why it would be in the child’s best interest to live one place rather than another.  Courts will consider things like proximity to school and recreation, relationships with siblings or extended family, the ability of the parent to transport the child to his or her various activities, and even the financial situation of the custodial parent.  There is no set list of what may be considered, nor is there any one factor that will automatically be given more weight.

The takeaway from this discussion is that judges in family court have considerably more discretion in the evidence they hear and the methods they use to award things than judges in most other legal proceedings.  Family matters are complicated, fluid, and can have far-reaching consequences.  If you think your custody case may benefit from your child’s testimony, consider contacting a Maryland family lawyer for an evaluation of your case.  Your attorney can diagnose the strength of your arguments and determine whether your child’s testimony may be relevant to the resolution of the custody battle.

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DC Metro Area Poses Heightened Accident Risk

For anyone who has ever driven on the Capital Beltway, taken a local bus, or ridden the Washington Metro, it should come as no surprise that the Washington, D.C. capital area rivals almost any major metropolitan area in terms of transportation congestion.  The mere mention of “rush hour” can strike fear into even the most battle-hardened commuters.  It should come as no surprise either that the greater Washington metro area experiences among the most transportation-related accidents in a given year.  The sheer volume of accident claims is enough to keep D.C. personal injury lawyers plenty busy.

In addition to the sheer volume of cars on the roads, drivers in the D.C. metro area are among the most distracted.  People in the D.C. area are more likely to own a smart phone than their counterparts in other areas of the country.  Therefore, D.C. drivers are naturally more likely to break the law by texting or internet browsing on their phones.  The D.C. area is also home to a wide range of residents from all over the world, some of whom may not be properly licensed to drive.  It is important to remember that this will not keep these people off the road.  Law-abiding drivers must be extra vigilant.

The D.C. metro area is also home to one of the most extensive and intricate public transit systems in the world.  At any given time, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is operating dozens of metro trains and hundreds of buses.  With this volume of transit service, it is unavoidable that metro transit employees will occasionally have a lapse in concentration and cause negligent injuries to law-abiding area residents.  When this happens, you need an experienced capital area personal injury attorney to help you recover money damages to help pay for medical bills, physical therapy, lost wages, repairs to your vehicle, and to compensate you for your pain and suffering.

Claims against WMATA are notoriously difficult for several reasons.  For one, WMATA employs an army of defense attorneys whose sole purpose is to try to have your case thrown out of court.  If that fails, their second purpose is to use scare tactics to bring about the lowest possible monetary settlement, and to keep you from paying off your bills that are piling up.  Another reason that claims against WMATA can be difficult is that WMATA operates as an interstate compact rather than a traditional state or metropolitan entity.  This means that WMATA defense attorneys have a host of special rules and ploys at their disposal: ones that may prove too daunting to less experience plaintiffs’ attorneys.

For this reason, it is important to consult a D.C. accident attorney who is familiar with these tricks and has experience winning law suits against WMATA.

The D.C. transit system may be a jungle, but a little extra care can go a long way toward avoiding injury and death.  This is especially true since you can never be sure how careful or conscientious someone else will be when your wellbeing is at stake.

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What Should I Bring to a Maryland Divorce Consultation?

Divorce is sure to be a stressful and emotional time for any person.  It is during this period of stress and emotion that a divorcing party must pick an attorney to represent their interests.  Although Maryland is following the national trend in that it is experiencing a greater rate of divorce than in decades past, the trend does not ensure that a particular party would be more familiar with the divorce process than a similarly-situated person from a decade ago.

That being the case, potential clients often have a host of questions before they consult a Maryland divorce attorney.  Among these is, “What should I bring with me to my initial divorce consultation?”  The answer may depend on the individual style of the attorney with whom you are having a consultation.

Some attorneys prefer to bring the client in for an initial consultation without the distraction of a box full of paperwork.  They believe that an initial consultation should be a time in which the client expresses their situation and perspective entirely from their own memory.  This can give the attorney a broad outline of the case so that when specific issues arise in the future, these issues are more readily understood in the global context of the case.  There may be good reason for this approach.  Remember, divorces are stressful and emotional.  It may be therapeutic for the client to have a frank discussion with their attorney and to offload some of that stress and emotion, without feeling the need to push a series of papers across the desk.  These types of attorneys also feel that the paperwork should not distract the client from a frank discussion of the attorney’s fee structure, including who is responsible for what, how much, and when.  These types of attorneys insist that this leads to fewer billing mistakes and fee disputes.

On the other side of the coin, there are attorneys who much prefer to dive right into the specifics.  These types of attorneys believe that it is more economical to the client if the client can provide specific documentation on the first visit.  Whereas the first type of attorney would prefer only a briefing on the shared marital property, this second type of attorney would prefer to view a copy of the deed to the house and a title to the car, if applicable.  This second type of attorney might also want to see a copy of the marriage certificate, prenuptial agreements, tax returns, bank account statements, credit card statements, car loan documents, and mortgage documents.

It is important to note that your attorney is sure to request copies of these documents at some point, whether it be at the first consultation or at a subsequent consultation.  Whether you should bring them to the first consultation is a matter of your attorney’s preference.  Most Maryland family law offices have attorneys of both types, and the type of attorney you would like to hire is up to you.  In either case, make your preparations to track down these documents sooner rather than later.

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Death Linked to Energy Drinks

Millions of times each week, Americans reach for an energy boost from caffeinated drinks.  The caffeinated drink of choice remains coffee, but there is a growing market for “energy shots” and carbonated caffeine-infused energy drinks.  The appeal of these drinks is simple:  they offer an artificial boost to one’s energy and are often more portable and easy to drink than a cup of coffee.  The energy drinks mimic the taste of soda, which makes them familiar and refreshing for many people.

However, it is important to note that these drinks can pose hidden dangers.  First and foremost, many of these products are packaged in such a way that they contain two to three times the suggested serving size.  Each serving is packed with caffeine, taurine, and other substances at alarming rates, and customers are routinely consuming the entire container in one sitting rather than the single suggested serving.  Secondly, the Food and Drug Administration labels these products as “nutritional supplements” rather than ordinary drinks.  This distinction is important because ordinary drinks are subject to FDA regulations as to how much of certain substances they can contain per serving.  Caffeine is among these substances.  By contrast, a nutritional supplement is regulated differently, enabling energy drink manufacturers to pack their drinks with the caffeinated punch their customers want without fearing any penalties from the FDA.

Some recent events may signal changes to these policies, however.  About a year ago in Hagerstown, Maryland, a fourteen year old girl named Anais Fournier consumed two containers of the popular Monster brand energy drinks within a twenty four hour period.  Approximately two hours after she had consumed the second container of Monster, she fell into cardiac arrest.  At the hospital, her family was told that her heart could not withstand the barrage of chemicals contained in the drinks at the rate she consumed them.  After all, the “energy” effects of these drinks are really a chemical reaction in the brain that produces heightened cardiovascular functions.  The chemical reaction overloaded Anais’ heart and she lapsed into a coma.  Six days later, she was taken off life support.

About two weeks ago, Anais’ parents filed a wrongful death and products liability lawsuit in California Superior Court, Riverside against the manufacturer of Monster:  Fournier v. Monster Beverage Corporation, Case No. RIC 1215551.  The complaint charges that the manufacturer of Monster energy drinks wantonly produced drink products with unreasonably high levels of caffeine, taurine, and other chemicals.  It also charges that Anais Fournier’s consumption of Monster energy drink was the proximate cause of her death.

If you or a loved one experienced a medical condition or death that you think may be linked to the consumption of an energy drink, consider contacting a Maryland personal injury attorney for a consultation.  Your attorney can help evaluate your case and determine if you have a good chance of recovering money damages for your medical bills, loss of work, and pain and suffering.  They can also help you get compensated for the loss of your loved one, if that is the case.

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Maryland Third-Party Custody and Visitation

In Maryland and other states across the country, it is common for custody and visitation laws to be written under the strong presumption that the biological parents of a child have the strongest claim to custody of that child.  In such states, the more competent of the two parents is typically awarded primary custody if the court determines this arrangement is in the child’s best interest, and the other parent is typically entitled to some degree of visitation.

But what happens if neither of the child’s biological parents is competent enough to be awarded custody?  What if a different custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interest?  In today’s modern world, these alternate arrangements are becoming far more common.  The very definition of ‘family’ is changing before our eyes.  Children are routinely raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other extended family members.  In many of these cases, it actually would be in the child’s best interest for these extended family members, and not the biological parents, to be awarded primary custody.

The problem is that our society values its freedom to reproduce and raise children as we please.  Society presumes that a child will be raised best by the people who brought the child into the world.  Parents should be able to make their own choices as to how their children are raised, for better or worse.  It is these presumptions that a third-party family member will have to battle against if he or she wants to raise the child in a more nurturing environment than the biological parents can provide.  And even if the biological parents know in their heart of hearts that their child would be better cared for elsewhere, most tend to put up a fight.

This is where an experienced Maryland family lawyer can be extremely useful to the third-party family member seeking custody.  A family lawyer knows how best to present the “best interest of the child” standard to a judge, and how best to invalidate any arguments made by an incompetent biological parent.  After all, the law is well settled that the presumptive entitlement held by a biological parent “is not an absolute one and that the right may be forfeited where it appears that any parent is unfit to have custody of a child, or where some exceptional circumstances render such custody detrimental to the best interests of the child.” Ross v. Pick, 199 Md. 341, 86 A.2d 463 (1952).

Biological parents can be declared unfit for a variety of reasons.  Courts will typically award custody to a third-party family member if the biological parent is habitually engaged in illegal drug use, is financially insolvent to the point that he or she cannot provide food or shelter for the child, or is providing an unreasonably dangerous environment for the child by engaging in criminal enterprises or by having dangerous weapons within reach.

If your niece, nephew, or grandchild was being raised in an environment like that, wouldn’t you want the right representation to help you take over custody?

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