546518_baltimore_city_3Greetings from Maryland, and welcome to our Maryland Injury Attorney Blog! My name is Jeff Butschky, and I will be your host and (hopefully) your source of practical help and information from within the Maryland Legal Community.

Perhaps nothing affects an individual or family more than a sudden accident or injury — whether due to a motor vehicle accident, a work-related accident, or some other unforeseen incident. When we are hurt, we understand that there will be hospitals and doctors, pain, stress and inconvenience. What isn’t often appreciated is the fact that the injured person must also now deal with (gulp) lawyers and (even worse) the insurance industry. Like visiting the dentist, filing taxes or other mild forms of torture, no one wants to do this, and I don’t blame you.

This blog will untangle and demystify the frustrating and complicated world of injury claims. As a practicing attorney in Baltimore County, Maryland, for more than 20 years, I’m going to do my best to make this as easy as I can. So let’s get started!

Last year, our Maryland personal injury law practice saw an increase in motor vehicle accident cases. This is in spite of people still working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we’d expect fewer motorists crowding highways commuting to and from their workplaces.

Zero Deaths Maryland reported 544 motor vehicle crash fatalities for 2022, including 339 drivers, 64 passengers, 128 pedestrians, 11 bike or pedacyclists, and 2 unknown. This figure is down from 563 traffic accident deaths in Maryland in 2021. However, in 2020, more people died in automobile crashes here (573 deaths) than in previous years, resulting in an overall 7.1-percent increase in traffic accident fatalities for Maryland.

Nationally, motor vehicle accident fatalities since the start of the pandemic have increased to levels not seen in many years, reversing a positive trend toward fewer deaths on our roadways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021 — a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020 and the highest number of U.S. motor vehicle accident deaths since 2005.

So what is going on here? Traffic safety experts aren’t entirely sure.

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fatal occupational injuries rose to 5,190 in 2021 — an 8.9-percent increase from 4,764 in 2020 and the highest national increase since 2016. The 2021 rate of 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers is up from 3.4 in 2020 and 3.5 in 2019 (pre-pandemic).

As Maryland Workers Compensation attorneys, we’re well aware of the dangers inherent to certain job fields, including construction and transportation. The BLS breaks down its most recent report into some interesting statistics related to the rise in fatal work injuries in 2021….

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Graphic: Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland State Police

Beginning October 1, 2022, the Maryland Move Over Law expanded to include all vehicles pulled over on the side of the road with hazards on and/or road flares displayed. In doing so, Maryland becomes the eighth state in the nation to expands its move over traffic law to cover all types of vehicles — not only emergency responders, law enforcement and tow trucks.

The original Maryland Move Over Law went into effect in 2010 as a way to protect police officers on the roadside from deadly traffic accidents. The original law established a buffer between moving traffic and those broken down or pulled over on the roadside by requiring oncoming vehicles to slow down and move over from the right lane into middle or left lanes, if safe to do so. In the following years, the law expanded to include other types of vehicles….

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Maryland is known not only for its capital city, Baltimore, and its sprawling suburbs, but for its miles and miles of scenic farmland. As the suburbs continue to expand into the countryside, more drivers may encounter working farm vehicles travelling on Md.’s rural and secondary roads. This can create a potentially dangerous situation on narrow, winding rural roads with limited visibility.

The Maryland Farm Bureau reports that rural road safety is a growing concern as the suburbs spread into working farm communities — setting up a scenario of clashing lifestyles that could lead to auto and farm vehicle crashes. Commuters eager to get to work pulling up behind a slow-moving tractor or combine can get frustrated and try to pass when it’s not safe to do so … creating a potential deadly scenario for everyone on the road.

What’s more, a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) states that rural roads are disproportionately deadly, for a variety of reasons.

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In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer vehicles were on our nation’s roadways, as people worked from home, schools and businesses closed their doors, and states issued stay-at-home orders and other emergency restrictions. Now, two-and-a-half years into dealing with the coronavirus, professionals are returning to their offices, schools are back to onsite learning, businesses have resumed operations, and public health restrictions have eased or been lifted.

If life is getting back to normal, then why are motor vehicle accident fatality rates the highest they’ve been in years? This disturbing national trend can be seen here in Maryland, where 255 auto accident deaths have already occurred as of July 1, 2022, according to Zero Deaths Maryland.

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Last month, the Maryland legislature voted to override a veto by Governor Larry Hogan to enact the “Time to Care” Act — providing nearly all Maryland workers with up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid family and medical leave each year. Maryland becomes the latest state to join 9 others and Washington, DC to pass this legislation covering paid family and medical leave.

As longtime Workers’ Compensation attorneys in Maryland, we see this as a positive development for working families and individuals. The Time to Care Act of 2022 (S.B. 275) will provide for paid family and medical leave for private-sector workers statewide. The Act requires employers to offer up to 12 weeks of paid time off for any of the following circumstances…

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We’re happy to report that after two years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are moving forward for people seeking Maryland Workers’ Compensation (WCC) benefits. We can say firsthand that the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission is doing a good job processing backlogged claims, and we’ve been happy to help our clients expedite their work-related injury and illness claims through the state’s system (which includes using their electronic filing system).

The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission released its 2021 annual report (see link below), listing filed claims by industry, types of injuries, and other data. Can you guess which industries had the most Maryland Work Comp claims last year? The results might surprise you.

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I think we’d all agree that 2021 was a very challenging year for many individuals and families. The team at Butschky & Butschky worked hard to provide the personal injury law services our clients expect and deserve — despite the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, motor vehicle accident fatality rates have increased in Maryland and across the U.S. Our work to advocate for accident injury victims does not take a break, despite the coronavirus.

Over the past two years, we’ve kept pace with the often changing public health guidelines and restrictions put in place by the Maryland Courts in an effort to keep everyone safe. Some courthouses were open, while others remains closed. We’ve dealt with backed-up caseloads in the courts, slow mail services, and even slower insurance claims processing. And while the courts resumed some normal operations, including criminal and civil jury trials, in April 2021, they’ve now stepped that back again due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Here are some of the recent changes to operations posted by the Maryland Courts for January 2022:

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We’ve all seen the empty store shelves — everything from food to toys to health care items to, in some cases, toilet paper (again). And we’ve all heard the stories about global supply chain issues, a complex problem with many moving (and, not moving) parts. Part of the problem in the U.S. is we don’t have enough long-haul commercial truck drivers to meet the demand. As drivers of the Baby Boom generation are retiring, fewer younger drivers are stepping up to fill those vacancies.

Until now, the minimum age to obtain an interstate commercial driver’s license (CDL) was 21. But with President Biden’s massive $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law last month, a new provision will give younger, teenage drivers a shot at getting their interstate truck driving licenses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is behind a pilot apprenticeship program that will allow trucking companies to hire and train interstate commercial truck drivers as young as 18 years old. Proponents of the program say it will help replace the aging generation of long-haul truckers, and get freight stuck in supply chain limbo moving again. Opponents point to data that says teenage drivers are four times as likely to be involved in traffic crashes (due to lack of experience and poor judgment), and they fear more deadly truck accidents on our nation’s highways.

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Maryland’s cell phone laws prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones and texting while driving. Despite these strict laws, we still see plenty of people talking on their phones and texting while driving. And that’s not all. Distracted driving includes anything taking the driver’s attention off the road, including eating; reading a book or newspaper; adjusting onboard infotainment systems; shaving, putting on makeup, and other act of personal grooming; attending to pets and children; and a host of other distracting activities.

Today’s modern vehicles have all the comforts and conveniences of home and office. Unfortunately, all these distractions can lead to auto accidents that could have been prevented.

Zero Deaths Maryland reports 115,916 Maryland traffic accidents in 2019, with 32,918 injury crashes and 48,656 people injured in those accidents. The group also reported 82,503 property damage crashes in 2019. With all the ways drivers can be distracted in their automobiles, it’s no surprise to learn that distracted driving is among the top causes of auto accidents in Maryland. While not the sole cause of accidents with injury and death on our roadways, distracted driving is at the top. The latest data from Zero Deaths Maryland shows…

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