Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting compensation for injured homeless man is not easy but it is possible

Jack was a homeless men with significant alcohol and mental problems. He was well known and generally liked if not loved in Gaithersburg. Several years ago he had found temporary housing. It was a multiunit apartment building in Gaithersburg Maryland. One day one of the units caught fire. It was a cold day much like today. While people were waiting out front for the fire department to extinguish the blaze, Jack volunteered to go to the 711 and bring back coffee. On his way back while bringing the coffee an unknown driver jumped the curb, went on the sidewalk, then struck Jack injuring him badly. That driver remained unknown and took off without any evidence connecting him to the crime.

Jack was taken to the hospital with injuries to his legs. The hospital provided treatment and after several weeks discharged him. Based on these injuries he was unable to do any odd jobs and he lost his temporary housing and ended up back on the street. Jack had no health insurance or any other sort of insurance. He had injuries and significant suffering.

A friend of his brought him to my office. Maryland has an uninsured motorist accident fund. In order to qualify, the applicant must make a timely application (the time limit is rather short and back then it was six months but I don't want anybody to rely on that because laws change) and the applicant must not have had any insurance which would cover him and the applicant must be free of fault in the accident among other qualifications. The available money is limited, at that time it was only $20,000 and I do not expect that to change. We made the claim, pressed the claim, presented the medical evidence, presented evidence of the permanent injury that Jack suffered and eventually we were able to obtain the full $20,000 from the state of Maryland.

The case does not end there. Medicare paid Jack's medical expense's which exceeded $20,000. Under federal law, Medicare is entitled to compensation for anything that they pay out. The applicant can argue that the lien that Medicare asserts should be reduced because of circumstances. In this case, we were able to persuade the federal government that Jack was homeless, Jack was badly injured, he needed the money more than Medicare did; they completely waived their lien. I reduced my attorney's fees so that there would be more money in Jack's pocket.

The case even does not end there. I talked to Jack about giving him the lump-sum settlement. Jack was never declared incompetent by any court and consequently he could have taken the money and spent it as he wanted to. He decided I should pay him the money on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, Jack and I both went out together trying to find him a place to live with the money. He was still on the street. Together we got him identification which was not easy-he did not have a fixed address. I gave the state of Maryland my office address and that seemed to work okay until the police would come to my office with either a summons or an arrest warrant for him. As I said, Jack had problems with alcohol and mental issues. We went to several places which were within his price range but Jack was never able to follow through. I could not force him. The best that happened is that there was an inexpensive hotel in Gaithersburg and he would stay there every month for about a week until his money ran out. I felt better believing that at least he was warm and dry on some pretty cold nights. Jack's condition never got better, but actually deteriorated and he died several months ago. I would like to believe that the money that I was able to get for him for his injuries at least made him somewhat more comfortable in his difficult life. Rest in peace jack.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sometimes when the prosecution is hard it makes the case easy

Last week I was representing a client already on probation for driving while suspended. While on probation he was again charged for driving while revoked. My client was a decent generally law-abiding citizen. It seemed like the prosecution was ready. I tried to negotiate with the prosecution to reduce the one year in jail, 12 points on his license offense down to a 60 day in jail three points on his license offense. Not that my client would necessarily go to jail for 60 days but that was the possibility. And 60 days is a lot better than one year. The prosecution stuck to their guns and basically ridiculed my attempts at settling the case. The battle lines were drawn and the case was called for trial.

A little background: My client advised that he had left a bar at approximately 11 p.m. and was sober and before he got into his car he saw the police officer in the parking lot waiting for drunks to come out to be stopped. My client was fully aware of the officer and drove very carefully. He observed a stop sign exiting the parking lot and began down the road and noticed that the officer was after him. The officer put on her takedown lights and my client pulled into the 7-11. At that point it was determined that his license was revoked. The officer told him that she had stopped him for running the stop sign.

The testimony of the officers surprised me. The officer testified that it was 11 a.m. and she had run my client' s tag and determined that the owner of the vehicle was suspended. She testified that the owner was a white male who was 5'8" tall and 190 pounds. This matched the description given from her police car computer. Obviously the testimony was quite different from my client. On cross examination she fell apart establishing his height and his weight (he was sitting in a car and all she could see were his shoulders and above-rather difficult to figure out somebody's height and weight). My client admitted police officer that he was suspended.

During the suppression hearing (we challenged the constitutionality of the stop) my client testified that his wife owned the car and consequently the description should have come back for a woman. Also he testified that he was stopped for running a stop sign. He told the judge that he did not run the stop sign.

The judge looked at the facts. The officer was very shaky in her testimony. She did not have her notes. She had had hundreds of stops of other motorists since the original stop. She had made hundreds of arrests since this original arrest. She was wrong as to the time of the arrest. She was wrong as to the vehicle owner. She was wrong as to the reason for the stop. My client was properly prepared and had a very strong memory of the events. His testimony was solid and credible.

The judge granted our motion to suppress the evidence and my client was acquitted. No jail, no probation, no conviction, no points, no fine. Often when the prosecution makes the offer too difficult, it makes the case that much easier to try.