Obtaining a Protective Order in Maryland

By: Elisabeth Hellwig, Esquire

Are you eligible for a protective order?

Domestic violence is a serious problem, and victims may wonder what sort of legal protection is available to them to keep their abusers away. In Maryland, a victim of domestic violence may be eligible to petition for a protective order. If a protective order is granted, typically the order will order the abuser to stay away from the petitioner’s home and workplace, and order the abuser not to contact, harass, threaten, and/or abuse the petitioner. If the abuser and petitioner live together, the abuser may be ordered to vacate the residence. If there are children involved, the order can encompass protection for the children, as well.

Any person who either experienced domestic violence in Maryland or who lives in Maryland may be eligible to file for a protective order. To be eligible for a protective order, the abuser must be a current or former spouse, a sexual partner, a relative, or a parent of a child in common of the victim. The form to file the petition may be filed with the District Court clerk during business hours or the District Court commissioner after hours.

What happens after you file the petition?

After you file the petition for the protective order, you will have a hearing in front of a judge. This hearing may be done ex parte, which means it can be done without the abuser’s presence. At this hearing, if the judge finds that the abuse likely occurred, a temporary protective order may be granted. This order will normally be in place for seven days, after which a hearing for a final protective order will occur.

At the hearing for the final protective order, the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the abuse alleged occurred and the petitioner is in need of protection. This means that you have to show the judge it is more likely than not that you were a victim of domestic violence. Here, you are allowed to call witnesses who can help you prove your case. It is helpful to hire a lawyer to assist you at this hearing, as a lawyer will know the right questions to ask. The abuser will also have the opportunity to call and question witnesses.

If a final protective order is granted, it will usually remain in place for one year.

Final thoughts:

If you think you may be eligible for a protective order, file as soon as you are able. After you receive a temporary protective order, consult an attorney who can help you navigate the hearing for the final order. Take pictures of any bruising you may have from the abuse, gather any related police reports, and contact any witnesses who can attest to any abuse they saw occur.

This process can be understandably emotionally challenging and can feel embarrassing, but you should not feel embarrassed for seeking help. Domestic abuse is never the victim’s fault. A good attorney understands this and can help you through the final protective order hearing.

Filing suit in your Maryland personal injury case

Of the Cecil County and Maryland Auto Accident cases that my office handles, not all of them become lawsuits. Many of my clients initially come to me concerned about not wanting to sue anyone, or the concerns that go into such an undertaking. Roughly speaking, no more than 25% of the claims handled within my office require the filing of a lawsuit. Of those, even less actually go to trial. Most of these claims resolve via settlement prior to a lawsuit being filed, or resolve via settlement through the litigation process, but before trial. In Maryland, I believe around 3 or 4 percent of injury claims are actually resolved by a trial.

If your case does require litigation, there are usually two reasons this will happen:

  • There is a dispute or disagreement as to who is at fault for the accident
  • There is a disagreement as to the extent of injuries and/or value of the claim

The reason a case becomes a lawsuit is somewhat irrelevant to the litigation process to follow. Here are some tidbits as to what one would expect, should their case go to suit, as the process is usually new for most clients, and can be somewhat complicated and confusing:

  1. The attorney or law office will file the lawsuit, known as the ‘complaint’ with the appropriate court. Maryland has trial courts for each of the 24 counties(including Baltimore City) and each county has 2 levels of trial courts for these cases, District and Circuit Court. The court usually sets an initial trial date at this time, but that date often changes as the case proceeds.
  2. Within a few weeks, the court will return to the attorney a ‘writ of summons’ to be served onto the defendant(at fault party) in the case.
  3. The law office will usually contract a private process server to serve the writ of summons onto the other party.
  4. Once served, the other party should be communicating with their insurance company, who will assign an attorney to represent the defendant in the proceedings. If you have been sued for an auto accident, you should forward the documentation to your insurance company immediately.
  5. The parties, through their attorneys, will exchange information involving the claim through a process called discovery. Depending on which level of court and the value of the case, this process can be simple and quick, or long and drawn out.
  6. If the matter is not resolved through the early stages of litigation, some courts will schedule a settlement conference or some sort of mediation to attempt to resolve the matter.
  7. If all else fails to resolve the matter, trial will commence as scheduled (or re-scheduled).

Each county is different as far as timeframe and scheduling is concerned. Generally speaking, a district court lawsuit should go to trial within 4-6 months of the initial filing. Circuit Court trials can be quite different from county to county, and can go to trial anywhere from 9 months from filing to as much as 18 months in the more busy jurisdictions. More complicated cases with multiple parties involved, such as medical malpractice or wrongful death cases, can take even longer!

No matter what the scenario is, if a case you’re involved in is part of a lawsuit, it is incredibly important that you are available and accessible to your lawyer or their staff. Often times there are deadlines associated with aspects of these cases.

When care goes wrong

At some point in our lives we most all place our trust in others to care for members of our family on a fairly regular basis. Whether or not this care is provided on a daily basis for our young children while we are at work, or whether we’re discussing the point in our parents’ lives in which they are in need of hands on care in a nursing home or other adult care facility.

When you really think about it, there is a substantial amount of trust that must be placed in these facilities, and the care and attention that they will provide to our loved ones. Some of these concerns we have are somewhat simplistic, in as much as the basic needs of life are provided, but often times some more substantial, but less obvious, needs are overlooked until it becomes apparent that they are not being provided for.

Specifically in adult care facilities, we work with families of the victims of negligent care, and at times outright abuse of our family members being “cared for” in these facilities. It is difficult to make an across the board blanket statement about any one facility, or what we have observed, but there is a vast range of experiences that vary from facility to facility. Some of these places seem to just be lining up bodies to collect medicare payments, with little or no real concern for the wellbeing of their clients. Others are fantastic, and truly seem to have the best interest of those for whom they’re trusted to care for in mind.

We regularly hear about and deal with situations involving patients who are ignored in beds, and end up with horrific bed sores. Other situations result from not enough care and attention to clients/patients who are at a greater risk of falling. Some of these fall cases come to us after someone has fallen at least 3 times that the family has learned of, and suspected numerous more that have been hidden from the family to avoid issue.

These are very serious issues, and they deserve serious attention. Our practice can bring light to these horrible situations, and seek compensation for injuries. We handle these cases with no up front fees, and charge no fee should we be unsuccessful in recovery. Call 410-885-6200 today to discuss and schedule a free initial consultation.

Gun and drug possession charges reduced to open container citation

A recent traffic stop in Perryville, Maryland resulted in citations and charges being filed against a client of ours for possession of a handgun in a vehicle, possession of an unregistered handgun, among other drug related charges for suspected contraband found following a search of the vehicle.

Working with the State’s Attorney regarding a number of defenses to some of these charges, as well as some other issues with the stop, we resolve this matter down from what could have been some substantial jail time for for my client to a simple payable non-criminal citation for an open alcohol container in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

If you’re facing similar charges, or anything that arises out of a Cecil County vehicle stop or search subsequent a stop, contact our office at 410-885-6200 to discuss possible defenses that may be available to you.

NOT GUITLY- Jury verdict- Baltimore City- Second Degree assault

Midday Tuesday, August 11, 2015 a Baltimore City jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY for our client in a trial handled by our associate attorney Elisabeth Hellwig. This isn’t one of those cases that will be found in any newspaper article, or even any online blogs, but it’s a great victory and justice for a client of ours who we believe was facing charges of assault in the second degree that were fabricated to further a custody dispute over a child that the alleged victim and our client have together.

These are often difficult cases to handle, as are many cases that we handle when we feel that the complaining party is attempting to further some other interest, in this case a custody/visitation dispute, through the Maryland Criminal Court system. We’re happy for our client, Attorney Hellwig, and the system as a whole, allowing for proper justice to be done.

 

State drops murder cases in Port Deposit area shooting

A case that I have been working as second chair on with a good colleague of mine here in Elkton, Maryland has finally been closed! This has been a case I’ve been working on with Edward Richitelli since opening my practice last year. It’s been one of the more difficult cases to handle, as it’s one where there has from the onset been a true belief that our client had nothing to do with the incident that brought rise to the charges.

When you believe your client is actually innocent, the stakes are much higher with less room for error.

After a number of successful hearings to suppress evidence unlawfully and unconstitutionally gathered by the State, as well as an unsuccessful attempt for the State to appeal one of those rulings, this past week the State finally opted to drop the charges against our client.

The local newspaper has provided their take on the state’s dropping of these charges. See the Cecil Whig article here.

How long will my injury case take?

There are a variety of common questions asked by clients who I represent in their Maryland Injury Cases. In previous articles I’ve discussed the number one question asked, which is what is my accident case worth. The number two question is usually how long will my injury case take. This question is almost as tricky as the case value one, and equally difficult to answer in the early days and weeks of an accident case.

First of all, we’re dealing within injury cases here. These cases are valued, as noted in the previous article, based upon the injuries sustained and the recovery time required for those injuries, you’ll arrive at the baseline time required to resolve on of these cases. There are very few instances in a Maryland personal injury claim where it is appropriate to settle that claim prior to the claimant being completely finished with treatment for injuries. That being said, any discussion of the timeframe for resolving one of these starts with the treatment time for injuries.

Our office does most of the groundwork on these claims within the first days and weeks following the incident, and our being hired by a client. This includes contact with insurance companies, setting up of claims, requesting medical records, requesting additional documentation, etc. Most of this “heavy lifting” that sets the stage for the rest of the claim is done early on, and usually quite efficiently within our office.

Then we wait. We wait until our client has reached a point in their physical recovery process known as Maximum Medical Improvement, often referred to as MMI. This means that either the injured person is back to where they were pre-accident, or they’re at a point in which they’re as good as their going to get, and there is a permanent injury of some sort.

Once MMI is achieved, our office will collect the remaining medical bills and records we need to move onto the next phase of the claim, which would be preparing the demand. Usually we will have all of the bills and records for these claims within 2-4 weeks from the time a patient is discharged, but that varies depending on the medical providers involved.

The demand drafting process is somewhat quick within our office. Depending on the extent of the injuries, this may take a few hours, or a day to get ready. Then, we send it to the insurance company for the responsible party, and we’re in another waiting phase. Typically it takes between 4-6 weeks for most insurance companies to contact us with an offer to resolve these cases. Then, we contact our client to discuss the offer, and take it from there. More on the injury settlement process can be found here.

Then, we’ll either settle the case after a week or two of negotiation, or we’ll prepare to file suit in the matter. Each of these paths are unique to the individual case, and will be discussed in detail with our clients before any decisions are made.

If you’re interested in learning more about the value of your Maryland personal injury or auto accident case, or are concerned with how long it will take to resolve, contact my office as soon as possible (410) 885-6200 to schedule a free consultation with a lawyer.

 

The aftermath of a Motorcycle Accident

Automobile accidents can be dangerous. Many of them result in injuries to some or all of the people involved in them. These injuries can vary from minor, to very serious or even fatal. The process of successfully handling an automobile accident case from the legal perspective can be complicated, as there are a variety of factors that can influence the bottom line resolution for the client.

Motorcycle accidents can be even more complicated in Maryland. There are a lot of major difference in the way that insurance works for motorcycles, as well as the obvious difference in likelihood of a serious injury in a motorcycle accident. More often than not motorcycle riders are thrown from their bikes as a result of accidents, and suffer a variety of different injuries. Very simply put, I don’t have a whole lot of car accident clients who suffer from road rash. There are often much higher medical bills, longer time missed from work, and longer periods of time to recover from the injuries in motorcycle accidents.

Motorcycle accidents in Maryland can be complicated

While some people think that they can get away with handling an automobile accident on their own, without the aid of a lawyer, it’s almost impossible to survive a Maryland motorcycle accident without one. One major difference in motorcycle accidents in Maryland is that motorcycle insurance policies do not cover personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If you don’t already know, PIP is the coverage that will pay some of your medical bills and/or wage loss prior to settlement, and without any increase in your premiums. Without this coverage, it is often difficult to find a doctor or therapist who will administer a long course of treatment without an attorney who will provide some assurance that they will get them paid at the time of settlement. Unless you’ve got about $6,000-$10,000 to fork out in cash to pay for this ongoing treatment, you’ll probably need some help. If you do have that kind of cash, you might deplete your resources pretty quick, as with motorcycle injuries you’re probably going to miss substantial time from work, and you won’t get that paid for right away…remember, no PIP.

My office is experienced in handling motorcycle accidents throughout the State of Maryland, and have handled these cases from the lower end, with relatively minor injuries, all the way up through those involving fatalities. We’re adept at guiding you through the process, making it so you can get medical treatment without needing to pay cash, and fighting for the compensation you deserve.

To discuss your Maryland or Cecil County Motorcycle accident with an experience lawyer, call us now at 410-885-6200 to talk to a lawyer, and schedule a free, no obligation consultation in our Elkton or Baltimore office.

Why am I making a claim with my insurance company?

When handling automobile accident cases in Maryland, and even more so the cases I handle in and around Elkton, Maryland, I am often asked by my clients why we would be making a claim with their insurance company. Understandably, many of my clients are apprehensive about this, confused, or otherwise gun shy about calling their insurance company for anything. What a great fear that has been created by insurance companies and media that making a claim of any kind will make your rates skyrocket!

In some instances, claims against your policy can and will make your rates go up. In many instances, however, they will not and can not. One example of a claim that we often file for our clients in their cases is a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Claim. PIP is a no-fault type benefit that is on your policy, and is in place to protect you if you are in any accident of any kind and are injured and/or lose time from work. I try not to bore my readers to death with citations of law on this blog, but since this is such a sensitive topic, I feel the need to provide at least one link to where the Maryland Annotated Code actually says what I say it says. Check out § 19-507(c) of the Maryland Insurance Article, which states:

“An insurer that issues a policy that contains the coverage described in § 19-505 of this subtitle may not impose a surcharge for a claim or payment made under that coverage and, at the time the policy is issued, shall notify the policyholder in writing that a surcharge may not be imposed for a claim or payment made under that coverage.”

Scared to file a claim with your insurance company? Contact Bowers Law to find out when and how you may want to do this for your Maryland Accident Case.
Scared to file a claim with your insurance company? Contact Bowers Law to find out when and how you may want to do this for your Maryland Accident Case.

This is the law in Maryland. If you’re making a PIP claim, your insurance company cannot raise you to a different risk tier or issue a surcharge. Reading the entire subtitle of section c you will see that the insurance company must also notify you in writing that they can not and will not do this to you. If you read your insurance policy, you’ll find a line in there that tells you this. It’s probably somewhere around page 23 or 24. (I made that page number thing up, but if I happen to be right, let me know and we’ll share a laugh).

There are other scenarios in which filing a claim with your insurance company can be beneficial to you. These come in situations such as hit & run accidents, or otherwise in scenarios where you lack information on the other party or parties involved in the claim. I’ll be sure to write on these topics throughout the coming weeks, so check back for more information about when it’s OK to make a claim with your own insurance company.

Of course, if you’ve been injured in an accident, call my office immediately at 410-885-6200 to discuss the options you may have and recoveries you may be entitled to. We’re available to answer questions whether you’re a client or not. Even if you don’t have a case we’d take on, I’d be honored to give you a few minutes of my time to discuss your situation, your insurance, and anything else that may be on your mind.

Painting the picture out of puzzle pieces

In a previous post I mentioned the work that my office and I do to assist clients who were recently charged with crimes was like painting a picture for the State when previously all that exists otherwise are puzzle pieces. When the State is assigned a case, and when that specific Assistant State’s Attorney assigned to a case gets it, they’re also getting a large pile of other cases. With this obligation comes somewhat limited resources in their ability to track down all of the evidence and investigation for each case.

In many cases that my office handles, the charges were levied based on limited information at the time. The police have an obligation to protect the community against danger and potential danger. Sometimes this obligates them to charge someone with a crime on suspicion or mere probable cause. There is nothing improper about this practice. The lower burden of proof to arrest and/or charge someone helps prevent future instances of crime or potential crime. There is a much higher burden of proof to actually convict someone of the crime. If the higher burden existed to arrest, there really wouldn’t be a need for the judicial system we know today. It wouldn’t be so trial focused, it would be far more appeal focused. The stoppage of an alleged action by charging serves the community to discontinue that act, in most instances.

What I do in my office for my clients is break down the situations that upon charging either don’t make sense, or do not actually rise to the level of a crime committed.

In a recent case, my client was charged with TA 16-303(c) for driving on a suspended license. At the time my client was pulled over, the MVA here in Maryland showed his license as being suspended. The officer did not have access to the back story or the details of how my client got to where he was at that point. That isn’t the officer’s job. The officer was proper, given the information available to him at the time, in issuing my client such a citation.

The story, however, was quite different once all of the details were filled in. In Maryland, charges such as the 16-303(c) citation require a degree of notice on the part of the driver with suspended privileges. In this case, there was a mix up with one of those fun speeding camera/traffic light tickets in another state. That citation was paid, but the notice that it was satisfied was not sent to Maryland’s record division, but to the issuing state. My client received notice that his license “would be suspended by a certain date” to which he promptly responded to the issuing state, and was under the impression that everything was resolved.

Then he got pulled over, and cited for a jail able offense, when as far as he knew he was in full compliance with the law. He was in full compliance, the error causing his suspension was merely clerical and administrative.

Painting a picture out of puzzle pieces

At the trial date my job became to paint the picture for the prosecutor handling the docket that day. The groundwork that had been done ahead of time, putting into place the proper timeline for how my client had followed the law, and had done everything properly, caused the State to drop all charges against my client. Other than the turmoil of having to deal with the process, me, and the system generally, my client is back where he was supposed to be from square one, without charges against him, and no fines, court costs or jail time.