MARYLAND PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEYS REPEATEDLY SEEK LIABILITY EXPANSIONS
A PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY BAILOUT?
Over the years, Baltimore has decreased as an attractive venue to file asbestos suits. It has over 27,000 asbestos cases on the docket, many filed by the Law Offices of Peter Angelos. In 2018, Baltimore was the third most popular jurisdiction in the country for asbestos filings, and in 2019 it had dropped to sixth place. The Peter Angelos’ law firm continues to burden Baltimore courts. Of the 167 asbestos lawsuits filed in Baltimore in 2019, 162 of them were filed by that firm.
Since 2017, more than 5,000 asbestos cases have been resolved in the Baltimore courts. The courts are on track to resolve about 500 cases each month, and administrative judge Michel Pierson has told state legislators that the court is on track to resolve more than 5,000 cases a year and is working efficiently to eliminate the backlog. Because the courts are properly reviewing each case individually, plaintiffs’ attorneys are voluntarily dismissing many of their own cases. They do so because they know that the case does not have merit, and they were hoping to consolidate the cases in a way that packages the weak cases with those that may be viable. As a result, the Law Offices of Peter Angelos has decreased its asbestos filings by 71.4 percent and is voluntarily dumping hundreds of lawsuits each month.
In an effort to salvage some profits from these meritless cases, Peter Angelos is using his political clout to push a legislative bailout for plaintiffs’ attorneys in Maryland. He hired Gerald Evans of Evans and Associates and paid him over $200,000 to lobby the legislature on his behalf. Last year Angelos tried to salvage the situation by sneaking in a piece of legislation at the end of the session. The legislation would have required that all asbestos cases be resolved in mediation as opposed to the court system that is now handling them individually. Had the pandemic not interrupted the 2020 legislative session, it is possible that Peter Angelos would have tried the sneaky maneuver again. The Maryland General Assembly should resist Angelos’ efforts to involve it in the judiciary’s affairs. Instead, the court should be permitted to continue its effort to clean up the asbestos docket by requiring plaintiffs with long-dormant claims to submit credible evidence of an asbestos-related impairment, giving priority to sick claimants and dismissing claims that are not viable.
ELIMINATION OF STATUTORY LIMITS ON NONECONOMIC DAMAGES
The Maryland legislature perennially explores eliminating the contributory negligence rule, decreasing the standard for punitive damages, and raising or eliminating the statutory limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury, medical liability, and wrongful death cases.
Members of the legislature have sought to repeal or lower the requirement that expert witnesses actually work in the medical field they are testifying about. Currently, an expert can only devote 20 percent of his or her time to testimony. Repealing this rule would allow “expert” testimony from people who may barely practice in the field, but spend most of their time as hired-gun expert witnesses. The more time experts spend testifying in court, the less time they spend actually treating patients. This creates a niche culture of professional witnesses providing less informed testimony.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly considered legislation that would eliminate the state’s statutory limits on noneconomic damages. Maryland was among the first states that placed reasonable limits on pain and suffering awards, which are not capable of objective measurement and can be wildly unpredictable and excessive. Statutory limits are also critical to preserving affordable and accessible healthcare.
Yet, in 2020, Delegate David Moon (D), whose top donor is the plaintiffs’ attorney lobbying group, the Maryland Association for Justice, introduced H.B. 1037. That legislation, a variant of which is introduced every year, would allow unconstrained noneconomic damage awards if a jury finds a defendant’s conduct was beyond ordinary negligence. This would open a huge door for plaintiffs’ lawyers to circumvent the cap and eliminate the predictability that is a benefit of the law. Should this occur, Maryland residents would soon see an increase in auto and homeowner’s insurance, and higher healthcare costs, and could experience an access to care crisis.