By Scott Bowling
Here’s a typical scenario.
Patricia works at the Base with a defense contractor and makes a nice salary. Her husband is an accountant and has his own practice. After 24 years of marriage, they are going through a bitter divorce. Thankfully, the children are grown and in college so there are no custody issues. One day, Patricia is heading to the grocery store and an oncoming car collides with her vehicle. She is badly injured and spends the next two months out of work. She has some leave, but not enough to cover everything and wants to be reimbursed for her medical expenses and lost wages. But will Patricia’s husband be able to snatch a portion of her personal injury award or settlement in the divorce?
After nearly 23 years of law practice, I have had many clients ask this question. The answer is YES, but there are steps that Patricia can take to limit her husband’s claim to her settlement.
In divorce cases, the state of Maryland applies the Marital Property Act. Under that law, most property that is acquired during marriage is considered to be marital property and the court can go through a process to divide it. That can include real estate, pensions, cars, bank accounts and other valuables.
In Patricia’s case, she is going to make a claim for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and “non-economic damages”. These “damages” may allow Patricia to receive thousands of dollars in compensation. As you could expect, her husband was not going to help her, but he is still going to look for his “cut” from her accident claim. So, which of these claims can he try to make a grab?
For past medical expenses, Patricia’s husband is likely out of luck. These costs are factored into the settlement, but the money will be sent to the medical providers. If Patricia’s automobile or health insurance paid any portion, that is still not a claim that her husband can make if she receives money for the “total” medical expenses. She is probably safe here.
For past lost wages, watch out! Wages can be considered marital property because they are income accumulated during marriage. If Patricia makes $75,000 per year and makes a claim for three months, her lost wage claim could be over $18,000. Her husband could make a claim for $9,000, without having earned a penny and all because Patricia could not work from her injuries. When considering how to make a claim, Patricia must consider whether the lost wages portion is really worth it or how much to claim.
In Patricia’s case, the pain and suffering and permanent effect of her injuries are called “non-economic” damages. Most if not all of those claims is personal to Patricia and may fall outside of the marital property claims made by her husband. So in other words, if she receives $50,000 for pain and suffering, Patricia’s husband may not receive a cent.
When a lawyer negotiates an accident claim or presents it to a court, that lawyer should be aware of the consequences that a large personal injury payment may mean to the client’s pending divorce. So if you find yourself in Patricia’s situation, do not settle your car accident claim, malpractice case or other injury matter until all these questions have been answered.
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Scott Bowling is a partner at Chapman & Bowling, LLC, a Maryland personal injury law firm with offices in LaPlata and Lexington Park. Mr. Bowling and the attorneys of Chapman & Bowling have been helping defend the rights of victims and their families for more than 20 years, helping them seek justice in cases of medical malpractice, wrongful death, and auto or truck accidents. If you’ve been injured due to the negligent acts of another, contact Mr. Bowling and the attorneys of Chapman & Bowling at 301-934-9969 or visit them online at www.ChapmanBowling.com.