Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA)
Young Lawyers' Section (YLS)
Prepared by the MSBA-YLS Disaster Relief
Committee for use by all Maryland attorneys who volunteer to provide
free legal services to victims in the event of a federally declared
and/or transportation disaster in Maryland.
A. In conjunction with and pursuant to two Agreements
which are respectively between the American Bar Association, Young
Lawyers Division (ABA/YLD) and the Office of Disaster Assistance
Programs of the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA), and between the ABA/YLD and
the National Transportation Safety
Board ("NTSB"), the Young Lawyers'
Section (YLS) of the Maryland
State Bar Association (MSBA) will form a network of volunteer
attorneys to provide free legal services to victims of federally
declared disasters and major transportation disasters in the State
of Maryland. Should legal services be requested by FEMA or NTSB,
the ABA/YLD shall have sole and complete responsibility for coordinating
legal efforts with all other State and local bar organizations, affiliates
and legal services organizations.
II. Role of Attorney Volunteers
A. Take Calls/Cases from the Disaster Assistance Helpline
(FEMA)- A toll-free 800 number ("Helpline") will be established
by FEMA at the MSBA Headquarters, or a local bar association, if
legal services are necessary. Victims seeking legal assistance
will be able to call the Helpline and leave a voice mail message
for the Co-Chairs of the YLS Disaster Relief Committee ("Co-Chairs").
The Disaster Relief Co-Chairs will retrieve the messages periodically
(and in any event at least two (2) times in every 24-hour period),
from the Helpline and contact victims to answer questions or to
notify them that an attorney will be assigned to their matter and
will contact them shortly. The Co-Chairs will then contact an attorney
from the provided list of volunteer attorneys (Attorney Network,
Exhibit B) in the area where the disaster has occurred. The typical
case consists of simple questions that can be answered with one
telephone call. However, in some instances, a volunteer may be
needed to actually take on a particular case. The types of legal
services volunteer attorneys are generally asked to provide include:
insurance claims, landlord-tenant issues, home repair contracts,
consumer protection, mortgage foreclosures, replacement of important
papers, estate administration, powers of attorney, guardianship,
and referrals to other agencies.
B. Staff Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) - Once a
major disaster is declared, FEMA may set up a DRC where victims can
obtain information from various agencies and individuals regarding
coping with the major disaster, including obtaining free legal advice.
Volunteer attorneys may be asked to staff the DRC for certain periods
of time to provide legal services to victims.
C. Transportation Disaster Services (NTSB) - If
a transportation disaster occurs in Maryland, or outside Maryland
but involves Maryland residents and/or related issues, the NTSB,
through its Director of Family Support Services, may request assistance
from the ABA/YLD in providing general legal advice to disaster victims
and/or their families. Generally, the Chair of ABA/YLD's Disaster
Legal Services Committee and other designated ABA/YLD members will
travel to the disaster site and will contact the Co-Chairs for advice
and/or guidance for disaster victims regarding any Maryland issues.
However, should it be necessary, volunteer attorney's may be asked
to represent transportation disaster victims and/or their facilities
on a pro-bono basis, as referred by the ABA/YLD Chair to the Co-Chairs
and then to the Attorney Network.
III. Preparing for a Major Disaster
A. MSBA - At the beginning of each bar year, the
Co-Chairs shall contact the Executive Director of the MSBA or the
duly appointed disaster relief designee of the Executive Director
to arrange for hooking up the Helpline at MSBA Headquarters should
it be needed. The Helpline will be a recorded message which the Co-Chairs
can retrieve off-site. It is intended that the MSBA Staff should
only be responsible for the connection of the Helpline, and FEMA,
according to its current policy and agreement with the ABA/YLD will
reimburse MSBA for any telephone company costs incurred for the installation,
maintenance and long distance charges for the Helpline.
B. Circuit Representatives of MSBA/YLS
1. Every bar year, the then current Co-Chairs of the
YLS Disaster Relief Committee will contact the Circuit Representatives
of the YLS and require them to submit five (5) names and addresses
of attorneys willing to volunteer in the event of a disaster.
The Circuit Representatives will report to the Co-Chairs every
two months with any revisions to the names and addresses of the
attorneys so that the Attorney Network is current. In the event
an attorney volunteer is no longer willing to volunteer, the
Circuit Representative shall find a substitute attorney. The
Co-Chairs will spot check the names and addresses of the attorneys
every three months. The names and addresses of the attorneys
will be provided to the Chair of the YLS and the ABA District
Representative (District 8).
2. Circuit Representatives shall also aid in annually
updating the list of local bar association contacts provided in
3. The Co-Chairs will send a letter to each volunteer
attorney along with the Training Manual and attachments.
4. The Circuit Representatives will be invited to ABA/YLD
Affiliate Outreach Project Meetings (AOPs) or other ABA/YLD FEMA
Training sessions based on budget and availability.
C. Annual Update of Exhibits B, C and D - Every
bar year, the Co-Chairs will update all names, addresses, telephone
numbers and other information provided in Exhibits B, C and D.
D. Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) and/or
People's Pro Bono Action Center, Inc. ("PPBAC") - The
Co-Chairs will contact HPRP and PPBAC for a back-up list of volunteers,
if needed and/or assure a contact person from each organization
is provided. Copies of the Response Plan, with all appendices,
will be provided to HPRP and the PPBAC at the beginning of each
bar year once all appendices have been updated. Representatives
from HPRP and PPBAC will be invited to attend training sessions.
E. Advertisement on Web Page and in Advocate - The
Co-Chairs shall prepare a press release and a Request for Volunteers
to be placed on the MSBA/YLS Web page, in the YLS quarterly publication
known as the "Advocate", and other publications as required.
F. Training Sessions - Every bar year, the Co-Chairs
shall conduct training sessions which shall comply with the following
1. MSBA President, Local Bar Association Presidents,
their Staff, MSBA YLS Section Council members and all volunteer
attorneys shall be invited and encouraged to attend training sessions.
2. Training sessions shall be held throughout the State
of Maryland to make them geographically convenient. The Co-Chairs
shall attempt to conduct two training sessions per year.
3. Training sessions will be approximately two (2) hours
in length and may include a video tape, the ABA/YLD District Representative,
the ABA/YLD FEMA Chair, the ABA/YLD NTSB Chair, and FEMA attorneys.
Training sessions may be provided in June of every year at the
Annual Convention in Ocean City, and in January as part of other
planned MSBA or local bar association activities, if possible.
4. Training sessions may also include review of substantive
law materials regarding the most commonly asked questions from
the victims of disasters.
The MSBA/YLS, in coordination with the ABA-YLD, must ensure
that lawyers in Maryland are prepared to respond rapidly in the event
of a federally declared and/or transportation disaster to provide
effective pro bono legal services to disaster victims. As citizens
of Florida learned in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, as Virginia
was reminded when Hurricane Emily threatened its Eastern Shore and
tornadoes hit the City of Petersburg in 1993, and as Oklahoma City
realized when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed in
1995, disaster preparedness is essential and must be an ongoing priority.
With this in mind, the MSBA-YLS created the Disaster Relief Committee
in 1996 to develop and oversee the annual update of this Training
Manual and a Response Plan Manual, which together make up the MSBA/YLS
Emergency Plan ("Emergency Plan"). It is the goal to include all
interested lawyers, bar organizations and other legal services providers
in the execution of this Emergency Plan. The MSBA/YLS has established
a statewide network of local attorneys who can handle disasters on
the local level, and will implement a statewide training effort.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the
executive agency responsible for the administration of the Robert
T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 5121, et seq. ("the Stafford Act").
The Director of FEMA is responsible for providing a wide range
of federal disaster assistance. This responsibility is delegated
to and carried out by FEMA Regional Directors, among others.
Once a major disaster is declared by the President, a
Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) is appointed to coordinate the
administration of relief activities in the affected areas. All
relief efforts for declared major disasters, including those authorized
by separate statutes and provided by other Federal agencies, as
well as relief efforts of volunteer organizations, are coordinated
by the FCO and the FEMA Regional Director, and any appropriate
State authorities. This is done to provide the most unified and
comprehensive service possible, to reduce response time and to
eliminate duplication of efforts by Federal, State, local and volunteer
organizations. When a federal declaration of disaster occurs, the
provision of volunteer legal services may be coordinated primarily
The NTSB, pursuant to the Aviation Disaster Family
Assistance Act of 1996, is responsible for providing relief services
and assistance to victims and their families of transportation
disasters. The Director of Family Support Services at NTSB will
determine if legal services are needed, and then, through an
Agreement between NTSB and ABA/YLD, will contact the ABA/YLD
and request assistance. The ABA/YLS will then coordinate efforts
through the state bar organizations to help victims and their
families of transportation disasters. In Maryland, the services
of volunteer attorneys may be needed if the transportation disaster
occurs in Maryland and/or if the victims are from Maryland and/or
other issues arise relative to the laws of Maryland.
The Federal government has the statutory and regulatory
authority to make arrangements for the provision of legal services
to victims of major and/or transportation disasters. See42
U.S.C. § 5121 and 49
U.S.C. § 1136. Thus, upon a declaration by the
President or other designated official, Maryland lawyers may
be called upon to provide free emergency legal services. Lawyers
may, in many major disaster situations, be providing volunteer
services through a jointly coordinated federal-state effort.
If the request for legal services is initiated by FEMA, the relief
effort will be guided by the ABA/YLD Agreement with FEMA, which
coordinates efforts through the state and local bar organizations
in the affected areas. If the request for services is through
the NTSB, the activities will be guided by the Agreement between
the ABA/YLD and the NTSB. The ABA/YLD acts as a clearinghouse
and facilitates the relief efforts by providing advice, materials,
and in appropriate cases, acting as the approval mechanism for
financial assistance from FEMA.
There are limitations on the extent to which services
may be provided, and there are limitations on lawyers' activities
in providing such legal services. Generally, free legal services
are provided to low-income and other qualifying victims as defined
U.S.C. § 5182. Legal services include legal advice,
counseling, and representation in non-fee-generating cases. Lawyers
may not solicit fee-generating business or refer cases to their
The MSBA/YLS, along with other appropriate bar organizations,
will locate lawyers willing to render services on a volunteer
basis should a federally declared or transportation disaster
strike Maryland. The Emergency Plan depends upon Disaster Relief
Co-Chairs who are familiar with the Emergency Plan, and who can
train and mobilize attorneys on a moment's notice when necessary.
The Volunteer Attorneys throughout Maryland make up the "Attorney
Network" and are those attorneys who are called upon before a
disaster strikes to be trained and prepared for disaster relief
efforts, and who will be asked to staff Disaster Recovery Centers
(DRCs), transportation disaster sites (NTSB sites) and the telephone
Helpline once a disaster occurs.
One of the most important objectives of the Federal,
State and local governments following a disaster is to inform individuals
of the assistance available to them and to assist them in obtaining
the aid to which they are entitled. These objectives are usually
accomplished in DRCs and NTSB sites. DRCs are set up as temporary
aid stations in which victims of disasters can obtain state and
federal assistance, as well as free legal advice. Representatives
of Federal and State agencies and local governments, as well as
some private relief agencies, staff tables inside the DRCs to advise
disaster victims. These "one-stop" centers remain in operation
as long as required by the emergency situation -- in some cases,
for days, in others, for months. The NTSB sites provide victims
and their families with information regarding the transportation
disaster, the status of recovery operations, and legal advice if
The Co-Chairs are responsible for training participating
attorneys before a disaster occurs, conducting training sessions
immediately following a disaster, and coordinating all disaster
legal services efforts within the eight judicial circuits, with
the help of the Circuit Representatives and the Attorney Network.
Although it is the goal of the Emergency Plan to have
sufficient numbers of attorneys in the Attorney Network to adequately
provide legal services in the event of a major disaster; should
additional services be needed, the HPRP and the PPBAC have agreed
to help field telephone calls and refer cases through their own
The contacts for these organizations are as follows:
HPRP - Francine Hahn 410-685-6589 PPBAC - Sharon Goldsmith 410-837-9379
1. Provide updated name, address, telephone, facsimile
numbers and e-mail addresses to Circuit Representative. If any
of this information changes, contact Circuit Representative so
that the Attorney Network can be updated.
2. Review Training Manual and other materials provided
by Co-Chairs of the YLS Disaster Relief Committee. (This review
should take 15-20 minutes.)
3. If possible, attend training session at MSBA Annual
Meeting or other location.
2. Contact clients within 24 hours of receiving referral.
3. Complete case status/closing form at conclusion of
representation or every 2 months as needed, and forward to Co-Chairs.
4. If problems arise in representation, i.e., substantive
matters, uncooperative client, etc., volunteers are to contact
Co-Chairs immediately for resolution. This includes any issues
as to a client's eligibility for services, which eligibility will
be determined by the Co-Chairs and is not the responsibility of
The following series of short explanations, questions and
answers are designed to prepare the volunteer for the types of advice
that she/he may be asked to give. The explanations and questions
are based on actual victim and volunteer interviews at DRCs. Excluded
are frequent questions about federal or state assistance programs,
taxation or other similar issues which should be directed to representatives
of those agencies at the DRC. The answers provided herein are necessarily
During recent disasters all sorts of scams have emerged,
including charging as much as ten times more for essentials such
as food and batteries; doubling and tripling rent; failing to
make promised home repairs or doing them in a slip-shod manner;
converting personal property that they promised to move and store;
and charging commissions as independent insurance adjusters for
negotiating with insurance companies which resulted in homeowners'
net loss. Major disasters also trigger financial crises as people
fall behind in their bills and miss payments resulting in collection
Lawyers can assist clients by:
1. Educating consumers about avoiding scams and choosing
reputable people to do needed repairs and services;
2. Negotiating with creditors, financial institutions
and collection agencies about moratoriums and extensions of loan
and bill payments; and
3. Advising consumers on their rights regarding consumer
contracts and collection agency activities.
The best resource for answering particular consumer questions
is the Maryland Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the
Attorney General (Tel. 410-528-8662, Fax 410-576-6955).
The most important information that legal advocates can
give consumers is preventive - warning people to beware of deceptive
practices that can befall them in a disaster situation and giving
them advice on how to get competent help.
Some clients may find their way to you, documents in
hand, before they have signed any binding agreements or approached
creditors. You can assist them by interpreting convoluted and complex
terms and language, filling out forms and maybe even helping them
find a better deal elsewhere.
Clients may have just signed binding agreements which
are not in their best interests or they are being hassled by creditors
or collectors, usually arising from debts incurred before the disaster.
In the event that clients have signed an unfavorable
agreement for repairs or other services, one option is to rescind
or cancel the contract. Other clients may have gotten behind in
their bills and now are facing collection actions or repossession.
A two-pronged approach is appropriate here. One is to deal with
any irregularities in the collection or repossession actions as
a way to reduce or avoid liability. The second is to attack the
underlying transaction and attempt to rescind or cancel it.
Most of the federal consumer laws are part of the Consumer
Credit Protection Act (15
U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq.). Some of its key provisions
include the: Equal Credit Opportunity Act (15
U.S.C. §§ 1691-1691f) Makes it illegal to
discriminate in any credit transaction on the basis of race, color,
religion, national origin, sex or marital status, age, that all or
part of the applicant's income is from a public assistance program
and the applicant's good faith exercise of a right under the Consumer
Credit Protection Act. Fair Credit Reporting Act (15
U.S.C. §§ 1681-16811t) Establishes the permissible
content and use of credit reports by credit reporting agencies and
provides for consumer access to such reports. Truth in Lending
U.S.C. §§ 1601-1667e) Requires creditors in
extending consumer credit to disclose in advertising and person-to-person
transactions essential credit terms before credit is extended. Restrictions
on Garnishment (15
U.S.C. §§ 1671) Limits the earning amount
subject to garnishment and the employer's right to fire an employee
because of garnishment. Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15
U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312) Requires minimum disclosure
standards for written consumer product warranties and remedies for
breach. Fair Debt Collection Practices (15
U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692o)
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers persons
or organizations who collect debts on behalf of a third party including
attorneys who collect debts for the federal government. The Act
does not apply to organizations who attempt to collect their own
debts, except if they use another name which might indicate that
a third person is collecting the debt.
The collector cannot contact consumers or their families
in these situations:
1) Any time and place which is unusual or which the
collector should have known to be inconvenient to the consumer.
Absent knowledge to the contrary, communication before 8:00 a.m.
and after 9:00 p.m. is presumed to be inconvenient.
2) If the consumer is represented by an attorney whose
name and address are ascertainable by the collector.
3) At the consumer's work place, if the collector knows
or has reason to know that the employer prohibits such communications.
4) If the debtor has told the creditor to cease communication
(some limited exceptions).
Third Party Communications - The Act flatly prohibits
communications with all third parties in collecting the debt unless
the consumer consents, the court orders it, or communication is
reasonably necessary to effect a post judgment judicial remedy
for requiring location information (skip-tracing). In skip-tracing,
the collector cannot state the consumer owes a debt and cannot
with some exceptions communicate more than once. Skip-tracing cannot
be done at all if the consumer is represented by an attorney.
Harassment or Abuse - Collectors cannot engage in conduct "a
natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any
person in connection with the collection of a debt." This provision
specifically includes threats of violent or criminal means, using
obscene or profane language, and publishing lists of alleged debtors,
except to a credit reporting bureau.
False or Misleading Representations - False, deceptive,
or misleading representations or means in collecting debts are
prohibited. A collection agency must give its true name, although
the individual caller can use an alias provided that the same alias
is consistently used. (Many states require collection agents to
register their aliases with the agency that regulates collection
1) Validation - The collector must send with the initial
communication or within five days thereafter, written notice containing
the debt amount, creditor's name and invitation to the debtor to
notify the creditor within thirty days if any dispute exists as
to the validity of the debt. If the debt's validity is disputed,
collection activity must cease until verification of the debt has
been mailed to the consumer.
2) Multiple Debts - The consumer may control the way that
a payment is applied in the event that the collector is responsible
for more than one of the consumer's debts. Specifically, the
collector cannot credit a payment to any debt which is disputed
and must allow the consumer to select which debts will be paid
3) Damages - Consumers can sue for actual damages, including
loss of employment, physical injury or other immediate harm,
mental suffering, inconvenience, and harassment. The court
can award additional damages of up to $1,000 for each person
as well as punitive damages above these amounts, attorney's
fees, and costs. Collectors can defend by showing that the
violation was "not intentional and resulted from a bona-fide
error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably
adapted to avoid such error."
4) Garnishment - One method which creditors may use to collect
judgments is to garnish the debtor's wages. As a result of
a garnishment, the employer must pay part of the debtor's wages
directly to the creditor rather than the employee. Garnishment
causes two major problems: Debtors often are left without enough
money to meet basic needs, and they risk losing their jobs
because employers tend to dislike the trouble involved in garnishment.
Federal law provides that no employer can discharge an employee
because of garnishment if it resulted from a single indebtedness.
It does not prevent a firing if the debtor is garnished by
two different creditors. Violators are subject to a fine up
to $1,000, imprisonment or both.
Question: Is the damage to my home covered under
my insurance policy?
Answer: If this damage is going to be covered, it is
probably going to be covered under a fire insurance policy or
homeowners insurance policy. Homeowner's policies generally cover
losses due to accident or specific causes such as fire or theft.
This usually includes accidental damage to the residence, loss
of personal property belonging to the insured, bodily injury
to the insured or guests, or increased living expenses if the
residence is uninhabitable. The volunteer will need to review
the specific policy in order to determine whether there is coverage
for the specific loss. The first page of the policy is referred
to as the declarations page. This page will indicate whether
the policy is in effect at the time of the loss.
Fire insurance policies are governed by the Maryland Insurance
Article and the Commercial Article which set forth the minimal
provisions which must be contained in all fire insurance policies
issued in Maryland. A policy of fire insurance may provide a
broader scope of insurance than required by the statutory minimum.
Volunteer attorneys should review the actual contract of insurance
to confirm coverage.
When reviewing an insurance policy, keep in mind that the policy
is a contact and general contract law applies.
The main body of the policy sets forth the insurance coverage
and exclusions from coverage. Conditions control whether claims
will be defended, losses paid, or the policy canceled. Volunteers
should especially be aware of the condition that the insured
report the loss promptly to his or her insurance company. The
policy may include endorsements which add coverage that would
otherwise be excluded by the policy. Additionally, endorsements
may delete or modify coverage provided in the body of the policy.
When reviewing an insurance policy, it is important to keep
the following in mind:
1. Any vagueness, uncertainty or ambiguity in the policy
must be interpreted in favor of the policyholder and against
the insurance carrier (which wrote the policy).
2. In close situations, policies will be interpreted in a
way which favors coverage.
3. "Coverage" sections must be broadly interpreted, while "exclusions" must
be read narrowly.
4. Phrases or words not defined within the policy will be
given any reasonable interpretation which favors coverage.
Question: Does my automobile insurance cover the damage to
my car resulting from the disaster?
Answer: As a threshold issue, the volunteer must determine
whether the victim has comprehensive policy coverage which covers
damage to the vehicle. The volunteer will need to consult the declarations
page of the policy covering the time period of the loss to confirm
this coverage. If there is comprehensive coverage, the volunteer
will need to consult the particular language and exclusions of
Question: My house has been substantially damaged
and is uninhabitable -- must I continue paying my mortgage?
Answer: The mortgage company is usually entitled to
payment even if a house is destroyed. Regardless of a legal theory,
if any, upon which a disaster victim might avoid making payment,
volunteer lawyers should look at the mortgage documents, negotiate
with the mortgage company for a moratorium, and look to insurance
documents for possible coverage. In many disaster situations,
mortgage companies have agreed to negotiate directly with insurance
companies, or have voluntarily imposed moratoriums on payments
owed. The volunteer attorney's role is to investigate all possible
avenues so that the victim's credit and financial future are
Question: My landlord has been sending collection notices
for rent, and refuses to refund my security deposit, even though
my apartment building has been condemned since the disaster.
What should I do?
Answer: Volunteer lawyers should become familiar with
the landlord-tenant provisions of the Maryland Code. Specifically,
Real Property Article, Titles 8 and 8A, address various issues
that may arise in the landlord-tenant context following a disaster.
As a general rule, a residential tenant is not required to
pay rent for destroyed premises, assuming the tenant is without
fault or negligence in causing the destruction. If, however,
a lease provides otherwise, a tenant may be liable. Thus, volunteer
attorneys must review lease provisions to determine the obligations
of a tenant. Unless otherwise provided by contract, the landlord
is under no obligation to rebuild leased premises.
During disasters, the following documents may be lost:
Bank accounts (checkbook, savings)
Birth, death, marriage certificates, divorce decrees
Court documents (deeds)
Driver's license, registration
Social security card
Vehicle ownership record
Question: How do I replace a lost birth, death, marriage certificate,
or divorce decree?
Answer: Write to the Division of Vital Records, Metro
Executive Building, 4201 Patterson Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland
21215 (410-764-3038). This office has records from August 1898
When writing for records, please provide the following:
1. Full name of person whose record is being requested;
3. Parents' names, including maiden name of mother;
4. Month, day and year of birth or death;
5. Place of birth or death (city or town, county and state and
name of hospital if known);
6. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
7. Relationship to person whose record is being requested.
When writing for marriage records, please give the following
1. Full names of bride and groom;
2. Month, day and year of marriage;
3. Place of marriage (city or town, county and state);
4. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
5. Relationship to persons whose record is being requested.
When writing for divorce records, give the following information:
1. Full name of husband and wife;
2. Date of divorce or Annulment;
3. Place of divorce or Annulment;
4. Type of final decree;
5. Purpose for which copy is needed; and
6. Relationship to person whose record is being requested.