Free legal assistance offered for those damaged by superstorm Sandy

BALTIMORE — A toll-free legal aid line is now available for those who have experienced injury or damage to property as the result of recent storms in Maryland. The service, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer, is a partnership between the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) and its Young Lawyers Section; the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division; the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland; Maryland Legal Aid; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Low-income Marylanders facing legal issues related to storm-related injury or damage may call (866) 858-0039, 24 hours a day, to the message line to request assistance. Callers should indicate that they are seeking storm-related legal assistance and identify the county in which they are located. Those who qualify for assistance will be matched with Maryland lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal help.

The type of legal assistance available includes:

* Assistance with securing FEMA and other government benefits available to those who have incurred storm-related injury or damage * Assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims
* Help with home-repair contracts and contractors
* Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
* Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures
* Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
* Counseling on landlord/tenant problems

When the U.S. President declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, establishes a toll-free number for disaster survivors to request legal assistance.

Funding for the toll-free line comes from FEMA under the authority of Section 415 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency assistance Act (Public Law 100-707). The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, in turn, partners with state bar associations, including MSBA, and other legal organizations to recruit volunteer lawyers in affected areas to handle survivors' cases.

There are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (i.e., those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court). Such cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service. To determine whether an issue qualifies for free legal assistance,
individuals should call (866) 858-0039, and an attorney will determine whether the issue qualifies.

The Maryland State Bar Association is a voluntary, non-profit membership organization comprised of more than 24,000 attorneys and judges. The MSBA monitors judicial and legislative issues, offers legal education opportunities and promotes leadership within the legal profession. The MSBA offers public service programs to ensure the delivery of quality legal services to all citizens and is committed to further the efficient administration of justice and equality for all.

The ABA Young Lawyers Division, the largest national organization of young lawyers, provides leadership in serving the public and the profession and promotes excellence and fulfillment in the practice of law. Its parent organization, the ABA, is the national voice of the legal profession and the largest voluntary professional membership group in the world.