Katrina claims – revisited

With the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the handling of Katrina claims continues to be in the news.  Tonight’s episode of 20/20 will feature the claims of two former State Farm insurance adjusters who believe State Farm committed fraud in the handling of Katrina claims.  Among other things, the adjusters allege that State Farm hid engineering reports that would have supported coverage for policyholders and pressured other engineers to make findings beneficial to the company, including telling engineers that their invoices would not be paid if reports were not changed.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction anti-lawsuit reporter John Stossel will have to his own show’s story.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Frivolous Lawsuit Defenses

Tort reform advocates are always quick to point blame for frivolous lawsuits.  But they never address frivolous defenses — unnecessary conduct by defendants that drive up the costs of all litigation.  But one case last week is making some news and shedding light on some of these abuses.

On August 18, 2006, Judge Leonard Davis,  a federal district court judge in Tyler, issued an opinion in a patent infringement case against Microsoft.  Judge Davis’s opinion outlines many litigation abuses by Microsoft including findings that:

1.  Microsoft delayed in producing witnesses for deposition, including only allowing one witness to be deposed the Sunday before the Monday trial started.

2.  Microsoft failed to provide important documents and data to the plaintiffs as required by the rules, and even offered false testimony that some of the data did not exist.

3.  Microsoft offered many instances of false or questionable testimony.

4.  When the parties were required to designate their trial exhibits, Microsoft designated 3,449 potential exhibits in a 283 page exhibit list.  At trial, they only offered 107 of these exhibits.  The court found that Microsoft intentionally misled the plaintiff and the court by trying to hide their real trial exhibits in their overwhelming list.  The court noted that it was unfair to the plaintiff and created a huge unnecessary burden on the court and its staff.

Based on these findings of litigation misconduct, Judge Davis awarded the plaintiff $2,300,000.00 in attorneys’ fees.  In addition, Judge Davis awarded the plaintiff an additional $25,000,000.00 in “enhanced damages” based in part on this conduct and in part on the jury’s findings that Microsoft willfully violated the patents in issue.  After these awards and the actual damage awards, the total award will be over $140,000,000.00 plus interest.  A complete copy of the order is graciously hosted by the patentlyo blog.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Pattern of Greed

Following up our post on Trent Lott, the insurance industry’s conduct in relation to Hurricane Katrina continues to be in the news.  Yesterday, the grassroots group People Over Profits released their report Pattern of Greed:  How Insurance Companies Put Profits Over Policyholders. The report outlines the group’s complaints about how the insurance companies handled claims relating to Katrina and other natural disasters.  The report concluded:

It’s been a year since Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, leaving historic levels of death and destruction in its wake, and some in the insurance industry haven’t made good on their promise to compensate area residents who find themselves near ruin.  While the insurance industry enjoys record profits and bulging bank accounts, too many people are left waiting for the settlements that will help them get back on their feet.  It’s no surprise.  As this report relates, the insurance industry has made a practice of collecting billions of dolalrs from policyholders over the years and then stiffing them in their time of greatest need.  Hurricane Katrina is just the most recent example.

One of the most disconcerting parts of the report are allegations by many, including Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, that insurance adjusters were cajoling victims into signing forms that acknowledged their homes sustained flood damage by saying that the forms were necessary for them to immediately receive their checks.  These forms can become important.  The issue in most of these cases is “What caused the damage?”  Generally speaking, if the homes were damaged by wind or water falling into the house (for example, rain through a torn off roof), then the insurance policies cover the damage.  However, if the home is damaged by rising flood water, then the damages are only covered by flood insurance and not typical homeowners’ policies.  Because of this, the insurance companies use the forms to deny coverage. When the insureds, who don’t really understand the difference between rising flood waters and flooding in the house due to rain, sign these forms they are potentially signing away their right to recovery.

Bloomberg also published an article today about the issue.  In its summary of the issue, the article states:

As surely as Katrina transformed the Gulf Coast with 125- mile-per-hour winds and storm surges as high as 28 feet, clashes over insurance policies are shaping the region’s recovery, according to bankers, public officials and aid groups.

Disputed settlements, rates that have soared as much as 500 percent and insurers’ reluctance to write new policies in storm- prone areas are forcing people to move away from coastline homes and inner-city New Orleans neighborhoods, they say.

Interestingly, the article contains another complaint from Senator Trent Lott:  “The insurance industry — State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide — has been the most unresponsive, insensitive I’ve ever seen.”

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Pregnancy Discrimination

As a result of a large settlement by Verizon, pregnancy discrimination has been a hot topic in the legal and popular press over the last few months. While most employers are aware that they can’t discriminate based on age, sex, or race, many employers and employees are unaware of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (the standard federal discrimination law). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which only applies to employers with enough employees to pass the threshold test, provides that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.

Though people would like to think that society is making progress against discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and the resulting suits are on the rise. A July article wrote:

A study released this month finds a nearly 400 percent increase in the past decade in lawsuits involving family responsibility discrimination, from 97 cases in 1996 to 481 last year. A majority of cases involve pregnancy, says Cynthia Calvert, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, which issued the report.

If you are an employer or employee and seek more information on pregnancy discrimination, a good starting point is the EEOC website.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Spine University

Many of our personal injury and medical malpractice clients suffer from some type of back issues.  An orthopedic group has set up an online Spine University that provides a wealth of information that clients might find helpful.  The site includes information on the structure of the back, tests, and medical care for various back conditions set out in plain, easy-to-understand language.  If you or a loved one has back problems, it is worth checking out.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

The Life of a Trial Lawyer

Today, the whole firm feels like the bride that was left stranded at the alter.  We were supposed to start a three week trial yesterday.  It is a complicated case, originally filed in September 2004, with over 10,000 documents exchanged between the parties.  We have all (attorneys and staff) cut summer vacations short and worked feverishly to prepare for the trial.  We’ve been working particularly hard in the last month to six weeks— working long days and weekends preparing motions and briefs, poring over documents, and contacting witnesses.

In our county, we have a central docket — the cases are not assigned to a particular judge, but rotate among the available judges.  This helps move the cases through the system.  So Monday morning, we proceeded to the courthouse and went to docket call to get our assignment of a judge.  All 6 attorneys involved in the case announced to the court and the judicial clerk that we were present, that we expected the case to take three weeks, and that we were ready to go.   After hearing announcements from the attorneys on the other cases, the judge briefly took a recess so she and the judicial clerk could discuss “assignments” of the cases to the available judges.

After the recess, the judge and clerk came back into the courtroom and dramatically called all the attorneys in our case to the bench.  Once up there, she told us that, due to scheduling and summer vacations, there weren’t any judges that were scheduled to be in town for three straight weeks. Because we didn’t have a judge, we couldn’t go to trial.

And that was that.  We did a little scrambling to come up with creative solutions so that we could try the case, but it was all for nought.  The trial has been re-scheduled, and we get to go through the process again.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Medication Errors

Study after study shows the frequency of medical errors.  However, a recent study by the Institute of Medicine brought to light the alarming rate of medication errors.  According to the study, medication errors affect more than 1.5 million Americans annually, killing thousands.  The rate of error was particularly surprising in hospitals.  The report found that “when all types of errors are taken into account, a hospital patient can expect on average to be subjected to more than one medication error each day.”  The report found that the annual economic cost of these hospital errors exceeds $3.5 billion annually.

Fortunately, the Institute suggests some fairly painless steps that can help prevent errors, including (1) maintaining a list of medications that you take; (2) making sure you really understand the risks of the medication you take; and (3) make sure you know the reason you are taking each medication.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke


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