Trucking Accident Danger: Sleep Apnea

truckingOne of the hot topics in trucking news for the last few years has been that of sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is a medical condition that prevents its victims from getting a good night’s sleep, ensuring that they are drowsy all day long.  You can imagine the dangers that truck drivers with sleep apnea might pose to themselves or others.  Estimates are that sleep apnea contributes to 100,000 trucking crashes and 1,500 trucking accident related deaths each year.

Yesterday, a Wilwaukee TV station had a nice little story on these sleep apnea problems.  The story cites one study that finds around 50% of all truckers suffer from sleep apnea.  (Other studies find that number closer to 70%, and at least one study found the number to be as low as 17% — about the same as the general population.)    Generally, truck drivers are at a higher risk for sleep apnea problems.  One of the  risk factors for development of sleep apnea is irregular sleep hours.  Since a large portion of truckers prefer to drive at night or at least wake up very early in the morning to beat rush hour traffic, this risk factor clearly hits truckers.  Another risk factor is obesity.  Unfortunately, if a truck driver is driving ten or eleven hours a day, he or she doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercise so a number of truck drivers are victims of this risk factor.

Fortunately, sleep apnea can be detected through medical tests, and there is some movement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to require that truck drivers be screened for sleep apnea issues.  And, as the news story notes, some trucking companies are already screening for apnea issues.

For those interested in safe roadways, this is certainly one item to keep an eye on.

Do Personal Injury Lawyers Try To Scam You In The Settlement?

This is from another Google search that someone used to find our website.

I’d like to tell you unequivocally that the answer to the question is “No.”  But I can’t  (after all, we do a lot of legal malpractice work also so we know what lawyers are capable of doing).   In truth, it’s really rare than a personal injury lawyer tries to scam a client in a settlement, but it does happen.  (Don’t let that be an indictment of lawyers, in general, or personal injury lawyers, specifically.  Every profession has a few bad apples.  I’d like to tell you lawyers are exceptions to that rule, but we’re not. )

The more important question may be, “What can clients do to protect themselves and minimize the risk that they will be victims of a lawyer’s scam?”  And the best answer is to be informed.  Most personal injury cases are handled on a contingency basis.  In general, the attorney will receive the settlement funds or funds following a judgment and deposit the money in the attorney’s trust account.  Once the funds have cleared, the attorney will disburse the funds to all of the parties entitled to a portion of the settlement funds.  In general, the groups that generally receive part of personal injury funds are: 

  1.  The lawyers (who receive their fees and reimbursement for the expenses they advanced);
  2. Medical providers (who might have outstanding balances that are paid out of the funds); and 
  3. Subrogation interests (paying back health insurance companies,  Medicare, Medicaid, or any other group that may have paid part of the client’s medical expenses and/or paid for any of the client’s lost wages).

After all of these items are deducted, then the remaining funds are disbursed to the client. 

So how do clients protect themselves?  Make sure the calculations are done right and ask for documentation.  Clients should make sure that they understand their fee agreement with their attorneys so that the clients understand how the fees are calculated.  Clients should also not be afraid to ask for documentation to support the deductions.  Reputable personal injury lawyers should not have have any problem providing an accounting of expenses, including showing receipts and/or canceled checks for expenses.  Similarly, for payments made to medical providers or subrogation interests, the clients should be comfortable requesting copies of the checks written to each of these entities.  If the client still doesn’t trust the lawyer, the client may also call the medical providers or the subrogation interests to make sure that the payments were actually made.

Taking these steps will help protect the client and, if the lawyer is trying to cheat the client, help the client figure that out.

May A Texas Personal Injury Lawyer Take A Percentage Of A Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Settlement?

From time to time, I look at the ways that people find our website, and this month, someone found the website by a Google search asking whether a personal injury lawyer could take a percentage of a PIP settlement. I don’t think I’ve answered that question on the site, so I thought I would answer it here.

First, some background. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is a type of coverage that a customer may purchase when the customer is buying auto insurance. Unlike liability coverage (which will pay for damage to someone else if the customer causes a wreck), PIP protects the customer. Like liability coverage, the customer buys an amount of PIP. If the customer buys it, then the minimum limit of PIP is $2,500, but the customer may buy much higher amounts. If that customer is in a wreck caused by someone else, then the customer’s PIP will reimburse the customer (up to the maximum limit that the customer purchased) for medical expenses incurred as a result of the wreck and for a portion of the lost wages that the customer suffers as a result of the wreck.

Back to the question: May a personal injury attorney take a percentage of a PIP settlement? Generally, the answer to that question is “yes,” as long as the fee agreement between the attorney and the client allows for the fee to be taken on the PIP proceeds. The attorney and the client should negotiate that issue up front.

Having said that, many personal injury firms (including ours) do not take a percentage out of a Personal Injury Protection payment. While insurance companies are making claims more difficult, the process is pretty straight forward, and we just don’t feel right taking a fee for that little bit of work.

The one exception to this for us is when we have to file suit against an insurance company to recover PIP benefits. But doing that is very rare, and when we do file suit, we seek an order from the court requiring the insurance company to pay the attorneys’ fees that our clients incur in bringing that suit. (In most cases, defendants are not required to pay attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs, but payment of PIP benefits under an insurance policy is one exception.)

Posted on: February 9, 2010 | Tagged

Schuelke Law 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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