Three Things That Are Going To Annoy You About Your Personal Injury Case

I wish I could tell you that your personal injury case will go exactly how you like it and as smooth as you like it.  But form doing this for over twenty years, I know there are at least three things that you’re going to frustrated about at some point.

1. THE TIME IT TAKES TO GET YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS AND BILLS

Once you have finished receiving treatment from your doctors or other medical providers, the next step is for us to gather your medical records and bills.

I know what you’re thinking, “Why do you need to to that?  The doctor gave me all my records and bills, and I’m giving them to you.”  Unfortunately, you don’t have everything.  For example, if you went to the hospital, you were probably given 5-10 pages of “records”.  You think that’s all there is.  But when we order the records from the hospital, we could get 200-300 pages just for a one time visit.

So we need to get the full records and bills and get them in a format that the insurance company will use.

Unfortunately, this process takes time.  For doctors and medical providers, giving lawyers their patients’ records is way down on the list of things they want to do or spend money on. I’m not blaming them for this, but it’s just part of the process.  The result is that what seems like it should be easy takes a LONG time.

In fact, it takes so much time that lawyers who do what we do had to go to the legislature and state agencies to ask for rules to try and put time limits on how long doctors have until they turn over the records and bills and even limit the amount that they can charge for the records.

We’ve tried a number of different ways to speed this up, but the result is that the process just takes a lot of time.  You’ll be frustrated with the amount of time, but just know that we’re working hard to get them in, and we have to let the process play itself out.

2. SUBROGATION

When your health insurance, Medicare or other entities pay for benefits that relate to the wreck,  most of the time, you have an obligation at the end of the case to pay them back.

A lot of people are frustrated learning that they have to pay the insurance companies back.  But it’s a requirement set out in almost all insurance policies, and even written into law in the case of Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental providers.

The other frustrating thing about subrogation is that it takes time.  At the end of the case, we’ll negotiate with them to try and minimize what you have to pay back.  But by its nature, we can’t start those negotiations until the case settles because all of these companies want to know the settlement amount, fees, etc. to determine the amount of reduction they will provide.  So in most cases, the case will be over and we’ll still be negotiating with the various providers.  Indeed, in the case of Medicare and some others, the negotiation with the subrogation provider can take longer than the negotiation with the actual insurance company.

3. YOU MAY BE CONTACTED BY OTHER LAWYERS

In the past, some injury lawyers would settle cases, but not pay the hospitals for the outstanding bills. So the hospital lobbyists went to the legislature and had a law passed that gives them a lien on the victim’s cases.  That means the hospital can file a notice in the county deed records, and if the hospital isn’t paid back at the end of the case, the hospitals can sue the insurance companies or the lawyers involved directly.

Some letters may try to even scare you by saying the insurance company will include the hospital on your settlement check. In theory, insurance companies can include the hospital on a check to protect themselves from being sued.  But normally, this isn’t a big deal at all. It’s standard that we’ll settle or resolve cases, negotiate with the hospital, and then pay them a fair amount. This is typically done by the insurance company writing the hospital a check for the negotiated amount (to protect themselves) and then the insurance company writing a second check to you and our firm for the rest of the settlement.  Usually this is an easy negotiation, though in rare cases I end up suing the hospital because they’re seeking an unreasonable amount. But it happens in a lot of cases.

Unfortunately, one byproduct of this system is that a number of personal injury lawyers now hire people to search the county’s  records and find cases where the hospitals file liens.  Then the lawyers write the patients letters that make the lien sound scarier than it really is because the lawyers are trying to solicit new cases for themselves.  I wish the State Bar would regulate these lawyers better because I don’t feel like they’re being completely truthful with the public and they cause people stress and anguish about things that are typical.

So that’s why you may get a rash of letters from lawyers.  They’re just trolling for new business.  They’re not bill collectors.  Your account isn’t in collections.  And this isn’t something that’s unusual or a problem.  We deal with it a lot.  Of course, these guys don’t tell you that it’s normal because they’re trying to scare people into calling them for new business.

 

Texas’s Texting While Driving Ban Goes Into Affect Today. Will It Make You Less Safe?

Today, Texas’s new texting while driving ban goes into affect.  For the first time, Texas will have a state-wide ban.  A violation of the ban is a misdemeanor, with fines between $25 and $99 for first time offenders and $100 to $200 for repeat offenders.

For years, I’ve been critical of Texas officials for their failure to adopt a state-wide texting while driving ban.  So, I should be excited that a new ban is going into affect, right?

I’m not.  I think a good argument can be made that Texas’s ban makes many of you less safe.

What do I mean?

While the state refused to take the lead on this critical safety measure, many of our cities and towns didn’t.  Prior to the state-wide ban, over forty Texas cities and towns, including Austin and San Antonio, had their own limits on the use of cell phones.  Many of these bans are more strict than the Texas ban in two ways.

First, the Texas ban merely limits the use reading, writing, or sending an electronic message  (it’s not clear if this just covers texts and emails or will it cover reading websites as well?). Many of the local ordinancesgo further than that.  For example, many cities like Austin not only banned texting while driving, but also banned the use of phones (and other handheld devices) without a hands-free system (like a bluetooth headphone).  So many of these local ordinances banned more types of activities that have been found to be unsafe.

Second, many of the local fines are more expensive than the new Texas fine.  For example, in Austin, the fine for a first offender starts at $200, and the maximum fine can go up to $500.  In Kyle, the fine is between $100 and $500 for a first offense, between $200 and $500 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense.

Unfortunately, the new Texas law also contains a pre-emption clause that overrides the local laws “relating to the use of a portable wireless  communication device by the operator of a motor vehicle to read, write, or send an electronic message.”

That means that for many cities throughout the state, including Austin, the punishment for texting while driving — the fines—are becoming more lenient.  It may also mean that the more broad bans requiring hands-free devices may also be overturned — we’ll have to wait to see how courts interpret the statutes.

But regardless of this, for many parts of the state,  including Austin, there is actually less of an incentive to text and drive today than there was yesterday.

This is a mistake.  The dangers of texting while driving are well known, and it is a factor in probably more than half of the car wreck and trucking accident cases that our firm handles.  Studies show it is more dangerous than drinking and driving.  While I applaud the state for finally acting, they should have allowed those communities who want even stronger fines to keep those fines in place.  We want to discourage as much texting and driving as we can.

If you want to read the Texas law, it is available here.

What To Make Of The New NFL Brain Injury Study

Yesterday, a new study on brain injuries in NFL players that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association made news.

As you may have heard, the study looked at brains of 111 former NFL players, and 110 of the brains had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

I’ve been trying to process the results, and I’ve reached a couple of conclusions.

First, you have to be careful with the results.  The only way to truly test for CTE is by doing an autopsy once the person is deceased.  In this case, all of the brains in the study were donated by the players’ families.  Obviously, most of the brains would have been donated because the family had a concern about the player’s condition before the player’s death.  Even the doctors who did the study confirm this.

Second, regardless of what I said above, the numbers are startling.  This is a lot of players who have had problems, and it’s something that we can’t ignore.  For a long time, there was a debate about whether CTE was even a real disease.  These numbers, along with other similar research, show that ti is a real problem.

Third, for safety’s sake, we need to make sure that we’re not limiting the focus to the NFL or even football.  With regards to CTE, it isn’t limited to football, soccer and hockey and at least one former major league baseball player have been diagnosed with CTE.  We need to looking at ways to make all sports safer in terms of protecting the brain.

Beyond that, we can’t let our attention be focused on CTE and sports.  Many, many more people will sustain severe brain injuries in car wrecks and falls than in sports.  We need research to continue to help us determine how brain injuries can be limited in the average person and not just in the athlete.

For more information on the new study, you can read the following articles:

 

Driverless Car Drama

We obviously represent a lot of people who are injured in car wrecks so I’m always interested in what happens on the driverless car front.  This story  presenting real life drama and corporate espionage in the driverless car industry in today’s Austin American Statesman caught my attention.

The story centers on the relationship between Uber and Waymo, the driverless car company spun off from Google.

According to Waymo, Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo engineer, downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving Waymo.  Levandowski is alleged to have then set up his own companies based on this technology, which he eventually sold to Uber for $680 million.  Levandowski and Uber were alleged to have planned the purchase of these companies even before Levandowski left Waymo.

Naturally, Waymo sued Uber and Levandowski, and yesterday a judge found that there was evidence to support the allegations.  As a result, the  Court ruled that Levandowski can’t work for Uber on the system related to the stolen information and that Uber can’t use the material and must return all the material to Waymo.  Last week, the judge apparently referred the case to federal prosecutors, certainly not a good indicator for Levandowski or Uber.

It will be interesting to see how the ruling affects these competitors, who have been racing each other to develop their driverless cars.

 

Posted on: May 16, 2017 |

Emergency Room Not Diagnosing A Concussion, Revisited

A few months ago, I wrote a short article describing why emergency rooms do such a bad job at diagnosing concussions/brain injuries: The emergency room didn’t say anything about a concussion. Does that mean I don’t have a brain injury?

Recently,  I came across a study that really quantifies the problem I discussed.

The study, primarily led by several doctors from the University of Washington, was laid out in an article entitled Accuracy of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosis, which was published in the August 2008 issue of the Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation.

The article starts by noting:

Accurate identification and diagnosis of a mild TBI is the first step toward providing clinical care.

Unfortunately, despite the accurate diagnosis of a brain injury being so important, the study found that emergency rooms are not very good at making the diagnoses.

The study looked at 197 patients who had been to emergency rooms.  They looked at medical records, and in some cases interviewed the patients, to determine whether they patients had a brain injury, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control mild Traumatic Brain Injury work group.  The researchers then took those patients who were diagnosed with a brain injury and looked at the patients’ emergency room records to see what was diagnosed in the emergency room.

The results were startling.

The emergency room doctors failed to make a diagnoses of a head injury or concussion in 56% of the patients who were later determined to have a brain injury.

That’s a stunning number.

There are some things that can help improve the accuracy of the emergency department physicians.  If the patient complained in the emergency room about confusion, feeling dazed, or having memory problems, then the diagnoses was more accurate.  However, even with those findings, the emergency department still missed the diagnoses on 37% of the patients.  That’s still a substantial number of patients who have a brain injury that doctors are missing.

Oddly, the emergency room physicians’ diagnoses weren’t dramatically better even when the patient reported a loss of consciousness — which should be a red flag.  The doctors still failed to make the proper diagnoses of a head injury in about 50% of the patients who had told the doctors that they had lost consciousness.

This means that you have to be diligent about noticing symptoms.  I’ve repeatedly written that misdiagnoses is a problem and that the best way to find the problem and to get proper treatment for the problem is for someone close to the person to look for symptoms.

To learn more details about potential symptoms, you can read our other articles:

If you or a loved one has sustained a brain injury in an accident, please call us at (512)476-4944 and we’d be happy to see if we can help.

Brain Injuries: New Study Finds Fewer People Recover From Post-Concussive Syndrome

The April 2017 issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma reports on a new study about post-concussion syndrome.

The study followed 110 patients who had post-concussive syndrome symptoms for more than three months, and the findings were stunning.  Of those patients, only 27% made a full recovery.  Of the 27% who made a recovery, 67% made a recovery within the first year.  And no one who had symptoms over three years ever made a recovery.

For those groups that didn’t recover, the continuing symptoms (in order of frequency) were:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Dazed/don’t feel right/in a fog
  • Pressure in the head
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty remembering events
  • Neck pain
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Depression/sadness
  • Insomnia/sleep disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Noise in the ears
  • Vision changes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Imbalance
  • More emotional
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Increased sensitivity to alcohol
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes
  • Vivid dreams
  • Numbness
  • Vertigo
  • Panic attacks
  • Disorientation
  • Stomach ache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

These findings are significant to our brain injury cases.

Most insurance companies argue that brain injuries typically heal themselves and symptoms disappear after six months or a year. The insurance companies use that argument to reduce the value of the claim.

This study refutes that.  If a client has had symptoms lasting more than three months, then this study is evidence that the client will likely never make a full recovery.   Obviously, if an injury is permanent then the value of the case is higher.

The study is also interesting because it has a good list of symptoms of a brain injury.  It’s important for people to know these symptoms to help them recognize when they might have a brain injury.

Another interesting fact was the distribution of the symptoms.  Generally, post concussion syndrome has three classes of symptoms:

  1. Cognitive symptoms — affect your thinking
  2. Affective symptoms — affect your mood (depression, irritability, etc)
  3. Somatic symptoms — separate symptoms (headaches, light sensitivity, etc).

The study found that the persisting symptoms were quite evenly distributed between the three classes of symptoms.

 

 

My MRI or CT Scan Was Negative. Does This Mean I Don’t Have A Brain Injury?

This is another question I’ve recently received from potential clients.  They were involved in an incident — a car wreck, a slip and fall, or something similar.  They went to the ER, and the ER performed an MRI or a CT san looking for problems, but scan came back negative.  Does this mean that the was no brain injury?

Absolutely not.

While an MRI or a CT scan can find some brain bleeds or some damage, they don’t find most problems.  As a result, the vast majority of people who have brain injuries have a normal (what we call negative) MRI or CT scan.

Indeed, while insurance companies sometimes try to argue about claims when you have a normal MRI or CT scan, virtually all scientific literature and all neurologists agree that you can still have a normal scan.  Not only that, virtually all neurologists will agree that most of the patients they see for brain injuries have normal scans.

So if you feel like you’re off or your family members are telling you that you’re different after a car wreck, a fall, or another event, don’t rule out a possible brain injury just because you had a normal CT scan or MRI.  You may very well still have a mild traumatic brain injury that needs to be treated

Don’t Let GEICO Or Other Insurance Companies Take Advantage Of You After A Car Wreck

Insurance claim forme

Here are today’s two lessons from a court decision yesterday:  (1) Take your time before settling your case.  (2) Talk to a lawyer before settling a case.

I often warn victims of car wrecks or other accidents to be aware of insurance companies’ “swoop and settle” tactics.  In these situations, the insurance company (GEICO seems to be the worst) contacts you immediately after a wreck and makes an immediate settlement offer to try to get you to give up your rights before you know how bad you are hurt or before you know your rights.

Yesterday, the Dallas Court of Appeals handed down a new case that shows just how this terrible practice works.

In the case, Windell Gilbert was injured in a car wreck.  GEICO was the insurance company that covered the driver who caused the wreck.

Eight days after the wreck, GEICO called and suggested to Mr. Gilbert that they settle the case for GEICO’s payment of the medical expenses incurred on the date of the accident (which totaled $4,806.75) and $500.00 to Mr. Gilbert.  Mr. Gilbert agreed, and the GEICO representative had them do a recorded call confirming that settlement.

Not surprisingly, but Mr. Gilbert ended up being hurt much worse than he thought.  He went to a doctor and had over $15,000.00 more in medical expenses.

Mr. Gilbert later sued the other driving, arguing that the first settlement was unfair.  But yesterday’s opinion held that Mr. Gilbert and GEICO had a binding agreement and that Mr. Gilbert was bound to the $500.00 agreement.  Moreover, the court awarded GEICO (through the other driver) $10,000.00 in attorneys’ fees against Mr. Gilbert.

This case is a perfect example of why car wreck victims should wait to talk to an attorney and to take a little time before settling a case.  Initially, even if Mr. Gilbert wasn’t hurt more than just needing medical care on the first day, the offer from GEICO was a terrible offer.  But more importantly, people are often hurt more than they realize.  Problems linger or don’t show up until later.  I typically advise my clients that in most cases, you shouldn’t settle until you know you’re better or until a doctor tells you you’re not better, but you’re as good as you’re going to get.

So remember the lessons for car wreck (and really all injury) claims. Don’t settle too early, and don’t settle without talking to a personal injury lawyer.

 

 

Brain Injuries: New Study Finds Even One Concussion Can Have Lasting Effects

The human brainMany of us that deal with these injuries routinely have suspected it, but a new study confirms that even one concussion can have lasting effects.

The study was based on extensive data on the health of people in Sweden.  The researchers found 104,000 people who experienced head injuries between 1973 and 1985.  The researches then looked at the these brain injured persons’ records after their injuries and compared those results with the results and history of the siblings of the brain injured persons.

The researchers found that persons who had even one concussion were more likely to receive future disability payments, more likely to need mental health care, less likely to graduate high school, and much more likely to die prematurely.

The researchers also found that the problems increased significantly if the person had more than one concussion, and if the persons had their head injuries after the age of 15.

The good news is that most of the people who had just one concussion were fine.  But people who have suffered concussions will still have to worry about what their future must hold.

The article also noted that the leading causes of brain injuries are what we see often in our practice.  For the very young, the leading cause of concussions is falls.  For teens, the leading cause becomes sports.  And for adults, the leading cause of brain injuries is car wrecks.

If you or a loved one has experienced a concussion or other brain injury because of another person or business’s carelessness, call us at (512)476-4944.  We will try to help you navigate the difficult process of pursuing your claim.

 

 

 

Brain Injuries: Risk Of Suicide May Increase Three Fold After A Concussion

brainI’m part of a nation-wide group of lawyers who regularly exchange articles and other information with one another about brain injury cases.

This week, we were having an online discussion about suicide, and we shared a study from earlier this year finding that persons who have suffered even a single concussion may be at a much higher risk for suicide.

What really struck me is how these risks apply to my clients.

In a Scientific American article about the study, Dr. Donald Redelmeier, one of the study’s lead authors stated:

The typical patient I see is a middle-aged adult, not elite athlete.  And the usual circumstances for acquiring a concussion are not while playing football; it is when driving in traffic and getting into a crash, when missing a step and falling down a staircase, when getting overly ambitious about home repairs — the everyday activities of life.

These are the things we routinely see in our practice. Over the last year, I’ve represented clients who have had brain injuries in car wrecks, bicycle wrecks, slip-and-fall accidents, and more.

Too often the diagnoses of these injuries is slow, and in many cases, not recognized until very late in the process.   This delays the treatment, including the psychological treatment, that clients need to help them start the road to recovery from these devastating injuries.

 

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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