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.

 

U.T. Looking To Cut Football Brain Injuries

My University of Texas football team hasn’t been on the cutting edge of winning the last few years (and we’re hoping that’s changing), but we are on the cutting edge of trying to protect players from brain injuries.

It’s no secret that an increasingly difficulty issue in football is the rise (or at least heightened awareness of) brain injuries suffered by players.  There are some things that can be done, such as teaching proper technique and making sure that helmets are state of the art, but until now, what a school or coach can do to protect kids has been largely limited.

Now however, Riddell and Texas are taking a big step towards safety by including monitoring devices in players’ helmets.  Starting this year, all University of Texas players’ helmets will have sensors that send signals to the trainers’ hand held devices when the player sustains a significant hit in the head.  The trainer can then monitor the player and look for signs of a concussion or head injury.  Texas will be the first Power 5 school to provide this technology to every player.

This is important.  While concussions are bad, one of the biggest risks in sports is known as second impact syndrome.  Second impact syndrome occurs when a player sustains a significant blow before the brain has healed from the original concussion.  The second impact, which can occur minutes, days or weeks after the first concussion, typically causes much more severe problems than the original impact.    While some concussions are obvious, some people don’t show signs of symptoms until hours or even days after the event.  Thus, the ability to monitor the impact of a hit in real time, will make it much easier to look for problems in real time, minimizing the risk of second impact syndrome.

Now, if we can only find some technology to help us find a few more wins each year…..

 

 

The Emergency Room Didn’t Say Anything About A Concussion. Does That Mean I Don’t Have A Brain Injury?

This is a question I’ve seemed to be answering for clients lately.  You are in a wreck or other event.  You go to the emergency room.  They look you over, they never say anything about a brain injury, and they send you home.  Does this mean you don’t have some type of brain injury?

Absolutely not.

Emergency rooms (and even other doctors) are notoriously bad at diagnosing brain injuries.  Why is that?

First, emergency rooms are triage facilities.  They are only really looking for the things that are life-threatening or need to be treated immediately.  Too often, this means that they don’t look for brain injuries unless the brain injury is the type that’s completely obvious.

Second, emergency rooms (and most other doctors) don’t know you.  For the most part, there’s not a readily available test that we can use during a doctor’s visit to say whether you have a brain injury.  The first time a brain injury is diagnosed is usually based on your complaints of your symptoms and comparisons of how you were before you got hurt to how you are after you got hurt.  Doctors can compare your symptoms to common brain injury symptoms, but the doctors have to be looking for those symptoms to put two and two together.  And doctors usually don’t know you well enough to compare your condition from before the wreck to your condition after the wreck.  As a result, it’s often difficult for a doctor to make the diagnoses of a brain injury.

That’s why I tell clients that it’s so important to have friends and family members look for changes in your condition or behavior.  For our clients, we have forms that we give you to fill out that can help figure out what problems you’re having.  That way, you’ll be in a better position to articulate to your doctor the problems you’re having and the doctor can more easily and quickly make a referral to a neurologist or other treating physician.

Be Aware In Crosswalks

Pedestrian sign 2I was really ticked off yesterday.

As I was driving home, I was approaching a crosswalk.  Normally, there isn’t anyone at the crosswalk, but yesterday someone was there waiting to cross (actually, one of my daughter’s dance teammates crossing to go to her dance studio).

I stopped so that she could cross the street, and no less than eight vehicles went around me on the right, driving in the bike lane,  before the person behind me also stopped, allowing the pedestrian to cross the street.

This follows an incident this weekend when I was stopped to make a left hand turn, waiting for a pedestrian to cross the street (while the pedestrian had a white “walk” signal no less), and the people behind me thought they would be cute and turn left behind me, coming within a foot of hitting the pedestrian.

Not only is this type of driving inconsiderate and dangerous, in Texas, it’s illegal.

Section 552.003 of the Texas Transportation Code requires drivers to yield the right of way to pedestrians who are crossing in a crosswalk when there’s no traffic signal in place.

As drivers, you need to know the law and yield to pedestrians.  That’s especially true as school is back in session and young kids are now using crosswalks to get to/from school or to/from their bus stops.    I just see too many cases where pedestrians suffer serious injuries because drivers don’t have the simple courtesy to follow the law.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this law enforced very often.  I hope APD or someone else do what they need to do to minimize the risks for these situations.

 

Don’t Let Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram, or other social media) Ruin Your Personal Injury Claim

facebookAn increasing trend in personal injury litigation is for insurance companies and their lawyers trying to gain access to your social networking sites.  Sometimes this includes the use of trickery to get access to your information.    Once there, they’ll take statements or photos entirely out of context to try and argue that you’re not as hurt as you claim.

I’ve never had a client harmed by social media, but I don’t want you to be the first.

Some attorneys suggest that their clients cease all use of social media while the client’s case is pending.  While that would be nice, I also think it’s unrealistic.  I know social media has become a part of culture and life.

So if you’re going to continue to use social media, here are a few guidelines that can help you not ruin your case.

1.  Don’t discuss your case in any fashion on a social networking site.

2. Don’t mention activities you’re involved in; no talking about hobbies, vacations, etc.

3. Don’t post photos of yourself.  Trust me, they’ll be taken out of context in ways you can never imagine.

4. Keep your privacy settings strong.

5. Don’t allow a new “friend” unless you absolutely know who they are and trust them.  There are repeated stories of insurance company representatives trying to “friend” injured persons to get access to the injured persons’ social media sites.

These are just general guidelines.  If you are injured and want more specific advice, feel free to call us or contact us.

How Do I Settle A Claim With An Insurance Company Amicably?

This is another question I recently received.

A person was injured in a car wreck, they submitted a demand letter, and tried to negotiate, but the insurance company was stonewalling them.  What are they supposed to do?

There isn’t a good answer for someone in this situation.  Insurance companies may engage in stonewalling tactics that are designed to get you to accept less than the full value of your claim.

When you hire us, and this happens, our response is to file suit.  That’s the alternative and the hammer you can use to get a new adjuster, get a new perspective to the insurance company from a lawyer and to prove that you can enforce the claim.

But if you’re trying to represent yourself, you don’t have that option.  As a result, the insurance company, knowing that you don’t have a real alternative, doesn’t have an incentive to pay the full value of your claim.

This type of conduct is one of the reasons that insurance company studies find that claimants who are represented by lawyers do substantially better overall than those who try to represent themselves.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news to people in this situation.

National Safe Boating Week: Choosing The Right Life Jacket

It’s not enough to have the life jacket.  You need to make sure you have the right life jacket for your size, your activities, and the water conditions you might be encountering.

The Safe Boating Council has these guidelines:

Try It On

  • Check the manufacturer’s ratings for your size and weight.
  • Make sure the life jacket is properly zipped or buckled.
  • Raise your arms straight up over your head while wearing your life jacket and ask a friend to grasp the tops of the arm openings, gently pulling up.
  • If there is excess room above the openings and the life jacket rides up over your chin or face, it does NOT fit properly. A snug fit in these areas signals a properly fitting life jacket.

Fit Facts

  • It is extremely important that you choose a properly fitting life jacket.
  • Life jackets that are too big will cause the flotation device to push up around your face, which could be dangerous.
  • Life jackets that are too small will not be able to keep your body afloat.

Important Reminders

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities.
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can cause different situational problems.
  • Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.”

National Safe Boating Week: The Statistics

Why is Safe Boating Week important?  Here are the statistics from the Safe Boating Council.

All figures are from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2012 Recreational Boating Safety Statistics, the latest official record of reported recreational boating accidents. The full report is available online at: www.USCGBoating.org/statistics/accident_statistics.aspx.

  • Drowning was reported as the cause of death in almost three-fourths of all fatalities.
  • Approximately 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
  • In 2012, the Coast Guard counted 4,515 accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and approximately $38 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.
  • Approximately 14 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, machinery failure and excessive speed are the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 17 percent of the deaths.
  • Twenty-four children under age thirteen lost their lives while boating in 2012. Forty-two percent of the children who died in 2012 did so from drowning.
  • The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (19%) and cabin motorboats (15%).

National Recreational Boating Statistics

  • Fatalities: 651
  • Drownings: 459
  • Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 3,000
  • Boating Accidents: 4,515
  • Property Damage: $38,011,601
  • Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 12,101,936

Unfortunately, Texas is the number 3 state for boating deaths and the number 4 state for boating accidents.

Remember to be safe.  Don’t let you or your family become another statistic.

 

 

National Safe Boating Week: Wear Your Life Jacket

http://www.iclipart.com/dodl.php?linklokauth=LzAzMS9iYXRjaF80Mi9MaWZlX0phY2tldF9SZXF1aXJlZF8yLmpwZywxNDAwMjY0OTgzLDI0LjczLjI0NC4yMTgsMCwwLExMXzAsLGE5MTc1NWM4YjYxNWQ5ZjYzZjAxOTFkNTdmNWVjYzc5/Life_Jacket_Required_2.jpgI’m going to talk about statistics later in the week, but I wanted to start with the most important safety advice for boating: WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET.

U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in almost three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2012 and that 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

I know when I was a kid and my dad lived on Lake Austin, I couldn’t wait to turn 14 so I wouldn’t have to wear a life jacket.  Frankly, I was an idiot.  Too many things can easily go wrong if you’re not wearing your life jacket.  In most emergencies, you won’t have time to get life jackets out of storage and pass out to all your guests.  Or heaven forbid you hit your head on something and get knocked unconscious.  Wearing a life jacket in advance is the only way to protect you in those circumstances.

Don’t let your vanity cost you your life.

Insure.com’s Rating of Best Auto Insurance Companies

This week, Insure.com, the self-proclaimed independent consumer insurance website, released its list of Best Insurance Companies based on customer satisfaction rankings.  The company surveyed 3,835 customers of 15 large insurers in auto, home, and health insurance, and 14 in life insurance.

The survey asked about:

  1. customer service
  2. claims satisfaction
  3. value for price paid
  4. percent who plan to renew
  5. percent who would recommend the company

Based on their responses, the top auto insurance companies were:

  1. USAA
  2. State Farm
  3. Farmers
  4. GEICO
  5. Auto Club of Southern California
  6. Nationwide
  7. Liberty Mutual
  8. Allstate
  9. American Family
  10. The Hartford
  11. Erie Insurance Group
  12. Progressive
  13. MetLife
  14. Travelers
  15. Mercury General

It’s important to note, having sued drivers covered by most of these companies, I would have a different ranking.  My ranking would largely be focused on what company is most reasonable in willing to admit when their drivers caused a problem, and who are willing to protect their customers by making fair settlement offers when their customers do something wrong.

Using my criteria, I’d put USAA, GEICO, Liberty Mutual, and Hartford in a top group.  I’d put MetLife, Nationwide, Travelers and State Farm in a middle group.  I’d put Farmers, Allstate, Progressive, and Mercury in a bottom group.

My criteria is certainly different than that used in the survey, but I also think it’s an important perspective when you’re buying insurance.  Heaven forbid, if you do cause a wreck, you want to make sure your company protects you.  When the company doesn’t offer enough and forces a lawsuit to be filed against you, then that’s likely the insurance company not doing its job.

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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