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.

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, 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 driver, 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.

 

 

No Pokemon (ing) While Driving

Fairly typical questions we ask and investigate in car wreck cases are whether the driver was distracted by talking on the phone or texting while driving.  Now, I might have to start another series of questions after the introduction of Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is an app game that was released a few days ago, and it’s already taking over the virtual worlds of kids and young adults.

But this morning, I was alerted by a reporter acquaintance that the new game is also quickly becoming a driving hazard.  A quick twitter search confirmed his fears.

I’m inserting a few of the concerning screen shots in the post.  Needless to say, don’t play PokemonGo or engage in other distracting conduct while driving.  Keep yourself focused while driving so your ultimate time for Pokemon isn’t cut short.

IMG_6907 IMG_6908 IMG_6909 IMG_6910 IMG_6911 IMG_6912 IMG_6913 IMG_6914 IMG_6915

Teaching Teen Drivers

Articles about teen drivers seem to be in the news (or maybe because I’m teaching my own teen to drive, I’m just noticing the articles more).  Regardless, there were two recent articles I saw that probably interest you if you have a teen driver.

The first reports on a study that finds that 60% of teen driver wrecks result from distractions.  This is probably not a surprise to any of us.  But the study was noteworthy for me because of the way it was conducted — the AAA Foundation watched nearly 1,700 in-car videos of teen drivers who were involved in wrecks to diagnose what the teens were doing immediately prior to the wreck.  The two biggest factors were talking to others in the car and using a cell phone, either for talking or for texting.  If you click the link, there is a video story that shows some of the video excerpts from the wrecks.  This is certainly something I’m going to make my teen driver watch.  Passing on this type of information should be of what we teach our kids.

The second article is a Wall Street Journal article entitled Better Ways To Teach Teen Drivers.  The story is based on a 2014 study that placed video cameras in parents’ cars to review what they were teaching their kids.  The analysis found that, by and large, teens are being properly taught the mechanics of driving — how to turn, how to control speed, etc.   Unfortunately, the study found that parents did not do a good job of teaching teens accident avoidance — how to recognize hazards, how to avoid those hazards, etc.

The best line in the article was discussing the fact that parents spend a lot of time on things they had trouble with, such as parallel parking.  But as the story noted, “Most people don’t get killed parallel parking.”  Instead, the article encourages parents to spend more time working on hazard recognition and judgment — making left turns into oncoming traffic, how to merge on and off highways at high speed, etc.  The article also encourages you to work with your kid in bad weather conditions, in crowded roads, and the like so that the teens’ first time experiencing these things are not while they are alone.

It pains me to give credit to an insurance company, but State Farm has a teen driving program called Road Trips on its teen driving website, http://teendriving.statefarm.com, that can help you with the process.  The website also has a 3-d video tool that helps kids learn to scan for hazards as they’re driving.

 

 

In Texas, No Justice For The Injured

The folks at Texas Watch have put together this great story on Texas’s medical malpractice reform.

Motor Vehicle Accidents: Do I have to provide a release of medical information to the insurance company?

We recently received an inquiry asking, “Do I have to provide a release of medical information to the insurance company?”

Generally, the answer is “no,” but for a more detailed answer, I need to know the type of case.

If you’re making a claim directly against the driver who caused the wreck, the answer is clearly “no.”  In that situation, we would almost never advise our clients to sign a blank release giving the insurance company full access to all of your medical records.  Instead, we’ll gather all of your medical records related to your wreck and forward them to the insurance company.

Now, once a lawsuit is filed, the insurance company will typically subpoena records from medical providers who you saw as a result of the wreck.  Additionally, if you have a history of a condition related to your injuries from the wreck, the insurance company might try and get your records from before the wreck.  But even in those situations, we’ll try and insist on a reasonable limit on what they obtain.

If you’re making a claim against your uninsured or underinsured motorist carrier or with your personal injury protection carrier, then you have a contractual duty to cooperate with the company.  If you don’t, you could be risking your benefits.  But even in those situations, when the insurance company asks for a release, we’ll try and work with them to provide a limited release.  For example, we might limit the release to those doctors who provided treatment from the wreck.  And if the insurance company wants past medical records, we might limit them to five years before the wreck.  The insurance companies will typically work with us to find some reasonable limits.

Again, there may be situations where you have a long-standing condition that makes things a little different, but for those most part, this is how we try and deal with requests for a medical release.

Head Injuries and Concussions — From Players’ Perspective

If you know me, you know I’m a huge University of Texas sports fan.  Because of that, I’m a huge fan of the Longhorn Network.  Usually, the stories just relate to my sports passion, but in light of David Ash’s retirement from football due to his repeated concussions, the LHN ran a great piece that talked with three former UT players about their battles with concussions.

Watching it, one thing that stood out to me was something that we see in our practice (and which the science backs up), and that is, once you have had a concussion (or multiple concussions), it takes a smaller impact to re-injure the brain.  Additionally, with a history of concussions, the symptoms appear to get worse.

If you have any interest in head injuries, concussions or sports, I highly recommend the story below.

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.

 

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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