Should you settle with the insurance company? Do you need a lawyer?

In this profession I am often asked the question about whether or not someone who has been injured in an automobile accident should or should not hire an attorney to facilitate the settlement and/or eventual lawsuit associated with their claim. There are very few instances in which the answer to the question is consistent with self-representation. The bottom line in these types of cases is that insurance companies run a business that for the most part is based on collecting premiums, and keeping that money. They will take any opportunity to decrease the money that they need to pay out, even if the decrease is just a few hundred dollars. If you think about it, some of these insurance companies are HUGE, and likely have millions of claims for injuries each year, or even every month. If they were to save just $100 each claim over one million claims….do the math.

Here’s the real thing you need to realize and think about when considering handling your own Maryland Auto accident case, or especially handling your own Elkton or Cecil County Auto Accident Case. I probably see or hear about more people here in Cecil County trying to settle on their own than in any other county I’ve worked in: Do you pose a substantial and credible threat to litigate your case on your own? If the answer to that question is anything except for a solid YES, then the insurance company will treat you as if you will never file suit, wouldn’t know how to file suit, and they assume you’ll accept the first offer that they make to you.

When you hire an experienced auto accident lawyer, the game drastically changes. In many instances offers to settle immediately multiply by a factor of 5 or 10 times what they were to an unrepresented party. Why? Mainly because I know what the case should be worth, I know how to negotiate with each insurance company(yes, each insurance company negotiates differently than others) and have absolutely no fear or hesitation in my willingness to file a lawsuit on your behalf, and take the right case all the way to trial and get what the case is worth!

Through my years in this business, I have seen clients walk into my office with settlement checks handed to them on the scene of the repair facility by an adjuster for hundreds of dollars. Hundreds! These were claims where we ultimately settled for as much as $20,000 when all of the appropriate medical treatment was had, and the claim was negotiated properly.

Check back for future posts on appropriate medical treatment after an auto accident, the importance of having your vehicle repaired, the impact of a lawyer’s fees on your injury settlement and other important and insightful topics. Do  not try to settle these cases on your own. Call me, (410) 885-6200, especially if you accident happened in Cecil County Maryland. I charge no up front fees in these cases, and there is rarely a case where I don’t put at least triple in your pocket what the insurance company initially offers when you try to settle on your own!

What do do following an automobile accident in Maryland?

My office handles a lot of Maryland and Cecil County automobile accident claims. Through handling these claims, we also work with a lot of injured victims from these accidents. We understand that the moments directly following an automobile collision can be a stressful time, and often times you may not immediately know what to do. While it is unlikely that you are reading this post from the scene of an accident, hopefully you are seeing it not having been in an accident, but will remember some of the tips provided here, or even bookmark this article to reference should the unfortunate instance of an accident occur. You may also contact my office and request a free accident preparedness kit, as well as our new book on buying automobile insurance, all in preparation of something you will hopefully not need to use!

Here are some quick dos and don’ts directly following a Cecil County Auto Accident:

  • Call the police from the scene-They will likely be able to ensure that insurance information is exchanged, and if anyone is transported in an ambulance they will complete an official report.
  • Call my emergency accident hotline 410-975-7000. We will walk you through the rest of these tips so you don’t forget anything, and we’ll literally handle all of the rest of the process other than your actual medical recovery. Save the 410-975-7000 number in your phone as ‘ACCIDENT ATTORNEY’ just in case.
  • Take photos of everything. Most people have smart phones, with cameras. Why not use them for something useful? Try to take photos of the position of the vehicles, license plates, driver’s licenses and insurance cards of the other driver. You can write down all of this info, but snapping a picture is easier, quicker, and can be more accurate than your handwriting at a nervous and stressful time.
  • If you think you are at fault for the accident, do not admit fault. That’s for the insurance companies and lawyers to work out. You’re likely not an expert in auto accident law, don’t admit to something that may not actually be your fault.
  • Seek the medical care you need. Often times adrenaline may mask some of your pain and injuries at the moment. Signs that you need to get in the ambulance are: airbags deployed, spidered or otherwise cracked windshields, the towing of any vehicle involved, or if you actually are feeling pain right after the accident.
  • Stay in touch with my office. After you’ve called us, and done the other things above. Stay in touch. We’ll monitor your progress in the medical realm, make sure that your vehicle gets repaired, and get you into a rental car. We handle all of this process, so you only have to focus on getting healthy.

These tips are very general, but usually applicable in most auto accident situations. If you have questions about these, before, during or after an accident, do not hesitate to contact my office on the non-emergency line (410) 885-6200. I or a member of my staff are always happy to address any such questions you might have.

Handling Auto Accidents During Inclement Weather

Are you ready for 2015?

We’re approaching the time of year here very shortly where many of us will begin to talk of new year’s resolutions. Some of those resolutions will involve some sort of a gym membership that will likely be unused by spring, or just an overall goal of losing weight, eating better, or perhaps some other more tangible goal.

Within my office, one of the many things that I will do to prepare for the turning of the calendar year is to

a: buy a new calendar for 2015!

b: set goals for my office, largely based on performance and helping out clients

c: archive files and “close out” the 2014 year

On a personal level, however, I find it important to spend the early weeks of a new year analyzing my personal automobile insurance policies. If I can make any general suggestions above and beyond what you may already have on your list, it would be to review and adjust your insurance policy for the new year. The laws about insurance change regularly, and with them the premiums may also change. Getting re-quoted may not save you money, but it’s worth doing because if you cannot get a better deal, you can stick with what you’ve already got!

A few quick tips on your Maryland Insurance Policy will be to make sure your liability and uninsured motorist coverage are representative of your income and your assets, maximize your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits, and verify that any other insurance coverages that you have like homeowners or renter’s insurance are “bundled” together if they are written by the same company. This bundling alone may save you as much as 15% on your policy, which can be a big savings.

I am always happy to talk to clients and potential clients about their insurance policies. I offer a free in-office insurance evaluation to anyone who calls (410) 885-6200 and requests one. The best part is, I’m not an insurance agent and I CAN NOT sell you insurance. This means I won’t even TRY to sell you insurance, but I can give you some pointers on what might be beneficial for you to update, should you potentially be in an auto accident. Give me a call, let’s sit down and make sure you’re protected and in a position to maximize your recovery, should you get in an accident in 2015.

Also, be on the lookout to the soon to be published new edition of my book regarding explanations and tips on buying Auto Insurance in Maryland, due out in January 2015!

We’re short changing our clients in Maryland Auto Accident Claims

This shall serve as a general disclaimer that as of the time of this post that I am not an admitted or practicing attorney in any jurisdiction. Anything written in this post is merely my observation(s) as someone who has been involved in the legal community for nearly a decade, but not to be construed as or mistaken for legal advice. If you have questions or need clarification to anything discussed within this post, I suggest contacting a real attorney, or waiting until I have taken the bar, passed and have been sworn in accordingly.

I’ve worked in plaintiff’s personal injury in Maryland for nearly a decade. When I first began I really didn’t know what I was doing, but was taught very well by someone who thoroughly understood all of the legal aspects of the “game.” Through the years I’ve become more involved, learned a ton, and more importantly have gotten a lot of marketing experience under my belt. Much of this marketing experience has been through networking with other attorneys in similar situations in other states. Sharing ideas of what has and has not worked for each of us, and tweeking advertising/marketing systems in each jurisdiction.  In this conversations, we would often talk shop or discuss the practical aspects of the process in these cases. This would involve discussion of medical care, treatment, and the subsequent relationships with the medical providers involved in the core essence of an injury claim: the injury and treatment of said injury.

I was, and continue to be, shocked at the vast difference in medical care provided to patients/victims of automobile accidents from one state to another. My understanding is that much of this is due largely to the differences in the tort laws in each state. In plain english: doctors treat accident patients based on how they will be paid, not based on the care that is actually needed. It’s not just the doctors, though–this is a culture that is perpetuated by the lawyers who work with these doctors, refer cases to (excuse me, i mean suggest the providers to their clients as an option for treatment) and negotiate the payments of those bills, or actually determine what the treatment is worth.

I get it. States like Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania that have some sort of mandatory first party medical coverage (usually PIP and/or Medpay) are states wherein their accident victims almost automatically get one, if not two MRIs during the course of treatment for an injury. States with high PIP, like Delaware and their mandatory $15,000 in PIP will not only get the MRIs, but they’ll get a regular course of pain management, including, but not limited to a number of injections that bill approximately $6,000 per procedure!

So my concern is this: Why not in Maryland? What has changed so much in the culture of a personal injury case in Maryland that often times victims may or may not go to the hospital, often go to a chiropractor for 6 or 8 weeks, and then they’re done. Many times they do not even get X-rays, and I don’t know that you can put the percentage of auto accident cases in Maryland where a patient gets an MRI on any chart! Maryland is what is known as a “low PIP” state. That means that a lot of the bills aren’t guaranteed to get paid until the case settles or reaches a verdict. In Maryland it is even possible for a policy holder to waive the PIP coverage, meaning no bills get paid until settlement. When they do have PIP, it is usually only $2,500–which once you leave the hospital is almost exhausted. My assumption and understanding from discussions with other practitioners is that many of these medical providers, doctors, therapists, chiropractors, etc  have become complete whores to the attorneys who feed them cases. This sounds like a great idea, but it seems like they’re driving the value of the cases into the ground, and more importantly they’re cutting corners on the care provided to the patients.

I’m not not a cynic, or a skeptic. I understand that some of the people that call up injury attorneys are not incredibly hurt. In many cases it is fair to say that they’re barely injured. However, I have observed over nearly a decade that this doesn’t matter one way or another. Someone who gets in a rear ender at 5mph and has scratches on his/her bumper is treated exactly the same way as someone who gets slammed in the rear and has over $4,000 in damage to the vehicle, or perhaps even a total loss. Maybe they go to the hospital, then to a med clinic or chiropractor only to get 6-8 weeks of therapy and a discharge order.

I know there’s something wrong here. I know it because of all of the times I’ve been on the receiving end of a call for an attorney I’ve worked for from a client who 2 or 3 weeks after that discharge is calling back and complaining that they’re pain has flared up again. I know this because in any office I’ve ever worked in (and I’ve worked with a number of lawyers over the years) that this call is more or less ignored. The client is told that they’ve been discharged and there’s not much they can do form this point unless they want to take the chance of not having additional medical bills paid.

So my question is why. Why has the culture changed so much in Maryland, or the view of these claims so watered down, than the accident victims are paying the price with insufficient medical attention? I’m not saying that anyone caring for them isn’t doing a good job, but sometimes the provider who has their hands on the patient today will not be the provider to ultimately finish the job. That is the reality of medicine. There are general practitioners, there are specialists. There are all of the other parts that interwork with those parts, and the picture of health is capable of being completed.

When I am admitted, I’m going to do something different. The conversations and dialogues to do different, to do better by our clients and patients, begins now. I am going to continue networking with medical providers within the “industry” and will likely begin to find new colleagues who are not in the “industry” and may not be in the PI industry because of the diminished level of care that has been happening in Maryland. I want to change the conversation. I want to change the culture.

At the time of writing this entry Jobeth Bowers is a 3rd year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. I plan to sit the Maryland Bar in July 2014, and plan to be admitted to practice in Maryland sometime in December, 2014. Today, I am not and do not claim to be a lawyer.

 

Insurable interest

Can I pick the most dangerous neighborhood in the country, and take out a $250,000 life insurance policy on 100 random people? Knowing that the likelihood on one of them getting killed this year is pretty high, and the likelihood of me being a millionaire in the next 5 years is equally high?

Probably not. Not if I don’t have an “insurable interest” in the people whose lives I am insuring. Do I stand to benefit more from them alive? Do I stand to actually suffer a loss if they do die? If the answer to these questions is No, then there probably isn’t an insurable interest, and any policy I bought or tried to buy would be deemed not a contract for insurance at all.

What if i’m leasing a property, that I use for business purposes and supporting myself and my family. Can I insure the life of the owner of that property?

As you may have noticed, these cases hinge greatly on the facts. I can insure my wife’s life. My mother, brother, or other blood relatives with what seems to be no issue. My car, my house, even my own business. These all seem obvious, so where’s the fun in even asking? When it comes to non-relatives, or property that one does not own, or other peripherals, it becomes more difficult, and less “black and white.”

 

Snethen v. Oklahoma State Union of Famers represents one of those strange cases. Snethen buys a car, he insures the car, and then is in an accident in which the car is damage. Will his insurance company pay for the damage? Sure they will…or will they? Turns out the car Snethen bought was previously stolen, unbeknownst to him and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay, claiming that Snethen cannot have an insurable interest in stolen property. In this case the court decides that since his reliance upon the sale and the purchase of the insurance policy is honest and reasonable, that he in fact does have an insurable interest.

Beard v. American Agency Life Ins. Co., 314 Md. 235 (1988) is the case I referenced earlier, about leasing a property for business purposes, and insuring against the death of the owner. In this case, we deal with 150 acres of farm land in western Maryland. There is discussion of the owner selling the lessee the property, upon his death. Since the lessee doesn’t really have the money to buy it, he takes out a life insurance policy against the owner, for the cost of the land. Essentially getting the insurance company to buy the property for him, when the time is right. One major issue is that he stops leasing the property, sells all of this business equipment and disengages entirely years before the owner passes away.

Maryland actually defines criteria for an insurable interest:

(1) In the case of individuals related closely by blood or by law, a substantial interest engendered by love and affection.

(2) In the case of other persons, a lawful and substantial economic interest in having the life, health, or bodily safety of the individual insured continue, as distinguished from an interest which would arise only by, or would be enhanced in value by, the death, disablement or injury of the individual insured.

(3) An individual heretofore or hereafter party to a contract or option for the purchase or sale of an interest in a business partnership or firm, or of shares of stock of a closed corporation or of an interest in such shares, has an insurable interest in the life of each individual party to such contract and for the purposes of such contract only, in addition to any insurable interest which may otherwise exist as to the life of such individual.

The Basics of Insurance

This fall I am taking a course that clearly does not get the respect that it deserves. I say this, because Insurance is something that everyone deals with, and most attorneys work with. I mean, if you’re a patent attorney or a family attorney you might not, but the “bread and butter” attorneys work in insurance, whether for defense, plaintiff’s work, or even in a non-litigation facility. I think something like 18% of the United States GDP is from insurance holdings. However, this course is only offered for 2 credits. What a shame. Maybe my opinion is skewed because insurance companies essentially pay my pay check. 80% or more of our office comprises of auto accident cases or other serious injury claims, all to be paid by insurance companies. We handle criminal defense cases, but those clients rarely pay, and it represents an ever dwindling percentage of our overall caseload, especially with the new marketing that we’ve done since April.

That being said, I look forward to the rest of this course. Even at 2 credits, I’ll probably get as much if not more out of this course than any of the others that I am taking this fall.

 

Week 1’s Cases:

GAF Corp. v. County School Board

(hey, i think that linked to the case. Whee!) This is a case of what is insurance? GAF is a company out of Delaware that manufactures, distributes and installs(unclear as to whether this is part of what they do or not) roofs and roofing shingles. They contract with a school in Virginia for roofing work. Among the work was a guarantee as follows:

“The contracts contained a guarantee in which GAF agreed to repair damage to the roofing membrane and base flashing resulting from leaks caused by natural deterioration of the roofing membrane or base flashing, blisters, bare spots, fish mouths, ridges, splits not caused by structural failure, buckles and wrinkles, thermal shock, gravel stop breaks, plastic pans, workmanship in applying the membrane and base flashing, and slippage of the GAF products. The guarantee excluded leaks caused by natural disasters, structural defects, damage to the building and certain other events unrelated to any defect in GAF’s products.”

The case is on appeal for a decision to quash service on GAF. In Virginia there is a procedural method of effecting service on an insurance company that is not authorized as an insurer in Virginia. This action also allows for additional damages, including attorney’s fees, which would not be applicable in a simple breach of contract/breach of warranty issue.

The issue is whether or not the guarantee provided by GAF constitutes insurance, or a mere guarantee. This case is somewhat unique, as the wording and terms of the guarantee, as above, appear to go “beyond the normal scope” of a quality of product warranty but the court finds that it does not rise to the level of insurance. The case was remanded back to the district court with instructions to quash service.

Rawlings v. Apodaca

Bad faith! This case represents the evil swinging hammer that is lurking in some jurisdictions behind insurance companies, in an effort to make sure that they do what is right to protect their insureds. In this case, there is a farm owned by Rawlings that has insurance on some or all of the buildings. There is a fire, that is suspected to have been caused by the neighbor, Apodaca, which spreads to the Rawlings farm and destroys a building. The building is insured through Farmer’s insurance for $10,000, however the damage is much more extensive. Farmer’s orders a fire investigation, and Rawlings asks whether or not they will have access to the report, or if they should order one of their own. Farmer’s states that they will share the report.

The report reveals that Apodaca is the cause of the fire, and that they, too are insured with Farmer’s, except for $100,000.00. Too late to hire a fire investigator, Rawlings is denied the report from Farmer’s. They sue both Apodaca and Farmer’s both in tort(Apodaca) and Bad faith(Farmer’s). An insurance company has a duty to protect its insured, and can not “screw over” their insured to protect their own interest. Rawlings wins the claim, both against Apodaca, and against Farmer’s, for punitive damages. Moral of the story, which doesn’t see to really be learned, is that insurance companies cannot(shouldnt) screw people over, especially their insureds. However, my experience tells me that they will push this issue as long and far as they can, just to save a buck. In jurisdictions with bad faith and punitive damages, not paying claims is dime smart, and dollar foolish.

Deschler v. Fireman’s Fund American Life Insurance

This case delves into the intricate language of insurance policies, specifically when they pertain to exclusions in a policy. This is a case in which party Deschler has a life insurance policy, and dies in an accident involving a water ski kite. The case goes into the technical details of how the water ski kite operates, and how he came to pass. There is an exclusion in the policy, negating payout if death arises as a result of use of a  “device for aerial navigation”. The question the court tackles is more of a semantic definition of the wording, and what the water ski kite is. The decision states that the water ski kite is a device for aerial navigation, and the dissent disagrees with an interesting argument. Its the battle of engineers, when most of the judges probably are not engineers. The majority defines the aerial navigation devices by 2 broad criteria: (1) the aerodynamic principles which affect its ability to become and remain airborne, and (2) the degree of control which the operator has over its direction, speed, and the timing and place of landing.

The dissent interestingly concludes that by this theory that an amusement park ride would be a device for aerial navigation, which is clearly untrue:

“The question presented by this appeal is restricted to whether a device which is tethered to the earth is a device for aerial navigation. Like many amusement park rides which remain tethered to the ground by cables and other mechanical means, a water ski kite depends for its operation upon its tether to the boat which it trails. Clearly amusement park rides are not devices for aerial navigation. Similarly, water ski kites cannot be so considered. There is no legitimate distinction between them.”