Hit & Run Auto Accident Claims

It’s already tough enough being in an auto accident.  You’re hurt, you have a busted up car, and life is harder than it needs to be.  What makes it even worse is when the knucklehead who caused the accident flees the scene.  What do you do then?

Obviously, the most important thing is your health and safety, and the health and safety of everyone involved.  Check to make sure you’re taking care of that stuff first, then worry about the knucklehead.

After that, see if you can get any identifying info.  Take a picture before s/he runs? Of the person, the car, the tag?  Get any witness statements that you can.  Don’t forget their names and contact info.

Of course, you want to call law enforcement if that’s not already done.  Depending on the situation, they might be able to catch the person quickly, or at least track them down eventually.

What gets really frustrating is when the owner of the hit and run vehicle reports their vehicle stolen shortly after the accident.  This often occurs when abysmally unscrupulous people try to avoid consequences for their negligence, hoping that someone will believe their tale.  Sadly, it sometimes works.  But if you get law enforcement involved, and you’re luckier than you have been so far, that theory can be sunk.  Were the keys in the car?  That’s prima facie evidence of permission to drive.  Is the owner of the car mysteriously injured, kind of like they were just involved in an auto accident?  Any witnesses?

Whether or not you can put the right person in the bad guy’s car can really affect your insurance coverage situation.  Is this a liability claim, or did it just become an uninsured motorist claim?  We’ll have to see…

Injury claims are hard enough to deal with.  When you’re dealing with knuckleheads who lie, it only makes matters worse.  Get an attorney to help.  Get me to help.

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Medicare and Your Auto Accident Injury Claim

 

In general, the way auto injury claims work in North Carolina is that they hit you, you get treatment, then their insurance pays you for your losses.  Easy peasy, right?  Well, it’s not that simple, and if you have Medicare, it’s way more complicated.

When you have Medicare, they should pay for your treatment.  Don’t let the hospital tell you they can’t/won’t bill them.  They should take your health insurance, whether it’s Medicare or not!

But it gets even more complicated.  When negotiating the settlement of you claim, you need to take into account what Medicare is going to want back.  That’s right, you’re going to have to pay something out of your settlement to Medicare after you settle the claim.

Early in your claim, you should (or your attorney should) send a letter to Medicare asking them for a Conditional Payment amount.  This can take months, so the sooner you ask the better.  This is the amount you use for negotiation purposes to determine what you’ll have to pay them back from the settlement.

This will sound backwards, I know, but bear with me.  AFTER you settle the case, yes, AFTER you settle the case, you THEN ask Medicare for their Final Payment amount, which is the amount they really do want back.  It’s normally less than the Conditional Payment number, but doesn’t have to be.  Medicare does take into account the cost of recovery (attorney’s fees, etc.), so that helps.

In a nutshell, it’s complicated, which is why you should seek competent legal representation.  Call a personal injury lawyer. Heck, call me!  919-929-2992.

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Why you need to use your health insurance after an auto accident

Many people who suffer injuries after an automobile accident in North Carolina are under the mistaken belief that they shouldn’t use their health insurance to pay for their medical expenses.  This is absolutely incorrect.

USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE!  I can’t say this enough.  And despite the fact that I say it all the time, especially to my own clients, it doesn’t quite seem to sink in.

Yes, eventually we’ll try to make the at-fault party’s auto insurance reimburse you for all of these expenses, but when the bill comes due, that’s not going to help you.  If you have health insurance, you should use it.  “Why?,” you ask…

  1. We are not a PIP state.  In PIP (personal injury protection) states the victim’s auto insurance is the primary payor for accident related medical expenses. In NC, YOU are the primary payor (or your health insurance if you have it!).  We can try to get all of that money back (and more?) from the adverse party’s insurance, but that normally doesn’t happen quickly.
  2. When you use your health insurance, you get a discount.  When you don’t, you don’t.  For example, if you go to the ED and the bill is $5000, your health insurance probably gets away with paying $2000, and you pay a $100 co-pay.  The $2900 balance is written off, meaning you don’t pay it.  If you rely on the auto liability carrier for the at-fault party to pay that bill, they get no discount, so you pay the $5000 out of your settlement, meaning you lose $2900!  That’s a big deal, right?
  3. Most cases involving prolonged treatment after an auto accident normally take about 6 months or so to resolve.  Who is paying your bills in the meantime? If your health insurance isn’t, and if you aren’t, then no one is!  The at-fault party, IF they’re going to pay (and that’s never guaranteed), then they’re ONLY going to pay in the form of a lump sum settlement to you AFTER you release them of future liability.  What happens in the meantime?  You get sent to collections, probably.  What does that do to your credit?  Not good things.

In summary, health insurance health insurance health insurance.  Use it for the love of all things holy please listen to me.  Use your damn health insurance.

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The Mathematics of Filing Suit

My job is to try to make insurance companies treat accident victims fairly.  “Fair,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder.  So what happens when you can’t come to a settlement agreement with the insurance company after an accident?  Well, you have to file suit.  But is that always a good idea?

One of the biggest mistakes I think people can make in handling their claims is making a business decision based on emotion.  A business decision?  What do you mean, Jeff?  I mean that this is a business transaction, like it or not.  And that means you should do your best to put emotion behind you and look at the numbers.

If you have competent representation, they’ll have a pretty reasonable idea as to what seems fair for your case.  That will be based on similar cases your attorney has handled or seen, and it’s often based on discussions with other attorneys (we talk a lot about cases together). So while there’s no set-in-stone value for each case, we can generally come up with what we think is a reasonable range of value.  That of course takes into consideration the strengths AND the weaknesses of your case.  This is the first place where emotion will cause you trouble: If you’re emotional about your case, you’re likely thinking ONLY of the strengths and not giving enough consideration to the weaknesses of your case, and that can doom you.

So maybe you are getting good advice as to what your case should be worth.  But the insurance company just isn’t giving that.  Maybe you have to file suit.  But at what cost?

Here is the second place where emotion will cause you even more trouble:  You have to look at the math!  Take this example:

You have a case where you think you should walk with about $2000.  The current offer will net you $1500.

To file suit, you’ll spend $200, not to mention the ancillary costs of service and lay depositions ($500-$1000?). You’ll need to depose an expert witness to get a causation opinion (depending on the witness, you’re looking at $2000 and up, with higher MD specialties approaching and eclipsing 5 figures sometimes…).  There’s a mandatory mediation where you’re responsible for 1/2 of the mediator’s fee ($400?).  All told, you’re looking at a minimum of $1100 even WITHOUT your expert witness.

Best case scenario, you spend that money and get what you want, which is that extra $500.  Hooray.  You just spent $1100 to do that.  What if it didn’t work out for you and you didn’t get that extra $500 but were stuck with what they were offering you?  All of your take-home was just eaten by costs.  Even worse, what if you were awarded less?  And what are your odds?  50%? $80%? 10%?  Does that sort of gamble make any financial sense?

You get the picture.  Of course, the higher the potential value of your case, the more this makes sense.  If you have a case you think should net you $100,000, then spending $5000 to go after it seems far less insane.  If you have catastrophic injuries, the potential reward for what you spend to get that is far greater, so that sort of gamble makes sense.  But with those lower odds, it often doesn’t make any sense.

Does that mean you never file suit on lower value cases?  No, not at all.  It just means you shouldn’t make that sort of decision based on emotion.  If you feel that it’s the right thing to do, and you’re OK with the risk, then that’s fine.  Attorneys and clients make that decision together every day.  But you just need to make sure you’re taking into consideration the mathematical realities of litigation, and above all listen to your attorney!  This is why you hired one in the first place.

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Attorneys and Traffic Tickets

Traffic Attorney

Just like anything else, EVERYONE seems to have an opinion as to whether or not you need an attorney when you get a traffic ticket.  Like everything else, most of these opinions are far too black and white and ignore the nuances that one should consider in this issue.

Should you hire an attorney for your traffic ticket?  I don’t know for sure, but here are some things you should consider in making that decision:

  • What’s the cost of hiring an attorney v. missing time from work (more likely than not at least 1/2 a day, and maybe more)?
  • Is it even feasible for you to get to the courthouse?  Is it in your hometown, or is it 300 miles away?
  • Do you understand what you’re charged with?  Do you understand what the ADA would have to prove in order for you to be found guilty? Do you understand what “prove” means in the context of criminal court?
  • If you’re interested in a plea deal where you plead to a lesser offense, do you understand what that plea will do to you?  Do you understand what that looks like in comparison to what a guilty plea on the actual charge would do to you?
  • If you’re thinking of a PJC, do you know what PJC stands for?  Do you know the effect a PJC has on a plea?  Do you know if you and/or your household has a limit on PJCs used?  Do you know if DMV and insurance companies see PJCs differently?  If you don’t know a great answer for each of those questions, you have no business using a PJC.

Don’t get me wrong:  There are certain circumstances in which it makes total sense for you to represent yourself on a traffic ticket, or even just pay it off.  But unless you are really, truly confident in that decision, meaning you can answer all of those questions satisfactorily and in a way that supports your decision, then maybe you should reconsider.

If you get a ticket, call a lawyer you trust and get some qualified advice.  Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Public Service Announcement

It’s election season, and I know you’re probably sick of hearing about it.  But I thought I would give you a little advice if you have any doubts about the way you intend to vote.

Since the Republicans took over the NC legislature around 2011, I’ve seen a lot of legislation that has been passed specifically to tip the scales in favor of the insurance companies in injury claims.  That’s right.  New and exciting laws have been passed by your elected representatives that help gigantic, billion-dollar corporations in their never-ending struggle to screw you.

This isn’t a matter of opinion, this is absolute, unassailable fact.

In Worker’s Comp, they limited permanent and total disability benefits to 10 years, instead of lifetime.  So if you are permanently unable to work due to an on-the-job injury, the Republicans took money from you to help insurance companies save money.  Thanks, y’all!

In the Personal Injury arena, they passed a new rule regarding the introduction of evidence.  The at-fault party gets to talk about how you got a discount on your health care due to your good fortune in having health insurance; but if you even mention that they’re covered by an automobile liability insurance policy, you get thrown out of court.  Once again, thanks, y’all!

I don’t know about you, but I like people better than I like companies, particularly insurance companies.  So if you agree with me in that respect, you might want to consider voting Democrat.

And that’s just one of many reasons to do so.

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What I do in my law practice

I’ve focused on 3 practice areas since 2001, and I still get questions like,”What services do you offer?”  “Don’t you do family law?”  “You’re a malpractice lawyer, aren’t you?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad.  I’m clearly just not doing a good enough job of clarifying what my law practice handles.  So let me lay it out for you:

My practice is built upon three practice areas:  Personal Injury, Worker’s Compensation, and Traffic Tickets

Personal Injury – I represent victims with injuries caused by the negligence of another.  The vast majority of these are automobile accidents, but I also handle dog bite claims and the occasional slip and fall.  The way I help these victims is to try to make sure they get the compensation that the law says they’re entitled to receive, and more importantly, to handle this process in the least impactful way possible so as to help them focus on what’s really important – their health.

Worker’s Compensation – In some instances when you suffer an injury at work you are entitled to a certain set of defined and limited benefits.  My job is to help those injured at work to obtain those benefits.

Traffic Tickets – I help people with traffic tickets in Orange, Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Wake Counties.  When I’m hired for this purpose, I go to court so you don’t have to, and I try to get you the best deal possible so as to minimize (or maybe eliminate) insurance premium increases you would otherwise face due to those tickets.  In other words, I try to help you save time and money after you get a speeding ticket.

That’s it!  That’s what I do.  Tell your mom!  Tell your kids!  Tell everyone you know, and if anyone needs the type of help I offer, tell ’em to call me.  919-929-2992.

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Why am I bugging you during your recovery?

 

If you hire me to represent you on a personal injury claim, you’ll get periodic emails from me asking how you’re doing.  These tend to come every 2 weeks-ish.  Why am I bugging you with such frequency?  I’m bugging you because I need to know what’s going on in your recovery in order to do the best job that I can do on your case.

What is it I need to know, exactly?  I really need to know the trajectory of your recovery.  Are you getting better?  Are you getting worse?  Have you returned to work?  Do you have work restrictions?  Have you made health care provider changes?  All of that is important.

I have had many clients choose to ignore those requests, or to give me very minimal responses, and almost always to their detriment.  I need to know what’s going on with you!  If I don’t know how your recovery is going, I can’t manage your case well!

So if you have another attorney on your case, or me, please respond to your attorney’s requests for updates.  If everything is the same, just say so.  If ANYTHING has changed – new providers that we don’t know about? new diagnostic? new diagnosis? another accident? – PLEASE inform us.  Knowledge is power, so keep us informed!

 

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Lawyer Ads…What’s Next?

Most people don’t like lawyer ads.  I am like most people in that.  But I’m also a lawyer, and I have to do something to market my practice.

That’s why I made this ad.  Check it out.  Let me know what you think and share it with your friends…

 

What should my new ad look like?

This is me debating with myself about what my new ad should look like. In the end, maybe less is more…you be the judge.

Posted by Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC on Thursday, September 20, 2018

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Driving School Option – Street Safe

Traffic Attorney

Sometimes when you have a traffic ticket the DA will ask you to do a driving school to get the best outcome.  Street Safe is one that is often accepted by the DA in some counties that I go to.

http://streetsafeus.com/

If you’re asked to do this, click on the Traffic Court Driving program.  It’s about a 5 hour course, so plan to be busy that day.  After the course, you should get me your certificate of completion immediately to ensure the prompt resolution of your ticket.

If I ask you to do this, it’s really important for the best resolution of your ticket, so make sure you get it done and get me the certificate.  Let me know if you have any questions.

919-929-2992

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Contact Jeffrey

Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
1829 E. Franklin St. - Bldg 600
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

(P) 919-929-2992
(F) 919-636-4779

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