Why does your injury claim take so long?

Clients ask me all the time, “How long is this claim going to take?” And I have a cheeky answer: “How long is it going to take you to get better?” I think that’s informative, but my clients sometimes just think I’m a smart@$$.

I get it. Injury claim victims really want to know what they’re in for. Who wouldn’t? But the thing is, claims are so varied in so many aspects it’s really hard to tell how long each claim is going to take.

My cheeky answer above is informative in that the longest part of most claims is going to be the recovery. We can’t really evaluate your claim’s value until your treatment is done (or at least plateaued), which doesn’t happen until you reach maximum medical improvement.

I can’t tell you how long your claim is going to take. But I can tell you a much closer estimate after you’re done with treatment.

Of course, there are lots of different points of your claim process. The treatment stage is normally the longest bit. But as time goes on, the documentation stage is becoming more and more prolonged. That is the stage where we amass all of the documents we need to prove what you’ve lost as a result of your claim. For most claims this is mainly the collection of treatment records and bills from health care providers. The tricky bit about this is that EVERY facility has their own rules about how you request materials. Some places want you to get records from them but bills from somewhere else. Some places want you to get bills from them but records from somewhere else. Some places don’t want you to talk to them at all. Some times you go to a place and get billed by two or three different places. Some will tell you where they do want you to request stuff from. Some places will tell you to send them the request and then ignore it until you send it again and then CALL them. And the thing is, you don’t know this stuff until you deal with that particular health care provider. And even then, they change this stuff at whim, and have NO obligation to tell you about it.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re frustrated with the time it’s taking to get your claim done. Lots of things can make your claim take a long time, but I’ll be willing to bet that your documentation phase is going to be your main source of frustration here. It is NOT as easy as calling up your doc and saying, “Send me the stuff,” and then badda bing, badda boom you get it. Most of the time, it takes weeks, if not months, to get records and bills from all of the various facilities that have given you care or charged you for care related to your injury. I wish that was not the case, but it just is. I do my best to make all aspects of your claim move quickly, but I can’t control places I don’t run, and I don’t run the hospitals or doctor’s offices or PT places. And remember, I don’t get paid until I get your case resolved, so you know I have ZERO interest in delaying it, if for no other reason than that.

These things take time. More time than we like. But we do our best.

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Getting North Carolina Auto Accident Reports: A Conundrum

You would think, what with this being ‘Murica, land of transparent government and freedom and all of that, getting your accident report would be pretty easy.

It ain’t.

If you’re in an accident, you would think all you have to do is call the law enforcement agency that investigated it and ask them nicely and badda bing badda boom, you get it. But that doesn’t always happen. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it does. But there’s a spectrum of difficulty you’ll face. Some agencies require you to come in person, with ID. Some require you to go to a website and find it. Some require you to call this person, who may or may not respond to your voice mail. It’s all over the place.

As an attorney, I have only a slightly better chance of getting that report, oddly enough. I do have access to this antiquated database run by the DMV called “crashweb” (which is hilarious when you think about it) and most of the time I can get the reports I need to better represent my clients. But that’s a) totally dependent on the investigating agency doing the report AND getting it sent to DMV (neither of which are guaranteed) AND b) totally dependent on that site working, too (which is definitely not guaranteed).

The great irony of this is that right after your accident, I bet you got about 20 copies of your accident report in the mail. And they were sent to you by attorneys that don’t represent you or anyone else in the accident, but they want to! Those are direct mail solicitations which are (currently) legal in NC. The wacky bit about this is those law offices buy this data from companies that send little moles into the law enforcement agencies that give YOU, the victim, SO MUCH grief when you try to get your own report, and these little rabbits are given access to scan ALL of these reports, which are then sold to law offices that do direct mail solicitations.

Why is this frustrating? On the one hand, you, the victim, and me, the attorney representing the victim, have a harder time getting accident reports than the people who don’t have ANYTHING to do with the accident AT ALL, but are just sending advertisements! Should it be that way? I wouldn’t think so. Will it continue to be that way? I don’t know for sure. I don’t have a problem in general with direct mail advertisements, but I do have a problem with capitalism giving big firms better access to MY CLIENT’S information than I have.

Like with many aspects of auto accidents, it gets complicated. All the more reason you should call an attorney. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Real Talk About Traffic Tickets

Traffic Attorney

The VAST majority of my clients are wonderful, realistic, grounded, grateful people who seem to sincerely appreciate what I do for them. I am eternally grateful for them.

This post is not for them.

Sometimes I get a very unexpected response from clients when I keep them from wasting a day (or three!) in traffic court and save their driver’s license while minimizing their insurance consequences. Sometimes – believe it or not – people get mad at me for doing all of that.

As a professional service provider, it is best for me to try to be patient and understand a client’s concerns, even when they don’t seem to make any sense to me, and to try to explain the reality of their situation to them in a clear but inoffensive way. This works most of the time. What is probably necessary in those rarer occasions is a bit of real talk, though. And while it’s not my first resort with any client, I think it’s worth putting out here for the general public.

What does the DA not care about?

The DA does not care who your dad or mom is. The DA does not care that you’re in grad school. The DA doesn’t care about your prestigious career. Do you even hear yourself? You were all upset when Rapey McCollegedude got a light sentence because of his dad’s money, but when it comes to your ticket this sort of argument is totally acceptable all of a sudden. Not the same? Both are crimes, both have punishments. Remember the blindfold on Blind Justice? Doesn’t that make more sense now when you think about it?

What does the DA care about?

The DA cares about making the district she’s/he’s elected to protect a safer place. That means enforcing safety laws like speed limits. People sometimes think that traffic tickets are simply given to a) piss people off, and/or b) generate revenue. This is a common misconception. Tickets are given to discourage dangerous driving. And yes, speeding can be dangerous. For example, the DA in Orange Co. has a totally different policy for handling speeding tickets on MLK Blvd in Chapel Hill because people die there because of speeding. That’s right. People get run over there all the time because of careless driving. They get hurt and they sometimes die because you’re not paying attention or the BBC just told you that Harry is having another baby and you’re so excited or you’re mad that your BFF didn’t like your new pants. None of these things are good enough reasons to get people killed, so maybe slow the F down.

The DA does care about your driving record. So yes, if this is your first ticket that helps you. But that isn’t the proverbial “get out of jail free card.” I tell people all the time that it’s not like we all get one free murder. If you commit a crime, you commit a crime and you have to deal with the consequences. Speeding is a crime, too. It’s a lesser crime, for sure, I get it. Your record does impact what the DA will want you to feel from this ticket. Charged with 80 in a 65 and have a clean record? Cool. Have an Improper Equipment, pay your fine, lesson learned. Charged with 98 in a 35 and have a clean record. Not the same thing at all. You’re going to have consequences on that one and you need to understand that.

You may be thinking, “Wow, Jeffrey. You don’t sound like much of a defense attorney. What about the old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ stuff?”

I hear ya. But let’s have some real talk about that…

Yes, you are innocent until proven guilty. But, you know what it takes to prove your guilt on a speeding ticket? The officer’s testimony as to his opinion that you were speeding. That’s it. So realistically, we could have a trial on your speeding ticket if you really want to have your day in court. Totally cool. You’ll have to be in court probably about 5 times to notify the court that you want a trial and to give the cop time to arrange his schedule to show up. Then you’ll be there pretty much all day. The cop will say you were speeding. You better not ask to get on the stand because I can’t allow you to perjure yourself when they ask if you were speeding. Then you’ll be found guilty. Good job. Oh, and I’ll have to charge you about $3000 for all of that time I’ve had to burn waiting around for that idiocy. Nobody wants that. Nobody.

The point is that you probably were speeding. And you would be found guilty at a trial. So my job, what you’re paying me a relatively small amount of money to do for you, is to try to minimize the consequences that you’d be facing. Isn’t that a good thing? Don’t you want a better deal? Is it that big of a deal that you have to do an online driving school? So when I keep you out of court, save your license, and lower your insurance points (thereby keeping your premiums lower than they would be) aren’t you glad?

We all make decisions that have negative repercussions. We all make mistakes. Being an adult is accepting those consequences and learning from them. If you want a be a child and whine about it, that’s up to you, but children don’t have driver’s licenses, so just remember that.

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Auto Accident Claims and the VA

Auto Accident claims are complicated enough: Liability concerns, stupid contributory negligence in North Carolina, the “billed v. paid” legislation change, causation arguments. None of it is fun. But if you want even more drudgery and delay in your claim, go get some accident-related treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital.

All health care providers take longer than they should to get us records and bills. But I can deal with a wait of a few weeks or a month if necessary. But the VA takes MONTHS to get records and bills. AND while the VA offers “free” care to veterans, that care isn’t exactly free if it’s related to an accident claim, because they want to get paid back! And that process takes FOREVER too!

Nothing is easy with the VA, sadly. Everything takes longer and is more complicated. If you’re in an auto accident and end up getting treatment at the VA, that’s fine, but make sure you get the help you need ASAP. Your case is going to be trickier than normal. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Intersection Accidents in NC Can Be Tricky

You would think that intersection accidents would give us the clearest liability argument…You had the green light, they didn’t, there ya go. But in North Carolina intersection accidents are often the worst when it comes to deciding liablity.

North Carolina has a relic of English Common Law still on the books: Contributory Negligence. What that says, in summary, is that if you’re even 1% at fault in your accident, you can’t get ANYTHING from the person who’s 99% at fault! Here’s a slightly longer summary by a really handsome dude: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYUfBv5LM8U. Most other states have Comparative Negligence, so in that above fact pattern you could get 99% of your damages. That’s fair, right? But how does this come up in intersection accidents so much?

Even when you have the right of way, given you so graciously by your green light, you still have a duty to “see before starting” as one statute puts it. You have to make sure no one’s coming into the intersection because if it turns out you just blithely carried on just because you had the green light with no worries about anything, you might be that 1% at fault and then your case is sunk.

The best way to combat this is to be really careful. Even when you have a green light, make sure no one is coming from the other directions. The other way to combat this is to be very careful when giving a statement about how your accident occurs. Remember that adjusters are trained to ask you questions in a way that solicit answers that may be unfavorable to your case. Be careful!

If you’re in an intersection accident, call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Traffic Tickets and Reasonable Expectations

Traffic Attorney

So you got a traffic ticket in North Carolina and you’re hoping it’s just gonna go away. Not so fast, my friend!

I know, I know, the reason you’re hiring an attorney is because you want your ticket to not hurt so bad. THAT’S a reasonable expectation, depending on the ticket of course. In most circumstances, having an attorney that’s familiar with the policies of that particular jurisdiction will help you get an outcome that won’t be quite as bad as it might have been if you represented yourself. If the ticket is low enough, you might even reasonably hope to get out of it with no insurance points, which is ideal.

But if you have a ticket that’s really fast – like 20+ over the limit – then you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you go ahead and adjust your expectations now. If you have one of these situations, you’re in what I call Damage Control mode. By that I mean my main goal is to save your driver license and anything we get on top of that is gravy. When you’re charged with 16+ over the limit and doing more than 55, pleading guilty to that ticket can revoke your license in NC, so this has to be our first reasonable goal – to save your license. Hoping for anything above that is simply imprudent.

Don’t get me wrong; if you hire me for a ticket like that, I’ll do my best to minimize all of the consequences for you. It’s just best if you understand that the main thing I’ll try to do is save your license. Minimizing your insurance points will in some ways go hand in hand with that, but that’s a secondary concern compared to you potentially losing your license.

People think tickets aren’t that big of a deal, and sometimes they aren’t, but sometimes they can be a HUGE deal. So get some good advice before you formulate an idea as to what to expect. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Paying Off Your NC Traffic Ticket?

Traffic Attorney

Very rarely do I tell a potential client that it’s OK to just pay off a traffic ticket they’ve received in North Carolina. But sometimes it happens, so I thought I’d remind my lovely audience about when that might be OK.

If you get JUST a seat belt ticket (NO OTHER CHARGES – JUST THE SEAT BELT!) then you might as well pay that off. This is not a moving violation and won’t increase your insurance rates. In most counties that I serve, even an attorney won’t be able to get the case dismissed. Moreover, the cost of the ticket will probably be less than hiring an attorney, who might not be able to help you in the first place. So take that into account.

If you are charged with speeding 10 mph over the limit (NO MORE!) AND you DO NOT have any other convictions of moving violations within 3 years of this one, then you can pay off that ticket. You won’t get insurance points (these exist, but are waived under a NC law) so your rates won’t increase. BUT, if you get convicted of a moving violation within three years of paying that one off, then you will not only get the points from the subsequent ticket, you’ll “awaken” the points from the previous one! That’s a gamble, and it might not be a good one, depending on how you drive. Normally, especially in the counties I serve, hiring an attorney is probably worth the cost given the likelihood of the reduction s/he can obtain for you. But that’s a judgment call.

That’s it. Those are probably the only times I’d say paying off a ticket makes some sense. But as always, I think it makes sense to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation before you take any action. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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2 Injury Claims Can Equal 0 Injury Claims

It might seem unlikely, but this is an all-too-common occurrence: Person is involved in an auto accident, only to be involved in another auto accident within a few months of the first. How will this work out?

Depending on your situation, I might be pretty bad. The problem with two cases is they can, arguably, fatally damage your causation argument as to your injuries. The liability carrier for the first accident might say, “Maybe you were hurt in this accident, but anything after the second is on them.” While the liability carrier for the second accident might say, “You were already hurt before the second accident so we don’t think this one hurt you at all.” The problem is juries might believe both of those arguments, leaving you with less of a recovery than you might actually deserve.

How you move forward is greatly impacted by your perception of your injuries from each impact, but also by other factors such as the opinions of your healthcare providers, the length of time between accidents, the severity of the impacts, and your diagnoses, of course. There are a lot of moving parts, which means a lot can go wrong.

Sadly, there’s no way to fix this sort of situation. It can only be managed, and that is based very much on the facts of your scenario coupled with a deep understanding of how claims are evaluated. If you find yourself in the midst of an auto accident injury claim, heaven forbid two at a time, please do yourself a favor and call an attorney. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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ERISA Health Plans and NC Injury Claims

North Carolina is an anti-subrogation state, meaning that in general health insurance plans CANNOT ask you to pay them back when you get reimbursed for healthcare that they paid for in relation to an injury claim. So most of the time you don’t have to pay back ole BCBS NC after you settle your auto accident. That’s a good thing and is how it should be, I think. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.

The State Health Plan and Medicaid have this right. Why they do is for another post.

Cost Plus Health Plans claim that they do, but the law isn’t actually clear on that. Once again, that’s for another post.

Where this crops up most frequently for clients that don’t have the State Health Plan or Medicaid is in the context of ERISA self-funded plans. These are plans that are sponsored by large employers with big workforces. They are set up under Federal law that supersedes our State law and allows them to recoup costs in these third party claims situations. These plans are “self-funded” which generally means that the premiums paid in by the employees are the source of the payouts. Essentially, all of you are agreeing to create a big health savings account that all of you have equal access to, which is rationale behind allowing it to claw back payouts when you get paid back for something it paid for.

IF your plan has this right, it’s not the end of your claim. It’s just a thing we have to manage. You don’t want to ignore this potential right because they can take away benefits and/or might pursue you in court for the payback, so don’t play around.

How do you know if you have such a plan? The smart thing is to call your health plan with all of your information handy and ask them if your particular plan has a “right of reimbursement for third party claims” or “subrogation in third party claims.” If they do, have them get you to the right people to set that claim up and give that information to your attorney. They’re in the game now and you want to make sure they’re covered.

Until we have a single payer plan in this country (like every other developed country in the world) you don’t want to jeopardize your health coverage, so make sure you’re compliant with their rules. As always, when in doubt, talk to a lawyer. Talk to me. 919-929-2992.

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Orange Co. NC Speeding Ticket?

Traffic Attorney

Back in the pre-Covid days, you probably didn’t relish the thought of going to court. Now, it seems like an absolutely bat$#!^ crazy idea to pile into an enclosed space with 200 strangers. All the more reason to hire an attorney if you get a speeding ticket, right?

Call me at 919-929-2992 and I can help you with your Orange County NC speeding ticket, more than likely. If I can’t help, I’ll be totally up front about it. Call for a free consultation and don’t got getting that ‘rona smeared all over ya in court.

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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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