What does Worker’s Comp do?

I probably use this joke too much, but I often say that the “comp” in worker’s comp doesn’t stand for “compensation,” but for compromise.

In North Carolina Worker’s Comp was created as a compromise to help injured workers get the support necessary to get back to work, but to also not hold employers accountable for things they may not have caused.

Worker’s Compensation claims can be “comp” – licated too. It is a separate body of law unto itself and there’s a lot of weird stuff in there. But if you want to know what worker’s comp is supposed to do, in essence, here it is boiled down for you:

  1. They should pay you for your time out of work. Granted, it’s only 66% of your average weekly wage, but it’s something.
  2. They should pay for your treatment related to your injury. Yes, they get to choose the doctor, which can have a huge impact on the type and quality of care you get, but still, it’s something.
  3. To the extent you have permanent impairment, you should get money for that. How much? Ask an attorney.

Worker’s Comp claims are wacky. Save yourself a lot of time and heart ache. Get an attorney. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Whose insurance matters?

In auto accident injury claims in North Carolina it’s not always intuitive which auto insurance policy is “on the risk” as we say. Whose policies matter? When do they matter? In what order? This can all be a bit overwhelming, especially in certain fact patterns. Let’s go over a relatively complex example that will help you understand how it should work out…

Let’s say Alex was driving his car and hit the car being driven and owned by Bob, who was carrying Cathy as a passenger. Cathy has her own auto policy on a vehicle that she left at her home.

Assuming there’s no question as to fault and it’s all on Alex, then the liability policy on Alex’s car is on the risk and can be looked to to pay the property damage and bodily injury claim damages for both Bob and Cathy. If Alex has Medical Payments coverage on his policy then HE can access that portion of his coverage, but Bob and Cathy can’t.

If Bob has Med Pay on his auto policy, then both he AND Cathy can access that in addition to the liability policy of Alex. IF Cathy obtains the limits of Bob’s Med Pay AND she has Med Pay on her own separate policy, she can access that.

If Alex’s liability policy pays out its limits to Bob, and Bob has adequate UIM coverage, he can access that. So can Cathy.

There’s more to this, and we could go on for a while, but this gives you an idea that you probably want to talk to an attorney if you’ve gotten into a mess like this. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Uninsured and Underinsured Insurance In Your Accident Claim

Most of the time when you’re in an auto accident you’re usually able to seek compensation for your injuries from the at-fault party’s auto insurance company. But often it isn’t that simple, especially with more serious injuries. What if the bad guys didn’t have insurance? Or what if they didn’t have enough?

People who get stuck in these sorts of situations might feel like there’s nothing they can do to get adequately reimbursed for their losses.

This is why it’s important to have a personal injury attorney who can help you determine if there might be more insurance coverage available.  Here’s where you look for Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage…or UM/UIM.

Most of us have these types of coverages included in our policies by default.  If you have a minimum limits policy, then you probably don’t have Underinsured (UIM) coverage, though.  But assuming you have what you need – and you hopefully do –  you can seek payment from your own insurance company instead of (UNinsured), or in addition to (UNDERinsured), the insurance company of the bad guy. Uninsured Motorist coverage is for situations where the at-fault party doesn’t have auto insurance or for some reason the policy doesn’t cover him.   Underinsured Motorist coverage is for when the at-fault party doesn’t have enough coverage for the damage he caused.

This stuff can be the difference between a horribly unfair outcome and a palatable one, so please make sure you get good advice. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Injury Settlements Take Time

“My accident happened a year ago and this case STILL isn’t settled!”

Most of my cases don’t take that long, really. But I sometimes here this exclamation of frustration from clients and it’s hard to talk them down. So I thought I’d lay the foundation for why the statement is based on a misunderstanding of this process and is therefore faulty from the start.

How long ago your accident happened is really no metric for how far along you might be in resolving your case. What? You’re surprised by that? Think about it: What’s more relevant in terms of determining a value on your case – How long your recovery took and how much treatment you had, OR how long ago it happened?

Obviously, the more important factors in determining your claim value is how long your recovery took and how much treatment you had. Your accident might have happened last week, and you’re already done with treatment. In that case, your claim is probably ripe for valuation and settlement. But your accident may have happened two years ago, and you’re still in treatment and recovery. In that case, your case is not likely ripe for settlement so it’s just not ready to be settled!

When you think of it that way, how long ago it happened is completely and totally irrelevant as to the value of your claim and the timing of the resolution thereof.

Just because your accident happened a long time ago doesn’t mean your case is ready to settle. The only relevance is to your frustration in the process taking longer than you would like. That’s totally understandable and a valid emotion. But please don’t confuse your frustration with the process with a flaw in the handling of the process. Those two things are not always the same thing.

So, if your case is taking longer than you’d like, stop to think about whether or not it’s your recovery that you’re frustrated with, or if the claims process is the problem. If you’re still in recovery, your case is probably just not ready to be resolved yet. And if you only were released from treatment a month ago, then we still need time to work through the normal process.

I know. I get it. You want it done quickly. But please understand that there is, generally speaking, an order to things, and each of those things take their own time. Let’s handle them in the proper order, and trust in me to get them done in a reasonable time. I’ll do my best for you, I promise.

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Why Waiting to Hire an Attorney is Unwise

“The adjuster has been nice so far. I don’t think I need an attorney yet.”

“Things are going OK, so I don’t think I want to hire a lawyer.”

“I’ll hold off hiring a lawyer until it seems like I need one.”

“I don’t want to make the mad!”

I hear this stuff every. dang. day. I get it. We are brought up, for the most part, to be non-confrontational, to not “make a big deal” out of things, and to generally be easy-going. Look, I’m as zen as your average Chapel Hill-ian, and despite my profession I don’t go around looking for fights.

But here’s a fact: The moment you suffered an injury that was the result of another person, that person’s insurance company started in motion a nation-wide machine of industry hell-bent on giving you as little money as possible to compensate you for your loss.

I get it. The adjuster is saying the right things for the first week or two. They’re giving you money for your car. They got you a rental for a week. That all seems nice.

The thing is, it’s not nice. They’re only doing what they have to do anyway. And in the meantime, every time you talk to them, they’re recording you and leading you to say things that will harm your claim down the road. So you might think everything is non-adversarial while you’re over here easy like Sunday morning, but they are are building their case against you from the very moment they first talk to you.

So why do you need an attorney soon?

  • You need an attorney to counteract what the insurance company is trying to do to you.
  • You need an attorney to keep your contact with the insurance carrier to a minimum; everything you say can and will be used against you.
  • You need an attorney to help help you understand how your actions impact your claim so you are making informed decisions.
  • You need an attorney to help you understand what your rights are in this situation and how best to enforce them.
  • Most of all, you need an attorney because this is not your job! I’m sure you’re brilliant but you don’t know how to do this any more so than I know how to do your job.

If you’re hurt in an accident, do yourself a favor and talk to an attorney. Don’t worry about the insurance company’s feelings or what people will say. If you don’t take care of yourself, they sure as hell won’t.

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Driver License Offenses in NC

Traffic Attorney

Driving While License Revoked, Driving without an Operator’s License, Driving with an Expired License are NOT the same thing!

People call me looking for help with tickets all the time, and one of the things we run into is the use of words that don’t mean what people think they mean. Here’s a typical example…

“I hope you can help me. I got a ticket for driving with no license. What can you do to help?”

Well, that depends on what you mean. “Driving with no license” might mean you simply didn’t have your wallet with you. Not a big deal, easy fix, low charge. It might mean your license was expired, or maybe you simply haven’t gotten a license yet. Once again, not a huge problem, relatively easy to fix but with some hoops you’ll need to jump through, and not a big charge for me. Or it might mean your license is revoked. That IS a big deal, and depending on why it’s revoked, could end up being a lot of legwork for you, and a big charge from me to fix the mess.

Not having a license at all is different from having a license but not having it with you, which is different from having an expired license, which is totally different from having a revoked license. These. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Please, if you have a license problem, talk to an attorney, and get good advice ASAP to avoid making your problems even worse.

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Missed Your Court Date? It’s Worse Than You Think.

Traffic Attorney
Oh, snap! It’s the Po Po!

This happens DAILY… Someone gets a traffic ticket, they drop it in their purse or man bag or whatever, thinking, “I’ll deal with that later,” and POOF it’s forgotten.  Then they get pulled over for something silly in a few months, their license is revoked, and they go to jail. WHAT?!?! How can this happen?

I get it. You think “it’s only a traffic ticket” and you don’t prioritize it. You’ve got lots of stuff going on.  

I’m telling you, though, you need to take this seriously. 

Even a mere speeding ticket can have a huge impact on your life.  Even if it’s just speeding, not handling the charge correctly can be expensive at best, or can get you jail time.  That’s right. If you are driving while your license is revoked, that can lead to a jail sentence. Seriously.

This often happens to folks who, for whatever reason, also haven’t updated their address with DMV, so when DMV sends their warning letter about the missed court date (Failure to Appear, or FTA) and impending revocation of their license, the person doesn’t get it!  So the built-in warning system that DMV has to prevent this doesn’t work because they don’t know where you are anymore! Driving With Licensed Revoked (DWLR) is a Class 2 Misdemeanor in North Carolina, and the sentencing guidelines allow for jail time.  I refer to this as “snowballing”, because what starts out as a simple thing to manage starts rolling down the hill and turns into a much bigger and more dangerous problem, just like the snowballs rolling downhill turn into snow boulders in cartoons.

And you’re probably not surprised to find out it’s more expensive to hire an attorney on a DWLR charge than on a speeding ticket. So if you had just hired me initially, you’d have been WAY better off!

This can happen to you!  If you have an Orange County or Chatham County ticket, and you don’t want to go to court (or forget to go to court!) you need someone to help.  Call me at 919-929-2992 and I’ll be glad to help.  Don’t let something silly turn into something dangerous. 

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Approval Process for Settlements of Minors

Injury claims for Minors (under the age of 18) in North Carolina can present several difficulties. Today we’ll talk about the last hurdle: Getting the settlement approved in court.

When do you have to seek court approval for settlements for minors? Click here to read what I have to say about that.

Why do you need court approval? That’s also in the link above, but here’s a quick summary…Technically, minors can’t enter into a contract, which means they can’t settle their injury claim. Their parents can’t do it either, because it’s (mostly) not their claim! Granted, the medical bill portion of the minor’s claim is in fact the parents’ claim, but it normally gets lumped in with the minor’s recovery unless there are good reasons not to (sometimes there are). So the legislature empowered the courts with the ability to approve settlements for minors when they are, in the judgment of the court, in the best interests of the minor. This allows everyone involved finality so that when junior turns 18 he can’t come back and raise that claim again.

But let’s assume you’ve reached the point where everyone has agreed to settle. What happens then?

The first step is getting a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) appointed. This is where the Clerk appoints an adult with the ability to make litigation-related decisions for the minor. I normally request this at the same time that I file what is referred to here as a “friendly suit.” That gets you a court file, which then allows you and the defendants, represented by an attorney usually hired by an insurance company to jointly petition the court to approve the settlement. This is a Motion to Approve a Minor Settlement.

The rest is fairly straightforward. You get a date on a Motions Calendar and then the attorneys for the plaintiff (the minor) and the defendant, as well as the GAL and the minor, too, generally, unless there’s a good reason not to. At the call of the calendar, the judge determines the order of the Motions. Normally, these cases go first because they are short and because they want to get the kids back to school, or at least out of court.

Judges have different processes and standards for these, so it behooves you to do your research as to which judge you’re in front of and make sure you have all that they’ll require. But generally it’s a matter of presenting the facts and letting the GAL state that they understand and approve of the settlement. The judge may require further information, but this is normally the minimum.

The judge will, in his or her discretion, sign the proposed Order which will always tell what money comes in, what goes out, and to whom. The most important bit here is that the minor can’t just get the money yet. Depending on the amounts and the time-horizon (how long until they reach majority) there are different things that might happen to that money. The basic option is to leave it with the Clerk of Court. They hold it, but most of whatever minimal interest is made is eaten by the Clerk’s fee for holding it. Not ideal, but relatively safe. Another option often chosen is a structured settlement, which is, in a nutshell, giving the money to a financial company who in return promises to give it and more money back at a pre-determined time marker (age 18, or periodic payments thereafter). Some folks opt for a Trust so that the money can be used for the benefit of the minor in their minority. But the trust itself costs money to create and administer, and may or may not be a great option once again depending on the amount and time-horizon, as well as the needs of the child.

That’s the Minor Settlement Approval process in a nutshell. It can get complicated, and I don’t recommend doing it on your own without an attorney. If you have an injury claim, call me at 919-929-2992.

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Why you need an attorney ASAP after an accident

I heard a story recently that turned into a case study as to why you should call an attorney right after an automobile accident involving an injury.

Child was riding with his friend’s mother. Friend’s mother passed out at the wheel and crashed, resulting in injury to the child. Mother of the injured child spoke with the insurance company for the driver that passed out. They had questions as to whether or not the driver was negligent. There was an offer to pay “reasonable” medical expenses and a little on top for the trouble. This was accepted.

It turned out there were several things the mother of the victim didn’t understand:

  • The claim was potentially devalued due to the question of whether it was the driver’s fault that she passed out or not. Had she had an attorney, would could have easily discerned if there was a history of previous episodes, which would then have made a much stronger case…this was not done.
  • The mother didn’t know that she should have used her health insurance to pay the child’s medical expenses. It wasn’t until a year later that she started getting bills, so she didn’t know what was owed (see below) AND it was then probably too late to get her health insurance to pay, resulting in potentially HUGE financial loss from the loss of the insurance adjustments.
  • When the mother was negotiating the settlement of her child’s claim, she had no idea how to value the claim. Particularly, she didn’t even know what her medical bills were, or who was technically responsible for them (she was!), or how to get help with them (see above). Also, she didn’t take into consideration the offer was for “reasonable” medical expenses…guess who gets to define “reasonable” under the terms of that deal? You guessed it, and it ain’t mom.
  • She accepted the settlement deal as offered by the at-fault carrier. Maybe she and her daughter are stuck with that, even though they really didn’t know what should have been considered or what the case might potentially have been worth!

It baffles me every time I hear someone trying to manage something this complex on their own. I get it. There are some successful, smart people out there that feel like they’re totally competent to handle an injury claim. Maybe they can. But what if they can’t? You don’t get do-overs in this business. And every mistake you make can cost you money. Would you start to build your own house, then after you had a big pile of crap try to hire a contractor to fix it? NO! You’d hire a contractor from the start to make sure it was done right the first time.

If you’re in an accident and you’re hurt. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992. Maybe you don’t need me. But maybe you do. Either way, I can help you understand better what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

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Use my Health Insurance or Let the Provider Claim a Lien?

Generally speaking, it makes sense to use your health insurance for your healthcare costs after an accident in North Carolina. That’s what you’re paying for, right? But sometimes the health insurance isn’t necessarily the best option for you. So what do you do?

Let’s talk about how we normally see health care bills paid for under different circumstances…

Normally, you go to the hospital, you have them file your health insurance. You have some co-pay, and/or maybe you have to reach some deductible amount you have to reach before your health carrier pays. Either way, you still probably get a pretty good discount on the treatment costs because of the “contractual adjustment” that your carrier has negotiated with your provider. But depending on your plan, that co-pay and/or deductible amount may be astronomically outside of your current means. In that case, if you can’t pay your part, you might not be able to use your health insurance. So what then?

Sometimes health care providers get the sad fact above, and in those cases they may offer to claim a lien on any potential settlement. In other words, if someone else’s negligence led to you seeking health care, then that provider might say that they’ll withhold collection attempts until your case gets settled, and if they do what they’re supposed to, you’ll be legally obligated to pay at least some of their bill from any settlement proceeds.

Which option is right for you? Only you can decide that. But it makes a lot of sense to talk to someone – like me – who deals with this sort of situation all the time to help you better understand your options and concerns, and then make the best decision for you. Call an attorney. Call me. 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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