Don’t wait to hire an attorney!

I hear about this scenario at least once a month: Person has an automobile accident in North Carolina and is injured due to no fault of their own. They either hope it’s all going to work out for the best or they have some delusion that Uncle Bilbo or some family friend is going to handle it for them. The next thing they know their statute of limitations is about to run and they’ve done #@$ all to get their claim moving. The sad news is they might have dealt a deathblow to their injury claim.

North Carolina has a 3 year statute of limitations on negligence claims. That means you have to either have resolved your claim OR file suit within 3 years. That sounds like a long time, but it really isn’t. Three years will slip away like the snap of a finger (ask any person older than 45). Moreover, even letting 2 years go by is dangerous. You might think that you’re totally OK if you wait 2 years and 360 days and THEN hire an attorney. But you’re probably not! Most attorneys don’t like to drop everything they’re doing just to jump on your case to get it filed. It reminds me of that old poster that said, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Even worse, this creates what’s called a malpractice trap in our business. Even if an attorney is bored/brave enough to file a last minute law suit, there is a danger that there wasn’t enough time to add all of the proper defendant entities or a particular cause of action, or maybe in the rush there was a mistake in the drafting of the complaint. Now you’ve gone from having a compromised negligence claim to a potential malpractice claim against the attorney who was kind enough to take a risk to help you. Nice work!

The moral of the story is this: If you have an injury claim, get competent, reliable representation ASAP. Don’t wait. Don’t assume it’s going to work out. Don’t rely on (insert rando family friend here). You’ll be glad you did, or you’ll be mad you didn’t. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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In an Auto Accident in NC? Here’s What to Do.

No one (at least none of my clients!) plans on being in an auto accident. They’re always a surprise. So if you don’t already have a plan for what to do in case of that eventuality, you might not know what to do. Here are some tips!

  • Call the police. Call 911! Not having proper investigation and documentation of your accident can really come back to bite you, not to mention having someone there to keep you safe. Call the cops asap.
  • Don’t Panic. I stole this from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it’s always good advice. If you’re able, get out of traffic and find a safer place than the road to wait for help to arrive. Hazard lights are probably a good idea. Make sure everyone around is OK and offer help as appropriate.
  • Never admit fault. Southerners are often bad about accepting blame when it’s not due. It’s just polite, right? Yes, but it can hurt you badly, so don’t do it here! It’s best not to discuss the car accident with anyone other than the police and your attorney. You don’t have to be rude, but you can say that you’re not worried about fault right now, just everyone’s safety.
  • Gather information and witnesses. Try to get driver’s license information, auto insurance info, license plate numbers, as well as the names and contact information of the driver and potential witnesses.
  • Take photos. Almost everyone has a phone in their pocket right now, so take photos of the crash scene, the people and vehicles involved, and the license plate(s) of all cars involved. If there are any particular aspects of the scene that are important for the narrative, snap shots of those, too.
  • Seek medical treatment if there’s ANY belief it’s possibly needed. I don’t mean scream and wail your way into an ambulance. But I do mean that you should take your health seriously. A lot of times after an accident your adrenaline is hiding your injuries, so pay close attention to your body and seek the right care as soon as possible.

I certainly hope you don’t need this info, but it’s better to have it if you end up needing it.

If you’re in an accident in NC, call me at 919-929-2992.

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Too Many Claims, Not Enough Coverage

Oftentimes we’re not riding in a car alone, so it’s not surprising that many auto accidents in North Carolina involve multiple victims. Liability insurance has limits, so what happens when there are several claims and not enough money?

Let’s talk about automobile insurance in North Carolina first. We are required by law to have liability coverage that is there to cover the damages caused by our negligence towards other folks. The NC minimum is $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. That means that if you and your spouse are struck by another driver who has minimum limits, neither of you can collect more than $30,000 and the most you can collectively get is $60,000. IF you happen to carry Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) then you might have some other options, but read that post for more info on what that is.

But what if there’s no UIM and the liability coverage is all there is? And what if there are enough claimants with big enough claims that the 30/60 policy isn’t enough?

What the liability carrier will try to get you to do is have EVERYONE agree to a pro-rata settlement. That would involve having each claimant settle for a percentage of the coverage, depending on the value of their relative claim to the other claims/coverage. Depending on how that looks to everyone, maybe that’s an acceptable outcome. But maybe it’s not.

If you can’t settle for the coverage available, then the only other option (other than just giving up) is to file suit and seek what’s called an “excess judgment,” which means a judgment in excess of the policy limits. But this isn’t certain, because you’re starting from scratch; you have to prove negligence, causation of your damages, and the amount of your damages. And there’s another rub: What about the other claimants?

This stuff gets complicated. If you have an automobile accident in North Carolina you should call me at 919-929-2992.

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Beware the Drive-By Settlement!

This is, in my opinion, the sneakiest, most underhanded, dirtiest thing that insurance companies routinely get away with. And that’s saying something.

The Drive-By settlement as I call it is this: You’re in an accident that’s not your fault. You go to the ED or UC and you’re on some pain meds. The nice insurance adjuster calls and tells you they appreciate that you’ve been injured but it seems like you’re doing well now, and then asks you “How about a nice $1000 directly into your bank account and let’s put this claim to rest?” You say sure, thanks, and the next thing you know your case is settled.

Two days later your chest is feeling weird and you’re running out of breath. Your family rushes you to the ED and you’ve suffered an aortic dissection from the impact of the accident. You are ripped open and repaired by a cardiologist and spend a week in the ICU, only to return home where you have to sit down for the next 3 months while you try to re-start your life. But guess what? Your claim is settled and the insurance company for the person who hit you is laughing in the background.

Don’t let this happen to you! DO NOT SETTLE YOUR INJURY CLAIM IN THE FIRST MONTH FOLLOWING THE INJURY! Let your body rest, get a better idea as to what damage was done. You just don’t know until you know, and if you settle your case too early, when you find out something terrible is wrong, it might be too late.

If you’re hurt in an auto accident, call me at 919-929-2992.

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Hit & Run Ticket Chapel Hill?

The Whole Foods parking lot in Chapel Hill is the site of some sometimes questionable ‘hit and run’ charges in Orange County, NC. You’re parking in a tight and busy parking lot, maybe you have a little bump against another car that you don’t even feel, then some do-gooder calls 911 and the next thing you know you’re in fear of going to the pokey just because you needed some coconut water and Charlie’s Detergent.

So what do you do if this happens? Well, you might be able to handle it on your own. Maybe. But do you want to go through this process blind, with no idea as to what to expect? Or do you want to have some help.

I’ve had this kind of case enough to write a blog post about it, which should tell you something. If you get a Hit & Run in the Whole Foods parking lot, give me a ring. Assuming it’s just a little scrape, there’s a really good chance we can work it out.

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When do you NOT need a personal injury attorney after your NC Auto Accident?

Sometimes, but not always, people call me and ask this question: “I wanted to know if I need an attorney for my accident case.” At the risk of sounding like old Slick Willy, it depends on what you mean by “need.” Can an attorney help in any auto accident scenario? I suppose so. But is it going to be worth the price you pay? Is it going to be worth the attorney’s time?

This is really a case by case sort of analysis, and I’m happy to have that discussion with pretty much anyone who calls me with an auto accident in NC. But here are the questions I’ll want answered:

  • Is there even the slightest chance that the accident was even partially your fault?
  • Were you injured enough to warrant more treatment over and above the ED/Urgent Care? In other words, will you be seeking PT, chiropractic, or some other sort of ongoing care?

If you have the right answers – no liability on your part and you’re hurt badly enough to warrant ongoing treatment – then I personally think there’s enough that a skilled personal injury attorney can do to make it worth everyone’s while.

If there’s even the slightest chance that the accident was even partially your fault, I’ll be hesitant to take on your case. In short, NC is a contributory negligence state so most attorneys don’t get involved in those situations, but we never say never.

If you weren’t at fault at all, but you just have some bumps and bruises and aren’t really in need of any follow up care, then you have a reasonable claim, but probably not a great need for an attorney. They’re going to give you what they’re going to give you on that and there’s no need to share 1/3 of it with me.

But once again, the need for a personal injury attorney for your auto accident case isn’t always going to be obvious, so it’s wise to talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about. Talk to me. 919-929-2992.

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Your Health Insurance and Your Injury Claim

If you’re reading this, you’re wondering about whether your health plan has a right to get paid back from your potential injury claim settlement. Perhaps I’ve told you to look into this or maybe you’ve just arrived at this concern on your own. Either way, a phone call needs to be made. But what needs to be asked?

When you call your health plan, tell them you live in North Carolina and were involved in an accident that someone else might be responsible for. The health plan is paying for your treatment, but you want to know whether or not the health plan has what they might call a right of subrogation, or perhaps a right of reimbursement against third party proceeds. Ask them who you would need to talk to to get that question answered.

If you’re lucky, they’ll send you to the right place immediately. Normally someone will take your information and then they’ll have a third party company (often The Rawlings, sometimes Conduent, or perhaps another organization) reach out to you. When they do, you should put them in touch with your attorney, which is hopefully me. If you’re not represented, good freaking luck. Do they have a valid right of reimbursement? How would you know? What does your Summary Plan Description say? Do they file a Form 5500? This stuff is wacky, so you might want some help.

If you’re unlucky, the person with whom you’re speaking won’t have a clue as to how to help. In my experience that just means you call back later and hope to get a different person. Sometimes you can cut to the chase and learn from your Summary Plan Description (SPD) if this is something you even need to be worried about. That’s also where an attorney can probably help you. Those things are written in ancient legaleze.

For more information on this issue, check out this post.

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There’s REALLY no need to meet

Back in the olden days it was customary to meet with your attorney prior to beginning the attorney/client relationship. Those were special days, but times have changed a lot and, at the risk of being too blunt, meetings are just a waste of time these days and really, really not necessary.

I know, I know. The past is really hard to let go of. I still love my 90s music. I like having a hard drive I can put my hands on as opposed to working “from the cloud.” I write checks! In some ways, old ways are good and still relevant. But I’m here to tell you: There is almost never a really compelling reason for us to meet in order for me to handle your auto accident injury claim.

I’ve heard all of the reasons for insisting on a meeting. Please allow me to briefly refute them below:

  • I’m a real person. You don’t need to touch me for me to prove that to you. Contact the NC State Bar and ask if I’m current with my Bar dues. Ain’t no fake attorney paying Bar dues. I’m real.
  • It’s just unreasonable to believe you’re going to trust me more after touching me. In fact, it’s a little creepy. If you don’t believe me when I tell you you can trust me, once again, check with the NC State Bar and see how many complaints there are about me. Also, check out my Google Reviews. I don’t know how to fake those, so to the extent you can trust anything on the internet, you can trust my Google Reviews.
  • There’s a saying in the corporate world that, “That meeting could have been a phone call and that phone call could have been an email.” Exactly. Email is the BEST! If you have a question, email me. I can explain complex legal topics FAR better in writing, at my own leisure, in a way that can be easily digested, than in any other way available. Even better, it stays there FOREVER! You can go back and read it anytime you need to! And I can point back to it if you ask the same question again! I can do the same on the phone if you absolutely need to hear it (some people are auditory learners, so I get that) and ask immediate follow up questions. That’s fine. I’m happy to talk on the phone, too.
  • Allow me to share a startling statistic with you: Nearly 30% of people who set up in-person meetings with me fail to show up. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is a HUGE waste of time for me. For the person requesting the meeting that fails to show, it’s nothing. They’re doing whatever it is that’s more important to them anyway. For me, it’s a great big time suck. I have to dress for a meeting (a GREAT inconvenience these days, let me tell you). Moreover, I have to set aside that time JUST for that person. I have to be at the office instead of working more conveniently from home. This guarantees about 30 minutes of wasted time on my part, and sometimes more depending on how long I wait. For a personal injury attorney that works on contingency fee, my time is difficult to value, but the latest estimate is that my work time is worth about $500/hour. So if you look at half of that, for EVERY no call/no show I lose about $250. Would you like to sign up to lose $250 three times out of every ten times that someone asks for a meeting? I bet you wouldn’t.
  • Nowadays, if you REALLY want to see me, we can Zoom or whatever the nearest equivalent is. Meetings. But that’s just a phone call with extra complications, so just call me, please.

Look, I probably want to represent you or we wouldn’t have gotten this far in a conversation. But I’m telling you, we REALLY don’t need to meet in person. I can do everything I need to do for you remotely and I’ll probably do it faster and better if you leave me time to do it instead of insisting on a 19th Century way to do business. Let’s get to work, shall we?

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Watch Your Hospital Bill

Here’s how it’s suppose to work in North Carolina: You get in an accident, you go to the hospital, your health insurance is billed and they pay accordingly. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

Sometimes, hospitals will “forget” to bill your health insurance. I use the ” ” because I think that this is done in an effort to increase the hospital’s recovery. They think that they can/should get money from your auto accident settlement, and while that’s not totally wrong, here’s the problem: When they accept health insurance, they agree to take a discount, so they lose some of what they claim their services are worth for the certainty of getting paid. But if they get money from an auto accident claim, they’re not bound by their agreement with your health insurance, so they hope to recover the full amount they billed. In other words, they want to rob you of the discount that you pay for by buying health insurance. Not cool.

If you’re in an automobile accident in North Carolina and end up in the hospital, watch your bill and make sure that your health insurance is being billed. This stuff gets complicated, so call an expert. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Advice on your personal injury claim

Sometimes I frustrate clients when I don’t tell them what to do. I get it. They call me wanting me to fix their problem. Heck, I want to fix it for them! But here’s the deal: I can’t make decisions for my clients.

You’ve probably heard the term “attorney and counselor at law.” That says it all. I “counsel.” My job is to give advice. It’s to tell you what your options are and what those options look like in terms of cost/benefit. With that information, what I hope is that I give you the chance to make the best decision for you under your particular circumstances. I’m not you and I can’t tell you what’s best. I can only give you as much information as I can get to put you in the best position possible to make the decision most likely to help you in your particular situation.

I can help, but I can’t and won’t dictate. That’s not me or my job.

If you have an injury claim, let me counsel you. 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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