What is my auto accident case worth?

 

Want to know what your case is worth?  I’m an attorney and I’m professionally incapable of giving simple answers.  But this brings up several issues that are worth discussing.

To be blunt, if this is your first concern, I might not be the best attorney for you.  Yes, of course, I want my clients to get compensated fairly.  And remember, I get paid a percentage of what I get for my clients, so of course I want to max that out.  But having said that, my best clients with the best cases are not primarily worried about what their case is worth.  They are worried about how they are going to get better, how they are going to pay their bills, how they are going to move on with their lives, simply how they are going to get through this.  In short, the value of your case is not the most important thing.

But at some point, it does become necessary to try to determine what your case is worth from a settlement standpoint.  That point is normally after you’ve reached maximum medical improvement, been released from care, and we have all of your records/bills, pain journal, lost wage documents, etc.  So we look at all of that, try to factor in some of the other issues – liability concerns, venue, some intangibles, etc. – and then go from there.

As I try to determine the value of your case, I look back to other cases I’ve had with similar facts/injuries to help me, and sometimes with the more wacky cases I’ll consult other attorneys to see what they think.

In short, there’s a way to figure out what your case is worth, but that shouldn’t be your main concern, especially at the beginning of the process.  Get some good advice from an attorney as soon as your accident happens, and the value thing should work itself out in the end.

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Insurance Premiums and Med Pay

Will filing for coverage under the Medical Payments (Med Pay) portion of your policy allow your insurance company to raise your auto insurance premiums?

In short, it should not!  But there’s more to that answer.

Med Pay is coverage that is optional and additional to any mandatory liability policy in North Carolina.  In other words, you don’t have to have it, but you can get it if you want to pay for it.  It simply offers to pay up to the limits of that Med Pay coverage (normally between $500 and $5000, but it can vary) for any medical expenses incurred as the result of an auto accident that involved an insured.  This is considered n0-fault coverage because it covers any insured in any auto accident regardless of fault, per the policy language.

In North Carolina, insurance carriers are only allowed to raise your individual rates in the even that an insured is convicted of a moving violation or causes an accident in which they have to pay damages.  You will note that filing for Med Pay coverage is not in that list, so this shouldn’t result in a rate increase for you.  Of course, insurance companies are generally in my experience just a step up from pirates, so might they find some nefarious way to charge you more?  Sure, it’s possible, but remember that you’re always free to change companies, too.  Moreover, I always tell people that while something might be illegal, that doesn’t always necessarily stop people from doing that thing.  As a result, I can never answer this question with a definitive “no,” only a qualified “no.”

Med Pay is extremely helpful to people in auto accidents who need immediate funding of their treatment.  So I always urge clients that have it to use it.  Otherwise, why are you paying extra for it?

If you have questions about this stuff, call me!  I’m super-available.  919-929-2992

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NC Seat Belt Tickets

Traffic Attorney

 

You got a seat belt ticket.  So what do you do?

If it’s just a seat belt ticket, pay it.  It will be cheaper, more than likely, to do that than to hire an attorney.  Moreover, it doesn’t count as a moving violation so there are no DMV or insurance points.  As such, most of the time the DA (at least in the counties I go to) don’t dismiss these unless there’s a REALLY good reason  So even if you did pay the big bucks to an attorney, s/he probably won’t get it dismissed and you’d end up paying the ticket anyway.

Of course, there are maybe some other counties out there that have different policies, so if you’re outside of my range (which is essentially Orange/Chatham) then call a local attorney there and you should get some good advice on what to do.

Good luck!

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Instructions for Your Injury Claim Process

 

For years I’ve met with clients in my office and told them what the claims process would look like.  I’ve gone into as much detail as they like about what they should be doing during the claims process and their recovery.  I even give a written summary of the general claims process to clients, and I’ve filmed some videos for the those that don’t feel like reading!

And still, I sometimes get the question, “What am I supposed to be doing?”

I think, and I could be wrong, that if anything I’m guilty of providing too much information.  Some folks just see that memo and those videos and get overwhelmed.  Of course, some folks don’t bother reading the memo or watching the videos, but the result is the same.

So, I’m going to make a brief list of what you should be doing (and not doing) during your claims process:

  • Get me everything you can that has to do with any insurance company involved:  The bad guy’s insurance info, claims adjuster info, your declarations page, anything you’ve got.
  • Make sure your health insurance is paying/being billed by all health care providers! The one exception, generally, is chiropractors.  If you have questions about this, ask them sooner rather than later.
  • If you are getting creditor letters from health care providers, get them to me.
  • If you are mailed bills, get me copies; that doesn’t mean don’t pay them, it just means getting me copies helps me to know what’s out there.
  • Lay off of social media re: your accident and injuries.  Generally, don’t talk about your accident or injuries except with health care providers and me.
  • Your focus should be on getting better, so do that!  Go to the doc, follow orders, do your PT, and keep me posted as to any changes/developments.
  • Write in your pain journal every day!  Each day write about what hurts, how badly, and how it affects you on a day-to-day basis.
  • If you have missed time from work, talk to me about how best to document that loss.  Generally, it’s going to be a letter from your employer detailing the time lost and the value thereof.
  • Respond to my emails/calls/letters. If you aren’t hearing from me every two or three weeks, then you should reach out because something has broken down.
  • Ask questions immediately if you have them.  Don’t wait until later.

That’s a good start.  There may be more with particular cases, but in general, this should guide you well.  I hope that helps.  As always, if you have questions, reach out to me!

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Bitten by a Dog in NC?

The law regarding dog bites in North Carolina is truly Byzantine, even for attorneys.  We are told that these sorts of claims are “strict liability” – which means that the dog owner is responsible when his dog hurts someone, period, regardless of the circumstances.  That’s kinda true and kinda not.

Despite the whole “strict liability” thing, the outcomes of dog bite/dog attack claims can be heavily influenced by the facts surrounding the attack.  They often require a thorough investigation of the history of the dog as well as the facts leading up to the incident, not to mention a good understanding of dog bite law in North Carolina.

And even with “good” facts that support a solid liability argument, where is the compensation going to come from?  Does the owner have assets?  Insurance?  Were you bitten while working, so is it a worker’s compensation claim?  There’s so much to find out!

Here are some things you should think about:

  • Does the dog have a history of being aggressive towards you?  To other neighbors, maybe? Do you know of anyone personally who has been attacked or had another dog attacked by this dog?
  • Does this dog belong to someone in an apartment? A house?  Do you know if they rent or own?
  • What did the owner say after this occurred?  Was there any interaction before the attack?  Remember details and record them however you can!
  • Document witnesses!  Take pictures!  Get statements!
  • If you can, secure homeowners/renters insurance information IMMEDIATELY following the accident.

And what about the injuries?  I’ve seen little scratches from dog attacks and horrific lacerations.  Dogs can cause horrific damages to their victims, especially when the victims are small children.  Consider the damages and what the claim is worth before you decide to make a claim.

Your inclination may be to handle the claim on your own, and THEN if things get hairy (hah!) to seek help from an attorney.  But I’m not sure if this is always a great idea.  If you don’t practice personal injury law for a living, is now the time to try to learn how?  If you don’t do this for a living, how many mistakes are you going to make before you get an attorney?  And are those mistakes going to be reparable?  Or are you just making things worse for you and your claim and making your future attorney’s job harder/impossible?   Personally, I think your case is too important to risk rolling the dice on it.  Talk to an attorney who has handled these cases before– that could be me! – and see what s/he can do to make this process go more smoothly for you.

 

Call me now and I’ll be glad to discuss your claim with you and let you know what I can do to help.

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USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE AFTER YOUR AUTO ACCIDENT!

I’m writing this blog for all current and prospective clients.  The title gets the point across, but for more detailed information, PLEASE READ ON!

After you get hurt in an accident, you’re going to incur treatment costs.  Those can add up really quickly.  The BEST way to protect yourself in that situation is to USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE!  I can’t say it or emphasize it enough.

Yes, I know that you want the at-fault party/their insurance (the “bad guy” for short) to pay for this, and that’s what you’ve hired me for.  Trust me, I want that too!  But our system isn’t immediate.  In North Carolina, your health costs are your own until you make someone else pay for them.  And we can’t do that until the end.  Now, “the end” can mean different things in different cases, but for most people who will only be getting treatment for 6 months or less, “the end” means after they’re done and they’ve reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) meaning they’re as good as they’re going to get after the accident and then we try to settle the case with the bad guy.  At that point the goal is to get all of your losses reimbursed – including your health care expenses.

But what do you do in the meantime?  USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE!  This is exactly what you have it for, so USE IT!  If you fail to use it, it could end up drastically reducing your recovery, and can in some instances make your claim almost impossible to settle.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  If your provider doesn’t accept health insurance – like most chiropractors – then of course you don’t use it.  But using your health insurance should be your default in these situations unless you have a darn good attorney-approved reason for not doing so.

You should also watch out for rogue health care providers like Wake Med and Johnston Memorial who, though they normally accept health insurance, will try to avoid processing it in a gambit to make more money at your expense.  If you’re in an accident and get treated by one of these providers, force your health insurance down their throat however you can, and let me or your attorney if it’s not me know if you don’t have success with that.

If you don’t have health insurance, then try to do a payment plan to avoid getting sent to collections.  If you can’t do that, then let me know if I’m on your case and I can try to forestall collections, but there’s no law that really can stop that; we can only try.

In closing, USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE!

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NC Traffic Tickets – Missing Your Court Date is Expensive

Traffic Attorney

If you miss your court date, a $400 total charge gets more expensive than you can imagine…

First, your license will get revoked if you don’t deal with it, which can lead to more costly and dangerous charges like Driving While License Revoked.  That can cost you $1000 or more to fix.  But even if you catch it before that, you’ll probably pay double the attorney’s fee you would have if you had just dealt with it on time…that’s $150 turning into $300 instantly.  AND, whenever you do finally get it fixed, you’ll still have to pay the cost/fine and on top of that you’ll likely have to pay the $200 FTA fee! That’s not to mention the reinstatement fee you’ll have to pay to DMV.

Compare that to simply paying the attorney’s fee (they vary, but let’s say $150 or so) in the first place, following their instructions, and then just paying the cost/fine to the court ($250?).  You’re out $400 in that scenario, compared to a likely $750, and that’s if you don’t catch a DWLR before you get it all resolved.

Do yourself a favor: If you get a ticket, get a lawyer immediately.

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Guy Ritchie Movies and Personal Injury Claims

What could personal injury claims and Guy Ritchie movies have in common?  What could possibly be the connection?  I’ll tell you…

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is one of my favorite movies.  It is a great watch and infinitely quotable.

During a black market exchange, one character keeps asking if he can get this or get that.  At one point, our protagonist says, “I’ll get you a gold-plated Rolls Royce, as long as you pay for it.”

That’s the connection.

The lesson to be learned is that you can get only what you pay for.

In North Carolina personal injury claims, you can get back what you can earn through proof.  Did you lose out on a $1 million sports contract because of this injury?  Well, show me the contract.  Get me an affidavit from the GM who was going to hire you.  Did you lose out on that boss internship at SAS because of this injury?  Get me some documentary evidence.  Did you “catch depression” as a result of your injuries?  Alrighty, show me the diagnosis from the health care provider who can back that claim up.

If you can’t give me the money for the gold-plated Rolls Royce, I can’t get you the gold-plated Rolls Royce.  If you can’t document your lost income, I can’t get you your lost income.

Personal injury claims are about remuneration – paying you back.  Personal injury claims are not about windfalls.  I can only get you what you’ve lost, and more exactly, what you can prove you’ve lost as a result of the accident in question.

If you get in an automobile accident in North Carolina, don’t expect to just “get paid” as the kids say these days.  What you should be able to expect is that with competent representation you can get paid back for what you’ve lost – medical expenses, lost wages, time spent suffering instead of enjoying your life.  Any expectations for anything that you can’t prove you lost are a waste of time and emotion.

Learn this lesson early in your claim and you will be like the Buddha.  Expectations only lead to suffering. So if you don’t have expectations you will suffer less.

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Uninsured/Underinsured Auto Claims – Boring But Important

Durham Attorney

Victims of auto accidents are usually able to seek compensation for their injuries from  the at-fault party’s automobile insurance company. But what happens if there is no insurance for the at-fault party?  Or if there isn’t 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.

There is hope, though!  There could still be insurance coverage available to these victims.  Namely Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage…or UM/UIM.

Most drivers have this type of coverage included in their policies.  In fact, in NC, you almost certainly have it unless you specifically asked for it to be excluded and signed a separate document to that effect.  Also, if you have a minimum limits policy, then you probably don’t have UIM coverage.  Anyway, assuming you have it – and you probably do –  you can seek payment from your own insurance companies instead of (UM), or in addition to (UIM), the insurance companies of the at-fault parties. Uninsured Motorist coverage is for situations where the bad guy isn’t covered at all.   Underinsured Motorist coverage is for when the bad guy doesn’t have enough coverage for the damage he caused.

I know, this sounds boring, but it can be life-altering information.  As usual, I’m here to help clear up the confusion, so reach out to me if you have any questions about it. 919-929-2992.

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NC Workers’ Compensation Second Opinions

CLIENT: “Am I entitled to a second opinion under workers’ comp law?”

ME: “Yes, but it’s complicated.”

I have this conversation at least once a month.  And it is way more complicated than it should be.  When the insurance company-loving-Republicans took over the NC legislature a few years back, they changed injured workers’ rights to second opinions.  It used to be that you just asked for a second opinion – on whatever – with whomever you wanted and then you got it.  It ain’t so easy anymore.

Now there are two types of second opinions.  97-25 allows for a second opinion on all issues, whereas 97-27 allows for a second opinion ONLY on the rating.  Well, how are they different?

97-25 FULL SECOND OPINION

With this option, you can ask a doctor about any medical issue related to your claim – diagnosis, treatment, causation, work restrictions, MMI, rating – whatever.  The trick is that the plaintiff and the insurance company have to either a) agree on a doc, or b) have the NCIC appoint a doc.  The crappy bits are somewhat obvious, and somewhat not.  When you are agreeing to a doc, you generally aren’t going to get someone who is famous for being plaintiff-friendly.  And there’s always the concern that any doc an insurance company will agree to has a “good” history with them, which should concern you.  And if the NCIC appoints one, who knows who or what you’ll get.  It’s very much a roll of the dice.

97-27 SECOND OPINION ON RATING

With this option, you can choose ANY doc you want, essentially, but you can ONLY ask his/her opinion as to your disability rating.  Of course, you should only use this one when that’s the only real dispute you have.  It’s nice to be able to choose your doc, as you can feel more comfortable about their innate prejudice/bias.  Sadly, as insurance companies are wont to do, they have found a way to stymie these.  Their current ploy is to say that they’ll only pay what the NCIC fee schedule allows for an appointment – which is like $150 or so – and they refuse to pre-pay.  Virtually no doc will agree to that.  The great irony is that the insurance companies will happily pay their own prostitutes, I mean doctors, $1600 or more for a second opinion.  Completely ridiculous.  As a consequence, docs are getting the idea that they should be getting $1500 or so for these appointments, so then even the good docs aren’t willing to play ball for anything less.

 

It’s no fun.  Once again, the law wasn’t always like this, and it’s simply another example of the legislature destroying peoples’ rights in favor of big business.  Sadly, we have to play by the rules set out by the State, though, so we’re stuck with them for now.

This is all the more reason why you need the best guidance you can get in your worker’s compensation claim.  Call me for info anytime.  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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