One Accident, Lots of Victims

When you’re in an automobile accident it sucks. When you’re in an accident and your whole family is with you, it sucks even more. What’s worse, is it can get really complicated when there are lots of victims. What this post deals with is the situation where there’s a lot of victims and a little money.

In North Carolina drivers are required to carry liability insurance with minimum limits of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. That’s the least amount of insurance you can carry legally in NC. So as you can guess, that’s what most people are likely to have. You can see the problem…what happens when someone with a 30/60 policy causes an accident with 5 other people, each of whom has a $20,000 claim? Trouble, that’s what.

Of course the first layer of recovery is going to be from the at-fault policy. So the negligent driver in our example above has $60,000 to give and 5 people to give it to, and everyone agrees that that should get more, there’s only not enough money to go around (we’re also assuming for purposes of this illustration that there’s no umbrella policy for the at-fault driver, and the assumption is reasonable, because it would be a truly weird bird who carried minimum limits AND an umbrella policy… I don’t even think a carrier would write that). What will generally happen is the insurance company will try to get each of the victims to take a pro rata share of the limits, meaning a percentage portion relative to their damages. If everyone’s claims are deemed equal, then they all get equal shares. Another way to look at it is to do it pro rata based on each party’s medical expenses, though sometimes that’s not necessarily fair. For instance, if you have broken ribs, your medical expenses might be limited to a $2000 ED visit, but your pain and suffering might actually have been way worse than the person who had a $10,000 ED visit with lots of diagnostics but nothing broken and no other treatment.

The good news is that there might be more coverage with your insurance policy, in the way of what’s called Underinsured Motorist coverage. That’s for another post, though.

As you might deduce from the scenario illustrated above, this can get really messy, especially if each of the parties isn’t on great terms. There is a school of thought that each party should have their own attorney. This would alleviate any concerns of a conflict of interests, because each attorney would only be looking to maximize their own client’s recovery. There is another school of thought that, if everyone is amenable to it, the parties might want to waive any potential conflict because each party having their own attorney can lead to a nightmare in getting everyone’s claims resolved. Much like in school, you can only go as fast as your dumbest classmate. So in these situations, if you have a really slow or slack attorney for one party, you might get stuck waiting to try to resolve your claim until they get their act together. Also, you might run into 1 plaintiff feeling like THEIR claim is the WORST and THEY should get more than anyone else, so in that instance, having one attorney who can objectively arbitrate between parties to help everyone see eye to eye and expedite the process for everyone might be a good thing.

The practice of law is rarely one size fits all; there is rarely an “always do this this way” sort of path. It’s always good to get advice from a seasoned personal injury attorney, so if you find yourself with a wacky injury claim, call me at 919-929-2992.

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Use Your Health Insurance PLEASE!

When you have an auto accident in North Carolina you still DEFINITELY want to use your health insurance UNLESS you have a compelling reason not to.

I know, I know, you might feel that the at-fault party should bear the cost of your care. Maybe they will! But there’s nothing in our system that makes them do that upfront. That means your bills are YOUR bills until we can get the bad guys to pay them. As such, you should treat them like there is no one else even potentially responsible for them but you. If you had these bills and there was no injury claim related to them, what would you do? You’d USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE! Exactly!

Your health insurance is there to shield you from the catastrophic costs of health care. And while it’s certainly a far from perfect system, it’s what we have and it can help reduce your out-of-pocket costs significantly. Because you have health insurance, the provider normally has to take what’s called a “contractual adjustment,” but what we normal folks might just call a discount, which means your health care will cost less than it otherwise might have. That can make a big difference later in your claim.

What you don’t want to have happen is to be stubborn about this and refuse to bill your health plan, only to find out you’re facing an uphill struggle getting the at-fault carrier to pay your bills. Then, if you try to go to your health plan to rescue you, it may be too late; most health plans have a deadline by which you have to submit bills to them, so if you aren’t on top of it, you might get yourself into a mess.

To reiterate: When you have an auto accident in North Carolina you still DEFINITELY want to use your health insurance UNLESS you have a compelling reason not to. If you aren’t sure your reason is compelling, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney. Talk to me. 919-929-2992.

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Sad About Your Property Damage Claim?

After an auto accident in North Carolina, I think it’s safe to say that most people are not satisfied by how their property damage claim worked out. Either they got their car fixed but it doesn’t feel precisely “right,” or their car was totaled and they didn’t feel that they got a fair offer on the reimbursement for the lost vehicle.

It’s rare to find someone who’s happy after a property damage claim. Thankfully, there are a couple of things you can do to help cushion the blow of a property damage claim.

If your car wasn’t totaled you can make what’s called a diminished value claim. In short, that just means your car is worth less than it was before the accident and you want them to pay you for that. Under certain circumstances, that can at least help you to financially recover for the loss, even if the car still doesn’t feel “right.”

If your car was totaled, don’t be fooled: There’s almost always room for negotiation of the value. Use nada, kbb, and edmunds websites to help you figure out an average private party (NOT retail, NOT trade-in) value of your car and use that figure to inform your negotiation. You might do better than you think.

Of course, making sure your associated injury claim is handled well and not leaving money on the table can help to balance the scales of justice for you as well, so make sure you talk to a personal injury attorney like me. 919-929-2992.

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How much treatment is enough treatment?

People expect me to know EVERYTHING about their injury claim, including how long they need to receive treatment. I always try to answer healthcare questions with the caveat that while I have a doctorate I’m not that kind of doctor so I can’t give medical advice.

But sometimes what clients really mean when they ask about how long they need to treat is how badly do they need to be hurt to justify having an attorney in their claim. That’s a different question and one that I might be able to answer. Sort of.

First, you should understand that the main reason to hire an attorney is to have them deal with the minutiae of the claims process. It really isn’t dependent on your injury or length of recovery, it’s about taking the burden off of your shoulders so you can focus on your recovery. When you look at it that way, the length of your treatment/recovery is really immaterial.

BUT, as an attorney who gets paid a percentage of your settlement claim, I can tell you that the length of your recovery can have a big impact on your claim’s settlement value. Obviously, if pain and suffering is a factor, cases with longer recoveries are worth more than cases with shorter ones. So if you have one urgent care visit and are otherwise unaffected after that, then you may have a hard time getting an attorney to accept that claim as s/he might end up doing as much work on that as they would on a much more remunerative case, and that might be frustrating for them.

If you want to know how long your recovery is going to take, talk to your healthcare provider. But if you want to know if your injury/treatment scenario is worth having an attorney, talk to me. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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PLEASE use your Med Pay coverage!

I wanted to shed some light on an important topic today: the importance of utilizing your Medical Payments Coverage from your own auto insurance policy after an accident.

Accidents can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. But did you know that your own auto policy may have a Medical Payments Coverage option? This coverage is specifically designed to help you with medical expenses resulting from an accident, regardless of who was at fault.

Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t hesitate to tap into this coverage:

1️⃣ Immediate Access to Medical Care: Your Medical Payments Coverage can provide you with immediate access to medical care, ensuring you receive the necessary treatment without delay. Your health and well-being should always be a top priority! This isn’t necessarily how you should use your med pay, because you may have a legal duty to preserve it for lien holders, but we can talk about that as we move forward in your case.

2️⃣ It’s No Fault Coverage: This type of coverage costs you extra and should NOT result in your premiums being increased due to usage (that’s why you’re paying extra)!

3️⃣ Peace of Mind: By utilizing your Medical Payments Coverage, you can have peace of mind knowing that your medical expenses are covered, regardless of fault. It’s one less thing to worry about during an already stressful time.

Remember, your auto insurance policy is there to protect you in various ways, and Medical Payments Coverage is one of them! If you’re unsure about your coverage or have any questions, reach out to your insurance provider for clarification. They are there to help you navigate through these situations.

Stay safe on the roads, and remember to prioritize your health and well-being.

AutoInsurance #MedicalPaymentsCoverage #StaySafe #HealthFirst #InsuranceMatters

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Length of Treatment Matters In Your Injury Claim

There are TONS of things that we look at in order to form an opinion as to what your North Carolina Auto Accident Injury claim might be worth…liability questions, previous injuries, medical expenses, injury types are just a few.

One factor that comes up often in discussions with clients is the length of your treatment. In other words, how long you are under the care of a healthcare provider does greatly influence how your claim is valued. But it’s not as simple as more is more.

With most auto accidents, I see soft tissue/neck and back injuries that tend to take about 4.5 months, give or take, to resolve. During that time, most clients choose to undergo either PT or chiropractic care. That’s fairly normal, and as long as those bills look like similar bills in the area (and not inflated) then we can normally get those covered and then some. But the more you deviate from the norm, the more it can negatively impact your claim.

Don’t get me wrong, if you end up with 9 months of chiropractic treatment and a commensurate bill, we might be able to get that covered, too. But at a certain point more just begins to look like overreaching, so it’s important that your healthcare provider document the necessity of ongoing treatment. Similarly, the lack of treatment after an accident – no matter what your complaints or how long you make them – serves to severely hobble the perceived value of your claim.

I never make treatment recommendations, as I frequently point out that I don’t have that kind of doctorate, but I do like to talk with people about how their treatment can impact their claim. Choosing not to get treatment after an accident can be devastating to claim value. Continuing to treat just to make your bill higher (none of my clients would do that) can also be devastating. It’s important to stay in touch with your experienced personal injury attorney during the course of your recovery to make sure you’re on the right track.

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Am I the right attorney for you?

I recently had a bit of a culture clash where a client decided I was not the right attorney for her. At the end of the day, I have to respect that, but I think any reasonable business person has to question what they’re doing/how they’re doing it when they lose business based on their most important commodity – themselves.

I’m sure you’re asking what atrocity I committed to make her want to part ways. But this post isn’t about that particular situation. It’s about how I work and whether or not that style is the right fit for you. There was a comedian who became famous for his, “You might be a redneck if…” jokes. I’m going to take a page out of his book and say, “You might not like me as your attorney if…”

  • You want me to wear a suit everyday. Look. It’s the 21st century. The tradition that attorneys are part of the lower gentry (that’s where “Esquire” comes from) and as such should dress the part is rooted in ancient English social hierarchy. We literally fought a war over this, people. I’m not better than you. You’re not better than me. If you see me in a professional context, I’m not going to be wearing a T-shirt, but I’m going to be dressed as I see fit. Obviously, in court I’ll wear a suit and tie, but otherwise, formal dress can sink to the bottom of the harbor with those crates of tea.
  • You want me to talk to you like I’m a thesaurus. I have a Juris Doctor degree from a fantastic HBCU and a Bachelor of Arts from what many think is the best public university in our country. I read voraciously. I’ve been practicing law, particularly personal injury law, in North Carolina for over two decades now. My vocabulary is fine. I know all the big words I need to know. But I’m never going to talk to a client like I’m a lecturer. I talk to my clients like we’re both people, in a way that’s clear and concise, and without the unnecessary formalization or sesquipedalian use of $5 words. If you expect me to sound like the actors on Law & Order, you’ve got the wrong lawyer (and the wrong practice area, but whatever).
  • You insist on phone calls for communications. This one is negotiable, particularly if you have a disability or other circumstances that warrant an exception. But for the most part, I embrace 21st century technology. Email is by far the best way for us to stay in touch. It’s immediate. It allows me to explain complex issues with space and nuance. And it’s trackable; you’ll always be able to go back to old emails I’ve sent in case you have questions about what we’ve discussed. Phone calls and letters are simply not efficient. They’re also totally unnecessary when you have easy access to the internet and eyes that work just fine. Once again, if you have a disability or no easy internet access, we can work around that, but in general, I’m going to be an email guy.
  • You expect in-person meetings. One would think that after that little pandemic thing we all just went through that in-person meetings would have finally been taken off of the list of reasonable expectations. The internet has summed this position up succinctly as, “That meeting could have been a phone call, and that phone call could have been an email.” Precisely. There is – and I mean this in the most adamant of terms – absolutely no reason for me to meet with clients in person on the average personal injury claim. The wonders of email allow us to communicate and track that communication beautifully. When it’s time to sign stuff, the mail can get you things far more efficiently than any cumbersome in-person meeting can. Moreover, I’m reminded of another article I wrote about in-person meetings. Sometimes people want to prove to themselves I’m a real person. Really?! Really!? Call the NC Bar. I’m real. Ain’t no fake lawyer paying bar dues and keeping up with CLE. But here’s the real kicker that you’re probably not aware of: Around 30% of people who insist on in-person meetings with me FAIL TO SHOW UP. That’s right. One THIRD of people who insist that the only way they can communicate this one particular issue to me is to see me face to face and will take nothing less than a meeting with me, which requires me to block off an hour of my day (and dress better…ugh) AND post-pone other work for clients who aren’t being difficult or picky, DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO SHOW UP. You can tell by my all-caps how I feel about that.
  • You don’t like children’s art. First of all, you don’t need to be in my office anyway. See the points above. But if you are ever invited into the inner sanctum, know that I celebrate my children’s art by putting it all over my office walls. If you are the type of soulless monster who doesn’t appreciate the art of children, or understand why a father would proudly display it, then we probably don’t need to be talking anyway.

Am I the best fit for you and your needs? I hope so. But if anything I’ve written above offends your sensibilities, then we’re probably not meant to work together and you’ll be better off with a stuffy old person practice that better conforms to your pre-existing yet ill-informed notions. I like me and I like the way I practice. The greatest compliment I receive is when a client tells me, “You don’t seem like a lawyer.” Perfect. Nobody likes lawyers (or the pre-conceived stereotype of a lawyer) anyway. I’m proud of what I’ve done in the past two decades and my Google Reviews show my clients are fans, too. While I like to please anyone who hires me, it’s a good reminder that I can’t please everybody, and that’s something we all have to accept.

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Negotiating a Personal Injury Claim in North Carolina

Would you like to know how to negotiate your North Carolina personal injury claim? Here’s how you do it:

First, get a law degree. That will really help you understand the basis of your claim and the leverage, or lack thereof, that you have in any situation.

Second, know the facts of your case.

Third, handle hundreds of injury claims with various and sundry facts; that will give you a REALLY good idea as to what a case value is, as opposed to just making crap up that you want to believe.

Now you’re ready!

Seriously, if you have an injury claim in North Carolina and you’re not sure how to handle it, then don’t handle it. Hire a professional. If you have doubts about which professional, talk to several. But make sure you talk to me. 919-929-2992.

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What Does A Personal Injury Lawyer Do? Pt. 4

In previous articles we’ve talked about what a personal injury attorney does with your North Carolina injury claim. In short, it’s a lot, but mostly it can be summarized as investigating coverage and making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and not doing what you’re not supposed to be doing, as well as making sure we get all the documentation we need to negotiate a settlement of your claim.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I almost always try to get a case settled before I file suit. There are exceptions to every rule, but I generally think it’s in most parties’ interests to settle a case without litigation. I’ll do everything I can to get you treated fairly, but that can look different with different facts. It’s trite, but true: Every case is different.

The negotiations process with the insurance adjuster (that’s almost always with whom we’re dealing) can take anywhere from a day to forever. People always want to know how long it will take so they get frustrated when I tell them I can’t tell them, but I can’t. I recently had an adjuster who had a literal 24 hour turn-around on demands, which is unheard of. But I also deal with companies (AAAACH-statefarm-OOOOO!) that don’t respond for months. Of course, we can always file suit, but that doesn’t speed things up; it actually makes them go more slowly AND it costs money, to boot, so that doesn’t help. It normally pays to be patient, so bear with the process.

Most of the time cases do get settled this way. As I wrote above, that’s generally good for everyone, though not always. Assuming it works out, we get the settlement done in writing through a release document and we get your settlement funds. Those funds HAVE to go through my trust account, no ifs ands or buts. That normally takes about a week to clear. Then I have to meticulously document what comes out of those funds (generally my fee, some medical expenses, your take-home) but if you’re working with me, you’ll know what those numbers are before it all goes down.

Here’s what’s crazy: I’ve written 4 articles on what personal injury attorneys do and we haven’t even TOUCHED on litigation yet. That’s explained by two facts: First, we do A LOT for our clients, and Second, most cases get settled without litigation.

Stay tuned for more lawyer stuff.

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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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