A Reminder to People Who Have Been Injured!
Published to: 000116, A Small Town Lawyer's Perspective, Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer, West Virginia Lawyer - Tips and Techniques
on December 18, 2010 10:37 pm
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They say Google indexes better on sites with frequent updates, so here is an important reminder post! My divorce clients seem to have a pretty decent understanding of the issues they are facing. The WV Supreme Court of Appeal has responded to the fact that many people cannot afford a lawyer for their divorce or custody case by actually encouraging people NOT to hire one. I think its approach is very misguided. But, with the free forms, and so many people going through the system, family law clients have fewer misconceptions than personal injury clients.
A person who has been injured, in a truck, auto, pedestrian/vehicle, or motorcycle collision, has, literally, been hit by something out of the blue. They haven’t watched the problem building over years and usually have not researched what they should do. In severe cases, I may be dealing with a family member and visiting the new client in the hospital.
First, most clients want me to know they are not “one of them”, the people who file frivolous lawsuits and seek big recoveries.
Second, they have resisted coming to me, and perhaps seriously impaired their claim, because they assume I will just file a lawsuit. They are relieved to know that I settle more than 80% of my personal injury claims without filing suit, sometimes using pre-litigation mediation.
Sadly, most people who come to me have inadequate insurance to protect them. It starts with the liability limits of the person who wrongfully injured them, the “tortfeasor”. If the at fault driver had a commercial vehicle, usually there is $1,000,000.00 of liability coverage or more. BUT, many drivers have the minimum, $20,000 per person. By law, my clients must have $20,000 of uninsured motorist coverage, assuming my client is a licensed driver, but, partially thanks to companies like Progressive (and the ever chirpy Flo who encourages customers to set their own premiums!), nearly half of customers waive or get woefully inadequate underinsured motorists coverage.
A typical middle class family, who owns their home, have retirement plans, savings, and perhaps a family business, should have a “personal umbrella”, usually $1,000,000.00, BUT they should be very careful to make sure that coverage includes the underinsured coverage.
So, sometimes all I can do is send in copies of bills of $5000 or more and get the full available insurance and nothing more back from the liability carrier. Those are sad events, and sometimes I charge as little as 10 %. At least I can get the medical insurance subrogation claim waived by my client’s medical insurance company. Always I save the client more than he or she pays me.
I always make the client’s carrier provide me written proof my client waived the U.I.M. (underinsured) coverage. Several times in my career they failed to get one or lost it, and those people, per the famous Bias v. Nationwide case, get the WV minimum additional coverage of $20,000.00.
We become quite friendly with our PI clients. Results usually are favorable, and the client shows appreciation. In Divorce, both sides lose. The similarity is that the client has been through a trauma and is picking up the pieces and trying to build back their lives. I have read diaries of injury clients describing months of pain, depression, and hopelessness. Most recover; some do not. Our job is to help them make the transition from injury to the next stage of their lives.
Injuries hardly ever go completely away, in spite of what the insurance adjustor believes. Joints turn arthritic, and torn muscles have spasm, and suffer reinjury.
The law firms that advertise heavily on T.V. sometimes have very good attorneys, but sometimes most clients’ claims are handled by junior attorneys, or the lawyers staff. The time tested way to get a good lawyer is to ask around, read everything online about the lawyer you can find, and meet with him and size him up. I have a full time paralegal. She and I get to know the client very well. I have the client come in monthly to fill us in. I update the case to the adjustor monthly also, so they will keep nudging their reserve upward. Nothing is more frustrating than to have an adjustor think you have a $10,000 case when it is really $50,000! I try to make sure that never happens.
I investigate the collision myself, take my own photos, and use my background in auto racing, and the many books I have read on the handling of race cars and racing. I use an engineer/accident reconstructionist (one of the best in the business) and the best known insurance expert in the State of WV, in complex cases.
If litigation expenses are likely to exceed $50,000, I have several firms I can turn to to associate with and share the cost/risk. These skills take decades to develop, and I am proud of them, and proud of my staff.
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER hesitate to meet with a lawyer to discuss your claim. If you find the right lawyer, you will be glad you did!
This post was written by Burton Hunter