Each state has its own laws and rules related to car accidents. While most rules serve an important purpose, a few are unfair and unjust. Some of these unjust rules can unfairly harm your potential claim. Many of these unfair rules should have been changed long ago. Here are five bad rules that can unjustly harm your Alabama car crash claim:
What is Alabama’s Survival Statute? Ask yourself, what potential claims survive death and can be filed by an Estate? In our office, we specialize in Alabama personal injury claims. If an injury victim dies BEFORE he can file a personal injury case, will his Estate or heirs be able to file the claim? Alabama’s Survival Statute sets those rules. And, UN-filed personal injury claims do not survive the death of the victim in Alabama.
This can be a big deal. A really big deal. Here is an example — Your neighbor suffers devastating injuries when struck head-on by an intoxicated driver. He is rushed to the hospital. He spends months receiving costly, specialized medical care. His bills grow and grow. Because he cannot return promptly to work, he loses his job. His damages are huge. He is not the only one suffering. His family suffers as well. If your neighbor files a personal injury case, he can try to recover all his damages and losses. What if your neighbor dies? If he filed his case, then his Estate can continue to pursue the claims. What if your neighbor dies before he could file his case? Then, his UN-filed personal injury claim dies with him. His Estate cannot file a personal injury lawsuit. His Estate will face huge claims by the medical providers with no ability to recover money to pay those claims. Is this scenario fair? Is it fair that an Estate can maintain a personal injury claim in one scenario but not the other? Certainly not.
Wait. Doesn’t Alabama allow wrongful death claims? Yes. If the personal injury victim dies FROM his injuries, then his heirs can pursue a wrongful death claim. Yet, this scenario remains unfair for two reasons. First, this provides NO help for the Estate where the personal injury victim died of an unrelated cause. No wrongful death cases exists if the death is unrelated to the injuries. Second, under unique Alabama law, you cannot recover compensatory damages in a wrongful death claim. In Alabama, only punitive damages are recoverable in wrongful death claims. So, the Estate is still left unable to recover for huge medical expenses, lost wages and other specific injury-related costs.
Last week, I began discussing eight mistakes personal injury victims make during medical visits. You can read the first four mistakes with my advice, here. Today, I’m going to finish this topic with a discussion of four more mistakes. My hope is that you make the most of your visits and the treatment offered you. Your health and healing should be your top priority. With that in mind, here are four additional mistakes with my commentary about each:
V. Stopping Treatment Before Completion
This issue frustrates doctors. The doctor recommended a course of treatment because he or she felt it necessary to treat your injury. You should complete treatment. If you do not want to complete a specific course of treatment, you should talk with your doctor. Do not simply quit.
Doctor visits can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. You worry about treatment, recovery and cost. You worry about missing work or other activities. You wait for an appointment (maybe a long time). When you finally see the doctor, he or she is very busy. You are rushed to an examination room and have just moments to discuss your injury. The whole process is stressful.
I spend a lot of time reading about doctor visits from the medical records. In personal injury cases, the medical records are critical. Documentation is key. If you have a workers’ compensation claim, the insurance carrier will only approve prescribed treatment if the medical documentation supports it. If you have any type of personal injury case (whether car accident, workers’ compensation or anything else), the insurance company will only factor issues into its settlement offers if the documentation justifies them. If your claim eventually goes to trial, you will need the doctor’s testimony. When the doctor testifies, he will likely stick to the facts and issues documented in the medical records. Documentation is essential at every stage — Treatment, Negotiation and Trial.
At every visit, the doctor documents your history, treatment and condition. Because of that, an open and honest dialogue is essential. You need to pick a skilled and caring physician. Then, you also need to communicate properly regarding the injuries and treatment.
From “good hands” to “good neighbor,” major insurance companies market themselves as caring for the consumer. Do they? We’ve all seen the countless advertisements. Do you really believe the insurance company has your interest at heart?
What happens when you are hurt and really need the insurance? Insurance companies work hard to avoid paying the true value of claims involving injuries. In car wreck claims, savvy adjusters immediately start looking for ways to deny or dispute valid claims. What are some immediate actions designed to reduce or deny your injury claim? Adjusters start by recording you on the telephone. We have even seen adjusters try to obtain damaging recordings from people who are on pain medications immediately after an accident. Adjusters start by sending you forms to sign — which the company can use to dig through your history and records. Adjusters promise to pay your medical bills, encouraging you to send them. Yet, that’s not how it really works.
Adjusters have huge advantages over you. They know the system. They know how it works. On the other hand, you are probably unfamiliar with the system. You are relying on fairness and honesty to get through a stressful process. While a car accident upends your life, it’s just a normal day for the insurance company.
It’s not an Alabama car accident case. Rather, it’s a recent New Jersey case. Yet, it provides a valuable lesson for car accident victims in Alabama and elsewhere. Be careful what you sign! The case started as a car accident that left an innocent driver with personal injuries and car damage. Fortunately, the negligent driver who caused the crash had liability coverage.
The morning after the accident, an insurance claims adjuster called the injured driver and asked to “inspect” her damaged car. That’s OK. After getting permission, the claims adjuster arrived with “paperwork” to “expedite the property damage claim.” The injured driver signed the paperwork. Rather than property damage paperwork, the document was a general release of all claims. By signing, the injured driver released all her claims for both personal injury and property damage.
If you read some of our past articles, you know we believe accident victims can often resolve property damage claims without the need for a lawyer. The same is true for minor injury claims. Unfortunately, we have an entire industry of settlement mill lawyers smiling from billboards and skimming attorney fees from minor cases that could have been resolved without them.
You suffer a car accident. A few days later you get a call. It’s a chiropractor. That’s right. A chiropractor you’ve never met is now calling you. He asks if you are hurt. He suggests you schedule an appointment. If you are not hurt, he may still offer to help. If you show any interest, he suddenly suggests a specific lawyer.
One moment you are sitting in your den. The very next moment you have a strange chiropractor and strange lawyer ready to “work” your case. What started as a personal injury scam in other states has now made its way to Alabama.
Let me just stop at this point and tell you the obvious. This is a scam to enrich the chiropractor and lawyer at your expense. Ethical lawyers don’t call you out of the blue. Good trial lawyers don’t chase ambulances or make deals with chiropractors to chase cases. When your case is done, the ambulance chasing chiropractor and lawyer will walk away with the bulk of your settlement. Don’t think I’m criticizing all chiropractors. I’m certainly not. I’m only criticizing those lawyers and those chiropractors who engage in this bad behavior.
Sovereign immunity. Most personal injury lawyers shudder at the phrase! We occasionally deal with this issue in our personal injury cases. When we do, we are usually explaining to callers the difficulty or impossibility of suing the state for damages.
How about a slightly different issue — tribal sovereign immunity. Native American tribes are not independent political entities. They are not states, like Alabama. They have often been called “domestic dependent nations” and are subject to control by the U.S. Congress. Tribes retain some historic sovereign authority unless Congress acts. If you find the relationship confusing, you would not be the only one.
A current case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court presents an interesting issue of tribal sovereign immunity. It involves a car accident and the Poarch Creek tribe in Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court framed its decision like this: The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity affords no protection to tribes with regard to tort claims asserted against them by non-tribe members.
Venue and forum selection. I started to write on this issue months ago. At that point, the Alabama Supreme Court had issued several recent (and very debatable) decisions on the topic. I know – venue sounds like a pretty boring topic for non-lawyers. So, I chose other topics. Now I’ve come full circle back to venue after the Alabama Supreme Court again ruled against another personal injury victim on this issue.
In simple terms, venue is the county (or counties) in Alabama where a case can be filed. Specific rules govern the proper counties for filing a personal injury (or any other) case. Often, venue can be proper in more than one county. That brings a choice. And, it leads to a question raised by the recent spate of venue decisions. Why is our Supreme Court so quick to interfere with the properly chosen venue of an injury victim?
Even when a case has been filed in a proper venue, a specific Alabama statute gives courts the power to transfer the case for “the interest of justice” or the “convenience of parties and witnesses.” It’s called “forum non conveniens.” Convenience? Interest of justice? Those are some pretty subjective terms. Should the court be quick to force transfers when the issue may be gray?
Through the years, I’ve represented a number of personal injury victims who suffered Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This condition is also known as reflex sympathy dystrophy (RSD). You may have never even heard of it. Yet, CRPS is a devastating condition for patients. So, when I recently read the account of a person suffering from CRPS it sounded familiar. It sounded like the stories of pain my past clients have tearfully related. How does the patient’s story begin? How does the patient describe her pain?
It’s 4 a.m., and once again I’m unable to sleep.
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