Articles Tagged with trial

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Photo by Bill JacobusIn many personal injury cases, wage losses are an important part of the damages. In many workers’ compensation claims, vocational disability (either partial or total) is the essential issue. How do we prepare our clients’ wage or vocational claims? We often use vocational experts. What is a vocational rehabilitation expert? Vocational experts possess special training related to the labor market and the jobs which may be available given a person’s limitations or restrictions.

Over the last two decades, I’ve questioned many vocational experts at trial. Too many lawyers attempt to cross-examine vocational experts using an argumentative style that gets nowhere. Big mistake. A lawyer who handles personal injury and workers’ compensation claims needs to understand the basics of vocational evaluations. This knowledge makes a huge difference in how much an injured client recovers by settlement or trial. If you are looking for a personal injury lawyer, make sure you ask if he or she has real trial experience using and questioning these experts.

A skilled lawyer can often expose deceptive defense experts. This requires an understanding of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). And, it requires a knowledge of how restrictions can impact a person’s ability to work. What are five common tricks used by defense  vocational experts to harm your personal injury claim?

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Photo by E Max
The Claims Journal (an insurance industry periodical) recently published an interesting study. The California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) studied workers’ compensation claims involving spinal fusion surgery. According to the researchers most of these claims were initially reported as back strains.

The study is interesting. Yet, the results are not surprising. I have represented people in serious Alabama workers’ compensation and personal injury claims for over twenty years. In workers’ compensation claims, employers and their insurance carriers frequently under-report serious injuries. It’s not unusual for a workplace back injury to be under-reported as a mere strain even where the worker is experiencing symptoms classically associated with more serious spinal problems.

Employers and insurance companies initially under-report injuries in order to save their costs. Yet, the long-term impact on an injured worker can be tremendous. Here are three ways employers and their insurance companies under-report workplace injuries.

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Many lawyers advertise for personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. One group of Huntsville DUI lawyers recently put their names on billboards and began claiming specialties as varied as personal injury and elder law. Anyone can advertise. Any attorney can say they handle personal injury cases. While many lawyers advertise, few have real expertise in court.

It’s different with defense attorneys. Insurance companies hire good attorneys with trial skills. Insurance company lawyers regularly handle cases through trial and appeal. Does your injury attorney have similar skills? If you hire a billboard lawyer, you may get a lawyer who is quickly in over his head. And, you will suffer as a result.

A local advertising lawyer (who has a billboard) recently called me and started asking questions about distracted driving. A person hurt in a car accident had hired him. He did not know how to handle the case. While answering his questions, I kept thinking about the person hurt in the wreck. Was this person getting an attorney with experience handling these serious claims? No. This advertising lawyer marketed himself as a personal injury attorney but did not know how to handle a basic claim. And, this advertising lawyer had no intention of fighting for his client at trial if needed. He just wanted information needed to speak intelligently with the insurance adjuster.

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I was driving to court when I heard a local Huntsville lawyer on the radio. The lawyer begged for calls. He claimed expertise in legal fields as different as real estate, domestic, criminal, immigration and even personal injury. He did it all! And, he wanted you to call him for everything. Really? The law is complex. You won’t see that advertising lawyer handling all those different matters. He’s more marketer than lawyer.

Although that Huntsville lawyer claimed to be a personal injury expert, I have not seen him at any civil trial dockets. None. I’ve practiced personal injury trial work for more than twenty years. I attend trial dockets regularly across northern Alabama. While the radio lawyer says he does it all, he really does not.

Curious about this Huntsville lawyer who claimed to do it all, I looked at his website. He did advertise for personal injury cases. But, stuck at the end of his personal injury page was the disclaimer. He advertises for injury cases but refers them to other lawyers. It’s in the fine print. In the fine print, you see the truth. He will likely send your case to a real personal injury lawyer if he is unable to get a quick settlement. That’s deceptive. It’s wrong. Hurt people deserve better.

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A recent article I read tells the story of a bad Illinois workers’ compensation attorney. This bad attorney tried to make a bad settlement for his client. And, the bad attorney then tried to bully his client into accepting it. Although the article discusses an attorney in another state, it is not a unique story. It happens in Alabama as well. Too many attorneys fail to prepare their cases or go to trial when needed.

The story reminds me of a work comp case several years ago. I received a call from a man in nearby Athens who had suffered a very bad back injury. He had required spinal surgery for his injury and was now a chronic pain patient. He had not been able to work since the surgery. However, he already had a lawyer. His problem with that lawyer? His lawyer was trying to force him into accepting a settlement for an amount less than the defendant’s own expert concluded. This was not just a low offer. It was below what he would have received at trial if the court believed everything the employer argued. It was an unrealistically low offer. And, it should have been declined immediately.

When I heard the full story, I was shocked. Why was a lawyer trying to convince this clearly injured person to accept such a small amount? The injured worker had a good case. Why was a lawyer, any lawyer, trying to convince this clearly injured person to accept an offer below any reasonable expectation at trial? As I investigated the case, I learned the truth — that work comp lawyer was unwilling to fight for his clients in court. That lawyer had a track record of not preparing his cases. And, the insurance company offered a lower amount because it knew that lawyer’s track record. Make no mistake — insurance companies know which lawyers fight for their clients and which lawyers do not. It’s not just workers’ compensation cases. It also applies to car accidents. Insurance companies know the attorneys who accept far less than the full case value.

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Hurt in a car wreck? Need medical care for a personal injury? If so, where should you turn for treatment?

Car accidents cause many different injuries. Some are minor. Some are not. Some injuries result in long-term treatment needs, physical limitations, chronic pain or even disability. In our practice, we speak with many people hurt in car accidents.

One of the issues that sometimes arises when we interview new clients is the issue of chiropractic care. Many people regularly see and benefit from chiropractors. Chiropractors can perform helpful adjustments and other therapies for some people.

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Years ago, an engineer friend of mine served on a jury in a personal injury case. Later, he told me that during the entire process he (and several other jurors) believed information was not being provided them. They were right. Sometimes evidence is not admitted at trial and not seen by the jury. Our evidence rules are designed to prevent evidence that is not relevant or too prejudicial from being considered. But, sometimes the same rules also prevent the jury from hearing evidence needed to tell the full story.

If you have been hurt and need a lawyer, you need one with trial experience. Procedural and evidentiary rules can be complex. Your lawyer needs to know the rules and how to apply them quickly in trial situations. Unfortunately, many of the lawyers now advertising for automobile accident cases do not go to court. Some have never been to trial. They would not know how to argue a case effectively in a courtroom. Insurance companies know which lawyers will go to trial and it impacts the settlement offered you. When hiring a lawyer, you should absolutely ask questions about real trial experience.

What is one big issue kept secret from the jury? At trial, the jury is never told that the defendant actually has insurance. The rules in Alabama, and many other jurisdictions, forbid the jury from being informed about the defendant’s insurance coverage.