Articles Tagged with trial

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courtroom-898931_1920-300x226I know — Lawyer advertisements are everywhere. Billboards. Television. Youtube. Those advertising lawyers all try to project confidence while asking for your case. “We got this” says a local Huntsville lawyer with new billboards and a Youtube video. In fact, this Huntsville lawyer who tells you he has your situation handled really intends to refer the serious injury cases to outside trial lawyers. Ask him about his deal with an outside law firm. What does he really have handled? A quick settlement or a referral fee.

Why am I discussing this topic? Well, I was recently sitting in a Morgan County courtroom. My client’s injury case was set for trial. We were present and ready. As I looked around the courtroom, one thing was obvious. That was — Not a single one of the lawyers I see smiling from billboards was present. In fact, not a single one of those billboard (or Youtube or television) lawyers had any cases on the docket. I did see some really good lawyers in the room. But, those good lawyers were NOT on billboards.

We’ve all seen the commercials. In fact, some of these advertising lawyers even record their ads with a courtroom backdrop. If that’s not laughable, I don’t know what is. You don’t see those lawyers anywhere near a courthouse or deposition because they work on volume. They want your case. They intend to settle as soon as possible. Insurance companies love settlement mill lawyers because they can settle cases with them for a fraction of their value. It’s a shameful practice that diminishes my profession.

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AccidentYou suffered an injury at work and have an Alabama workers’ compensation claim. Is that your only claim? Did someone (other than your employer) negligently cause the injury? If so, you might have both a workers’ compensation claim against your employer and a personal injury claim against the negligent third-party. It’s an important issue. Why? Although workers’ compensation provides important benefits, those benefits are limited. Workers’ compensation benefits do not cover all your potential damages. Although third-party cases allow you to claim all your damages, they may be completely disputed. These are important issues to many of my injured clients. They are issues I’ve discussed on my law firm website. And, they are issues we often handle to help our injured clients.

A recent legal article in Illinois discusses a case in that state. What happened? In that case, an electrician was installing lighting on an apartment balcony. Suddenly, the balcony railing failed. The electrician fell to his death. Afterwards, an investigation revealed a different company (NOT the electrician’s employer) had negligently installed the railing. The electrician’s family had a claim for death benefits under workers’ compensation laws in Illinois. The family also had a third-party negligence claim for wrongful death against the separate company that installed the railing.

Over the years, I’ve prepared numerous workers’ compensation and third-party negligence claims. Transportation injuries. Car accidents. Construction-related accidents. Industrial site incidents. These are frequently areas where a third-party (someone other than your employer) may have caused your on-the-job injury. Because these claims involve two areas of the law, they can be complex. They can require special skill to maximize your total recovery between the claims. After handling these claims for years, I would offer three key pieces of advice:

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What do we need in trial judges? Honesty. Integrity. Fairness. Respect for both the law and the citizens standing before them. Legal Scholarship. Those are all necessary to make a good trial judge. What else is important? Courtroom experience. At least, a basic level of courtroom experience is necessary. At least, tell us you have been in a courtroom!

I handle personal injury and damage cases across northern Alabama. We are fortunate in our local state courts. We currently have a good bench of state judges who came to their positions with an understanding of the process. Most of them came to the bench after serving as lawyers before their local courts.

I can say the same for the men and women I’ve appeared before in Federal Court. They have been well-qualified. And, they take their roles as judges very seriously. As citizens, we count on them to be fair and skilled in their work. They understand their position and work hard to fulfill it. That is true whether these judges were appointed by a past Republican President or past Democrat President. Like our state court judges, most of them came to the bench after working as lawyers in their respective Federal Districts.

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Last Friday, I spoke at a workers’ compensation seminar in Birmingham. If you have read this blog in the past, then you know my strong feelings that lawyers should be life-long students of their legal specialty. That’s why our firm members routinely teach at seminars on topics involving personal injury, workers’ compensation, defective products, experts and trials. I’ve also been candid in my past blog posts that lawyers who populate billboard and television advertisements diminish the legal profession and too often harm clients. We even have a law firm in Huntsville now advertising on billboards for injury clients it secretly intends to refer for profit to another firm. In my opinion, that is dishonest and unethical. But, let me get back to the topic of this post — last week’s workers’ compensation seminar.

I believe this recent workers’ compensation seminar was one of the best yet. The credit for planning the seminar goes to attorney David Nomberg of the Nomberg Law Firm in Birmingham. I’ve known David and his brother Bernard for years. They are among the best workers’ compensation attorneys in Alabama. Bernard and I began our careers (over two decades ago) at the same Birmingham trial law firm handling cases throughout Alabama. I’m thankful David invited me to speak at this seminar.

David asked me to speak on workers’ compensation trial strategies. I have tried these cases in counties throughout Alabama. I have a specific philosophy about workers’ compensation cases. My philosophy about workers’ compensation and general personal injury cases is simple — Clients deserve a lawyer who will prepare their case for trial. Many lawyers will not do that. Better preparation leads to better trials and better settlements.

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Personal Injury - Blackwell Law Firm
We trust our doctors. We should. Most doctors are dedicated to helping people. In Huntsville, we are fortunate to have excellent medical professionals.

This post is not about those dedicated doctors (the vast majority) who treat and help their patients. This post is about the rare (but extremely harmful) doctor who earns his/her living not by treating patients — but by selling biased and false opinions for insurance companies in an effort to mislead courts and juries. These paid insurance experts are usually not local. And, they usually don’t provide treatment to real patients. Every profession has a few bad apples. When it comes to these “paid biased experts,” their impact harms the entire justice system.

I’ve cross-examined these biased, paid experts for many years. A recent news article in Nevada highlighted a doctor in that state who was banned from testifying by two local judges. In banning this paid expert, the Nevada judges issued a blistering opinion. The judges found the paid expert gave opinions based “heavily on speculation and other irrelevant factors.” They also found the insurance expert had a “history of personal bias as to some treating physicians and extreme bias” against plaintiffs.

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In a recent video advertisement a local Huntsville attorney claimed that your specific legal problem did not matter. He had the attorney for you. That attorney repeated his claim over and over, inserting very different legal needs each time. “It Doesn’t Matter (INSERT LEGAL PROBLEM), We Have Your Lawyer.” It’s a ridiculous ad. It’s an ad fishing for attorney fees.

Think about your legal need. Complicated Elder Law Issue? If you need advice in that area, you better consult an attorney with practical experience in tax issues, with knowledge of Medicare matters, and with a working background in Trusts and Estates. I would. Personally, I would never go to a lawyer that said his firm could service any and all legal problems. I’ve seen too many horror stories in my decades of practicing law where families were torn apart because their loved one had an Estate document prepared by a lawyer who did not fully understand all the issues. Serious Personal Injury? While any lawyer can try and settle a case, not all lawyers can really settle or complete a case for its maximum value. You should trust a serious personal injury case to a serious lawyer with years of experience studying injury law issues, handling damages claims at actual trials, dealing with complex experts, and preparing injury claims for trial and appeal. The level of attorney expertise can make a big difference in the final result. And, in contested cases it can make a difference between winning and losing. I have received too many phone calls over the years from people who had their personal injury claims ruined by a billboard lawyer who lacked the skill, courage or desire to prepare a serious case. Immigration Matter? The issue is too important for anyone but a specialist. Real Estate Transaction? An error preparing complicated transactional documents could cost you and your family greatly.

The local attorney who says your claim does not matter because he has an attorney for it, really does want your case. He wants all your cases badly enough to claim specialties across the board. Until recently, his firm website advertised for wrongful death claims but did not accurately or fully discuss the unique nature of Alabama law on this issue. And, his website contains an actual disclaimer for personal injury claims — a disclaimer that reveals his firm needs to associate a trial lawyer on these cases.

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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.