Thursday, December 23, 2010

The insurance industry smear campaign against lawyers and the trial justice system

Here in Montana, we are about to embark on another legislative session. This session will be dominated by a Republican controlled state house and senate. We need to watch out for so-called 'tort reform' bills that will be inevitably headed our way.

What is 'tort reform'? It is an insurance industry sponsored attempt to re-write the rules of how accident and injury cases are handled in the courts.

A few years ago, our Montana Legislature enacted a law capping 'non-economic' damages in medical malpractice cases at $250 thousand per case. This means that even in the most horrific case, and injured person can't get more than that amount of 'pain and suffering' or 'emotional distress' damages. Even if a young person will have excruciating pain for fifty years, those damages are capped at $250 thousand.

Now we can fully expect similar proposals to change the law in auto accident and other tort cases in Montana. Already several bill draft requests appear designed to head in that direction. See
All Montanans should be very worried about these insurance friendly proposals. If you or a loved one are hurt in an accident, you should get full, fair compensation that truly reflects your actual damages. We do not need artificial caps on the amount of damages.

There is a huge amount of propaganda about large jury verdicts. First of all, they are much more rare than you would think. When one actually happens, it is always a big news story. When smaller verdicts, or defense victories, occur, they barely make the news at all. Secondly, when a large verdict is handed down, the insurance industry often distorts the facts to leave out a clear explanation of why a jury awarded such a large verdict.

The truth is that we have an adversarial process with fair rules. Both sides get their say in a lawsuit, and believe me, the insurance industry doesn't hold back. After the big fight in Court is over, if a jury awards a large amount, it is well deserved.

All of us should vigorously oppose any so-called tort reform.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sorting through the internet to get legal help

Several times in looking at the effectiveness of my own law firm's advertising (Grayson Law Firm), I have done sample searches on the Internet to see if my ads show up. I have spoken with several Internet marketing firms, and have become quite disillusioned with Internet advertising.

There are firms that pay thousands of dollars a month to try to capture your search on Google for 'Montana accident lawyer' or 'car wreck attorney' or some similar variation. It is big business, and I am not sure the injured victim always wins.

Do these firms really give people personal service, honest advice, and timely responses? I don't know, but I do think there are some important questions to ask about:

1. Will my case be handled by the named partner or a young associate? Many large firms farm out the work on their numerous cases to young lawyers fresh out of law school, who learn on the job. If I were hurt, I would want an experienced lawyer who has trial experience to handle my case.

2. How many cases does the lawyer have open right now? Many firms have too many open cases, and do not devote enough time to each case.

3. How much turn over in attorneys and support staff does that firm have? If people are quitting and new staff hired all the time, how can you develop a rapport with the lawyer or the firm?

4. Is the lawyer you speak with just telling you what you want to hear, or is he telling you the truth? Hard to know the answer to this one at first, but there is nothing better than finding a lawyer with personal integrity, and nothing worse than one without it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whiplash for $200 anyone?

This week a new client told me that their insurance adjuster said they would only be paid $200 for their whiplash, and that was the standard amount.

What? At first I thought my client was kidding me, but he was not. I have not fully investigated this case, but I do want people to know that there can be no 'standard' settlement amount for a whiplash claim. Each case will vary according to the nature, duration, and extent of the injury.

Whiplash is a serious injury that happens by the backward and forward movement of a person's head due to sudden acceleration or deceleration of a vehicle involved in a collision. The pain may be due to the sudden strain on the neck muscles or ligaments which sometimes produce muscle spasm. Whiplash injury can be very painful, and the person may suffer long term pain.

It is also not at all unusual for whiplash pain to first develop from hours to days after the accident.

Unfortunately, whiplash has been stigmatized by the insurance industry. People who actually have whiplash are made to feel like malingerers, even though they are truly suffering. I have had several people tell me that they never put any stock in whiplash claims until they had a whiplash injury of their own, and now they know it is real.

It is important to get medical treatment if you have pain in your neck, shoulders, or head after a car accident. It may in fact turn out not to be serious, and may just heal on its own. However, it may be something more serious, that will need to be treated by a physician.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do I really need a lawyer to handle my car accident case?

So you've been hurt in a car accident, and some people are saying that you shouldn't hire an attorney. Why pay the fees? You can do it yourself...

Is that true?

The longer I have been representing people in accident cases, the more clear it becomes to me that about 95% of the population is better off hiring a qualified attorney to represent them. Why?

1. Experience in valuing a case. Attorneys that have worked in this area for any length of time learn how to properly value a case. We can look at the history of local jury verdicts and prior settlements on similar cases. We know in detail how insurance companies value your case, and how to get the maximum value from your case.

2. Ability to sue. Very few people who are not lawyers can properly handle civil litigation. The implied threat to sue, the ability to prepare a Complaint properly and get it filed and served, explains why case values go higher when lawyers get involved. Insurance adjusters know that once a lawyer has signed onto a case, we will not hesitate to sue if they won't pay fair value. Hence, offers tend to rise, and get closer to 'fair'. Still, it is not at all unusual to have to sue to get full value.

3. Knowledge of insurance laws and rules. Did you know that for certain types of claims, in Montana you can legally 'stack' benefits higher depending on how many vehicles are on the policy? Do you understand insurance 'bad faith' rules thoroughly? Those rules explain what are, and what are not, allowable insurance industry practices, and if you don't understand them, you are at risk of being taken advantage of.

4. Do you know how to make a claim for advance payment of medical or lost wage costs without being forced to settle the entire claim? This tactic if often crucial to avoid being forced to accept a premature settlement. In Montana, this can be done in any clear liability case by a qualified attorney.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that it is almost always worth consulting with a good lawyer. Most do not charge for initial consults, and most will agree to work on a contingency fee basis. That means you need no cash up front, and that the lawyer's fee is based on whether the claim is successful, and the amount of the settlement.

One final note: although the insurance adjuster may be friendly and seem to be on 'your side', please keep in mind that their job is to minimize the amount of money paid on claims. Period. They are friendly only when that tactic works to get you to settle on the cheap. Please be careful if you represent yourself, and get lots of advice from others, and learn as much as possible before signing anything. Once you sign a settlement, remember that you are done forever. The claim can probably not be re-opened, and if further complications develop, you will be out of luck.

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Should I give an insurance adjuster a medical release?

I generally tell people not to give out a medical release to an insurance adjuster.

Have you ever read the release most companies use? It is a full, complete release, with no dates listed. That company can get every medical record you have ever had.

The adjuster can go on a fishing expedition for ways to deny or reduce the value of your claim. In one recent case, my client had signed an insurance release before I was retained. She suffered a concussion in the accident, and we finally found out the reason the company wouldn't pay fair value was that they found a four year old doctor record of a single fainting spell the client had previously. They tried to claim this incident showed she had a pre-existing head injury!

Our law firm does ask our clients to sign a release so that we can obtain records related to the injury suffered in the accident. We do not invade people's medical privacy any more than necessary to pursue the claim, or a lawsuit.

Everything an insurance adjuster does to 'investigate' a claim is designed solely to reduce their companies financial payout. Do you think they ask their insured driver to release all their records? Of course not, they are only looking for evidence that works against YOU.

Please be cautious in giving medical information to insurance companies. You have to remember that they are NOT your friends, even if they act in a friendly manner toward you.

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Uninsured and Underinsured auto insurance is essential

Over the years, I have seen far too many cases where someone is injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver.

A few years ago, we represented a client who incurred over $80,000 in medical bills, and the responsible driver had only $25,000 in coverage....which is the required minimum amount of liability coverage in Montana. We did get the full amount, and we refused to sign a release to get it. Then we went to work negotitating the bill with the medical provider. Eventually, they accepted a compromise payment. Our client did manage to walk away not owing any medical bills, but that was all he got.

Now if that same driver had underinsured coverage, which they didn't, we could have done far better on the claim. Not only would we have still obtained the $25,000 on the claim, we would have filed a claim against the underinsured policy, and obtained a large amount from that. Then our client could have been compensated for their lost wages, pain and suffering, and future medical costs, instead of just getting their medical bills paid.

Likewise, we are currently handling another claim where a client was hit by an uninsured driver. The driver has no assets worth going after. Thank goodness our client had uninsured motorist coverage available. Now we are presenting his claim to his own insurance carrier, and he will obtain a full, fair settlement.

I know times are tough, and people don't have money to waste right now. However, uninsured and underinsured coverage is relatively cheap. I have three vehicles on my policy, and I pay from $6 to $11 per car for six months of uninsured coverage (@$100,000 per accident), and from $10 to $25 per car for six months of underinsured coverage (also at $100,000 per accident). If I get hit by an uninsured driver, I'm covered. Are you?

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Welcome to the Montana Accident and Injury Law blog!

Every year, thousands of people are injured in car and truck accidents in Montana. People suffer injuries from minor cuts and bruises, all the way up to tragic losses of life. Many victims have their autos ruined, and incur thousands of dollars in medical bills. Then, they try to navigate the stormy waters of working with an insurance adjuster. Many injured people decide that they should just 'handle their own insurance claim'.

This blog is devoted to giving injured people a resource to learn more about Montana law as it pertains to accident cases. Hopefully, the blog will help you decide when you can handle a claim yourself, and when there are enough complications that you need to retain a qualified accident lawyer to assist you.

This blog is for you, the injured accident victim. I will try my best to write it for an audience that does not have a legal education. If at any time, you have a question or a concern that I have not yet addressed, please feel free to drop me a note.

Mike Grayson
The Grayson Law Firm