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Articles Posted in Personal injury laws

How does someone recover damages when they are hit by an uninsured driver?  This is unfortunately a common question since here in Texas, 20% of drivers don’t have a liability policy, and from my personal experience, this number is much higher.

hit by an uninsured driver

That means there are at least four million uninsured drivers on our roads. Yikes!

And that doesn’t even count the huge number of highly restricted “junk policies” our state legislators allow to be sold where the driver has been excluded from coverage by the owner.

A good personal injury lawyer will chase down these subprime companies, their insureds, and drivers and demand proof that there is no insurance. We have been successful at making some of them change their coverage decisions and pay claims, and when this doesn’t happen, sue the driver (and by extension his company) for our client’s damages and collect money that way.

Usually the other driver will have liability insurance coverage, but probably in the minimum amount of $30,000 for any one person’s injuries, $60,000 for all people he injured, and $25,000 for all vehicle damage.

Of course, this is often insufficient, especially if there are serious injuries with large medical bills and lost wages and/or multiple vehicles involved in the highway chain-reactions we see far too often on the highways in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In this case, if you and your attorney can negotiate a successful settlement with his liability adjuster or you have to file suit and either settle at a later stage of the litigation (which happens 99% of the time) or go to a trial, you will be paid this amount.

But what happens if and when he or she didn’t have insurance — or didn’t have enough? If you file a lawsuit and take a judgment, how will you collect your damages?

This is a serious problem that Texas drivers often have to deal with.

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After having an affair with President Trump, then accepting $130,000 and signing a silencing agreement just before the election, the lawsuit the porn star filed last week went viral.

But since she chose to sign the agreement, how can she talk about the affair now? And what does this scandal have to do with my field of personal injury?

You know by now that the case involves a shadowy nondisclosure agreement between the comically named David Dennison and Peggy Peterson.

A clause in the agreement required the parties to resolve disputes through confidential arbitration, a provision common in whistle-blower contracts, and provides for enormous damages of $1 million if “Peggy” speaks out.

But Trump never signed the contract, so there is a legal question whether it is valid. And there is the moral issue of whether the most powerful man in the world can stifle anyone, especially a woman in this era of “me-too.”

The administration just indicated that it has already won a temporary restraining order and may try to to exercise prior restraint on the freedom of the press and prevent her interview with 60 Minutes from being broadcast.

Her lawsuit has lavished attention on this once obscure legal detail. Continue reading

An arbitration clause is the new normal in health care provider contracts that patients must sign. Why? They usually favor the big hospital over the little consumer and remove the possibility of a lawsuit.

arbitration clause

But what happens when a patient is better off trying to resolve a billing dispute in front of a jury of his peers, not a panel of businessmen?

On Monday an all-too-rare appellate decision allowed that to happen when it sided with an injured Texan in Cardon v. Goldberg.

Why did hospital file a lien against patient’s settlement?

Susan Goldberg received treatment at the Seton Healthcare Services emergency room in Austin for injuries she sustained in an automobile collision. Ms. Goldberg incurred $7,800 in charges which were billed to her health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. BCBS had the standard reduction contract with the hospital and the bill was reduced to $6,503.

BCBS agreed to pay its share of $4,600 and Ms. Goldberg was billed the remaining $1,903. She forwarded that to her own automobile insurance provider, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. So far, so good.

However, instead of just paying that lower amount, Nationwide somehow paid the full $5,000 available under her personal injury protection (PIP) policy.

You might think this situation could be easily corrected. After all, the hospital was paid in excess of the original bill, let alone the adjusted bill as negotiated by BCBS, and could simply refund the difference. Ms. Goldberg never agreed that all $5,000 of her PIP proceeds was to paid to the ER and had other medical bills and lost wages that she presumably wanted to pay with those funds.

But nothing is straightforward in the often Upside Down world of insurance (“Stranger Things” fans will quickly agree).

Stranger Things

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I’m always astonished how many drivers do not appear to know what the traffic laws are. But it’s been 30 or 40 years since many people read the driver’s handbook back in driver’s education class and no retest has been required since.

Many of our rules of the road are common sense or common courtesy — two things you don’t see as much of these days. But others can be a little confusing.

For example, what happens if two people arrive at a four way stop exactly at the same time? Or a traffic light is out and there is a blinking red light?

But turning at an intersection is a simple task.

We have a ridiculous number of car wrecks in Texas. It is tragic that over 21,000 people died or were seriously injured in them in 2016, according to sobering statistics that were just released.

So it’s worth reviewing traffic laws, especially right-of-way rules, every now and then.  Continue reading

Does the State of Texas have a duty to warn drivers about a dangerous road condition? Last week’s decision by a Texas appellate court ruling said that it did.The Dallas court affirmed a jury’s verdict in favor of a motorcyclist who crashed when his wheels hit a large crack in the highway. The trial court capped the $1,200,000 verdict at $250,000, the maximum damages allowed under the Texas Tort Claims Act, and the state appealed.

Brian Milton was traveling on FM Road 148 in Kaufman in 2012 at night. He couldn’t see the deep cracks in the road pictured here until he hit one and crashed his bike into a ditch. Milton had never driven on this road before. He was severely injured.

Testimony from state employees and other evidence showed that the TxDOT clearly knew about the problem before the crash. The responding officer noted the “big cracks” in the roadway.

A few days later, Milton’s wife took this photo of the severely eroded highway. And just one month earlier, a TxDOT worker had taken pictures of the poor road conditions and ordered signs to warn drivers about the failing road but the signs weren’t placed in the correct location.

In addition, the agency had begun roadwork nearby but had not yet made its way to the area of the crash where work orders were in place.

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A rare Congressional victory for injured plaintiffs.

Buried within the 600 pages of the federal Bipartisan Budget Act enacted on Friday is an obscure provision that allows some auto accident victims to keep more of their settlement or verdicts.This resolves an ongoing reimbursement battle that has been an ongoing issue in personal issue cases since a catastrophic 1996 Arkansas vehicle collision crash.

All states have statutes requiring tort claimants to repay them for medical expenses paid by their Medicaid programs. But calculating exactly how much of the plaintiff’s verdict or settlement should be reimbursed has caused vexing problems for attorneys.

For example, was it fair that the state be repaid in full while the injured person received little — if any — money? How much of the recovery had been allocated to those medical bills as opposed to other damages? And what happened in those all too frequent cases with difficult liability and damage issues and small insurance policy limits and assets that had affected case valuations in the first place?

With the new law, Medicaid enrollees will no longer be forced to reimburse state agencies from money they recovered for their non-medical expenses. As a result, they will be able to keep more of the funds for their own use.

Hurray!

The 1996 case: Arkansas Dept. of Health and Human Services v. Ahlborn

A young woman named Heidi Ahlborn was severely injured and her medical bills were astronomical. A portion ($215,000.00) was paid by her state’s Medicaid program. The Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) obtained an assignment of rights from Ms. Ahlborn to repay the state from her settlement or verdict.

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It’s almost the new year and time to plan ahead and reflect on 2017. All in all, it’s been a good year for Texas drivers.

Here’s a recap of the most significant traffic safety laws enacted this year that will make our roads safer in the future.

Texting ban

Finally, after six years of trying by the Texas legislature, texting while driving is illegal as of September 1st. We were almost the last state in the U.S. to restrict this dangerous practice. Could the bill have been stronger? Sure. A $25 citation and other restrictions watered the deterrent value down, but the new law making texting while driving a misdemeanor is a good start.

And more good news: another proposed statute that would have blocked municipalities from imposing their own stricter texting while driving regulations was not passed. One item on my 2018 wish list is that Fort Worth and Dallas join the 100 other cities with local ordinances that are tougher.

Why? Government statistics reveal that 20 percent of car accidents involve a distracted driver. In my experience, the number is higher since distracted drivers rarely admit to the police that they were texting, surfing the net, or dialing numbers while driving after a car wreck.

There’s no better time than the present to further limit driving distractions and make our roads safer. Continue reading

The Texas legislature ended its biennial session this week without harming the rights of injured Texans. They even helped them, which is a rarity lately. That’s music to the ears of an injury lawyer.

If you’re wondering what new laws will affect you as you drive and which will hopefully reduce the shocking number of car accidents we have, here’s a quick rundown:

This bill was passed by the legislature but has not been signed by Governor Abbott yet:

Texting while driving: 

Finally our state leaders voted to outlaw this dangerous and common practice that has sent our crash rates soaring. But there are loopholes, of course, and it is not guaranteed that our governor will sign the bill. If he does, the new law was weakened to the point that police officers will have an almost impossible job of enforcing it. But hopefully drivers will be afraid of receiving a ticket and will stop texting while driving, so it’s a start to making our highways safer.

Two bills signed by the governor become law on September 1st:

  1. Mediation of often enormous hospital bills will be expanded. Often after someone is discharged from an emergency room, he or she is billed in full or for the remaining balance due to complexities in the health insurance and medical systems. It is a big victory for Texas consumers whose unpaid bills are often turned over to aggressive collection agents and attorneys to file and collect on lawsuits. More info is here.

     2. Telemedicine will be permitted for the first time. It may not be necessary to drive to a doctor to have your pain-relieving medicines refilled or be referred to a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon.

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More good news from our state legislature

Injured or sick people who can’t get off work, away from taking care of children, or don’t have a way to go get to a doctor will be able to see one on their cell phones or computers.
The new law will be signed by the governor in the next week. More information on how this cutting-edge technology will work is here.
Companies headquartered in Texas, including Teladoc, have been fighting the Texas Medical Board for many years to allow us the freedom to have our prescriptions refilled without lengthy trips and waits in doctors offices. Teladoc had won several lawsuits against the board.
Senate Bill 1107 was written by Dr. Charles Schwertner and will allow the board to maintain disciplinary control over doctors and health care providers.Doctors will be required to review a patient’s medical records before talking to them remotely.
Texas is state 50 out of 50 to allow this long overdue practice. This follows on the heels of the legislature’s approval of the texting while driving law, where we were the 46th state to limit this dangerous practice.

How Does This Affect People Hurt In Car Collisions?

Fortunately, most people injured in car wrecks do not sustain major injuries. The majority experience soft tissue injuries or strains and sprains of their necks and backs, sometimes referred to as whiplash. This is especially true in low speed collisions and rear end accidents or when the passengers are in a truck or sports utility vehicle (which more than 50% of Texans are in).

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After a car wreck, you are often rushed by ambulance to an emergency room for immediate treatment.  Before the ambulance arrives or later as you lay in the ER bed, you assume that your Aetna or Blue Cross will pay for all of your bills, right?

No, not necessarily. It’s a complicated system that is extremely anti-patient for these reasons:

  • If your health insurance plan should decide to pay the bills, it usually files a lien and demands full reimbursement from your car wreck settlement or verdict.
  • Your hospital may be out of network,
  • Your Aetna plan may say that it is secondary to the at-fault driver’s primary auto insurance policy and refuse to pay anything, and/or
  • You may not have met your annual deductible or have a large co-pay.

You won’t know this until later. Much later. What happens then?

You are stuck paying for $10,000 and often more of medical bills. You take it for granted that the other driver’s insurance company will reimburse you in full, and still give you plenty of extra money for your lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.

Good luck if you don’t have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side.

And to make matters worse, the emergency room department will also generate a separate bill which runs from $500 to $3,000 or more. This may also not get paid for the above reasons.

The hospital will file a lien so they get paid in full — or has the lien reduced by your attorney. Take a look at horrible story in today’s paper about a Good Samaritan who just had a $151,000 hospital lien filed on her after she had to have her legs amputated.

And a new bill has been approved by the Texas Senate that unfortunately allows emergency room physicians to also file a lien for their bills that must be paid from the proceeds and clarifies that any ER admission qualifies for the payment. SB 2066 will further reduce the amount of money an injured person will receive for his damages and I hope it does not get passed by the Texas House of Representatives and signed into law.

But at least there’s a little good news. State lawmakers just passed a bill that gives patients some recourse. The bill does not go as far as I would like but it is a good start to resolving this ludicrous system that hurts Texans. I urge Gov. Abbott to sign SB 507 so it becomes law.

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