Articles Posted in Personal injury laws

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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Our use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms is rampant. We think nothing of exchanging our private thoughts online. But those posts can come back to haunt people who have been injured in car wrecks. Look at what just happened to this woman.

A New York appeals court just delivered a decision that will help insurance company lawyers further pry into the social media accounts of people injured in car wrecks. The court held that a woman’s “private” Facebook status did not prevent disclosure of photos showing her physical condition before and after an accident.

In the discovery phase of lawsuits, one piece of evidence can lead to another. So courts are liberal in what attorneys can obtain if there is justification for its release. While you might assume that your post was not meant to be read by strangers, courts have taken the opposite approach.

Social media is a hot topic in the law. As the law and technology are rapidly evolving, questions about privacy versus their use at trial are common.

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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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Insurance companies are notorious for denying and minimizing payments to people injured in car accidents, especially to those with pre-existing injuries. That is not fair. This is another reason you need a good injury lawyer fighting for your rights if you have been crashed into.

After all, hardly any Americans are in perfect health. So how can an insurance company refuse to pay fair compensation to someone who

  • has been in a previous wreck or hurt his body after falling down, lifting a heavy object, or playing sports — often many years ago?
  • has a previous injury that had totally healed?
  • has had surgery to a different part of his body, say his neck, and has now only injured his back?
  • has a medical condition that results in much worse damage than the defendant could have expected?

The defendant in court must pay for these damages. This important legal concept is referred to as the eggshell skull rule.

What is the rule?

Tort law has always held that the defendant takes the plaintiff as he finds him, including all hidden symptoms, fragile conditions, and unforeseeable medical problems. You should not be punished for being injured or weak before the crash, unless the damages you are claiming were not caused by it.

Imagine that a fictional plaintiff has a skull that is as thin as an eggshell. What if the injured person is elderly or frail? A fender-bender that might cause a mere bruise to a normal person’s head could potentially crack open the plaintiff’s extremely fragile skull. The defendant can’t possibly know this of course. However the defendant is liable for killing the plaintiff even though he could not have foreseen that the minor accident would be deadly.

The eggshell skull rule illustrates the most extreme example. But in real life, this doctrine applies to such medical conditions as previous herniated disks, osteoporosis, torn rotator cuffs, concussions, or use of blood-thinning medications to treat blood clots. Continue reading

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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