Articles Posted in Personal Injury

Many people may be unaware of a very helpful statute in RI which requires insurance companies to submit to arbitration before a lawsuit is filed.  According to RIGL 27-10.3-1, any insurance policy written in the State of Rhode Island must include a provision for arbitration if the case is valued under $50,000.

This statute is incredibly helpful for difficult personal injury cases that don’t have a particularly high value.  In Rhode Island, it can literally take years before a lawsuit is reached for trial and if you go the whole distance the costs can skyrocket into the thousands or tens of thousands.  For that reason, it doesn’t always make sense to file a lawsuit, particularly on cases that are worth 15-25k.  For these types of cases, this arbitration provision can be a lifesaver.  If the insurance company is disputing liability or just making a low-ball offer, then filing statutory arbitration may be the best bet.

Our office uses this tool a great deal.  When insurance companies like Allstate, Progressive and Liberty Mutual (these 3 in particular) want to make ridiculous low-ball offers by cutting the lost wage claim, cutting the medical bills and reducing the pain and suffering, my office often moves right to arbitration.

There is no single question that I receive more often than… “What is my case worth?”  Often, that is very tricky to answer, especially early on.  The fact is that only a verdict from a jury after trial is a final and true determination of value.  But so few cases actually go all the way to trial that your attorney must rely on his experience and skill to obtain as much for you as possible.  There are a number of factors that go into determining the value of your case.  Foremost, the severity of the injury and the extent of the treatment required.  Additionally, the value of your medical bills and lost wages (if any).  Also, are you willing to file a lawsuit and wait for more money or would you prefer to settle quickly for less.

So you see.. “What is my case worth” is a rather loaded question.

It may come as a surprise to many readers but another important factor in determining the value of your case is… which insurance company is involved?  Especially early on during initial settlement talks, the insurance company on the other side makes a big difference.  One company can value a case at 25k while another offers 12k.  How can that be you ask? If my case is worth 25k it is worth 25k.  Well, it is not so easy as that.  Several insurance companies will “low ball” your initial offer.  They want to see if your attorney is willing to file arbitration or file a lawsuit or rather just encourage you to settle for a quick payout.  In most cases, the attorney accepts these low settlement offers and insurance companies continue to get away with paying less than they should.  In Rhode Island, you have to be particularly careful of Progressive Insurance, Allstate Insurance and Liberty Mutual.  These three companies (at least in my experience) are notorious for making low, sometimes insulting, offers of settlement.  They justify this by cutting down your medical bills (claiming that treatment received was too expensive or unnecessary) and they will cut down your lost wages (suggesting you could have gone back to work earlier than you did) and they will offer you relatively little in pain and suffering.  In the end, you get an offer way below your own valuation of your injuries.

Personal injury attorneys are well skilled at discussing cases people find reprehensible.  If I had a dime for ever time someone mentioned the McDonald’s Coffee Case to me, I could probably stop practicing law and retire.  That case, like many others, was far more interesting and complex than the headline of “Woman sues McDonalds over hot coffee”.  If you are interested in what I am saying, I suggest you watch the fantastic documentary Hot Coffee.

There are other cases that people like to bring up, including some that are just fictional creations of the tort reform lobby.  And my purpose for this post is not to launch an argument against tort reform… rather I want to talk about the “new Coffee case”.  Namely, the awful Connecticut woman who sued her 12 year old nephew for hugging her!!!  My Facebook feed has been littered with friends mocking and insulting this woman with real vitriol!  I can already hear you saying, “Joe, you’re not possibly going to defend this woman or her lawsuit?!?”  Yeah, I am.  And, I’ll explain the reasoning behind it.

Of course the headline of this case is reprehensible.  What kind of awful person could sue someone who loves them for an act of love??  The answer might be that she had no choice.  The simple reality is that the civil justice system is designed to shift costs.  We can not take away injuries once they occur.  We can not hit a rewind button seconds before serious injury is caused in an accident.  Nor, can we put a price on a broken bone to make it go away.  All that we can do is compensate the injured person financially to assist with the disability, the lost wages and medical bills.  In the end, that is all our personal injury system is designed to do.  The person who rear-ended you likely is not an awful person who meant you harm, rather he or she made a mistake.  Their mistake, however, cost you in medical bills and pain and suffering.  So while they did not mean to harm you, their insurance will compensate you financially because that is the best that we can do.  And in this case, the 12 year old boy is not an awful person who meant harm.  But nevertheless, he hurt his Aunt breaking her arm racking up a hefty medical bill.

I’ve previously spoken on this blog about how Facebook and social media can affect your personal injury claim and/or lawsuit.  It is well established that insurance companies and defense attorneys will examine your Facebook profile if it is open to the public.  They will use anything to their advantage to discredit you or your case.  Examples of ways in which your social media can effect and harm your personal injury claim:

  • Pictures or descriptions of yourself going to the gym or for a jog while claiming disability (even if it is rehab and stretching exercises, it looks bad);
  • Pictures or descriptions of yourself doing work (even if unpaid) while making a claim for lost wages or loss of earning capacity (for instance, helping a friend move or doing remodeling work on your home);

No matter how the injury is sustained, whether auto accident, slip and fall or by defective product, there may be no more serious or devastating injury than a brain injury. In addition to the life altering physical symptoms, we also understand that there are equally devastating personality and emotional changes.

I work in tandem with another trial attorney who himself has experienced traumatic brain injury. He lost nearly ten years of his life and career while rehabilitating from this traumatic injury and now dedicates himself to helping others who have experienced similar injuries.

We understand that brain injury cases are more than headaches, nausea or other physical symptoms. We know that your entire personality can be altered affecting not only your life but your relationship with family and friends. We understand that large sections of your memory and life can be forgotten and erased. We understand that you have uncontrollable rage at times and that you make decisions that you never would have made prior to the injury. We look past the MRI and physical symptoms to look at the whole picture to see how your brain injury has affected your life.

Ive recently become involved in an interesting auto accident case and I thought it might be informative to others out there having a similar experience. My client has been experiencing frequent panic attacks and mental anguish following an automobile accident. While insurance companies, and even juries to some extent, are able to quantify damages for broken arms and/or legs, they are much less equipped to quantify damages for mental anxiety and suffering. The relative lack of these types of cases can make them difficult to settle and make determining a value difficult.

To anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack, I empathize. I understand that many people would rather have a broken arm or leg than live through five minutes of a full blown panic attack. Anything can bring on these attacks and for some it is difficult to even get in a car again or drive down the same street where the accident occurred. Because panic attacks are unpredictable, it does not require an extremely serious or traumatic accident. Even a moderate impact can have devastating results. Sometimes the auto accident is the last straw in an otherwise stressful life – work, kids, bills and life are sometimes enough to deal with before an accident occurs and your car is destroyed, you are unable to work and your life is flipped upside down.

Rest assured, that while difficult to monetize, these claims have merit. Like any other injury suffered in an accident, the claim has to be supported by medical evidence. This means that a therapist, psychologist or social worker has to actively treat your condition, much like an orthopedist would mend your broken leg. With a proper diagnosis and treatment these cases can be handled if your personal injury attorney is experienced with dealing with such circumstances.

Party buses and vans have grown increasingly in popularity for over a decade now taking business away from standard limousines for group functions. Bachelor, bachelorette parties and other group outings often rent a party bus for the evening. In one regard, it is much safer because it hires a designated driver for people who know they will be drinking. On the other hand, the lack of standard seating and the impetus to dance and walk around the party bus can make them dangerous even without an accident occurring.

One such company out of California which has rooftop access has been sued by a woman who claims she was struck by an overhanging tree branch causing significant injury to her face. The lawsuit claims that the company failed to monitor the overpass clearance for patrons standing and partying on the rooftop. The poor woman who was visiting New York at the time of the accident suffered a fracture of her orbital socket and numerous other facial injuries. Shockingly, this horrific accident came only one week after a young man was killed while riding on the top level of a party bus. In that case the poor victim struck a concrete overpass. This demonstrates disregard for patron safety, lack of awareness of safe and proper routes, and poor training for the bus operators. It is also important to note in this case that no warnings of any kind were given to the patrons.

Operators of sightseeing and party buses, particularly those with upper level access, have to apply strict safety standards even if it is contradictory to their intended purpose of fun.

This blog has been very very good to me and helped build my business when I left Boston four years ago, but alas, it has been long ignored. Not by intent but merely because we have been too busy during an exceptional period of growth. Starting today, however, I vow to return to the multiple postings per week that generated a lot of buzz and helped bring in many of my clients.

Here are just a few of the things we have been up to in the few months since my last post:

The Providence Journal is reporting a relatively serious bus accident which occurred between two RIPTA buses at the terminal in Kennedy Plaza, Providence. There is not a tremendous amount of information available yet about how such an accident between two buses occurred, but pictures included in the report show pretty significant damage. At least five injuries are being reported but there may be many more. If you were among those injured in this bus accident at Kennedy Plaza on May 3 it is important to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney right away.

RIPTA is a self insured agency. That means that claims for personal injury will go directly through RIPTA and not an insurance company. RIPTA has a claims department dedicated to handling accident cases. Their claims department, however, is notoriously difficult to deal with. They often delay decisions and settlement offers, make questionable liability decisions, and make low offers for settlement. If you are involved in a case against RIPTA, it is imperative to speak with a car accident attorney experienced with settling claims against RIPTA.

The good news is that liability is often not an issue for passengers on the bus. Since you are riding on their bus, you can not be held responsible for the negligent actions of the driver. If the accident includes collision with another vehicle, you will be able to collect damages regardless of which driver is responsible. Even if there is joint negligence between the two drivers, you will be able to collect from one, the other, or both drivers. Those involved in a bus accident are entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Of all the questions I hear in my office from new clients who are unsure about the personal injury claim process, the question I hear the most is: how long is my claim going to take to settle. I can not speak for every personal injury law firm, but since this is such a frequently asked question, I will answer as to how my firm handles claims.

The single most important determining factor as to the length of your claim is whether the case settles prior to litigation or not. Settlement prior to litigation is NOT always the best option. Many personal injury law firms like to brag about their settlement percentage. I assure you not to be fooled by this statistic or this advertising tactic. ANY LAWYER OR LAW FIRM CAN SETTLE YOUR CASE IF THEY ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT WHATEVER LOW OFFER THE INSURANCE COMPANY MAKES. In fact, many of the law firms that highlight their rate of pre-litigation settlement are probably accepting far less than the case is worth.

The Settlement Process