Social Security Beneficiaries get a Raise in 2018!

Social Security Beneficiaries get a raise in 2018!

Social Security AdministrationThere is finally good news on the horizon for those who rely on Social Security Benefits: The Social Security Administration has announced a 2% Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) to take place in the beginning of 2018. This 2% raise will affect both Social Security and SSI recipients. Although this is the largest increase in Social Security benefits since 2012, it only comes out to about $25.00 per month for the average Social Security beneficiary.

For more information, take a look at the Social Security Administration’s cost-of-living adjustment website.

If you or a loved one is interested in apply for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), call our law firm for a free consultation.

 

Automobile Safety Over the Years

Automobile Safety Over the Years

Over the years, trial lawyers and personal injury lawyers have been instrumental to encouraging legislatures and automobile manufacturers into making safer cars. In fact, one of the most important functions of tort law in the United States is to encourage manufacturers into making safer products by creating a financial disincentive to releasing dangerous products. Because corporations tend to favor their shareholders more than the safety of their customers, the ongoing threat of multi-million-dollar lawsuits provides an economic incentive for releasing a safer product, even if a dangerous product is cheaper to manufacture and research.

In 1959, Automobile Insurance Carriers banded together and formed the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization that performs fantastic research to help make vehicles safer. While partly altruistic, the insurance companies funded this organization because they realize that safer cars equates to less money paid out in insurance claims to injured victims who hire attorneys to file suit for their injuries. Regardless of a reason, this is a great thing for everybody.

As personal injury attorneys, it’s inspiring to see the real-world effect that tort law and the resulting legislative changes have had on safety over the years. To celebrate their 50th Anniversary, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed a crash test between a 2009 Chevy Malibu and a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air. This test demonstrated how far cars have come:

The results of the above video are staggering. Even more staggering, perhaps, is the data. As can be seen in the graph below, the number of deaths per mile driven have steadily and dramatically dropped nearly every year since the invention of the automobile.

Annual US traffic fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled (red) and miles traveled (blue) from 1921 to 2015.
Annual US traffic fatalities per billion vehicle miles traveled (red) and miles traveled (blue) from 1921 to 2015.

The fight for highway safety is far from over.

Unfortunately, even with safer cars, the fight for safety is far from over. Even with top-of-the-line safety mechanisms, we are from from eliminating “the human factor,” which remains responsible for a staggering number of deaths and injuries per year. When it’s your loved one in the car, even one death is too many.

Our Lawyers fight for car accident victims.

At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, we continue the fight for safer vehicles and for safer drivers by protecting the innocent victims of car accidents caused by reckless and negligent drivers. We also take on the car manufacturers themselves when they create a dangerous vehicle. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a car accident, call one of our Pennsylvania Car Accident Lawyers for a free consultation. Because we understand lawyers can be expensive, we don’t charge a fee unless we obtain a recovery.

 

 

How do I settle a personal injury case on my own?

How do I settle a case on my own?

How to settle your own personal injury caseAs Pennsylvania personal injury and car accident lawyers, we often get asked how to settle a car accident case on your own, without a lawyer. While we strongly advise against representing yourself (remember the old maxim, “he who represents himself has a fool for a client”), in some limited circumstances you may not need a lawyer (although it’s always advisable to at least have a free consultation with one).

Subrogation and Liens on a Personal Injury Settlement

If you’re looking at settling a case safely, you need to be intimately familiar with Pennsylvania subrogation law and how liens against your settlement are treated. The last thing you want to do is settle your case for $X.XX and then have a health insurance company, the Department of Human Services, or even Medicare come back at you demanding you pay them $X.XX long after the settlement money is long gone! To understand this, you’ll need to research the laws, research statutory liens, research equitable liens, and research contractual subrogation rights you may have agreed to when accepting health insurance. Subrogation and liens are the #1 thing that people trying to settle their own cases—and even general-practice attorneys that are dabbling in personal injury law—mess up.

Know the full extent of your injuries and don’t settle too soon!

After an accident, insurance adjusters will typically call you a couple days later offering settlements of $1,000 or $2,000. Don’t accept any offers to settle your case that soon after an accident! While it may seem like a good deal (and might even be a good deal if you have minimal or no injuries), it’s simply too soon to know if your injuries are minimal. It’s all too common to not realize your injuries are serious until months, or even years, later! I’ve had a number of clients who have rejected $1,000 offers before realizing things were more severe, coming to my office, and proving damages of one hundred times their initial offer.

Watch the statute of limitations for your personal injury case

This piece of advice goes hand-in-hand with the “don’t settle too soon” advice: don’t settle too late, either! If you wait too long, your claims might be forever barred by the “statute of limitations,” which is a law that every state passes that puts a time limit on how long after an accident you can bring a claim. In Pennsylvania, you typically need to settle your case (or file a lawsuit) within two years from the date of the accident. There are, however, many exceptions and caveats to this rule (e.g. certain parts of minor’s claims). If you want to know what the statute of limitations is for your individual case, do NOT rely on this paragraph or anything you read online—you NEED to call a personal injury lawyer, given them your facts, and ask!

Call a personal injury lawyer for a free consultation

I don’t mean to sound too facetious here, but there is no way to write a complete guide on how to properly or safely settle your case without a lawyer, because that guide would entail going to law school and spending years practicing personal injury law in the jurisdiction where you claim arises. While some minor cases that only involve property damage or bumps and bruises might safely be settled without a lawyer, any case with significant injuries requires a lawyer (in my professional, legal opinion). I’m not just saying that because I’m a lawyer, either. If I were injured in a car accident, I’d call a lawyer myself (as I said earlier, “he who represents himself has a fool for a client”). As such, if you’re considering settling your case, give a personal injury attorney a call and at least sit down for a free consultation to make sure you’re doing things correctly. If you’re in Erie or Smethport, or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania, give me a call at 814-452-6232. I’m happy to discuss your case for free. If you are interested in hiring me, I don’t charge a fee without a recovery.

It’s worth noting that a good personal injury lawyer almost always ends up paying for himself or herself.

Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager Nominated for Erie’s Choice Award

We’ve been nominated for Erie’s Choice!

The voting for Erie’s Choice for Erie’s Favorite Law Firm has opened and we’re proud to announce that Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, PLLC, has been nominated as a candidate for Erie’s Favorite Law Firm! If you’re one of the many individuals who have had stellar interactions with our attorneys and staff, please vote for us today!

Erie's Choice Award for Best Law Firm

Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager has been in business serving the people of Erie since 1985 and we’re committed to ensuring that each and every person in Erie has access to excellent representation. To help achieve that goal, two of our partners have recently been awarded Erie’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award for their dedication to providing free legal representation to those in Erie who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer: Adam Barnett in 2015 and Matt Lager in 2017. This award only given to a single attorney in the Erie County Bar Association every year.

Please cast your vote today!

Vote for Erie's Choice

Our team prides itself on excellent communication and working to help our clients achieve the best result possible under the law. We’re proud that we aren’t a mere “personal injury mill” and that each of our clients gets the individual attention he or she deserves. We succeed only because we truly believe that we can make a difference in people’s lives. Voting ends on August 25, 2017, so please Vote for us today!

 

Should I hire a Social Security Disability Attorney?

When you should Hire a Disability Lawyer

Should you hire a Social Security Disability Attorney?

Many people wonder if they should hire a Social Security Disability attorney. If your and your family’s livelihood depends on winning your case for disability benefits, it’s not a question of if you should hire a Social Security Disability attorney, it’s a question of when you should hire a Social Security Disability attorney. Unfortunately, many individuals wait too long before contacting an attorney about their claim for Social Security Disability benefits.  There are two rules to follow if you are considering or have already applied for Social Security Disability benefits:

Contact an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney before applying for Social Security Disability benefits.

Not every individual needs to have an attorney represent them when making their initial application for Social Security benefits.  However, in some cases, retaining counsel at the initial application level can improve an individual’s chances for being approved.  Regardless of which category an individual falls into, speaking with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney prior to making the application will allow an applicant to obtain advice in avoiding common pit falls that can result in an initial application being denied.  Such pit falls include applying for benefits too soon or too late, failing to allege an appropriate onset date for disability benefits, and applying for benefits before having sufficient medical documentation to support your allegations of disability.

If you receive a Notice of Decision denying your initial application for Social Security Disability benefits, contact an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney immediately.

If your claim for Social Security Disability benefits was denied, not only do you have a limited time period in which to appeal the denial of your initial application for benefits, but it is important to have an attorney review the basis for the Social Security Administration’s denial of your claim as soon as possible.  Do not wait until your hearing has been scheduled to seek legal representation.  Although it can take up to 24 months or more before your appeal will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge, retaining an attorney right away will ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to further document your medical condition and win your case.

Our experienced Social Security Disability attorneys would be happy to provide you with a free review of your Social Security Disability claim. Call our office at 814-452-6232 for a free consultation!

Car Accidents with No Police Report

Police Report for AccidentAfter a car accident in Pennsylvania, it’s extremely important to call the police and ask for an officer to be sent out to prepare a police report or an accident report. The police will come out, interview witnesses, assess damage, and will give you what’s referred to as a “crash receipt.” This receipt isn’t always the full report, but it can be used to obtain the full report after it is prepared back at the station.

Why Police Reports are Important after a car accident

Police reports are important after an accident for a number of reasons. To begin, police officers are impartial witnesses who are skilled at conducting investigations and forcing drivers to disclose their car insurance information. Often times, without the police, the other driver will refuse to disclose his or her insurance information, making it difficult to recoup your losses. It’s rare for people to refuse disclosing their insurance information to police.

Second, police officers will obtain and record statements and contact information from witnesses who may have seen the accident. Years later, if your case ends up in court, this information makes it much easier to find witnesses to testify as to what happened. Although the police report itself probably won’t be admissible, the witnesses will be able to testify directly as to what they heard and saw.

What if there is no police report for my accident?

If you have been injured in an accident without a police report, you need to call our Pennsylvania attorneys immediately. Our office will work to gather the evidence and information that the police normally would have gotten had they been there to draft a police report. It’s important that we act fast, as evidence tends to disappear as time goes on. Additionally, witnesses become harder to find and at-fault drivers tend to move without leaving a trace of insurance information or even  forwarding addresses.

After a hit-and-run, your insurance probably requires you to call the police

Not only is calling the police to get an accident report a good idea, sometimes your insurance requires it! For example, after a hit-and-run, most Pennsylvania auto insurance policies require you to call the police and make a report as soon as possible after the accident. The police will then come out and document that you’ve been the victim of a hit-and-run and will preserve evidence. This report allows you to put your insurance company on notice of a potential uninsured motorist claim, which can allow you to recover damages even if the other driver’s identity is unknown. Failing to make a police report in a timely fashion can sometimes eliminate your ability to make a claim.

Do I need a police report if nobody was injured?

Even if you weren’t injured, calling the police to get a police report is still a good idea. Frequently, although the at-fault driver admits fault on the scene, his or her story changes after getting home and talking to the insurance company. After that happens, without the police to have documented their admission of guilt, it’s your word against theirs and now your insurance rates are going up for an accident that wasn’t your fault. For the same reasons, never let someone talk you into “handling the accident outside insurance.” More often than not, you’ll end up getting burned for trying to be nice.

How do I get the police report after an accident?

At the scene of the accident, the police will typically hand you a “crash receipt.” If one of the cars was badly damaged or if someone was injured, this ordinarily isn’t the full report. You can obtain local reports by contacting your local police station, or you can request the Pennsylvania State Police Report using their form SP7-0015. That said, if you’ve been involved in a car accident in Pennsylvania, our accident lawyers will get the full police report and protect your rights. We offer free consultations and don’t charge a fee unless we get a recovery, so we’ll be happy to obtain and review the report with you and your family.

Motorcycle Insurance vs. Car Insurance in Pennsylvania

Motorcycle Insurance LawMotorcycle Insurance

If you own a motorcycle or are thinking of purchasing a motorcycle, you may have questions about the differences in insurance coverage between motorcycles and automobiles.  While, in many respects, motorcycle insurance is very similar to car insurance, it is very important to understand the differences as well.

Motorcycle Accidents and Medical Bills

Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, insurance companies are not required to provide medical benefits to individuals who purchase motorcycle insurance.  This is different from car insurance, where insurance companies are required to at least provide a minimum amount of medical-payments coverage to any individual purchasing an insurance policy in Pennsylvania.  For riders, this often means that if they are involved in a motorcycle crash, they will have to turn to their own health insurance to receive immediate medical treatment.  And, if the rider does not have health insurance, the process can become even more complicated.  In addition, the at-fault party’s insurance company will not pay for your medical bills until your claim has been settled completely.  Because of this, it is important to hire an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer to assist you in the event you are involved in a motorcycle crash.

Motorcycle Accident and Pain & Suffering

In the event you are injured in a motorcycle accident, you will be entitled to “full tort” status under the law.  In Pennsylvania, insurers have the option of providing “limited tort” coverage for automobile policies.  These policies do not allow for a person to recover for pain and suffering in the event that they are in an accident unless they suffer a “serious injury” or meet another exception.  Fortunately, for bikers, they are not bound by “limited tort,” as it does not apply to motorcycles under the law.  Because of this, it important to obtain a motorcycle attorney who can ensure that the insurance company does not pay you less than you deserve for your injury.

These are just some of the differences between the insurance coverage for motorcycles and the coverage for automobiles.  Any motorcycle accident is a traumatic experience and it is important to have a motorcycle crash lawyer who is experienced and understands how best to protect your rights and interests and how to maximize your recovery.  Contact one of our attorneys today for a free consultation.

What is a Peer Review and why isn’t my Auto Insurance paying my Medical Bills?

Peer Review of Medical Bills under Act 6What is a Peer Review?

In Pennsylvania, your automobile insurance provides medical coverage to pay your medical bills for medical treatment for injuries sustained in car accidents. Generally, your car insurance company is obligated to pay all bills for treatment which is reasonable and necessary. It is not necessary that you get pre-authorization for treatment. It is your carrier’s responsibility to object to bills it considers unreasonable or unnecessary. Medical bills which are not paid within 30 days are subject to penalties under the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL). When an auto insurance company wishes to contest the bills submitted by treatment providers, it will send them out for a Peer Review.

An insurance carrier can challenge bills by Peer Review for up to 90 days prior to the challenge. The regulations require that the carrier send the challenged bills with supportive records to an authorized PRO (Peer Review Organization). This is an entity which has been approved by the Insurance Commissioner for this purpose. Bills which deal with particular treatment can only be peer reviewed by an entity in the same specialty. For instance, chiropractic bills can only be reviewed by a chiropractor. The peer reviewer does not see the patient for an examination. His job is to simply review the records and bills, and in accordance with accepted norms and guidelines, render an opinion as to whether treatment is reasonable and necessary. The reviewer does not even have to contact your doctor.

What should I do after a Peer Review?

Over 80% of Peer Reviews are unfavorable, in whole or in part to the patient. If your bills are peer reviewed, and the review is unfavorable, the report will advise you as to your appeal rights. Probably the worst strategy is to appeal an unfavorable Peer Review. Reconsiderations of peer reviews are also over 80% unfavorable to insureds and the loser of the appeal has to pay the fees (usually $450.00-$500.00). Insureds also have the right to file suit against their own insurance company immediately. There are numerous regulations which have been promulgated to protect insureds. Many of these are ignored or abused by carriers.

Do I need a lawyer if my bills have been the subject of a Peer Review?

To protect your rights in an automobile accident claim, it is always prudent to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after you have been involved in an accident. It is even more important to seek and retain counsel whenever an insured receives notice that his/her bills are being peer reviewed. Failing to challenge your carrier for refusal to pay appropriate bills can affect your treatment and affect your claim against the at-fault driver. Call our office today for a free consultation.

Should I Settle my Workers’ Compensation Case?

Thinking about Settling Workers' Compensation CaseShould I Settle my Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Case?

In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation settlements are entirely voluntary.  Workers’ compensation settlements require an injured worker and their employer and/or their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier to agree on the terms and conditions of the settlement.  Workers’ compensation settlement negotiations focus heavily on two components:

  1. The amount of a lump sum payment; and
  2. How long the employer/insurance carrier will continue to pay for an injured worker’s work related medical expenses.

An injured worker should not complete their assessment as to whether or not to settle their workers’ compensation case based only on these two components.

An injured worker must take many factors into consideration before determining whether settlement of their workers’ compensation may be in their best interest.  The terms of a workers’ comp settlement are reduced to writing in a document known as a Compromise and Release Agreement.  An injured worker wishing to settle their work comp claim will be required to testify in front of a workers’ compensation judge.  The workers’ compensation judge will then make a determination as to whether or not the injured worker understands the rights they are giving up in exchange for the settlement.

Once a workers’ compensation settlement has been approved by a workers’ compensation judge the terms of the settlement are final.  An injured worker should never settle their workers’ compensation case before first consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.  Settlement of a workers’ compensation requires much more consideration than just a dollar figure.  An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will guarantee that all factors have been given proper consideration prior to the workers’ compensation settlement being finalized.

More importantly an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to explain to an injured worker how settlement of their workers’ compensation will affect other benefits (i.e. Social Security Disability, Pension, Social Security Retirement, Medicare, Medicaid) or claims (i.e. Third Party – Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Social Security Retirement, Unemployment Compensation, Wage and Hour, Discrimination, ADA) the injured worker may currently have or will seek in the future.

Contact one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorney’s for a free, no obligation, meeting to discuss whether and under what terms settlement of your workers’ compensation claim is the right decision for your and your family’s future. 

What happens to my Workers’ Compensation benefits if I die?

What happens to your Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation benefits if you die?

Husband and wife workers' compensationIn a typical case where a worker is receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits for a work injury, all benefits stop upon that worker’s death. This is not to be confused with the case where an employee is killed at work. When an injured worker dies as a result of his work injury, there may be benefits available to any dependents and a lawyer should be involved immediately. But that is the subject for another post. If a loved one was killed at work, please call our office right away to schedule a free consultation.

The important point is that there is no general right for the surviving spouse or children to continue receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits after the death of the injured worker, provided the injured worker’s death wasn’t work-related. This can have a devastating economic impact on the surviving spouse, who is already grief-stricken and then saddled with economic hardship from the spouse’s work injury.

I remember vividly the sad case of a young man that I represented many years ago. We negotiated a settlement for him, but he decided not to settle. A few months he came back and had changed his mind, and we were able to reopen negotiations. Sadly, within a few months of the settlement, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Fortunately, however, since his case was settled, his widow at least had some funds in the bank as a result of the previous settlement. Had he not settled, she would have received nothing after his unexpected passing.

There are many factors to consider in deciding whether or not to settle your workers’ compensation case. At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, we offer a free consultation to discuss your injury claim. There are many reasons why a settlement of a compensation claim may or may not be advisable. Providing some peace of mind to your spouse may be a factor that you had not previously considered. If you wish to speak with one of our Erie lawyers. call us at 814-452-6232.