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.

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.

No Recovery, No Fee Lawyers in Erie, PA: What does “Contingent Fee” Mean?

No Recovery No Fee Lawyer in Erie PAHow do I find a lawyer in Erie that charges no fee unless they settle my case?

When watching TV, you’ll see that many lawyers advertise No recovery, No Fee payment structures, wherein the lawyer won’t charge a fee for your personal injury case unless he or she gets you money by way of a lump-sum settlement or a verdict. During our free consultations, this is often the first question we get when meeting with a new client. Like all personal injury law firms in Erie, PA, we do not charge a fee unless we obtain a recovery for our client.

What is a contingent fee?

This sort of “no recovery no fee” arrangement is referred to as a “contingent fee,” and it is the standard practice for nearly all attorneys in Erie, PA that handle car accidents and other personal injury claims. When you see some of the heavy-advertisers focus on this structure in their commercials, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the only ones that don’t charge hourly fees and don’t charge big retainers; they’re simply the only ones that shout about it on television. Knowing that this is standard practice for nearly all lawyers, you’re free to do your research and pick the best attorney for you without having to worry about draining your savings account.

Are contingent fees fair? Should I pay hourly instead?

Contingent no-recovery-no-fee arrangements give great power to personal injury victims who are looking for a lawyer: instead of being stuck with the cheapest option out there and operating on a shoestring budget, he or she can hire the best attorney in Erie to fight the insurance company on his or her behalf. Insurance companies hate paying out a fair value for claims and hire good lawyers to help minimize their exposure: our contingent-fee arrangements allow you to even the playing field and fight for fair compensation.

Who pays for the expenses in a lawsuit?

In addition to charging no fee unless we obtain a recovery, our firm also fronts all litigation expenses: what this means is that you don’t have to worry about coming up with thousands of dollars for expert reports, medical depositions, records, expert witnesses, et cetera. Because insurance companies spare no expense when it comes to building their case, we front the money for whatever it takes to prove the significance and extent of your injuries. Our firm doesn’t let insurance companies win by simply outspending us. We ensure things are fair.

What should I do?

If you have been injured in a car accident or have a workers’ compensation claim, don’t think that you can’t afford a good lawyer. Give our Erie, PA Lawyers a call and we’ll arrange a free consultation. If, after meeting us, you want to move forward—feel safe knowing that we don’t charge a fee unless there’s a recovery.

Who pays your medical bills after a car accident in Pennsylvania?

Who pays for my medical bills after a car accident in Pennsylvania?

car accidentOne of the things that most people find surprising if they have never been in an auto accident is that the guy who ran the red light may not be responsible for their medical bills. at least not initially  Nonetheless, the above statement is true because Pennsylvania, like many of the states, has adopted a no-fault automobile insurance system.

The system mandates that auto insurance policies provide certain mandatory coverage offerings.  Those required coverages include:

  1. Medical coverage;
  2. Income loss benefits;
  3. Funeral expenses; and
  4. Death benefits.

These coverages are required offerings, but it is not required that the insured actually purchase that coverage on his or her policy.  Many people have health insurance and disability coverage through their employment, so they minimize or reject any required coverages in an effort to be economical and save costs.  In Pennsylvania, it is only required that there be at least $5,000.00 in medical coverage issued under the policy.  You can select the amount of coverage you are willing to purchase.  Additional policy amounts are typically $10,000.00, $15,000.00, $25,000.00, $50,000.00 or $100,000.00.  There is even a separate catastrophic loss coverage that adds $1,000,000.00 in medical benefits.  If you have good health insurance, should you purchase more coverage than the required minimum?

How much insurance should I buy?

First of all, the cost of increasing the coverage amount is usually very affordable.  I never recommend that a client spend all of their extra money on insurance, however, it is wise to carry more than the minimum coverage.  Health insurance plans typically have “subrogation” rights (this is the right to participate in any third-party recovery and it could have very serious ramifications for you).  I usually recommend a higher amount if it is within your budget.

Income loss benefits are also extremely important, however, it is not mandatory that an insured pay for same and include them on his or her policy.  Many people do not include these benefits because they are unaware of the coverage or because they have disability benefits through their employer.

Frequently, an accident will disable a person and he or she becomes unable to work for an extended period of time.  If you don’t have income loss benefits, you will be dependent upon your savings, disability insurance payments or a spouse’s earnings.  Thus, it is wise to carry this coverage.  The minimum amount is $5,000.00, but it usually can also be obtained for $15,000.00, $25,000.00 or $50,000.00.  Additionally, this coverage is some of the most economical coverage available for purchase.  You should purchase enough so that you can rely on the coverage to support your household if you are unable to work for an extended period of time.

These coverages are payable by your insurance company regardless of whether an accident is entirely your fault or the fault of another party up.  If the accident is the fault of another, you can recover losses in excess of your coverage amounts in a 3rd party action.

Frequently, insureds get into fights with their own insurance company regarding payment of ongoing medical expense or income loss benefits.

If you are told your insurance company is not going to pay for your medical bills and/or your income loss, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

What should I do if I injure my neck and back in a car accident

What should I do if I injured my neck and back in a car accident?

Neck and Back Pain after a Car AccidentInjuring your neck and back in a car accident can be devastating. Although neck and back injuries are the most common injuries after a crash, they can be the hardest to prove and the hardest for which to get fair settlements from the insurance company. Your claim will be denied because it’s preexisting, because you can’t prove it’s related, or because you have “limited tort.” If you’ve injured your neck and back in a car accident, here’s how to maximize your settlement:

Make sure the paramedics and emergency room doctors know if you’re experiencing neck and back pain.

The human neck and back are fragile, so it’s no surprise that neck and back injuries are often pre-existing (to some extent) and have causes other than car accidents. That’s why, after a car wreck, if your neck and back are in pain, it’s important that you tell your doctor! If an ambulance responds to your accident, be sure to let the paramedics know your neck and back are hurting if they’re in pain—don’t assume it’s temporary! It’s common for insurance adjusters to deny claims for neck and back injuries because the pain wasn’t immediately reported to paramedics or emergency room staff!

If your neck and back don’t start hurting until a few days after the car accident, make an appointment with a doctor or a chiropractor

It’s common for neck and back pain to start several days after a collision. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that, once the pain starts, many people don’t start treating until months later when the pain doesn’t get better on its own. If your injury ends up being more serious than the sprain/strain you thought it was, the insurance company will say that this “treatment gap” indicates you must have hurt your neck and back somewhere else—not in the car accident! Without any doctor having seen you for months, it’s almost impossible to prove you actually hurt your neck and back in the accident. If your neck and back start hurting a few days later, make an appointment with your family doctor or chiropractor to get things looked at. In Pennsylvania, your car insurance is required to pay for medical treatment related to the accident; most people have at least $5,000.00 in medical coverage for accident related treatment (which includes chiropractors!).

How do I make the insurance company pay fair settlement value for my neck and back injury?

How to get the insurance company to pay you a fair settlement for your neck and back injury is a simple answer: get a lawyer. Because you do not have the ability to file a lawsuit and work your case up properly, the insurance adjuster will not pay you fair value for your neck and back injury. They know that, whatever they offer, you have no choice but to take it. Call our Erie, PA car accident lawyers for a free consultation; if we don’t think we can get you a better offer and more than pay for ourselves, we’ll let you know.

What happens when both drivers in a car accident are insured with the same insurance company?

What do I do after a car accident if the other driver uses the same insurance company as me?

Car Insurance PaperworkBoth drivers in a car accident being insured with the same company is not as uncommon a situation as one might expect.  In Erie, Pennsylvania, there are several large companies which have significant shares of the insurance market.  Hence, it is not that unusual for the same car insurance company to provide insurance coverage to both vehicles in a two-car accident.  How does that change the normal policy processing of the claims?

Auto Insurance carriers are sensitive to the pitfalls in this scenario.  An insurance company contractually owes a fiduciary obligation to protect its insured.  A fiduciary obligation is an extremely high duty of good faith and loyalty and it is one of the highest duties under the law.  This creates difficult conflicts where an insurer insures both parties in an accident.  After all, if the situation is contested, and it takes the position of one insured, it usually damages the interests of the other insured.

In these situations, it is extremely important to document everything.  The insurer will assign separate adjusters to handle the claims of each insured and those files are supposed to be maintained separately from access by the opposing adjuster.  In a disputed accident, the carrier will frequently refer the matter to an independent arbitrator to determine fault.  That is not a perfect system, though, because the arbitrator’s decision will be based upon the evidence submitted.  Keep in mind that while the arbitration can prove helpful, it does not absolutely bind the insured.  Hence, even if an insured is determined to be at fault, he or she could still have rights to sue.  Eventual success may depend upon carefully documenting the situation.

The scenario can be extremely confusing for the typical client.  I had a case a few years back where a client was rear-ended by another vehicle and both vehicles were insured by “A” Insurance.  An adjuster was assigned and contacted the client after her release from a hospital.  He arrived at her house, took a recorded statement and offered her “gas money” to help her with the expenses of treatment.  She signed a “receipt” on a clipboard and when she contacted the adjuster a month later after a week in a hospital to seek additional funds, she was advised she had settled the claim.  After contacting us, we discovered the adjuster had never disclosed he was the “enemy” adjuster for the other driver.  He had tricked her into settling her claim for a pittance.  She had assumed he was her adjuster.  We demanded the release be set aside and that request was refused.  The events precipitated several years of litigation that resulted in a significant recovery for our client, but the situation could have been averted by contacting counsel at a much earlier stage of the controversy.  If you are involved in such a situation, be sure to get a lawyer as soon as possible.

My Insurance Claim was Denied for a Pre-Existing Condition

You are entitled to compensation for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions

Pre-existing conditions are the most common excuses given for insurance claim denials. Whenever you make a claim for injuries after an auto accident, a slip-and-fall, or a workers’ compensation injury, the first thing an adjuster will do is request an authorization to get your medical records. What the adjuster doesn’t tell you is that he or she will use this authorization to obtain years of family doctor records to go on a “fishing expedition” for pre-existing conditions. This is just one reason that you should never sign anything without talking to a lawyer first—the insurance company isn’t entitled to all of your records! Even though the new injury made your pre-existing condition worse, the insurance company will then deny your claim as pre-existing.

Pre-Existing Conditions are Not a Valid Reason to Deny Your Insurance Claim

In Pennsylvania, in both personal injury cases and workers’ compensation cases, the insurance company is liable for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions! Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Regardless of any old injuries, if your injury was made worse—you’re entitled to compensation for the worsening.

Can I win my case if I have a pre-existing bad back?

Pre-existing back painDon’t be fooled: most people injured in car accidents or hurt at work have pre-existing conditions. The fact of the matter is that some people are more susceptible to certain types of injuries—particularly back injuries. It might be because of genetics or it might be because you work a heavy duty job that takes a toll on your back. Fortunately, Pennsylvania Courts have long recognized the “eggshell skull” doctrine, which allows compensation for injuries regardless of how predisposed a person might have been. After all, if not for this injury, your problem wouldn’t be so bad or wouldn’t have occurred at all.

What should I do if I have a pre-existing condition and was hurt in an accident?

Although Pennsylvania law allows compensation for aggravations of pre-existing conditions, the insurance company will still use it as a defense. That’s why it’s so important to hire a lawyer as early as possible—before the insurance company gets all the ammunition they need to defend against your case. Our firm has successfully represented a number of individuals whose claims were denied because of their pre-existing conditions. Call our Erie, PA lawyers today for a free consultation and case review and we’ll let you know if we can help.