Friday, November 15, 2013

Why It Pays Not To Exaggerate Your Personal Injury Claim

"They are offering more money than they normally do because your client is likeable, honest, and didn't overinflate or exaggerate her injury claim."

That's what the insurance adjuster recently told me on a auto accident claim I recently settled shortly before trial. At first blush, it sounds counterintuitive. But once you understand the mindset of an insurance company, this makes perfect sense.

Allow me to explain. After 25 years of handling Ohio personal injury claims, I have come across a few universal truths. I don't claim to be "the holder of the key" or the only person to stumble upon them, but they are true. Truth No 1: every insurance company believes that anyone making a personal injury claim is a fraud, a liar, a cheat, an exaggerator, or looking to "milk it" or pad their losses---until proven otherwise.

Now, this does not make insurance companies or the adjusters who evaluate claims mean spirited or evil. But that is their default position. In their world, nothing is taken at face value and everything must be documented and proven. Nothing wrong with that concept. But even when documentation of  an injured person's losses is provided, it is viewed with skepticism, or subject to an insurance company's "internal review process."

You provided your client's medical bills and doctors' records, but did she overtreat with her doctor or chiropractor? Was she complaining a bit too much for the injuries she sustained, making her a potential "malingerer?" Did she wait too long to return to work, perhaps because she is using the collision as an excuse to stay off work? Like oxygen is to the lungs, insurance companies will automatically ask these questions, and will frequently make these arguments.

In essence, your claim is viewed through the lens of skepticism and cynicism. Part of this is justified, because there are people who will look to pad their losses in an injury claim. But in my opinion, malingerers are far and few between. Most injured folks are decent hard working people who have never been injured in a car crash before and just want to be treated fairly. Most call our office out of a sense of frustration, after having gotten nowhere with the negligent driver's insurance company.

This circles back to Universal Truth No 2:  it is ALWAYS the insurance company's goal to pay as little as possible on every single claim. So how do you or your attorney get them to move off of their default position and make a more fair offer? You build your credibility. And you do so by never exaggerating or padding your losses. You do everything you can to try to get back to normal, and your let your doctors know what you can and can't do after a crash. You make sure you attend all of your therapy appointments or promptly re-schedule them if you have to cancel.

That's exactly what my recent client did. She worked her tail off with her therapists to try to get better. She went back to work earlier than her doctors were recommending because she had no choice.  At her deposition, she accurately recounted all the problems she had experienced (and they were many), but also acknowledged which ones had gotten better over time.  She wasn't a whiner.

Insurance companies love whiners. It's what they want you to do, and it plays right into their skeptical hands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brain Injuries After An Auto Collision--And The Value Of Neuropsychological Testing

A car crash can often be a like a tsunami. Suddenly, without much warning, it subjects occupants to high speed collisions, rotating or rolling vehicles, and sudden changes in velocity (known as deltaV).

As a result, one of the most vulnerable organs can be damaged: the brain. Frequently, brain injuries after auto accidents are immediately apparent, in the form of a hematoma or bleed in the brain. They usually present rather acute clinical symptoms, like confusion, or inability to speak or speak properly. And, often, they will appear on a CT Scan.

If the bleed is bad enough, a surgery known as a craniotomy may be necessary to temporarily remove part of the skull and evacuate the bleed. But some bleeds that don't require evacuation can nevertheless be equally troubling. Like real estate, location of brain trauma can be important. If the bleed is in the frontal lobe, it can often affect a person's memory, emotions, and higher thinking or "executive" functions of the brain.

What's more, a person can sustain a "closed head" injury to the brain that doesn't involve a brain bleed or some other obvious evidence of direct trauma to the brain. A serious concussion, where the brain may swell due to forces acted upon it, is a classic example of a closed head injury. In many cases of closed head injuries, a CT Scan will be "normal."

After the tsunami of possible immediate medical treatment, hospitalization, and rehabilitation is over, traumatic brain injury patients and their families are left to wait...and see if all the ripple effects from the tsunami have subsided. Unfortunately with brain injuries, some very subtle effects can remain, even months or years down the road.

It's all too common to hear family members say things like this after a crash:

  • "He flies off the handle for no reason now at the smallest things and we don't know why"
  • "She can't get the right words out any more and it embarrasses her"
  • "He used to work the hardest crossword and sudoku puzzles and now he just stares at the pages" 
  • "The doctors have all cleared her and it's been close to a year now so why is she so emotional and depressed and still somewhat forgetful?"

These are just a few symptoms of the lingering effects of traumatic brain injury. In situations like this, a neuropsychological evaluation can be extremely valuable in assessing the ongoing effects of brain injury. A neuropsychologist can run a series of tests to determine if cognitive or behavioral problems remain after a brain injury.  

But here's the real value of neuropsychological testing: brain injury victims, and their families, are no longer left to wonder why their loved one is "still not right," long after the CT Scan is clean of trauma, and the primary doctors are out of the picture. Neuropsychological testing provides some contours and measuring sticks of what ripples remain, and when they can be expected to hopefully subside.   

Many of my clients after neuropsych testing had a much greater understanding of how and why they were still struggling with getting back to normal. And the good news is that the neuropsychologist can often prescribe a treatment plan or regimen that can help traumatic brain injury victims get their lives back together. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why We May Not Be The Right Personal Injury Firm For You...

If you don't mind your cell phone--or worse yet--your minor child's--being blown up within 24 hours after an auto accident with annoying text/solicitation messages from lawyers, chiropractors, and "injury help centers," we may not be for you, because we don't engage in that nonsense.

If within 24-48 hours after a crash you enjoy 16 solicitation packets filled with DVD's about lawyers bragging and talking about themselves, refrigerator magnets, pens, etc jamming your mailbox, or worse yet someone hanging a package on your front door, we may not be the personal injury firm for you. You'll never receive such junk from us.

If you're looking for one of those "TV lawyers" or firms to call after a collision, you won't find us there either. Nor will you hear any slick little catch phrase or jingle about us on the radio. We're not opposed to all TV and radio ads, but most are embarrassing and in poor taste (no names please!!)

I am asked all the time: "How can a small firm like yours compete with all this advertising and ambulance chasing?"  Really, we're no different than any other profession or service. In a sea of plumbers or roofers or auto mechanics, what are most people are inclined to do initially if in need of help? Ask a relative, friend, or colleague for someone they can trust. After that, they will do some homework to confirm for themselves that the name they were given appears to have the competence and expertise they're looking for.

For example, a good informational website that educates consumers and teaches, as opposed to an egocentric one that brags about how wonderful the person/company is, is helpful and often produces a call to us.

And when we meet with prospective clients, there's no high pressure selling or requirement that they sign a contract at the initial meeting.

Do we lose potential clients to all the high pressure sales and solicitation tactics? Sure do. That garbage works with some people, and to each their own. But we have made a conscious decision that we would rather do something else for a living than stoop to chasing down Ohio auto accident victims, even if it means less clients as a result. And frequently, more is not always better.

By the way, the example above--the law firm that texted a minor child's cellphone after an auto accident--actually happened.  That's a really sad state of affairs for our profession. I don't know who said it but it is so true: "sometimes money costs too much."