Thursday, October 30, 2008

What The Geico Lizard Or Cavemen Won't Tell You About Their Auto Insurance Policy

Reason no. 257 why your auto insurance is lousy and won't protect you, courtesy of a recent Ohio case. Here's the facts: son is driving and Dad is the passenger. Son's negligence causes an auto accident; unfortunately son is killed and Dad is seriously injured.

Dad had a full coverage auto policy through Geico. Some policies provide liability coverage for injuries when one family member negligently operates a car which causes injuries to a fellow family member. Not Geico's: a fine print EXCLUSION did not allow Dad to make a claim under the liability coverage.

Dad also paid a separate premuim for "Uninsured/Underinsured motorists("UM/UIM") coverage" through Geico. Some policies will allow an injured family member to recover for their injuries caused by another family member's driving negligence even if there is no coverage under the liability portion of the policy. Not Geico's. You guessed it: another EXCLUSION in the policy prohibited any family member from making a claim under the UM/UIM portion of the policy when injured by another family member.

Bottom line: Dad paid for "full coverage" for his family, was seriously injured through no fault of his own, and has no coverage. All courtesy of a 2001 law, passed by The Ohio Legislature, and lobbied for by the insurance industry. This law basically allows insurance companies to write ANY EXCLUSION it wants, and it is perfectly legal. Borderline fraudulent, but legal.

Here's the problem: you're never told when you buy insurance whether these restrictions and exclusions exist, and under what circumstances you'll be covered. You only find out how truly crappy your policy is after a tragedy. So much for your full coverage auto policy. It's one of the many reasons we wrote: "How To Buy Car Insurance In Ohio To Protect Your Family." It will guide you through the maze of how to properly buy car insurance and will protect you BEFORE you ever need to use your insurance. It's FREE to all Ohioans. Just e-mail us at or call us at 330-452-8831 and it's yours.

True, the lizard and cavemen ads are funny. But there's nothing funny about paying hundreds or thousands for car insurance that turns out to be worthless.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Is Democracy? Standing In Line For Over An Hour...

Today I exercised my constitutional right to vote, in order vote early (although early voting was not discussed in our Constitution by our Founding Fathers). I stood in line for an hour. I saw tireless, polite, and a bit frazzled poll workers. I saw the young, the elderly, black and white folks, blue and white collar workers, police officers, moms with squirming kids, and everyone in between--all waiting to vote.

Just taking it all in made me think: this is what democracy looks like. It may be slow. It may be imperfect. But, just like the line that eventually snaked forward, it works. It reminded me of an essay from E.B. White I read a long time ago in college. It was written in 1944, and it was in response to a letter to the local "War Board" asking, "What is the meaning of democracy?"

We received a letter from the Writers' War Board the other day asking for a statement on "The Meaning of Democracy." It is presumably our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure. Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don't in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles, the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.
Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of the morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

And it is also standing in line for over an hour to vote in an historic election. And no matter who wins, it's nice to know that the public apparently is as interested in this election as they are in who wins "American Idol" or "Dancing With The Stars"...

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008


“Got any good advice for me since you’ve seen what goes on with medical mishaps?” As attorneys who investigate and prosecute medical malpractice cases, we get this question a lot from friends, neighbors, and even family. The first thing I typically say is that the odds are in your favor. Thankfully, most physicians and hospitals do a fine job of taking care of their patients.

But we’ve learned some medical secrets over the years that are definitely worth sharing, and they just might make your medical encounter a safer one.

1. “Will You Take My Picture?”

Over 600,000 people per year in the U.S. have high tech gallbladder surgery with a scope (known as a laparoscope). It is a relatively safe procedure, but there is one SERIOUS complication you need to be aware of.

One of the most devastating injuries that can occur during gallbladder surgery is the surgeon cutting the patient’s common bile duct, which serves as the “highway” between the liver and the stomach for transporting bile. When this occurs, the surgeon has mistakenly cut the common bile duct instead of the cystic duct. The cystic duct, which is the “exit ramp” on the duct highway and which connects the gallbladder, should be cut. The common bile duct – the main highway – should NEVER be cut or damaged. Common bile duct injuries require major reconstructive surgery and can cripple a person’s ability to move bile, which can damage or even ruin the liver.

There is a valuable tool for identifying the anatomy of the bile duct system, particularly the differences between the common bile duct and the cystic duct. It is called a cholangiogram, which is simply an x-ray exam of the bile ducts taken during surgery after dye is injected into the duct. The purpose of this simple x-ray is to help the surgeon identify the bile duct anatomy before anything is cut or removed, and it will even show if a patient’s bile duct anatomy is different than normal.

So, if you are having laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, you should ask your surgeon: “If there is any doubt in your mind as to what you are cutting, will you take an x-ray picture to make sure before anything is cut?”

Although most surgeons do not perform cholangiograms in every surgery, they SHOULD perform one (it takes about 20 minutes) if they are not completely sure of the anatomy of the bile duct system. Any good surgeon should be willing to explain under what circumstances he or she will use a cholangiogram or take other safety steps to avoid a devastating bile duct injury. And if the surgeon is put off or offended by your question and your medical knowledge, get another surgeon!

2. Beware of Ghosts . . .

You meet with a surgeon you come to know and trust and he or she explains what is going to happen during the surgery. However, after the surgery, you find out that while you were under anesthesia, your surgeon handed off the scalpel to a resident surgeon in training. Or, equally as bad, he or she left the room to start three other surgeries, and handed your surgery off to a partner, associate, or even a resident. Of course, you’re told none of this before the surgery.

The American Medical Association coined this practice “ghost surgery.” It happens more than you think, and it happens more often in teaching hospitals. In fact, in 1995 the Cleveland Clinic was sued when an ear, nose, and throat surgeon (who had four surgeries scheduled AT THE SAME TIME) allowed a resident to perform nasal surgery and the patient went into a permanent coma. In 1998, a jury tagged the Clinic with a verdict of over $10 million in negligence and fraud damages for not disclosing these important facts to the patient beforehand.

You have the absolute right as a patient to know if, and under what circumstances, somebody other than your surgeon will be responsible for any part of your operation. This is called the law of “informed consent,” which means that each person has the right to be informed about the medical details of a procedure before giving consent to undergoing that procedure. It’s one thing to have an intern tag along during a routine hospital exam and listen to your heart or lungs or palpate a lump. And it’s quite another to become an unknowing participant in someone else’s medical learning curve during something important like surgery.

Because you deserve the right to know, don’t be afraid to ASK, and don’t be afraid to REFUSE to participate in a game of medical Russian Roulette with a doctor you don’t know and have never met. Besides, your surgeon shouldn’t take offense. If you think about it, it’s the ultimate compliment to a surgeon to say: “I want you and you only to perform my surgery because I’ve come to know and trust you.”

3. “Can We Reschedule This for a Tuesday?”

Avoid major surgery on Fridays if at all possible. Although we have no hard numbers to share, we have seen a significant correlation between Friday surgeries and serious mishaps and patient mistakes that occur over the weekend. Perhaps the physician is called on a Saturday evening and doesn’t want to come in, directing an important medical decision to someone else who may not be as familiar with all the medical details, staff may be reduced – the possibilities are endless. And we’re willing to bet that if you asked any physician or nurse friend about this issue, they might agree.

4. Got Allergies? Speak Up.

Don’t assume that the hospital bracelet you’re wearing will be seen by the staff. Yes, your allergies to certain medications should be plastered all over your chart, but despite that AND your bracelet, we have seen instances where patients are still given medications they’re allergic to, sometimes with disastrous results.

So don’t be afraid to say before you take a medication: “I’m sure you’re aware of this, but I am allergic to ________.” If the nurse says, “Yeah I know,” compliment him or her for being on top of things. And if he or she says, “Uh . . . I’ll be right back,” and quickly leaves with the medication in hand, pat yourself on the back for speaking up!

5. When No News is Not Necessarily Good News.

Nothing is sadder than a test result showing a major problem, like cancer for example, that was not communicated to a patient for months or years because of an avoidable breakdown in communication between the lab and the physician.

Certainly, it is the physician’s job to inform you of your test results, and failure to do so, or an unacceptable delay in doing so, is inexcusable negligence. But do not assume that your physician’s silence means the results were negative. The possibilities of miscommunication between a busy laboratory and a physician’s office, or even losing the test results altogether, are real and unfortunately all too common.

So if a reasonable amount of time passes (say a week, for example), and you haven’t heard from your doctor, call or stop by the office and ask for a copy of the test results. Why get a copy? If you have a common name, there might be 3 or 4 of you in your geographic area. How do you know that your doctor got YOUR results and not some other George or Jane Smith’s? Make sure either the lab or your physician has given you the right test results, and not somebody else’s!

6. Get a Second Opinion On That Mole.

Generally, many times the need for surgery is obvious and necessary and your doctor is the right person for the job. But if there is time, you may want to explore getting a second opinion (that is, if your insurance will allow it).

You may find out about alternatives to surgery, or you might come away with a better appreciation of some of the risks.

Specifically, if you’ve had a skin growth or mole removed and sent off to the lab, you may want to consider getting a second opinion of the lab’s findings. The reason? One pathologist (a physician trained to read and interpret tissues and specimens) may interpret the findings differently than the original pathologist. This tip comes directly from a pathologist we consulted with on a failure to diagnose a skin cancer case. If it’s good enough for pathologists who interpret these growths daily, it’s certainly worth knowing and sharing.

7. Morphine Will Kill the Pain, But . . .

Morphine can also cause respiratory depression that, if not detected, can suppress the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the brain, and can lead to brain damage (anoxic encephalopathy). Thankfully, most hospitals will hook up the patient to a pulse oximeter, a painless device attached to the patient’s finger that will monitor oxygen levels, and sound an alarm if the oxygen levels dip too low. However, not all hospitals use pulse oximeters routinely, particularly small or rural hospitals. If your loved one is receiving narcotic drugs, make sure he or she is hooked to a pulse oximeter, and don’t be afraid to ask for one if one is not in the room.

8. “It Was Just a Little Ulcer and Now Look at It!”

Frequently the elderly are subject to longer hospital stays. This means longer times of immobility, which can lead to pressure sores and, if not timely documented or treated, painful and debilitating decubitus ulcers. Many of these are preventable with diligent monitoring and observation by hospital or nursing home staff.

But due to staffing problems or simple inattention, many times these sores are missed or neglected. Do not hesitate to check for signs of developing sores with your loved ones, and report them to nursing staff immediately. And always get the name of the staff person you spoke to. Your diligence and persistence may prevent a potential problem from getting worse, even though it is the staff’s responsibility to look for and treat these problems.

9. “These Don’t Look Like My Blood Pressure Pills . . .”

If you receive a prescription that looks different in color or shape than what you’ve been taking, do not assume you’ve received some other or generic version of the same drug. You may have received the wrong drug! Not only have we seen patients receive the wrong drug, have even seen situations where the pharmacy put the correct label on the pill bottle but included the wrong medication, which was the ultimate in ineptitude – and confusion-- for the patient. If you’re unsure about the medications you were given, call your pharmacist or your doctor immediately. If possible, even show them the drug you received.

* * * * * *
Why are these medical safety tips important? Here are the cold, hard facts. A 1999 Report from the Institute of Medicine revealed that 98,000 people die in hospitals each year due to medical errors. That’s double the amount of U.S. citizens that are killed on our nation’s highways (42,000). And a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies concluded that medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year (that’s not a typo). And at least 400,000 of preventable medication errors occur in hospitals. The bottom line is that you are much safer driving across the country or flying every day than entering a hospital, which is mind boggling if you stop and think about it.

With those jaw dropping numbers in mind, perhaps one or more of these tips will increase your odds of leaving the hospital in better health than when you entered.

(visit our website at

Ohio Lemon Law: What’s Covered and What Isn’t

I was recently contacted by colleague Sergei Lemberg, an outstanding lemon law attorney [link:]to share a post on my blog, and I'm happy to oblige. Below he discusses what you need to know about new car lemons...

With all of the cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, and RVs being manufactured in the U.S. and abroad, it’s reasonable to expect that some will have defects. After all, vehicles are incredibly complex pieces of machinery and a lot of things can go wrong. In the best-case scenario, any defects that weren’t caught by quality assurance are quickly repaired by the dealer. In the worst-case scenario, you have a vehicle with pronounced defects that make it run poorly, that constitute a safety hazard, or that reduces its value – and the dealer or manufacturer refuse to buy back or replace it.

When that happens, Ohio lemon law can come to the rescue. Ohio lemon law covers new passenger vehicles, SUVs, vans, trucks, and motorcycles that are purchased or leased in Ohio. The motorized portions of RVs are also covered, as are used cars that are purchased within one year or 18,000 miles of delivery to the original owner.

Although it doesn’t cover minor defects (like a non-working stereo system), the lemon law does force the manufacturer to stand by its product. In order for the lemon law to apply to new vehicles, the defects have to occur during the first year from the delivery date or the first 12,000 miles on the odometer – whichever comes first. In addition, the vehicle must have been taken in one time for a problem that could cause serious injury or death or eight times for different problems. Alternately, the vehicle can have been out of service for a cumulative total of 30 calendar days. In addition, you have to notify the manufacturer in writing of the defect within one year from the delivery date or the first 18,000 miles (whichever comes first).

If you think you have a lemon, you have to take part in the manufacturer’s dispute resolution process (if one exists) before going to court. Before you begin, though, you should have a lemon law lawyer by your side. After all, you can be sure that the manufacturer’s team of legal eagles will be there to fight your claim every step of the way. The good news is that, if your claim is successful, the manufacturer has to pay your attorney fees. Often, with the help of a lawyer, you can get a refund, replacement vehicle, or cash settlement without having to go through the entire lemon law process – and get your attorney’s fees covered in the process.

Whenever you buy a new or used vehicle, it’s important to know your rights. And, if you think your vehicle is a lemon, it pays to persevere to make the manufacturer stand by its product.

(visit our website at

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Allstate Commercial...Where's The Sequel?

Allstate has been running a recent commercial where a young man who causes a collision is sued in a personal injury case and the jury returns a verdict in excess of this poor fellow's liability insurance. The attorney for Allstate then informs the young man's parents that the injured person can now go after and take the young man's college fund and savings, etc.

The purpose of the commercial is obviously twofold. One, Allstate wants to sell higher levels of liability insurance. No problem there. But the other purpose is to plant the fear that "out of control" jury verdicts will mean that you lose everything and become a pauper on the streets if you get hit with a verdict in excess of your liability limits.

This is misleading and inaccurate for two reasons. First, our friends at Allstate don't mention that if a jury returns a money verdict greater than your liability limits, you can file for bankruptcy and discharge any personal debt in almost any circumstances (unless you were driving drunk, for example).

More importantly, in the unlikely event that you get tagged for a verdict that exceeds your liability limits, it is often because the Allstates' of the world put the screw job to you by handling your claim in "BAD FAITH." Example: you cause a crash and injure somebody. You have a $50,000 liability policy. The injured person offers to settle for $35,000 or $25,000 for example- a figure much less than your liability limits. So far, so good. But Allstate makes a "take it or leave it" offer of $8,000 to the injured person.

Allstate's unreasonable offer forces the parties to go to trial, and a jury returns a verdict of $65,000. Allstate gambled and lost. But here's the problem: it gambled with YOUR personal assets, as you now owe the injured party $65,000, and your liability limits are only $50,000. Bottom line: if Allstate's puny offer was considered unreasonable (because it could have settled the claim for $25,000 and not exposed you to losing your personal assets), Allstate can now be liable to YOU as an Allstate policyholder for handling your claim in bad faith. It is Allstate's job under the law to FAIRLY evaluate the claim and take no action that favors Allstate's interests over yours as a policyholder. If Allstate has committed "bad faith" by mismanaging a claim against you, you as a policyholder can sue Allstate for "bad faith" damages, including the $15,000 in personal liability it exposed you to, and punitive damages that punish Allstate for unreasonably exposing your personal assets.

So the next time you view this commercial, remember that in many circumstances, it is the Allstates of the world that put their own insureds in this box by making unreasonable settlement offers, and essentially gambling with their financial future and assets while trying to save a few bucks. To borrow a page from Allstate's own playbook, their "good hands" shouldn't be used to push their insureds off a financial cliff. That is the essence of "bad faith" claims handling practices, and the law gives you the right to fight back when you're pushed around.

The second commercial--where the poor kid hires one of those "trial lawyers" to sue Allstate for handling his claim in bad faith--is the one you won't see.

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