Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Insurance Companies Using Facebook and MySpace To Spy On You

You had to figure this was coming...Insurance adjusters are getting access to social media sites and using posted information against claimants in a wide variety of situations. Case in point: a colleague recently reported that an insurance adjuster recently told him that his teenage client ( injured in an auto accident) had misstated her age, was smoking, and engaging in other "questionable activity."

What's the legal relevance of these activities to her injury claim? Perhaps it showed her engaging in all sorts of activities that she claimed she was incapable of doing because of the crash--a potential problem.

But what if her "activities" had no bearing on her injuries or her claim? If a lawsuit were filed, perhaps this evidence would be ruled irrelevant and therefore inadmissible. But here's the problem: probably over 90% of all auto or other injury claims are settled without a lawsuit being filed. So, insurance companies are free to try to use this "we've got some dirt on you" strategy as leverage in settlement negotiations. Sneaky? You bet. But there's a reason why insurance companies continue to make money, recession or no recession.

The ripple effects of insurers and employers trolling social media remain to be seen. I suspect that life and health insurance companies are using this tactic as well. Just think about all the applications for insurance you fill out, and that little clause at the end where you verify that the information you've given is true and correct. Now measure all that against information that you may post to your favorite sites. Something to think about.

Probably the best solution is to assume your Mom is reading your sites and "motherproof" them. Is "motherproofing" a word? Maybe I'll copyright it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Owe $10,000 On My Totaled Car And The Insurance Company Says It's Only Worth $7,000--The Importance Of Gap Coverage

"Why Should I Still Owe the $3,000 On a Totaled Car
For a Collision That Was Not My Fault?"

This is a very common question, and is difficult to explain to upset clients. Under Ohio law, if your car is totaled, you are entitled to the actual cash value of the car.The value of your car MAY OR MAY NOT BE equal to what you owe on it!!! For example, if you take out a 5 year loan on a $10,000 car, and your payments total $13,000 over that time, you are $3,000 “in the hole” when you drive it off the lot. If you get in a collision and total the car before you get home, all any insurance company owes you is the value of the vehicle – and not what you owe on it.

You run a big risk of still having to pay for years on a totaled car if you put no money down on it and finance it over a lot of years. One way of protecting yourself is to purchase “Gap Insurance.” It covers you for the difference between what you owe and your actual cash value. In our example above, the gap insurance would have paid off the $3,000 you owed on your loan. Some car dealers sell it, or your auto agent might be able to add it to your policy. Just make sure your gap insurance covers accidents.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Company Launches Special Motorcycle To Help Disabled Riders Get Back Their Freedom/Independence

One of the biggest challenges accident victims face is the loss of their freedom and independence. We all take for granted the simple things in life, particularly the hobbies we enjoy, whether it's swinging a golf club, casting a rod in persuit of our favorite fish, or even bending over to plant flowers or vegetables in our gardens.

It's common for motorcycle accident victims to sustain even more devastating and challenging injuries after a motorcycle accident, for obvious reasons. Many never regain the ability to ride and enjoy the freedom and independence of the open road--an American tradition.

One company, Mobility Conquest, solved this problem with the launch of a really cool product: a motorcycle specially built for disabled or wheelchair dependent persons. According to Mark Allen Roberts, Mobility Conquest president: "We are connecting people who are passionate about riding motorcycles with a product that gets them on the road, feeling the wind in their face again...I have a great job as everyone who rolls their chair up the ramp of our motorcycle you can drive from a wheelchair has this huge grin, its as if a part of them that was removed, has been returned."

How cool is that? Amped up with plenty of horsepower, this cycle can even accomodate a passenger. Congratulations to this company for empowering hopefully thousands of folks who never thought they'd get back the feeling of traveling down a windy country road on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hospital Acquired Infections: Still A Nagging Problem For Hospitals

According to a recent New York Times Article, "The nagging and largely solvable problem of hospital-acquired infections remains as resistant to cure as the germs that contribute to an estimated 100,000 deaths a year..."

These findings were based on The 2009 National Healthcare Quality Report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Essentially, there's been no real progress made in reducing certain hospital acquired infections, and many of them, such as post-operative sepsis, are increasing (the study noted an 8% increase).

One of the key findings of the study was that wound infection following surgery is common in hospital acquired infections, and that "hospitals can reduce the risk of surgical site infection by making sure patients get the right antibiotics at the right time on the day of their surgery."

Having surgery at a hospital soon? Ask your surgeon about the specifics of pre-operative antibiotics before surgery, i.e whether you will get them and when you will get them.

Some other numbers that caught my eye: the cost attributed to medical errors was between 17 and 29 BILLION dollars.

You can read more about this topic at The Safe Patient Project.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bubbles...And A Profile In Courage

Last night my wife and I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Canton resident Barbara Turkeltaub, a Holocaust survivor and a friend of mine.

Imagine being a six year old at a playground retreiving a soccer ball in a ditch. Suddenly it's very loud and you hear strange noises; you emerge. The children are dead. Nazis have invaded Poland and have bombed your city. You are rounded up with your sisters and parents into the Vilma ghettos. Arrangements are eventually made for the family to split up and escape. You and your three year old sister are ushered into a wagon in the middle of the night, buried by blankets and hay, to a farm of strangers.

You are barely welcome there, and you overhear that you and your sister are going to be turned in to the Gestapo the next day for some kind of reward. You don't know what the "Gestapo" is, but your fragile mind senses that something is wrong. You decide to escape in the middle of the night, but your sister is restless. You break into the pantry to get some bread to keep her quiet. You spot a what appears to be a jar of honey; this will work. The sweetness of the honey on the bread will distract her during the escape.

You sneak out and give her the bread to keep her quiet. Hand in hand, in the darkness of night, you notice bubbles coming out of her mouth. The jar of honey? Turns out is was soap. No matter; she is content to eat the bread lathered in soap, and you make your escape, eventually to a convent to be raised by nuns and priests until reunited with your mother a few years after the war ends.

The crowded room erupts in laughter along with Barbara. A moment of levity in an otherwise unfathomable story. A story told at a university peppered with college students. And a lesson in grace, forgiveness, and the strength of the human spirit that cannot be found in any textbook or course syllabus.

There are also lessons here for people devastated by injury and other personal tragedies like the loss of a loved one. Perserverence. Never giving up. Survival. Forgiveness. Finding kernels of goodness when surrounded by evil or dire circumstances.

Thank you, Barbara, for sharing.

Friday, April 9, 2010

West Virginia Mine Disaster--No Liability If This Happened In Ohio

Every so often, a horrible tragedy serves as a reminder of how "tort reform" allows companies to escape accountability. The recent West Virginia mining explosion tragically took the lives of twenty mine miners. Predictably, politicians are calling for investigations of mining safety, and Massey Energy's safety record is under scrutiny--for good reason, according to The Charleston Gazette:

Last year, federal regulators studied the safety record of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine to see if the operation should be put on a "pattern of violations" status, a move that would shut down mining sections each time inspectors found serious violations.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration officials decided the company hadn't met the agency's complicated criteria for deserving such a stepped-up enforcement action.

Upper Big Branch met nine of MSHA's 10 criteria for a pattern of violations, said agency spokesman Carl Fillichio. It had at least 20 serious citations, it had two orders citing "imminent harm" to miner safety, and had violation rates worse than the national average.

But when MSHA did its review, in September 2009, Upper Big Branch did not meet a final standard: That it have at least one "withdrawal order" issued by MSHA inspectors for serious and substantial mine safety violations.

Upper Big Branch didn't have a single such order. It had 16 of them.

But Massey mine managers and lawyers challenged all 16, and those appeals were still pending. So Upper Big Branch didn't meet MSHA's requirement -- spelled out in an agency policy, not federal law or regulations that were subject to public comment -- for using one of the toughest tools given to the agency charged with protecting the lives of U.S. coal miners.

What if a similar mine explosion happened in Ohio? Assuming that the mine owner had repeated safety violations and even made no effort to correct them, the owners would not be liable for the miners' wrongful deaths, courtesy of a recent Ohio Supreme Court Case I wrote about last week. Under current Ohio law, an employer is not liable for injuries or deaths to injured workers unless the employer specifically intended to injure or kill them--the same standard of proof required to prove a murder. This law was passed by The Ohio Legislature in 2005 as part of "tort reform" legislation. The "theory" behind the law was that, reduced liability for businesses would yield a "predictable legal climate" in Ohio that would be would be "attractable" to businesses.

What kind of policy is promoted by a legal "race to the bottom" in the form of laws that allow employers to escape legal accountability for blatently ignoring safety rules and regulations? The sad reality is that nobody will realize how regressive or idiotic this law is until a similar tragedy happens here in Ohio. And if it does happen, policitians will call for a "full investigation" and feign surprise when the public learns that lack of legal accountability is the foul byproduct of another tort reform law that's supposed to be "good for all of us."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lawyers "Case Results" On Websites--Reading Between The Lines For What It REALLY Means

Recently I glanced at a personal injury lawyer's website. It featured video clips of him lecturing visitors on the importance of choosing a lawyer who has tried cases to juries. Unaware of ANY jury verdicts this attorney has achieved, I searched the "case results" section of his website. Perhaps I was wrong, I thought, and he had obtained some decent jury verdicts after all.

Listed were numerous cases the attorney had handled. After every case, the term "awarded" was used. One MAJOR problem with use of the term "awarded:" he didn't mention whether these "awards" were in the form of a jury verdict. To the unsuspecting public, his use of the term "awarded" might be equated with actual jury verdicts. But to those of us who actually try cases to juries consistently, we know the difference. His "awards" could just as easily be insurance company "settlements" that did not involve even a lawsuit, much less a jury verdict.

What difference does the subtle distinction bewteen an "award" and a jury verdict mean? A lot. Proven ability to go the distance--from a lawsuit all the way to a jury verdict--makes insurance companies take notice that the attorney or firm will commit the resources to try the case to a verdict if a settlement offer is inadequate. It's the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

The only "verdict" listed on the website? It was an out of state verdict that was handled by an out of state law firm, with no indication that the Ohio attorney had any involvement with it. If an attorney or firm is going to brag about jury trial experience or "verdicts," don't you think they should be listed as such? And be their own verdicts and not some other firm's?

I do.

Liberty Mutual's "Responsibility" Means Wasting Money AND Denying Coverage To Its Policyholders

Some of you may have seen Liberty Mutual's commercials about "responsibility," a PR campaign to paint themselves as a "responsible insurance company," whatever that means (think "jumbo shrimp" and other oxymorons). Recently someone sent me this link, an insufferably long movie short (hey, there's another oxymoron)that paints lawyers in an unflattering light. After watching it, I wondered: what on earth is the point? To poison the public about lawyers (gee, now there's a novel idea that's never been tried before)? To sell more Liberty Mutual policies by wasting thousands on a lame movie that takes a swipe at the legal profession?

If I were a Liberty Mutual insured/policyholder, I'd be wondering: how much did it cost to produce this hokum and how much more am I paying for my car insurance premiums because of it? Liberty's cute little lawyer bashing movie aside, let's focus on something substantive, like what you're actually buying with a Liberty Mutual auto policy and what exclusions Liberty is inserting in its policies that avoid responsibility for paying its own policyholders in Ohio auto collisions.

Here's a little exclusion that Ohio Liberty Mutual insureds might want to know about:

"We do not provide Liability Coverage for any 'insured' for 'bodily injury' to you or any 'family member.'"

What does this exclusion mean? If a family is in the Liberty insured "family vehicle" and Dad falls asleep and wrecks the car, seriously injuring his wife and kids, there is no liability coverage for Dad's negligent driving. It means that if Grandma and Grandpa allow grandson to drive their "insured vehicle" and grandson wrecks the car, injuring Grandma and Grandpa, there is no liability coverage for grandson's driving negligence.

Simple: exclusion means no responsibility to pay for family injury claims in the "insured vehicle."

Of course, there's no "movie" about all the fine print exclusions that some companies like Liberty Mutual have in their "full coverage" policies. How's that for "responsibility?"

P.S. Not all Ohio insurance companies have this exclusion. To find out more, order our book, FREE to all Ohio residents: "How To Buy Car Insurance In Ohio" (just click on the book cover on our home page).