Articles Posted in Settlements

money.jpgA first offer from an insurance adjuster is like the first kiss on a date: It usually leads to something more substantial. At least that’s my experience (recently in law, and a long time ago in dating). Yes, I have plenty of recent experience (more than 20 years) in New York personal injury law.

When you are hurt because of someone else’s negligence, you are likely to get a call from an insurance adjuster fairly soon. He or she will offer you money to settle. It probably won’t be enough. My advice? Think of it as a first date. If you simply take that offer, and sign a “release”, and say goodbye, you’ll never find out what would have happened on the second date.

As Nancy Reagan used to say, “just say no”! Don’t worry about the offer evaporating. As a New York personal injury lawyer with many years’ experience, I have never seen that first offer “disappear”. I have never even seen and insurance adjuster LOWER an offer, much less take it off the table. And I have seen many, many times, indeed most times, insurance adjusters INCREASE their offer.

mill.jpgI came across a Stanford law professor’s study on the effect of “settlement mill” type personal injury law firms on personal injury case settlement results. If you’re searching for a New York personal injury lawyer, it’s worth a read! But since you probably won’t read it (it is 63 pages long!) let me summarize it for you.

Before I go any further, I’d better explain what we mean by “settlement mill”.

In the words of the law professor who did the study, a “settlement mill” is a “high-volume personal injury law firm that aggressively advertises and mass produces the resolution of claims, typically with little client interaction and without initiating lawsuits, much less taking claims to trial”.

money.jpg“How Much Is My Case Worth”?

I have heard this question thousands of times. And there is no easy answer. That’s because so many factors affect the “value” of a case. What do we mean by “value” anyway?

The settlement value of a case is based on a prediction of whether a jury will find you have a valid case, and if so, what the jury will award you for your injury. Since juries vary widely, and it is impossible to predict what any particular jury will do, we consider what an average jury would do.

medical records.jpgDoctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants and other medical providers are not always good listeners. I know this from personal experience, but also because they frequently misquote my clients in their medical records.

For example, I once had a client who tripped on a broken-up walkway on the way into a store and suffered a serious knee injury. But the emergency room record said that the patient had “slipped and fell” and injured his knee.

“Slipped”, “tripped”, what’s the difference, right? For the doctor, none. For me, the difference was crucial. The doctor made this mistake because it didn’t matter to him how the plaintiff came to fall; for the purposes of diagnosing and treating the patient, his or her only concern was that he fell, and what part of his body he landed on. So he was only half listening when the patient told him how he ended up falling. He was more interested in learning what part of the knee hit the concrete, where it hurt, and whether the patient had mobility there.

line in sand.jpgPresident Obama reportedly told Syria, in sum or substance, “if you use chemical weapons on your people, we will use punish you militarily”.

Then Syria used chemical weapons on its people. But instead of inflicting military damage on Damascus, as promised, Obama hemmed, hawed, asked his allies what they thought, asked Congress what it thought, etc.

So what happens the next time the U.S. says to a dictator, “if you do x, we will do y”? What does an empty threat do to our credibility for future negotiations?

Thumbnail image for money.jpgTax season, which is now upon us, is, for most people, about as fun as sticking a fork in your eye. But your Central New York personal injury lawyer brings good tax news for personal injury victims! You’ve all heard the refrain, “nothing is certain except death and taxes”. That’s definitely true for death, but not always so for taxes, at least not for personal injury victims. Let me explain.

Many of my injured clients are pleasantly surprised to learn they don’t have to pay income tax on their personal injury settlements. This is because compensation for pain and suffering is not considered “income” but rather money to replace a loss suffered. In other words, the loss + settlement = a net wash, i.e., no income earned.

Another thing our clients are sometimes surprised to learn is that they can avoid paying tax even on interest they earn on their settlement money. How? Well, If you take the money in a lump sum (cash), and place it in the bank, and earn interest on it, you must pay a capital gains tax on the interest earned. But if you instead take a “structured settlement“, you can earn the same or even more interest tax free! Assume, for example, you get a $100,000 net settlement and elect to have it “structured” so that you earn an extra $10,000 on it. The insurance company pays you $10,000 a year for 11 years for a total $110,000 in payments ($10,000 of which corresponds to interest earned). Normally, you have to pay a capital gains tax on interest earned, but not if you earned that interest on a structured settlement! That’s because technically the insurance company that structures your settlement money “owns” the money while it is cooking up the interest (you are not earning it – they are!) and pays you only after the interest is generated. A gimmick, yes, but a legal one that helps you keep all the interest you earned on your settlement money.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for courtroom.jpgAre you against frivolous lawsuits? Good, me too. Not to worry. I’ve got the solution. Hold on. First a story.

Several years ago, a fellow Central New York personal injury lawyer secured a famously large settlement on a personal injury case. At a party a few days later, someone took issue with his fee. “Your 1/3 fee on that big settlement is not fair”. My quick-witted friend replied, “you’re right — it’s not fair. I did ALL the work, I took ALL the risks, but my client gets 2/3 of the money – NOT FAIR!”.

He was just kidding, of course. But in Spanish there is a saying: “From every joke, some truth does poke” (de broma en broma la verdad se asoma). The point of the joke is that, yes, the contingency fee IS fair! Actually, not only is it fair, it is the only system that makes “justice for all” possible. That’s because most people could never afford charge-by-the-hour legal fees. But even if you are poor, if you have a legitimate claim, you can find a lawyer to take the case on a contingency fee basis.

Cthse 2.jpgAs 2012 comes to a close, it’s time to look back on this year’s successes at the Central New York personal injury law office of Michaels & Smolak. Yes, we’re proud of our victories. They have allowed us to truly help people, people we have come to care about, people we have stood beside through thick and thin from the day they were injured until the day, sometimes years later, they finally tasted sweet justice. When, after a long struggle, we finally ring the bell of justice, we celebrate.

Although we fight for fair compensation in both small and big injuries cases, the big ones stand out because they are so life-altering. Without our efforts, many of those clients would sink into financial ruin. Those unfortunate few, those severely injured victims, are not just “down on their luck”, they are crushed by the overwhelming bad luck of having been at the wrong place at the wrong time in striking distance of the wrong wrongdoer. Not only can they no longer work to support their families, not only are they swimming in unpaid medical (and other) bills, but they must wake up in pain, drag themselves through the day in pain, and then lie down in pain again, only to relive the same pain again, and again, and again, every day of their lives. It’s like a horror-movie remake of “Groundhog Day“.

From our perspective, it’s amazing, even immoral, that the insurance carriers don’t pony up a fair settlement for these clients early on. Sadly, they often wait till the eve of trial to begin to make reasonable settlement overtures. Sometimes they only “see the light” or more accurately, feel the fear of a big verdict, at trial.

money handshake.jpgMonday I was scheduled to try a Seneca County NY motorcycle accident case in the Seneca County Courthouse in Waterloo. But as often happens, the case settled on the eve of trial, in this case Sunday afternoon.

Why do personal injury cases settle so late in the game, after the attorneys have put so much work into preparing for trial”? In one word, “pressure”. The pressure of an upcoming trial transforms the psychology of the parties and the lawyers. The weaknesses of your own case suddenly come into focus as never before. The risks of trial loom larger. This happens on both sides. When the parties’ positions are not far apart to begin with, splitting the difference suddenly seems more palatable.

Trying cases is exciting, fun and, yes, frightening, especially for the client who usually has never been to court. The cases that get tried are the ones where the parties are miles apart. Where the positions are “within firing range” of each other, the pressures of trial often lead to a settlement on the courthouse steps.

christmastree.jpgA client of mine is having a very merry Christmas indeed. I already blogged about his Waterloo, New York car accident case. Guy was passenger in his buddy’s car, who was stopped and waiting for traffic to clear so he could turn left into a driveway. Driver from behind, lost, looking at a map while driving, rear-ends them at full speed, causing them to flip over. Our guy ends up with a herniated cervical disc that takes him out of his welding job, for good, and requires surgery. The surgery helps, but does not rid him of the pain.

At first, there appeared to be no more than $100,000 in insurance, the policy limit of the driver/owner of the at-fault vehicle. There was no indication in the police report, or anywhere, that the negligent driver was doing anything but his own business when he rear-ended our guy. But an off-the-cuff remark by him at the scene — about some “bovine sperm bottles” he had in his pickup truck — tipped us off that perhaps he was working for some company that dealt in such products, even though he owned the vehicle and there was no company emblem or signage on it.

After some investigating, we turned up a California employer. The insurance carrier for the employer discloses a $1,000,000 insurance policy. Now we’re talking! But still, we felt our client’s case was worth more – what with all his pain and suffering, his completely altered life style, and the loss of his job.

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