Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back to School!

In life, and particularly, in the attorney life, you never know enough, and you are never done learning. Fortunately, the Washington State Bar makes sure that attorneys never stop learning, by requiring that attorneys obtain 45 credits of ongoing education each reporting period, which is every three years. Overall, most conferences are very good, and they deal with current, relevant issues that help keep attorneys on top of things.  My favorite conferences are the ones where I leave feeling rejuvenated, excited, and ready to take on new and difficult challenges.  It can be encouraging to share stories, and experiences, with other attorneys that are fighting through the same issues that you are fighting with.

The Washington State Association for Justice puts on absolutely great conferences, many of which are focused directly on the most important issues facing personal injury attorneys. Tomorrow, I will attend a conference focused on trial skills that relate to "winning in the beginning," or in other words, starting a case out right so that you win it in the end.  Not a bad way to spend a Halloween!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do I need an attorney to settle my personal injury case?

A natural follow up to my recent entry about what happens when a personal injury case concludes, is the question of whether a person actually needs an attorney to settle a personal injury case.  The short answer to this question is "no," you do not "need" an attorney to settle your personal injury case.  As soon as you are injured in an accident that is someone else's fault, the insurance company for the person at fault will be calling you, and writing to you on a regular basis in order to settle your claim.  All you have to do is sign everything that the insurance company wants you to sign, and your case will be over. Unfortunately, what you will also be doing is placing your fate entirely in the hands of an insurance company, and you should know that your interests, and the interests of the insurance company, could not be more different. 

What does an insurance company think about when a car accident happens?  Really, only one thing, its exposure.  The insurance company's insured has done some act, in the case of a car accident, its driver may have driven too fast, failed to yield the right of way, or may have done some other kind of negligent driving.  In other kinds of cases, take an injury at a construction site, a general contractor may have failed to provide a safe job site.  No matter what the mechanism is for creating the exposure, exposure is the lens through which the insurance company will analyze your case.  What does exposure mean?  One common way to understand the term exposure is the measure of vulnerability to a loss.  In a car accident case, the insurance company's exposure is the value of your injuries, medical treatment and other damages.  Now, you might be thinking, isn't the reason that the law requires that we all have insurance, so that when I get hurt in an accident, there is a way for me to be compensated?  Whatever the right answer is to this question, the insurance company's answer to that question is, "no."  Take Allstate.  Allstate is the largest publicly traded home and auto insurer.  In an article from July 31, 2012, The Wall Street Journal reports that Allstate "spent 86.3 cents on claims and expenses for every dollar it collected in premiums across its property-casualty segment."  The goal of Allstate, and every other insurance company, is to drive down that 86.3 cent figure as low as possible, in order to maximize profits. 

How do insurance companies reduce their exposure?  Anderson Cooper reports, "its the three Ds: delay, deny and defend."  I will discuss these insurance company tactics in later entries, but for now, you should understand that that reducing exposure is bad for you, and good for the massive corporate bureaucracy.  The list of things that a good personal injury attorney can do for you at least includes: (a) conducting a thorough investigation of your case; (b) finding and preserving all of the important evidence for proving your case; (c) helping you understand the real value of your case; (d) knowing, understanding and applying the law to your advantage; and (e) everything else that falls under the big umbrella of proving your case in court.  The bottom line for you in answering the question of whether you need an attorney to settle your personal injury case, is that what you really should be asking is whether you need a good, personal injury attorney to get a fair deal. The answer to that, better question is an emphatic yes, you need a good, personal injury attorney to be treated fairly, and to obtain fair compensation for your injuries.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What happens after a personal injury case concludes?

The conclusion of a personal injury case should be a satisfying, and an empowering time in a person’s life.  When a personal injury case concludes in the right way, and in a way that makes a person feel like they got what they were entitled to get, that they were heard, and that their life, and their injuries were taken seriously, there is no better feeling for them, or for their personal injury attorney.  It is a mixture of incredible accomplishment, and total relief.  In fact, for most personal injury attorneys, the entire focus of their careers is to learn how to accomplish great things for their clients. 

What many people do not know that have not been through a personal injury case (which is a good thing, of course) is what happens to the settlement funds at the conclusion of the case.  The answer is, a wide range of things can happen to the settlement funds, and a good, experienced personal injury attorney can really make a difference in making sure that you keep the maximum portion of your settlement.  Here is how it works, generally: first, legal fees are paid, then case expenses, then so called payback claims.  The remainder goes to you!

Let's take an example, consider a settlement of $50,000.00 for a person that was injured in a car accident, and that was represented by a personal injury attorney.  In this case, the first payment from the $50,000.00 settlement is to the injured person's attorney for 1/3 of the $50,000.00, or $16,666.67, leaving a remainder of $33,333.33.  What happens next? The attorney's expenses are paid.  Expenses refer to the attorney's costs, which vary depending on the case, but almost always include the cost of the paper used on the case, and the purchasing of medical records.  Some cases have low costs, but others have larger costs.  An example of a larger cost would be hiring an expert, such as a medical doctor, or an accident reconstructionist.  In our example, if the costs were $500.00, then the remaining funds would be $32,833.33.  Once the case expenses are paid, then, you must consider payback claims.  Payback claims are a separate, very interesting topic, but for now, consider the common situation of having to payback some part of the payments made by your insurance company for your medical treatment prior to settling your case.  (I will discuss payback claims in another, separate entry.  Sometimes, payback claims may be reduced to $0!) So, if your insurance company paid $10,000.00 for your medical treatment, it might be entitled to approximately $6,666.67 in payback.  Assuming no other payback claims, this would leave you with a net cash payout of $26,166.66.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Greetings!  Welcome to the blog of Dean F. Swanson!  I am a personal injury attorney, and I am also, depending on your perspective, either addicted, or in more friendly terms, totally committed to what I do.  I hope that you find this blog enjoyable and informative on some of the important things going on in personal injury law, and in the law generally.  It is my goal through this blog to provide you with important insight into the fascinating world of personal injury law.  To find out more about me, and where I work, follow this link (injuredinseattle.com).  Cheers!