Monthly Archives: September 2008

WV Gubernatorial Candidate Fights Medicaid Abuse

I will start off by saying that I’m not endorsing any particular gubernatorial candidate here, but it was interesting to find an article in the Register-Herald this morning about Republican gubernatorial candidate Russ Weeks, who is on a crusade to bring accountability to Medicaid expenditures.

Let me tell you the biggest problem I see with Medicaid, especially in West Virginia. Since people who actually create jobs and support small-town economies (i.e., self employed or run their own business) cannot actually afford [good] health insurance, they actually care what medical services cost them when they are needed.

Say your sister needs to get an MRI or a CT-scan. She goes to the local facility/hospital that has the equipment. The scan takes about 5 minutes. They charge her upwards of $2,000.00. She later finds out that the fair market value of that scan is about $300.00. She complains, but she is told by the hospital that they just use the price as set by Medicaid. In other words, that is what Medicaid pays, so that must be the value of the procedure. The end result is that she is royally ripped off by the hospital. But this also means that the taxpayers are royally ripped off every single day when Medicaid pays inflated prices for medical procedures – prices that would never survive in a free market.

I see this all the time with clients who have been injured in car accidents. They incur a massive debt of medical bills, and they are out of work for a long period of time. Their life is barreling towards bankruptcy. Usually the insurance companies will only cover about $10,000.00 worth of initial medical bills. Then the hospital and doctors want to be paid. Sometimes they are willing to wait for a settlement, sometimes they are not. Between the greedy insurance companies, the greedy hospitals, and the sometimes-indifferent doctors, these poor folks can be backed into a corner. And many times, the true value of the medical services rendered is 1/8 of the debt that is accumulated.

The point is, that there has got to be a better way. And I would start with cleaning up this Medicaid mess, which is nothing but a government-sponsered ponzi scheme designed to enrich hospitals and health care companies at our expense.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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Tips on Hiring a West Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer

I recently came across an article on ExpertLaw, regarding tips on hiring a personal injury lawyer, and I think it is great advice for anyone who has been injured and is seeking out a West Virginia personal injury lawyer – or a personal injury lawyer in any other state for that matter. Several questions are discussed:

Why do I need a lawyer?

When you or your loved one suffer an injury as the result of somebody else’s action, perhaps it seems natural that the person would offer to compensate you for your injury, or that their insurance company will do the right thing and offer a fair settlement. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Many people will not take responsibility for their actions, and insurance companies profit from undercompensating injury victims. Insurance companies and their lawyers also know the governing law backwards and forwards, and they know that most non-lawyers have no idea what legal rights and remedies they possess.

An experienced personal injury lawyer knows how to build your case, how to negotiate your case with an insurance company, and, if necessary, how to take your case to trial. While it is possible to negotiate your claim with an insurance company yourself, insurance companies will typically do everything they can to take advantage of you and to effect the lowest possible settlement, while attempting to elicit statements from you that will damage your position if you ultimately decide to sue.

A lawyer is in a good position to help you obtain a favorable settlement that, even with the attorney fee deducted, significantly exceeds what you can obtain on your own.

How much does a personal injury attorney cost?

Personal injury lawyers almost always accept cases on a contingent fee (or “contingency fee”) basis, meaning that they if they win they receive a percentage of the award as their fee. If they lose, they do not receive an attorney fee. (Please note that attorney fees are different from costs, and you may be responsible for certain costs associated with your case, such as the filing fee for your lawsuit, even if you lose. While this is rarely an issue, as most civil litigation settles short of trial, you may wish to clarify the issue of costs with your lawyer.)

The amount of the contingent fee your lawyer will charge will vary somewhat from state to state. In most states, the attorney fee will be between one third and 40% of a personal injury award. Attorney fees for workers’ compensation cases are more tightly regulated, and are typically lower than for regular personal injury matters. If your case is potentially worth a lot of money, you may be able to negotiate a reduction of the attorney’s contingent fee – however, the best personal injury lawyers are usually not willing to negotiate their fees. They know that they are often able to recover substantially more money for their clients than attorneys with lesser skills, resulting in a greater award to you regardless of the percentage taken by the attorney.

Where Can I Find An Attorney?

You can find the names of attorneys from a variety of sources. You may seek advice from friends, or from your doctor or another health care professional. You may look in the Yellow Pages or an online lawyer directory. You may contact a State Bar lawyer referral service. There are many ways to seek a personal injury lawyer, but there are no magic answers to finding a good lawyer.

Go To An Attorney You Trust, And Seek A Referral

One of the best ways to find personal injury lawyer is to consult an attorney you trust. If you do not know any attorneys, ask your friends for names of attorneys they trust. It is not important that they give you the name of a lawyer who can handle your case – what is important is that the attorney is likely to comprehend the issues of your case, and is well-positioned to know which attorneys in your community have the skills to handle your case. Even if the attorney cannot personally take your case, he will often be able to refer you to a lawyer who can.

You should note within this context that attorneys frequently receive “referral fees” when they send personal injury cases to other lawyers or law firms. The amount of this fee can be significant – it is usually about a quarter to a third of the fee received by the personal injury lawyer who handles your case. This gives the attorney an incentive to refer you to a good personal injury lawyer – but if this possibility makes you at all uncomfortable you shouldn’t hesitate to ask if the attorney referring your case expects a referral fee.

Referral Services & Membership Organizations

Many state bar organizations offer referral services to help people find attorneys. Usually, any member of the organization can list with its referral service, and you can’t know just from the referral that the lawyer is truly qualified to handle your case.

There are also a number of specialty organizations, such as the American Association For Justice , which offer online directories of their membership. Most lawyers with significant personal injury practices are members of the AAJ. However, most legal organizations are open to all attorneys, and membership means only that the attorney has paid the membership fee.

Internet Lawyer Directories

A number of commercial on-line directories claim to screen their attorneys, or claim to list only highly qualified attorneys. Most are not being completely honest. Regardless of their promises, most on-line directories will list any personal injury lawyer who pays the required fee, and there is absolutely no guarantee that the listed attorneys are qualified to handle your case.

There are also a large number of websites on the Internet which look informational, but in fact are owned by law firms. Be wary of any “injury information” site that lists law firms or offers lawyer referrals, particularly if it does not make obvious the identity of its sponsor.

Advertising

The issue of attorney advertising is addressed in the next two questions:

Should I hire the guy with the 1-800 number, and all of the ads on TV?
Should I hire the guy with the big “yellow pages” ad?

Should I hire the personal injury law firm with the 1-800 number, and all of the ads on TV?

Generally speaking, television and radio advertisements are a bad way to find an attorney. Many advertisements are paid for by referral agencies, which collect large numbers of calls and then divide them up between member attorneys. Even when the advertisements are paid for by a law firm, often many of the cases are referred out to other firms who share the enormous cost of advertising. Most of the time, the attorney with the big advertising campaign will not have an office near you. Unless your case is worth a lot of money, you may well find that you are quickly referred to a different firm or that you can’t get much attention for your case.

Please note that, when it comes to hiring a personal injury lawyer, many of the best personal injury attorneys do little or no advertising. They get their cases through “referrals” from other attorneys, due to their reputations for doing good work and getting good results.

Should I hire the lawyer with the big “yellow pages” ad?

If you look at the “full page” ads in the yellow pages, you will likely find that there are two types. The first type is an ad for a local attorney, who has chosen to pay for the full page. The second type is an ad for an attorney from outside the area, sometimes from the same attorney who runs the huge television ad campaigns.

Many of the biggest ads will be from personal injury law firms, who anticipate that their large advertisements will bring them large numbers of injury cases. Many of the better personal injury lawyers and firms do pay for full-page ads. However, as was previously noted, some of the best personal injury lawyers do little or no advertising at all. Also, there are many attorneys who buy the largest ad that they can afford in order to make their practices appear better than they really are.

If you look through the yellow pages, you will see that most lawyers claim to specialize in “personal injury” cases. Many of these lawyers have handled very few personal injury cases, and some have never had even a single injury case. The yellow pages can provide some degree of confirmation that a particular law firm is established, but even a big advertisement does not certify that a firm is qualified to handle your case.

Are there special types of personal injury lawyers for different types of cases?

Yes. When you are seeking a personal injury lawyer, you should consider that most personal injury lawyers do not practice medical malpractice law, and many do not handle workers’ compensation cases. Just as you would seek a specialized doctor to provide a special type of medical care, the practice of medical malpractice law is very specialized and in seeking a lawyer it is almost always best to seek out a lawyer or law firm which has significant experience in that area of law. Some lawyers specialize primarily in workers’ compensation law, which is typically handled through a special system of administrative courts.

Further, beyond workers’ compensation and medical malpractice, certain law firms specialize in particular types of injury or cause of action. There are personal injury law firms which focus primarily on burn injuries, or brain and spinal cord injuries. There are personal injury firms which concentrate primarily on car accidents, construction accidents, or litigation over defective products. You will benefit from asking whether a lawyer you consult has experience with your type of injury before you make your hiring decision.

If I meet with an injury lawyer, do I have to hire him?

No. Although personal injury attorneys rarely charge for an initial meeting with a potential client, before your meeting you should ask if there is a fee for an initial consultation. If there is, you will be obligated to pay that fee even if you do not hire the attorney. However, even when the consultation is free, you have every right to take some time to think before you hire a lawyer, and you have every right to decide not to hire the lawyer. Hiring a personal injury lawyer is a big step, and there is nothing wrong with consulting several lawyers to find one who makes you comfortable.

What should I ask the attorney before I hire him?

The questions you should ask will vary with your case. Consider the following list to be a starting point:

What are your areas of specialization?
Have you handled cases like mine before? How many? What was the outcome?
Will you be the only attorney who works on the case? If not, who else will work on it?
How long will it take for this case to be resolved?
Will you take my case on a contingent fee basis?
Are there things I should do to improve my case, or to help you?
How will you keep me informed about the progress of my case?
If I contact your office with questions, how long will you take to return my call?
If you are unavailable or on vacation, who can I speak to about my case?
How often do you go to trial?
If I am not happy with a settlement offer and you want to settle, will you go to court anyway?
If I am happy with the offer but you think we can win more at trial, will you follow my wishes?
Have you ever been disciplined by an ethics committee, or been suspended from the practice of law? If so, why?
What “continuing legal education” courses have you attended during the past few years? Have you taught any?
Please note that, as desirable as references may be, it is usually not possible for personal injury lawyers to give references from past clients due to attorney-client confidentiality. However, you may wish to ask for references from other attorneys.

Should I ask for a written retainer agreement?

Yes. A written retainer agreement is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected, and in many jurisdictions is required for a contingent fee agreement to be valid. Many personal injury lawyers use a relatively short fee agreement, but even if it looks short and simple you should take your time and read the whole agreement before signing. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification before you sign.

What if I hire an injury lawyer, but I don’t like the work he does?

Your lawyer works for you, and you have the right to terminate the attorney-client relationship. Please note, however, that your lawyer is still entitled to compensation for work performed on your case. If the lawyer was representing you on a “contingent fee” basis, the lawyer will often be entitled to a portion of the proceeds of your case once it has been resolved.

Usually, before you fire your lawyer, you will want to first talk to a different attorney. Sometimes the new attorney will tell you to try to work out your problems with your lawyer. If you choose to hire the new attorney, the new attorney should be willing to work out the details relating to any fees you may owe to your prior lawyer.

If I want to appeal my case, does my attorney have to represent me?

Generally not, unless your retainer agreement requires your attorney to take on the appeal. Your lawyer will ordinarily only have to represent you on the matters specified in your retainer agreement. Once a final judgment has been entered, your lawyer ordinarily has no further responsibility to represent you or to appeal your case.

What if a dispute arises?

In the event that a dispute arises between you and your lawyer, many state bars offer dispute resolution services. These services can be of particular benefit in the event of fee disputes. If you feel that your lawyer has acted in an unethical manner, each state has a “grievance” procedure where you can file a complaint against your lawyer and have your complaint investigated.

Source: Expertlaw.

Car Accident Safety Tips

According to the National Safety Council, approximately one in eight drivers will be in an auto accident this year. Following are several suggestions to help prevent injury, save time and money and minimize the stress involved in a car crash.

You should stay calm. Avoid tendencies toward road rage and stay calm if you encounter another driver who is behaving irrationally. When these situations escalate, they can often lead to dangerous driving and crashes. In addition, you must always protect yourself. Be alert to traffic scams that seem like accidents, such as when Predatory criminals do this to get the driver to exit the car and then either rob the driver driving on a lightly traveled road, particularly at night, and being tapped from behind. or steal the car. If you are suspicious of the circumstances, stay in your vehicle and drive to a police station or heavily populated area for assistance.

Always Stop! If you are in an accident do not leave the scene until you have spoken with the other driver or the police. Take steps to prevent further accidents. If practical, move the car and all passengers safely to the side of the road, preferably to the right shoulder. If functioning, turn your emergency flashing lights on and, if available, set out a flare on the road for nighttime accidents.

Call the police from the scene or ask someone to call for you. It is usually best to have the police address any traffic infractions, assist with injuries and memorialize the occurrence for the record. Request medical assistance if needed. If you or others are bleeding, feel light-headed or are suffering any physical injury, always err on the side of calling for assistance. Unless trained in emergency medical assistance, do not attempt to move injured persons or perform medical procedures yourself.

Write down pertinent information such as the other driver’s name, address, telephone number, licenses plate and driver’s license number and the time of the accident. Note the names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses, the badge number of any police officers and where to obtain a copy of a police report and any other pertinent information about the scene, such as exact location, the issuance of any tickets by the police, and recollections about your vehicle’s handling or mechanical functioning just prior to the accident.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.