Category Archives: Insurance

“Small” personal injury cases in West Virginia

Many of the West Virginia personal injury cases which we handle could be described as “small” cases.  Cases where there were no catastrophic injuries.  There is a medium-trauma car accident, resulting in painful, but not immediately devastating injuries.  Sometimes people may think they are fine and uninjured at first, only to end up in the emergency room that evening with numbness, swelling, dizziness, or pain.  These are the types of cases where the insurance adjustors will contact those who have been injured in a car accident, and will try to devalue the person’s claim.

The insurance adjustors are trained to take actions which will directly result in the injury victim getting less from the insurance policy.  They will ask misleading questions which will be recorded and documented.  The result will be an answer or statement which was misunderstood and which severely limits the injured person’s ability to collect a fair settlement.  They may ask, “looking back, is there anything you could have done differently to avoid the accident”.  They will ask about injuries, and try to place limitations on the claim before the treating doctor has even made a diagnosis.  This is a practice which thrives on ignorance.  The best way to avoid it is through legal representation.

However, this brings up something else that the insurance adjustors do.  They manipulate the injury victims.  From day one, they make a point of telling the injury victims that they should not call a lawyer.  That all they will be doing is giving up a percentage of their settlement.  That their settlement will end up getting delayed.

This is pure manipulation and deceit.  Lawyers have to abide by a code of strict ethical regulations.  They cannot lie to you.  They have to  look out for your best interests.  Insurance adjustors are quite the opposite.  You have no ability to get their licenses revoked or suspended.  You are not even allowed to sue them for lying to you and misleading you.  They have an incentive to cause you to settle for less.  They have an incentive to keep you away from a personal injury lawyer.  Almost all West Virginia personal injury lawyers will meet with you for a free consultation about your circumstances.  If the one you called does not, then call someone else.  Personal injury lawyers are not the bad guys.  They help people, and at no up-front cost to the client.  Only if you agree to hire a lawyer, and sign an attorney client agreement to that effect, does a percentage get taken from your settlement.  And in that case, the lawyer has almost always provided or enabled a larger settlement than the insurance company was ever going to offer you before you had the ability to file a lawsuit.   Lawyers are also familiar with what the fair value of one’s case is.  They are trained in providing supporting documentation and proof, as well as in professionally presenting that information to the insurance company, and ultimately to a judge or jury.

In the end, in most cases, even though your legal fee is paid by a standard percentage of your settlement, you have taken that into consideration before accepting the settlement.  An ethical personal injury lawyer will never force a client into accepting a settlement.  If the client is not happy with his or her portion of the ultimate settlement proceeds, they always have the choice to proceed with the case towards jury trial.

So when the insurance company tries to manipulate you or someone you know over a personal injury claim, you need only take one step: call a West Virginia personal injury attorney (obviously it should be a personal injury attorney with a good reputation and a good track record).  We will meet with you for free.  There will only be a cost if you decide that you want us to take over your case.  Regardless of what the adjustor said, there’s no obligation, fee, or trick when you call a personal injury attorney because you have questions or need help.  A case is only “small” when the insurance company tricks you into believing that your injury is not worth a fair value.  Get a second opinion.

– John H. Bryan, a West Virginia personal injury attorney who helps people in “small” personal injury cases everyday.

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What you need to know about West Virginia car accident injury claims in this economy

Of course just because the economy is in the tank doesn’t mean that people do not still get injured in car accidents.  And people still have insurance.  As with other states, insurance is required by law in order to operate a motor vehicle.  But things have changed.  I suppose the reason is that the insurance companies are under financial strain.  There may not be less people buying insurance, but insurance companies are also involved in the investment of assets, which cannot be doing very well right now.

They have changed their behavior.  For small injury/damage cases, a few years ago, they were willing to offer a fair settlement up front without much trouble, in almost every case.  Now things have changed.  They are denying a much larger percentage of claims.  The ones that they do make pre-lawsuit offers of settlement on are laughable.  They barely offer enough to pay the outstanding medical bills.

The result is this: we are forced to file lawsuits in almost every case.  This also means that without a personal injury attorney, your chances of recovering a fair settlement are slim, because you do not have the ability to litigate the claim.  It is generally much easier to deal with the attorneys defending the lawsuit than it is to deal with the adjustors.  I have found that, especially lately, the adjustors have become arrogant jerks, who relish in denying and undervaluing claims.  Real scumbags.

Only if we, as personal injury attorneys and injury victims, start filing suit on every claim, which forces the insurance company to incur defense litigation costs, can we help bring the pre-suit settlement values back to their proper level.  For those of you speaking with the adjustors without an attorney representing you, beware of their tactics.  They will lie to you, they will try and trick you.  Their biggest lie is to dissuade you from contacting a personal injury attorney.  They will tell you that you will be paying a share of your settlement to the attorney, and that you will not get any more than what they are currently offering you.  This is a lie.  Almost all personal injury attorneys will speak with you about your situation at no cost.  If the particular attorney you have contacted will not, then call someone else.  In some cases it may not be best to hire an attorney to prosecute the claim, but you certainly should at least talk to one before settling.  Nationwide is not on your side.  State Farm is not a good neighbor (just ask Floridians), and the rest of them are scoundrels too.  Be informed, or represented, before talking with them.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Personal Injury 101 For Clients – Part III

1. What will the insurance company for the person, persons or company who caused my injury do about my claim?

After the insurance company has been notified about the claim, a file is established on you and your case. An insurance clams adjuster is assigned to your file by a claims manager or claims supervisor. The supervisor may assign different adjusters to your case as it progresses.

The insurance claims adjuster responsible for your file will maintain contact with your lawyer. The adjuster will also perform an independent investigation of your claim to ascertain the following:

a. Who is at fault in your case.

b. Whether or not you bear any fault for your own injuries. This is also referred to as comparative negligence or contributory negligence.

c. Potential witnesses in the case.

d. The location of the scene of the accident.

e. The contents of police reports, Department of Motor Vehicle reports, and any other investigative reports that have been filed in the case.

After the initial investigation, the claims adjuster will request medical reports and any other reports dealing with your injuries. The adjuster will also review documents about your time lost from work. Most importantly, the insurance claims adjuster will want to receive accurate records of your medical bills, prescription bills, hospital bills, therapy bills, and any other actual expenses incurred as a result of your injury. That is why it is very important for you to maintain an accurate account of your medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses which result from your injury.

2. How does the insurance company put a value on my case?

This question is quite complicated. First, the claims supervisor or claims manager will provide that a certain amount be “set aside” as a potential value of your case. This figure is usually called “reserves.” Such reserves are the outside value that the company has established on your claim. The reserves may change as the case progresses. In serious cases, such reserves may equal what are called policy limits. Policy limits are the outside limit amounts of liability established in the insurance policy of the person or persons who caused your injury.

During the preparation stages of your case, the insurance company will keep track of your medical bills, lost wages, any permanency regarding your injury, and other factors. The company will also take into consideration the quality of evidence against their insured, the quality of your witnesses and their witnesses, extent of liability on your part, and other important considerations such as previous injuries.

If you had a previous injury in the same area of your body, the insurance carrier will want to see medical records pertaining to that injury. During the course of your claim, your attorney will be notified by the insurance company about the important factors that are being considered in your particular case.

3. Should I communicate with or contact the insurance company for the person who caused my injuries?

Absolutely not! Under no circumstances should you contact the insurance company once you have retained an attorney. If you contact the other person’s insurance company, for any reason, you could ruin your entire case with one question or one statement.

Secondly, because you are now represented by a lawyer, the insurance company, in most states, is absolutely prohibited from having any personal contact with you for any reason.

4. Can I contact my own insurance company?

If you have health insurance, medical payments insurance, automobile uninsurance or underinsurance coverage, there may be occasions when it is appropriate for you to contact your own company. However, you should always ask your lawyer whether or not such contact is appropriate. Never contact an insurance company without first obtaining approval from your attorney.

5. Will the insurance company for the person who caused my injuries dispute my claim?

If liability and responsibility are well-established in your case — that is, if fault clearly rests with the insurance company’s insured (the person or persons who caused your injury), they will try very hard to settle your claim. Insurance companies usually dispute the following types of claims:

a. Claim in which the fault rests with someone other than their insured. This could mean you or someone else involved in the incident who may have caused your injuries rather than the person who is insured by the insurance company.

b. Claims in which the insurance company and its representatives do not believe that you are injured, or that you were injured as badly as you claim. For this reason, documentation of medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses are extremely important to establish credibility and the existence of your injury.

c. Cases in which you or your witnesses have lied, exaggerated, or fabricated the nature and extent of your injury or how the incident occurred.

6. What can I do to convince the insurance company that my claim is valid?

As stated above, the most important thing you can do is to recover as quickly as possible from your injury. Insurance company personnel tend to believe those people who actively try to recover from their injuries. That is why you must cooperate with your doctor, physical therapist and other personnel who are trying to help you improve from your injury.

Secondly, insurance companies believe those people who can document their injuries through medical bills, credible medical reports and accurate lost wage information that is neither exaggerated nor subject to dispute and interpretation.

Thirdly, insurance companies usually settle cases easier with those clients who have been in active contact and cooperation with their attorney.

In summary, it is important for you to try to get better, keep an accurate record of your expenses, and cooperate with your lawyer and his or her staff.


Ten Worst Insurance Companies in West Virginia

Today, the American Association for Justice (Association of Trial Lawyers of America), of which I am a member, just issued a press release regarding the ten worst insurers in the United States. As far as I know, most of the insurers also do business in the state of West Virginia. Here is the press release:

ALLSTATE RANKS AS WORST INSURER FOR CONSUMERS

Insurance Industry Employs “Deny, Delay, Defend” Strategy, Puts Profits Over Policyholders

WASHINGTON, DC – Allstate ranks as the worst insurer for consumers, according to a comprehensive investigation of thousands of legal documents and financial filings.

The rankings show a distinct pattern of insurance industry greed amongst 10 companies that refuse to pay just claims, employ hardball tactics against policyholders, reward executives with extravagant salaries, and raise premiums while hoarding excessive profits.

“While Allstate publicly touts its ‘good hands’ approach, it has instead privately instructed its agents to employ a ‘boxing gloves’ strategy against its policyholders,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber. “Allstate ducks, bobs and weaves to avoid paying claims to increase its profits.”

Allstate (NYSE: ALL) set the standard for insurance company greed and placing profits over policyholders. Allstate contracted with consulting giant McKinsey & Co. in the mid-1990s to systematically force consumers to accept lowball claims or face its “boxing gloves,” an aggressive strategy designed to deny claims at any cost. One Allstate employee reported that supervisors told agents to lie and blame fires on arson, and in turn, were rewarded with portable fridges.

Thousands of court documents, materials uncovered from litigation and discovery, testimony, complaints filed with state insurance departments, SEC and FBI records, and news accounts were reviewed to compile the rankings and statistics.

The rest of the rankings are as follows:

2. Unum (NYSE: UNM) – Unum’s actions are even more shameful considering the type of insurance it sells: disability. Unum’s behavior was epitomized when it denied the claim of a woman with multiple sclerosis for three years, stating her conditions were “self-reported,” contrary to doctors’ evaluations. In 2005, Unum agreed to a settlement with insurance commissioners from 48 states over their practices.

3. AIG (NYSE: AIG) – The world’s biggest insurer, AIG’s slogan was “we know money.” AIG, described by commentators as “the new Enron,” has engaged in massive corporate fraud and claims abuses. In 2006, the company paid $1.6 billion to settle a host of charges.

4. State Farm – State Farm is notorious for its deny and delay tactics, and like Allstate, hired McKinsey consultants. State Farm’s true motives became apparent during Hurricane Katrina; for example, it employed multiple engineering firms until they could deny the claims of the Nguyen family of Mississippi. In April 2007, State Farm agreed to re-evaluate more than 3,000 Hurricane Katrina claims.

5. Conseco (NYSE: CNO) – Conseco sells long-term care policies, typically to the elderly. Amongst its egregious behavior, the insurer “made it so hard to make a claim that people either died or gave up,” said a former Conseco-subsidiary agent. Former Conseco executives were fined when they admitted to filing misleading financial statements with regulators.

6. WellPoint (NYSE: WLP) – Health insurer WellPoint has a long history of putting profits ahead of policyholders. For instance, California fined a WellPoint subsidiary in March 2007 after an investigation revealed that the insurer routinely canceled policies of pregnant women and chronically ill patients.

7. Farmers – Swiss-owned Farmers Insurance Group consistently ranks at or near the bottom of homeowner satisfaction surveys, and for good reason. For example, Farmers had an incentive program called “Quest for Gold” that offered pizza parties to its adjusters that met low claims payments goals. Like Allstate, it also hired the McKinsey consultants.

8. UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH) – The SEC opened an investigation into former UnitedHealth CEO William McGuire for stock backdating, which ultimately led to his ouster in 2006 and returning $620 million in stock gains and retirement compensation. Physicians have also reported that their reimbursements are so low and delayed by the company that patient health is being compromised.

9. Torchmark (NYSE: TMK) – According to Hoover’s In-Depth Company Records, Torchmark’s very origins were little more than a scam devised to enrich its founder, Frank Samford. Torchmark has preyed on low-income Southern residents and charged minority policyholders more than whites on burial policies.

10. Liberty Mutual – Like Allstate and State Farm, Liberty Mutual hired consulting giant McKinsey to adopt aggressive tactics. Liberty’s tactics were highlighted when a New York couple’s insurance was “nonrenewed” by Liberty, even though they lived 12 miles from the coast and never experienced weather-related flooding.

Financial documents also revealed extravagant profits and executive compensation while policyholders’ claims were routinely delayed and denied:
· Over the last 10 years, the property / casualty and life / health insurance industries have each enjoyed annual profits exceeding $30 billion.
· The insurance industry takes in over $1 trillion in premiums every year. It has $3.8 trillion in assets, more than the GDPs of all but two countries.
· The CEOs of the top 10 property / casualty firms earned an average of $8.9 million in 2007. The CEOs of the top 10 life / health insurance earned an average of $9.1 million.
· The median insurance CEO’s cash compensation is $1.6 million per year, leading all industries.

To see how consumers can hold the insurance industry accountable and view a full copy of the study, visit http://www.justice.org/docs/TenWorstInsuranceCompanies.pdf.

Thanks, AAJ.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

I was involved in a car accident in West Virginia – The other driver’s insurance said I don’t need a lawyer – Is this true?

Some insurance companies will send letters to people involved in car or truck accidents telling the injured person that they do not need an attorney.

Since 1995, for example, Allstate has been sending a letter entitled “Do I need an Attorney?” which makes the following claims, among others:

1. Claims are settled faster when a lawyer is not involved;
2. Lawyers charge a percentage of recovery and if you settle directly with Allstate you get to keep the entire amount;
3. Injury victims can hire a lawyer later if they don’t like the settlement offer;
The letter includes many other statements that are misleading, half-true, or not true at all.

Other insurance companies also try to convince injured people not to hire their own lawyer.
Here is the plain truth–Allstate, and the other insurance companies who send these types of letters, do not care anything at all about you or whether you receive a fair settlement.

In fact, the insurance company’s own statistics prove that its costs the insurance industry an average of $9000 more per claim when the injured person has a lawyer.

The reason the insurance companies try to convince people not to hire an experienced lawyer is because they know they can settle the case more cheaply if the injured person doesn’t have a lawyer.

The truth is that you should always at least consult with an attorney before settling a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Personally, I never charge anything for meeting with a client and answering any questions they may have about their case. Other good personal injury lawyers in West Virginia offer the same benefit.

For example, a West Virginia car accident lawyer can help you figure out:

1. The reasonable value of your case;
2. Why delay may be a good thing (or a bad thing);
3. How to get your medical bills and treatment taken care of;
4. How to recoup any lost wages;
5. How long the case will take.

And many other topics. Or any other questions you may have about your case.

The insurance companies won’t answer these questions. Or at least they won’t give you straight and truthful answers.

If you have been involved in a serious car or truck accident in West Virginiia, and the insurance company is trying to convince you not to hire a lawyer, you should know right away that they are trying to trick you into settling your case for pennies on the dollar.
And once you know the insurance company is trying to do this, you know you can’t trust a thing they tell you after that.

Interesting Look At Car Accident Insurance Claim File

There was an interesting post on the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog today, where Ronald Miller, Jr., posted a redacted insurance claim file regarding a car accident/personal injury case. It serves as a great reminder of why car accident victims, in West Virginia and elsewhere, should contact a car accident attorney BEFORE they give that recorded statement to the insurance company, or BEFORE they accept a tiny settlement from the insurance company.

In case you didn’t know, by the time you start to recover from your injuries, the insurance company already has a ten page file filled with strategy and information designed to deny you the compensation that you rightly deserve. They probably already have recorded statements, from yourself and/or witnesses, and are handing them over to their attorneys to determine the best way to deny or lowball coverage for your injuries.

You can find the car accident insurance claim file here.

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

Hearse Leading Funeral Procession Involved in Head-on Collision in Beckley – Creates Unique Car Accident Law Issues

From the Register-Herald today:

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A hearse from Ritchie & Johnson Funeral Parlor leading a funeral cortege was involved in a head-on collision Monday shortly after noon.
Rick Barbero / Register-Herald Photographer

A hearse leading a funeral cortege was involved in a head-on collision Monday shortly after noon, according to the Beckley Police Department.

Police said the Ritchie & Johnson Funeral Parlor hearse was traveling northbound around the 900 block of South Kana-wha Street when it was hit by a 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Amanda Bonds. Police did not release her age and hometown.

Police said Bonds was traveling south when her vehicle struck a 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche on its driver’s side. Bonds’ vehicle continued south before crossing the center line and hitting the hearse head-on.

The funeral procession was held up for about 30 minutes while the casket carrying the deceased was transferred to another hearse. All of the funeral procession vehicles were using headlights and emergency flashers en route to the cemetery, funeral home officials said.

Police said the accident investigation is ongoing, but citations were pending.

This is an awful situation to have a hearse involved in a head-on collision while actually leading a funeral procession. To those of us who are West Virginia car accident lawyers, this situation creates some extremely unique car accident law issues. For instance, citations are “pending,” but who is going to get cited? There will be several different insurance companies involved, as well as workers compensation. Liability will have to be determined between the three drivers involved. Lastly, given that the hearse was itself struck, there could potentially be some damages claimed by the family of the deceased occupant of the hearse, depending on the circumstances.

Read the full article here.

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