I previously hosted a weekly radio talk show and legal column entitled “Accidentally Yours” where we talked about how insurance companies have taken a hard line approach to settling accident cases with all lawyers in California. Instead of having 90% of the cases settle and only 10% go into litigation, we now have a larger amount of the cases going into litigation. It is more important than ever before to hold our client’s hands and help our clients become organized so that the insurance company on our cases want to settle ours and go to trial with other firms.
Because of California’s financial crisis many courts are closing. In Los Angeles County alone 56 courtrooms closed in 2012 in order to save money. This means there are fewer courts and judges available to resolve more cases than ever before. In 2011 there were 7% more filings than 2010 and 15% more than 5 years earlier.
Insurance companies now ask themselves why they should settle a PI case now with today’s dollars rather than waiting 4-5 years and settling with tomorrow’s dollars. The insurance companies know that most lawyers will not want to invest a lot of money in a whiplash/soft tissue trial that in today’s climate will not generate big dollars. This allows the insurance company to settle an accident case for a minimal amount of money. This is also consistent with the lowest jury verdicts in history for soft tissue accident cases.
Thus, the suggestion that you keep a diary and have everything documented is more important than ever before. If you take your diary every time you go to the doctor you will remember to tell him/her all of the problems you have encountered since your last visit. Without the diary, take my word, you are going to forget to tell both our firm and your doctor about some of your medical problems. If you don’t tell your lawyer and doctors about a problem, you will not receive compensation for the condition. It is as if there was no problem!
When we receive the medical reports we review them and prepare a demand settlement letter to the insurance company and enclose the medical reports as well as other documentation regarding your loss of earnings as well as other losses. At that point, we call the insurance company and try to negotiate a settlement. If we are not able to negotiate a settlement that both we and the client are happy with, we then file a lawsuit against the defendant.
As a general rule, it does not pay to have a case that is worth less than $50,000 go to trial. This is because of the costs of trial. Litigation is like war. We take the responsibility to help put our client’s lives back together. Over the last 30 years we have successfully helped many thousands of accident victims get the fair compensation they deserve.
In a trial you are not allowed to mention the word insurance and the jury is left to think that you are suing the defendant personally rather than an insurance company. In addition the new Howell case prevents a lawyer from including all the medical bills to a jury. Only the bills that have not been paid can be presented. Thus if you have insurance you could be at a disadvantage to someone who is uninsured.
In order for the court to allow the medical report and bill from the doctor into evidence, we must have the doctor there to testify. The doctor will charge anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 per ½ day to testify. These costs are substantial and make it unprofitable to litigate the average case. It is unfair to let our clients incur these extravagant costs on small cases and thus we sometimes have to suggest a mediation or arbitration or a settlement that is less than we ideally would want to accept.
A recent article from the Wall Street Journal discussed the new Colossus Software program that almost all insurance companies are using. This program will take a $5,000.00 medical bill, input it into the Colossus program and it will say the bill should have been $2,500.00. Based on $2,500.00, they will offer us about $5,000.00 to settle the case. This is why 50% of the lawyers who handled “soft-tissue” accident cases no longer accept “whiplash” cases where there are no broken bones or cuts requiring plastic surgery.
My office will advise you on a case by case basis whether your case should be litigated or not. However, because lawyers want to work out a good settlement rather than litigate the case it is now more important than ever before that you the client follow my instructions by keeping a diary and keeping us posted of new medical problems. That way we can negotiate out of strength not weakness.
Because of these low ball offers it is more important than ever before to have a competent law firm that reads the jury verdict sheets weekly. By doing this we can educate the insurance company on current courtroom verdicts.
My practice is focused on people and protecting their consumer rights. We deliver results not false promises and get top dollar on our cases. When the case is successfully concluded, our clients tell us we were courteous, professional and caring and that we “DID TURN WRONGS INTO RIGHTS”.
This concludes the 7 Part Series. If you missed any issues you can go to our website at www.coachellavalleyweekly.com and click on Dale Gribow’s columns to read all 7 installments.