Archive for the ‘Insurance Coverage’ Category

Personal injury claims and Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Social Networking

If you weren’t already convinced, the popularity and success of academy award nominated movie The Social Network should have persuaded you that social networking web sites are now deeply ingrained in the fabric of American life. Facebook boasts more than 500 million users world wide: when you consider the world population is estimated at 6,899,200,000 that means about 1 in 14 people in the world have a Facebook account! I think most people would agree that Facebook is the 500lb gorilla of social networking sites, but of course there are others including Myspace and Twitter.

Social networking sites such as Facebook can be a valuable source of information in a personal injury claim, be it a car accident, work injury, slip-and-fall or some other type of injury.  This information can either help the injured person’s case or hurt it. Likewise the Facebook or Myspace page of the person who caused the injury (in a lawsuit, the Defendant) can either help or hurt their defense of the injury claim.

Here is a real life example from an automobile accident lawsuit that Smith & Hassler personal injury attorneys Daragh Carter and Roger Sullivan took to trial in Harris County District Court in 2010. We represented a construction worker whose van was wrecked in an intersection collision with a 19-year old girl who ran a red light. The police report faulted the girl and she got a ticket for running the red light. She was insured with the notorious Allstate, who offered a couple of thousand dollars LESS than our client’s medical bills. When we filed the lawsuit, the 19-year old’s attorneys answered the lawsuit and denied she was at fault for the collision, saying it was our client who was at fault. In her deposition, which is testimony under oath, the 19-year old claimed she had the green light and said she told the police officer the same thing; she also had told us she did not have pictures of either of the wrecked vehicles, which is important evidence in the case…she denied it right up until she was shown her Myspace pages with a picture of her badly wrecked car and a caption she wrote indicating she was at fault. The Myspace pages were admitted into evidence at trial and the jury found for our client, actually awarding him more for pain and suffering than the attorneys suggested.

Of course, the door swings both ways. Injured people can seriously hurt their cases with what they put on their Facebook page, e.g. references to compensation, discussion of the facts of the accident or photographs of them appearing to do things (e.g. water skiing) that are inconsistent with their injuries.

Insurance adjusters weren’t born yesterday. It used to be that they would only research the Facebook pages of younger people making injury claims, but now that social networking sites are so widely used by all age groups, insurance adjusters research almost everyone. Smith & Hassler strongly recommends that you keep your Facebook page set to private where only people you have approved can view the contents of your pages. Smith & Hassler also suggests you be wary of accepting friend request from people you don’t know well, particularly in the weeks and months after a collision: they could be using a dummy account because they want to view your pages.

If you want a rule of thumb, Houston personal injury lawyers Smith & Hassler recommend you think about it this way: take a look at what the general public can learn about you from what can publicly be seen on your Facebook, Myspace or Twitter account. Then imagine it blown up to an 8 foot tall image on a projector screen at the courthouse because your injury claim couldn’t be settled, a lawsuit was filed and the case went to trial. If you think you don’t look good then a jury will think the same.

Smith & Hassler has been representing and advising people in Houston and throughout Texas for more than 20 years. If you have been injured due to another’s negligence and want advice on how to recovery money damages for your injuries and losses, call or email Smith & Hassler today and arrange a free consultation as soon as possible.

Harris County deputy injured in crash when fired on during chase

February 6, 2011: ABC Channel 13 eyewitness news is reporting that a Harris County deputy crashed his patrol car into a tree after swerving the vehicle when he was fired upon by occupants of a vehicle he was chasing. The chase started when the deputy tried to pull over a vehicle for not having a license plate in Meyerland on Beechnut near the West 610 Loop in Houston. A chase ensued that ended on Holly in Bellaire. The suspect vehicle came to a sudden stop and the deputy took action to avoid a gun battle according to J.J. Laine of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable‘s Office. The suspect vehicle fled the scene after the deputy crashed: police are still looking for the vehicle. The vehicle is described as a silver or dark gray Ford Taurus type vehicle; the deputy was transported to the hospital with minor injuries where he was treated and released.

Precinct 5 Deputy Constable sustained minor injuries in an accident during a chase.

All automobile insurance companies are not created equal!

If you have just been involved in a car accident, particularly one in which you were injured, you’re about to get a firsthand lesson in a principle Smith & Hassler knows all too well: not all car insurance companies are created equal. Some automobile insurers are nationwide companies who process billions of dollars in claims each year and have thousands of employees working their claims. They probably advertise on television and you’ve heard of them before. Without commenting on whether they make reasonable settlement offers on injury claims, if nothing else, when you call one of the big insurers somebody is going to pick up the phone.

On the other hand there are some automobile insurers who write automobile insurance policies in only one or two states, usually only write minimum limits policies and typically write policies for driver who have a poor driving record, limited credit history, or both. This type of insurer tends to keep its overhead and costs down by overworking their employees and not having sufficient manpower to answer calls, handle claims, etcetera. You probably won’t have heard of the insurance company before, they don’t advertise on television, and each time you call you find yourself on hold for an unreasonable length of time (or your calls don’t get returned).

Automobile insurers also have different philosophies on how they handle injury claims, and a particular insurance company’s philosophy can change over time. Perhaps the most famous example is when Allstate Insurance hired the McKinsey consulting group to review how Allstate managed injury claims. In the 10-years after Allstate brought in McKinsey, the amount of money Allstate paid out in car accident cases went from $0.63 per premium dollar to $0.47 per premium dollar. McKinsey infamously created a presentation slide in which McKinsey recommended Allstate treat people making injury claims with “boxing gloves” instead of “good hands.”

Having prior experience with a particular insurance company and a good understanding of their claims practices is very valuable when making an injury claim. Beyond that it is also very valuable to have experience with the law firms and lawyers that handle lawsuits filed against people insured with these insurance carriers. When an injury claim cannot be worked out through settlement, a lawsuit is the next step, and knowing who will defend that lawsuit and how they will defend it is a strategic advantage. Smith & Hassler has represented thousands of injured Texas in claims and lawsuits in our 20+ year history. If you have been injured due to the negligence of a driver insured with any of the following automobile insurers (or any other insurance company) you can speak to a Smith & Hassler personal injury attorney at no cost for a free consultation: we’d be glad to discuss your case with you and give you some insight into what to expect from the particular insurance company you’ve found yourself having to deal with.

ACCC Claims ServiceStatewide Claims21st Century, Canal InsuranceAllied InsuranceesuranceMetLifeProgressiveSafecoGainscoLiberty MutualInfinityState FarmGEICOAllstateFarmersChubbZurichU.S. AutoSanta Fe InsuranceTravelersThe HartfordUSAAMercury InsuranceCentral InsuranceGermaniaTexas Farm Bureau

Houston has a major problem: 25% of cars in Harris County are uninsured

If you’ve been involved in an automobile accident with another driver, once the adrenaline wears off and the dust begins to settle your first worry probably is: “Does the other driver have insurance?”  That is a very serious concern in the State of Texas, where recent estimates are that of the 20 million vehicles in Texas, roughly 22 percent are uninsured (even though the penalties for driving without insurance can be harsh).  That means on a state-wide level you have a 1 in 5 chance of being in a collision with an uninsured driver! TexasSure is the State of Texas‘ vehicle insurance verification program and was created by the Texas Departments of Insurance, Public Safety, Motor Vehicles and Information Resources as a system to help reduce the number of uninsured motorists.

These agencies have created a database that links every vehicle registered in Texas by its license plate, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and liability insurance policy. Law enforcement officers can access the database, including at the scene of a car accident by using the computer in their police cruisers, to verify the insurance status of any registered vehicle. Put another way: the police can check at the scene of a collision to see if the drivers involved have valid liability insurance.

The number of uninsured vehicles varies by Texas county.  The TexasSure web site publishes statistics on the number of registered vehicles that are not matched to a liability insurance policy in each county. As of the date of this blog post (02-03-2011) the most recent uninsured motorist statistics were released on 12/06/2010. Harris County, which encompasses the City of Houston, has 2,775,042 registered vehicles, of which 672,384 are not matched to liability insurance, meaning 24.23% of registered vehicles in Harris County are uninsured. That’s a scary, scary statistic! In Montgomery County the percentage is lower at 17.74% uninsured. In Galveston County, 18.52% are uninsured. In Fort Bend County, 16.98% are uninsured.

What you can do to protect yourself from the cost of the damage and injuries caused by uninsured drivers: Obviously the fairest solution of all would be for everyone driving on Texas roads to be responsible and carry the automobile liability insurance Texas law requires.  Unfortunately and despite the best efforts of law enforcement, that isn’t about to happen any time soon.  There is something that you can do TODAY to ensure you are protected from the damage that an uninsured motorist can cause in a car accident, including damage to your vehicle, lost wages and medical bills. Check your own automobile insurance policy to see if you have either of two types of coverage: Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Uninsured Motorist coverage (UM). Personal Injury Protection is a no-fault (it doesn’t matter whose fault the car accident was) benefit that can cover medical bills and lost wages. The minimum PIP coverage is $2,500, the next step up is $5,000 and the next step up is $10,000 (and some people carry more than that). PIP is not very expensive to add to your policy.

Uninsured motorist (or “UM“) coverage allows your own insurance company to “stand in the shoes” of the uninsured motorist who caused the accident. Your insurance carrier will evaluate your injury claim just as if they insured the other driver, and will make a settlement offer based on your medical bills, lost wages, injuries, physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment, disfigurement, anticipated future medical costs and other factors that should go into evaluating an injury claim. The minimum UM coverage you will have on your policy is $30,000 (if you have UM).

Smith & Hassler has all too often seen the financially devastating consequence of car accidents and personal injury (and even death) where an uninsured motorist causes a car accident, and the victim of the car accident does not have PIP or UM. Smith & Hassler strongly recommends that EVERYONE check their automobile insurance policy or speak to their insurance agent to find out if they have PIP or UM coverage. If not, we absolutely recommend that in the City of Houston, in a county with almost 25% OF DRIVERS UNINSURED you take out UM and PIP coverage to protect you and your family. If you have been in an accident with an uninsured motorist, you can call Smith & Hassler today and speak to an attorney for a free consultation.

Farmers Insurance parks bus outside Texas capitol

Consumer advocacy group Texas Watch posted a story online today with the headline “Alert: Farmers Insurance takes over Texas capitol.  According to the Texas Watch article, the Farmers Insurance bus (which is uses as a mobile claims center) was being used as a prop to lobby Texas legislators to look favorably upon the insurance industry in Texas. Texans pay the highest rates for homeowner’s insurance in the United States. Farmers, which is the third largest homeowner’s insurance policy writer in the country, has issued notice of a rate increase in Texas set to take effect next month.

It has been the recent experience of Smith & Hassler that Farmers Insurance has decided to take a “hard line” on personal injury claims made under its automobile insurance policies.  Put another way, Farmers made the decision about a year or so ago that it was going to save some money by paying less on automobile injury claims. This equates to a win for Farmers Insurance (paying less on claims means higher profits) but a loss for Farmers Insurance‘s own policyholders (who increasingly are finding themselves being sued over car accidents when Farmers won’t make a reasonable effort to settle a claim) and injured motorists (who are forced to undergo the time, expense and frustration of a lawsuit in order to recover their damages).  This really is a shame, Farmers Insurance actually used to be a fairly reasonable carrier to deal with, but have decided they would rather take lessons from the notorious Allstate Insurance whose injury claims practices are legend.

Farmers Insurance mobile claims center bus parked outside the Texas capitol

SUV crashes in Rosenberg restaurant, two women injured

Wednesday January 26, 2011, Rosenberg, Texas: An SUV crashed into a Wingstop restaurant in Roseberg yesterday, injuring two women inside. The collision was shortly after 4:00PM in the 24600 block of the Southwest Freeway at Plaza Drive. According to police the 23-year old driver was leaving the restaurant when she accidentally hit the gas when she meant to hit the brake. Witnesses said the two injured women were eating when the vehicle crashed through the wall. According to media reports both women were taken to hospital with minor injuries, but nobody was seriously hurt. Police have indicated the driver was not charged with any crime. The SUV involved was a light-colored Jeep Cherokee: the Jeep was towed from the scene with front end damage. Hopefully the Jeep has the liability insurance required by Texas State law to cover the injuries and damages of the two women dining in the restaurant.

Damage to the Roseberg Wingstop caused by the SUV

Driver who crashed Lexus into apartment suspected of DUI

Houston police are trying to figure out a bizarre incident that occurred yesterday afternoon. It appears that an SUV driver used his vehicle to repeatedly push a woman’s car into the side of an apartment building. The woman told officers she was sitting in her parked car at the Woodway Square Apartments on Wood Hollow near Winrock. Allegedly the suspect rammed her Lexus pushing it up over a curb and into the side of the apartment building, then continued to push her vehicle. Although a lot of damage was done, fortunately nobody was hurt.

Hopefully the owner of the Lexus has full coverage auto insurance. It appears the driver of the SUV that rammed her Lexus did so intentionally. If that proves to be the case, the SUV driver’s automobile insurance carrier would be within their rights to deny the woman’s claim for damage to her Lexus. Automobile insurance policies only cover unintentional acts of negligence, but do not provide coverage for damage caused intentionally such as purposeful ramming .

Smith & Hassler files lawsuit against drunk driver

Smith & Hassler recently filed a lawsuit against a drunk driver who injured a Houston area woman in a three car collision last August. The drunk driver crashed his Honda Accord into the rear of an Acura, the Acura was in turn pushed into the rear of our client’s Ford Mustang. All vehicles were damaged, the drunk driver’s Honda had to be towed from the scene. The drunk driver was arrested by a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy and registered a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of .201.  That is approximately two-and-one-half times the legal limit for intoxication in the State of Texas (anything at or over .08 BAC is legally intoxicated under Texas law). The drunk driver pleaded guilty and was convicted of DWI a month later.

Our client was checked by an ambulance at the scene because she was complaining of back and neck pain, but she chose not to be transported to the hospital right away.  She later went to the emergency room, then followed up with physical therapy and an MRI to help determine the source of her neck pain.

An attempt was made to reach a fair and reasonable settlement with Amica Mutual Insurance Company, the liability insurer for the drunk driver. Amica received the settlement packet (which included the client’s medical bills and records) and, even though they had been given 30-days to evaluate the settlement packet, the very next day responded with an offer of $1,100 less than our client’s medical bills.

Smith & Hassler filed suit right away. Hopefully with an opportunity to re-evaluate, Amica County Mutual Insurance will reconsider their evaluation of the claim.

Trial victory for Smith & Hassler in Houston car accident injury case

Smith & Hassler is pleased to announce a trial victory yesterday in an automobile accident injury case. The case is Cause No. 2009-38849; Pedro Arroyo v Jennifer Fares, In the 165th Judicial District Court, Harris County, Texas (Judge Josefina Rendon presiding). Some details of the case are discussed here: no attorney-client privileges are violated because the trial and the trial transcript are a matter of public record.

Smith & Hassler’s client, Mr. Pedro Arroyo, is a 40-year old self-employed construction worker with 3 children. On December 12, 2007 Mr. Arroyo was driving a Chevrolet van on the beltway 8 feeder road. When he reached the intersection of the beltway 8 feeder and Gulfbank, his van was struck by a 2006 Dodge Magnum station wagon driven by the defendant, Jennifer Fares, who was 19-years old at the time.

The impact was significant: both vehicles were badly damaged and had to be towed. Many of Mr. Arroyo’s construction tools that were in his van were damaged. The police investigated and Ms. Fares was issued a ticket for running the red light. An ambulance checked Mr. Arroyo out at the scene but he did not want to be transported because he was concerned about the safekeeping of his tools. After the collision Pedro had pain to his left knee, left elbow, neck and his low back.

The next day Mr. Arroyo saw a chiropractor at Houston Spine & Rehabilitation Center on FM1960. He was diagnosed with headaches and lumbar and cervical sprains/strains. Pedro left for his annual Christmas vacation to Mexico at that time and resumed treatment with Spine & Rehab on January 4, 2008 when he returned to the United States. Mr. Arroyo’s additional treatment consisted of an MRI of his neck, an MRI of his low back, a consultation with a pain management specialist (M.D.) and two visits to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. Doctors suggested Mr. Arroyo get an epidural steroid injection (he never have the injection). He had a total of 14 visits to Spine & Rehab for physical therapy and chiropractic care.

Pedro’s medical bills came to $8,046.  Before a lawsuit was ever filed, Smith & Hassler presented Pedro’s claim to Allstate, Ms. Fares’ automobile insurer, hoping to negotiate a fair settlement and avoid a lawsuit.  Allstate initially offered Pedro an amount under $6,000 then finally made their “top offer” of $6,800.  Despite Smith & Hassler’s efforts to negotiate, both before and after the lawsuit was filed, Allstate never offered more than $6,800 (which is less than Pedro’s medical bills). The last settlement offer Smith & Hassler made to Allstate before trial was $15,000.

After hearing the facts and evidence during a one-day trial, during which the only witnesses were the Plaintiff and Defendant, Smith & Hassler attorneys Daragh Carter (lead) and Roger Sullivan asked the jury to award the following:

Past medical expenses: $8,046
Past physical pain: $2,500
Past physical impairment: $2,500
Past mental anguish: $1,500
Total: $14,546

Here is what the jury actually awarded:

Past medical expenses: $8,046
Past physical pain: $3,000
Past physical impairment: $3,000
Past mental anguish: $1,500
Total verdict: $15,546 (not including taxable court costs and pre-judgment interest).

It was very gratifying that the jury saw fit to award MORE than was asked for, and this speaks to the justice of Pedro’s case.  The case was defended at trial by the law firm G. Patrick Collins & Associates, who is Allstate Insurance Company’s in-house law firm.

This was a fair verdict for a deserving client. Smith & Hassler thanks Mr. Arroyo for trusting us with his case. At our firm we believe it is important a personal injury attorney be prepared to take a case to trial when necessary: if you are currently searching for a personal injury attorney to represent you, you might ask attorneys you are considering when they last tried a case to a jury and what the outcome was.

Houston car accident victim not “put back where she belongs” by Farmers Insurance.

Smith & Hassler currently represents “Mary”* in a lawsuit against a Farmers Insurance insured driver who rear-ended Mary in a severe automobile collision in May 2010.  The Farmers insured was driving a Ford Excursion, the largest, heaviest SUV available to the public (Ford Motor Company marketed the Excursion as being bigger than the Chevrolet Suburban).

Mary, who was driving a Toyota Corolla compact car was stopped for a red light in Houston at an intersection.  The Farmers insured smashed into the rear of Mary’s Corolla pushing her car completely through the intersection.  As you can see from the picture below, the damage to Mary’s Toyota was very significant:

Mary was taken by ambulance to Memorial Hermann Hospital where she was treated for neck and back pain and released that day.  Mary had a total of $11,878 in medical bills for treatment related to the accident.  After the hospital visit Mary had follow up physical therapy and chiropractic treatment.  She stopped seeing her chiropractor in July at which time it was noted she was still impaired, still having pain, and her pain would flare up when she exerted herself.

Farmers Insurance was offered an opportunity to resolve Mary’s claim on fair and reasonable terms.  Instead after they were provided a copy of Mary’s medical bills, records and photographs of her car Farmers Insurance offered Mary $11,170.

That means Farmers Insurance was taking the position that Mary should pay over $600 of her own medical expenses for being rear-ended by their insured, and should receive zero compensation for several months of physical pain and limitation due to her injuries.

Unfortunately when an insurance company doesn’t want to pay a fair settlement, their insured gets sued, which is what happened in Mary’s case.

Farmers Insurance’s advertising slogan is: “Farmers puts you back where you belong.”  Apparently that doesn’t apply to Mary.

* Client’s name has been changed for this blog post.