When a “Trial Lawyer” is not a Trial Lawyer

Completing law school and passing the Bar Exam provides the title, “Attorney At Law.” Many people who have a license call themselves auto accident, “trial lawyers” but are they really?

Every lawyer can say, “I am a trial lawyer” just like every person with a paintbrush can claim to be Michelangelo because, after all, they can use the brush to paint the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Claiming to be a trial lawyer without ever going to trial is an outright lie.

The TV and radio are full of advertisements of lawyers who say they are, “trial lawyers” but have NEVER had a trial at all. They have never presented a case to a jury and never received a verdict.

Trial work is hard and complex. It requires dedication and skills that are actually uncommon among lawyers who claim to be personal injury, auto accident, or negligence attorneys. If you are considering a lawyer, ask them, “Have you PERSONALLY had an auto accident trial before a jury?” And if the answer is yes, ask how many and when was the last one. The answer may surprise you.

At the Law Office of Dario Diaz we actually go to trial and get verdicts for our clients. We stand up, in the court, and in front of a jury to present our client’s case. The insurance companies know which lawyers go to trial and which lawyers just settle everything; and they don’t treat real, “trial lawyers” the same as those who advertise as trial lawyers.

For an example of some of our trial verdicts see: http://dariodiazlaw.com/past-results/

Don’t Sit on Your Legal Rights or they May be Lost!

We are often faced with deadlines, and it is not always easy to meet them with everything we deal with in our lives. However, missing legal deadlines may have serious consequences.

If a contract is broken because of a missed payment or some other breach of the contract, it may be possible to reach a workout. This may include catching up on the missed payments, modifying the loan, or re-working the agreement.

However, if you have a legal claim against another party, there are limitations of how long you have to bring the claim. If you do not file the claim in time, you may lose your right to do so. The intention of such rules and laws is to resolve legal disputes within a reasonable time.

If you are sued by another party, the consequences can be even worse. If you fail to answer or respond to the lawsuit, the other party can get a default judgment against you and you won’t even be able to defend yourself.

Florida case law is filled with cases of missing deadlines. For example, in Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC v. Paul Fernandes, 13 Fla.L.Weekly Supp. 560a (Fla. 15th Jud.Cir., Palm Beach County, 2006) the Court found that a case was barred because it was filed too late.

Don’t lose your right or your defenses because you miss a deadline. If you have questions regarding your legal rights and possible claims or defense of claims against you, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a FREE consultation. Phone: (813) 259-1017. We are here to help.

A brief introduction to Florida PIP Coverage

As a Personal Injury Attorney I get asked many questions about insurance coverage. Many times the questions come after an accident when the client is surprised that their insurance does not pay what they thought. Florida insurance law is complex and many people don’t really understand what portion of the policy pays for losses. I have put together some videos to help explain the different types of auto insurance coverages available in Florida. This video deals with PIP coverage. It is a brief introduction to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) (also called No-Fault Insurance) coverage.

The PIP “Independent” Medical Examination

What is an Independent Medical Examination (“IME”)?

Your auto insurance policy has a provision which allows the insurance company to have a physician perform a medical examination to determine if any further treatment is necessary.  A more accurate name would be, “Insurance Medical Examination” since the insurance company pays the doctor/chiropractor.  The IME physician is “working” for the insurance company and therefore no doctor/patient confidentiality exists.  You are required to attend an IME based on the contractual obligations of your insurance policy.
The insurance company almost always unilaterally schedules these examinations before your treating physician has completed your course of treatment.  In the vast majority of cases your benefits will be suspended after you attend this examination as the IME physician will determine that further medical treatment is not warranted.  Remember, the IME physician is paid by the insurance company.  Once the IME physician determines (after a single visit) that you don’t need any further treatment, the insurance company will no longer pay benefits to your treating physician.

It is, however, extremely important that you do not miss the appointment otherwise the insurance company will automatically suspend and/or deny your benefits for lack of cooperation.  Our firm, in almost every case, requires the insurance company to schedule the IME at a time convenient to our clients with plenty of notice and coordination of the date and time.  We also require the insurance company to provide transportation when necessary.

Once you are at the doctor’s office they will ask you to fill out a form stating your injuries, course of treatment, medications, etc.  Try to be as accurate as you possibly can.  Do not discuss how the accident happened, how much property damage occurred, or who was at fault with the IME doctor.  The IME doctor is not your friend.  He/she will report everything you tell them to the insurance company and even innocent conversation will be taken out of context and embellished by the IME physician.
When the IME doctor authors a report stating that your treatment is no longer necessary, your PIP benefits will be suspended effective immediately.  However your treating physician can challenge the IME doctor’s opinion in an effort to reestablish your benefits.

We often are involved in situations where the treating doctor believes further treatment is warranted after the IME physician determines it is not.  Just because the insurance company says you don’t need medical care does not make it true.

What is Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) / No-Fault Coverage

Florida insurance law is…confusing.  Automobile insurance is the most common type of insurance most of us will deal with at one time or another.  Many, many times the insured person does not find out what coverage he or she has until after a crash occurs.  Only then does the person find out if they have insurance coverage for the damage or loss.  I hear clients state, often, “I have full coverage.”  “Full coverage” means absolutely NOTHING.  There is no provision, anywhere, for a “full coverage” policy.  Florida is a sort of a la carte state for insurance coverage.  That means that you can pick what coverages you want and how much coverage you want.  The only real mandatory coverage is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) also knows as No-Fault coverage.  PIP is what I will cover, somewhat briefly, in this post.

PIP is a type of insurance that pays for your medical bills and lost wages in the event of injury in an accident.  It makes no difference who is to blame or who is at fault; if you are injured in a car crash your PIP insurance pays for your medical bills.  So, if you are a passenger in a friends car and are involved in a car crash, your PIP coverage will pay for your hospital and doctor bills.  Many people do not understand this and tell me, “Why should my insurance pay when I wasn’t at fault?”  That’s Florida law.  PIP is, “PERSONAL” Injury Protection which means that you carry it on your PERSON without regard for who was driving, which car you are in, or who is at fault.  Of course, different situations may arise (i.e. an injured person does not own a car or have any PIP insurance) which have different coverage issues.

A common PIP policy will generally cover up to $10,000.00 of medical bills and lost wages and may have a deductible.  PIP pays 80% of your medical bills and will also pay 60% any lost wages you might have during your disability.  If you are unable to work, it is essential that you get a disability certificate from your medical provider and then submit support for your lost wages (generally a few weeks/months of past pay stubs).  Your PIP insurance company will then pay 60% of your lost wages up to a maximum of $10,000.00.  Remember, that the $10,000.00 is the TOTAL available for your medical bills AND lost wages.  So if your medical bills are $8,000.00 that will only leave $2,000.00 for lost wages.

This is a very, VERY brief introduction to a single type of insurance coverage available.  When you consider the different types of auto insurance coverages: PIP, Comprehensive, Collision, Bodily Injury, Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist, MedPay, rental, roadside assistance, Gap insurance; you begin to get an idea of how complicated coverage might be, and how much may not be covered when you think it is.

It’s important to know your coverages and rights.  The worst time to find out what is covered is after a car crash.  Unfortunately, most people find out what is NOT covered and are then responsible for the loss on their own.  I recommend speaking with your agent and getting an exact picture of your coverage.  My office would be glad to assist you with any issues you might have or any questions regarding coverage on your current policy.

Involved in an Accident? Take a picture!

All cases boil down to one thing, the ability to prove negligence on the at fault party.  I can tell you from experience that many times a client will tell me that the other person admitted fault at the scene, was ticketed, or was obviously at fault only to have an insurance company later tell my client that they bore some responsibility for the accident.

In this time of technological availability, we all have products available to us that can assist if the facts are later disputed or the other party is untruthful.  One of these products is the cell phone camera.  The vast majority of cell phones now have such cameras available.  Wouldn’t a picture of the accident scene or damages benefit your case later?

In an Automobile crash case, take pictures of the vehicles involved and the damage.  Did the air bags deploy?  Did you suffer bruising from the seatbelt or other body impact?  Skid Marks or debris in the road?  Are there beer cans in the other car?  Did the bushes or landscaping at the intersection block the view of either driver?  In every single instance you can use your cell phone to take a picture.  Don’t worry about how you can take the pictures off the phone, or how long the pictures will be saved.  Just remember to document everything at the scene.  Remember, take a picture!

In the premises liability case, it is crucial to prove the negligence clearly.  Did you slip and fall due to a spill or substance on the floor?  Take a picture!  Was the sidewalk in poor repair or uneven causing you to fall?  Take a picture!  Were the steps full of debris or broken?  Take a picture!  These pictures will be absolutely beneficial to your case and proving negligence.

All this will document evidence of the negligence and damages.  However, be sure that all photos are taken with safety considerations and that the photos accurately depict the scene.

Getting your car fixed after an accident

When you are involved in an accident in which you are not at fault, the other party is responsible for the damages to your vehicle.  It is important that a claim is made quickly so that the insurance company can take care of your vehicle in a timely fashion.  Many insurance companies will try to stall paying your property damage by claiming that they are, “investigating” the accident.  This often results in a delay in getting your car fixed.  More often then not, it’s a delay tactic used by the insurance company to try and force a lower settlement offer.

Once the insurance company accepts liability they will send an adjuster to evaluate your damages, write an estimate and issue a check for the damages.  You can determinie where you want your vehicle to be repaired, you DO NOT have to use the repair shop recommended by the insurance company.  However, many insurance companies have preferred shops which often have the insurance company’s interest and not yours.  Also, if your vehicle is still under warranty or if it’s a leased vehicle you might have to take it to the dealership to be repaired otherwise your warranty might be voided.

For more information about property damage and getting your car fixed after an accident, contact my office.  While many attorney’s charge for property damage work, my office does not.

A seat belt can save your life in an auto accident – and your case

Florida Law mandates that the front seat occupants of a vehicle must wear seat belts; and all passengers under 18 years old must wear seat belts or other available restraints regardless of where they are seated in the vehicle.  It is against the law to operate a car if all the passengers do not meet these standards.

When in an auto accident, a three point seat belt can prevent your pelvis from rotating and causing more severe back injuries.  It can also protect your body’s internal organs as well as restricting your body’s motion in the cabin making it far less likely that you will suffer head trauma or hit the windshield or roof of the vehicle.  Insurance companies routinely argue that a person’s failure to wear their seat belt resulted in a more severe injury than had a seatbelt been used.  Insurance companies also claim that if a person was not wearing a seat belt during a crash, then they are solely responsible for their injuries as those injuries could have been prevented by wearing their seat belt.  One of the first defenses insurance companies routinely claim is, “the seat belt defense.”

Wearing a seat belt can not only save your life but also prevents the insurance company from claiming the seat belt defense in an effort to minimize your personal injury claim.

Beware signing documents immediately after a car crash

A common insurance company tactic is to offer a quick settlement for, “medical bills” or “lost wages.” The insurance company will send an adjuster to look at the property damage. While the adjuster reviews the property damage he or she may make an offer to pay for your medical bills or lost wages and offer some small sum, for example $500.00. Once you accept this settlement you may very well be releasing the insurance company from any future liability.

A client recently came to my office just a few days after the auto accident. The insurance company had already visited her to evaluate the damage to her car. The adjuster offered her $500.00 for her lost wages. Had she accepted the $500 settlement, she may have very well settled the case and lost her right to recover for her injuries from the accident.

The best advice is to contact an attorney immediately after an accident. Whatever you do, DO NOT sign anything from the insurance company without the advice of an attorney. The attorney will be far better prepared to deal with the insurance company adjusters on the issues of property damage, medical treatment, and negotiating compensation for the damages.