Answers to Your Personal Injury, Workers Compensation, and Medical Malpractice Legal Questions
Your Questions Answered - Your Legal Options Explained
At KCAIA we know that it is essential for every injury victim to get good information about how to pursue their accident claim. Following an accident that causes serious injury to you or a loved one, there are often many unanswered questions.
Listed below are some of the most frequently asked questions we get from new clients. You can browse by category using the dropdown menu. Alternatively, for a quicker, more customized search, try typing your question into the search bar above.
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What is ERISA and how could it affect my car accident claim?
If you have health insurance through your employer, it is likely that your plan is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Securities Act (ERISA). This federal law sets minimum standards for voluntary pension and health care plans offered by private employers. The intent of the law is to protect individuals who subscribe to these plans, but due to recent Supreme Court decisions, it has also presented problems to subscribers who win settlements in personal injury cases. The laws that apply to this situation are complex, but we provide a general overview here.
ERISA Requirements That Protect You
While you may have never heard of ERISA, you can be sure that you have been affected by it—mostly for the better. Passed in 1974, ERISA requires that private insurers offer participants the following:
- Plan information, including plan features and funding
- Fiduciary responsibilities of plan trustees or managers
- A grievance and appeals process to get benefits
- The right to sue for benefits and breaches of fiduciary responsibilities
Several important amendments to ERISA have also been passed over the years that expand protections for health benefit recipients, including:
- Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). This amendment provides some workers and their families with the right to continue their health coverage for a certain amount of time following the loss of a job and other events.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This act provides protections for workers and their families who have preexisting health problems or who face discrimination in healthcare coverage based on their medical status.
Amendments have also been passed regarding mental health and the health of newborns and women. There is no doubt that ERISA is an important law that protects health plan subscribers. However, if you don’t read the fine print provided with your plan, ERISA could come back to haunt you if you win a car accident settlement.
How ERISA Can Affect a Personal Injury Settlement
When you are injured in a car accident and need medical care, your health insurance will generally cover those immediate expenses. If another party (or multiple parties) is responsible for your injuries, you may have cause to sue them or their insurers to recover monetary compensation for injuries, lost income, and pain and suffering. Plaintiffs who are successful in these claims usually end up with settlements that are much greater than the total of their medical bills. Heath insurance companies have the right to claim a portion of your settlement as reimbursement for the medical care they have already covered. This is called subrogation and is very common. Often, the insurer will place a lien on the settlement until they are reimbursed. This means you will not have access to your recovery until you pay back the insurance company.
However, when your health insurer does not place a lien and you fail to pay them back, ERISA gives them the right to make a claim against your settlement. Once this proceeding begins, you are in danger of losing not only what the health insurer covered, but your entire settlement.
This is where the law becomes complicated. Your insurer’s right to your settlement under ERISA depends on the language in your plan, whether the plan is self-funded or insured, overriding state laws, and many other factors.
What You Should Do to Avoid an ERISA Lien
The most important thing you can do is read and understand the language in your plan. ERISA law does not override what you have agreed to in your plan. If your plan requires repayment of medical benefits when you receive a settlement, then you must reimburse your insurer. If your plan limits what the insurance company can demand from your settlement, ERISA does not allow them to demand more.
People often end up with a lien against their claim because they didn’t understand their responsibilities. Recent Supreme Court rulings have given more weight to ERISA law and once a lien is placed, it is very difficult to negotiate, so it is important that you seek the advice of an attorney before a lien is placed. If you were injured in a car accident and you don’t understand your obligations to your health insurer, contact the attorneys at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys.
How could I lose my workers’ compensation benefits?
When a worker is injured on the job or becomes ill due to a workplace exposure, he is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits to cover the cost of medical care and lost wages while he is unable to work. The worker’s ability to perform job duties will be assessed by a doctor chosen by the employer or the employer’s workers’ comp insurer. Disabilities will be classified according to whether they are permanent or temporary and whether they are total or partial. A temporary disability is one from which the worker is expected to eventually recover and return to work. An injured worker should expect to continue receiving benefit payments until he or she returns to work. There are situations, however, that can cause a worker to lose his or her benefits.
Losing Workers’ Comp Benefits
If you are legitimately ill or injured and have followed your doctor’s and your employer’s instructions regarding your medical care and work status, you should not have to worry about suddenly being cut off from benefits. However, when an employer mistrusts your intentions, you may find yourself in danger of losing your benefits. If you engage in any of the following actions, or your employer believes you have done any of these things, workers’ comp payments could be terminated:
- You fail to follow through with medical treatment as ordered by a doctor. The intention of workers’ compensation is to provide income while you are recovering from injuries suffered in the workplace that prevent you from doing your job. In order to qualify for the benefits, you must make every effort to heal and return to work. If you don’t, you could lose benefits.
- You refuse to comply with an order to have a medical exam. If your employer suspects you have recovered enough to return to work, he may order you to submit to a medical exam. If you refuse, your benefits could be terminated.
- You are convicted of a crime and are put in jail. Prisoners are not eligible for worker’s comp benefits. If you are imprisoned, your benefits will cease, even if you have family members who rely on the benefits as well.
- You have returned to work. If you are earning an income, even if it is not in your original line of work, your benefits may be terminated. Workers’ comp is meant to provide an income when you are not otherwise able to earn one. Returning to any type of work could cancel your benefits.
Even if you have jeopardized your benefits in one of these ways, your checks should not stop without warning. If your employer wants to begin the process of terminating your benefits, he will have to submit a request to be reviewed by a judge.
Petition to End Benefits
If your employer has submitted a request to terminate your benefits, you should receive a copy of the request. The request will be reviewed by a judge who will make the final decision about ending your benefits. Until the hearing takes place and a decision is made, you should continue to receive your worker’s comp checks. As soon as you receive notification that a request to terminate your benefits has been filed, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. If your employer’s doctor has determined that you are fit to return to work, but your personal doctor disagrees, you will have to provide evidence of your ongoing disability to the judge. These cases can become complicated very quickly, so hiring an attorney is always a good idea.
Don’t Hesitate to Hire a Lawyer
Even a legitimate workers’ compensation claim can be overturned by a judge. If there is a chance that you will lose your benefits before you are physically able to return to work, you should contact a workers’ comp attorney as soon as possible. Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys will work hard to document your injuries and demonstrate the legitimacy of your claim. Contact us at (888) 348-2616 to get started.
What do I have to prove to win my car accident claim?
When you are injured in a car crash caused by another driver’s negligence, you deserve to be compensated for your expenses. Some of these cases are clear-cut. The other driver admits fault—or cannot deny fault due to charges filed by the police or other undeniable evidence—and his insurance company pays the claim without question. Often, however, the at-fault driver or his insurance company denies he was at fault or claims that fault was shared by more than one party. In these cases, you will need to provide evidence showing that he was at fault and should be held accountable for your expenses. Because this is a civil claim, however, the burden of proof you must meet is lower than that of a criminal charge. We explain burden of proof here.
What Is Burden of Proof?
You may have heard the term “burden of proof” on a legal drama or in a detective novel, but you may not fully understand what it means. You have probably also heard the legal phrase, “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is his burden of proof. If you look at the burden of proof in terms of percentage, beyond a reasonable doubt means that jurors are 99 percent sure of the accused’s guilt. This is a high burden to meet, as it should be when determining guilt in a criminal case. However, in a civil case, the burden of proof is much lower. In a car accident claim, for example, the burden of proof is on the injured party, who must show the other driver’s guilt beyond a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it is more likely than not that the other driver is negligent. In other words, the judge or jury must be convinced that the chance the plaintiff’s facts are true is at least 51 percent. This is a far lower standard than the 99 percent burden in a criminal trial, but it is still not always easy to meet.
Settlement vs. Trial
Many car accident cases can be settled out of court. If you are the injured victim of a car crash, your first move should be to secure an experienced car crash attorney, who will begin settlement negotiations with the other party’s insurance company. In order to get the maximum available compensation, your attorney will need to provide evidence of the other driver’s guilt, but this evidence does not have to be certified or verified at this point. Simple copies of police reports, witness statements, and photos of the scene of the crash can be shown to the insurance adjuster in an informal setting and may be enough to convince the insurance company to pay up. However, if your attorney cannot convince the adjuster to provide a reasonable settlement, he may have to take the case to trial. It is at this point that he will have to prove the other driver’s negligence rather than simply showing his negligence. He will do this by formally entering the proof he has gathered into evidence. This proof will include:
- Medical reports
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Expert testimony
- Crash scene photos and diagrams
- Lost wages statements
With this evidence, your attorney must convince the judge or jury that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the defendant caused you harm and should be held responsible. He will then have met his burden of proof and the court will find in your favor and award you the compensation you deserve.
Our Car Accident Attorneys Will Gather the Evidence
While beyond a preponderance of the evidence is a fairly low burden of proof, it is still not easy for an injured victim to gather the evidence and present it on his or her own. The car accident attorneys at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys have many years of experience presenting evidence in car crash cases and will do our best to gather the evidence you need to make your strongest case. Call our office at (888) 348-2616 to discuss your case today.
How long will my car accident claim take?
As with any legal question, the answer to this depends on many factors and will differ for each person. It can be very frustrating not knowing how long your claim will take and you may feel as if you are in limbo waiting to hear the outcome. However, it is important that you not rush to settle out of fear or frustration. Often, a victim is awarded much less than the claim is worth because he is anxious to get it over with. If your case has some complicating factors—such as questions of liability or catastrophic injury—you can expect it to take longer, but the wait will be worth it in the long run.
Simple Cases Settle Quickly
A clear-cut case usually does not require an attorney and will be resolved within a matter of months. Factors that simplify a claim include:
- Solid evidence of total liability. If the fault of the other driver is clearly established through a traffic citation or police testimony and there is no question of comparative negligence, the case should settle quickly.
- Medical damages are clearly established. If the insurance adjuster agrees that submitted medical bills are reasonable and validated by the injuries and the amount of money involved is fairly small, there would be no need to drag out the claim.
- The insurance company is not backed up with claims. Often even simple claims are delayed just because the insurance company has a backlog of claims to consider. Sometimes, small, independent insurers are quicker to settle claims than large carriers.
Factors That Complicate and Delay Claims
Unfortunately, not many claims meet the criteria above for a quick resolution. If there are any questions about liability or medical damages in your case, your first move should be to hire an experienced car accident attorney to represent you. Once you have an attorney on your case, the complicating factors will be dealt with in a way that benefits your case. Some common factors that delay and complicate car crash claims include:
- Serious injuries. When damage claims are high due to the medical costs of treating a serious injury, the insurance company will always investigate and demand justification for every treatment cost. With injuries such as spinal cord damage or traumatic brain injury, your attorney may delay in order to discover the full scope of the injury and potential long-term costs. There are options for paying your bills in the meantime and holding out for the maximum possible settlement will be well worth it in the long run.
- Conservative insurance carriers. Some large carriers have a policy of offering low settlements and forcing victims to fight for more money. These companies have lawyers on staff and employ them to fight claims on a regular basis. These delay tactics can drag out your case for years, especially if you don’t have an aggressive attorney on your side.
- Unclear or multiple liability. If the circumstances of the crash create cloudy liability issues, the defendant’s lawyer or insurance company will use those questions to deny your claim and put off your settlement. Your attorney may use expert testimony, find witnesses to the crash to interview, or use a variety of other methods to prove liability. There may also be other potentially liable parties, such as a government entity responsible for poor lighting, signage, or road design. Going after these parties will also take time—but could pay off.
- Taking a claim to trial. If your attorney cannot get the insurance company to agree to the settlement you deserve, he may decide to take your case to trial. Gathering evidence, securing witnesses, waiting for hearings and depositions, and waiting for a trial date can add months to your wait time. It’s important to trust your attorney throughout this process.
If your car crash claim has any of these complicating factors, it may be several years before you see any money. Be sure to ask your attorney questions along the way so that you understand what you are waiting for.
Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys Want to Hear Your Story
If your car accident is turning out to not be a clear-cut case with a quick settlement, call our office to speak to one of our attorneys. We will listen to your story and tell you what we can do for you.
When can a trucking company be held liable for a truck accident?
When a commercial big rig crashes, it is frequently due to an error made by the truck driver. Whether the driver was speeding, dozed off at the wheel, or failed to make a mechanical repair, the crash may appear to be entirely his fault. However, most commercial truck drivers are employees of big trucking companies who have a duty to make sure their drivers are driving safely and that their equipment is in good condition. In many cases of truck driver error, an experienced truck accident attorney can make a connection to a negligent action on the part of the trucking company. The trucking company will have a team of lawyers to fight this and to protect their driver, but with evidence on your side, you can take them on and win.
Trucking Company Hiring Negligence
Trucking companies are responsible for hiring and training drivers and for purchasing and maintaining trucks, so when there is an accident caused by a driver or by equipment failure, it is likely that the company has played some part in the cause of the accident. Truck driver employers must hold their employees to high standards when hiring them. When the truck company fails to do the following, they could be liable for any accidents their drivers cause:
- Ensuring drivers are qualified. In order to drive a big commercial truck, drivers must have a clean driving record and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). They must be at least 21 years old and pass a physical examination, including a vision and hearing screening. It is up to the employer to check the status of their employees’ licenses and physicals before hiring them and throughout the term of their employment.
- Conduct pre-employment background checks. Before hiring a driver, trucking companies must conduct a background check to ensure that he or she has not been convicted of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle, a crime using drugs, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a hit-and-run accident that resulted in death. If an employer fails to run a background check and their driver ends up committing a crime while driving, the employer could be held accountable for putting him on the road.
- Monitor drivers to ensure compliance with Hours-of-Service requirements. Federal Hours-of-Service rules are in place to make sure drivers are not on the road for long hours and driving while fatigued. Drivers are responsible for tracking their hours, but their employers should also monitor them and should never require drivers to break these rules.
- Conduct random drug and alcohol tests on drivers. Driving while impaired is a significant cause of truck accidents. The trucking company has a responsibility to regularly test their drivers to identify users who could harm others. If a drunk truck driver causes an accident and it is shown that his employer never conducted a random drug test, the company could be held liable.
After hiring qualified candidates, the truck company is also responsible for providing driver training and ongoing re-training. If a truck driver’s poor driving skills lead to an accident and it is discovered that he was never adequately trained by his employer, the company could be held liable.
Insufficient Truck Maintenance
Trucking companies own the vehicles being driven by their employers and, therefore, are responsible for their inspection and maintenance. While the driver must conduct daily checks while out on the road, the company must also make sure of the following:
- Vehicles are regularly inspected
- Trucks are maintained and repaired
- Trucks meet minimum safety standards
Equipment failure, such as tire blowouts, brake failure, and defective couplings with the trailer are common causes of accidents that injure motorists. When this happens, the trucking company should be held primarily responsible for not ensuring the safety of their vehicle.
Hire a Qualified Truck Accident Attorney to Get Your Maximum Settlement
In the immediate aftermath of a truck crash, victims are often shocked and confused. They will be approached by lawyers for the trucking company soon after the accident, who will deny that they have any liability in the case. It is vital that these victims have the representation of an experienced truck accident attorney. Call Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys at (888) 348-2616 as soon as possible after your accident to start protecting your claim.
If I suffer a heart attack at work, will I be covered by workers’ comp?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. In general, both Kansas and Missouri do not provide coverage for a heart attack suffered at work unless it can be proven that the work environment or work activities directly caused the heart attack. You can rest assured that your employer and their insurer will fight your claim for coverage for a heart attack, so you do not want to take this on alone. It would be a mistake to attempt a claim for a heart attack without an experienced workers’ comp law firm on your side.
The Law in Kansas
Kansas workers’ compensation law states, “The law does not provide compensation for coronary or coronary artery disease unless it is shown that the exertion of the work that caused the injury was beyond that required by the employee’s usual job duties. Another exception is vascular injury caused by extreme heat.” In other words, if it is proven that that the employee was required to exert herself in some work-related task beyond what her normal job description called for and she suffered a heart attack, her injuries would be covered under workers’ comp. However, if she was predisposed to a heart attack due to health conditions unrelated to her job duties and happened to have a heart attack while at work, she would not be covered by workers’ comp.
The Law in Missouri
Under Missouri law, “An injury resulting directly or indirectly from idiopathic causes is not compensable.” Idiopathic causes are defined as “conditions … peculiar to the individual; innate.” In order for the Missouri board of workers’ comp to deny a claim for a heart attack, it must provide evidence to prove that “the event results from some cause personal to the individual, such as a physical defect or disease.” If an employee’s heart attack is caused by a congenital disorder, for example, it would not be compensable under workers’ comp, but, like in Kansas, if it can be shown that work conditions or exposures contributed to the heart attack, then it may be covered. Again, you will need a law firm with experience in obtaining evidence and medical records in order to make your claim.
What Can Cause Heart Attacks at Work
No matter where you work, the key to obtaining workers’ comp for a heart attack is proving a connection between the heart attack and the work environment. If a person is suffering from coronary heart disease and has a heart attack at work, this is not attributable to a workplace factor. However, a coronary artery spasm can be caused by non-disease-related factors, including factors present in many work environments. Some major causes of coronary artery spasm include:
- Stress. Stressful situations can increase blood pressure and expose your body to elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can lead to a heart attack. High-pressure jobs, tight deadlines, and unforgiving supervisors can all lead to high levels of workplace stress.
- Exertion. If you are not used to regular aerobic exercise, sudden and strenuous physical exertion can lead to a heart attack. Moving heavy materials, performing physical tasks in a hurry, or being suddenly frightened or surprised can all cause a heart attack at work.
- Exposure to extreme heat or cold. Extreme cold temperatures can constrict blood vessels, which can prevent blood flow to the heart and result in a heart attack. Likewise, working in extreme heat causes extra work for the heart, as well as loss of sodium and potassium through sweat, and an increase in stress hormones. This can lead to heat stroke and heart attack in construction workers, road crews, and landscapers.
- Occupational exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon disulfide, nitroglycerin, and carbon monoxide are a few of the specific toxins encountered occupationally that are known to affect the heart. Of these, carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust is the most common occupational exposure. If you are exposed to these toxins on a regular basis and suffered a heart attack—at work or at home—you may be able to prove that the workplace exposure led to the heart attack, in which case, your heart attack would be covered under workers’ comp.
An Experienced Workers’ Comp Attorney Can Help
If you suffered a heart attack at work, you will probably be told by your employer that it is not covered by workers’ comp. However, it is worth contacting our office for a review of your case before you give up on getting the benefits you may be entitled to. Fill out the form on this page and we will be in touch shortly.
Are recreational vehicles unsafe to drive?
A recreational vehicle is a house on wheels—what could be more fun for a retiree adventure or family vacation? Everything you need—including the kitchen sink—is with you as you explore national and state parks, beaches, and even city centers. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize how dangerous it can be to be a passenger in an RV during a crash. Depending on the class rating of the motorhome, it may not even be inspected for safety issues. Learn more about how to stay safe on your RV adventure.
Class A, B, or C: Which Is Safest?
Each class of motorhome is subject to different safety codes and offers safety advantages and disadvantages. A key piece of information to understand is that, while the driving parts of RVs are usually built by automotive manufacturers and adhere to the same safety standards as ordinary cars and trucks, the living parts of them are manufactured by smaller, specialized companies and are not subject to automotive safety standards. Also, it is never safe to walk around in an RV while it is in motion, to sit on chairs or benches in the living compartment without a seatbelt, or to lie down or sleep on beds while the vehicle is moving. We discuss each class and the safety implications here:
- Class A. Class A motorhomes are the big, pricey buses you see cruising down the highway. It would seem that their size and weight would make them the safest vehicles on the road, but it all depends on the price tag. Class A motorhomes that are built on a commercial diesel bus chassis are among the most expensive, but are also the most crashworthy. Most Class A RVs, however, are built on a flat truck chassis from an auto manufacturer such as GM or Ford. These are more affordable, but less stable and less crashworthy because there is not as much support of the living area of the RV. Class A motorhomes have seatbelts, but usually no airbags and the driver and front seat passenger have little buffer between themselves and whatever they may be colliding with.
- Class B. Also known as camper vans, these RVs are often built by major automotive manufacturers and adhere to strict safety standards. They are usually equipped with airbags and have been crash tested. As with any RV, passengers are safest buckled in the seat next to the driver, not sitting or walking around in the back.
- Class C. These vehicles are built on a truck cabin chassis and are as safe as any truck for drivers and passengers wearing seatbelts in the driving compartment. However, the living cabin is not crash-tested and will disintegrate in a rollover or major collision. Passengers should never travel in the living compartment.
Another camping option that takes advantage of modern automotive safety technology is to pull a camping trailer behind a standard truck or SUV. Passengers should never ride in a trailer while in motion, of course, but this option allows all travelers to be buckled in in a crash-tested vehicle with airbags and other safety features. Make sure your vehicle is approved to tow the weight of the camper and that the driver has taken a class in driving with a large trailer.
Another safety concern with recreational vehicles is driver skill and experience. In Missouri, there are no special licensing requirements for drivers of any size RV. This is a concern as these large vehicles can be difficult to drive. Kansas requires a non-commercial Class A or B license to drive an RV weighing over 26,000 pounds (a large Class A motorhome). Despite the legal requirements, all drivers should practice extensively before heading out with the family on a cross-country trip.
When You Are Injured
At Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys, we preach safety first. Always take every possible safety precaution when driving your spouse or your family in a motorhome. Never travel in the living compartment and drive cautiously. If you are involved in a crash caused by another driver and you or your passengers are injured, we are here to help. Call our experienced car and truck accident attorneys at (888) 348-2616.
How many people are killed every year in motorcycle accidents in Kansas and Missouri?
While traveling by motorcycle is often enjoyable, some trips can unfortunately have an unhappy ending. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than 4,668 people were killed and 88,000 were injured in motorcycle accidents across the country in 2013. Sadly, a number of these accidents occur in the states of Kansas and Missouri. The causes of motorcycle accidents are numerous, ranging from speeding to distracted driving to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Key Motorcycle Accident Statistics in Kansas
According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, 2014 saw the following motorcycle accident statistics:
- There were a total of 960 motorcycle accidents.
- Motorcycle accidents accounted for 1.6% of all traffic accidents.
- Of the 960 motorcycle accidents that occurred, 44 were fatal.
- 743 motorcycle riders were injured in crashes.
- The total number of motorcycle accidents in Kansas rose slightly from 2013, when 955 such accidents occurred.
Victims of motorcycle accidents must act quickly in order to protect their legal rights. It is important to consult with an experienced attorney who can provide guidance.
Key Motorcycle Accident Statistics in Missouri
Unfortunately, Kansas is not the only state that sees frequent motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities. The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Statistical Analysis Center reports the following information about motorcycle accidents for 2014, the most recent year for which data is available:
- There were a total of 1,734 motorcycle accidents involving personal injuries.
- 86 motorcycle crashes involved fatalities.
- 88 people were killed as a result of a motorcycle accident.
- 1,979 people were injured as a result of a motorcycle accident.
- As compared to 2013, when 1,755 motorcycle accidents occurred involving personal injuries, 2014 saw a slight decline. However, the year saw an increase in the number of motorcycle crash fatalities, as 71 such deaths took place in 2013.
After a motorcycle accident, it is crucial for injured victims to consider a legal claim for compensation. This compensation may be necessary given the significant physical, emotional, and financial toll that often accompanies a motorcycle crash. We have helped many clients protect their legal rights after a motorcycle accident, and we are here to assist you as well. We encourage you to check out our many successful case results for more information.
Should I sign any releases following my car accident?
As a general rule of thumb, you should not sign anything following a car accident without consulting an attorney who is representing you. The forms you will be asked to sign may be called “releases” or “authorizations,” but, either way, it is not in your best interest to sign them, especially if they are presented to you by the liable party’s insurance agent or attorney. There are three basic releases you may be asked to sign. Understanding what exactly they “release” is important to protecting your injury claim. The three releases you may encounter following your car accident are a medical authorization release, a release of all liability and claims, and a property damage release.
What the Medical Authorization Release Allows
In order to prove that you are actually injured and that your injuries are as severe as you say they are, you will have to share some medical records with the insurance company. However, signing a blanket authorization is not the way to do this. A medical authorization release gives the insurance company permission to view all of your medical records, not just those pertaining to your current claim. Giving the liable party access to the following information could actually hurt your claim in the long run:
- Past medical records. The liable insurance company will sift through your medical history to find evidence of previous complaints that could explain your current injuries. For example, if you suffered a back injury in the crash and the investigator finds that you have seen a doctor in the past for back problems, they could use that to lower your settlement.
- Doctors’ notes. You have an expectation of privacy when you discuss your injury with your doctor, but if you release your medical records, even the notes your doctor takes during your examination can be read and used by the opposing party in an injury claim. If, for example, you tell your doctor that a certain treatment has been helping or that you don’t feel as much pain as you did, that will be reflected in his notes and the insurance company could use that to claim that you have recovered and deny or decrease your claim.
- Office visit history. The investigator will be interested in finding out how often you visit your doctor or the emergency room over a given period of time to gather evidence that you are a hypochondriac or suffer from ongoing medical problems not caused by the car accident.
The best course of action to take regarding your medical records is to work with an attorney to provide the specific records that are actually relevant to your claim, rather than authorizing the release of all of your records.
When to Sign a Release of All Claims and Liability
Once you have agreed to a settlement amount, you will be asked to sign a form that prevents you from seeking more money or additional damages, called a release of all claims and liability. The key to this form working in your favor is when you sign it. An insurance agent may ask you to sign it before you have been offered a favorable settlement. Once this form is signed, there is no going back, so do not sign it until you have consulted an attorney and are satisfied with the settlement offer. Each accident claim’s release of claim and liability will be different and will ideally be drafted by your own attorney.
A Property Damage Release Will Close Your Damage Claim
If your vehicle is damaged in the accident, a damage claim will be made. If the insurance company determines that the cost to repair your car exceeds the value of the car, they will “total” your car, or offer you a check for the value of the car rather than repairing it. You may be asked to sign a release indicating that you accept the damage award and that the claim is closed; however, your cashing of the check is also taken as a legal indication that you are accepting the offer and closing the claim. If your vehicle is not totaled, you will likely not be asked to sign a release and the insurance company will pay the repair shop directly to settle your claim. Again, once the payment has been made, you release your right to seek further payment.
Words to Live by: Don’t Sign Anything
While the other guy’s insurance company will do their best to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and that it’s okay to sign a few forms, it is not in your best interest to do so. Call the experienced car accident attorneys at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys before you make your first move.
Should I remove my child’s winter coat when I buckle him into his car seat?
Winters in Kansas City can be brutal. Snow, frigid winds, and below-zero temperatures are not uncommon in January and February and the last thing a parent wants to do is expose a young child to the bitter cold. Before leaving the house, we layer, bundle, wrap, and zip our kids into coats, snow pants, scarves, mittens, and hats. But how does all of that bulk fit into a car seat? As it turns out, not very well.
How Coats Affect Car Seat Safety
Any compressible material between the car seat straps and the child can increase the amount the child can be dangerously thrust forward with a sudden stop. When a child is wearing thick layers, it becomes impossible to tighten the straps as much as they should be tightened for optimal safety. To test whether your child’s coat is too bulky for his car seat, try the following:
- Put the child’s coat on and place him in the car seat. Tighten the straps until you can’t pinch the webbing of the strap between your thumb and pointer finger.
- Unbuckle the harness without loosening the straps and remove your child from the seat.
- Take the child’s coat off and put him back in the car seat. Buckle the harness and check the tightness of the straps. If you can pinch any of the strap, the harness is too loose, which means the coat is too bulky to be worn in the car seat.
Tips for Coping With the Cold and Keeping Your Child Safe
You obviously don’t want your child to suffer in the cold in order to ensure his safety in the car. Try the following tips for a warm and safe car ride:
- Keep the cold-weather accessories on. Hats, mittens, boots or thick socks, and insulated snow pants can all stay on without hindering the straps.
- Put the coat on backwards. After the child is buckled in, turn his coat around and place his arms through the arms of the coat.
- Use a warm blanket. Keep a heavy fleece blanket in the car to cover your child after he is buckled in.
- Buy an infant seat cover. As an accessory to your infant’s seat, you can buy an insulating cover that zips up over the baby after she is buckled into the seat.
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