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  • What is the Made Whole Doctrine?

    The Personal Injury law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California has used this doctrine a couple of times lately. People don’t know this, but when you are injured by a third party, if your insurance companies provided medical benefits they have a right to get back what they spent on your care from the adverse party. This is a portion of money that comes out of the global settlement. So basically, they are taking money away from you to offset their costs of paying your medical bills.

    Many people think this system is not fair as members pay their premiums every month for the coverage and the money being paid to the health insurance company is coming out of their settlement. It’s like the insurance company is being paid twice. On the other hand, it’s not the insurance company’s fault you got injured. The person who hurt you is ultimately responsible for your medical bills. Whether the settlement gets used to pay doctors directly or medical insurance companies who paid the doctor’s bills, the resulting amount in your pocket should theoretically be the same.

    At the law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California we do everything we can to maximize the amount our clients take home because we understand that they are the ones who have suffered the most damage. Part of our strategy is to use the cost-sharing argument. Cost-sharing is when an insurance company reduces the amount they are owed by 1/3 to share in the cost of hiring the attorney. The theory is that without the attorney’s work, the client would not have the settlement and the insurance company would not have anything to collect from. While representing our client, we simultaneously protected the interests of our client’s insurance company and they should pay a portion of the attorneys fees. This argument can reduce a lien by a third, but sometimes, that isn’t enough to make a client whole.

    The goal of the civil justice system is to return people to the same circumstances they were in before the injury occurred. Compensation should be equal to what a person lost. You sometimes hear stories of million dollar verdicts that change a person’s life, but in reality, to win that kind of verdict, the Plaintiff must have proven that they had suffered or would suffer that amount of loss in the future. Future wage loss comes to mind. If a person can no longer do the job they were getting $50,000.00 a year to do and they would have worked for 20 more years, their damages are $1,000,000.00. Doesn’t that make sense?

    Ninety-nine percent of the people making claims and suits are not trying to get rich, they are only trying to get compensated. So when you have a policy limits settlement of $15,000.00 and your insurance company is asking for the $10,000.00 they paid out to be reimbursed, it’s an impossible situation. Even the cost-sharing reduction would put the take home amount at $3,333.33. That is not fair and that is when we use the “made whole” doctrine to persuade health insurance companies to make drastic cuts or waive their lien altogether.

    Sapiano v. Williamsburg National Insurance Co. makes it clear that an insured has to be fully compensated before an insurance company can recover anything. It also says that the made whole doctrine can be overcome, but only if the insurance company assisted with the case. If they want the full value of their lien to the detriment of their insured, they have to prove that they helped and didn’t just sit back on their laurels waiting for their portion of the settlement without lifting a finger.

    It is the opinion of the law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California that a health insurer should never recover more than the client. If worse comes to worse, we will propose a three-way split between the attorney, the client, and the insurer. Sometimes it works, but sometimes the insurance companies dig their heels in. But we never back down from a fight. We will always do everything in our power to see our clients made whole.

    Need advice? Feel you have a potential personal injury case? Contact the Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California today. 

  • Car Safety While Pregnant

    The daughter of a Laskin Law client who is acting as a Guardian ad Litem for her brothers is very pregnant at the moment. We needed her to come into the Laskin Law offices to sign some paperwork, but were worried about her safety because she is due any day now. Some cursory research into driving while pregnant showed that cars can be pretty much as safe for pregnant drivers and passengers as for non-pregnant people with just a few modifications.

    Here is a list of recommendations compiled from multiple sources:

    1. If you are taking a long trip, get out of the car and walk around every couple of hours to avoid blood clots.

    2. Wear a lap and shoulder belt. The lap belt should be under your belly and over your hips. The shoulder belt should rest between your breasts and off to the side of your belly.

    3. Move the seat as far back as possible.

    4. If you must drive, angle the steering wheel toward your sternum, not your abdomen.

    These simple things will keep a pregnant belly from striking the inside of the vehicle if an accident should occur. The seat belt is positioned to catch you without intruding on your baby and you have more room in front of you (which is important since most collisions are strikes from the rear).

    If you are in a crash, get checked out by your doctor, even if it was only a minor crash. Placental abruption can occur without pain or the mother even knowing. That is when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus. In severe cases it can deprive the baby of oxygen. It is rare, but you can’t be too careful. It usually happens in the last few weeks of pregnancy if it happens, so be aware.

    Safety is always a concern for the Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California. We’d rather you be late to an appointment than speed and endanger yourself to get here on time. We even offered to take the paperwork to the pregnant Guardian ad Litem’s home, but she said she was doing great and would like to come in to the office. Thankfully, she made it here and back home without incident. Hopefully this information will help you or someone you know and keep those precious babies safe.

    Need advice?  Contact the Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California today. 

  • What is Bad Faith?

    When a client has uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage it is part of our job at the law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California to make sure we pursue those claims if the third-party case settles for policy limits. There is the idea out there that it is easier to deal with your own insurance company and that they should just hand over the remaining "new money" on a policy because they want to keep their insureds happy. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

    You are not in good hands, they are not like a good neighbor, and you can’t rely on them to take care of you. At the end of the day, your insurance company is still an insurance company and they make money by taking in premiums and NOT paying out claims. They answer to shareholders like all insurance companies do and it is not easy to negotiate with them.

    However! There is a wonderful tool attorneys can use to make sure your insurance company treats you the way you ought to be treated. They cannot just disregard you or make you wait forever on a claim that should be obviously paid out because that behavior will open them up to a bad faith claim.

    Bad faith is when an insured sues their own insurance company for putting the company’s own interests above the insured’s interest. McCormick v. Sentinel Life Ins. Co., 153 Cal. App. 3d 1030 (1984) even ensures that a substantial delay without reason is enough of a breach of the covenant of good faith between an insurer and their insured to bring a claim.

    The fact is that insurance is mandatory in this country. We are not allowed to own or operate vehicles without it. We are forced to rely on these companies to handle claims when accidents do happen and because of that reliance, those companies have a duty to look out for the interests of their insureds. When they fail in that duty, they open themselves up to a bad faith claim.

    Just such a case came up in our Sacramento law office of Alan M. Laskin last week. Our client had over $50,000.00 in medical bills and needed two surgeries that would cost another $35,000.00. The third-party had a policy of $50,000.00. We settled that part of the case and then proceeded to pursue our client’s Underinsured motorist coverage, which was only an additional $50,000.00 (because his policy was $100,000.00 minus what he received from the adverse driver).

    Originally, our client’s insurance company only offered $5,000.00 "new money". In a case that should have been open and shut, we spent a year on discovery, flew to Los Angeles for a deposition of our client and a second time for his doctor’s deposition, and had to issue an Offer to Compromise pursuant to Civil Code Section 998, but we got the full $50,000.00 policy.

    Every day the insurance company did not pay our client, they made money earning interest on the money sitting in their bank account instead of sitting in our client’s bank account. It is unconscionable how they treat their own insured and you better believe we are pursuing a bad faith claim.

    Feel you have a bad faith case? Contact the law offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento California today. 

  • Case Spotlight: Settlement Over Policy Limits in Auto vs. Pedestrian Case

    Congratulations are in order for attorney Jeffrey C. Arnold. He recently obtained a large settlement that exceeded the available insurance policy limits. He only had to file the lawsuit and the adverse insurance company caved immediately. He sent them medical records and billings that showed our client had $58,824.95 in medical services. And that was only one bill, because we were still waiting on four other facilities to send us their billing records. This was enough information to demand the policy limits of $100,000.00. We gave them a deadline and the adverse insurance company did not accept our demand.

    In order to “open” a policy, you have to demand the policy limits and give the other side sufficient information to conclude that the case has a value that is at or exceeds the limits. When they choose not to pay the limits, then the policy is open, meaning they will have to pay whatever amount a jury decides is just if the case goes to trial.

    In this particular case, our client was leaving a Wal-Mart shopping center when she and her cart were struck by a vehicle. The adverse driver had seen an open parking spot on the next aisle and was racing to get it before anyone else. Wal-Mart has surveillance of its premises and that includes the entrance to the store and some of the parking lot. Video is a very powerful tool. The video in this case clearly showed that the adverse driver did not stop for the stop sign and struck our client with her vehicle knocking her to the ground.

    Our client spent 8 days in the hospital and was diagnosed with a fractured vertebra. She was an elderly woman who had been living alone and was completely mobile before this vehicle versus pedestrian accident. She suddenly needed help with the smallest tasks and lost her independence. After her hospital stay she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. After that she was transferred to an assisted living facility. It was seven months before she was allowed to return home.

    Her doctors said that she will likely never regain the independence and mobility that she had before. She is unable to drive herself to the store and must rely on family and paid care givers to run errands. She also cannot walk without the assistance of a walker or cane anymore.

    We filed the case after the insurance company rejected our policy limits demand. After you file a lawsuit, you then have to serve the Defendant so that they know they are being sued. Along with the Summons and Complaint, we served an Offer to Compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998 on the Defendant. The defense attorney immediately accepted our 998 in the amount of $249,999.99, two and half times the policy limits, in order to avoid litigating this case.

    I think that they knew they screwed up when they did not accept the policy limits demand. It was smart for the defense to settle instead of spending thousands of dollars and man hours defending a case where the facts were so clearly in the Plaintiff’s favor.

    Our client was relieved that it was all over with so quickly and that she did not have to go through the discovery phase of litigation. She can now focus on her health and hopefully recover over time.

    If you have been in an accident and need some help, give The Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin a call. We may be able to help.

  • Case Spotlight: Dunlap v. Folsom Lake Ford, $11,400,000 verdict

    The Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin in Sacramento & Elk Grove CA recently took a very interesting case to trial that may have a huge impact on personal injury cases in the future. Our client, Robert Dunlap was driving a truck owned by William Chapman when the steering locked up. He lost control of the vehicle, and hit the center median. The truck rolled two and a half times and landed upside down with Mr. Dunlap hanging from his seatbelt.

    Mr. Dunlap survived the crash, but he was gravely injured. He suffered two disc fractures, one at C6 and the other at C7, and was diagnosed with Brown Sequard Syndrome, a type of paralysis. Mr. Dunlap experienced numbness on his right side, stiffness, cramping, sharp pains, loss of feeling in his left hand, right hip pain, respiratory distress, and pulmonary contusions.

    A very bad crash, to be sure, but what is so important about this case?

    The fact that the steering on the truck had been complained about multiple times and no steps had been taken to fix it. In fact, the defendant in this case, Folsom Lake Ford, outright said that the truck was safe to drive when they knew there four worn ball joints in the vehicle that needed to be replaced. Documents showed that the mechanic who inspected the vehicle in July 2007 noticed the worn ball joints, but no recommendation was made to the owner to replace them.

    A prior owner of the vehicle, Mr. Sample, actually returned the truck to Folsom Lake Ford because he didn’t like all the problems he was having with it. In deposition he stated Folsom Lake Ford tried to tell him the shaking and steering problems Mr. Sample reported was because he had oversized tires on the truck. While having a lifted truck may change the steering, it doesn’t cause it lock up and not move at all. Mr. Sample knew this and got fed up with the truck and Folsom Lake Ford’s excuses. He turned the truck in and left with a different one.

    Mr. Chapman was the next person to buy the truck. When he brought it in to complain about the steering in July 2007, again, Folsom Lake Ford said it was the oversized tires, even though documentation noted the worn ball joints. The mechanic, unbeknownst to Mr. Chapman made a recommendation to replace the worn ball joints, but this was not relayed to Mr. Chapman in any form. Mr. Chapman continued to experience problems with the steering but believed the ASE certified mechanic when he told him it was safe. Under those promises of safety, he leant the truck to Mr. Dunlap in November 2007.

    All of this information is important because it shows that the defendant Folsom Lake Ford knew the vehicle was in a dangerous condition and they could have prevented this horrific crash by recommending the repair it needed. All Folsom Lake Ford would have needed to do was say hey "you need to fix this, it’s not safe" in order to protect themselves. But they didn’t and that put people at risk. They put Mr. Chapman at risk, his family at risk, and his friend, Robert Dunlap, at risk.

    The jury found Folsom Lake Ford liable for the harms suffered by Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap and returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs in the amount of $7,476,926.00, with interest and costs added in the verdict is over $11,400,000.00. This is important because it shows businesses and car dealerships that you can’t cut corners. If you know a problem exists, it’s your responsibility to address it. You can’t put your head in the sand, blame oversized tires, and pretend a vehicle is safe just so you can sell it and make another buck. This jury showed that California juries will not stand for that kind of behavior. And neither will we here at the Law Offices of Alan M. Laskin.