Last week, I was working through the final details of a work comp settlement with a local defense lawyer in Huntsville. As we discussed settlement terms, the defense lawyer made an interesting observation. That observation is the reason for this post.
Before I get to that observation, I’ll give you a little helpful background on the case. My client suffered a bad back injury. He required spinal surgery. He now suffers chronic pain and permanent restrictions. He could not return to his long-term employment. I believe he is totally disabled. We were preparing for trial.
Now that you have a little background, I’ll get to my topic. While discussing the settlement paperwork, I added a couple sentences dealing with vested employee benefits. You know, rights employees have to pensions and 401(k) plans with some employers. When I addressed the phrase with the defense lawyer, he immediately stated that most personal injury lawyers just skim over the paperwork. He laughed and said most lawyers just want to know when they can expect the settlement check. That’s my topic — Good lawyering means you help the client through the entire process!
I’m reminded of a football game several years ago. The receiver caught the ball and started running down the field. He broke free from the defense. He ran, all alone, toward the end zone. Right before crossing the goal line, he dropped the ball. He was so excited (or so proud of himself) he quit paying attention. He failed to finish his job. His whole team suffered. In a personal injury case, settlement is no time to lose sight of the job and its details.
Has Your Lawyer Considered Possible Post-Settlement Issues?
A poorly written settlement can cause headaches years later! I’ll give you a couple examples.
In many cases, a settlement is more than just an immediate check. A workers’ compensation case is a perfect example. In Alabama, injured workers are entitled to medical treatment. Many work comp settlements involve a payment for the worker’s disability plus a continued right to medical care. If the paperwork is written poorly, the injured worker may have issues getting the care he needs. For example, let’s say the worker hurts his neck and shoulder. You agree to a settlement where you will receive compensation plus the right to continued medical care. But, the slick defense lawyer includes language in the paperwork saying the injury is just to your shoulder. What about that separate neck injury? Your lawyer is supposed to read the paperwork and make sure it protects you. If your lawyer is interested only in collecting the check, he or she may miss this issue. It can cost you tremendously in the long-run.
In Alabama car accident cases, many insurance companies want releases to include language about subrogation and medical liens. If you represent an injury victim, you need to be aware of reimbursement issues. You need to understand the health benefits of your client and the issues that exist. Otherwise, the client may lose much of their settlement proceeds.
What about cases involving disputes where confidentiality is a settlement issue? You better think and read that confidentiality language carefully! You could create tax issues for your client. Even worse, you could create an issue of liability for your client. I’ve written about settlement confidentiality issues previously on this blog. It’s an area where you need good counsel.
I could discuss multiple issues that arise in settlement paperwork. Many potential long-term issues exist.
Is Your Lawyer Looking Out For Your Long-Term Interests?
Several years ago, a car accident victim called after his television lawyer had settled his case. At one point, this settlement mill lawyer had tons of day time commercials on our local Huntsville channels. He often appeared in a cape or with cartoon-like crashes in the background, promising quick checks for wrecks. He definitely never appeared in court! The insurance companies knew it. Because of that, they paid pennies on the dollar to him. The accident victim thought he was settling for a certain amount. He was. Based on the settlement amount, he then figured roughly how much he would recover after paying his lawyer. But, this particular television lawyer failed to discuss any of the important medical reimbursement issues. Even worse, this television lawyer completely failed to help his client with any of those issues. A good lawyer can often save his client tremendous amounts of money on this issue. The result — The settlement mill lawyer took a fee and the client kept almost nothing. It was a horrible deal. It was wrong. But, It was also too late for any other attorney to help this caller.
What should you do if you need a lawyer after a serious accident? When you look for a personal injury lawyer, hire someone who prepares. Hire someone who focuses on details. Hire someone who puts your interest first through the entire process.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm handles personal injury cases across Alabama. Our consultations are always free and confidential. We are happy to answer your personal injury questions.