CAN I WORK AND STILL COLLECT SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS?

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“Can I work and still get Social Security disability?” It’s a good question and one that is often asked. Because it takes so long to resolve disability claims, many people consider returning to work in order to meet their financial obligations.

8 Mistakes to Avoid When Filing for Social Security DisabilityBut there are facts you need to know before making that decision, caution the authors of Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Filing for Social Security Disability Benefits, because working can definitely affect your eligibility for disability benefits.

Social Security pays monthly disability benefits to you and to certain members of your family if:

  • You have worked long enough to qualify and
  • You have a medical condition that has prevented you from working and
  • Your condition is expected to prevent you from working for at least 12 months or
  • Your condition is expected to end in death.

The difficulty of qualifying for benefits and the issue of long delays are described on the Social Security website: 

“Claims for disability benefits take more time to process than other types of Social Security claims – from three to five months.”

You can help shorten the process by collecting all necessary documents and evidence ahead of applying, the website urges. That documentation includes:

  • Social Security number and proof of age
  • Names and dosages of all medications you’re taking
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of doctors, caseworkers, hospitals, and clinics that took care of you, along with the dates of your visits to each
  • Medical records from every doctor, therapist, hospital, clinic, and caseworker
  • Lab and test results
  • Summary of where you worked before becoming disabled and the kind of work you didWalker
  • Your most recent W-2 tax form (if you were self-employed, a copy of your federal tax return)

Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a three in ten chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. In fact, millions of Americans receive monthly disability checks from the Social Security Administration. Typically, those checks are the only source of income those disabled people have.

There are two main types of Social Security disability benefits. You must be medically disabled to qualify for either program, but the financial qualifications of each program differ significantly:

  • DIB (Disability Insurance Benefits) is a program for people who have been employed sufficiently long to qualify for benefits. The benefit amount depends on how much you earned while you were working.
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is a needs-based program and benefits depend on your need for help –having too much money in savings or too much household income could disqualify you. People who have never worked are able to qualify for SSI if they meet the medical and resource limit requirements.

Even after learning about those millions of people collecting benefits because of a disability, you should be aware of a very disturbing truth about Social Security disability benefits. You may as well know about that truth upfront:

Every single year, thousands of disabled Americans file for benefits and the majority of those claims are rejected. It’s not that people don’t need the help; many applicants deserve benefits, they simply do not know how the system works and how to work within that system.

Many of the mistakes applicants make lead right back to that question we mentioned earlier: “Can I work and still get Social Security disability?”

  • Your mental or physical condition must meet specific criteria that qualify it as “severe.” In other Wrong Waywords, your condition must be serious enough to prevent you from working and must be serious enough to disrupt your daily functioning.

 

  • You must not be engaging in “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. If you work and exceed the amount of money that Social Security sets as the benchmark amount, you’re engaging in SGA and you may find it difficult to gain eligibility for benefits. In 2016, SGA means you’re working and making more than $1,130 per month or $1,820 if you’re blind. Those are gross income amounts, meaning your income before taxes and other deductions.

As disability attorneys, we’ve come to the conclusion that there are eight primary mistakes people make when filing for disability benefits through Social Security:

  1. Failing to get – and to document – medical treatment (in many states it’s possible to be approved for Medicaid health insurance without needing disability approval from Social Security so that you can receive needed medical treatment)
  2. Failing to take prescribed medication
  3. Abusing alcohol or tobacco or using illegal drugs
  4. Waiting too long to apply for benefits
  5. Not appealing a denial or delaying past the 60-day appeal period
  6. Exaggerating your condition or making false or inconsistent statements
  7. Failing to keep documentation
  8. Not hiring an attorney (most Social Security disability attorneys work on contingency basis, getting paid only if you win your case)

Even if you are careful not to make any of these eight mistakes, it’s very possible that the first time around, the Social Security Administration will deny your application for benefits. It’s important to file an appeal and not give up. The first appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration, and, sad to tell, most people are denied a second time.

You then have the option of requesting a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. It can take a long time – months and even years – for a hearing to be scheduled, due to the fact that there is a huge backlog of cases and not enough judges. However, statistics show that the majority of people who follow through with the appeal process ultimately are approved for benefits.

Is there nothing you and your disability attorney can do to speed up your Social Security disability claim? You may consider writing a letter to your Congressman and Senator, asking them to contact Social Security on your behalf.

It’s terribly frustrating, but even after the hearing has taken place, there may be another delay before a decision is issued.

If you’re not working, how are you supposed to survive workersfinancially through the long, long process of qualifying for DIB or SSI benefits?

  • Apply for rent and utility assistance through the township trustee’s office
  • Utilize the services of food pantries and charitable organizations

Can you work and still get Social Security disability? Surely you would make more money working full time than you would get from Social Security disability benefits. Know, though, that working will definitely have an effect on your claim. Ironically, if you try to go back to work and soon after realize your medical condition will not allow you to continue, that unsuccessful work attempt can serve as evidence of your need for benefits.

XARELTO LAWSUIT CLAIMS STUDY LEFT OUT DATA

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Approved in 2011, Xarelto quickly became a top-selling prescription blood thinner.  Yet, in a case recently filed in federal court, two major pharmaceutical companies are being accused of misleading editors at The New England Journal of Medicine about the dangerous side effects the drug has been causing in patients.Pills

What is Xarelto?

According to the manufacturer’s website, “XARELTO® is a prescription medicine used to reduce the risk of stroke and blood clots in people with atrial fibrillation, not caused by a heart valve problem. For patients currently well managed on warfarin, there is limited information on how XARELTO® and warfarin compare in reducing the risk of stroke.”

Xarelto is manufactured by Bayer and marketed by Johnson & Johnson in the United States. “Xarelto is approved for three clinical uses in the US,” Johnson & Johnson explained in a 2012 investor release:

  • To reduce the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs of people who have just had knee replacement surgery
  • To reduce the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs of people who have just had hip replacement surgery
  • To reduce the risk of both hemorrhagic and thrombotic strokes as well as other blood clots in people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem

“Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects,” the Mayo Clinic website explains, discussing rivaroxaban (the generic name for Xarelto).

Unfortunately, in the case of Xarelto, some of those blood“unwanted effects” include irreversible internal bleeding that can lead to hospitalization and death.

Xarelto’s side effects include:

  • Hemorrhaging
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Intestinal or abdominal bleeds
  • Bleeding in the brain

Did Johnson & Johnson and Bayer mislead The New England Journal of Medicine?

Xarelto is sold in the U.S. by Johnson & Johnson and overseas by Bayer.  Those two companies hired the Duke Clinical Research Institute to run a three-year clinical trial involving 14,000 patients.  That report led to Xarelto’s approval by the regulators.  As New York Times reporter Katie Thomas explains, from there Xarelto went on to become the best selling drug to replace warfarin, an older blood thinner drug.

The current market for anti-coagulant drugs is estimated at $10 billion, Thomas explains, and companies develop new drugs in order to gain market share.  The big selling point when Xarelto came out was that unlike warfarin, which required regular checkups and diet and lifestyle changes, the newer drugs were offered in convenient, uniform oral dosages. (Xarelto was also a bigger moneymaker because the annual cost was $3,000 versus the $200 annual cost for warfarin.)

It’s clear that the risk of uncontrollable bleeding that Xarelto could cause was recognized very early on.  The problem – the manufacturers did not make an antidote that could reverse the bleeding. Although all blood thinners carry the risk of internal bleeding, older drugs such as warfarin have emergency antidotes to prevent serious harm.  But, unlike older drugs, Xarelto cannot be flushed out of the system through dialysis and there is no antidote.

Injured patients are now suing the two pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer, for concealing these effects from the public as well as for concealing or altering drug-trial data for medical journals.

People who took Xarelto and suffered irreversible bleeding have filed lawsuits seeking compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Injuries
  • Emotional trauma
  • Loss of income

courtIn December 2014, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established a single court in the Eastern District of Louisiana to hear Xarelto cases from all over the country. Indiana residents’ claims will be included in that Multidistrict Litigation, or MDL.  An MDL allows many plaintiffs the opportunity to settle out of court, and also speeds the process of handling complex injury cases.

In the lawsuits filed by people who say they were injured by the drug, users say they were not warned sufficiently about the medication’s risk. Plaintiffs accuse Xarelto’s makers of several counts of negligence and failure to warn. Essentially, the litigation against Bayer and against Johnson & Johnson centers around one allegation:

Drug manufacturers continued to sell Xarelto even when they knew it was dangerous.

 

 

WHAT MAKES A SEMI TRUCK ACCIDENT DIFFERENT?

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The laws of nature have as much to do with semi truck and car accidents as do the laws of the land.

 Newton's Cradle

It’s Newton’s Third Law: in a collision of a big object and a small object, the smaller one will experience the greater change in momentum and sustain the greater damage. In other words, in a head-on collision between a semi truck and a passenger vehicle, the passenger vehicle – including its driver and passengers – will typically sustain the worst injuries.

The traumatic effects resulting from the typical car vs. semi accident include:

  • Amputations
  • Paralysis
  • Brain damage
  • Death

Semi Trucks and CarsHighway accidents involving semis kill about 5,000 people per year, Anne Balay and Mona Shattell report in the recent New York Times article “Long-Haul Sweatshops.”

Semi truck accidents aren’t handled the same way as collisions involving only passenger vehicles.  For one thing, when a semi truck is involved, there are five different parties that may be held liable for negligence:

  • The truck driver
  • The trucking company
  • The truck manufacturer
  • The company that loaded the truck
  • The company responsible for maintaining the truck

When Indiana personal injury attorneys are engaged to represent the driver and passengers in a vehicle that was involved in a semi truck accident, they are working to obtain compensation for any or all of the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of spousal support
  • Loss of parental guidance

A number of different organizations and agencies gather data about semi truck accidents in the United States:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) to compile a census of fatal crashes on public trafficways. In FARS, a large truck is defined as a vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds.
  • The Motor Carrier Management Information System (MMIS) maintains a Crash File. The system records crashes involving commercial trucks and buses resulting in a minimum of either one fatality, or one injury requiring immediate medical attention away from the crash scene.
  • The Office of Highway Policy Information publishes Highway Statistics, which reports data on licensing and highway finance.

Despite this diligent tracking of statistics about personal injuries caused by crashes involving semis, Balay and Shattell assert that the government’s emphasis has been in the wrong area, almost entirely focused on road safety.  That focus, they explain, overlooks one critical concern: the well-being of the semi drivers themselves.

Driving a semi truck involves a great deal of skill and focus, Professor Balay, a former long-haul trucker, explains. Truckers rightfully take pride in their work because:

  • Floating the semi’s gears takes good coordination and timing
  • Maneuvering the 10,000 pound bulk takes visual perceptiveness and courage
  • Surviving weather, mountains, and construction zones is difficult
  • Enduring “cultural scorn” and boredom takes toughness

The other side of the story is worrisome, to say the least, The New York Times points out.

Drivers are regulated by the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Labor.  Why is that significant? The government imposes rules meant to keep roads safe, but those rules leave drivers exposed to “inhumane and demeaning work conditions that come from abusive surveillance and micromanaging.”

  • A trucker’s work week can be as long as 82 hours
  • Drivers work 14-hour days, often without weekends off
  • Eleven of the fourteen hours are spent in actual driving; the remainder of the time is used for truck loading and maintenance
  • Drivers often receive no sick pay or holiday pay
  • So long as a driver is not actually behind the wheel, their employers can require them to perform other work rather than allowing them to restcaution

Rather than improving the conditions of the semi drivers, the industry has tried to use technology for intrusive surveillance of drivers.

  • “Governed speed” renders the truck incapable of exceeding a certain speed
  • Sensors automatically brake if the space from the front of a truck to the back of the vehicle ahead is deemed insufficient
  • 2-way cameras are trained on truck drivers
  • Drivers suffering from sleep apnea are forced to use CPAP machines in their trucks while idling the engine

This burdensome maltreatment, in Balay and Shattell’s opinion, is forcing experienced workers to leave the trucking industry, which then forces employers to hire younger and less capable drivers.

And, of course, that leaves passenger vehicles extremely vulnerable to tragedy-causing collisions. The American Trucking Association itself says that truck crashes are more likely to result in fatalities than accidents involving only cars.

“At any given time on the highway, many different factors interact to affect risk, and many different types of failures can result in a crash,” the ATA admits. Crash factors and causes are classified as:

  • Human (driver)
  • Vehicle
  • Environmental (roadway and weather)

The ATA seems to reinforce Balay and Shattell’s conclusions in saying that, “Inwarning about 9 out of 10 crashes, the primary failure is driver error.”  These “Critical Reasons” or CRs, (on the part of both the drivers of semis and drivers of passenger vehicles), include:

  • Driving too fast for the conditions
  • Improper following
  • Failure to keep in lane

When you have been injured in any accident, all your energies are naturally focused on trying to put your life back together, with one of the biggest concerns being the financial help you need. In a semi truck vs. passenger vehicle accident, because of the effect of Newton’s Third Law, the type and duration of injuries is likely to be extensive.

Many components of the accident itself will need to be investigated, documented, and evaluated, including:

  • The type and duration of the injury you’ve suffered
  • The financial costs you’ve incurred to date
  • The type of mental and/or medical treatment you are expected to need in the future
  • How much insurance coverage you have

And, on top of that, comparative fault will need to be negotiated (the extent, if any, to which the accident was in any measure due to your own driver error).

Accidentsinus.com, a website that lists all road accidents in Indiana, reported no fewer than four accidents – in March 2016 alone –  involving semi trucks.

What makes a semi truck accident different?  In a collision of a big object and a small object, the smaller object will experience the greater change in momentum and sustain the greater damage.  That’s why accidents involving semi trucks are particularly dangerous for the drivers and riders in passenger vehicles.

RAISING THE ROOF ON INDIANA MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CAPS

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For the first time in nearly 20 years, Indiana lawmakers have approved an increase in Indiana’s cap on medical malpractice damages.

arrowsupThe current $1.25 million maximum award will rise to $1.65 million beginning in 2017 and $1.8 million beginning in 2019.

Even with that increase, Indiana’s cap remains very low compared with other states, Senator Brent Steele, who spearheaded the legislation, informed IndyStar.  In fact, as Steele explained, had the cap raise not been instituted, there was a real possibility that the federal government would rule the current cap unconstitutionally low, since state legislatures are expected to keep up with the rising cost of health care.

Making changes in a law that affects doctors was not an easy process. Strict and ongoing opposition from the Indiana State Medical Association has, for many years, blocked efforts to raise the medical malpractice ceiling. In fact, the new bill represents a watering down of an original proposal which would have increased the malpractice settlement cap to $2.25 million by 2031, the Indianapolis Star reporters explain.

In 1975, Indiana became the first state to pass medical malpractice reform legislation, and to this very day, our state remains one of the few with any caps at all.  Proponents point out the positives of malpractice award caps:

  • More physicians can afford to practice in Indiana
  • Patients have access to the care they need

On the other side of things, there’s a very real downside to our having made the malpractice “climate” so temperate here, the Indiana Trial Lawyers have maintained: The low malpractice caps have made the state a magnet for bad doctors, they claim. The rather moderate schedule of increases in the ceiling represents a good compromise, reps for the organization concede.

In any event, physicians are not held financially responsible for the entire amount of awards to patients harmed through healthcare provider malpractice.  The system works as follows:

  • Physicians are responsible for the first $250,000 in damages awarded to any one patient, but are not liable for paying more than $750,000 total in any one year.
  • For awards over $250,000, the state has a Patients’ Compensation Fund, which pays the remaining amount that is not covered by the physician.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys receive no more than 15% of any recovery out of the Patients’ Compensation Fund; fees paid to attorneys out of the first $250,000 are limited only by case law and ethical rules.

Under Indiana law, physicians are not required to carry malpractice insurance. Most physicians do carry malpractice insurance, and for two very compelling reasons:

  1. Hospitals, payers, and employers demand it of them.
  2. In order to qualify for the capping of their liability at $250,000, doctors must purchase commercial insurance, plus pay a surcharge (varying by physician specialty) to the Patients’ Compensation Fund to help cover payouts up to the next $1,000,000 (or more, as the cap rises over the next few years).

Doctors who have difficulty qualifying for commercial insurance can take advantage of special malpractice insurance coverage offered through our state.

In Indiana, a lawsuit over medical malpractice must be started within two years of when the alleged malpractice was committed.

That two-year “clock” actually begins when adverse symptoms are first discovered in the patient.clock

(The one exception to the two-year rule relates to a person who was younger than six when the malpractice occurred; guardians have until the child turns eight to file suit.)

Even when initiated within the two-year time frame, the filing of a medical malpractice suit in Indiana asking for damages exceeding $15,000 requires some special steps.

  1. The proposed complaint must first be filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance.
  2. The case is then evaluated by a medical review panel consisting of three doctors, two of whom must be from the accused doctor’s specialty. (The 2-year “clock” stops running for up to 90 days to allow for this process to happen.)
  3. The panel issues a report. (That report is admissible as trial evidence, but is not conclusive.)
  4. The patient can choose, based on the report, whether to proceed to court. That suit must be filed within 91 days of receipt of the medical review panel report.

Regarding offering specific provisions for alternative dispute resolution in medical liability cases, Indiana is not alone; according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, 27 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico all have provisions for arbitration, mediation, or settlement conferences, and no fewer than fifteen states have requirements that cases be heard by a screening panel before proceeding to trial.

A recent ABC story centered around the non-monetary aspect of medical malpractice claims.

sorry“I’m suing in large part because I never heard the two words ‘I’m sorry,’” the plaintiff said (surgeons had removed the wrong body part from her). “No one apologized and they never explained to her how the mistake was made,” Deborah Craven’s attorney told reporters.

Today there are actually “I’m sorry” laws in 36 states, stipulating that apologies cannot be used in court against medical professional defendants.  “The basic human desire to hear ‘I’m sorry’ and an explanation of what went wrong – whether in the operating room or elsewhere – is behind a movement to encourage hospitals and doctors to move away from the traditional ‘deny and defend’ approach, to ‘acknowledge and apologize,” CNN comments.

Personal injury law recognizes two types of pain and suffering: physical and mental. Indiana is one of those 36 states that have apology laws, in recognition of the importance of emotional closure for victims of medical malpractice.

“Raising the roof” on medical malpractice awards certainly has both proponents and opponents.

Those in favor of raising the cap cite the main advantage of doing so: higher awards allow victims a better chance of covering the costs of treatment for life-altering injuries.

Opponents of raising the malpractice cap fear that higher awards will mean doctors will need to buy more insurance, possibly causing:

  • A shortage of doctors in rural community hospitals who would not be able to afford high insurance premiums
  • Doctors avoiding the performance of higher-risk procedures

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Indiana lawmakers have approved an increase in Indiana’s cap on medical malpractice damages. And, as the Indianapolis Star points out, “the bill now heads to the governor for his consideration.”

What is GAP Insurance?

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GAP INSURANCE – DESIGNED TO BRIDGE THE GAP

Bridge the GAP

“The more expensive your vehicle and the less equity you have in it, the more you can benefit from Guaranteed Asset Protection insurance,” writes Jackie Lohrey in finance.zacks.com.

Indiana state law dictates that all drivers carry a minimum amount of insurance, designed to cover the expenses of medical services and treatment for those injured in an accident,  including:

  • $25,000 liability insurance per person
  • $50,000 liability insurance per incident
  • $10,000 property damage

Reality is, despite those laws, many drivers do not have any insurance at all. But, in order to protect yourself, you should know about other types of benefits available to cover bills in the event of an accident:

  • Comprehensive – This helps pay for damage to your vehicle caused in incidents other than car accidents, such as vandalism, theft, and fire damage
  • Collision – This covers the cost of damage from a collision with another car or an object
  • Rental reimbursement – This helps pay for alternative transportation while your car is being repaired
  • Medical payments – This covers accident-related medical or funeral costs of covered drivers and of passengers (fault is not taken into consideration)
  • Emergency roadside service – This helps provide for towing and labor service (assistance with changing a tire, jumpstarts, towing, locksmith, delivery of gas or oil)
  • Customized parts and equipment – This is an endorsement to the policy that pays for equipment, devices, and accessories other than those installed by the original manufacturer

One especially important type of insurance is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. UM/UIM protects you in the event that the driver who was responsible for your accident has no coverage, or not enough of it.

Yet another type of coverage to consider – GAP.

What is GAP insurance? GAP is an optional insurance coverage that can be added to a collision insurance policyIf your car is covered by insurance, but is considered a total loss after an accident, GAP insurance is designed to pay the difference between the balance on your lease or loan and what your insurance company pays. If your car is stolen and you owe more than the vehicle is worth, GAP insurance would provide the difference between what’s owed on the car and its estimated value.

“Car GAP insurance is one of those expenses that seem like a waste of money until you need it,” observes bankrate.com. Russ Heaps of bankrate shares an open secret:  the moment you drive a vehicle off the dealer’s lot, your auto insurance is probably inadequate to protect you financially in the case of a total loss.

Think that’s an exaggeration? According to Edmunds.com data, in 2015, 30% of car sales that had a trade-in were ones in which the owner still owned money on the vehicle.  The average amount of negative equity was $4500!

Who should buy a GAP policy?  Bankrate.com quotes Bill Pearse of Travelers Insurance, who says you’re a likely candidate for GAP if:Mind the GAP

  • You’re leasing a vehicle
  • You’re financing a car for 60 months or more
  • You’re putting less than 20% down
  • You’re rolling “negative equity” from your previous vehicle into your new vehicle loan
  • You drive more than 15,000 miles a year
  • You’re purchasing a vehicle with a history of high depreciation rates

GAP insurance steps in when there is negative equity, meaning you owe more on an asset (in this case, a car) than it’s worth.  You’re “upside down.”  You’re “under water.” Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor for edmunds.com offers one simple example of negative equity:

  • You have $15,000 worth of car payments left, but the value of the car has depreciated to $10,000

Where do you buy GAP insurance?

  1. From the dealer (at the time of purchase or lease)
  2. From an insurance company (at any time)

GAP insurance can become very important when you have complications with your Indiana personal injury claim after an accident:

  1. The at-fault driver does not have insurance. Your damages would be paid by your insurance provider under the uninsured motorist coverage portion of your coverage.
  1. The at-fault driver had insurance, but only the minimum $25,000 liability coverage required in Indiana. That driver’s coverage would pay the first $25,000, and your underinsured motorist coverage would pay the remainder up to the limits of your coverage (which may not be enough to cover the loan or lease on your car).

After an automobile accident, a lot of money can be involved, not only in terms of personal injury, but also in terms of car repair and replacement. For this reason, drivers need to be prepared for possible disputes with their insurance company. Some steps to take include:

  • Saving all paperwork related to the accident
  • Getting an estimate from a trusted repair shop (in the event the insurance company undervalues the repairs the car needs)

There are several important considerations when it comes to Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) insurance: 

  1. Because the intent of GAP is to work with traditional liability coverage, it will not pay if your primary insurance company denies your claim.
  1. Unlike other forms of auto insurance, with GAP there is a one-time only premium (you may choose to pay it upfront or incorporate it into a loan if you purchase it at a dealership).
  1. Once you make a claim, the GAP policy expires.
  1. GAP insurance requires a “triggering event” before it kicks in. But, because GAP focuses on your loan instead of on the car, the triggering event is not the accident or theft or damage, but the declaration by your insurer that the car is a total loss.

While consumers may at first have a problem understanding the unique limitations of GAP coverage, those limitations really make sense.  GAP is a form of credit insurance and it covers your loan, NOT the vehicle itself.

In fact, GAP insurance is designed to do just what its name implies – bridge the gap between what your insurance company will pay and what you owe.

Bride the Gap

Hensley Legal Group Named 2016 Top Workplace

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We are excited to announce that Hensley Legal Group, PC was named as a 2016 Top Workplace by Star Media, WorkplaceDynamics’ local publishing partner.
Top Work Places 2016

If you want to know everything worth knowing about a company, ask the people who work there.

That’s precisely the mantra of WorkplaceDynamics, LLP, a leading research firm that focuses on organizational health and employee engagement. More than 5,000 organizations have turned to WorkplaceDynamics’ Employee Engagement Survey to help them better understand how they are perceived by their own employees.

This year there were 90 Central Indiana companies identified by the survey as Top Workplaces, an increase of five companies over 2015. In the category of Top Small Companies, HLG was listed as #33.

WorkplaceDynamics uses a questionnaire with statements on which employees offer responses on a seven-point scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”  The survey measures four general categories:

  • Company basics
  • Organizational health
  • Leadership
  • Engagement

“This is a great honor for all of us and for HLG!” Melissa Hartsock enthused with her colleagues upon learning of the repeated honor accorded to HLG. “We do truly work very hard to make this a workplace that you all enjoy coming to every day.”

What employees say

HLG Staff 2015“I am surrounded by people who care about their jobs, their clients, themselves, and me. I am constantly inspired.”

“I love my co-workers. We all get along and enjoy working with and helping each other.”

“I work in an environment that promotes positivity, teamwork, individuality, volunteering and, most of all, family. ”

“The care you feel here is a big reason. Our boss cares for us, we care for one another and we all care for our clients, and subsequently the client(s) really feel that we care about them. ”

“Opportunity and environment. ”

“An attitude survey can best be described as an instrument that attempts to determine employee perceptions of their working environment,” writes John Faure of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Most HR professionals will agree that employee productivity is strongly linked to their perception of their environment and, as the saying goes, perception is reality,” he adds.

Surveys can reveal:

  • Quality of management
  • Effectiveness of compensation and benefits programs
  • Organizational communications issues
  • Safety and health concerns

It’s a special, special honor when employees of any organization express their commitment to their jobs and share their workplace satisfaction.  That honor is even more special when it comes from the employees of a personal injury law firm, where, by definition, clients’ personal tragedies are woven into the work; heartaches, pain and suffering are the stuff of every hour of every workday. We are a helping profession.

In personal injury cases, weeks and months may pass while negotiations take place. During those weeks of waiting, will the clients need ongoing medical care or therapy? Will they be able to return to the full earning power they had before the accident? Our clients are often in a bad situation and must be treated with care.

Employees of our law firm must have the interpersonal skills to hold conversations with every personality type and must be able to inspire trust.  Good listeners? Our employees have to be that and much more. After all, Hensley Legal Group represents individuals and families whose lives have been changed for the worse through no fault of their own.  Perhaps more than at any other time in their lives, those clients need someone to listen and really hear what they are feeling.

Yes, of course we are excited to announce that Hensley Legal Group, PC was named as one of the 2016 Top Workplaces by Star Media as a result of the latest WorkplaceDynamics’ Employee Engagement Survey.  But it’s a special, special honor when it comes from our employees.

SHOULDER DYSTOCIA CAN SPELL DISASTER FOR BABIES

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Shoulder dystocia is a disaster that can occur while a baby is being delivered.  Even though the pregnancy might have been normal, and even though the mother’s uterus is contracting normally during labor, the baby is physically blocked from coming out. Why? The baby’s shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone.

The word “dystocia” comes from the Greek “dys” meaning “difficult, painful, or abnormal” and “tokos” meaning “birth.”

Why would the labor process be obstructed? Causes include:Shoulder dystocia birth

  • The baby might be abnormally large
  • The mother’s pelvis might be particularly small
  • There might be problems in the shape of the birth canal (tumor or injury)
  • The fetus might have been abnormally positioned in the womb

 

The baby’s head is out of the mother’s vagina, but the rest of the baby’s body is blocked from exiting because the shoulder is stuck…What the obstetrician or other medical professionals do next – and how quickly – can determine whether the infant and the mother sustain serious injuries. 

http://shoulderdystociainfo.com/whatis.htm

“Although there are risk factors for shoulder dystocia, health care providers cannot usually predict or prevent it,” explains the March of Dimes. Risk factors include:

  • Mother’s obesity
  • Mother’s diabetes
  • Birth after the due date
  • Induced labor
  • Tools used by the medical provider (forceps or a vacuum)

Obstructed birth complications for the mother include heavy bleeding after the birth and tearing of the uterus, vagina, cervix, or rectum. Obstructed birth complications for the newborn can be much more serious and long-lasting:

  • Injury to the nerves of the shoulder, arms, and hand, causing shaking or even paralysis
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain, causing brain damage or even death

 “Considered an obstetric emergency, shoulder dystocia can result in significant fetal and material harm if not resolved in a competent and expedient manner,” explains medical author Robert Allen in Medscape. If the delivery is not successfully completed within as short a time as six minutes, “there is increased risk of neonatal depression, acidosis, asphyxia, central nervous system damage, and death.”

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1602970-overview

In the delivery room, crucial moments are ticking by as medical professionals deal with:

Oxygen Levels:

It’s crucial that newborns receive sufficient oxygen circulation to the body and organs, before, during, and after birth. Medical professionals must monitor the oxygen levels, recognizing signs that a fetus is in distress. With the baby’s head out of the birth canal and the shoulder obstructed, the oxygen in the umbilical cord is affected. Timely and appropriate action is needed to prevent birth injury due to lack of oxygen.

newborn brachial plexus

Brachial Plexus Injuries:

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves in the shoulder which control movement of the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand, and fingers. If a doctor or nurse applies too much force in trying to dislodge the baby, they can stretch the child’s brachial plexus and cause:

  • Fractures of the arm bone
  • Loss of sensation
  • Loss of movement
  • Paralysis
  • Disfigurement
  • Erb’s Palsy, a form of nerve damage that can severely and permanently limit arm use

How common is shoulder dystocia?  According to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, shoulder dystocia occurs in approximately 1 out of every 150 vaginal births.

“Shoulder dystocia is an emergency and therefore, when it does occur, speed is of the essence.  The baby’s shoulder needs to be released quickly so that the baby’s body can be born and he or she can start breathing air into the lungs…a baby can suffer brain damage if he or she did not get enough oxygen because the delivery was delayed by shoulder dystocia,” the Royal College cautions.

Personal injury law relates to those who have been injured, physically or psychologically, as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another person, a company, or government agency. In the cases where injury is thought to be the result of improper handling of an infant’s shoulder dystocia, parents may become the claimants in a malpractice claim against a doctor or other medical practitioner or medical facility.

 

Typical allegations in shoulder dystocia lawsuits include:

  1. The physician or midwife should have been able to predict that a shoulder dystocia problem was likely to occur, and should have avoided that risk by recommending an elective cesarean section
  2. The doctor or midwife pulled too hard when encountering the blockage and did not use other procedures according to proper standards of care
  3. The practitioners were not alert enough and therefore did not act quickly enough to prevent the damage from occurring

Deciding to contact an Indiana medical malpractice injury lawyer can make the difference in whether your family is fairly compensated for a birth-related injury. A personal injury attorney will begin by thoroughly investigating the facts and circumstances of each case of possible medical malpractice. Time is of the essence, because important evidence can be lost or destroyed. Do you need a lawyer?  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my child showing developmental delays or does my child have cerebral palsy, related to a lack of oxygen during birth?
  • Does my child have problems using one of his or her arms or hands?
  • Did doctors or nurses tell me my child’s shoulder had been wedged inside me during delivery?
  • Did I need special care for excess bleeding following the birth of my child?
  • Have my child’s doctors been using corrective measures to limit the effects of a birth injury?
  • Has my child been diagnosed with: Erb’s palsy, anoxia, hypoxia, bone fractures, facial paralysis, fetal lacerations, or infant brain damage?

 

ultrasoundIf you believe your baby was injured due to medical negligence, the first step is to speak with a personal injury lawyer who will first determine if you have a valid case. The attorney will go through a pre-litigation process which includes the following:

  • Studying the medical documents you provide
  • Collecting additional evidence, including a witness and expert list
  • Proposing a settlement amount to the medical practitioner’s or the hospital’s insurance company
  • Negotiating a settlement
  • In rare cases a settlement cannot be reached and you may have to go to trial

Shoulder dystocia is a disaster that can occur while a baby is being delivered, a disaster that can affect that child for the rest of his or her life.  Monetary rewards cannot undo the physical damage, but the legal system offers the best chance for the family to get help with the enormous monetary costs of the ongoing care that the child will need.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET MY CAR ACCIDENT SETTLEMENT MONEY?

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The big question for anyone who has been injured in a car wreck is – just how long will it take to settle my case?  The bills sure aren’t waiting, you quickly realize.

And the answer is….. there is no set answer. The amount of time it takes to settle a personal injury case really depends on the circumstances of each accident and the injuries sustained by the people involved in that accident.

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Insurance companies, of course, know this.  They also know that you, the injured party, require costly medical care and that you may not be able to work. They know a quick settlement (even if it’s for far less than you need and deserve), will sound awfully good to you at first. Yes, you need to pay bills, but what you most need to buy is time.

Time will allow your Indiana personal injury lawyer to build a strong case and increase the chances for a fair settlement. In great part, the answer to the how-long-will-it-take question depends on whether you want to take the low-ball quick settlement from the insurance company or buy the time and the professional expertise to get more of what you deserve.

The general principle is that when you’re involved in a serious car accident for which you’re determined not to be at fault, you’re entitled to compensation for any expenses incurred as a result of the event. Such costs might include:

  • Repairs to your vehicle
  • Repairs to other items of property that were involved in the accidenthelp
  • Medical bills
  • Compensation for lost earnings
  • Reimbursement for pain and suffering

Over the next weeks, or even months, your lawyer will be busy gathering information by:

  • Communicating with the other driver’s insurance company
  • Organizing your medical records and bills for treatments you are receiving
  • Getting estimates for any future treatments you are predicted to need
  • Negotiating with health providers, disability service providers, and worker’s compensation personnel to reduce liens against you
  • Negotiating with insurance adjusters
  • Interviewing witnesses to the accident
  • Possibly preparing for a lawsuit (regardless of whether that lawsuit ever actually happens or not)

Weeks and months may well pass while all this negotiating and information-gathering is going on, and while the situation becomes more clear:

  • Will you be needing ongoing medical care or therapy?
  • Will you be able to return to the full earning power you had before the accident?

You and your attorney will need time to analyze the offer. You will need to determine whether the offer is fair and if it will be enough to cover the costs you’ve incurred. Once you and your attorney are ready to accept an offer, you’ll need to sign a release form stating you will not ask for any further money from the other party.

Once the settlement has been finalized, the insurance company is obligated to pay it in full within a pre-determined period of time. If the insurer fails to pay before the payout window expires, the settlement balance begins to accrue interest at a high rate.  Still, the unpleasant truth is that insurance companies use all sorts of delaying tactics, including making new demands that you must meet in order to “take physical delivery” of the settlement.  In exchange for your demand for an “expeditious release,” you may need to sacrifice a portion of the money.  It is still a waiting game.

As the next-to-last step of the process, the settlement check is deposited into your lawyer’s trust account.

The check must first clear the bank. The money is finally here, but you must continue to wait. Before your lawyer can disburse your share of the settlement proceeds to you, he or she must deal with any liens against your lawsuit.

A lien is a legal right to someone else’s assets. The two kinds of liens that usually exist in personal injury lawsuits are medical liens and governmental liens. Medical liens come from health care providers and health insurers, while governmental liens are usually from Medicare, Medicaid, or a child support agency.

After the liens have been renegotiated and finally settled, the attorney keeps his or her agreed-upon portion of the money, issuing the remainder to you via check. But wait…that check may take another two weeks to clear.

There’s no need to be concerned with your lawyer keeping the money in the account longer than necessary.  In fact, no lawyer may deposit your settlement money with his or her own money. Indiana has an Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program. (In fact all 50 states plus Washington D.C. participate in such programs). As the Indiana Bar Foundation explains, any interest earned on the money while it’s in the IOLTA account is used for charitable purposes, usually those related to pro bono work.

By now you’ve no doubt become very tired of waiting. Remember, though, that time can be on your side in terms of holding out for a fair settlement.  A settlement is final, so make sure all your injuries have resolved before accepting one.  

“YOUR OWN” INSURANCE? THEY HAVE “THEIR OWN” INTERESTS AT HEART!

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Should you talk to your own insurance company after a car accident? No, at least not yet.

 

One widespread misconception is that you have to call your insurance company immediately after an accident.  You do not. If you’ve been injured to any degree, it is far better to wait until your injuries have been assessed and treated – and, until you’ve discussed the matter with an Indiana personal injury attorney.

Why wait? For one thing, at the scene of an accident, you’re hardly in a state to do any accurate reporting.  Mental trauma and emotional disorientation are natural outcomes of an accident experience. You may think you’re capable of thinking clearly, but the truth is, you’re probably not—not yet.

Besides, as Dr. Alex Bingham, D.C. explains, vehicle accidents can cause physical damage that’s hard to notice amidst all the distractions immediately following the incident. Some issues might not present any signs until days or even weeks later.

 

recorded insurance callRemember this: There is no law in any state that requires an injured person to give a recorded statement to an insurance company, either your own insurer or that of the other driver.

 

You may find this fact a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a fact nonetheless: no insurance company – not your own and not the other driver’s – is focused on your best interests after you’ve had an accident.  (Remember, too, that if the other party has too little insurance or no insurance coverage at all, your own insurer is the one that will be paying for your injury claim.)

 

Insurance companies are businesses and their interests naturally lie in protecting their profits. To an insurance company, increasing profit and reducing losses means paying out as little as possible for a car crash personal injury claim.

A second important aspect of insurance payouts in Indiana is that we are a “fault state” (a state in which the Comparative Fault Act applies). That means that if you were injured in a vehicle accident, you have a choice of using your own insurance or first using the other party’s insurance.

In either case, as an injured party, you have become the adversary of the insurance company.  Think about it – to whatever extent your claim is against your own insurance company, you have gone from being their client to being on the other side of the table from them.

It’s very important to understand the concept of “comparative fault.”  When you have been in an accident, each side’s insurance company tries to show that their insured person was less responsible for the accident and that the other driver was more responsible. As the Law Journal Library explains:

                  The cornerstone principle of a comparative fault system is that each

                   person who contributes to cause an injury must bear the burden of

                   reparation for that injury in exact proportion to his share of the total

                   fault which contributed to cause the injury.

The more the other driver’s insurer can prove that you were responsible for the accident, the less they will be forced to pay.  An insurance company Car repairinvestigation usually entails trying to find where you are to blame. The likelihood that you may say something to an insurance adjuster that they can later use against you (showing you were at fault) is greatest just after the accident (remember that mental trauma and emotional disorientation we talked about?).

 

A not-so-secret secret is that the profit motive plays an extremely important role in any auto accident claim. Did you know that insurance company representatives are sometimes given bonuses for getting injured claimants to accept smaller amounts of money for their injuries? When you have been injured in an automobile accident in Indiana, you need to have a very healthy respect for the insurance companies’ profit motives and interests.

 

Personal injury law involves cases that involve injury to the body or the mind.  The underlying principle is that you have the legal right to recover compensation when you are injured as the result of someone else’s careless action. The amount of any settlement you receive to cover your losses will be influenced by the extent and the nature of the damage you’ve suffered.

 

Time can be on your side and yet work against you.

  • Once you give a recorded statement to an insurance company, that statement can be used to deny a personal injury claim you may later file.
  • An insurance settlement is final – you receive one, and only one, award. Once you’ve accepted a settlement, even if you later come to realize you need money for further medical treatment, you will have waived your right to any future compensation.

 

It probably costs to give a statement. A lot. It always pays to wait.

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Don’t talk to an insurance adjuster or insurance company representative. At least not yet.  Not until you’ve been seen by a doctor or received medical treatment. Not until you’ve documented all treatment expenses and gotten an estimate of what further treatments might be necessary.  Not until you’ve consulted an Indiana personal injury lawyer.

 

Wait before you talk to an insurance company. Any insurance company.  “Your own” insurance company still has “their own,” not your own, best interests at heart!

DOES HIRING AN ATTORNEY AFTER AN ACCIDENT MEAN GOING TO COURT?

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You’ve been injured in an automobile accident that was not your fault. If you hire a personal injury lawyer, does that mean you’re going to be involved in a court trial?

 

Probably not. Chances are, at some point the other driver’s insurance company is going to propose a settlement offer before you ever get to the point of going to a trial.


Still, if settlement negotiations become deadlocked, there is a chance your case might result in a lawsuit. The next step might be preparing for a trial if:court

  • The claims adjuster can’t get approval for a large enough payout to reasonably cover your damages, or
  • A settlement has been offered, but you and your attorney believe the offer is not fair and reasonable

Truth is, when it comes to a personal injury accident, going to a trial with a jury is not something either side really wants. In fact, the vast majority of car accident cases never go to trial. And, even when a car accident lawsuit is filed, most of the time the case is resolved before the trial actually takes place. One of the reasons is that trials can be expensive, especially when expert witness and court reporter fees are involved. By reaching a settlement, both sides tend to have more control over costs.

What actually happens in court should things get to that point? In Indiana, as in most states, a jury (rather than a judge) makes the decision in a car accident lawsuit.

  • After the jury is selected, the attorneys for each party make opening statements. As the plaintiff, your attorney would present your case first, by calling witnesses, including you if you are able to testify. The individuals called to testify lawyer in courtmight have witnessed the accident. Your doctors might be asked to testify about the treatments you’ve received, about future treatment that will be necessary, and about your chances for a full recovery from your injuries.

 

  • The defendant (usually the insurance company for the at-fault driver) might call witnesses who saw the accident, perhaps in order to contradict your side’s version of what happened. The defendant might also present other doctors or healthcare professionals who treated you and who have an opinion different from the doctor your attorney called as a witness.


In general, personal injury claims tend to be divided into two categories:

  1. “Soft Tissue” Injuries

The majority of personal injury claims in the United States are of the soft tissue type and typically result from:

  1. “Hard” Injuries

These are more serious, and often more complex cases, resulting from:

While the majority of motor vehicle accidents result in soft tissue injuries, hard injuries may also be the result of car accidents.

If I do not want to go through the expense and the tension of a court trial, do I need an attorney?


You have the legal right to recover compensation when you are injured as a result of someone else’s carelessness or negligence. You may receive compensation by accepting a settlement offered by an insurance adjuster, either before court paperworkor after filing a lawsuit. If the insurance company does not make a reasonable offer for settlement, you may decide to take your case to trial.

Whichever of these paths you ultimately choose, the expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer has the potential to make a positive difference in the outcome. The main goal of tort law (the area of the legal system that deals in private and civil wrongs and injuries) is to make you, as the injured party, whole and to discourage others from committing the same offense.  The main goal of the personal injury attorney who accepts your case is to protect your interests.

Whether you have a “soft tissue” injury or a “hard” injury may not be immediately apparent at the time of the accident. Without expert help in evaluating a settlement offer, you might be giving up rights to future claims.  You might miss out on receiving payment, not only for damage to your car and your medical bills, but also for pain and suffering. In order for you to claim full compensation, there will be witnesses to interview and evidence to gather. After an accident, you’re hardly in a condition to navigate the complex insurance and legal systems.

 

An attorney can be of help by:

  • Communicating with the other driver’s insurance company
  • Obtaining evidence of liability
  • Organizing medical records and bills

And, whether or not your case actually ends up in court, legal expertise is needed in order to:

  • Gather and evaluate evidence (including witness statements, policy reports, and medical reports)
  • Research case law
  • Draft pleadings and motions
  • Interview witnesses
  • Prepare for trial

(Even if a trial never happens, the very fact that your attorney is preparing to take your case to court often serves as an incentive for the other side to improve their offer of a settlement.)

Does hiring an attorney to represent you mean you’re on your way to court?  Probably not. But a trial may be what it takes to get fair compensation for:

  • The cost of medical treatments – and transportation to and from those appointments
  • Pain and suffering from your injuries
  • Loss of work time
  • Loss of business
  • Cost of a rental car and of repairing your car
  • Cost for psychological counseling caused by stress or physical injury

 

It’s important to have counsel who isn’t afraid to keep fighting – all the way to court if need be!