In the personal injury lawyer podcast, I discuss how insurance companies take advantage of their customers and how underinsured motorist insurance fits into that. Also, the podcast addresses arbitration high / low negotiation technique.
In this podcast, I discuss how contingency fee cases work, how personal injury lawyers are paid, what costs and expenses there are and how they affect or reduce the money in your pocket. I also discuss the risk a lawyer takes in personal injury cases.
This podcast addresses the first steps you should take if you are in a car accident. For example, call the police, photo both cars, photo where the cars came to rest after the crash, call your insurance company, find the location of your car at the towing company, call your lawyer.
Chester County plaintiffs settle class-action suit with Sunoco over Mariner East
Company denied claims of negligence during pipeline construction at Lisa Drive
Three Chester County residents who sued Sunoco over its construction of the Mariner East pipelines have agreed to settle on undisclosed terms.
Two of the plaintiffs, Russell and Mary March, live on Lisa Drive, a suburban development that became a poster child for opponents of the pipelines after sinkholes appeared at a construction site there in late 2017 and again in the early months of 2018 and 2019. The third plaintiff, Jared Savitski, lives on a nearby street that is also along the pipeline route.
Their attorney, Andrew Neuwirth, confirmed the suit had been settled, but declined to discuss its terms or say why his clients had agreed to settle. “Neither I nor my clients are permitted to discuss terms,” he said.
In the suit, filed with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in March 2018, the plaintiffs accused Sunoco of failing to adequately study the unstable local geology that led to the sinkholes; causing an underground explosion of drilling fluid next to the Marches’ home; damaging their home, and risking a catastrophe by building the new pipelines close to the Mariner East 1 line that was already carrying natural gas liquids.
The suit accused Sunoco of negligence and several other counts in its construction practices.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.
In its formal response to the suit, filed last October, Sunoco admitted that an “above ground subsidence occurred” on or around Nov. 11, 2017, and said the hole was “immediately investigated and stabilized.”
But it denied building the pipeline at Lisa Drive, in West Whiteland Township, without being fully aware of the geology there, and denied the plaintiffs’ claims that it knew or should have known that using horizontal directional drilling in the fragile geology would likely result in an explosion of drilling fluids.
And the company denied that the suit was a legitimate class action.
Rich Raiders, an environmental and land-use attorney who is not connected with the case, said Sunoco’s decision to settle, despite its denials, may show that it accepts the merits of the plaintiffs’ case, or that it didn’t want the negative publicity of taking the case to trial after two turbulent years of spills and shutdowns during pipeline construction.
Sunoco’s public reputation in Pennsylvania has taken a heavy battering during the last two years of construction, and it’s likely the company has decided it’s time to try to mend fences with the public, and is beginning to do that by backing down from a legal fight with the Lisa Drive residents, he said.
“The court of public opinion is going to hold that there was merit, regardless of what the court of law says,” said Raiders, who has clients who are fighting Sunoco over other aspects of the pipeline project.
“How else can they minimize the damage caused by all this? The only way they can really minimize this stuff is to keep the neighbors happy.”
The appearance of sinkholes in the back yards of several Lisa Drive homes also prompted a Public Utility Commission judge in May 2018 to temporarily halt both the construction of the new pipelines and the operation of the existing line at that location, saying that the combined operation risked an explosion that would endanger public safety.
In January, the PUC halted the operation of Mariner East 1 again after a new sinkhole appeared yards from where the others had opened up in 2017 and 2018.
While the airbags may save you from something far worse, they often produce unexpected injuries in the course of doing their job. These devices have saved many lives, but the need to deploy an airbag in a split second before you would hit a door or steering wheel generates its own set of dangers.
Let’s take an example of a car being run off the road by a drunk driver and hitting a telephone pole which causes the airbags to deploy. What sort of injuries commonly result?
First, the force of the airbag can by itself cause a concussion as your brain is banged around inside your skull.
Second, you can suffer tinnitus. Tinnitus is a persistent, disturbing ringing in the ears which can result from the force of the airbag inflator causing increased pressure inside the closed vehicle. The increased pressure causes injury to the driver’s inner ear. Dealing with tinnitus is a difficult problem as many people suffering from tinnitus don’t initially associate it with the car accident or the airbag deployment.
Third, an airbag often hits people in the face and eye causing pressure injuries such as detached retinas.
Fourth, the speed of the air bag deployment is a forceful event and can cause injuries to muscles and ligaments in the path of the airbag. For example, I recently concluded a case where the client was honking her horn to warn another driver not to back into the car at high speed. The other driver slammed into the client hard enough to cause the airbag to deploy and the client’s wrist cartilage and ligaments were torn by the explosion of the airbag.
As a general rule, we do not sue the airbag manufacturer in these cases because the airbag is doing what it is supposed to do. Really, the cause of the airbag deploying and hence the injury are the actions of the driver who hit you.
Pennsylvania law says that your insurer must offer you insurance, called underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, in case you are hit by a driver who does not have enough insurance. UIM insurance is part of every auto policy.
You wouldn’t knowingly value your own well-being less than that of a stranger who injures you in an accident. Unfortunately, this happens to many people when selecting underinsured motorist coverage.
Here is a typical example:
You are stopped at a red light and hit from behind.
The person who hit you had the minimum Pennsylvania policy of $15,000.
You carry $50,000 in coverage for people you injure.
You injure your rotator cuff, needing physical therapy, pain injections, and surgery. Your case is worth $100,000 or more.
What happens? The driver who hit you has $15,000. His insurance company says, here you go. Here is $15,000. Have a nice day.
You could turn around and claim on your insurance policy’s $50,000 underinsured motorist coverage if you have it, but not everyone has that amount of UIM coverage. Many time, an insurer will offer you a lower premium to have $50,000 in coverage for hitting other people, but only $15,000 if you are injured by an underinsured driver. It is a cheaper policy if you agree to less underinsured coverage.
Why do they do this? If you are trying to collect UIM coverage, that is a lawsuit against your own insurance company. In effect, if they get you to buy lower UIM coverage, then they are reducing the amount of any claims that they have to pay to you as their insured. Check your declaration page or the statement of coverages. If it says that bodily injury coverage is $50,000 then hopefully, it also says underinsured coverage $50,000. If not, then you gave up your rights. At your next renewal investigate your UIM coverage. If you need your policy reviewed, fax or email it to me. I can give you an answer on what it provides.
Know your rights. Don’t sell them for pennies.
Limited tort means you sold your rights away. And, you sold them cheaply too.
Did the auto insurance company tell you that? Do you know you are limited tort?
Check your declaration page or the statement of coverages. If it says limited tort, then you saved about $150 per year. In exchange, your insurance company got you to agree that you cannot sue for pain and suffering unless you have a serious impairment of a bodily function. What does that mean? It makes your case harder to pursue and riskier. In a suburban county, you might only be able to recover your lost wages or medical expenses.
Did you know that you gave up these rights? No.
Were you promised a cheaper policy? Yes.
Did you know that a year’s worth of physical therapy might not be considered pain and suffering?
Are there exceptions to limited tort? Yes, but there are limited exceptions.
At your next renewal, investigate whether you are limited tort or not. If you need your policy reviewed, I can give you an answer on what it provides in about 30 seconds.
Know your rights. Don’t sell them for pennies.
Unless you witness someone with their head looking in their lap when they strike you, it is often pretty hard to prove that someone was texting and driving at the time of an accident. This is because texts are not usually time stamped to the moment of impact and the moment of impact is usually not nailed down to a matter of minutes or seconds. To further complicate things, most people begin to frantically send texts immediately after the accident to friends and family.
Nobody writes down or notes the moment of impact. Police respond when they are called and usually note the time of accident as approximately the time they arrived on the scene.
Does this matter? Yes, because most people who are texting and cause accidents will deny texting as most people know it is illegal to text while driving.
Nevertheless, texting is often the only reasonable explanation for why an accident occurred. When an otherwise sober person causes a major accident on a clear sunny day, there are only a few explanations and distracted driving is the usual culprit.
Texting while driving causes the driver to be distracted visually, manually, and cognitively. Texting is therefore worse than eating, talking on the phone, or taking your mind off of driving all put together.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer groups are speaking at high schools throughout Pennsylvania to bring awareness of the dangers of texting while driving to our high school drivers.
As a society, we have made such progress in reducing drunk driving accidents, that to just replace those gains with texting caused accidents is a shame. If you want statistics, nearly 20% of crashes with injuries were caused by distracted driving. 3300 people were killed by distracted driving and 300,000 plus injuries were attributed to distracted driving in 2011 alone.
Insurance issues: Are you covered? What would happen to you in this case? Do you know?
A nice young man is a passenger in a car driven by his friend. The friend is driving recklessly and crashes the car. The passenger’s leg is broken in the crash and needs surgery.
I get involved to make a claim against the man for my client’s injuries.
The driver only has $15,000 in coverage. His insurance company immediately offers to pay the $15,000 because in court the injury is worth a lot more than that. I would figure that the injury is worth $75,000 or so under these facts. So, the insurer and the at fault driver is getting a good deal by paying only $15,000 for something worth $75,000. So, we consider the at fault driver to be underinsured.
Well, car crash lawyers know this situation as one with an UnderInsured motorist (UIM). Simple right?
Well, the first thing we do is cross our fingers and request the client’s insurance declaration page. Did he request or reject Underinsured Motorist Coverage? In this case, phew, he requested it in the amount of $15,000. Yay.
So, now what happens. Now, he can make a claim or file a lawsuit against his own insurance company to pay him under his underinsured motorist coverage policy. We make a demand against them and if they don’t compensate him fully, we sue them and claim that they promised to compensate him in this exact scenario, but are not living up to the contract.
Would you be covered here?
Look at your declaration page in your car insurance. It will say bodily injury coverage. That is for use when you injure someone else. Lower down on the page, it will say underinsured coverage $15,000/$30,000 or it will say rejected. That is our situation here. If you rejected it, I would suggest you change that in the future.
Pennsylvania law requires you to carry car insurance in case you hit someone. It does not require you to carry insurance in case someone hits you. So, basically, the law requires you to protect others in case you are negligent, but does not require you to protect yourself.
Pennsylvania law says your car insurer must OFFER you insurance coverage for UIM in an amount equal to the amount you carry if you injure others, but you can reject it pretty easily by signing a form. Did you reject this? Maybe you should check?
How do you know if your case is worth pursuing? You won’t know without asking.
How do you know if your client’s case is worth pursuing? You won’t know without asking.
I love getting calls about cases. I think it is interesting to hear the weird situations that befall people. If there is a case to be pursued, I listen for that. If not, I give the best advice I can and say thanks for thinking of me. Many cases are not worth pursuing because in the end they will not make the client enough money for the client to be satisfied. There is no reason to begin a case with a client if you know the result will not be satisfying.
Personal injury cases are very fact dependent. They all turn on little factual details and general areas of the law that apply to personal injury cases. As a client, you could not possibly know what a case is worth without some specialized knowledge of how “the system” values cases.
Here are some results from the past few years. Many of these clients had no idea that their case was valuable in monetary terms. They did know that they had been harmed by someone else’s negligence.
Car vs. Car crash with rotator cuff surgery: $330,000
Car vs. Car crash with rotator cuff surgery: $225,000
Car vs. Motorcycle crash with ankle surgery: $200,000
Truck vs. bus crash with single epidural injection: $80,000
Fall on ice with knee injury and replacement: $200,000
Oil Spill on residential property: $780,000
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: $225,000
Falling tree injures bystander: $65,000
Dog Bite on face: $300,000
Dog Bite on Face: $206,000
Recent results are presented as examples of firm successes and not a predictor of future results. Each case is different and each of the above cases had specific facts that made them unique. It would be unwise to evaluate your case based on the above without seeking legal advice on the strengths and weaknesses of your own case or situation.