Ask Kurt M. Schultz
At the Risk Of Offending You, Why Should I Go With Your Firm And Not One Of The Big Law Firms Who’s Commercials I See All Day? (Dwayne, Canton MI)
Access, Honesty & Integrity. That is what you get with me Dwayne. I met a woman a few months ago who was dissatisfied with her current representation. She had retained a “household name” law firm whose commercials are repeated seemingly on an hourly basis! Boasting that they are the largest personal injury firm in southeast Michigan. She had been with that firm for 10 months, and not only had she NOT received ANY benefits in that time frame (lost wages, payment for replacement services, mileage reimbursement, etc…), but she had NEVER even spoken with a lawyer yet! All her communications were through secretaries and paralegals! She did not even know the name of the specific attorney assigned to her case! That’s the attention you get at a “big box” law firm. Lost in the shuffle.
Every single client of mine has my cellphone number and my personal email address. Moreover, often if transportation is an issue for a potential client, generally I like to come to their house. Not a “runner” on behalf of my firm to sign you up. Me. I get to know the people I represent. And they get to know me. A level of mutual trust is earned, and a friendship is developed. I take the time to explain what is going on with their case, what they should expect, and we work together to determine what our strategy is. I would not have it any other way. Most importantly, I never forget who works for whom. When you retain a lawyer, that lawyer works for you! Not the other way around. It always amazes me to hear people complain that they cannot speak with their lawyer and/or do not know what is going on with their case! That does not happen with me. My clients have complete access to me, and know that they will receive nothing short of brutal honesty from me. Believe me, very few lawyers can truthfully say that. Unfortunately, it is not terribly difficult to throw a bunch of legalese at a client to confuse them. Lawyers do this in order to keep their clients in the dark and manipulate them. Not me. Brutal honesty always.
My practice has been called a boutique firm. I will take that. We are a small law firm. By design. At one point I employed a number of lawyers. And I was miserable. I went to law school to be a lawyer, not a businessman. By being a small firm, I can be selective about the cases I take. I do not need to have 1000 clients in order to pay a bunch of lawyers and a giant staff. By having fewer clients I can spend more time on each case! Me. Not a secretary or a “wet behind the ear” lawyer fresh out of law school, me! It is that personal attention to detail that has allowed me to be successful. I don’t even advertise! The vast majority of my clients were referred to me by satisfied former clients. I cannot even begin to convey how good that makes me feel!
Lastly, I feel compelled to comment on some of the fictional advertisements I see so much of. Implying that the insurance company is for some reason scared of one of the “big box” law firms and is just going to pay? I assure you that an insurance company is afraid of no law firm. These are massive businesses. With unbelievable deep pockets. The only thing an insurance company fears is a well-prepared case. And I will put my skill set up against any firm out there when it comes to that.
Why would you go with a law firm where you cannot even speak with your attorney? And/or your attorney keeps changing? Because they spend millions on advertising? When was the last time you saw a commercial that was honest and accurate? I will tell you, never! I am amazed that most people do not see right through the Big Box Plaintiff Firm BS! But, I do realize that legal matters can be confusing and scary. I suppose people just want to believe the lie so badly that they accept what they hear as the truth. Wouldn’t you rather have a lawyer who knows your name represent you? One that you can call on a Sunday if something comes up? One that you know will be standing with you through the whole ordeal? Or would you rather believe the lie?
Pick an attorney that you can talk to. Not one who just talks to you, but one who listens to what you say. And explains what is going on. Someone who takes pride in a job well done.
I know that Michigan is a “No-Fault” state, but what does that mean? (Joshua, Romulus MI)
Joshua, Michigan is 1 of 19 states that no-fault auto insurance laws. Basically what that means is that regardless of how an accident occurs, your own insurance pays for your own benefits. They are called personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. PIP Benefits include payment of medical bills, income lost as a result of an auto injury, prescriptions, assistance with household tasks (laundry, taking out the garbage, cleaning, cooking, and similar such things that one does around their residence), and assistance taking of oneself (things like help dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed, help going up or down stairs, help taking your medications, etc.). These benefits, again which are called PIP benefits, are available regardless of how the accident happened. see more
For example, if you lost control of your car, drove off the road and hit a tree, these sorts of benefits are available to you. They are available “regardless of fault”, hence they are “no-fault” benefits. The great part of the no-fault act is that, even if you do not own an insured automobile, the law set out a way for you to get these benefits if you were in an auto accident (any injury involving a motor vehicle is considered an “auto accident” in the eyes of the law). In Michigan, many of the PIP benefits available to you are LIFELONG.
The logic behind no-fault insurance is to save time and cost. This is achieved because any disagreement about who was at fault in an accident is irrelevant (when it comes to your benefits). As a result, insurance companies tend to pay claims in a more timely manner. The no-fault act significantly lowers the likelihood of the drivers filing lawsuits against each other. Particularly in terms of receiving no-fault benefits. The only time litigation between drivers is necessary is in the contest of a “third party”, “pain and suffering” claim. While this system does not negate litigation of payment of benefits, particularly if there is a significant injury with large medical bills and essential service claims. In situations such is that, it is unfortunately not uncommon for an insurer to simply deny benefits, forcing litigation. The theory is that they would pay less in one settlement at some point in the future, than they would pay honoring your benefits claim. Never even considering how that will impact the injured person.
Benefits Available To All:
Passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers are all examples of people who would be entitled to no-fault benefits. Even if you do not personally have car insurance, or don’t own a car, you are still entitled to receive no-fault benefits. In almost all situations you are still entitled to no-fault benefits if you were injured and an automobile was involved in some way.
Contrary to the Michigan No-Fault Act, many states that are “fault-based”, using a totally different approach. In most of these states the at-fault driver is responsible for all the injured person’s benefits. That is all well and good, but often it is not crystal clear who caused an accident. And in a situation like that, litigation is inevitable. And no benefits are being paid during the lawsuit. So the downside of a fault-based system is that nothing is getting paid (like your lost wages) while the whole thing goes through court. How long could you go without receiving a paycheck? Would it be worth risking losing your house? With a no-fault system, your benefits are supposed to be paid regardless of how the accident occurred. Which is a huge benefit. The negative of a no-fault system is that in order to pursue a pain and suffering claim against the at-fault driver, you must have sustained a “threshold injury”. Fortunately, the threshold is not terribly difficult to demonstrate if the case is worked properly.
As stated above, your own insurer makes you financially whole. If you don’t have an insurer, the state will assign you one*. Then, in addition to all the no-fault benefits, if the accident was caused by the negligence of someone else, you are entitled to bring a case against that person for your “pain and suffering”/”bodily injury”. Basically you can go after the at-faulty driver for the decrease in the quality of life that the accident caused. **
*The only scenario where you are not entitled to PIP/”no-fault” benefits is if you were driving your own vehicle, uninsured, at the time of the accident.
**It is a lot more complicated than this, but that is why you retain a lawyer! While it is possible that you may be able to get your insurer to pay “some” of your PIP benefits without the assistance of legal representation, the likelihood of recovering anything but the most nominal of amounts is virtually non-existent unless you have a diligent attorney working for you.
What are my rights following an auto accident? (Frank, Detroit MI)
Hello Frank. If you or someone you know has been involved in an auto accident (including as a passenger, or even a pedestrian), you probably feel a little confused about your rights. You are not alone. The laws are complex and change on a daily basis. You have the right to make claims for “first-party” no-fault benefits like:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Replacement services (payment for daily assistance around your home)
- Attendant care (payment for assistance with taking care of yourself)
- Medical mileage
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- And much more
Even if you do not own an insured automobile or were a passenger in an uninsured vehicle involved in an accident you are entitled to these benefits see more
Since the state of Michigan has “no-fault” insurance, the benefits listed above are available regardless of how the accident occurred (even if you caused the accident).
If the accident was caused by the negligence of someone else (even the operator of the vehicle you were in), you may be entitled to money damages for your pain and suffering.
I would caution anyone involved in a car accident to be extremely careful what you say to any insurance company representative. If you are intending to make benefit claims and/or pursue a pain and suffering claim you may want to let an attorney speak for you. Insurance companies are in business to make money, not spend it paying on claims. It is not unusual for an insurance company to run a person in circles. They frequently avoid, delay, and deny payment of benefits without good reason, hoping that you won’t “lawyer up”. Speaking perfectly frank, I think it is shameful what these insurance companies do on a regular basis. And I truly feel that I am on the right side of the equation. Even if you do not have my office represent your interests, please take my advice to heart. You do not get a “do over” or a “mulligan”. You have one shot to (1) seek the appropriate medical care for your injuries, and (2) develop your “bodily injury” claim. I can assure you that the insurer for the at-fault driver will be working tirelessly to devalue your claim. Please don’t make it easy for them. Seek legal representation. Make sure you are covered.
If I am in an accident I need to notify my insurer. What advice do you have? Are there things I should not say or do? (Brian, Farmington Hills)
If I am representing an individual involved in an accident Brian, I would just assume to speak on their behalf. However, to answer your question, below is a list of things you want to be very careful about. They can either be taken out of context, or put you in a position where you contradict yourself down the road:
- Do NOT tell an insurance adjuster you are unhurt
Even if you are calling to merely make a claim in order to get your car fixed. And especially if you have not yet seen a doctor. They will use that against you in the future. So Instead of telling the adjuster that you are not injured. I believe that your best response is to tell the adjuster you are planning on seeing your doctor to be checked. see more
- Do NOT say “I am fine” or I’m doing okay”
If you are asked by the adjuster how you are feeling … you should be honest, and say something liked “I have been better”, or “Not as bad as I was yesterday”. Do not elaborate! You are not a doctor. You are not really qualified to discuss the extent of your injury. And the adjuster certainly is not qualified to render any opinion based on what you say. So don’t. When you use words such as fine, okay, good, not bad, etc. they will influence your adjuster to believe you are feeling good and in no pain.
At a minimum, even if the adjuster knows that you are just responding to a greeting, your statement that you are “fine” can be used completely out of context against you.
- Do not speak unequivocally (in absolutes):
For example, do not state exact speeds, precise distances, and/or specific/exact times. Keep your responses brief. It is takes 5 words to answer, do not answer in 10! Keep your answers brief and avoid absolute/specific details. There are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is that, “perception is reality”. Your recollection of your “reality” may be off a little bit. But by saying same very specifically, if it turns out that what happened is not 100% precisely as you described, you open yourself up. “Were you lying then or are you lying now” is one of their favorites. Avoid absolutes.
- Never allow the adjuster to record your conversation.
If they are asking you if they may do something, it is because they do not have an absolute right. A recorded statement can come back and sting you in more ways than I can list. So, if asked, politely say “no” to that request and take the time to consult with an attorney.
- Do not Sign Anything! Or even say “I accept your offer.”
Many accident victims are completely unaware of the value of their claim, and/or what benefits the insurer is obligated to provide by law. Often, people will accept the first offer made to them. Ridiculously, sometimes the “offer” is to pay a benefit that they must pay as a matter of law anyway. Essentially, if given the chance, they will dupe you. Remember, the insurance company will try to pay you as minimal as possible. Accept this as a fact.
- Do not apologize
People say this out of habit. However, there is no need to admit fault or assign blame. Let the police officer determine fault. You do not want your words to cause confusion about your role in the accident, especially if you were not at fault.
- Do not explain paperwork you have submitted and/or services you have received.
If questioned say, about Attendant Care that you received; how many hours of it you are getting and what is being done by your provider, do not answer. Simply direct them to the document(s) you submitted or the doctor that proscribed same. Do not try to answer the question yourself; the documents will be more accurate. And if there is a discrepancy then you can be perceived as being dishonest.
There are many “no no’s” when dealing with an adjuster. Honestly, it is best to let a lawyer handle the adjuster for you.
Will I Have to Go To Court? (Judy, Madison Heights)
Truth be told Judy, it is possible that you may need to go to court. BUT, having to attend a court proceeding and having a trial are two totally different things. When we represent an individual we work hard at building the case. And we have had a good amount of success resolving “third party”/ “pain and suffering” claims without even filing a lawsuit! That being said, there are cases that must be litigated. However, even in the instances where lawsuits are filed and the matter is litigated, the vast majority of those ultimately “settle”. Meaning, we (our client and I) agree to accept, and the Defendant (who is an insurance company or a person represented by an insurance company) agrees to pay a negotiated amount. Contrary to the many commercials I see by some plaintiff attorneys, the true goal is to resolve a lawsuit for the largest amount possible and in the shortest time possible. Often it is more advantageous to agree to a palatable amount than to have a trial.
Not only are trials very expensive, the cost of which cut into your recovery, there is also a tremendous unknown. There is a phenomenon involving jury trials. Curiously, in difficult economic times, juries are much less likely to render large verdicts. As well there are so many variables, delays, and inevitably, surprises, that you feel like your head is going to explode! And if successful at trial, often the entire matter is then appealed, creating even longer delays and costing more money! If possible, it is always better to accept an amount that YOU agree is fair, versus leaving everything up to a jury of complete strangers. It is worth noting that both sides have to expend large amounts of money to have a trial on any given case. And the defendant insurer must pay the attorney also (win or lose)… Therefore, the insurer also has a keen interest in settling short of trial. My point is that if everybody is reasonable and realistic with their expectations, all matters should be able to be resolved without the necessity of trial. However, unfortunately sometimes it is the case that one or both sides is neither reasonable nor realistic! So, to answer your question, yes it is possible that you may need to attend court (most commonly for something like a “settlement conference”), but I would be there with you and speaking on your behalf. As for a trial, the truth is that a trial is a possibility. Generally speaking, statistically it is very unlikely that one specific case goes to trial. Unlikely, but not impossible.
Will I know if I am really injured, or just a little sore and banged up? (Joel, Milford, MI)
That is a very astute question. The sort answer is not always. Understand that an accident is a traumatic event. Most people involved in an accident undergo an “adrenaline dump”. This is an evolutionary response. It suppresses pain and puts you in a “fight or flight” position. The net result is that people often do not feel much pain immediately after an accident. It is only after the adrenaline is metabolized by the body, that the pain manifest itself or “registers”. That is why many people tell the police that they are not injured immediately following the MVA, yet ultimately wind up in the emergency room a few hours later. Moreover, some of the most common injuries sustained in a car accident are spinal injuries. Herniated disks in your neck and back. These types of injuries always become progressively worse over time as the discs continue to swell, and are aggravated by continued movement. Often the discs will swell to the point that exiting nerves are impinged, causing numbness and or radiating pain in your extremities. Decreased sensation, numbness or pain in your fingertips (one hand or both) is usually the result of cervical spine nerve impingement. My point is that you know your body better than anyone else. If you are experiencing pain or if something feels “off”, get medical attention immediately!
Another somewhat common injury sustained in a car accident is a concussion or other TBI (traumatic brain injury). Contrary to what most people think, you do not have to be knocked unconscious in order to sustain a TBI. Nor does your head even have to make contact with something (air bag, window, etc.). Often, in an “acceleration/deceleration” type of injury, where there is a sudden violent stop (rapid deceleration), the “trauma” is caused quite literally by your brain striking the inside of your skull! That aroma can manifest itself immediately as a headache, or it can take hours before onset. The trauma of your brain striking the inside of your skull can cause the brain to swell, or bleed. This creates tremendous pressure on your brain since the skull does not let your brain swell/expand.
If you recall “waking up” or regaining consciousness at some point after an accident, you sustained a TBI. Often people will say/believe that they did not lose consciousness, yet are unable to recall what happened right after the accident. If there is a gap in your recollection of events, then you probably lost consciousness. A loss of consciousness as a result of an auto accident is a big deal. I would recommend going directly to the hospital. It is so serious that, if you inform the ER doctor that you lost consciousness, by law you are supposed to be admitted to the hospital for a minimum of 12 hours for observation. Again, the concern is brain swelling or a brain bleed. Symptoms of a TBI include, but are not limited to, dizziness, disorientation, forgetfulness, and problems with special relations, ringing ears, vision issues, headache, nausea, and emotional outbursts and/or any significant deviation from your normal behavior. If you are experiencing any of these issues, get checked out.
What should I do immediately after an accident? (Rachel Detroit, MI)
There are certain obligations the statue imposes on you Rachel, and there are some things that can be very beneficial to your case. But before I get to that I want to stress one important point; if you are seriously injured, do not do anything except wait for the ambulance to take you to the hospital, or otherwise get medical treatment. That being said, TO THE EXTENT YOU ARE ABLE, you should exchange information with the other driver. This can be done by simply taking pictures of his/her driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.
If you are able it would be good to take a picture of the other vehicles license plate, the damage to both vehicles, their position on the roadway, and (if say the other driver ran a stop sign and entered the roadway in front of you causing the accident, it would not hurt to take a picture of the stop sign). Also, document all your injuries and damages. In short, anything that helps to prove the fault of the other driver is worth taking a picture of. You should contact the police and have an accident report created to document the facts of the accident as soon as possible. Your police report should include all relevant information, including but not limited to, the names, phone numbers and insurance companies of all parties involved in the accident, as well as any statements from witnesses of the accident. Be sure to obtain a copy of all your medical records and document any days lost from work.
That being said, if due to your injury, you feel incapable of doing any of the above, you fear that doing same will hurt you further, and/or due to the damage to the vehicle you cannot safely exit, then do nothing. Simply wait for medical attention. I cannot stress the importance of seeking medical care immediately following the accident. Delays may affect your health, both physical and emotional. It may also be detrimental to your claim. Please understand that the severity of one’s injuries is not always immediately known and what may appear to be only a minor injury can eventually become much, much, more serious.
How long after an accident can I bring a case or claim? (Charles, Farmington Hills)
To create the best possible outcome Charles, you should start as soon as possible in order to identify witnesses and get their statements as well as collect evidence.
You have three years from the date of a motor vehicle accident to file a lawsuit for your “pain and suffering”, which is often referred to as a “third party” or “bodily injury” claim. This means that if you do not file a lawsuit against those at fault for the accident within three years for the date of the accident, you forfeit your right to make a claim against those responsible for the accident.
Minors have until one year past their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. There are other exceptions for military personnel, mentally incapacitated individuals, and survivors of individuals killed in a car accident.
As for claims for “no-fault benefits”, which include lost wages, medical bills, replacement services, attendant care and mileage reimbursement, there are a few limitation periods. First, you have a year from the date of the accident to file a claim for “no-fault” or “first-party” benefits with the auto insurer.* If a claim is not made within one year from the date of the accident you are precluded from ever making a claim. Secondly, you have a 1 YEAR limitations period from the “incursion” of an accident related benefit (for example, a surgery) to seek reimbursement from the insurer. In other words, if the insurer does not pay for a benefit you have to file a lawsuit within one year from the date of the unpaid benefit.
*No-Fault benefits are payable regardless of how the accident occurred. Even if you were the cause of the accident you are still entitled to no-fault benefits. You can also receive benefits even if you were a passenger in an uninsured vehicle. In fact, the only instance where a person would be precluded from making a benefits claim would be if that person was involved in an accident while operating their own vehicle while uninsured.
What Are Your Fees? (Amber, Livonia, MI)
Good question Amber. There are a number of fee arrangements possible, but most clients elect to retain me on a “contingent fee” basis. Meaning, in short, we eat what we kill! We only are paid if we get you paid. The great thing about a contingent fee arrangement is that our interests are exactly aligned. The more money I make you, the more money my law firm makes. It is that simple! No recovery, no attorney fee. I will tell you, it sure makes the relationship go a lot better when I am the one writing checks to my client, not the other way around!