Posts By: Doug Zanes

No one wants to hire an injury attorney, but they might just have to

This week I was interviewed by Randy Van Ittersum on the Business Leader Spotlight Show. It was a great experience and gave me the opportunity to share a lot of information that is helpful to you.

Randy asked me a number of great questions about why someone would hire a personal injury attorney, how attorneys get paid and how to find the right attorney. Here are some highlights from my interview:

Why hire an attorney?
Most people don’t want to have to hire an attorney, but let’s face reality, there might just come a point in life where you have to. The focus of our practice is injury cases, particularly those resulting from car accidents. Once someone is injured in a car accident, the insurance company handling the claim knows it is its job to watch the bottom line. The more money an insurance company pays out, the more it affects the bottom line.
Dealing with the aftermath of an accident is complicated and insurance companies are experienced in dealing with those complexities. They have experts who are experienced in ways to handle them. Insurance companies have been really good lately at branding themselves as your friend, but they’re really a business trying to minimize their costs.

That’s why if you’re injured in an accident, you might not want to hire an attorney, but you need to. We are here to defend and protect you and to make sure you get a fair settlement.

Medical payments can be the most complex part of an accident, especially with more people these days having government insurance – Medicare, Medicaid, VA. Handling claims with government insurance can be especially complicated. This is yet another reason for the importance of hiring an experienced injury attorney.

It is also not uncommon for hospitals to see accident insurance settlements as revenue streams. More and more hospitals are getting paid by the client’s health insurance at agreed upon rates, then filing liens against the settlement to recover their “full costs.” Hospitals are seeing injury insurance settlements as a bucket of money that they’re somehow entitled to share in.

For all of these reasons, I think everyone who gets hurt in an accident needs to hire an attorney to make sure they are treated fairly by all parties.

How do attorneys get paid?
Almost all injury attorneys are paid on a contingency, meaning they only get paid if the client gets a settlement. If a case goes to trial and the client loses, then the fees, and a lot of times the costs, are waived.

With that being said, keep in mind if you take a case to trial and lose, you might not have to pay me, but you’ll likely have to pay the insurance company’s attorney and all its fees and costs, and those can be many thousands of dollars.

That’s why communication between a client and his or her attorney is vital. Clients must understand, and attorneys must make sure their clients understand, all of the risks associated with litigation.

Choosing an attorney
Because communication is so important, clients should make sure they’re hiring the right attorney. They should ask around to friends and family for recommendations. They should go online and do some research by checking out attorneys and their backgrounds on Arizona Bar website. Once they have a list of two or three attorneys, they should go visit them in person, talk with them, ask them questions and make sure they’re someone you trust.

If you don’t have faith in your attorney, you are likely to have a problem.

Listen to the entire Business Leadership Spotlight Show.

Swimming Pool Safety

As summer approaches, my entire Zanes Law team wants swimming pool safety to be something that everyone in Arizona thinks about. All swimming pool accidents are 100% preventable, so as summer approaches, I believe that it is extremely important to talk about swimming pool safety. We want to keep our children safe all summer long.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that pool owners adopt water safety steps to prevent children from getting to the water when there is no adult supervision. To get started, ask yourself the questions listed below. Your answers to these questions will help you to evaluate the effectiveness of your water safety measures and to determine what steps need to be taken to prevent drowning injuries.

  1. Is there a fence around the perimeter of your pool or spa?
  2. Do you have self-closing and self-latching gates?
  3. Are there door, gate, or pool alarms in use?
  4. Does your pool have anti-entrapment drain covers that protect swimmers?
  5. Are all pool and spa covers in working order?
  6. Has someone in the family received CPR training?
  7. Has everyone learned to swim?

If you own a pool, you want your answer to all of the above questions to be “yes.” It is extremely important to understand that a child can drown in the time it takes to answer a telephone. Listed below are safety tips that you can adopt in order to make your pool or spa safe for children:

  1. Always watch your children when they are in or near a pool or spa
  2. Teach your children basic water safety tips
  3. Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments
  4. Have a portable telephone close by when you or your family are using a pool or spa
  5. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa FIRST
  6. Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors.

This information is just a start. I will add additional pool safety information to my blog in the future because at Zanes Law, preventing accidents is just as important to us as helping those who have been hurt.

Zanes_Swimming_Pool-Safety_infographic_TUCSON

Download the Pool Safety Infographic

Somebody has to look out for the little guy

When you agree to be a guest on a talk radio show, you never know what you’re going to be asked. But when you agree to be a guest on a show where injury lawyers get smacked around now and again, you really never know what you’re going to be asked.

Last Saturday I was a guest on Emil Franzi’s “Inside Track” radio show on KVOI. Emil has been a conservative operator, columnist, commentator and talk show host in Pima County for more than 30 years.

His guest host Saturday was Shaun McCklusky, a small business owner and conservative activist.

Not surprisingly, they started off the show a little skeptical about personal injury lawyers.

But you know what? I had a great time on the show, Emil and Shaun were more than fair with me and I think I got them to think a little differently about injury lawyers and the role we play in society.

The fact is, accidents happen and people get hurt. A lot of the time, everyone, including the victim, is treated fairly …. However, sometimes they’re not.

Yet if insurance companies have legal representation, if government agencies have legal representation, and if corporations have legal representation, then why shouldn’t individuals who were hurt in the accident have legal representation?

As I told Emil and Shaun, in my practice, and with most of the trial attorneys I know, it’s our job to represent the clients and get them a fair shake in the system and get them a fair resolution.

I think Emil and Shaun agreed with that.

Anyway, I thank Emil for the opportunity. I had a good time and would love to do it again.

If you want to listen to the entire interview, click here. The interview starts at about the 22 minute mark.

See Us on KOLD’s ‘Legal Minute’ Segment

Let me take a moment to tell you about an exciting partnership between Zanes Law and KOLD News 13. Starting Monday, May 5, Zanes Law will become the proud sponsor of KOLD’s ‘Legal Minute’ segment on the 6 a.m. newscast. It’s going to be worth your while to get up early, because we’re going to be bringing a variety of issues to your attention that we’re sure you’ll appreciate learning about.

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How much car insurance do you need (Underinsured Motorist Coverage)?

In my previous blogs, I began discussing the question, “How much car insurance do I need?” My two prior blogs focused your liability car insurance coverage and your uninsured motorist coverage. Today, I am going to focus on the purpose of your underinsured motorist coverage and how important underinsured motorist coverage truly is.

Underinsured motorist insurance coverage is the part of your car insurance that will pay you if you are hurt in a car accident by another driver who does not have enough car insurance to fully compensate you for your injuries and damages that you have incurred. Once again, at Zanes Law, we regularly see clients who are hurt by a driver who is insured, but does not have enough insurance coverage to adequately compensate our clients. This is where underinsured motorist coverage comes into play.

As I have previously said, I look at it from this perspective … when someone is having trouble paying all of their bills, they typically don’t stop driving and/or give up their car. In addition, they tend to choose groceries and rent over paying for their car insurance during that difficult time. So, they let their car insurance lapse or they purchase the minimum amounts available so that they can legally drive. If you are unfortunate enough to be hit by this person who has low insurance policy limits, you may not be fully compensated for your injuries if you aren’t carrying underinsured motorist coverage on your car insurance policy. You will use your underinsured motorist policy to completely take care of your medical bills and to compensate you for your injuries, missed time from work, pain and suffering, etc.

For the above reason, you MUST purchase underinsured motorist coverage when you purchase your liability insurance and your uninsured motorist coverage. Similar to your uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage exists to protect you and your family, and is relatively inexpensive coverage to purchase. On many insurance policies, it may simply be an additional $10 to $15 for six months’ worth of coverage, and I can guarantee you that if you are hurt in an accident that’s not your fault, you will be glad that you have it.

How much car insurance do you need (uninsured motorist coverage)?

In my last blog, I began discussing the question, “How much car insurance do I need?” But I focused on your liability car insurance coverage. Today, I am going to focus on the purpose of your uninsured motorist coverage and how important uninsured motorist coverage truly is.

Uninsured motorist insurance coverage is the part of your car insurance that will pay you if you are hurt in a car accident by another driver who does not have any car insurance. Unfortunately, we see this just about every day at Zanes Law. I look at it from this perspective … when someone is having trouble paying all of their bills, they typically don’t stop driving and/or give up their car. In addition, they tend to choose groceries and rent over paying for their car insurance during that difficult time. So they let their car insurance lapse. If you are unfortunate enough to be hit by this person after their insurance policy has lapsed, you have been hit by an uninsured motorist. This means they will not have an insurance policy to compensate you for your injuries, missed time from work, pain and suffering, etc. If you find yourself in this situation, legally, you can still sue the person who hit you and get a judgment, but the odds of you ever collecting money from this person are slim to non-existent.

For the above reason, you MUST purchase uninsured motorist coverage when you purchase your liability insurance. Unlike your liability coverage, which exists to protect others, your uninsured motorist coverage exists to protect you and your family. Although I don’t know this for sure, the impression that I have always gotten is that insurance companies prefer to not sell you uninsured motorist coverage. This is because the actual premium piece of this coverage is extremely inexpensive for you, but it costs the insurance company a great deal of money because they end up paying out on this coverage over and over. The reason insurance companies pay out on uninsured motorists coverage so often is because there are so many uninsured drivers on the road. Because of this, my advice to you is to purchase as much uninsured motorists insurance coverage as you can afford. I made this same decision years ago because of what I see every day, and I purchase my car insurance in order to protect my family first and foremost.

How much car insurance do you need?

How much car insurance do I need?  I am actually surprised at how few times I have actually been asked this question.  I don’t think that many people I know actually think about the purpose of their car insurance and about how much car insurance they actually need.  I do know that before I began representing victims of car accidents that I certainly didn’t give my car insurance coverage a second thought.  I just kept buying what I had always bought and figured that was enough or the correct kinds.  So I am going to start by discussing liability car insurance coverage in this blog, and I will discuss other parts of an auto insurance policy in future blogs.

Liability car insurance coverage is the part of your car insurance that will pay someone who you accidentally hurt if you cause an accident.  Let’s face it, accidents happen.  If you run a red light and hurt someone that certainly wasn’t your intention.  That’s why it’s called (and is) an accident, and accidents do happen.  So this coverage protects you from having to pay with your money if you accidentally hurt someone.  What happens is your car insurance carrier will pay the person that you hurt so that they are reimbursed for their medical bills, so that they are reimbursed for their lost wages because they could not work, so that they are compensated for the pain, suffering, and inconvenience of being injured, and your insurance will pay them for any other losses that they have because of this accident.

Currently in Arizona, the law is that you have a minimum of $15,000 in liability coverage, but we all know that this isn’t nearly enough.  If you accidentally hurt someone their medical bills alone could far exceed $15,000, and when you are responsible for the medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and potentially other damages $15,000 doesn’t do much to protect you!  I realize that how much car insurance you can buy is directly affected by what you can afford, but because of what I’ve discussed above, my recommendation is that everyone carry at the least $50,000 worth of liability coverage.  This will ensure that anyone one you accidentally hurt in a car accident at least has a shot at being fully compensated for his injuries and it will at least give you a shot at being protected from having personal liability.  Remember, if you accidentally hurt someone so severely that your liability insurance policy limit isn’t enough to completely compensate the person who is hurt, you could now be personally responsible and have to actually pay the person the difference between the insurance money available and the actual value of his claim.  Because of that, a person who makes lots of money and/or has lots of assets needs significantly more car insurance coverage in order to be protected from personal liability.  So how much liability car insurance you buy is a personal decision but, make not mistake about it, it is a decision the deserves some thought on your part.

Your state legislature failed to act in your best interest

As a personal injury lawyer with offices in Tucson, Phoenix and Glendale, my staff and I represent thousands of injured people every year, the majority of whom were injured in car accidents. Because of who we represent, we see firsthand the impact that being injured in an accident has on the victim and his or her family, and I can honestly tell you that this impact is significant. The biggest challenge that our clients who are significantly injured face is the lack of insurance that is typically available to compensate them. “Fair” compensation for their injuries seldom exists.

I can only presume that because of this, Arizona State Representative Ethan Orr of Tucson’s Legislative District 9 proposed House Bill 2165. House Bill 2165 would have raised the minimum auto insurance coverage requirements from its current levels of $15,000 per person/$30,000 per incident and $10,000 in property damage coverage to the higher level of $25,000 per person/$50,000 per incident and $20,000 in property damage coverage. This is a needed change because the last time the State of Arizona raised these limits was in 1972, more than 40 years ago.

To put this into perspective, I regularly represent auto accident victims who are injured and have in excess of $15,000 in medical bills, but don’t have broken bones and do not need surgery. In short, by most standards they are not “severely” injured. If this victim, who isn’t “severely” injured, was injured by a driver with the $15,000 in minimum insurance coverage there will not be enough money to pay the victim’s medical bills, which exceed the auto insurance coverage minimum limits. In addition, there certainly won’t be enough money to compensate the victim for his or her pain and suffering, lost wages, or any additional damages that the victim has suffered.  I don’t believe that any of us can call this resolution “fair.”

Can you imagine how large your medical bills would be with broken bones or when surgery is needed? Can you imagine how much pain and suffering you would have with this type of injury? Can you imagine how much time you might miss from work with this type of injury? How much money do you believe you should be paid in order that have a “fair” resolution if a negligent driver injured you so severely that your entire life changed? $15,000?

We all know that $15,000 isn’t nearly enough money to “fairly” compensate many auto accident victims! To put the current problem into perspective, the attorneys I work with at my large personal injury law practice and I represent a large number of auto accident victims each year. In 2013, approximately 20% of all the victims we represented were paid the entire insurance policy limits that the at-fault driver had. That means that for approximately 20% of the clients we represented in 2013, the at-fault driver did not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate our clients so the insurance company simply paid its insurance policy limits. This is why a change is needed!

So what did our Arizona State House of Representatives do with House Bill 2165? On January 14, 2014, there was an informational hearing in the House Insurance Committee (“Committee”). At this hearing, there was one group who spoke in opposition to the bill. That group was the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. This means that the only opposition was the insurance industry itself, who would ultimately have to pay more money to fairly compensate accident victims if this bill were to pass. The next step would have been for House Bill 2165 to actually be assigned to the Committee and then voted on. Unfortunately, House Majority Leader Andy Tobin, who once owned and operated his own Farmers Insurance company, refused to assign House Bill 2165 to Committee to be voted on. This refusal to assign House Bill 2165 to Committee basically killed the bill in the House of Representatives and it has no chance of becoming law this year. So much for looking out for the rights of accident victims!

Arizona accidents decline, injuries increase

Vehicle accidents in Arizona declined, according to the latest statistics released by the state, with fewer fatalities. The total number of injuries increased substantially. In 2012, the number of accidents dropped by .14% from the previous year, with 103,637 accidents reported. Fatalities dropped by .73% to 821. However, the number of accidents with injuries increased by .36% to 49,896.

Here are some other interesting statistics, released by the Arizona Department of Transportation:

  • There were 136.61 persons injured every day.
  • One person was injured every 10.54 minutes.
  • Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 5.25% of all crashes and 34.01% of all fatal crashes.
  • Of all alcohol-related crashes, 78.49% occurred in urban areas and 21.51% occurred in rural areas, while 52.99% of all alcohol-related fatal crashes occurred in urban areas and 47.01% occurred in rural areas.
  • Single-vehicle crashes accounted for 18.06% of all crashes and 42.55% of all fatal crashes.
  • Of all pedestrian crashes, 8.25% were fatal.
  • Crashes that occurred during daylight hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) accounted for 72.5% of all crashes.
  • Motor vehicle crashes resulted in $2.927 billion in economic losses to Arizona.
  • Children age 14 and younger accounted for 44 fatalities and 3,631 injuries in motor vehicle crashes.

Be careful out there and don’t forget to call Zanes Law if you are ever in need of an injury lawyer.

Secrets of an Insurance Adjuster

Insurance companies are quick to contact a motorist after an accident with a settlement offer. Remember, they work for the insurance company, which has one goal: to settle your case for the least amount of money possible. What may seem like a fair offer to you could fall far short of any amount of money you need and that you can get through an attorney’s help.

To the at-fault driver’s insurance company, your claim is “just business,” and they are not in business to simply give out money. That’s why you can expect them to fight to minimize what they ultimately pay you.

Don’t accept a settlement and don’t sign anything until you are 100% better, or at least on the advice of an experienced injury attorney. Once you take that settlement check and cash it, your case is over, even if you didn’t sign anything.

Once an offer is made (typically a low offer), you will need to sue in order to get the insurance company to pay you what you are owed. This is an expensive process that may mean you will walk away with less money than you would have if the case settled without having to sue. Most cases are settled without going to trial.

Those worried that their insurance rates will go up if they pursue a claim should rest easy. Simply because an injured person pursues a claim doesn’t mean their insurance rates will increase. It’s when a person’s negligent or wrongful acts cause injury that their own insurance premiums are raised.