What is light duty?

Posted on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 at 8:46 am    

What happens when a doctor releases you on “light duty.”

What are the Stages of a Car Accident Case?

Posted on Friday, June 15th, 2018 at 10:13 am    

Car accident cases aren’t simply a matter of “here’s what happened, pay me a large sum of money.” Experienced Virginia car accident lawyers are skilled at each phase of the trial from the initial client consultation through a trial before a jury. Once your medical diagnosis is clear, the lawyer will work to try to settle your case. To get the best results, the lawyer prepares your case as if it is going to go to trial.

Since car accident lawyers usually take your case on a contingency fee basis, the client does not need to rush to make a quick settlement. Contingency fee means the car accident lawyer only gets paid if your case settles or if you obtain a jury verdict. So you will not have to stroke a check to hire the attorney.

There are several steps a car accident victim should take before speaking with an attorney. For more detailed information on what to do and what not to do if you’ve been in a car accident, please download my book 23 Simple Rules to Follow if You’ve Been in a Car Accident, or call our office for a hard-bound copy. Also, remember that if you were on the job at the time of your accident, there will be a Workers’ Compensation element to your claim as well which we can handle for you.

  • The first step is to get an immediate medical evaluation. Even if accident victims feel well immediately after the accident, they should still go to the emergency room or see their family doctor. Some injuries like traumatic brain injury, concussions, or whiplash take a day or more to show symptoms. The sooner you see a doctor, even when pain is not immediate, the better care you should get. Early diagnosis and early treatment helps you get better faster and with stronger results. Additionally, if you wait to see your physician, the insurance companies may argue that you weren’t really hurt.
  • The second step is to contact the police if anyone was hurt or if there was property damage. The police will get everyone’s contact and insurance information. The officers will write a report which details the accident site including lanes of travel, traffic signals and signs, and other information. The police will work to secure the area so that nobody else is hurt. They’ll physical also arrange for any ambulance or EMT services. They will also charge anyone they feel violated any laws, such as failure to yield, running a red light, etc. This helps to determine who was at fault for the accident, and if that person pre-pays the fine, then they have admitted guilt in your case.
  • The next step is to make sure you take or get someone to take numerous photos of any damage to the vehicle you were occupying at the time of the accident, before the vehicle is repaired. This can easily be done with most smartphones today. In addition, if you have any bruises  lacerations, or seatbelt burn, etc. from the accident, you should get someone to photograph them extensively and as clearly as possible before they heal.
  • The third step is to contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. The attorney will advise you how to document your pain and suffering. He’ll explain how the litigation process works. An experienced car crash lawyer will explain that you shouldn’t think about a settlement until you fully understand your injuries and what your long-term prognosis is. He’ll speak with the insurance adjusters for you have signed documents to allow him to represent you.
  • Vehicle owners are required to notify their own insurance carrier about the accident. You should never admit fault even to your own company.  You should give the facts about what happened. Normally, the insurance company will want to inspect the car to see what repairs may be necessary or to determine if the car was totaled.
  • Vehicle accident victims are not required to speak with the insurance adjuster for the people who were at fault, i.e. the defendant. If an insurance company, other than yours, wants to speak with you, you have every right to say that you want them to speak with your lawyer. If your lawyer thinks it prudent, he will set up a recorded statement and prepare you for it, and do a three-way telephone interview so that he is on the phone during the statement. He will also prepare you before the statement as to how to conduct yourself.

 

Victims should also understand that both Virginia and North Carolina have a strict contributory negligence laws. This means if a jury finds that the other driver was 90% at fault and you were just 10% at fault, then you get nothing. You don’t get 90%. You don’t get 50%. You get zero. So, admitting or implying fault in any way can cause you to lose your case.

Now if you were on the job at the time of your accident, generally, fault does not affect workers comp entitlement, unless you were grossly negligent, or failed to follow a company safety rule. For instance, if company safety rules require that you wear a seatbelt, and you were not wearing one and this increased your injuries, you would not be entitled to workers comp coverage.

The stages of your case once you a hire a lawyer

  • Consultation. The attorney will begin by reviewing what happened and your medical complaints. The more he understands what happened, the better he can analyze who was responsible and why.
  • Investigation. In the old days, the attorney would routinely send investigators to the accident site to take pictures and/or video of the site, but today, for most locations, you can view just about every angle of the scene using Google Earth and save the shots you want.  If skid marks or sight distance are important, then an investigator with appropriate training will be sent to take measurements. This can prove critical in close cases. The investigators may also examine your vehicle. The damage to all the vehicles (what parts of the car and how severe) is another piece of evidence to help determine fault.
  • Determination and Estimation of Coverage. Your own insurance policy should have a portion called Underinsured Motorist Coverage.  (UIM). It is very important to find the declaration page of your policy. This will display what your coverage is. It is usually expressed as policy limits, with two numbers and a slash line. For instance it may say $100,000/$300,000.00. The first number is the per person limit and the second number is the total coverage in the event that more than one person was hurt. The reason the amounts are important is because the minimum coverage required in Virginia is $25,000.00, and in North Carolina, $30,000.00. So no matter how bad your injuries are, if both you and the defendant have the minimum coverage, that is all you will be entitled to. Unfortunately, we are not entitled to know the amount of the defendant’s coverage without filing a lawsuit. Most of the time, you can get an idea based on the year, make and model of the defendant’s car. So if they are driving a 1980 Honda that is barely holding together, you can bet their coverage is very different from someone driving a brand new Mercedes.
  • Photos of the damage to the vehicle and any severe injuries.  As noted above, it is very important to get photos of the vehicle damage. Particularly in a nasty wreck, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you have to go to trial, nothing conveys what you have been through better than a mangled mass of twisted metal.
  • Medical care and gathering of records and bills. The attorney will review your medical injuries and the treatment you’ve received so far. The lawyer may suggest that your see other doctors, psychologists, therapists, and other health care providers. During your case, the lawyer will obtain medical reports which explain your medical condition, your prognosis, the loss of any long-term function, the pain and suffering that usually accompanies the type of injury you have, and any problems that are unique to your situation.
  • When to negotiate. Insurance companies for the people who hit your car want to settle your case as quickly as possible for as little as possible. Experienced Virginia car accident lawyers understand that delay is not your friend. Many doctors will defer payment until your case is resolved, but they are not required to do so. Therefore, your own health insurance company should pay for your medical care until the case settles or there is a verdict.

While some injuries such as a broken arm are treated and then heal in a few months, there are often exceptions. When your arm heals, you may lose some range of motion. There still may be a persistent pain. If you settle too early, you can’t come back and ask for more money. That’s why it’s good to wait until your medical condition has stabilized.

  • Demand Letter-Once all the bills and records regarding your related treatment are received, and you have reached maximum medical improvement,  your attorney will prepare a demand letter, which will set forth the facts of the claim, and recite, in detail, the entirety of your medical treatment related to the accident. If you had any prior injuries to the same body parts, this would also need to be discussed and dealt with. You attorney will also attach all the relevant medical records and bills and tally them up to compute an appropriate amount to ask for settlement from the insurance company. The amount asked for is typically not the amount your attorney expects the case to settle for, but is merely a place to begin negotiations. The attorney will also attach any relevant photos of the vehicle damage, photos of your visible bodily injuries, and a copy of the accident report.
  • How to negotiate. An experienced car accident lawyer understands how much your case is worth. He understands the strengths and weakness of your case and the defendant’s case. He understands the art of negotiation – how much to ask to start in order to get the settlement you deserve. The lawyer also understands when a settlement offer just isn’t fair and that you should proceed to a jury trial. Often times, the best settlement offer comes right before the jury trial date.
  • Watch out if you have a worker’s comp case. One thing many folks ignore is the situation where they may have a worker’s compensation case as well because you were on the job at the time of your accident. Generally, the law does not allow a double recovery. This first means that you cannot settle your case against the other driver without the permission of the workers comp adjuster. If you do, that is the automatic end of your comp case. Also, the money paid out by workers comp will create a lien against your injury case. That being said, these amounts are usually reduced and worked out at the time of settlement. The main take-away is NEVER settle your injury case before your workers comp case or you will be in for a rough ride.
  • Figuring how much the case is worth. For more detail on this subject, please download my free book, How Much is My Case Worth?  Your lawyer should understand how to value and how to prove each of the following damage items:
    • Your past and future medical bills. This includes hospital visits, doctor exams, work with physical therapists, and time with other medical professionals and healthcare providers.
    • All medical prescription costs. Often, a car accident victim needs to take medications during the healing process. Some patients may need to take medications for the rest of their lives.
    • The cost of any medical devices. Prosthetics, walkers, canes, and other devices cost money. They may need to be replaced over time. These expenses should be calculated.
    • Lost income. This includes all the money you lost because you couldn’t work up through the date of the trial. It also includes any lost wages or income that you will lose because you have a partial or complete disability or until your injuries heal. Lost income is generally proved, with the preparation of legal counsel, by evaluating your tax returns, statements from your employers, and profit and lost summaries. In some cases, we work with accountants, vocational experts, and other financial professions to detail how much lost income the accident cost you.
    • Property damage. This is typically the cost to fix your car or to replace it if the cost to repair it is nearly as much as the cost to buy a new one. It should be noted that typically your personal injury attorney will not deal with this at all, and it will be handled early on by you, and not by your attorney. This is because there is little leeway in negotiating vehicle damage amounts. You are entitled to recover the blue book value of the car and nothing more. While occasionally, there may be some add-ons for new items on the vehicle or other property damaged in the accident, it is usually fairly set in stone and there is little an attorney can do to change what you are entitled to. So unless the claim was completely denied, property damage is usually not part of your lawsuit.
    • Pain and suffering. Each day, you have to live with physical aches, pain, and discomfort. The pain may get worse when you move or perform simple tasks. Pain can prevent you from sleeping, enjoying family, doing your job, and engaging in simple tasks like eating and walking. Pain can include itching, swelling, vision loss, and a range of agonies.

 

Along with the physical pain is the emotional worry about when and if your injuries will heal. You worry that you’ve become a burden to your family. Physical pain is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, fear, and other emotions.

 

Your doctors can summarize some of your pain and suffering. Family members can testify as to your sadness, your crying, and other symptoms. Often, the best witness for showing pain is you, the victim. An experienced lawyer will usually value the pain and suffering part of your claim based on his experience and knowledge of the jury pool and what other juries have awarded in the past.

  • Scarring and disfigurement. Car accident victims who have scars, especially facial scars, or who lost a limb or body part because of the accident or an amputation – are generally entitled to additional damages.
  • Loss of consortium. In North Carolina, (but not in Virginia) a spouse of an accident victim may be entitled to damages because they have lost the ability to enjoy their spouse’s companionship, guidance, and intimacy. This element only becomes significant in the most severe injury cases.

 

How long will all of this Take?

So, this sounds like an awful lot to do. You may ask how long all of this will take? And this really depends on how long your treatment takes and many other factors that are too numerous to get into here. I suggest you download the book How Long Will My Case Take? where attorney Joe Miller provides the detailed answers to that question.

 

  • Filing of the claim in Court. If your attorney cannot reach an agreeable settlement with the insurance company, then a lawsuit should be filed before the statute of limitations runs. In both Virginia and North Carolina, that is two years after an accident. The complaint will identify who you are. It will also identify the defendants who caused you injuries. The complaint typically sets forth the theories of liability,  typically negligence, and there may be a plea for punitive damages, if warranted. Once the complaint is filed, we can then formally conduct discovery and prepare your case for trial.

 

  • Formal discovery. Discovery is the phase where each of the parties has the right to ask questions about what the other side knows.
    • Defense questions. Defense lawyers will ask victims to state what happened, what their injuries are, and what treatments they’ve received. The defense lawyers will explore anything that might show the victim was partially at fault for the car accident. The defense attorneys will also try to minimize your injuries by exploring if you had any prior accidents or if there were other events that may be the cause of your pain.

 

    • Plaintiff questions. Your lawyer will seek to determine which defendants owned the car. If the driver was different than the owner, we’ll seek to determine if the driver had permission to use the car. We’ll ask the driver where he/she was coming from and where they were going and get into all the details of the accident, particularly if liability or fault is contested. Many questions will vary depending on how the accident happened.
    • Discovery has three basic parts to it:
      • Interrogatories. These are written questions, sometimes 50 or even 100, about the events surrounding the car accident and the injuries
      • Depositions. These are oral questions under oath that one lawyer asks the opposing party. All of your responses are taken down by a court reporter. This also includes depositions of your doctors.
      • Requests for production of documents. These are written request to produce things such as medical bills, medical reports, proof of insurance, traffic citations, and other documents.
  • The trial. Cases that can’t be settled should be tried before a jury. Depending on the amount we are trying to claim, some cases can be tried in lower Court by a judge. For instance, in Virginia, a district court case has a $25,000.00 limit. So if you know for a fact that there is only $25,000.00 in coverage, this may be the way to go. It does save a lot of money on doctor’s fees, deposition costs, etc.
  • But on the higher value cases, plaintiff’s lawyers always ask to have a jury decide the case. The main parts of a jury trial include:
    • Voir dire. The selection of the jury
    • Opening statements. Each side presents its version of what happened
    • The presentation of evidence. Each side calls witnesses to testify. The opposing side can cross-examine those witnesses. The victim’s lawyer will generally call the victim/plaintiff, the family members, and any witnesses to the accident, if liability is contested. The employer and co-workers may be called. Doctors may also be called unless the parties agree that medical reports or video depositions can be used. Depending on the type of claim, economic experts may be called to testify about future wage loss and even vocational experts, if the plaintiff is unable to return to work due to his or her injuries.
    • Closing statements. Each side summarizes the evidence and argues why its side should win.
    • Instruction to the jury. The judge instructs the jury on how to properly review the case.
    • Jury deliberation. The jury reviews the evidence and decides who is responsible. If the defendants are responsible, the jury decides how much damage to award the car accident victim.
    • The verdict. The jury informs the judge what decision it has made. The judge then reads the verdict to the parties.
  • Appeal. The losing side may appeal the verdict to a higher court. Appeals are usually based on some legal or judicial error during the trial phase.

 

Speak with an Experienced Virginia car accident lawyer now

Car accident victims shouldn’t wait to speak with a lawyer. Memories fade. Evidence such as skid marks can disappear. Injuries usually worsen if you don’t see your doctor. As a respected car accident lawyer, Joe Miller will guide you through each phase of your case. He has been fighting for injury victims for over a quarter century. To make an appointment, please call (888) 694-1671 or complete my contact form.

 

The Dangers of Distracted Driving and Driving While Tired

Posted on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 at 12:22 pm    

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 people are killed and 1,000 people injured by a distracted driver – each day. Distracted driving is dangerous for three fundamental reasons:

  • Distracted drivers aren’t looking the road in front of them
  • Distracted drivers don’t have their hands on the steering wheel. This makes it tough to respond to emergencies. Careful drivers have both hands on the wheel.
  • Distracted drivers aren’t thinking about how to respond to dangers such as by braking, steering into a different lane, slowing down, or taking other safety measures.

Types of distracted driving

Common examples of distracted driving including

  • Texting while driving
  • Speaking on a smartphone or cell phone
  • Using a GPS system
  • Eating while driving
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Looking at a video
  • Conversing with passengers especially those in the back seat
  • Personal grooming
  • Drinking a beverage such as coffee or soda
  • Smoking

Drivers who are tired or who are under the influence of alcohol are also unable to anticipate, control, and respond to emergencies.

A momentary lapse of even a second can be fatal or cause catastrophic injuries. A car travelling at 60mph is travelling 88 feet per second – which is about 4-5 car lengths.

The CDC reports that teenagers have an especially high likelihood of driving while distracted:

  • Drivers less than 20 years of age have the highest rate of distraction-related fatal accidents
  • In 2015, nearly two in five high-school students said that they sent an email or text while driving in the previous 30 days. Many of these young drivers also admitted that they didn’t wear a seat-belt while they were sending these emails and texts.

Texting while driving laws in North Carolina

North Carolina enacted a strong texting while driving ban that applies to all drivers though it is especially tough on novice drivers. The law provides that adult drivers can speak on their cell phones while behind the wheel but they can NOT text while the car is in motion. The texting while driving ban applies to reading, sending, or composing a text message. It is not illegal to text if the car is stopped or is parked. Violators can be stopped by a police officer and ticketed even if they haven’t committed another traffic offense.

Drivers under the age of 18 (novice drivers) can’t text while driving. They also can’t use a cell-phone (even a hands-free phone). Novice drivers can also be stopped if they haven’t committed another traffic offense.

Bus drivers are also banned from using a cell phone while their bus is in motion – in addition to the texting while driving fan.

Texting while driving in Virginia

In Virginia, it is unlawful for any person to operate a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth while using any handheld personal communications device to:

  1. Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
  2. Read any email or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored within the device nor to any caller identification information.

Fines are $125.00 for the first offense and $250.00 thereafter.

The dangers of driving while tired

Nearly 20 percent of all fatal car crashes are caused by a driver who is too tired – as reported by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, The foundation also found that young drivers, those between 19 and 24, were the most likely to drive while fatigued. While nearly all drivers understand the dangers of driving drowsy, most drivers still drive – even though it puts their lives, the lives of passengers, the lives of other car occupants, and the lives of pedestrians at risk.

Indicators a driver is drowsy

Drivers and occupants of the cars need to know when they need to avoid getting into the car if they’re tired or when to get off the ride if they’re getting sleepy. They’re no reason to risk a life to get somewhere a little faster. Drivers should plan to take regular rest stops. They should know where the hotels are where they can stop and sleep. Some of the signs of drowsy driving include:

  • Yawning constantly
  • Not remembering the most recent leg of a journey
  • An inability to focus
  • Shifting into other lanes of traffic
  • Tailgating or getting too close to other drivers
  • Near misses
  • Traveling too fast
  • Going through red lights
  • Failing to stop for stop signs

Some recommendations for sleepy drivers include:

  • Making regular rest stops for every 100 miles or for every several hours of driving time
  • Get plenty of sleep before you plan a long drive
  • Keep your sleep/awake patterns
  • Try to have another driver so you can take turns
  • Avoid medications that might make you sleepy
  • Avoid relying on caffeine to keep you awake
  • Don’t trust that having the radio on will keep you from getting drowsy
  • Avoid using cruise control

Some automakers who are aware of the dangers of drowsy driving are working to install technology that senses when a driver is tired. The cars sound alarms and even force the car to stop. Alas, that technology does not currently exist with any reliability. All drivers are responsible for any deaths or injuries they cause due to drowsy driving.

Talk with a respected North Carolina car accident lawyer as soon as possible

In many cases, when a teenager or young driver causes death or injury, the young driver is not the owner of the vehicle. Attorney Joe Miller Esq. can explain when you can also sue the owners of the vehicle in North Carolina under the “Family Purpose Doctrine.”  The car owners are generally the people who have liability insurance to pay for all your damages if the driver caused your injuries or the death of a loved one. If there is not enough insurance to cover you claim, you may be entitled to payment for your pain and suffering and economic losses from your own uninsured or underinsurance policy.

In addition, if you were on-the-clock for your employer or your travel was connected to a business trip at the time of your accident, we can, of course, handle any Workers Compensation aspects to the claim as that is also a specialty of our firm. To make an appointment with an experienced North Carolina car accident attorney, please phone (888) 694-1671 or fill out the contact form.

Some Common Types of Car Crash Injuries

Posted on Friday, May 18th, 2018 at 8:07 am    

Drivers and passengers suffer many different types of injuries. In the worst cases, the car occupants die. In severe cases, victims may suffer catastrophic injuries such as a traumatic brain injury or a in injury to their spine. Spinal cord damage may result in partial or full paralysis. Catastrophic injuries can change the quality of accident victim’s life forever. Many victims suffer broken bones, nerve damage, cuts from windshield glass, and burns. Some victims suffer amputations, disfigurement, and scarring.

Most injuries are due to the car driver or passenger being thrown around the vehicle. Occupants may strike the windshield, the dashboard, or the steering wheel. Many car crash victims collide with other car passengers. Some victims are thrown from the vehicle. Occupants may also be hurt when their air bag inflates.

Depending on what type of injuries the driver or passenger suffered, victims need to get medical help from many different types of doctors. North Carolina and Virginia car accident lawyer Joe Miller works with the following type of physicians:

  • Neurosurgeons and neurologists
  • General surgeons
  • Orthopedic doctors
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Cardiologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Neuropsychiatrists
  • Pain management doctors
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physiatrists
  • Chiropractors
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Physician’s Assistants
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Doctors
  • Your family Doctor
  • Many other medical specialists

Some patients may need a medical device such as a prosthetic or wheelchair. Most car accident victims need to take prescription medications

Two common types of injuries are internal damage and whiplash.

Victims who suffer or think they might have internal damage are usually transported by ambulance or by emergency medical care to the closest emergency room. There, the doctors will conduct a battery of imaging tests, a physical exam, and an oral exam to help make a medical diagnosis.

Examples of internal injuries include:

  • Broken ribs. Broken ribs often take months to heal. The pain is often unbearable. Sometimes, the broken ribs don’t heal 100% leaving the victim in a lot of chronic pain. If ribs are injured, it’s also likely that internal organs such as kidneys, lungs, and the spleen may be damaged.
  • An abdominal aorta aneurysm. This type of rupture is extremely dangerous and often deadly.
  • Internal bleeding. Doctors should be on the lookout for this condition. While external bleeding is fairly easy to spot (just look for the red blood), internal bleeding requires a more thorough examination. Internal bleeding can affect the head, brain, spine, heart, abdomen, joints, and muscles.  Some of the ways physicians look for internal bleeding are by conducting CT-scans, blood tests, an ultrasound, or an angiography. Symptoms doctors look for are lightheadedness, vomiting, difficulty breathing, blood clots, and examining your urine for signs of blood. Internal bleeding can also affect tissues and organs. Internal bleeding occurs when damage to a vein or artery causes the blood to leak into other parts of the car accident victim’s body
  • Organ damage. If the kidney, lungs, or other internal organs fail to function, surgery may be required. Extensive organ damage, particularly to the liver,  is often fatal.
  • A ruptured spleen. Doctors normally need to repair a ruptured spleen by performing a surgery. Internal bleeding usually accompanies a ruptured spleen.
  • Pneumothorax. This is a fancy way of saying you have a collapsed lung. It occurs when air gets into part of area between the lung and the chest wall. It often requires surgery to correct the damage.

Many patients with internal injuries often have to cope with internal bruises.

Whiplash Injuries

Most whiplash injuries occur when a front car is struck in the rear by a distracted or careless driver. It is often made fun of comedically in TV sketches; however, it can actually be a serious, and in some instances, permanent injury. Whiplash involves a tearing of the muscles and ligaments that surround the cervical spine.

The symptoms of a whiplash can take a day or few days to appear. So, anyone in a rear-end collision should avoid saying they feel fine until they’ve waited to see if they do have a whiplash. Most often, you will feel it when you wake up the next day. Common symptoms include:

  • A stiff neck
  • Reduce range of motion
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Ear ringing

A whiplash injury happens when the neck and head suddenly move backwards and then forward. (Hyperextension). This unusual motion puts a great deal of stress on the cervical/neck spine. Some car accident whiplash victims may even lose their memory due to the brain being slammed up against the interior of the skull. Whiplash injuries damage the muscles, discs, nerves, joints, and bones around the neck.

Physicians will conduct an oral exam and a physical examination. In addition to listening to you explain your symptoms, the doctor will feel or palpate your neck to see if there is muscle spasm.  The doctor will see if anything isn’t aligned properly and determine your range of motion. The doctors may analyze your reflexes and how strong or weak your neck muscles and nerves exiting the spinal column in that area are.

Imaging tests include CT scans, MRI exams, and X-Rays – especially if they suspect a fracture. Whiplash injuries are graded depending on their severity. One of the most common effects of whiplash is a straightening of the spine or cervical lordosis. This can actually be seen on X-ray, and in some cases, digital motion x-ray. This happens when the muscle spasm is so severe it pulls the neck out of it’s normal curvature, and into a straight, “beanpole” configuration, where there is no curvature at all.

Self-help whiplash treatments include:

  • Rest
  • Heat and ice treatments
  • Over-the-counter medications such as Motrin, Advil, and Tylenol

Cervical collars used to be a standard recommendation for whiplash but now there is some thought that these collars may actually weaken neck muscles.

Doctors may recommend the following treatments:

  • Injections
  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Radiofrequency neurotomy

Most patients with just whiplash return to reasonably normal lives in a few months.  In severe cases, some car accident victims may have a lifetime of chronic pain due to the scar tissue left over from the whiplash. Older victims usually have a more difficult time fully recovering than younger victims because the tissue is not as resilient. Women are also more prone to long-term whiplash damage than men.

Make the call to an experienced North Carolina and Virginia car accident lawyer

Both North Carolina and Virginia are fault-car accident states. This means injured victims need to prove that another driver or another responsible party caused your injuries. Victims who can prove fault are entitled to payment of their reasonable medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. Proving fault and getting a just recovery requires the help of a respected lawyer. And of course, we know car accidents also occur while people are ‘on-the-clock’ for their employer. Because we also specialize in workers compensation in both Virginia and North Carolina, we can help with that portion of your claim as well. Joe Miller Esq. has been helping injury victims get justice for more than 30 years. To arrange a free consultation, please phone (888) 694-1671 or fill out my contact form.

Major Steps to Take after a Virginia or North Carolina Accident Occurs

Posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 at 10:48 am    

Car crashes can be frightening. It’s hard to know who to call, what information you need, what evidence is needed, or how to care for the injured. Certainly, nobody wants to get into an accident – but it helps to have a plan in case a crash does occur. Almost everyone will have an accident in their lifetime.

The best plan is to contact an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. The attorney will explain your rights and guide you through each stage of the claims and litigation process. A second plan is to make sure you have your cellphone with you. The phone should be charged and should have access to the Internet. With your smartphone, you can review our blog for general suggestions.

Key things to consider and be ready for if an accident happens

  • Stay at the accident scene. If you drive away from the accident site and anyone is injured, you can be cited for a hit and run offense. If someone is hurt (either a passenger or the occupant of another car), that person needs medical help. You should either call the police or a local hospital or doctor’s office and ask for assistance. You can reach the police by dialing 911. If you leave the accident site, even if it is not a hit and run case, your flight may used against you. Jurors and insurance companies may believe you wouldn’t have left the scene if you didn’t cause the accident. You should get to where it’s safe. For starters, this means getting off the center of the road and off to the sidewalk or another safe place. Make sure the engine is turned off. Turn on the hazard lights.
  • Determine if anyone was hurt. Nobody expects you to b a doctor. But most people understand the signs of being hurt. Victims may bleed. They may faint. If they can talk, they will tell you themselves that they are in pain. Normally, the police or a hospital will arrange for an ambulance or a first-aid service to come to the accident site and render assistance. Most victims are taken to a local emergency room for treatment. If you suspect that you yourself were hurt in any way, you should arrange to go to the local emergency room. Early treatment can help your recovery process. If you delay getting medical attention, the insurance company may claim you weren’t seriously injured. You should also follow up with your family doctor as soon as you can.
  • Exchange relevant information. It’s generally a good policy to exchange basic information. It may even be a requirement of law. Your lawyer can tell you what information you must disclose. Typically, drivers should exchange:
    • Their name
    • Their insurance information
    • The make, model, and year of the cars
    • Their driver’s license numbers

When you speak with your lawyer, he can explain what information is not required to be exchanged. Generally, drivers shouldn’t discuss how the accident happened. NEVER admit any fault, or say you are “sorry,” even it sounds nice. That will be determined later. As a general rule, it’s not necessary to give your address and phone number, unless asked for by the police.

  • Take pictures. Another good reason for having a charged cellphone is so that you can take photographs. You should take pictures of the following:
    • The damage to the cars – make sure to take pictures of all the vehicles
    • The traffic site – this includes any traffic signals and the lanes of traffic. Pictures should note street names, any obstructions, and anything unusual about the location
    • The witnesses, drivers, and passengers – if they don’t object. Don’t be afraid to show the cuts, bruises, and injuries – while being respectful.
    • Any skid marks or debris.
    • Evidence of intoxication of defendant drivers-especially if they are stumbling or slurring their speech-video them!
  • Talk with a trusted North Carolina or Virginia car accident lawyer. The lawyer will help calm you down. The lawyer will explain any legal answers and questions. He’ll also review all practical steps you need to take to put your case in the best possible light.
  • Cooperate with the police. Standard police procedure is to:
    • Determine if anyone is injured and help them get medical care
    • Get the relevant information such as driver’s license and registration information
    • Clear the accident site so that nobody else runs the risk of getting hurt
    • Speak with any witnesses
    • Prepare a police report which your lawyer will review so that he knows how to start the litigation process and who is at fault
  • Call your own insurance company. You should let your own insurance company know about the accident. They may want to send someone to the accident site. They will almost certainly want to inspect the damage to your vehicle when they get the chance. Your insurance company will help arrange a tow for your car to a local repair shop.

There are other precautions and plans drivers should consider. The car should be stocked with different items to handle different situations. A car should include:

  • Blankets
  • Flashlights
  • Some way to keep warm if the car heater doesn’t work
  • Some non-perishable food

When you get home, you should note the time and date of the accident and what the weather conditions were. Try to remember how fast each car was going and which directions they were going.

Proper planning helps determine who caused the accident. Planning helps verify your damages which include:

  • All reasonable medical bills including hospital surgeries, doctor visits, physical therapy, rehabilitation costs, medical equipment, and medications.
  • Your daily physical pain and emotional suffering
  • Payment for any scarring or disfigurement
  • Lost income and the inability to work
  • Property damage
  • Other relevant damages

Talk to a respected North Carolina or Virginia car crash lawyer as soon as the accident happens

Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for the injured for more than 30 years. He’s helped thousands of people get justice in both Virginia and North Carolina He’ll fight to get you the damage award you deserve through a strong settlement or a jury verdict.  For hep now, please phone (888) 694-1671 or complete the contact form.

Experienced North Carolina and Virginia Counsel for Every Type of Car Accident

Posted on Friday, April 27th, 2018 at 10:20 am    

Every car accident happens in a different way. How the crash happens is a strong indicator of which driver was at fault. For example, almost all read-end collisions happen because one car was struck in the rear by another driver who wasn’t paying attention. How the accident occurred also indicates what injuries are likely. Again, in a rear-end collision, the occupants of the car that is struck usually suffer whiplash and other soft-tissue injuries.

Attorney Joe Miller works with the police and investigators to determine how the crash occurred. If necessary, his team speaks to all relevant witnesses including the passengers in any cars and any bystanders. The good news is that in most circumstances, the rear-end collision scenario requires little investigation. Some of the other kinds may require more intensive investigation. What is most important is that you do not say something early on that you do not realize implicates you in some level of fault. In Virginia and North Carolina, that could mean the end of your case.

Common kinds of car crashes

Most car crashes fall into one of the following categories:

  • Rear-end collisions. Most rear-end crashes happen when one car is stopped waiting for a traffic light to turn or waiting their turn to proceed through a stop sign. The car behind the stopped car is usually traveling too fast and fails to stop in time. Often, the failure is because they are distracted because the driver is too tired, looking at the scenery, texting while driving, or for other reasons. The bumper and rear of the car in front usually require repairs. The front and hood of the second car (the one that causes the crash) may also require maintenance. Whiplash, soft-tissue damage to the neck, is a common injury to the driver and passengers in the front car.
  • Head-on crashes. This type of accident usually happens because one driver is in the wrong lane of traffic. Drunkenness can cause a driver to veer into an oncoming lane. Driver distraction can also cause a driver to swerve into the other lane. Some drivers get confused and go the wrong way. Head-on collisions often cause death and serious injuries to the occupants of both cars. When cars strike head on, the impact is worse than most types of accidents because the speed of the cars is combined. For example, if you are going 30mph and the car in the wrong is going 20mph towards you – the crash is comparable to one car striking another going 50mph. If anyone is killed in this type of crash, we file a wrongful-death claim on behalf of the family members of the deceased.
  • T-bone collisions. These crashes, also called broadsides and side-impact crashes, involve the front of one car striking the side of another car. These crashes often happen at intersections when one driver runs through a red light or through a red or yellow traffic signal or stop sign. The person in the struck vehicle often suffers catastrophic injuries or dies because the side of the car offers little protection. The driver in the car where the front is damaged can suffer serious injuries, too. Generally, the car that strikes the car in the side is the one that caused the accident. T-bone collisions are dangerous because both cars may spin out of control causing havoc on the road for all nearby drivers.
  • Sideswipes. Sometimes the side of one car strikes the side of another car. This often happens if one car passes too closely to another car. It can also happen when two cars are merging and neither driver waits for the other driver to slow down. The danger in sideswipe accidents is that one or both cars can then veer into other lanes of traffic striking other cars. Determining fault in sideswipe accidents often depends on who was passing and which car had the right of way during the merge. Typically, the passenger side of one car strikes the driver side of the other car. Two cars can also collide with each other if they are going in opposite directions and both aren’t driving in the center of their lanes.
  • Car rollovers. Some cars like SUVs and jeeps have a different center of gravity than standard vehicles. Flips generally occur if a car is going too fast while the car is in a turn. If a car rolls over, the crushed hood and other vehicle damage can kill the occupants. Survivors often suffer severe injuries including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, and paralysis. Cars can also roll over if they strike an object in the road such as a large pothole or a dead animal. In some cases, if the impact from a rear-end collision is severe enough and occurs at high speed, it can cause the struck vehicle to roll over. We have seen drivers and passengers actually ejected from vehicles due to the impact and rollover.
  • Single-vehicle collisions. Many deadly and serious accidents happen because a driver was distracted, was speeding, or was driving recklessly. Single-vehicle accidents include striking a traffic pole or other object, veering off the road, and rolling over. Typically, the driver is the one at fault. Any passengers in the single car should have a claim against the driver and the owners of the vehicle. Even if the driver is uninsured, if the passenger has uninsured motorist coverage on his or her vehicle, even though it was not involved in the accident, that coverage sticks to the passenger like glue and will cover the passenger for the accident.
  • Crashes involving multiple cars. These are very difficult cases which require the experience and resources of a respected North Carolina and Virginia car accident lawyer. They can happen for different reasons: One car may driver into the lane of traffic of other cars. A car may flip over. A truck may spill its cargo causing all cars around the truck to change their traffic patterns. In addition to the initial car or truck that caused the accident, other drivers may be liable too. In multi-vehicle crashes, people often die or suffer permanent injuries. We recently settled a case involving two vehicles and 10 (ten) injured people. We represented five occupants of one of the cars.

Accidents happen for many other reasons:

  • One driver is usually violating a traffic law
  • A driver may be intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol-depending on the facts, this may result in higher damages, and punitive damages against the drunk driver
  • Many drivers are texting while they drive.
  • Drivers may hit you and then run instead of having the decency to identify themselves.

In many car accidents, more than one person may be responsible. The owners of the car can be held liable if someone else used their car with their permission. In North Carolina, a Bar may be responsible if they served alcohol to someone they knew or should have known was intoxicated and who then caused an accident due to drunk driving.

Speak with a strong North Carolina or Virginia car accident lawyer today

Delay can hurt your case. It’s best to inspect the accident scene and speak to witnesses as soon as possible. Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured residents for more than 25 years. He understands how to prove fault. He’ll demand the right amount of damages for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and lost wages. For help now, please call (888) 694-1671 or fill out the contact form.

Why Working with Cranes at Construction Sites is So Dangerous

Posted on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 at 9:51 am    

Most construction work, especially building new public or private structures such as homes and offices, requires that cranes be used to lift, lower, and move workers, equipment, materials, and tools. In addition, many large manufacturing operations require cranes to move heavy equipment and assemblies into place. Injuries from crane accidents can cause death, catastrophic injuries, broken bones, bruises, amputations, neck and back pain, electrocution, lacerations, damage to internal organs, and a host of long-term problems. Catastrophic injuries include spinal cord damage, paralysis, and traumatic brain injury – all of which can prevent a worker from ever having gainful employment again.

Each type of crane has its own dangers.

  • Tower cranes operate at great heights
  • Crawler cranes operate on tracks/crawlers that guide the movement of the cane. These cranes often weigh a lot and move heavy tons of materials. Being struck by one or any object dropped by such a crane may mean instant death.
  • Other types of cranes include overhead cranes, railroad canes, all-terrain cranes, aerial cranes, and floating cranes.

Types of construction site crane accidents

While there is no requirement that an injured worker prove fault, the best way to protect any crane accidents is to avoid accidents in the first place. We have represented severely injured workers hurt by falling debris from a crane. Some of the major reasons crane accidents happen include:

  • Cranes that collide with other cranes, buildings, and nearby objects. Safe crane operation requires proper planning. Sightlines should be visible so that the crane doesn’t strike oil rigs, workers who have already been lifted to great heights, other cranes in the construction site area, and any temporary or permanent buildings. There should be communication between all workers in the area so everyone knows when and where the crane will move. A signalperson should guide the movement of the crane along with the crane operator. Cranes swing around across a wide radius. Anything in the path of the crane swing can be easily hurt or killed.
  • Overhead powerlines. Operators need to check for powerlines at the construction site. The operators and supervisors should assume that the lines are live. In some cases, the lines need to be grounded or deenergized. Extra precautions such as alarms that signal when the crane is too close to the powerline, barricades, or signal persons may be required. Contact with a crane can cause anyone nearby to die from electrocution.
  • Falling materials. The manufacturer requirements should be studied before the crane is placed into operation so that the load is below the safety limits. How the loads are weighed should be clear. The crane apparatus including ropes should be inspected frequently. If the load falls, it can easily strike and kill any workers on the ground or in the vicinity of the crane. In addition, the ‘S’ hooks and other equipment used to attach loads can become damaged and worn over time. They should be frequently inspected and replaced if worn. Even a load that is within the safety limitations of the crane can easily slip out of a worn or defective hook.
  • Tipping-over. Crane stability is a major concern sine most constructions sites don’t have level surfaces. Cranes are constantly running over holes, inclines, and surfaces made of different materials. Civil engineers or other types of engineers may be required to inspect the soil and ground before the crane is used. In some cases, the ground surface may need to dry or be stabilized before the crane is operated.
  • Road-accidents. More and more construction sites are using mobile cranes instead of assembling them at the construction site. The magnitude and awkwardness of these vehicles can create havoc for other drivers on the road. Mobile cranes can make it hard to see. It can be hard to gage how mobile cranes are going to turn.

Some additional reasons why crane accidents happen

  • Bad weather. Cranes should not be operated when the weather conditions are windy or the weather is inclement – foggy, raining, snowing, lightening, or even too sunny.
  • Lack of training. It takes a lot of skill to operate a crane. Some cranes require that the operator have an approved certification. Operators should follow manufacturer and OSHA safety guidelines and not rely on their personal judgment alone.
  • Collapse of the crane boom. There are safe limits on how far the crane boon should be extended. If the crane is extended too far, the crane operator and others near the site can be severely injured
  • Faulty assembly and disassembly. The manufacture guidelines must be followed to prevent injury or death to workers.

OSHA crane operation requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has numerous regulations that employers must follow to help protect employees and all workers. These guidelines are based on recommendations by engineers, employers, and many other professionals and businesses. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Specific education and certification requirements
  • A prohibition against operating cranes in unsafe work areas and informing the operators about these unsafe areas
  • The precise safe distance requirements that cranes must meet when power lines are around. Typically, the cranes should operate more than ten feet away from the power lines
  • Danger areas should be clearly marked with fences and other barricades
  • Cranes should be routinely inspected and maintained. This includes ropes, cables, and all related crane parts
  • Cranes should be operated so they comply with the manufacturer’s specifications

OSHA also has specific requirements for when crane operation is allowed and when it isn’t based on specific wind speeds – as well as other regulations.

Speak with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia Worker’s Compensation Lawyer Today

The insurance company for the employer will fight to deny your claim, force you back to work too son, and limit the amount of your benefits. They’re all about the money. Attorney Joe Miller is all about the person. For more than 25 years, he’s helped workers get the wage loss and medical benefits they deserve. He works hard so that employees return to work when they’re ready – if they’re ever ready. He works with families who have tragically lost a loved one due to an injury on the job. For help now, please phone attorney Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671. You can also arrange to speak with him or provide information to evaluate your case through his online contact form.

Lung Disorders from Silica Dust Can Entitle Employees to Worker’s Compensation Benefits Based on an Occupational Illness

Posted on Tuesday, March 27th, 2018 at 4:48 pm    

Construction work is extremely dangerous. Some of the reasons are well-known. Some reasons change from site to site. Employees who suffer a disease due to constant exposure to chemical toxins and other hazards have the right to bring a North Carolina or Virginia worker’s compensation claim – depending on where they work. An experienced work injury lawyer can explain the exact requirements. One disease that can change or even end a worker’s life is exposure to silica dust.

Silica dust may cause lung disease and death

Silica, also known as quartz, is a common mineral found at construction and industrial sites. It can be found in the soil, concrete, rocks, sand, granite, and landscaping items. Silica dust is typically created through drilling, grinding, or cutting. Silica is also present in cement, mortar, and brick. The dust can spread through mixing cement, cutting stone, pressurized air-blowing, using a jack-hammer, working with power-chipping tools, demolition work, and other means.

The particles can be 100 times more minute than sand. The dust, which is almost impossible to see, can easily enter a worker’s lungs. Damage may include respiratory disorders, lung cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases) and kidney failure. Exposure to enough silica can cause silicosis, which can result in lesions, inflammation, and scar tissue buildup in the lungs. In the most serious cases, exposure to silica dust can be deadly.

Often, diseases caused by exposure to silica take years to appear. In most cases, these diseases occur after years of exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Many workers don’t even realize that they are breathing it or that is has landed on their skin, clothing, footwear, and hands.

Workers who are affected by silica exposure include foundry workers, stoneworkers, miners, grinders, bricklayers, and sandblasters.

According to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), about two million people have been exposed to respirable crystalline silica. OSHA requires that employers take protective measures to limit exposure to this unhealthy material. Employers should inform their employees about the risks of silica if they know or have reason to know that silica levels are above specific minimum levels. Employers should work with professionals who can determine how much silica is present by taking samples and conducting tests.

Employers should use dust controls and safe work methods to protect workers. If controls and safety methods aren’t sufficient, the employer should provide respirators to their workers.

OSHA also requires that employers:

  • Have a written control plan in place that includes:
    • The methods that will be used to protect workers
    • The strategies used to restrict work access where there are high levels of silica.
  • Appoint a competent person to implement the plan
  • Restrict practices that expose silica to workers such as dry sweeping or using compressed air without a ventilation system
  • Offer employees medical exams (including lung function tests and chest x-rays) every three years for specified workers
  • Educate workers on the danger of silica exposure and the ways to reduce exposure
  • Keep records of exposure and medical tests

Silica exposure and your occupational disease claim

Unlike workplace accidents, occupational illnesses normally develop over a long period of time. Many workers don’t realize they’ve been exposed until they start to have serious health issues. Generally, a worker is eligible for worker’s compensation benefits in North Carolina or Virginia based on an occupational disease if:

  • The illness/disease was caused by conditions that are unique to a particular type of job – and
  • The illness was not an ordinary disease that the general public is likely to get.
  • The risk of getting the illness/disease is greater than that of general employment

Some disease such as lung cancer can be caused by other causes. Smoking is a common reason may people get lung cancer. That the worker could have gotten the disease from another source does not automatically mean his/her claim will be denied. Workers who suffer lung disease through exposure to substances that are known to cause the disease can still recover worker’s compensation benefits. Defense lawyers may, though, try to blame your medical problems on other causes, such as smoking, but only if you actually smoked.

Workers who suffer a work-related occupational illness that prevents them from working are entitled to 2/3rds of the average weekly wage while they can’t work or average weekly wages up to 500 weeks as well as lifetime medical benefits in Virginia.

In North Carolina, a worker with confirmed silicosis or asbestos is assumed to be disabled for the first 104 weeks. Whether the employee will be entitled to those benefits beyond 104 weeks depends on whether the Industrial Commission determines, or the Parties agree, that the worker is, indeed, disabled, but in no case can the worker receive more than a total of 300 weeks or workers comp checks for the silicosis.

Exposed workers are also entitled to have their reasonable and related medical bills paid by workers comp insurance even if they are still working.  Families are entitled to death benefits if a worker dies due to an occupational illness or disease.

Statute of Limitations in Virginia for Silicosis.  The most important thing to be aware of regarding silicosis are the time limitations for filing a claim. In Virginia, as soon as you become aware of your diagnosis of silicosis, you have TWO YEARS to file a claim. This time limit applies whether the diagnosis preventing you from working or whether you had any symptoms whatsoever.

In addition to that time limit there is another one in Virginia:  If it has been many years after you retired that you find out about your diagnosis, you are unfortunately out of luck. You must file your claim within FIVE YEARS of your “last injurious exposure” to silica dust.

Statute of Limitations in North Carolina for Silicosis. North Carolina also requires employees to file within two years of being advised of a diagnosis of silicosis; however, to recover for disability or death, there must have been a minimum of two years of exposure to the dust in North Carolina, unless that exposure was more than 10 years before any other, additional exposure elsewhere.

North Carolina has also instituted an extensive system to make it easier for employees who believe they are being exposed to silicosis or asbestos to undergo examinations by a physician from an advisory medical committee set up by the Industrial Commission, which examinations are to be paid for by the employer. These examinations can up to three times within two years of the initial claim of silicosis or asbestosis, unless the parties agree on compensation.

Some common examples of respiratory/lung occupational illness, in addition to silicosis include:

  • Asbestosis – many workers who worked on buildings that had asbestos suffer from this disease. Mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer also caused by exposure to asbestos.
  • Black lung disease (also called coal worker’s pneumoconiosis) – caused by inhaling dust
  • Brown lung disease– common to people who work with cotton, hemp, or flax. It’s a lung disease
  • Farmer’s lung – caused by exposure to bacteria and mold in certain crops
  • Flock worker’s lung – caused by inhaling nylon fibers used for blankets, upholstery, and carpeting
  • Popcorn lung (also called bronchiolitis obliterans) – a lung disease common to employees who work in microwave popcorn plants and who handle certain food flavors such as butter, chips, frosting, and margarine
  • Silo filler’s disease – this is due to exposure to toxic gases from crops that ferment in silos.

The aforementioned COPD is also a well-known work-related disease that causes bronchitis, emphysema, and death.

Some of the deadly and life-changing toxins and chemicals that cause occupational illnesses of different types include:

  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Beryllium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Herbicides and Pesticides

The chemical manganese can also cause serious health problems. Welders are likely to be exposed to manganese.

Make the call to a respected North Carolina/Virginia worker’s compensation attorney today

Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has more than 25 years-experience fight for workers who were injured on the job or who suffered an occupational illness. He’s helped thousands of employees get justice. To learn if you have a case and to get the strong recovery justice demands, please call his office at (888) 694-1671. You can also reach him through his contact form.

Valuing a Worker’s Compensation Case Settlement & How Life Expectancy and Present Value are Determined

Posted on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 at 11:14 am    

If you or someone you love is disabled from a work injury, the disabled worker can receive 2/3rds (.66667) of their average weekly wage loss benefits on a weekly basis for up to 500 weeks. This is called temporary total disability or TTD.  In some very narrow categories of permanent and total disability injuries, that can be extended to lifetime payments, often well beyond the 500 weeks.  

Many employees prefer though, to settle their case rather than continue to receive weekly checks.  As part of the settlement, they will ask for some or all of the future wage losses in a lump sum benefit as well as an estimate of the value of their future medical care, rather than continue to receive their wages and medical care from the workers compensation carrier on a weekly basis. That way, the employee has immediate access to their funds and can also invest the funds and even pass the money on to his or her heirs. If the worker gets another job or dies, then the payment stops and there are no funds to pass on to one’s children or grandchildren. Experienced North Carolina or Virginia worker’s compensation lawyers understand how to properly value your case so that you or your loved one gets all that he/she deserves.

The amount of the lump sum that needs to be calculated as to your future comp payments is essentially 2/3rds of your average weekly wages up to 500 weeks; however, there may be initial discounts to consider if it is anticipated that you will return to work sometime before the end of the 500 weeks. In addition, there is no guarantee that you will live for the entirety of the 500 weeks. You could, in fact, die from unrelated causes and if that happens, or if you return to work at the same or higher wages, then the weekly payments would stop.

Another consideration is that if you get paid in a lump sum, in North Carolina, your calculation as to future payments must be discounted because you can invest your settlement funds into interest bearing accounts. This is called figuring out the PRESENT VALUE of the future amounts.

We typically do not do this in Virginia, because Virginia provides workers under Awards with the right to COLA payment increases whereas North Carolina does not. Do in Virginia, if we simply take out the anticipated future COLA payments when figuring out the future lump sum amounts, then any gains are really offset by inflation, so there is no discount rate needed.

North Carolina, on the other hand, does not provide COLA as part of its compensation scheme, so you give nothing up when figuring up future lump sums. So you must therefore reduce to present value.

Present Value and the Discount rate.

The discount rate is a way of figuring what the present value of your future income should be in North Carolina. For example, if your Average Weekly Wage (AWW) is $900.00, your compensation rate is 2/3rds of that, or $600.00. If you elect to be paid weekly over 500 weeks, you will ultimately receive $600.00 x 500 weeks= $300,000.

If the interest rate is calculated at three 3 %, the present value of your money is approximately $260,500.00. In other words, if you invest $260,500.00 at 3 percent yearly interest, you will generate $300,000 in money in 500 weeks. In this example, your $300,000 in income is being discounted about 13% down to the $260,500 figure.

While financial experts understand how much money a settlement will earn if it obtains, for example, three percent per for 30 years, the experts don’t know whether the interest rates may change over time.

  • It may be that the interest rate decreases during the 500-week period. In this scenario, a three percent return is a good deal;
  • If may be that the interest rate increases over time. In this scenario, the three percent return is a bad deal

Generally what is done is that the parties argue and usually compromise over the discount rate during negotiations. The defense obviously wants to pay less so they will use a higher discount rate, where the injured worker’s attorney will argue that while higher interest rates are available, the investments that produce them are often more risky and volatile, and less safe.  The injured worker’s lawyer will argue that something safe would be something like treasury bonds or other such instruments, which typically pay something like 3-4%, depending on the year. Defense attorneys will argue for investments in the 6-8% range or higher.

Life Expectancy Determination and Future Medical Care

In both North Carolina and Virginia, while most employees are limited to TTD payments up to 500 weeks, that is not the only component that goes into figuring up the value of a potential settlement.  There is also the lifetime medical award, and this is where it is important to understand your life expectancy. For instance, if you are on certain expensive prescription medications for your injuries, and it is likely you will have to remain on them for the rest of your life, this could be a huge component and “exposure” to the workers compensation carrier which may motivate them to settle your claim.

As an example, let’s assume you are a 55-year-old male injured worker in Virginia. Using the table for Virginia below, we are entitled to assume your life expectancy is 24.3 years. Let’s say that you are taking an expensive prescription that is costing the comp carrier $500.00 per month. That translates to an annual cost of $6000.00 x 24.3 years, which is a future prescription cost of $145,800.00. Along with future potential surgeries, or other treatment as recommended by your doctor, this future medical treatment can form a significant component of any demand to fully and finally settle your claim.

North Carolina uses the following life expectancy figures for worker’s compensation cases (just the first few years and then increments of five years are provided):

  • 18 58.8
  • 19 57.9
  • 20 56.9
  • 25 52.2
  • 30 47.5
  • 35 42.9
  • 40 38.3
  • 45 33.8
  • 50 29.3
  • 55 25.1
  • 60 21.1
  • 65 17.5
  • 70 14.2
  • 75 11.2
  • 80 8.5

Virginia uses the following life expectancy figures (for both genders, for just men, and for just women)

  • Age Both Men Women
  • 18 60.3 57.7 62.8
  • 19 59.3 56.7 61.8
  • 20 58.4 55.8 60.8
  • 25 53.6 51.2 56
  • 30 48.9 46.5 51.1
  • 35 44.1 41.8 46.3
  • 40 39.5 37.2 41.5
  • 45 34.9 32.8 36.9
  • 50 30.5 28.5 32.3
  • 55 26.2 24.3 27.9
  • 60 22.2 20.4 23.7
  • 65 18.4 16.8 19.7
  • 70 14.8 13.4 15.9
  • 75 11.7 10.5 12.5
  • 80 8.9 7.9 9.5

Note that we typically do not discount the future medical component of the settlement because of the ongoing very high increases in medical costs. When calculating medical costs, we are using static figures available to us now, so any future lump sum on the future medical already has a built-in discount as we are not considering those future increased costs.

Additional lump sum benefit considerations

There are other factors that are crucial in determining the amount of any full and final settlement. Some of these factors are:

  • The number of weeks you already received benefits must be calculated.
  • Lump sum settlements can also be used if you have an impairment that has been rated but not if you are currently receiving TTD benefits.  
  • The availability of other public benefits. You must consider your Medicare benefits. You should consider your SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits. A settlement can affect how much SSDI you receive. This may require a Medicare Set Aside.
  • The availability of private benefits such as disability insurance or other health insurance
  • Your financial situation before you settle
  • The likelihood that you are going to be able to find a job after settlement—are you currently in vocational rehabilitation and are they close to finding you a job?
  • Your age and skill set
  • Whether you’ve reached maximum medical improvement
  • What are the amounts of any outstanding, related medical bills that the carrier has not yet paid? This should be part of any settlement as well.
  • Many other factors

After the future TTD estimates and Future Medical costs are added up, we will typically then present a figure that we request for our demand in the case. Other components that might go into the demand are future medical travel costs, future x-rays, MRI’s or other medical monitoring. We also always ask that the carrier pay any outstanding, related medical costs that have not yet been paid. In addition, ongoing weekly payments typically continue until issuance of the Settlement Order by the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission or Industrial Commission.

Note that if you are a current Medicare recipient, ALMOST NONE OF THIS APPLIES as you will have to engage in a MEDICARE SET ASIDE (MSA) and Medicare will have to approve the MSA amounts in order for you to receive any kind of medical settlement. In these circumstances, your future medical costs will be calculated by one of any number of companies who will submit a report estimating the cost of your future, injury-related care to Medicare for approval. You or your attorney will have no control over determining those estimates.   The only items that will fall outside the purview of the MSA are items that would not be covered by Medicare. For instance, certain prescriptions are not approved by Medicare for treating pain.

We recommend that you do not try to negotiate your lump sum full and final settlement or clincher on your own. You can’t renegotiate the lump sum payment if you make a mistake. Any worker considering a full and final settlement (called a clincher in North Carolina) should consult with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation attorney. You may be wildly underestimating what your case is worth.

Do not settle your claim without speaking to an experienced work injury lawyer. Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been helping injured workers get justice for over a quarter century. He understands how to negotiate and what wage and medical benefits you are entitled to. To learn what your rights are, please call lawyer Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671. You can also reach him through his contact form.

How Is Average Weekly Wage Determined in North Carolina and Virginia?

Posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2018 at 4:01 pm    

The amount of wage benefits injured workers receive is based on the following calculation/formula:

2/3rds (.66667) of your average weekly wage (AWW) times the number of weeks you’re entitled to benefits.

The AWW is determined in one of the four following ways:

  1. If you worked at your job for over a year, then your AWW is – how much you earned for 52 weeks before your workplace injury – divided by the number of weeks you worked. If you didn’t work for seven or more days in a row, then the number of weeks is reduced.
  2. If you worked for fewer than 52 weeks, then your AWW is – how much you earned while you worked divided by the number of weeks you worked.
  3. If you didn’t enough weeks to make a fair determination, then your AWW is the amount an employee doing the same type of job who was just starting would be expected to earn
  4. If none of the first three methods is fair, then your AWW is based on the best approximation to what you would be earning if the injury had not occurred.

Workers in North Carolina can only receive the state maximum. The maximum generally increases each year. The maximum North Carolina benefits, after the 2/3rds time AWW calculation, for the past 10 years are:

  • 2009 — $816.00
  • 2010 — $834.00
  • 2011 — $836.00
  • 2012 — $862.00
  • 2013 — $884.00
  • 2014 — $904.00
  • 2015 — $920.00
  • 2016 — $944.00
  • 2017 — $978.00
  • 2018 — $992.00

The state maximums for Virginia are:

  • 2009 — $895.00
  • 2010 — $885.00
  • 2011 — $905.00
  • 2012 — $935.00
  • 2013 — $955.00
  • 2014 — $967.00
  • 2015 — $975.00
  • 2016 — $996.00
  • 2017 — $1,043.00

In both North Carolina and Virginia, the maximum payout is for 500 weeks. Both states also have no  lifetime limit for reasonable and necessary medical bills. Both states also allow a mileage allowance for traveling to see your physician. Only Virginia has a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). North Carolina unfortunately does not.

Your AWW includes overtime pay, bonuses, and other relevant income. Generally, health insurance benefits are not included in your wage loss benefits. However, the employer’s insurance company should pay for your medical bills that are necessary because of your injuries.

You receive the 2/3rds (.66667) of the average weekly wages if you have a temporary disability for up to 500 weeks unless and until you can return to work. This is called temporary total disability. (TTD) Of course, this is assuming that you have an Award or Accepted Claim. If you do not, then you will have to prove your claim at a hearing.

You receive 2/3rds of the AWW for a preset number of weeks if you have a permanent disability to specific body part. This is called permanent partial impairment (PPI). But in no event can you get more than the maximum of 500 weeks, unless are declared permanently and totally disabled.

Some adjustments apply if you can return to work with work restrictions and are making less money than your AWW. Then, you are entitled to 2/3rds of the difference between your AWW and your current, “light duty” wage. This is called temporary partial disability. (TPD).  

Get all the work injury compensation you deserve. You have the right to be paid if you can’t work due to a workplace injury and you are an employee. Don’t let your employer short change you. Attorney Joe Miller Esq. fights for every dollar you deserve. When you’re not working, you need money to pay your bills and manage your life. To speak with a respected North Carolina and Virginia work injury lawyer, please call attorney Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671. You can also reach him through his contact form.

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