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Information about Personal Injury in Washington State

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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Your Right to Know: Access to Governmental Information

Categories: Practical Tips You Can Use

By PI-Advisor. Posted on .

There is a lot of talk about government “transparency” and the rights of the people to know what their government is doing.  But what does this mean beyond what you see on the news or flipping the remote to the government channels?

In Washington, there is a powerful but often ignored law known as the Public Records Act (PRA).   It is similar to the Freedom of Information Act which applies to federal agencies. The PRA applies to all governmental agencies within the state and requires that every agency (state, county or city), follow specific rules when a person requests information about government actions.  Every agency must designate a Public Records Officer who is the point of contact for requests and oversees agency compliance with the law.

A public record is any paper or electronic item of any kind that the agency might have.  The agency must disclose the information requested, except for certain very specific exceptions.  These exceptions include information that would invade an individual’s privacy, some law enforcement investigative information and research data, among others.  Other laws restrict access to certain other information such as a person’s medical records.

To request public records, a member of the public need only make a request to the agency for the information.  Instructions for making a request are usually on the agency’s Web site. No explanation for the need of the information is required.  The agency has five business days to produce the record, provide an internet link to the information, deny the request (with an explanation of which exemption applies), or provide a reasonable estimate of the additional time it will need to respond.  The agency may provide copies, for which they can charge, or make the information available for copying.

You can find additional information about the Public Records Act by checking out RCW 42.56 on the Washington state Web site: www.access.wa.gov.

Tales From the “Darkside” – Secrets from a Former Insurance Defense Attorney

Categories: Practical Tips You Can Use

By Arthur D. Leritz. Posted on .

Having recently ended an eleven year tenure as an insurance defense attorney, I can now share how I identified potential weaknesses in an injured party’s case by noting mistakes that he or she would   unwittingly make during treatment.

Now that I have left the “dark side,” and started with Adler Giersch I want to share these secrets with you so that you will be better prepared, if and when you find yourself in this situation.  Any one of these can turn your case from a good one into one that could be coded “SIU”[1] by the insurance company, thereby making a case more difficult to settle.

Not Following the Treatment Plan

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? If your doctor recommends a specific course of treatment, then follow it. I used to often read through medical records and see recommendations made by healthcare providers that were not followed by the patient. For example, things like “patient referred for MRI two months ago, has yet to set appointment” or my absolute favorite: “patient is not complying with treatment recommendations.” Upon seeing this, the insurance defense attorney is now free to argue that you must have healed from your injuries and any treatment after the date of the chart note is not necessary. Alternatively, it will be argued that if you had complied with treatment recommendations you would have been done treating sooner and your injuries, if any, would have resolved sooner. These are all ways to reduce the reasonableness of the compensation claim.

Accurately Report Your Injuries

Getting involved in an automobile collision can be a very traumatic experience. All of a sudden, you will have to deal with doctors, insurance companies, bills and more correspondence than you are used to. In addition, patients can feel rushed, especially in an Emergency Room setting, with doctor appointments, but it remains very important to accurately report to your healthcare provider all of your injuries, even if some of your symptoms seem minor in  comparison.

For example, I once had a case involving an injured motorcycle rider.  He had a neck, mid back, and a right shoulder strain/sprain. He also had a sore ankle, but apparently figured that it would resolve on its own. So, he did not report the ankle problem to any of his medical providers. Unfortunately for the motorcycle rider, his ankle did not resolve on its own. In fact, the other injuries resolved 2-3 months later, but the ankle turned into a persistent problem. The first time he mentioned the ankle problem to his doctor was four months after the collision. Eventually, the ankle became such a  problem that he needed surgery. The main defense to this ankle injury case was that the motorcycle rider did not sustain the ankle injury in the collision – otherwise he would have reported it to the ER doctor immediately after the traumatic incident and then his subsequent medical providers. At the deposition of his primary care provider, even his own doctor could not relate the ankle injury to the motorcycle collision, because of the gap of time from the collision to the first time the ankle injury showed up in the records. As a result, the motorcycle rider’s attorney was unable to pursue that part of his claim and all medical bills relating to that ankle injury were not recovered.

Unfortunately for the motorcycle rider, since he downplayed his symptoms and did not report it, it looked to the insurance company that the ankle was not injured in the collision. The lesson here is simple: be accurate and thorough in reporting all your injuries, major and minor.

–  Additional insights from Mr. Leritz can be found in chapter 24 of From Injury to Action: Navigating Your Personal Injury Claim, by attorney and Adler Giersch PS managing attorney Richard H. Adler.  Click here for a link to order your copy today!


[1] “SIU” stands for Special Investigations Unit. It is a special section within an insurance company’s organization that handles cases with elements of fraud. Any one of these subtopics within this chapter could put your case into SIU.

The Costs of Motor Vehicle Collisions

Categories: Auto Accidents

By Jacob W. Gent. Posted on .

If you’ve ever been involved in a motor vehicle collision, even a so-called “minor accident,” you already know how the financial costs can mount rapidly.  Costs to repair motor vehicles seem to go up every year.  Even with insurance that covers property damage, there is usually a deductible to be paid out of pocket before the body shop will turn over the repaired vehicle.  Add to that the cost of a rental vehicle while a car is being repaired (few auto policies actually cover the full cost of a temporary replacement vehicle), and the out-of-pocket price tag grows by the day – and that’s just property damage.  More alarming are the costs for medical treatment and lost income when physical injuries are involved.

A recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed the total cost for medical care and productivity losses related to both fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle collisions in a one-year period at over $99 billion![1] Of this total, $17 billion was directly related to medical care.  Costs for persons injured or killed while riding in motor vehicles (cars and light trucks) amounted to $70 billion (71%), while motorcyclists accounted for $12 billion, with costs for pedestrians and bicyclists injured or killed in automobile-related trauma adding another $10 and $5 billion respectively.[2]

Another recent CDC study found that 10 states accounted for half of the $41 billion in medical and work-loss costs related to motor vehicle fatalities in 2005.  States with the highest medical and work loss costs were: California ($4.16 billion), Texas ($3.50 billion), Florida ($3.16 billion), Georgia ($1.55 billion), Pennsylvania ($1.52 billion), North Carolina ($1.50 billion), New York ($1.33 billion), Illinois ($1.32 billion), Ohio ($1.23 billion), and Tennessee ($1.15 billion).[3]

[1] http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/section?content=a926084087&fulltext=713240928

[2] Id.

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/Motorvehiclesafety/statecosts/index.html


Defining Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Treatment

Categories: Other Physical Injuries

By PI-Advisor. Posted on .

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a condition in which the neurovascular bundle passing through the anterior and middle scalenes is compressed. This can lead to pain in the neck/shoulder and upper extremity, tingling or numbness and, occasionally, coldness or decoloration of the hand. Compression can affect the nerves only (neurogenic TOS), the subclavian vein (venous TOS) or the subclavian artery (arterial TOS).  Neurogenic TOS is, by far, the most common form.

When thoracic outlet syndrome is diagnosed, there is a continuum of options regarding appropriate treatment. Conservative care, in the form of chiropractic, massage and physical therapy, is well accepted as the appropriate course of care in the majority of cases. However, when symptoms persist despite these efforts, surgery is looked upon as an option of last resort.

After surgery, a patient outcomes following are problematic, particularly with neurogenic TOS (NTOS).   Diagnosis is one of exclusion made primarily through patient reports of symptoms, history, and, more recently, response to scalene muscle blocks. With neurogenic TOS, negative EMG or nerve conduction studies do not rule out NTOS as a diagnosis. In vascular TOS, diagnosis can be confirmed through objective findings of blood flow compromise. Patient selection and operative techniques have been cited as explanations for the differences in patient outcomes. Some studies suggest that a highly selective process for screening surgical candidates is required and improves the rate of successful outcomes.1

Anesthetic block of the anterior scalene muscles has become a dual-purpose procedure, providing diagnostic confirmation of TOS and as a reliable indicator of which patients may respond favorably to surgery. An anterior scalene muscle (ASM) block is an injection of anesthetic, such as lidocaine, directly into the scalene muscles. Relaxation of the anterior scalene muscles via blocks may partially simulate the results of surgical decompression. Additionally, an effective block, where surgery is not an option, can give an indication of the potential use of Botox injections for temporary (3 to 4 months) relief.

 

1. Scali S, Stone D, Bjerke A, Chang C, Rzucidio E, Gooney P, Walsh D.  Long-Term functional results for the surgical management of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Vasc Endovascular Surg. 2010 44:550.