If you’ve suffered property damage, personal injury or other losses as a result of a large-scale disaster, defective product or toxic incident, you may have grounds to join a mass tort case against the liable party. Although the mass tort process generally isn’t time-consuming or arduous for individual plaintiffs, it can seem confusing. We’ve compiled a helpful “cheat sheet” that outlines the advantages of participating in mass tort cases. Mass Torts vs. Class Action Lawsuits It’s understandable to confuse mass torts with class action lawsuits, but the two forms of litigation aren’t identical. The key difference lies in their structure: Whereas a class action lawsuit is a single action that’s joined by hundreds or thousands of participants, a mass tort case is a collection of individual actions with similar characteristics. For this reason, mass torts are often called “multidistrict legal actions” or variations thereof. Characteristics and Promotion Mass tort cases generally stem from complaints about one of these three broad issues: • Defective machinery or consumer products • Large-scale disasters like plane crashes or building fires • Toxic events like oil spills or waste dumping incidents Regardless of the exact complaint, a judge must determine that each individual claim is similar enough to warrant the formation of a mass tort. Once a given case is certified, it must be promoted in local or national media in accordance with certain guidelines. Preparing for Your Case To prepare for your case, compile any documents that might strengthen your claim. These include: • Hospital bills • Termination letters • Worker’s compensation forms • Pay stubs • Testimony from witnesses or others involved in the case As a rule, you should never divulge specific information about your case without your attorney’s consent. It’s never a good idea to attempt to enter a mass tort case without the help of a legal professional. Time Commitment and Results Even though mass tort cases are structured as streamlined collections of individual legal actions, they generally don’t require their participants to appear in court on a daily basis. Trained legal representatives can handle the pre-trial and trial phases of each mass tort without direct input from their clients. As such, mass tort participants generally don’t need to devote huge amounts of time to their cases. Since judgments in these cases may run into the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, many participants are happy to invest some of their time in the outcome. Do you feel as if you’re entitled to compensation under a pending mass tort case but wonder whether it would be worthwhile for you to participate? Many regular folks are understandably nervous to “put themselves out there” in a legal action that can stretch on for months or years. Before you make any decisions, contact us at 866-975-7766 or visit our homepage for more information.
The start of hurricane season is just about here. In addition to the standard hurricane preparation (flashlights, batteries, radios, bottled water, etc.) the law firm of Boteler, Finley & Wolfe offers the following tips to help prepare for post hurricane insurance claims. 1. Locate your homeowner and auto-insurance policies and make sure they are in a waterproof or sealed bag. 2. Program claim reporting telephone numbers into your phone including your agents number. 3. Do a “video inventory” of each room in your house. Also in each room video the ceiling to show no “pre-exiting” water stains. 4. Video the exterior of your home and if possible the condition of the roof. 5. Download a copy of the videos to a flash drive that can be stored in a safe and waterproof container. 6. If a claimable loss occurs, document the damage immediately by video or photographs and then undertake reasonable steps and procedures to minimize any additional damage. 7. Report the claim as soon as possible. 8. For more helpful tips related to homeowner claims, visit the Boteler, Finley & Wolfe web site.
NetNews.Net – December 1, 2011
-NetNews.Net © In the fast paced world of internet searching, one of the most congested search areas for internet users is in the area of locating a lawyer. The world wide web has done a wonderful job of bringing lawyers and lawyer locating services to our finger tips, but maybe, just maybe it’s brought consumers too much information.
Now let’s look at “attorney’s fees.” Note this bill does not say “reasonable attorney’s fees” rather just “attorney’s fees.” What if my fee contract for my client on an insurance claim is based upon a contingency fee? We win, should the other side now have to pay the full amount of my contingency fee? I guarantee the first time the insurance company has to pay the other side’s attorney the full amount of the contingency fee they are going to screaming bloody murder. OK., let’s say we agree to a “reasonable attorney fee standard.” Now we’re going to have all kinds of disputes as to “what is a reasonable fee” for the legal services provided? If I’m the attorney for the “prevailing party” you darn well know I’m going to be arguing that my fees were reasonable while the attorney for the opponent is going to be screaming that my fees were outrageous and unconscionable! Here we go, more disputes more protracted litigation.
Now let’s add one more layer of complexity to this issue. Let’s suppose we can come to some meaningful and workable concepts regarding “prevailing party” and “attorney’s fees.” What happens to the rules and laws mentioned above that we already have in place to stop and prohibit frivolous lawsuits and that already exist to help shift the burden of litigation costs in favor of the prevailing party? If I’m the attorney who has lost and the other side did not utilize or avail themselves of those other rules, I’m now going to be arguing that my client should not to have pay the full measure of the claimed legal fees from the other side because they could have mitigated there fees by using those other rules. More complexities, more issues and more litigation.
Finally, this proposal as written will immediately result in an untold number of lawsuits being filed that may not need to be filed. As mentioned above, in almost all civil matters lawyers try to resolve a matter with the other party before filing a lawsuit. We tell all of our clients, that lawsuits are like surgery, you really don’t want to do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. The simple fact is a fair pre-litigation resolution of a civil matter is in everyone’s best interest. The proposed bill says, “This act shall become effective on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.” Again, very poorly written and conceived. I assume that it would not apply to those civil cases already pending but only those civil lawsuits filed after the law is enacted. To try and have it apply to those cases already pending would open up all kinds of legal challenges to its validity because it would just not be fair or constitutional, to change the rules “in the middle of the game.” So here I am as an attorney with hundreds of claims pending for insurance claimants or businesses that we are trying to resolve without need of litigation and now I’m told this law will be effective three months after enacted. Based upon 24 years of experience I know the vast majority of these matters will resolve without having to file a lawsuit, but now with the “Loser Pay” staring my clients in the face, I’m going to have to move these claims into litigation in advance of the “Loser Pay” deadline. I’m just one attorney, can you imagine the nightmare for our Court system if 10,000 lawyers have to do the same thing. In a three month period, our Courts could be swamped with well over 100,000 lawsuits! The majority of which may never have needed to be filed but for the enactment of this law.
In closing, let me again say, conceptually I am not opposed to a “loser pay” law. Other States have adopted this concept but have taken the time to work through the myriad of secondary issues discussed above. It is clear that the intent of this lawsuit is to stop frivolous lawsuits and that is a good goal. But has anyone asked the Judges in our State Courts if we have a real problem in this State with frivolous lawsuits? I think their answer would be “no” because we already have in place effective rules and regulations to deter the filing of frivolous lawsuits. So if we don’t have a problem with frivolous lawsuits, then why is our legislature in such a rush to pound us with a poorly conceived and unworkable law? Let’s take a deep breath and really think about how we can enact a truly meaningful “Loser Pay” law that does not end up punishing those who need our Courts for the resolution of legitimate dispute.
Mark Wolfe, Advocate for Insurance Claimants
NOTE BUSINESS OWNERS. The following links are provided as a courtesy of Boteler, Finley & Wolfe (BF&W). We are not responsible for the content contained on the outside sites but have selected them because we believe they provide good general information or can be helpful to better understanding insurance coverages and issues related to an insurance claim. BUSINESS INSURANCE AND COMMERCIAL POLICIES Business Insurance Coverage Definitions http://www.commercialinsurance.net/business-insurance-definitions Glossary for Commercial and Business Coverage http://www.hbinsurance.com/glossary/commercial.php GENERAL TERMS AND DESCRIPTIONS Definitions and Explanations of Various Insurance Coverages http://www.colburngroup.com/files/Insurance%20Cov%20Def.pdf Glossary of Insurance Terms from AM Best http://www.ambest.com/resource/glossary.html Glossary of Insurance Terms from National Association of Insurance Commissioners http://www.naic.org/consumer_glossary.htm ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE – LINKS OF INTEREST Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/ FAQs From the Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/FAQ.aspx Alabama Department of Insurance – regulations http://www.aldoi.gov/Legal/Regulations.aspx
The following links are provided as a courtesy of Boteler, Finley & Wolfe (BF&W). We are not responsible for the accuracy of the content contained on the outside sites but have selected them because we believe they provide good general information or can be helpful to better understanding insurance coverages and issues related to an insurance claim. HOMEOWNER INSURANCE CLAIMS Glossary of Terms and Definitions for Homeowner’s Insurance http://homeinsurance.com/glossary/ Comprehensive Information About Homeowner Coverage and Claims http://www.iii.org/individuals/homei/ Guide for Homeowner Claims http://www.surfrate.com/category/homeowners-insurance-guide Information on Homeowner Claims http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/homeowners-insurance-what-you-need-29852.html ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE – LINKS OF INTEREST Guide to Homeowners Insurance from Ala Dept of Insurance http://ema.alabama.gov/FileLibrary/homeownersguide.pdf Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/ FAQs From the Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/FAQ.aspx Alabama Department of Insurance – regulations http://www.aldoi.gov/Legal/Regulations.aspx
The following links are provided as a courtesy of Boteler, Finley & Wolfe (BF&W). We are not responsible for the content contained on the outside sites but have selected them because we believe they provide good general information or can be helpful to better understanding insurance coverages and issues related to an insurance claim. GENERAL INSURANCE TERMS AND DESCRIPTIONS Life Insurance Glossary http://www.lifeinsure.com/education-center/life-insurance-glossary Definitions and Explanations of Various Insurance Coverages http://www.colburngroup.com/files/Insurance%20Cov%20Def.pdf Glossary of Insurance Terms from AM Best http://www.ambest.com/resource/glossary.html Glossary of Insurance Terms from National Association of Insurance Commissioners http://www.naic.org/consumer_glossary.htm ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE – LINKS OF INTEREST Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/ FAQs From the Alabama Department of Insurance http://www.aldoi.gov/FAQ.aspx Alabama Department of Insurance – regulations http://www.aldoi.gov/Legal/Regulations.aspx
IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT LIFE INSURANCE CLAIMS©
By: Mark Wolfe, Attorney at Law
While most of us hope that a life insurance claim arising from the death of a loved one will be a simple and hassle free process, the fact is many life insurance claims are initially denied. These denials can be for many reasons. Some times the reasons for such a denial are legitimate, but many times they are wrong. In fact many insurance industry experts say that up to 40% of life insurance claim denials are done so wrongly.
This article will help you with some basic information about life insurance claims and locating policies. Then the article reviews common reasons why life insurance claims are initially denied and concludes with important information for claimants if the claim is denied.
I. LIFE INSURANCE CLAIMS & LOCATING OTHER POLICIES
Notify the Company of the Claim. While this is a very basic step it can be a little difficult if the policy is older. Mergers and acquisitions of life insurance companies can make locating the correct successor or remainder company a little difficult. However, internet searches can usually help you quickly identify the correct company name and location for claim notification. Also, many life insurance agents or attorneys who handle life insurance claims have this information available or access to the correct resources to help identify where and how the claim should be submitted.
What You Need to Do. Once you’ve contacted the company you must complete the claim form. Many of these claim forms can now be downloaded from the company’s web site. At the very least you will have to submit a copy of the death certificate and the company may require additional records related to the claim. Always reference the claim number or policy number (or both) on all documents or material submitted. Until the claim is paid in full: Keep copies of all correspondence and documents sent to the life insurance company. Keep all letters and material sent from the life insurance company. If a claim is denied, make sure you understand and comply with the requirements for an appeal. (IMPORTANT: Please make sure to read more about appealing a denial below.) Why are so many life insurance claims denied? Most life insurance claims adjusters recognize that many life insurance claimants do not question or challenge a denial of life insurance benefits. This means that if there is a “close call” on whether or not benefits should be paid, they automatically opt for denial first in hopes the claimants will just “go away.”
Locating Additional Policies. It’s a fact, many life insurance benefits go unclaimed because beneficiaries do not realize a policy exists. Below are some tips for locating additional life insurance policies.
1. Review the decedent’s check book or bank statements looking for premium payments,
2. Review the decedent’s tax returns for the last several years to see if interest or cash dividends from a life insurance policy were listed. There should be a corresponding 1099-INT from the life insurance company. These payments will be reported directly on form 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ or on Schedule B if an itemized tax return was filed,
3. Contact the decedent’s employer and/or former employers to see if any type of life insurance was offered through the company’s benefit plan program and if the decedent purchased a life insurance policy or was provided a life insurance policy through employment,
4. Review all disability policies for the decedent to see if death benefits are also provided,
5. Review any known life insurance policy to see if additional benefits such as double indemnity for accidental death may apply.
6. Check with the decedent’s auto insurance company or homeowner insurance company. Many of these companies will also offer life insurance policies for their customers.
II. DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND APPEALS
Standard life insurance claim denials. Many times if a basic life insurance claim is denied, it is done so based upon a process known as “retroactive underwriting.” This is a claim investigation technique that allows the insurance company to more fully and completely examine the deceased’s prior medical history. These prior medical records are reviewed thoroughly to see if the deceased left out or failed to disclose a pre-existing medical condition when completing the life insurance application. This “failure to disclose” is then used as grounds to deny the life insurance benefits. However, most claimants are not aware that such a denial must have materially effected the underwriting risk associated with issuing the policy. Simply put, the company must be able to legitimately argue that “but for” the undisclosed prior medical condition, the policy would not have been issued or the rates for the policy would have been significantly different. The issue of “material risk” is a complex issue that is often legally debatable.
Accidental death or double indemnity benefits. Some companies issue stand alone accidental death life insurance policies or some standard life insurance policies have a “double indemnity clause” which pays twice the face value of the policy if the death is caused by an accident. Yet the policy language concerning the term “accidental death” is often drafted so vaguely that it gives the company lots of “wiggle” room to initially deny accidental death benefits. Terms like “sole and only proximate cause of death”often involve complex medical and legal analysis but give the company a very legalistic sounding excuse not to pay.
BEFORE YOU FILE AN APPEAL OF A DENIAL. If you have questions about the denial of any life insurance benefits, make sure you fully understand your rights and obligations under the policy. Most life insurance policies allow claimants to file an appeal of the decision to deny benefits. Yet many times claimants are unaware of the potential consequences of simply “appealing” the denial. Generally, once a company has denied the life insurance claim, the claimant has the burden of identifying specific reasons for the appeal and providing supporting documents or records to support the appeal. If the life insurance policy in question has been provided through the decedent’s employment or through a group, the failure to comply with the appeal requirements can be extremely detrimental. In one recent example a Federal Court determined that the claimant’s failure to submit any “new evidence” during the appeal process provided for in the plan, precluded the claimant from presenting that new evidence at trial. [See Hancock v. MetLife, 590 F.3d 1141 (10th Circuit 2009).]
NOTE: If the claim is denied consider consulting immediately with an experienced life insurance claims attorney in your State. Note: Most attorneys who handle life insurance claims for beneficiaries do not charge for a consultation and work on a contingency fee (no benefits = no fees). Also, many times an experienced attorney can help resolve a denied claim before having to resort to filing a lawsuit.
While life insurance claims should be simple and easy, they can often times become arduous and legally complex. The simple fact is insurance companies do not like to pay claims and have tremendous resources to fight claims. With many claimants of life insurance benefits in a state of grief and mourning, the insurance company knows it has the upper hand and this often results in the wrongful denial of life insurance benefits. If you believe your claim for life insurance benefits has been wrongfully denied, please consider consulting with an experienced attorney who knows and understands this area of the law.
Note from the author: If you are reviewing this publication or link during a time of loss, please accept my condolences and sympathy for your loss. I pray that you find comfort and understanding for your loss and that the passage of time will replace the sorrow of your loss with the joy and blessing of the memories of moments shared. – Mark