In An Accident With a Hit and Run Driver? Here’s How to Make Sure You’re Covered.

March 18, 2019

Car accidents happen. A driver makes a mistake and hits another person’s vehicle, the police are called, medical care is administered if necessary, and insurance information is exchanged. While unfortunate and inconvenient, most times car accidents follow a predictable procedure, and the insurance company of the at fault party will cover the damage. But what happens if you’re driving down a dark road and a pair of headlights bears down on you, hits you and then leaves the scene of the accident without stopping? What if you have injuries, medical bills and damage to your car but have no way of knowing who caused your accident? These situations are known as collisions with unknown drivers, and it can be difficult to collect what is owed to you under your insurance policy. The good news for the victim of such an accident is that it is possible for them to collect under uninsured motorist coverage. This type of coverage is statutorily required in South Carolina, and anyone who is insured has this coverage available. See S.C. Code Ann.§ 38-77-150. The bad news is that concerns regarding fraud have led South Carolina lawmakers to enact specific provisions as to when a person is able to make a claim on their uninsured motorist coverage for an unknown driver. Unless the victim has complied with the law, the driver’s coverage will be denied. For this reason it I essential that you get legal representation if you find yourself in this situation. S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170 states lays out three requirements in order to make a claim. The first requirement is that “the insured or someone in his behalf report[] the accident to some appropriate police authority within a reasonable time, under all the circumstances, after its occurrence[.]” S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170(1). Essentially, this section states that the victim must promptly report the accident to the police as soon as they become aware of what has happened and are able to do so. While this provision seems straight forward, it still needs to be mentioned to ensure compliance with the law. The second requirement is the most complicated and involves proving that an accident with an unknown driver actually occurred. The law states that “the injury or damage [must be] caused by physical contact with the unknown vehicle, or the accident must have been witnessed by someone other than the owner or operator of the insured vehicle; provided however, the witness must sign an affidavit attesting to the truth of the facts of the accident contained in the affidavit[.]” S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-170(2). What this means is that you need proof that the accident occurred. The simplest way to prove this is evidence of contact between the victim’s car and the unknown driver’s car, which is commonly referred to as “trading paint.” If no contact occurred however, as in our earlier example where an unknown car forces another off the road, then there must be a witness willing to sign an affidavit explaining what happened. This requirement can become complicated, as the witness cannot be the driver or owner of the vehicle […]

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Signing Anything for an Insurance Company Without a Lawyer’s Advice May Lead to You Signing Away Your Rights

March 12, 2019

If you have been injured in a car accident, then it is likely you have received documents from an insurance company, such as an “authorization” or a “release.” Keep in mind that the document forms used by insurance companies are the product of countless insurance defense lawyers writing and rewriting documents to better benefit their clients – the insurance companies. No matter how sophisticated you may be, if you don’t the experience of daily exposure to some of the more insidious insurance tricks, you are at a disadvantage.  Be smart and if an insurance company asks you to sign anything – Don’t. Call and get our advice first. We’ll give you our opinion for free and it will only take a minute.    Don’t Give the Insurance Company Authorization to Your Medical Records Insurance Companies often send “authorizations” to people who have been injured in a car accident. These “authorizations” are in fact HIPPA medical record releases that allow insurance companies to get any and all of your medical records and possibly even psychological records. In one particularly egregious situation we had a client who was pregnant at the time of her accident. She signed an authorization before she was represented by us and the insurance company used the authorization to obtain all of her medical records – including hers and her newborn baby’s birth records. Many people ask – why are insurance companies entitled to my medical records that are completely unrelated to this accident? The answer is – they aren’t. In fact, unless you are in litigation, they are entitled to only the records to which you decide to give them access. At the Gruenloh Law Firm we don’t give insurance companies authorizations. Not only is that a “close your eyes and hope for the best approach” – it’s just lazy. We obtain only the relevant records and provide the insurance companies with only the relevant records. While you must give up some privacy in making a claim, there are limits. Imagine an insurance company using a 15 year old record (which they should not have been given access to from the beginning) to deny your injury claim. It happens every day.  Don’t Sign a Release Without Advice A release agreement is a form of a contract giving up certain rights and claims in exchange for compensation for your injury. In plain language, a release is the document that the insurance company wants you to sign so they end your claim. There are many types of releases, including the release of all liability and claims, a property damage release and what’s referred to as a covenant not to execute. All of these releases are generally provided as consideration for payments made by the insurance company. Keep in mind – insurance companies want releases and they will pay money for them. The important thing is that you release only what you intended to release.  As with authorizations, insurance companies almost always draft releases that give them very broad rights. So while you may be led to believe that you are only giving up certain claims, you may find after […]

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How to get own your medical records in South Carolina

March 8, 2019

As personal injury attorneys in Charleston, South Carolina, we order medical records and medical bills in just about every automobile accident or injury case we have. In this article, we explain the laws on medical records in South Carolina including how to get your medical records, how much to expect your medical records to cost, how long it takes to get your medical records, whether a doctor has to give you your medical records, which medical records you are entitled to, and more. Does a Doctor Have to Give Me My Medical Records in South Carolina? Yes. Federal law says so under HIPAA (short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). You also are entitled to them under South Carolina law, specifically Section 44-115-10 through 44-115-160 of our Code of Laws (called the Physicians’ Patient Records Act). A more technical answer is that under South Carolina law, the physician/doctor owns the records, but the patient is entitled to copies. How Do I Get My Medical Records in South Carolina? The easiest way is to just call the billing office for your doctor or hospital and ask what their preferred procedure is. Some may accept an email request. Some may request you fax or mail in the request.  An alternative is that you can always just go down to the office and order them, but they may not be able to produce them right there on the spot. Know that they will ask you to sign a written authorization to obtain the records. Read the authorization carefully. They may try to put extra language in there that could create a lien against your personal injury case if you have one. Our personal injury lawyers never grant liens voluntarily, although in certain instances we have to. If the authorization has anything in it that does anything more than giving the authority to copy and produce the records, you probably want to have a lawyer review it and perhaps even use a different authorization altogether. How Long Does It Take to Get My Medical Records in South Carolina? The law does not give a deadline for medical record requests.  Ordinarily, our office receives the records back within a few weeks of our request.  Medical and billing requests to Hospitals tend to take a little longer than smaller clinics. Occasionally, we have to follow up multiple times with the medical provider, and in rare instances, we have to threaten civil action.  We have never been unable to ultimately secure the records, as the law is on your and our side. Why Do Medical Records Cost So Much in South Carolina? South Carolina law gives the maximums that doctors may charge for searching for and copying the records. In our lawyers’ experience, they almost always charge the maximum. These maximum copy costs are: A flat $25.00 administrative fee for searching and handling plus the duplication costs. If you are getting electronic copies, the medical provider may charge up to $0.65 per page for the first 30 pages and $0.50 for each additional page, and the total cost can’t be more than $150.00 per request. If you are […]

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A Clerk of Court May Not “Administratively” Dismiss a Case Without Authorization and If It Attempts to Do So, Such Judgment is Void

March 4, 2019

Imagine on the eve of trial, after years of litigation, countless hours of work and tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, you’ve finally settled your case at mediation. The Defendants have agreed to pay a sum that your client begrudgingly accepts because – well, its money and it’s just enough. It is agreed that the Defendants will pay within 30 days and, upon payment, the lawsuit will be dismissed. Because the trial is imminent, the settlement is communicated to the trial court. In all communications with the court it is clear that no dismissal has been authorized, agreed to, or requested. The Defendants fail to pay the compromised settlement amount within 30 days thereby breaching the settlement agreement. You elect to move forward with the trial rather than moving to enforce the settlement agreement on the compromised amount. The only problem is that you learn the clerk of court inexplicably signed a Form 4 dismissal – not only removing your case from the docket but also dismissing it with prejudice. You petition to the trial court to vacate the dismissal because it was not authorized by the parties, or signed by a judge. Problem – the trial court denies your motion to set aside the errant judgment and says that your only remedy is to enforce the settlement. This occurred with one of our cases. We took the matter up with the Court of Appeals who reversed the trial courts ruling and found that the clerk of court’s dismissal was void and that it should have been set aside. The Defendants then asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter and, recently, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals holding that such a judgment is void.  The following summary provides more detail and the complete Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Opinions are available here. The underlying action included claims of breach of contract, constructive fraud, conversion, and tortious interference with contractual relationship. The parties reached a settlement agreement at mediation for a confidential sum to be paid within 30 days of the agreement. Prior to payment, the parties contacted the Dorchester County Clerk of Court to inform them that a settlement was reached. It is clear that no dismissal has been authorized, agreed to, or requested. Rather the parties indicated that they would submit a stipulation of dismissal when the settlement had been consummated and that the case was not to be dismissed until then. Despite these communications, the Clerk of Court removed the case from the trial docket and dismissed the matter. The firm attempted to get the matter restored to the trial docket when payment was not made in 30 days. After contacting the court, the firm was informed for the first time that the case had been dismissed. We filed a Rule 60 Motion which the trial court denied without offering any reasoning. We filed a Motion to Reconsider which was likewise denied without any written reasoning or opinion. The trial court’s dismissal left us with the options of enforcing the settlement or appealing the ruling. We chose to appeal. On appeal, the South […]

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