Groth Gets it! by Groth Law Accident Injury Attorneys – Catastrophic Crashes

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In this episode of Groth Gets it! from Groth Law Accident Injury Attorneys, Jon talks with paralegal, Danyel and our law clerk, Sam. They discuss catastrophic crashes and how complex these types of cases can be. High medical costs and lost earning capacity are common in catastrophic accidents but, Groth Law Accident Injury Attorneys are here to help.

Transcript:

Jon Groth:

Welcome to the Groth Law Firm Podcast, where we see if Groth gets it. So let’s talk about something we were just discussing a couple days ago. Gosh, we’ve been discussing this topic for more than just a couple days, for decades, it seems. Catastrophic crashes and how to handle and how to help these cases where we’re trying to do our best for somebody who… Well, I think you were just saying, Sam, somebody who was hit by a truck and they had to have knee surgery. I mean, I think that’s a pretty catastrophic situation. Your life is turned out upside down. But let me go back to the beginning here. So we have Sam, one of our law clerks. Say, hi, Sam.

Sam:

Hi.

Jon Groth:

Sam, where did you go to law school?

Sam:

Marquette.

Jon Groth:

Okay. Marquette University Law School. And Danyel. Danyel, you are a…

Danyel:

Paralegal.

Jon Groth:

And what do you do here at Groth Law Firm?

Danyel:

Work up all the files.

Jon Groth:

Okay. So everything.

Danyel:

Everything.

Jon Groth:

So you are helping, like just now I saw you watching a video of a crash, and then we were just talking about pleadings, and pleadings are formal documents that you file with the court. And those documents, do recall what they were?

Danyel:

Summons and complaint.

Jon Groth:

Summons and complaint. And a summons is? What’s a summons do?

Danyel:

Notifies you of the case.

Jon Groth:

There you go. Well, it summons you.

Danyel:

Summons you in the case.

Jon Groth:

I’m looking at Sam now. It’s summons you to court to say, “Hey, come on over to court.” That’s a summons. And then the complaint is what you are complaining about, what you’re saying, what you’re alleging. So a summons and complaint sounds official, and we say it really quick because we say it all the time. But a summons and complaint, they’re two separate documents. And if you don’t file them correctly, you don’t have a case.

Danyel:

True.

Jon Groth:

True, good answer. All right, but back to our catastrophic situation here. So I’m just trying to think how we should talk about this, because these really are cases that can take a lot longer for a couple different reasons. I know that one of our attorneys just settled the case where the person had a horrific leg injury and will have a lifelong limp and lost the use of part of his leg because of a semi-tractor trailer crash. And it injured three people in his vehicle. It was just a horrific accident. I can still see the car, because we had to have an expert go out and pull the black box from that vehicle to see actually what happened because, of course, the other vehicle said they weren’t at fault. And now years later here we are, and that vehicle, their insurance paid every bit of insurance. They quote unquote tendered the limits to us because of this catastrophic accident. Catastrophic case, sorry.

Jon Groth:

All right, Danyel, so this is a question for you about catastrophic crashes, catastrophic incidents. Are they worked up differently? Do you help those clients differently than somebody who was involved in a small accident, small crash, that they go to the doctor once?

Danyel:

No.

Jon Groth:

Well, why not?

Danyel:

Because all the cases should be worked up the same.

Jon Groth:

Well, I agree with you.

Danyel:

And all the clients should be treated the same.

Jon Groth:

I agree with you. But what makes a catastrophic crash different than a crash where somebody goes to their doctor once and sees a physical therapist three times?

Danyel:

Well, the medicals are going to be different.

Jon Groth:

Yeah.

Danyel:

You get high medicals for catastrophic injuries, so there’s a lot more medical treatment involved.

Jon Groth:

So that’s a good point. So Sam, in the case you were talking about, they had surgery?

Sam:

Yes.

Jon Groth:

And were they… Well, what kind of problems did they had because of the surgery?

Sam:

A loss of range of motion in the knee. There was severe pain even after the surgery. It’s going to be there forever probably.

Jon Groth:

So then catastrophic crashes, catastrophic injuries mean catastrophic losses, really. So right there when you’re saying loss of range of motion and those kind of things, depending on what that person does for a living, they probably have time off work. They have, in essence, life-changing events.

Sam:

She had to retire because she couldn’t do her job anymore.

Jon Groth:

There we go. So that then goes back to you, Danyel, that when these cases come in… And we have a case now. We can’t say the name, obviously, but we have a case now that called us right after the crash, and this client was in the hospital for weeks?

Danyel:

Weeks.

Jon Groth:

Weeks.

Danyel:

Weeks.

Jon Groth:

And hasn’t been able to pay rent. I know we had to talk to the landlord. There’s all those things that you just don’t think of, right? Because you can’t go to work. So if you don’t work, you can’t pay your rent. Maybe you can’t eat because you don’t have the ability to go to the store. And if you’re in the hospital, thankfully you’re in the hospital so they’ll give you food. But once they send you home, then what do you do? You rely on your friends and family, and you rely on us to some extent to figure out what’s the plan so you can get to some kind normalcy, and when is that going to be? Hopefully, by calling us, we can help you get there sooner rather than later. But my goodness, I mean, these kind of situations are pretty tough. So in the case that you and I are thinking about right now, but we’re not going to say the name of, in that case I know she was in the hospital, or this person was in the hospital for weeks?

Danyel:

Weeks.

Jon Groth:

And then…

Danyel:

For months.

Jon Groth:

So how does that work? How do we prove up that they lost work, lost wages? A loss of earning capacity is the technical way of saying it. How do we show that to the at-fault driver, the at-fault insurance company?

Danyel:

Well, it’ll be documented in the medical records. Hopefully there will be documentation saying they can’t work in the medical records. That’s the ideal case scenario, I guess.

Jon Groth:

And then who do you request a wage loss document from?

Danyel:

You can request it directly from whoever their employer’s HR department.

Jon Groth:

And is that something that you do or you ask the client to do?

Danyel:

A combination. Some would prefer that they do it themselves, take the paperwork to their HR department. Others, because of the injury, they just are uncapable of dealing with it at that point, so then I would deal with it.

Jon Groth:

Sure. Okay. And then going forward, what if this person, like Sam was talking about, has long term problems and they’re going to have… I’ll say the technical term, a loss of earning capacity going forward. How do we prove that? How do we show that?

Danyel:

So then we would bring in an expert.

Jon Groth:

And what kind of expert… I’m going to put Sam on the line here. Do you know what kind of expert that is? I don’t expect you to know, by the way.

Sam:

It’s like the jukebox expert?

Jon Groth:

A jukebox expert?

Sam:

That’s what Tom always called it.

Jon Groth:

Jukebox?

Sam:

Yeah.

Danyel:

Never heard that.

Jon Groth:

Do you know what a jukebox is?

Sam:

Yeah.

Jon Groth:

What is it?

Sam:

You go up to it and you play whatever song you want to, if they have it in there.

Jon Groth:

Okay. So like a jack of all trades, I guess, expert?

Sam:

Yeah. As Tom put it, they’ll say whatever you tell… Put the money in, tell them to play.

Jon Groth:

So, no.

Sam:

Is that true?

Jon Groth:

So the defense use juke… This is funny, because this is another podcast I would love to do. I would call those hired gun experts, hired guns that the defense uses them all the time, that you tell them, “Hey, we’ll pay a grand and you’ll say whatever is going on.” This is a specific kind of expert that we would need.

Sam:

No idea.

Jon Groth:

Okay. It’s called a vocational expert or a vocational consultant. So somebody that works for the state… Not works for, but one of their jobs is to help people who are on disability. And I think it’s DVR, right?

Danyel:

Correct.

Jon Groth:

The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation?

Danyel:

Rehabilitation.

Jon Groth:

Thank you. So the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is a department in the State of Wisconsin that helps people who maybe are injured at work or just injured in general and they need help getting their feet back under them so they can get back into the workforce. And there’s a whole state department that just is dedicated to this, really. And they have… I’m trying to think… like Fox Valley Tech and other… WCTC, Waukesha County Technical College, those kind of places, Milwaukee Area Technical College, those places will help people to get either a GED or education or specialized education to get back in the workforce.

Jon Groth:

Well, you have these vocational experts, who their schooling, their training, is to know what somebody could do. It doesn’t have to be what they’re good at, but what they can do. So you could be… Let’s say you’re a… I don’t know, I’m thinking-

Danyel:

What about a truck driver?

Jon Groth:

A truck driver, thank you. So you’re a truck driver, but you’re involved in a car accident, a car crash, and you injure your leg, and you can’t be a truck driver because you have to have your right leg to push the pedal down, right? So you lose your range of motion. You lose the use of your right leg, so you can’t drive truck. Well, you can’t do that anymore, but there are things that you can do in the alternative, from working at… Well, maybe you can work at the same truck company answering the phones and you could be a dispatcher instead of a truck driver. You’re going to maybe lose wages. Maybe you will have a job that’ll be a similar wage, but those kind of things. So that’s what the vocational expert who works with the state and the federal government on some other cases to figure out what somebody’s earning capacity is.

Jon Groth:

Long story short, that’s what we use, are those kind of experts, a vocational expert who has the qualifications that can come in and say, “Looking at this person’s livelihood, what their schooling was, what their abilities are, and what their injuries are, this is what they cannot do in the future, and they lost that earning capacity.” It could be they had their dream job and they lost it. That’s a big deal. Or they were somebody who was a truck driver, but they didn’t want to do that. But that’s what they were, for better or for worse, going to do for the rest of their life. And because of the crash, they have to go to school, and school costs $40,000. And they could over time make more money than they could as a truck driver, while the losses would be the $40,000 in schooling, and then whatever the losses were to get you back to where you were before the crash. So that’s a really unique specialized person that would say that and have the qualifications to say that. So that’s the kind of person we’re talking about Danyel, right?

Danyel:

Correct.

Jon Groth:

Okay. So the defense uses a jukebox expert, which I love that, because you put a quarter in and they’re going to say whatever, and I’ve sadly had trials where the defense has had that. And gosh, I can think of one. I’m not going to say the expert’s name because… Yeah, I’m not going to say the expert’s name, where it was just totally a hired gun where the person said what they had to say.

Jon Groth:

Oh, and there was another vocational. I had a trial a couple years ago where it was expert that I had used in the past, and the defense hired this expert against my case. And that was fun, because he had to admit that my client was injured and everything. All the extra stuff that was said was said right out of the defense’s playbook, I guess, and it was transparent that this expert was saying the extra stuff against my client just because he was paid by the defense. But anyway, now you’ve got me on tangents. We got to do a podcast about that, because that’s very interesting.

Jon Groth:

Catastrophic accidents, catastrophic crashes. All right, so there’s all those, I guess, concerns, problems, immediately about how do we get our bills paid, all that. So it’s all hands on deck, where you have investigators. We have our paralegals, legal assistants, law clerks, all of them trying to help in the short term to figure out what to do. And then sometimes these cases take a while, right, Danyel?

Danyel:

Right, right, years.

Jon Groth:

So once the case goes into suit, how long could a case last once it’s put into suit, worst case scenario?

Danyel:

Worst case scenario, two, two and a half years.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, it could definitely be years upon years, and that’s where it really gets frustrating, because you have to talk to the client about what this means. Once a case goes into a lawsuit, what do we have to do? And what does the client have to do to get by from that point until the at-fault party finally takes responsibility and pays them for their medical bills? And in many cases in these catastrophic crashes, you could get a $20,000 bill for Flight for Life, right?

Danyel:

Right.

Jon Groth:

That’s pretty typical. So you’re staring down a helicopter ride for 20 grand. How do you pay that, if for some reason you’re fighting with your health insurance, if you have health insurance. I think we’ve had those situations where health insurance has not paid the ER, because they didn’t say it was reasonable or they didn’t say it was in network. There was some claim we had where somebody was in a different state. They had insurance in a different state, came to vacation in Wisconsin, and the ER bills weren’t taken care of because they’re out of network. Well, of course they’re out of network, because you’re in Wisconsin, and you might live in Arkansas for all we know. But yeah, so there’s all those stressors that hopefully we can add some benefit and some stress relief for helping these people out.

Jon Groth:

All right, what else? What else can we talk about? So right now we were talking about your case, Sam, because you’re drafting a demand. So what does that mean? What stage is the demand in? I think I just said the stage right there, but what part of the case is a demand drafted?

Sam:

Towards the end, isn’t it?

Jon Groth:

Yes.

Sam:

Yeah. So it’s towards the end where basically I’ll just go through all the records, say, “All right, this is what happened at the accident. This was the damage to the cars or to the person. Here’s any tickets that were written out or citations. And here’s all the medical treatment that the person had,” and just go through it. Like they had x-rays here, they had surgery here. They had this many days of physical therapy, and they were diagnosed with this and they had these lasting damages.

Jon Groth:

Sure. And that’s fantastic, because that’s… So you’re going to look at the entire medical records file, the investigation that was done, and really putting it together in a demand packet to send to the insurance company, to say, “Insurance company, you need to pay your limits to our client.” So you’re working, and Danyel’s worked in pre-litigation too, still do pre-litigation stuff before it goes into suit where you’re gathering records. And that’s an insurance company calling to offer the limits to you, right, Danyel?

Jon Groth:

So with the demand package, you’re gathering or you’re putting together this file into a packet of information that’s already been gathered by Danyel or by somebody who is a paralegal case manager who’s requesting the medical records, requesting the ambulance records, requesting the bills, requesting the police report, all that, and that’s put together, and then you’re creating that in a shorter synopsis to get to the attorney. And then the attorney goes over it and has a general idea as to what’s going on.

Jon Groth:

And then there’s a meeting about what the value of the case might be, meaning if we take this to trial, what would a jury award? A case valuation meeting, and that’s when multiple attorneys sit down and say, “Okay, looking at this, this is what, in our opinion, a jury would award.” And if the insurance company doesn’t offer that, then the case goes into suit and then we have the next stage. And then there’s certainly conversations that we have along the way that we talk to the client about what all these different options mean so the client can be informed and know what’s behind door number one or door number two, or things like that. So catastrophic crashes. Should I tell my one catastrophic crash story? Have I told you the story about the door, somebody knocking on the door?

Sam:

No, I don’t think so.

Jon Groth:

Oh, this is crazy. So years ago I was at Froedtert. So somebody’s mother called me, said, “My son was involved in a crash.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’ll be there for you.” I literally… Well, sorry, now I’ll digress. This is why I always keep a suit and tie in my office, because no matter what’s going on that day… I may not have any court, I may not have any appearances scheduled, but I want to look presentable. So I quick change clothes and run to the hospital to say, “I can help you out.” And I go up to whichever floor it was in Froedtert, and Froedtert is the highest level trauma center in Wisconsin, I believe, certainly alongside Madison. But Froedtert, for most people who are horrifically injured, go to Froedtert.

Jon Groth:

So, I’m there talking to mom and talking to the son. He is really, really injured. I mean, it was a head-on crash. The other driver was driving the wrong way on the highway. It was a bad situation. And I could talk about this for a while because there are all kinds of other facts and other things that happened in this case. So we’re sitting there talking, and we went through all the documents, how I can help, what are we going to do? Hurry up and get discover what’s going on, because we didn’t know was this other person trying to die, I guess? Were they trying to commit suicide? Because it was pretty obvious… This was in the main thoroughfare in Milwaukee. You know that you’re going the wrong way. So are there there insurance exclusions for this? Did they even have insurance? What’s going on? So we’re going through all that. And I met with them for I don’t know how long, for quite a long time in the hospital room.

Jon Groth:

And at the end of the conversation, the door… Sorry. Nurse walks in, and then after the nurse walks in, the door is closed, and then somebody knocks on the door. And I continue to talk to my client and his mom, and the nurse walks over and opens the door. And I can hear in the back of my head, or hear in the back of the room, that she’s saying something like, “No. Well, but he’s here. What? Well, but they’re meeting right now.” And then she comes over and I was like, “Well, what was that about?” And she said, “Well, that was the lawyer, but I said you’re meeting with your lawyer.” And I was like, “What is going on?”

Jon Groth:

So I get up and I go to the door, don’t see anybody. I run down the hall and go to the elevator. Nobody was there. So what it was, was… And this is crazy, but this is something you’ll read in books. They have runners. There are people who… This is totally against the rules, but there are law firms that will go out and send people to sign up clients, literally chasing ambulances. Because of situations like this, this is where we get a bad name for ourselves. Because somebody was tipped off, so there’s probably some nurse or some staff person or some doctor or somebody in the medical world that tipped off a lawyer and said, “It’s a horrific car accident here. Send somebody down.” And yes, I’m calling out the staff of Froedtert, because I don’t know how else that this could have happened. And this is years ago. But they said, “We’re the lawyer for this person. Can we come in?”

Danyel:

Wow.

Sam:

Wow.

Danyel:

Damn.

Jon Groth:

So that’s a catastrophic case. That’s the other situation, is that you have just this crazy world that people are… This person, I don’t know what kind of help he would’ve gotten if he would’ve had a lawyer who had the ethical… I don’t know how to say it nicely. Now I’m being nice, but I don’t know what should I… How should I describe this situation? Ethics were in the gutter, maybe.

Danyel:

Poor morals?

Sam:

Case of the missing ethics?

Danyel:

Case of the missing ethics.

Jon Groth:

Yeah. But that was unbelievable. And in that case, I still keep in contact with the client, my old client. He’s doing fantastic. Fantastic recovery. Certainly lifelong injuries, but really is doing a lot better than he was that day when I saw him in the hospital.

Danyel:

Isn’t that how they all used to do it, though? That’s how it used to be back in the day.

Jon Groth:

Oh, man.

Danyel:

That’s what they would do, though. You’d just pull all the police reports and run around trying to get a client.

Jon Groth:

Well, and yeah, I remember about 15… And now we’re going on too many minutes here of podcasting. But years ago there was… God, this has to be 16, 17 years ago. A big name law firm that used to be really big, they’re not that big anymore. The named person came to our client’s door and said, you know, X, Y, and Z. And our client said, “Wait there,” and went back in the house and called us and said, “There’s a lawyer here that’s talking to me about my case and wants me to sign with them,” and we’re like, “Who?” And we got the name, and called that lawyer and said, “What are you doing?” But it’s like, wow, that’s crazy. Are you taking any classes on ethics, Sam?

Sam:

I actually have my first one this upcoming semester.

Jon Groth:

You better get an A in that.

Sam:

I hope so.

Jon Groth:

Okay. If your professor wants somebody to come and talk about these kind of things and what not to do, with things that I’ve see in real life situations, my Lord. All right, that’s it, I digress. But catastrophic crashes. So the thing with catastrophic crashes are they are life-changing, and there’s a lot of stress that takes place immediately after the crash, that luckily, we have dealt with these cases before and we understand what’s going on and how we can hopefully alleviate some of that stress and make the right decision now, so three years from now, you’re not worried, “Well, should I have said this? Did I do this? Or was this bill submitted to the right person or right insurance company?” You know, there’s all these things.

Jon Groth:

The last thing you need is to second guess what you did immediately after a crash, so that’s why you hire a law firm like ours and have our attorneys and our staff to come and advise you and give you hopefully some piece of mind that what you’re doing is the right thing, and you’re not going to say the wrong thing that will maybe not hurt you today, but it’ll hurt you months or years from now. All right. Danyel, thank you.

Danyel:

You’re welcome.

Jon Groth:

Sam, thank you.

Sam:

You’re welcome.

Jon Groth:

All right. Have a good day. See you soon. Thanks.

 

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