Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Five Important Things to Know About an Insurance Claim in Alabama

[The following material is an excerpt from our recently published Guide for Insurance Claims. Download the entire guide at no charge at: http://www.bfw-lawyers.com/pdfs/Guide-for-Insurance-Claims.pdf]

1. Burden of Proof: The first and most important thing to remember about any insurance claim is that the person or business making the claim (the claimant) carries the burden of proof related to that claim. The person who is handling the claim on behalf of the insurance company (the adjuster) does not have to “disprove” the legitimacy of the claim. The adjusters job is simply to determine if the claimant has presented adequate proof of a covered loss with proper supporting documents or material to pay the benefits being claimed. It is important to understand and realize, the adjuster has an obligation to the insurance company to only pay benefits that are legally owed under the policy. The claim files of adjusters are periodically audited to make sure they are not paying more benefits than required by the terms of the policies and that claims are properly documented before making a payment. In some instances, insurance companies even pay bonuses to adjusters and/or agents based upon claim pay-outs, or more specifically, the lack thereof.

2. Adversarial Process: As nice and friendly as you think the insurance company will be to you in the claims process; understand, Alabama law defines the insurance claim process as an “adversarial proceeding.” This does not necessarily mean the insurance company is going to be mean and nasty to you during the claim process, rather it simply means you have to recognize that your objectives and the insurance company’s objectives are not the same when it comes to an insurance claim. You would prefer they pay the claim and they would prefer not to pay the claim. Because the claim process is defined by law as an adversarial process, insurance companies are granted a certain amount of latitude in how they handle and adjust an insurance claim, even if it works to the detriment of the claimant. Specifically: 1) there is no obligation for an adjuster to “help” you better present your claim, 2) the adjuster does not have any obligation to tell you about critical time lines or time limitations related to your claim, 3) the adjuster does not have to tell you about other possible coverages available to you for the loss, and 4) the adjuster often can not give you advice or suggestions on how to best coordinate multiple coverages related to a loss. Simply put, because it is an adversarial process, you can not expect the insurance company to tell you how to effectively and timely present your claim or provide you with any helpful information . Because this process is considered “adversarial” a claimant does not have a right to justifiably rely on anything an adjuster says about the terms and conditions of the policy and/or the merits of the claim! [See, Apkan v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, Inc. 961 So.2d 865 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007): Insurance adjuster has no duty to help or assist claimant. In fact, adjuster’s duty is to protect the insurance company. Southern Bakeries Inc. v. Knipp, 852 So. 2d 712 (Ala. 2002): If a party owes no legal duty of disclosure to another, then material facts can be suppressed with out recourse for failure to disclose.]

3. No Reliance on Agent’s Oral Representations: As difficult as this is for most of us to believe, Alabama law has held that insurance customers do not have a right to justifiably rely on an oral representation made to them by the agent concerning the terms or conditions of the policy. This means if the agent tells you some event or loss will be a “covered loss” and the policy says it is not, the policy language will control and the loss may not be covered despite what the agent may have said. See Foremost Insurance Company v. Parham, 693 So.2d 409 (Ala.1997).

4. Clauses and Exclusions: Another legal reality that insurance customers have a hard time accepting is that Alabama law considers insurance policies to be “mutual contracts.” See Wolfe v. ALFA, 880 So. 2d 1163, 1169 (Ala Civ App 2003). What this means is our laws consider the customer and the insurance company to be “equals” in the negotiating process. Because of this legal concept (some call it a legal fairy tale) unfavorable and/or sometimes down right unconscionable clauses that work against the claimant are upheld on the basis that the customer got what he or she “bargained for” when “negotiating” for the purchase of the policy. Some of these type detrimental clauses include “commercial” arbitration clauses, forum and venue selection clauses, appeal protocol and procedure clauses, strict compliance clauses, cooperation clauses, indemnity clauses and many more often buried in the fine print of the policy. This also means well crafted exclusions for covered losses can be included, and upheld as valid, under the guise of a “negotiated” contract. One outrageous example of this is an exclusion for property damage losses currently found in some Alabama issued policies. It is an exclusion for “a loss to a covered property caused, or contributed to, by negligent construction.”

5. Notification of Claim: No matter what type of claim is being presented, it is always the responsibility of the insured individual and/or business and/or claimant to properly notify the insurance company of the claim or even the potential claim. All insurance policies have guidelines and procedures for notification of a claim and/or a “covered loss.” If these procedures are not followed, they can provide the insurance company with a legally recognized excuse to not pay the claim. Upon being notified of a claim or of a potential claim, many insurance companies will send out “claim forms” to the claimant. If the company does not provide “claim forms” it would be wise to verify the notice of claim in writing to verify that “timely notice” of the claim has been provided.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Loser Pays: A commentary by Mark Wolfe

The Alabama legislature is considering passing a law that will require the loser in all civil actions to pay the other side's attorney fees. (SB 1 126852-1). I am an attorney who handles civil litigation claims for individuals and small businesses against insurance companies. I am also a small business owner who pays my fair share in taxes and insurance premiums. Maybe to the surprise of many, I have been a proponent of a loser pay concept for many years. We win many more cases than we lose and conceptually many of my clients would benefit from such a law. Such a law would also make it much more economical for many of my clients with smaller claims or cases to pursue the matter through Court if they could recover the attorney fees. For example, day in and day out I have insurance adjusters say something like, "Well yes Mark, the property damage claim is probably really worth $15,000 but your client will have to pay you and the expenses of Court, so we’re only going to offer $9,000." This common occurrence economically forces many insurance claimants to have to settle for less than they truly deserve because the attorney fees and court costs to battle the insurance company will financially eviscerate their victory. For this reason, I think a well conceived loser pay bill could be beneficial for individuals and small businesses in Alabama.

However, the current proposed bill as has too many problems and issues. As the bill is currently written, it will not achieve its desired effect to curtail frivolous lawsuits, but rather I believe it will result in even more litigation and further burden our all ready strained judicial system. However, before addressing why I think that will happen, I want to point out that we already have several laws in place that help prevent frivolous litigation in Alabama. Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 11 allows for sanctions and the award of attorney fees for pleadings or motions filed without "good ground[s] to support it." Alabama Rule of Civil procedure 37(a)(1)(4) and 37(c) provide an avenue to recover expenses and attorney fees to parties for the opposition’s inappropriate pleadings or motions. Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 68 allows a party to a civil lawsuit to shift the costs of litigation to the opposing party via a pleading known as an Offer of Judgment. In addition, to help curb frivolous medical malpractice actions we have Ala Code § 6-5-551, which is specifically intended to thwart the filing of an unsubstantiated medical malpractice case. We also have in place various evidentiary laws that make it difficult, if not impossible, to file a frivolous products liability lawsuit. So we do already have in place laws and procedures to prevent frivolous lawsuits. The other thing to keep in mind is that most civil cases end up in Court because there is a legitimate dispute between the parties that requires the assistance of a jury to resolve. In our office it is very rare for us to just "up and file a lawsuit" without at least exploring and discussing a pre-litigation resolution. However, sometimes parties have a differing view of "facts." Or, in a contract dispute matter or a case involving insurance polices, the parties have a differing view of the legal application of sometimes very complex terms to a particular fact situation. (Have you tried to read a copy of any of your insurance policies!) For example, in a homeowner claim, the insurance company may believe the "mold" pre-dated a water leak and therefore they believe the claim is excluded under the "mold exclusion" portion of the policy. The homeowner may believe the mold is a result of a water leak and therefore it should be covered. I.e, a legitimate dispute that may need the help of a jury to resolve. If a case is a "close call" do we really want to penalize the loser? What do you think will happen to our insurance premiums if insurance companies lose too many cases and have to pay attorney fees in all those cases?

The current proposed "Loser Pay" bill as written is too broad and open to way too many subsequent secondary issues that will simply create too many secondary issues which will require protracted litigation. Also, it will lend itself to some very outrageous and unfair results. The current bill reads in part as follows: [I]n all civil actions, the court shall award attorney’s fees as a part of the cost to the prevailing party; and to provide that a prevailing party may bring an action against another party for abuse of process arising in any part on the same facts in the action in which the attorney’s fees were awarded; however, the prevailing party may not recover the same attorney’s fees twice." OK, this sounds and easy on a first read, but let’s look at this closely. What does it mean by "prevailing party?" Are we simply looking at "winning or losing?" (Emphasis added) If so, how are we going to define a win or a loss? I sue a deadbeat Dad for a client for back child support claiming he owes $4,750 in back child support, at the trial he produces a check receipt for a $250.00 payment that my client either didn’t receive or forgot she received. The judge enters an award for my client in the amount of $4,500.00. Who has "prevailed?" If we go by a simple "win or loss" scenario then my client "won." But deadbeat Dad’s attorney will say no he "prevailed" because we did not "win" everything that was claimed. Now we have lawyers fighting over their fees and we all can imagine how litigious that situation may be. An attorney for a landlord goes to an eviction hearing but forgets to bring a properly authenticated lease for admission into evidence at the trial. Case dismissed with leave to re-file. Can the tenet’s attorney now recover attorney fees against the landlord because she "prevailed." What if the tenet’s lawyer was a quasi-government attorney provided free through Legal Services Corporation? A garnishment action is a "civil action." Will companies who are trying to secure a judgment repayment through a garnishment action now have to pay if the subject debtor of the garnishment action is no longer an employee of the garnishee? The dispute scenarios surrounding just the "prevailing party" language in this proposed bill are endless. Every dispute will require further litigation ad nauseam as attorneys argue about who really prevailed in a civil action.

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


Monday, October 10, 2011

Ten Tips for Locating Life Insurance Policies

by Mark Wolfe, Attorney at Law and Advocate for Insurance Claimants

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 to a life insurance company.

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 group benefit programs 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.

7. Check with the decedent’s bank or financial institutions to see if life insurance benefits or policies were offered in connection with a checking or savings account or in connection with a brokerage account.

8. If the decedent’s death was accidental and in conjunction with travel or a trip, check with the credit card company to see if it offered accidental death benefits for travel or trips paid for with the credit card.

9. Check with any Union, Trade Organization or Professional Association the decedent may have belonged to to see if they offered life insurance benefits to members and if the decedent had purchased a policy through the organization.

10. Use a policy search internet site. There are several internet sites that, for a fee, offer to search for life insurance policies.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Life Insurance Claims: Important Information for Beneficiaries and Claimants

By: Mark Wolfe, Attorney at Law
Mobile, Alabama

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.


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.


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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BF&W Attorneys Rated Highest

The on-line attorney rating service AVVO.com recently rated the attorneys at Boteler, Finley & Wolfe as the highest rated local attorneys in the Mobile area for motor vehicle collision claims and cases. AVVO.com rates attorneys based upon a number of criteria including case results, peer endorsements, professional services and legal publications. "I think the fact that all three attorneys from our office received a 'superb' rating from AVVO reflects our true commitment to doing our best for our clients," said Mark Wolfe. A superb rating is the highet available from the site. You can find out about each attorneys rating by following these links: Mark Wolfe, Knox Boteler and Karlos Finley. AVVO rates attorneys on a scale from one to ten and to be considered for the superb classification an attorney's rating must be 9.0 or higher.

In addition to ranking attorneys for consumers, the AVVO.com site allows consumers to post questions for attorneys to answer and has numerous legal guides written by attorneys.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute to Consult an Attorney

INJURY VICTIMS WHO WAIT TOO LONG CAN FIND IT DIFFICULT TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY. Alabama law generally has a two-year statute of limitations for auto-negligence claims. There are exceptions to this general rule of law, including if the victim is a minor or if the at-fault driver was in the line and scope of employment for a city or county agency. [To preserve the two-year stature of limitations against a city or county agency, the victim must notify the agency of the claim within a prescribed time period.] At BF&W we have recently seen an increase in the number of people who are trying to handle their personal injury claim without an attorney and then call for a quick consult shortly before the statute of limitations expires. The following two examples show why waiting too long to consult an attorney can be detrimental for an injury victim.

A woman from Texas called our office with her statute of limitations about to expire in a week. She was involved in an accident on I-10 while traveling through Mobile and she had been trying to handle the claim herself without hiring an attorney. The insurance company had finally made her a settlement offer about a week before her statute of limitations would run but it was a lot lower than she expected. She was calling to find out if the offer was “fair” and if to see if she could hire our firm to file suit on her behalf. She consulted with Knox Boteler by phone and he explained that while the settlement offer was probably lower than the true value of her claim, there was not enough time to make a fair evaluation of her claim before the statute of limitations expired. Knox also explained to her that it was not fair of her to expect BF&W, or any attorney or law firm, to file suit on a case that they had not been given adequate time to investigate or evaluate for purposes of litigation, especially when there was a pending settlement offer.

In another similar situation, BF&W received an e-mail request through our web site where a local man asked us to tell him whether the insurance company’s settlement offer for his auto-negligence claim was “fair”. His statute of limitations was set to expire within two and half weeks. The information he provided indicated the accident aggravated a pre-existing condition. It was determined that a fair evaluation of his claim would require a review of previous medical records as well as current medical records and there was not enough time to collect and evaluate those records before his statute of limitations expired. Once again, it was suspected that the offer was lower than the true value of the claim, but without adequate time to investigate BF&W was not be able to assist him.

The proper evaluation of a personal injury claim involves a detailed factual review of the accident, which may include witness interviews and interviews with the investigating officer. It also includes a detailed review of the medical records and narrative reports of treating healthcare providers. It may also require the review of past medical conditions if there is an aggravation of a pre-existing condition and it requires the review and analysis of any other additional aggravating or mitigating circumstances related to the accident and/or injury. Finally, the claim is analyzed based upon the legal venue that has jurisdiction of the claim. With this information, an experienced auto-negligence attorney can then begin establishing a Probable Verdict Range (PVR) for that particular claim or case. It is important for victims to remember that if the claim cannot settle then the “value” of the claim will be determined by a jury’s verdict within the jurisdiction of the claim or case. The PVR becomes the benchmark to determine whether a settlement offer on a claim is fair.

Even if there is an “offer on the table” before consulting with an attorney, if the attorney is provided adequate time to investigate the claim there may be a variety of benefits the attorney can bring forth for the claimant. At BF&W we know many people are reluctant to consult with an attorney about a personal injury claim because they don’t want to appear greedy. We also know insurance adjusters are trained with tactics to discourage claimants from consulting with an attorney. Yet in both cases detailed above, we believe we could have provided a significant benefit for both of those victims had they just consulted with our office in a timely manner. If you have an ongoing personal injury claim please consider consulting with an experienced auto-negligence attorney as soon as possible and no later than several months before the statute of limitations expires.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Reporter John Stossel = Hypocrite

Reporter John Stossel is a $400,000.00 hypocrite. He never misses an opportunity to bash Trial Lawyers and our civil justice system. Recently he stated, "for every one person a lawyer helps, thousands are hurt." Yet he himself was the beneficiary of a civil lawsuit against a professional wrestler who slapped Stossel twice in the course of an aggressive "Geraldo" style interview. Reports indicate his civil lawsuit was settled with him receiving a $400,000.00 settlement. For more on this story and to see the interview where Stossel got slappped, click here.

Last year we reported on the US Chamber of Commerce's aggressive use of the civil justice system to press their advantage, yet all the while screaming about "tort reform" and "frivilous" lawsuits. In past editions of Legally Speaking we have reported on a number of hypocritical situations where outspoken critics of Trial Lawyers and our civil justice system have brought a myriad of lawsuits and claims against others.

It's easy for reporters and politicians to rant and rave against Trial Lawyers and our civil justice system so as to revoke the rights of ordinary people....that's freedom of speech. Yet when these same critics use the civil justice system to their own advantage...well I guess that's just freedom of hypocrisy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer Safe Driving Tips

July and August are the two worst months of the year for motor vehicle collisions. Many of these collisions can be avoided. Please keep in mind the following safe driving tips during the summer months.

  1. Watch out for children: When driving in neighborhoods and especially when backing your vehicle.

  2. Check brakes, headlights and brake lights, signals, tires, oil and other fluids before starting any long trip.

  3. Plan your trip in advance using maps and/or online mapping services.

  4. Be patient and follow and obey the rules of the road.

  5. Be a defensive driver and a cooperative driver with others on the roadway.

  6. Use caution around 18-wheelers and remember to avoid their blind spots.

  7. Limit cell phone use while driving and DO NOT TRY TO TEXT AND DRIVE!

  8. Turn on headlights in rain or bad weather.

  9. STAY FOCUSED ON YOUR DRIVING. Avoid or limit in car distractions.

  10. USE SEATBELTS and make sure car seats and booster seats for children are installed properly and used while the vehicle is operating.

Have a safe and enjoyable summer. Drive carefully!

Friday, May 6, 2011


JUST A REMINDER: May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month.

The National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS) is reminding parents and teens that May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month. NOYS encourages and promotes youth led safe driving initiatives in high schools through out the United States. This year over $100,000 in funds are available from NOYS to support safe driving programs and projects for youth. If you have teenage drivers in your household, we hope you will take a moment in the next few days to remind them about the importance of safe driving.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Our Cars Are Safer

Below is an op-ed piece from the Washington Post written by Alabama lawyer, Gibson Vance. Mr. Vance is the President of the American Association for Justice.

How our cars got safer

By Gibson Vance April 16, 2011

Traffic deaths in the United States have dropped to their lowest level since 1949, according to a report released this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Remarkably, this drop occurred even as Americans drove 21 billion more miles in 2010 than they had the previous year. The drop in fatalities is due in large part to the fact that cars are getting safer. Since the introduction of the Ford Pinto nearly four decades ago — a car synonymous with danger, destruction and executives putting profits ahead of consumer safety — amazing advancements have been made in auto safety. The technology is better, regulations are stronger and buyers have more information. Not surprisingly, consumers are drawn to cars with the latest safety features. Yet these factors alone do not tell the whole story. History shows that litigation and the civil justice system have served as the most consistent and powerful forces in heightening safety standards, revealing previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses and deterring manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits. The Ford Pinto litigation sent a strong message to the auto industry. Unfortunately, manufacturers have still sold dangerous cars. In June 2004, a Dallas-area mother stopped her Ford F-150 truck to speak with her husband through the driver’s side window. Her 3-year-old daughter leaned out the passenger’s side window and accidentally hit the rocker switch, causing the window to close on her neck. When her parents noticed moments later, it was too late — their daughter was strangled. As power windows became more common, so too did instances of children being strangled. Seven children died within a three-month period in 2004. Manufacturers were aware of the issue, and the fix was relatively simple and inexpensive. In response to regulations in other countries, European and Asian cars already used a safer switch — one that must be pulled up to raise a window — and so did many U.S. manufacturers on cars they offered to foreign markets. Yet incredibly, U.S. manufacturers did not install the safer switches on domestic cars because NHTSA had no rules governing power-window safety. Litigation eventually forced universal acceptance of the safer switches in 2006. It is easy to take for granted just how much safer vehicles have become and how safety measures have been standardized. For years, the auto industry has worked to undermine regulations and limit its liability by pushing for complete immunity from lawsuits when their vehicles comply with minimum federal safety standards. This would, in short, be devastating for consumers. Recall that the Pinto’s design met all government standards of the time. Had compliance with federal standards been a complete defense of vehicle safety, Ford could not have been held accountable for the many burn victims that the company was later shown to have anticipated. Put another way, without the civil justice system, gas tanks would still explode in rear-end collisions, seat belts and airbags would not be standard, and cars would roll over onto roofs that would be easily crushed. There are multiple reasons behind the welcome news that traffic deaths continue to decline. But the role of the civil justice system is often overlooked. Litigation has spurred safety innovations in vehicles for more than half a century and will continue to be essential in keeping Americans safe and holding manufacturers accountable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Time for "Bill of Rights" for Insurance Claimants

On Sunday, February 13, Mark Wolfe of Boteler & Wolfe had an article published in the editorial section of the Mobile Press Register. As a special editor to the Press Register, Wolfe pointed out that the frustrations now faced by BP Oil Spill claimants are the same frustrations faced by thousands of Alabama citizens each year when they attempt to resolve insurance claims. His article advocated for a "Bill of Rights" for insurance claimants that would specifically outline the claim procedure and protocol an insurance company will use in reviewing and evaluating an insurance claim in our State. To read the full story, click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Commentary on the Right to Trial By Jury

The following is a post from a Michigan resident concerning the right to trial by jury and accountability. The post came after a local Michigan paper ran an article about an ongoing trial by a personal injury victim who was seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision. The article generated a lot of comments, many of them negative about injury victims and their attorneys prosecuting an injury claim through Court.

“…independent treating doctors saying this poor person is permanently disabled, and insurance company doctors who miraculously find nothing and blame everything on something completely unrelated. Surprise, surprise. The point is only the jury hearing the evidence knows what the true facts are. But one thing we all should defend as Americans is the right to trial by jury, and if indeed this woman has suffered serious injury through the fault of another, and her right to life and pursuit of happiness has been reduced as a result, then it is not only fair but essential that an American jury who hears all the evidence return a verdict that encompasses the full measure of her damages and losses. That is what the founding fathers envisioned in the Bill of Rights, that is what my Republican party always stood for - individual liberty and the right to trial by jury - before it was taken over by insurance companies and big business. This jury is performing an essential American function, and holding someone who has presumably caused great harm responsible and accountable. I fail to see how throwing out emotional charged and frankly insulting language about ambulance chasers or diminishing a person’s worth or liberty is responsible. A person who has wronged another should pay the full measure of the damages they have caused. That is what we teach our children, that is what the founding fathers to this country envisioned by protecting our freedom and liberty in the Bill of Rights. Throwing out stupid or insulting names diminishes us all.”

Commentary from MCW: If someone takes money from you, you have a right to seek redress through the Courts to recover what was taken from you. Personal injury victims who have been carelessly or recklessly injured by someone should have the same right to recover their damages in Court. The fact is most of the time when people have to resort to a lawsuit to recover their damages, it is because an insurance company has made a decision to offer less than is truly owed on the claim. Many times these offers are so low they do not even cover the incurred medical bills and lost wages. This leaves victims with two choices: Suffer a financial loss due to someone elses irresponsible behavior or seek full compensation through the Court system. For those that don't believe in lawsuits, lend me $100 and I'll promise to pay you back that amount but then when the money is due I'll only offer you $25 to pay you back. If you want the other $75 I "allegedly" owe you, you'll find yourself in the same boat as many injury victims in our State.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011



In November, 2010, Ken Feinberg and his administrators with the Gulf Coast Claim Facility (GCCF) established the following procedures for final and interim payment claims. If you need assistance regarding a clam with the GCCF, please contact Knox Boteler or email him at Knox@Botelerwolfe.com.

Final Claim. A final claim seeks to resolve the entire claim with BP and other responsible parties. You will be required to sign a release of liability. Upon executing this release you will not be able to seek further compensation. The GCCF will fully evaluate and determine the final payment claim within 90 days receipt of the “substantiated” claim. Once receiving your final payment offer, it will be valid for 90 days. You may submit a full review final payment claim at anytime prior to the close of the GCCF program on August 22, 2013.

Voluntary Quick Payment Final Claim. The GCCF has establish a “quick payment” of $5,000.00 if you are an individual claimant, or $25,000.00 if you are a business claimant. This “quick payment” is only for those who received an emergency advance payment. This option does not require you to submit any additional supporting documentation. However, you will be required to execute a full and final release just as you would with the full review final payment claim.

Voluntary Interim Payment Claim. If you do not select the quick payment final claim or the full review final payment claim, the GCCF will still allow for submission of an interim payment claim for past losses and damages. You may only submit an interim payment claim once per quarter of each calendar year until August 22, 2013. Within 90 days of receipt of a “substantiated” claim for interim payment, the GCCF will evaluate and review the submitted documentation.

BP Oil Spill Workers Update

As reported in the Fall Newsletter, the firm is active in protecting the rights of those oil workers physically harmed by chemical exposure. Earlier this month, Knox Boteler requested Congressman Jo Bonner’s office assistance in communicating with the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. This federal agency has been appointed to conduct studies on the effects on the oil spill workers. Funding for such a study was provided by BP. While the practices and procedures for this study were implemented in a recent meeting in Tampa Florida, this information has yet to be shared with these affected workers. With the help of Congressman Bonner, the firm is hopeful the deficiencies in this area of support for spill victims can be corrected.