Sunday, November 29, 2009

Subrogation - Again

We think that "subrogation" is such an important concept in the personal injury field, that we have decided to re-publish our July 25, 2009 post on this subject, and then give you some more information on the concept.

First, our post from July 25, 2009 is reprinted below:

When a person receives medical services as a result of an accident, the medical providers and/or the medical bill payors (e.g. medical insurance companies, Medicaid, Medicare, or Worker’s Compensation) almost always have what the law calls a “subrogation” claim on any monies that the injured person may end up collecting from the negligent party. In short, if the injured party gets compensated for the injury, the subrogation concept is that they essentially must pay these entities back for the medical bills or medical bills payments made by these entities. This subrogation area of personal injury law gets more complicated each day, with state statutes and federal statutes and medical insurance contracts getting more involved. Plaintiffs (and their lawyers) must be very careful to protect the subrogation interests of these entities – or they themselves can get sued in connection with the personal injury claim. It is very important for the client and the lawyer to identify and monitor the subrogation issues in the claim so there are no surprises when or after the client finally receives compensation.

Second, some more things to think about.

Medicare laws now in effect on the issue of subrogation have gotten even more complicated. Now, if you are injured in an accident, and you are getting ready to settle that accident, you and your medical providers have to use your best guess as to what medical bills you will, in the future, incur - and do your best to put aside settlement money to cover those costs. If you don't, Medicare can essentially sue both you and your lawyer for not doing so. So, before you settle any personal injury case where some or all of your medical bills have been paid by Medicare, be very careful to stay in full dialogue with the proper officials at Medicare about what they and your (and your lawyer) can agree will be the FUTURE medical costs likely to be paid by Medicare.

Further, some private health insurance companies actually hire professional subrogation companies to monitor the subrogation issues associated with a person's injury, and these subrogation companies will track you and your lawyer down to make sure that the health insurance company gets as much of its money back as it can. Most health insurance contracts that cover the relationship between a patient and the health insurance company require the patient to fully notify and cooperate with these professional subrogation companies. Again, like Medicare, if you or your lawyer ignore these subrogation issues, the professional subrogation companies can sue you to get the money the health insurance company was contractually entitled to.

Further still, subrogation law allows public health insurance companies like Medicaid and Medicare (and even some private health insurance companies) to actually have a direct claim against a defendant for the medical bills already paid by them. So, some defendants (and their lawyers) in personal injury claims will insist that they place both the client's and the health insurance/public insurance company's name on the check when a case is settled in order to assure themselves that they can't later be sued by the public or private health insurance provider.

Complicated enough for ya? We live this these issues every day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Damaging the Phone While Someone is Calling 911

The Ohio Supreme Court decided that if someone damages or otherwise interrupts the attempted electronic contact with the police or fire department, they can be prosecuted and convicted for "Disrupting Public Service" - which is a felony. In State v. Robinson, 2009-Ohio-5937, the Court held that if that "conduct substantially impairs the ability of law-enforcement officers, firefighters, rescue personnel, emergency-medical-services personnel, or emergency-facility personnel to respond to an emergency or to protect and preserve any person or property from serious physical harm," then the person causing the damage can be prosecuted and convicted of that statute. This situation comes up most often when one person snatches the phone from another person trying to call 911 and damages the phone or the phone line. The defendant in that case had tried to argue that the statute can only apply when the actions of the a defendant shut down or interfere with an entire phone system - rather than just one phone. However, the Supreme Court of Ohio rejected that argument and held that just damaging one phone is enough for a conviction. If someone is calling the cops over what can only be a misdemeanor, the damaging of the phone to prevent or interfere with that call transforms the whole incident into a felony. So don't smash the phone - just sit and wait for the cops or walk away.

More on Arbitration Agreements

We have previously brought you updates on the area of law involving arbitration agreements. As you may recall (or already know), contracts can contain clauses or provisions which require the parties to submit to arbitration if a dispute arises about the contact. While the debate on whether these clauses are a good idea rages on, the Ohio Supreme Court continues to issue opinions on how these arbitration provisions work. In its most recent opinion, the Court, in Mynes v. Brooks, 2009-Ohio-5946, held that if one party sues another over a contact which has an arbitration provision, and one party to that lawsuit files a motion to have the lawsuit suspended so that arbitration can resolve the dispute, either the "non-moving" party or the "moving" party has the right to appeal that decision immediately. Essentially, that means that the neither the moving party or the non-moving party has to wait until the whole lawsuit is over in order to present their issue to the court of appeals. In short, this has the net effect of potentially making the whole litigation process longer - rather than shorter as intended by the arbitration concept. Businesses and individuals have to seriously consider the practical effect of these arbitration provisions when signing a contract.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Experts, Specific Values and "Financial Misconduct" in Divorce Cases

The Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals has just recently reaffirmed that when a domestic relations court is faced with two values for a business, one provided by the husband and the other provided by the wife, the Court is permitted to exercise its "discretion" to determine which value, based upon the evidence, is proper. This discretion is a powerful right possessed by the domestic relations court, but there must be credible and objective evidence and reasoning presented to the Court in support of the value. In the case of Haynes v. Haynes, 2009 Ohio 5360, the Court also sent the case back to the domestic relations court to obtain specific values of the parties property so that the Court could mathematically divide all of the property as equally as possible. For some reason, the parties did not present (and the trial court magistrate did not require) specific values for important pieces of property that had to be divided by the court. Ohio law requires that a domestic relations court do its best to divide up all of the marital property equally - and obtaining values for all of the relevant property is absolutely necessary to obtain an equal division. The Court also held that the trial court was correct in holding that using business funds to pay for gambling debts was "financial misconduct," and that the gambling spouse could lose a portion of their half of the marital estate for such conduct. Ohio divorce law holds that if one spouse engages in "financial misconduct," the court can penalize that spouse by taking away a portion of the marital estate and giving it to the other spouse.

The Supreme Court of the United States addresses DUI tipsters

In what is rather a rare situation, the United States Supreme Court is reviewing (and eventually answering) the question of whether or not an anonymous tip of possible drunk driving to a police department is sufficient to give police officers of that department the right to pull over that driver. In the case of Virgina v. Harris, the prosecution is trying to convince the United States Supreme Court that the Supreme Court of Virginia was wrong when that Virginia Court held that an anonymous tip is not enough for a police officer to pull over the driver - and that the officer must actually see the driver driving poorly before that officer can pull over the driver. Since the case just got to the United States Supreme Court, it may indeed be sometime in the future before we get an an answer to this question. The answer to this question shall be binding on all states in the Union - including Ohio. Ohio currently allows for anonymous tips to provide enough "reasonable suspicion" for the police to pull over a driver if the tip was proven to be "reliable" and the tip has not gotten stale over time. Stay tuned . . . We will let you all know as soon as we get the ruling.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Recent Ruling on Class Actions

The Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals has recently issued a ruling on what the law calls "class actions." In a case involving a Consumer Sales Practices Act lawsuit against a car dealership (Konarzewski v. Ganely, Inc., 2009 Ohio 5827), the Court of Appeals ruled that (i) the persons to be included in the class were ascertainable and (ii) the transactions at issue were similar enough (i.e. the claims were "typical" enough and had enough "commonality") to proceed as a class action. The defendant, in a further attempt to prevent the certification of the class. claimed that the class definition was not clear enough. However, the Court also rejected that argument and stated that the definition does not have to specifically identify every member by name - it just has to be clear enough to give a court an idea of how to identify who the potential members might be once the class is certified. The Court of Appeals has now sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to certify the class and work in refining the class definition. This ruling could have large implications for businesses that rely on a large volume of small transactions. If the custom of that business is to engage in a minor manipulation of the law each time it engages in those transactions, then a class action lawsuit by just one of the affected customers could result on a huge class action lawsuit against the business.

Video of Our Oral Arguments at the Supreme Court of Ohio

In one of our earlier posts, we notified you of the fact that we had an important case pending with the Supreme Court of Ohio. That case involved a dog mauling of a young girl. When that case went to trial, the trial court made us chose between 2 types of case presentation, which we believed was against the law. The Court of Appeals agreed with us (see the Court of Appeals decision), but the insurance carrier for the dog owners wanted to have the Supreme Court of Ohio hear the case. You can hear the September 30, 2009 oral arguments Michael O'Shea made at the Supreme Court of Ohio in Case No. 2008-2106 Yoshanta Beckett et al. v. Richard Warren et al. by clicking here. Give us some comments if you want.

Leaving Home Monitoring System Can Result in an Escape Charge

The Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals has just ruled that a if person is on electronic home detention (e.g. an electric ankle bracelet that monitors the location of a defendant) while on probation, and that person defies the geographical limitations of the bracelet or snaps-off/shuts-off the bracelet, that person can be charged with a separate and subsequent escape crime - even if that person was sent to jail for a probation violation. The defendant in State v. Peters, 2009 Ohio 5836 argued that, because the trial court had already sent him to prison for violating the electronic monitoring terms (i.e. ankle bracelet) of his probation, charging him with a separate and subsequent crime for the same conduct violated the "double jeopardy" clause of the Ohio and United States Constitution. However, the Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court held that (i) charging one for conduct which also resulted in a probation violation is not a violation of double jeopardy and (ii) a trial court is without authority to dismiss an indictment prior to trial because there is no legal mechanism (as there is in a civil case) for a court to do so. Suggestion, keep the ankle bracelet on and keep watching Oprah.

Mandatory Longer Sentence for DUI Breath Test Refusal Found Consitutional

In still another ruling on the ongoing debate about DUI sentencing statutes, the Supreme Court of Ohio recently ruled that the extra 10-day sentence mandated by Ohio law on those who (i) have a prior DUI conviction and (ii) refuse the breath test on a subsequent DUI arrest and conviction is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Ohio and United States Constitution. The defendant in State v. Hoover, 2009-Ohio-4993 alleged that the mandatory breath test required under Ohio DUI law violated his Constitutional right against "unreasonable searches and seizures" - a right protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Ohio and United States Constitution. However, in a narrow 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio rejected that argument, holding that a series of decisions by the Court have already held that a defendant does not ever have a right to refuse a breath test, and, therefore, any increased in penalty for a refusal of the test cannot be unconstitutional. These prior holdings have all been based upon the idea that when a person requests and obtains an Ohio driver's license, that persons has consented to having their breath tested at any time they are arrested for a DUI. So if a person has a prior DUI conviction, and that person is subsequently arrested for another DUI and refuses a breath test, that person is facing (i) a 10-day sentence for a 2nd DUI and (ii) an ADDITIONAL 10-day sentence for refusing the test - for a total minimum sentence of 20 days. If that same person had consented to the test (and tested over the legal limit), they would only be facing a mandatory sentence of 10-days. A person with a prior DUI conviction has to really ponder whether refusing a breath test if arrested for a 2nd DUI is worth the extra penalty. Suggestion, consult with a lawyer as soon as you are confronted with this issue.

New Ohio Supreme Court Ruling on Expungements

The Supreme Court of Ohio has just issued an important ruling which clarifies some of the issues defendants and their lawyers are faced with when dealing with whether or not a defendant can obtain an expungement of multiple convictions stemming from a single event of criminal conduct. In State v. Futrall, 2009-Ohio-5590, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that if any of the criminal convictions stemming from the same series of events are barred from being expunged, then all of the separate convictions from that series of events cannot be expunged. For instance, if the defendant's course of conduct resulted in 4 separate convictions, if only one of those convictions is barred by statute from being expunged, then all of the convictions from that case are also barred from being expunged. Some types of convictions are barred by law from being expunged (for example, various crimes of violence and DUIs). If the defendant after a trial or as part of a plea negotiation is found guilty of one of these convictions, her/she cannot get any of what would otherwise be expungible convictions expunged. Thus, defendants and thier lawyers must be very cautious when considering this new ruling when deciding to go t trial or enter a plea - especially if that defendant has aspirations of getting that particular conviction(s) expunged in the future.