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Taxes and Your Personal Injury Settlement

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays are over, spring just arrived, and a lot of us are preparing for tax season and all the pomp and circumstance that accompanies this time of year. I’m a simple fella from Parkersburg, West Virginia. It only takes me about 30 minutes to complete my tax return. As a single person with no kids, I keep my expectations low regarding returns. If I am lucky, I’ll have enough money in my refund to buy some new bedding and possibly get some new sconces for my bedroom. Not everyone has it as simple as I do. For instance, my sister once won a “Rock, Paper, Scissors Contest” sponsored by Anheuser-Busch. Yes, you read that correctly. The result of her “championship” was a free trip for two to Las Vegas for the national Rock Paper Scissor Championship Tournament. Once again, this is all real. It was on TV and everything. Between the flight, hotel, and other prizes, the trip was valued at over $4,000. Come tax time, my sister had to count this as income and pay taxes on the prize. Luckily for my sister, she didn’t have to pay too much on a $4,000 prize. However, if you are awarded something like a new car, or a fancy vacation, or really, most prizes valued over a specific amount, you must pay taxes on the prize. This is why so many people forfeit whatever base model car they win on “The Price is Right.” Recently, a friend of mine asked me if she would have to count her personal injury settlement as income the way prize winners do. I honestly didn’t know, so I thought I’d dive into this topic deeper.

I was hoping to find a simple yes or no answer when I started researching this topic. However, I realized I was dealing with both taxes and law, so I was a tad naïve to think anything would be simple. The quick answer no, you don’t have to pay income tax on your personal Injury settlement. So, you may be thinking, “are there exceptions to the rule? We’re dealing with the government, so, of course, there are exceptions.

The official statement from the IRS is as follows:

If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in prior years, the full amount is non-taxable. Do not include the settlement proceeds in your income.

(BUT)

If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness, you must include in income that portion of the settlement that is for medical expenses you deducted in any prior year(s) to the extent the deduction(s) provided a tax benefit. If part of the proceeds is for medical expenses you paid in more than one year, you must allocate on a pro rata basis the part of the proceeds for medical expenses to each of the years you paid medical expenses. See Recoveries in Publication 525 for details on how to calculate the amount to report. The tax benefit amount should be reported as “Other Income” on line 21 of Form 1040. (read the entire IRS Publication here)

If you have received a settlement from a personal injury claim, and you’re not sure if you used any of your settlement for medical expenses, or if you just have general tax questions, it may be beneficial to consult an accountant. Keep in mind that many accountants focus on taxes just like we focus on Personal Injury Law. Another option is a step by step accounting program. Many of these pop up during tax season, and some offer live help either by text chat or video conference.

If you’d like to know more about the types of services we offer, or if you’d like to talk to someone about your personal injury claim, call us today for a FREE consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’re not available to chat now, fill out this form so that we may contact you at a later time.

Attorney Fee Misconceptions

It’s probably safe to say that filing for social security disability is one of the most difficult things you can do. It likely ranks up there with marriage and moving as the most stressful things a person may take on in their life. Unlike a move or getting married, there is a lot of uncertainty that comes with pursuing a claim for social security. This is especially true if an individual has filed a claim and can’t work because of their disability. You’re looking at months without an income, and you may be nervous about how you will pay your bills. We understand that difficulty. We’ve been representing clients for more than 20 years. And unfortunately, we have seen the wait for benefits increase.

As a law firm, we work hard to get our clients their benefits as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we can’t speed up the process. It’s beyond our control. However, since our compensation is based on back pay, some people assume that we will drag a case out to make more money. That’s not true. In all honestly, it makes a lot more sense for us to get our clients approved as quickly as possible. Let’s look at a few reasons why it makes no sense for us to wait.

  1. Our fee is a contingency fee. Simply, a contingency fee means that we only win if you get approved. So, the quicker we get a client of ours approved, the quicker we get paid. However, if we are not successful in your case, we don’t charge any attorney fees. So, if we aren’t successful, we will lose money on your case.
  2. There is a cap on the amount we can receive. For social security, the cap is 25% or $6,000 for cases at the administrative level. (We receive the lesser amount of the two.) So, in other words, at a certain point, It would make no sense for us to make a case last longer. If we were to make a case last longer intentionally, it would be of no benefit to us. Most people don’t see the amount of work that actually goes into a case. Keep in mind, the longer a case goes on, the longer we have to pay employees to request records, review files, and manage cases. So, if you consider overhead, we actually have a lot invested in each case.
  3. In other fields, attorneys charge by the hour, and they charge a lot. If we were to charge by the hour for our cases, the amount would far exceed what we charge with our contingency fee. So, once again, it makes more sense for us to get our clients approved as quickly as possible.
  4. The big elephant in the room regarding a law firm purposely waiting for a client’s case to enhance their back pay is unethical. As a law firm, we are subject to review under the West Virginia state bar and ethics committee. If it were true that we were doing this, we would lose our law licenses.

When we went into business 20 years ago, there were countless areas in which we could practice. We chose to focus on social security because we believed that there were a lot of people who needed help getting approved. We are passionate about the law, and we work hard to help people get the benefits they deserve.

If you’d like to know more about our services, of if you’d like to ask us questions about becoming a client, call us today. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we will call you at another time.

What is a Trial Work Period?

It’s safe to say that most people never think that they’re going to have to apply for social security disability. However, accidents happen, injuries occur, and plans eventually must change. But, what if you are granted benefits, but want to return to work? What if you try to go back, but find that you still aren’t physically able to work again? Well, the SSA has a program in place to protect your benefits while you attempt to return to work. This is referred to as a “Trial Work Period.” This time is essentially a nine-month period of grace in which any recipient can attempt to reenter the workforce.

It’s important to note that participation in this program is dependent upon a recipient reporting their work activity to the SSA. The program is a real positive for any recipient whose condition has improved enough for them to return to work. With the trial work period, you don’t risk your benefits. In other words, it’s a safe way to return to work. There is some responsibility associated with this program though. In addition to reporting your work activity, you must also report your income and any impairment related work expenses.

One important aspect of this program that many people don’t realize is that if you return to work, and the nine-month period expires, you may still receive your benefits if you don’t earn more than the Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA amount. You may recall that to be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2017, the SGA per month of a non-blind person is $1,170. For instance, if you return to work, and stay after the 9-month period, but only make $1000 per month. You may still receive your benefits. Don’t forget though, on average, the SGA changes from year to year. It generally increases, but it’s always important to be aware of how it changes.

What if your conditions improve, you return to work for more than the 9-month period, but then your conditions get worse after a year? Well, that too may not a major issue. For five years after you return to work, if your conditions return or worsen, you may be eligible for “expedited reinstatement” if your benefits were terminated due to your work activity. In other words, your benefits may be reinstated quickly. Think of this as another safety net if you wish to return to the active work force.

We understand that a lot of people who are granted benefits want to return to work. However, make sure you understand the program, and report everything to the SSA properly. If you fail to report proper earnings, or if you don’t enroll in the program, but return to work, you might owe the SSA money. Also, though these programs are intended to benefit you, you must meet all SSA requirements to continue receiving disability benefits or ask for a reinstatement of benefits. These programs do not guarantee protection or reinstatement.

Several of our clients have consulted with us when returning to work, and we are always happy to help. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a client of ours, give us a call today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we will call at a more convenient time.

Criss Elementary Teacher Claims March 2017 Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law Golden Apple Award

On Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, team Jan Dils went to Criss Elementary to hand out the March Golden Apple Award. This award, like several over the past few years, was special because the teacher is set to retire at the end of the school year. This time the deserving educator was Ms. Kristi Miller of Criss Elementary. Ms. Miller has been a teacher for over 30 years, and in that time, she has touched many lives.

We will often state that the Golden Apple winner goes above and beyond, but this case, the phrase is especially true. Ms. Miller run several programs at the school, including Dr. Suess Day and Science Day. Some parents also noted her generosity, stating that she has even bought musical instruments for students. Over the summer Kristi keeps in touch with her students by sending them greeting cards.

When Ms. Miller’s name was announced, all of the students erupted with joy. As they exited the gymnasium every student stopped to look at her plaque and her new bracelet. Making the event more special was the presence of Ms. Miller’s family. It was nice to see her celebrate with them.

Every Golden Apple Award Winner is deserving, but it’s always special when the winner is retiring. Congrats to Kristi Miller for three decades of service, and for teaching countless young minds in that time. We wish you the best in retirement.

To nominate your favorite teacher, click here.

February 2017 Jan Dils Attorneys at Law Golden Apple Award Winner Selected

The February 2017 Jan Dils Golden Apple Award was awarded to Courtney Clark of Warren Local Schools. Clark is the band director for both Warren High School and Warren Middle School. Clark was praised for being dedicated to his student and his ability to teach new techniques to the band. In addition to music techniques, he also tries to teach his students compassion, inclusion, and respect and tries to make his students feel like they belong.

We congratulate Mr. Clark on his hard work. To nominate your favorite teacher for the Jan Dils Golden Apple Award, click the link: http://www.thenewscenter.tv/content/survey/3707336.html.

What You Need to Know About Rental Car Recalls

Last year I rented approximately 12 cars. This year I plan to rent just as many. I enjoy renting because there is far less wear and tear on my own car. I am also in the market for a new vehicle. So, renting allows me to do more than just test drive a car, I get to spend a few days with a potential car. Honestly, my joy of renting goes far beyond testing cars. When I pull up to my local Enterprise location I channel Ryan Bingham from the film “Up in the Air.” They sometimes allow me to choose my own car, and it feels almost Godlike. Maybe I take things a bit too far at the rental agency, but it’s one of my few joys in life. I recently found out some troubling news that made renting a little less majestic. Until the spring of last year, rental car companies did not have to abide by recall notices. In other words, they could rent cars to people that were possibly dangerous.

First the good news; it’s no longer allowed. It’s federal law now that a rental car company must fix any recalled car before it’s rented out to the public. Once again, until the late spring of 2016, it was common practice to rent defective cars to individuals. In the past, there were several cases of individuals dying as a result of renting a recalled car. However, the case that eventually led to the federal law occurred 10 years ago. In 2004 Raechel and Jacqueline Houck were killed when the cabin of their rented Chrysler PT Cruiser when it filled with the smoke. The driver was blinded by the smoke, lost control, crossed the median, and struck a semi truck. The parents of the victims sued Enterprise Rent-a-Car citing negligence. The PT Cruiser was involved in a recall one month prior to the rental. There was an issue with a leaky power steering hose that could result in a fire. That is what occurred with these two victims, and eventually, Enterprise admitted to their wrongdoing. In 2010 the parents were awarded $15 million dollars in damages.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely dealt with a safety recall before. Most people know that the cost of these repairs are covered by the manufacturer. This includes the recall issued by Chrysler back in 2004 for the PT Cruiser. If that is the case, why didn’t Enterprise have the vehicle fixed? The following was originally published in a findlaw.com blog in 2010:

According to a sworn statement by Mark Matias, manager of Enterprise’s Northern California area, it was regular company procedure to go ahead and rent a recalled car, even before the repair work had been done. Matais said the known company policy was this, “you’ve got to keep booking because you don’t know when you are going to get a car back. But then, of course, you run short on vehicles, and if all you have are recalled vehicles on the lot, you rent them out. It was a given. The whole company did it.”

Matais concluded, “If a priority recall appears on the computer screen in the rental office, the employee is required to write the word ‘recall’ on a Post-it note and place it on the key in an area designated for non-rentals, but nothing prevents an employee from renting that vehicle.”

Twelve years later, thanks in part to efforts made by the parents of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, it’s illegal for a rental company with more than 35 cars in their fleet to rent you a defective car. Unfortunately, it’s not illegal for a dealer to sell you a car with recall notices.

If you’ve been injured because of a defective vehicle, give us a call today for a free consultation and take some time to learn about the services we offer. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we’ll call you at a better time.

January 2017 Golden Apple Award Winner Announced

In late January 2017, the PHS Fieldhouse was packed with students anticipating the next Jan Dils Attorneys Law Golden Apple Award. Since its inception more than a decade ago, Parkersburg High has only had one teacher claim the honor, and that occurred late in 2016. Repeat schools are nothing new to the award, but for an institution to have two winners so close together, they’d have to be stellar. That was the case when we announced Lori Zyla was the winner.

Golden Apple Award winners often wear multiple hats, and Zyla is no different. She is currently the Theater teacher and she is also the Speech and Debate Team coach. Both roles keep her busy long after the last school bell rings on Friday. Between Speech Tournaments, Theater productions and competitions, Mrs. Zyla goes above and beyond with her students.

It should come as no surprise that Lori was nominated by one of her students. Mrs. Zyla is an inspiration to her students and the entire school. This was obvious by the applause she received as her name was announced. It’s teachers like Mrs. Zyla that make us proud to sponsor the Golden Apple Award. Keep up the great work Lori!

What You Need to Know About Punitive Damages

I was struggling to find something to write about today. I went to lunch to clear my mind. I drove to my closest McDonalds to fill up on some Chicken McNuggets and fries. As I was sitting in line, waiting to get my food, I knew what I was going to write about when I returned to the office.

The world was a much different place in 1992. The war in the Persian Gulf was behind us, the Summer Olympics were on their way to Barcelona (whatever happened to Dan vs. Dave,) and we were introduced to Crystal Pepsi. However, it was another beverage that made headlines in 1992. One hot cup of coffee would change the way a nation looked at lawsuits.

Even if you weren’t alive in 1992 you probably know something about the lawsuit involving McDonald’s and an older lady who spilled coffee on herself. It’s just another case of someone making millions because of their own negligence, right? Well, not exactly. What most people know is the bad early 90’s comedian version of that lawsuit. It’s far from the truth. There is a good chance that most of what you know about that case is wrong. However, Jay Leno and the writers of Jerry Seinfeld didn’t take the time to fact check the case. Laughs were more important.

In February 1992, Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee onto herself and suffered 3rd-degree burns on 6% of her body. She was hospitalized for 8 days and had to receive skin grafts. The coffee Stella was served was 158 degrees. At the time, a Cincinnati burn center warned that anything over 130 degrees is dangerous.

Stella originally offered to settle the case for $20,000 to cover the cost of her medical bills. McDonald’s refused that offer, and the case went to trial. The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonalds’ coffee sales. Eventually, Ms. Liebeck settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Most people just assume the facts of that case were that someone spilled coffee on themselves and received millions of dollars. While we aren’t sure early how much she received, she did not ask for a million dollars originally. She was awarded punitive damages (which damage amount was altered, too). Punitive damages is the key thing to take away from this case. Do you know what punitive damages are? Honestly, until I worked for a law firm I did not know much about punitive damages. Think of them as a way to punish a person, group, or organization for negligence. According to the Cornell University School of Law, punitive damages are awarded in addition to actual damages in certain circumstances. Punitive damages are considered punishment and are awarded when the defendant’s behavior is found to be especially harmful. In this case, the punitive damages were awarded because McDonald’s showed negligence and had ignored hundreds of prior complaints about their coffee. Punitive damages are traditionally awarded in situations in which a person or organization acted with gross negligence or they had some sort of intentional misconduct.

A personal injury case, especially one that may involve punitive damages, can be difficult. The right attorney can help you navigate your way through the maze. Call us today for a FREE consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

How Do Auxiliary Benefits Work in Social Security?

Social Security disability is often confusing. Further, there are a ton of special programs and rules that many people don’t realize exist. Recently, while talking Lawyer and Clientwith one of our senior employees, one of these common situations came up. She asked me if I knew anything about “auxiliary benefits.” I must have had a confused look on my face because she immediately started to explain them to me. As I returned to my desk later I realized that if I was confused by this, then surely a lot of our clients were confused by the term too. So, I did what I always do in a situation like this, I turned to Google.

Let’s get the easy part out of the way. What are auxiliary benefits? Essentially, auxiliary benefits are paid to dependent spouses and children of individuals receiving social security.

Who is eligible? This program is only for those individuals pursuing SSDI, not SSI. SSI applicants are not eligible for auxiliary benefits. For a dependent spouse to receive auxiliary benefits, they must be at least 62 years old or have a child who is either under the age of 16 or disabled. For a child to receive auxiliary benefits, they must be a minor (under 18) be found completely disabled before turning 22 or be a high school student under the age of 19.

You may also wonder how much a person will receive when they are granted auxiliary benefits. For the most part, an eligible dependent can receive up to 50% of the disabled person’s benefits. For instance, if a mother was granted SSDI at a rate of $800 per month, her dependent child could likely receive $400 per month. It’s important to note that there is a cap on how much a family can receive. This is referred to as a family maximum. Traditionally, auxiliary benefits are payable to spouses and children of disabled workers.be aware that these benefits are limited. The family maximum for the family of a disabled worker is 85 percent of the worker’s Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). However, it cannot be less than the worker’s PIA (primary insurance amount) nor more than 150 percent of the PIA.

Auxiliary benefits can be very beneficial for a large family, a single parent, or really anyone with dependents. It’s important to remember that these benefits can be altered if your family size changes. For instance, if you have a child, your benefits may go up. If your child leaves for college or reaches an age higher than the set limit, your benefits may go down.

If you weren’t aware that you could receive auxiliary benefits, or if you did, but need assistance with your claim, give us a call. We’d love to talk to you. Our consultation is free. Just call via our toll-free number, 1-877-526-3457. Or, if you can’t call right now, fill out this form, and we will call you at a better time.

Springtime Driving Hazards

It’s March here in West Virginia, and that can only mean one thing; the weather will change practically on the hour. Many people only think that winter brings driving hazards, but that’s not true. The onset of spring can cause trouble for a lot of motorists too. The flowers may be in bloom, and the birds may be chirping, but that does not mean that the roads are any safer. Let’s look at some driving hazards motorists need to be aware of in spring.
1. Changing weather conditions. We had a very mild winter this year and I am the first to kick on a pair of shorts for the spring. However, weather patterns during this time of year fluctuate quite a bit. We can have bright sunshine one day with temperatures in the mid 60’s while the next day may see snow flurries and temperatures below freezing. These sudden changes can catch a lot of drivers off guard. Further, with the onset of more rain in the early spring, and continuing low temperatures, there is still a major possibility for black ice.
2. Keeping excess rain in mind, flooding of rural roadways is quite common in the spring. A flooded roadway is a danger for many reasons. Obviously, if the water is deep enough, your car can be carried away by the current, and a driver can easily be killed by this neglect. However, even a roadway that is barely covered by water can have many hidden dangers. There may be hidden debris in the road, large pot holes, or even missing pieces of the road.
3. Distracted driving is still a problem in the spring. You’ve likely heard countless times about how so many people use their phones while driving. However, warm weather brings out the old school distracted drivers too. As the weather becomes more pleasant, drivers are more apt to roll their windows down, turn their stereos up, and pay less attention to the road in front of them.
4. Animals don’t take the spring off. If you live here in West Virginia, you are used to deer terrorizing our roadways. Most people associate these animals with the fall, however, they are still a hazard. Other animals are also more prominent during the spring. Some animals may be coming out of hibernation during the spring, and thus are more active, and likely to be crossing the road during the spring.
5. After a long winter people are suffering from cabin fever and have a desire to leave their homes. This means people are more active on the roadways. People are more likely walking on the roads and engaging in outdoor activities. You may encounter more people riding bikes and motorcycles.
6. Poorly maintained vehicles. After a long winter, many people have worn out parts on their cars that need replacing. People may have windshield wipers that need repair, worn brakes, even bald tires. Too often a motorist will let these repairs go because they don’t associate spring with poor driving conditions.
7. Severe storms are more likely to occur between March and May. This means that there is a greater chance for fallen trees, downed power lines, and other road hazards. Further, driving in severe storms can be difficult due to visibility.
Take some time this year to make sure your car is in good driving condition and be sure to make yourself aware of these additional road hazards this spring. A little preventative maintenance can go a long way. Making a plan before you leave, and avoiding driving in adverse conditions can also be beneficial. If you are involved in an accident, be sure to give us a call to learn about the services we provide. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form to talk to one of our associates at a more convenient time.