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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.

5 Tips to make the Social Security Process Simpler

We know that no one pursues a Social Security disability claim because they think the experience is going to be fun. In fact, it’s the furthest thing from fun. FilingWhy does Social Security Have a 5 Month Waiting Period for Social Security disability is going to be long, frustrating, and at times, it may even upset you. Sure, maybe it’s not as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest or exploring Antarctica. However, when you think about what you are actually doing when you file for social security, it can be downright scary.  Simply, if you’re filing for Social Security disability, your future is really dependent upon the outcome of your claim. Don’t fret, though, there are some ways to make things less scary and put you at ease. In the past, we called these things tips. Now, people refer to them as hacks. Regardless, here are 5 ways/tips/hacks to make your disability claim process simpler.

  1. Ask questions. It’s just like going to the doctor or learning a new subject in school. It’s important to ask questions. Asking will help you better understand the process. A lot of people hesitate to ask questions because they are afraid of sounding unintelligent. There is no need to worry about that. The person you’re speaking to at the SSA may be well versed in social security disability, but they too have been in situations that were unfamiliar to them. I consider myself to be very knowledgeable about cars. However, when I go to the mechanic, I still ask plenty of questions so that I better understand what repairs are being made to my car. Keep in mind, part of the job of the people you deal with at the SSA is answering your questions.
  2. There are so many good online resources for social security disability. Even the SSA website has good information. Researching topics within social security will help you better understand what will happen. Our firm, Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law, started practicing back in 1994. Over the past 22 years, we’ve heard a lot of the same questions from new social security clients. So, we decided to make a book to help people learn the basics of social security. It’s really helpful, and many of our clients have claimed to understand more about the process once they read the book. If you’d like a FREE copy of this book, click here to request one.
  3. Talk to people who have been through the process before. You’ll often hear us say that every case is different. That is true. However, a lot of cases have a lot of the same aspects too. Talking to someone who has been through the process before will help you in many ways. First, it will help you realize that you’re not alone. This can be a friend, a family member, or any person who has been through the process. I’ve had several family members file social security Now, they often help each other. This is especially helpful when a younger person files.
  4. Get continuous treatment. Regardless if you’ve just filed your claim, if you’ve been denied, or if it’s months after you were approved, continuous treatment will be beneficial for your case at all stages. The way any person gets approved for social security is by means of medical evidence. Some argue it’s the most important part of any case. Often, the more medical evidence you have the better it is for your Plus, better understanding your disability will help you better communicate with people at the SSA.
  5. Look into hiring an attorney. Granted, we are a little biased here, but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe it helped people. Also, after 20 years, and thousands of satisfied clients, we must be doing something right. However, hiring an attorney isn’t just about winning or losing a claim. It’s about peace of mind. For instance, we can assist clients with filing claims, fill out paperwork, pursue appeals, representation at hearings, and much more. Plus, each of our clients is assigned case managers to help them with questions every step of the way.

While the process can be daunting, review these 5 tips to see if they will help you. Try implementing them. Start with one of the simpler tasks, like researching social security disability online, and then go from there. If you want to know what it’s like to have an attorney, call us. We’d be happy to give you a free consultation. Just click here, or call 1-877-526-3457.

What are survivor benefits?

If there is one thing in the world that I wish nobody had to endure, it would be the loss of a loved one. Having to cope with this loss can be emotionally and financially overwhelming.

What does this have to do with Social Security Disability?  Well I was reading on the Social Security website that under certain circumstances you could receive your loved ones benefits if they worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits themselves.

This, by no means, makes the loss any better or easier. However, being able to receive these financial benefits can ease the stress that losing your loved one can create.

Who can get these benefits?  This might include the widow or widower, the deceased’s minor or disabled child, and in some cases, the surviving divorced spouse can be eligible to receive survivor’s benefits.

If there are any questions on if you qualify for this type of benefits or any questions regarding Social Security Disability, please do not hesitate to call us at 877-526-3457 or visit our web page at www.jandils.com.

Jon Corra Bio

Jon has been with Jan Dils Attorneys at Law for over five years. In his current role, Jon is a VA Leads Specialist, and a Social Media Specialist. In December 2011, Jon Received his Masters Degree in corporate Communication from West Virginia University. Jon also has an RBA in Criminal Justice and Communications from West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

In his spare time, Jon is an avid Hockey fan. He loves watching the Pittsburgh Penguins play, and tries to make it to games in person as much as possible. In addition to hockey, Jon also enjoys mountain bike riding, watching documentaries, and spending time with friends.
When describing his employment with the firm, Jon Stated the Following: “I was drawn to Jan Dils Attorneys at Law because of their work with Veterans. I admire those who serve our country so much, and really enjoy interacting with Veterans. I never imagined that while working in this firm, I would get to know so many unique individuals.”

A Simple Guide to the Social Security Timeline

I was just interacting with one of our Social Security clients who received a favorable decision after two and a half years. He was happy and relieved to finally get his

get this good news. This made me think about a question that we receive from a lot of our clients. They often ask me: “How long does a Social Security Claim take?”

Most often the answer to the question above is simply “a long time.” While that short answer is true, it is not very helpful. It is also important to remember that no two claims are exactly the same. Some people get approved after their initial decision; others take many more years than average. The following timeline is based off our nearly two decades doing Social Security claims. It can be a very helpful tool for anyone going through the Social Security process.

Once you have applied, the process can take two years or even longer. Here’s how the process works:

Initial Application: Once you’ve submitted your initial application with all the appropriate paperwork, the SSA will contact your doctors and get additional information about your medical abilities. It takes 3-5 months for the SSA to process your initial claim. The great majority of initial claims are denied.

Appeals: You then have 60 days to appeal the decision by filing a Request for Reconsideration.

Reconsideration Process: The reconsideration process takes on average another 4-6 months. About three fourths of all claims are denied again at this point.

Appeals: You have another 60 days to appeal this decision by filing a Request for Hearing.

Hearing: It can take 12-36 months to have a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

So, if your claim is denied at the first two levels (most claims are), it can take two years or longer to actually gain approval. While we can’t speed up the Disability process, give us a call today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457 You can also fill out this form, and we can contact you.

 

Jenny Cochran Bio

Jenny Cochran has been with the Jan Dils Team for just over four years. Jenny started out in our Case Management Pod, and recently moved into the role of Outlining Specialist. The one element of Case Management she missed was working with the clients one on one, so writing for our all new blog was a natural fit. Jenny is eager to learn as much as she can as she hopes to go to law school soon. In her spare time, Jenny loves going to concerts, watching Netflix, and spending time with her friends and family. Jenny’s coworkers are quick to point out that she has a fantastic sense of humor and a wonderful personality.

What You Need for Your SSA Disability Interview

As you’re preparing for your Disability Interview with the Social Security Administration (SSA), there are plenty of details you need to be knowledgeable about as well as documentation you need to have prepared ahead of time. The following information is important to have whether your interview takes place in person or over the phone:

Your medical records. This includes copies of X-rays, lab and other test results, treatment plans and other files from your healthcare providers regarding your disabling medical condition. Your providers’ offices usually have all of this information saved and easy to produce for you. The more evidence that proves this condition affects your daily activities and renders you unable to work, the better your chances of approval will be.

Medical release form. This is form SSA-827, which will authorize your healthcare providers to release necessary information to the SSA as they conduct their investigation.

Details about any workers’ compensation awarded. If you’ve received workers’ compensation, you will need to provide documentation such as the date you were injured, claim number, the terms of your settlement agreement, along with proof of any disability payment amounts you have received.

Family information. The SSA will need to know the names and birthdates of your spouse and minor children, along with the dates of any marriages and divorces.

 

Financial information. This includes your bank account numbers (checking and savings accounts) plus the bank’s routing number.

 

Emergency contact. The name, phone number and address of an individual the SSA can contact if they cannot reach you after repeated attempts.

 

Other forms. If you have problems filing for benefits online, be sure to bring a copy of all necessary SSA forms you have not submitted, including the “Medical and Job Worksheet.”

 

On that note, we strongly recommend keeping a folder with copies of all relevant medical documents, a timeline of events associated with the onset of your disabling condition, along with any correspondence you have with the SSA.

 

For more tips like this and relevant forms that will help you prepare for your SSA Disability Interview, you can request your free copy of Attorney Jan Dils’ book, Getting the Social Security Benefits You Deserve, by clicking here: http://www.jandils.com/book-request-form/

Why Medical Care Must Come Before Social Security Disability Benefits

If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, it’s imperative that you are first under the regular care of a physician and following any prescribed treatments to support your claim. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • The SSA decision makers will be less inclined to believe your disabling condition is serious if you are not being seeking professional care to help you treat or manage its symptoms.
  • Your case is built on documented evidence from licensed healthcare professionals and their credible medical opinions regarding your ability to work. The SSA will not base their decision solely on your testimony.

Finances should not be a factor in receiving adequate healthcare; today, there are an abundance of healthcare facilities that are free, low-cost or will work with your budget or insurance plan to come up with a feasible plan. Another option that may fit your case is a Consultative Exam, a free exam ordered by the SSA to be conducted by a healthcare professional they have contracted for additional medical information.

But again, in disability cases, your chances of success will always be higher with tangible medical records and the opinion of a licensed expert who is familiar with your history and the details surrounding your disabling condition.

If you or a loved one are suffering from a disabling condition and believe you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, contact us today for a 100% free and confidential legal consultation, either by phone or at one of our five West Virginia offices — in Parkersburg, Charleston, Logan, Huntington or Beckley – and Charlotte, NC.

You can call toll free, 1.877.526.3457, or send us an e-mail for a prompt response.