LaBre on Law

Short Stories on Michigan and Indiana Law

Month: January, 2013

Sue ’em Now

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“Here’s the papers, Mr. LaBre. I’ve been sued in Elkhart for $750,000 for my medical expenses from my auto accident ten months ago. What do I do now?”

“That’s a lot of money”, I said. “What happened?”

“Well, I was on the Indiana Toll Road, and a semi out of Indianapolis rearended me. It crushed the car. Two of my ribs and my two legs were broken. One of the ribs pierced a lung. I don’t have health insurance. It’s just now that I’m able to be up and about, and able to go back to work. Then I get hit with this lawsuit. I can’t afford that!”

“Where were you living when the collision happened?”

“In Edwardsburg”.

“Was your car fully insured?”

“Sure”.

“Have you contacted your car insurance company regarding your medical bills?”

“I spoke to my agent about my car being totaled, but that’s all. The insurance company hasn’t even paid for that yet.”

“Well, you made it just in time. You see, under the Michigan “No-Fault” Law, you’re entitled to have all of your medical expenses from the collision paid by your car insurance. That coverage will last for the rest of your life. You’re also entitled to receive up to the first three years in lost wages from work, and other  rehabilitation benefits.

“However, Michigan law has very strict limits on the time for seeking these benefits.

“First, you must file a written claim with your insurance company not later than one year from the date of the accident giving the details of the accident. If that written claim is not filed with the insurance company itself, and not just the insurance agent, then you are forever barred from collecting one dime in no fault benefits. Your agent may have filed that claim for you, but you need to be sure that it’s filed with the insurance company. Get a written verification of that filing.

“Secondly, even if you file a claim regarding the accident, you must file a second claim with the insurance company giving copies of the specific medical bills from the collision which you want paid. Even though you have lifetime benefits if you timely file a claim for the accident itself, you must also file a second claim for those benefits. If the claim is not paid, you must file a lawsuit against the insurance company. From the date when you incur the medical expenses, or lose wages, you only have one year from that date to both file a claim for benefits and file the lawsuit if the benefits are not paid.

“Let me get this straight”, he said. “I have to file two claims, one for the accident itself within the first year, and another claim for the medical bills and lost wages. Is that right?”

“Correct”.

“And if I don’t file the claim about the accident itself within the first year, I get nothing, ever.”

“Right.”

“And, I have to file a second claim, and then sue if not paid, for the medical benefits and lost wages within one year from the time when I incurred the bills.”

“Yes”.

“What if I forget?”

“Oh Well. You lose any benefits which are more than a year old when you file the suit for the benefits.”

“So what do I do with this $750,000 lawsuit?”

“We’ll file both the claim for the accident, and the claim for the medical bills and lost wages, with the insurance company today. Meantime, I’ll call the attorney for the $750,000 lawsuit, explain what’s happening, and see if the case can be put on hold temporarily. If not, we’ll join the insurance company in the suit against you.”

“What about the truck that hit me?”

“You’ve got two years from the date of the accident to file that suit. Don’t worry, that’s next”.

 

No Privileged Parents

PLEASE WAIT HERE

PLEASE WAIT HERE (Photo credit: brentdanley)

It was midmorning and I was in the middle of typing a motion on my computer when our secretary, Terrie, suddenly spoke over the law office’s intercom, “Attorney Robert?”

“Yes Terrie,” I said.

“Your 10:30 appointment is ready,” she said.

“I’ll be right down,” I said.

My office is on the second floor, immediately above the main entrance and Terrie’s office.  I saved my motion, minimized the word processor, and then clicked on the day’s calendar to review the notes regarding my next appointment.

Terrie wrote in the calendar that my client’s name is Zach, that he is eighteen years of age, and that he is seeing me because he was recently charged with larceny of property valued over $1,000.00 in Michigan, which is a felony.

“Oh boy,” I said to myself, and then went downstairs to welcome my new client.

When I turned to enter the waiting room I saw two people sitting together: a young man, who I assumed was my client, Zach, and a middle aged woman, who I assumed to be Zach’s mother.

They both stood up as I entered the room.  I reached out my hand to the young man, and said, “Hi, I’m attorney Robert LaBre, you must be Zach.”

“Yeah,” he said in a quiet, nervous voice as he shook my hand.

“And you are?” I asked the woman as I reached out my hand for her to shake.

“I’m Joanne, Zach’s mother,” she said as she shook my hand.  “Can we begin?”  She said.

“Not quite yet,” I replied.  “Let’s all have a seat for a second.”

We all sat down in the waiting room.

Looking at both Zach and Joanne, I asked, “Have either of you ever heard of the attorney-client privilege?”

Both of them shook their head no.

“This is the first time either myself or my son have ever met a lawyer on a professional basis,” Joanne said.

“Okay,” I said.  “Both of you understand that the attorney-client relationship is built upon trust, right?”

Both of them shook their head yes.

“And both of you understand that what is said between the attorney and the client must be the truth—otherwise we can’t properly assess your case.”

Both of them shook their head yes.

“Well, the law understands that the truth is tough to get at, especially when two people meet for the first time, like us right now,” I said.  “That’s why Michigan has the attorney-client privilege.  Think of it like a protective box surrounding this office.  Nothing that is said within the attorney-client privilege can be discovered by the prosecutor, or anyone else for that matter.”

“What does that mean?”  Zach asked.

“It means that when you and I speak together upstairs, you can tell me everything that happened without worrying that I may repeat it to someone else, or later be required to testify about what is said in court,” I replied.

“That’s cool,” Zach said.

“I think so too,” I said.  “But the privilege has limits:  it doesn’t extend to parents and their children.”

Joanne’s eyes and voice hardened, “What does that mean?”

“It means that if you come upstairs with Zach and I, with Zach’s consent, then Zach will have waived his attorney-client privilege under the law.”  I replied.  “In short, the prosecutor could require both you and I to testify about everything Zach says.”

“But I’m his mother.”  Joanne said.  “I’m the one paying for your representation.  And you’re telling me that I can’t be a part of the interview to help and guide my son through this?”

“Well, you can participate with the interview,”  I said.  “But Zach will be waiving the attorney-client privilege.  I don’t care if he waives his privilege, but I at least want him to do so knowingly—it’s a big risk.”

Turning to Zach, I then said, “And just so we’re clear, I don’t recommend that you allow your mother to come upstairs, especially since you’ve apparently been charged with a felony.”

Joanne then looked at Zach and asked, “What do you want me to do sweetie?”

“I think you should wait down here, Mom.”

Joanne turned to me, “Do I have a say on the decisions that are made during the course of the case?”

“No.  The rules of professional conduct for attorneys restrict the decisions to your son, who will be my client.  That’s true even though you are paying his legal fees.”

“I understand,” Joanne said.  “And thank you for explaining all this to us.”

“No problem.”

Then I stood up, looked down at Zach, and said, “Let’s get to work.”

“Know What You Sign”

0516-lawyers

Over twenty-five years ago I wrote a weekly column entitled “LaBre On Law”. I had been practicing law long enough by then to know that most people did not understand much about the law, and got into trouble due to that ignorance.

Since that time the law has changed. People who read my columns then have grown older. My son, Robert, who then had just started preschool, became a Recon Marine, graduated from college with honors, has published in the Michigan Bar Journal, and is now a lawyer working with me at the LaBre Law Office. Between us, we have decided to resume this weekly column in the hope that all who read it will gain in knowledge and be helped in navigating the rules which govern our society.

– – – – – – –

“Mr. LaBre”, he said, “look at this letter from that lawyer! It says that I owe $50,000.  It says that I have to keep paying on that time share condo, even though I don’t go there anymore. It even says that, if I don’t pay, there’s interest, late charges, assessments and attorney fees. That lawyer wants me to pay $5,000 right now, or he’ll sue me for the whole $50,000, and ask for attorney fees on top of it.

“All I wanted was a vacation spot for my family. I thought, when I signed it, that if I didn’t want to use the time share any more, then I could just quit paying. I didn’t know about all of that other stuff; no one explained it to me. Do I have to pay?”

“Let me see the papers”, I said. “Unless I read the documents, I don’t know what you signed.”

I read through the papers; sure enough, everything that he said was in the documents.

“Well”, I said, “that Lawyer is right. Michigan has a law, called the “Condominium Act”. That law authorizes everything that is in the papers you showed me.”

“But no one explained this to me when I signed. That’s not fair! They should have explained all of this to me.”

“This is one of the ways in which the law has changed”, I replied. “Now, the law says that, unless you’re incompetent, if you sign it, and it’s legal, you’re bound to it.”

“But doesn’t the salesman have to tell me what I’m signing?”

“No, he doesn’t. The salesman can’t lie to you about what’s in the document. But the salesman doesn’t have to explain what’s in it. You have to read what you sign, and, if you don’t understand it, take the document to your lawyer. If you don’t take it to your lawyer, and you sign it anyway, Oh Well. You’re bound to what you sign.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Let’s talk about it. First, tell me all about the condo” I said