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How veterans often lose big in car accident cases

May 25, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Lawyers make three common mistakes that hurt veterans’ legal recoveries in car accident lawsuits

Veterans in car accidents

Memorial Day is the day that we honor our fallen heroes. And with veterans on my mind today, I turn my thoughts to yet one more way these men and women who serve far too often fail to receive what they’ve been promised.

Last month, I put together and moderated an advanced auto accident seminar. One of the topics I put on the agenda is how veterans injured in auto accidents often lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in their lawsuits.

The reason isn’t deliberate. But it lies with inexperienced injury attorneys who fail to recognize additional legal claims and economic losses that veterans are entitled to bring in these lawsuits when they suffer serious injury.

Below, I’m detailing three of these mistakes. My hope is that by sharing this information with other attorneys and bringing attention to this topic at legal seminars for auto accident lawyers, that the profession becomes better educated on economic loss claims that cost U.S. military and veterans an enormous amount of what they’re entitled after a crash.

Sadly, the problem lies with knowledge about special benefits that military personnel are entitled because so many  lawyers haven’t been educated or don’t have a military background. So they aren’t attuned to looking at cases involving U.S. military and veterans for the full amount of military economic compensation.

Here are the three most common mistakes inexperienced lawyers make with auto accident cases involving veterans:

  1. They fail to understand that military also includes active National Guard and reserve U.S. Army. Not only are Reservists and Guard members entitled to many of the same benefits as active-duty troops, but they’re also entitled to many of the additional economic benefits I detail below.
  2. They believe these are ordinary civil cases involving auto accidents with military plaintiffs—  not military cases.
  3. They do not understand the loss of a military career can mean enormous financial loss that ordinary civilians would not be entitled to because of special benefits that U.S. military and veterans receive.

That failure by an attorney on behalf of an active or reserve member of the military means enormous financial losses that this individual would have otherwise been entitled to recover in a personal injury lawsuit.

Many lawyers do not understand economic losses for veterans and U.S. military

Lawyers must consider the following typical economic losses.

Military compensation includes:

  • Base pay (salary based on rank and length of service);
  • Special pay (aviation, parachutist, etc.);
  • Non-taxable allowances (housing, food);
  • Retired pay (a lifetime “defined benefit” plan that is adjusted for inflation); and
  • Family medical insurance benefits (rich benefit; little or no cost to service member).

Calculating economic losses (properly)

Here’s a quick summary on how to calculate these economic losses for veterans and military members.

Qualitative assessment: Characterize pre-injury service to reliably predict the course of career, but for injury.

Quantitative assessment: Graphical display of probable career, including:

  • Promotions in rank (using service statistics);
  • Amount of active service prior to retirement (Special importance in case of Reserve or National Guard);
  • Project Retirement benefits lost or reduced; and
  • Cost of replacing military health insurance.

Tips for injury lawyers

The takeaway for attorneys handling auto accident cases for veterans or active military members, National Guard and Reserves is to remember that these cases can involve significant economic loss that ordinary civilians are not entitled.

The attorney must work with an economist who is familiar with these benefits, and/or consider hiring a special military expert who can testify what this individual would have been entitled to receive if he or she had not been injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Remember, your attorney has the burden of proof.  That means the elements of these damages must be supported in litigation. These elements and legal proofs will often include the following:

  • “Quality” of pre-injury service;
  • Specific nature of expected service but for injury; and
  • Calculations of immediate and future loss that are based on law and service regulation including:
    o    Pay and allowances,
    o    Retirement benefits, and
    o    Military medical insurance benefits.

This has bothered me for years. As I said, it bothered me so much that I made this a specific  opic at my last big legal seminar. It’s incredible just how many attorneys miss these claims because they just don’t even know these additional pay and pension benefits even exist.

On this Memorial Day, justice and respect for the men and women who serve demands that we as a profession do a better job of proving  all of the harms, losses and damages that they’re are entitled.

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