Bankruptcy Stay

“I have an existing case which seems to be taking forever to settle. I was told there is a stay or hold on the case because one of the defendants is in bankruptcy. How long can a case be stayed?”

When we initially consult with clients, we try to give clients a range of how long their case might be around until it is resolved. This is far from an exact science, but based upon the case type, likely venue, and decades of experience, we are able to give people a good faith range. However, when one of the defendants files for bankruptcy protection, this puts a hold on the case until the bankruptcy case is resolved in some fashion.

A bankruptcy is settled when the creditors agrees to a plan to pay off debts, or the debtor files for liquidation to get rid of their debt. Either of these options take years, and all the while, the personal injury case sits idle. We normally advise our clients to go to the bankruptcy court and petition to lift the stay to the extent of available insurance. This limits the personal injury recovery to the extent of insurance (whether it is $1 million or $25,000), but it moves the personal injury case toward settlement. This is normally in the injured party’s interest because if the defendant is already bankrupt, the odds of collecting a judgment against such a defendant are minimal.

Bankrupt defendants must be handled quickly and professionally. The attorney must file a ‘proof of claim’ with the bankruptcy court when she or he learns of the bankruptcy. The attorney will also have to file a stipulation or possibly a motion in bankruptcy court to lift the stay.

I will share one story of a prior case with our office of one of the longest running cases we had. In this particular case, after some initial discovery, one of the defendants filed for a bankruptcy stay putting the case on hold. The defendant was a business entity and it took some time to lift the stay in bankruptcy court.  Unfortunately, when the stay was lifted on the defendant, the defendant’s insurer went bankrupt. There was another stay until the New York Liquidation Bureau took over the case from the bankrupt insurer and eventually the client received a settlement. But this case was an extreme outlier.

Length of Time for Settlements

“How long does it takes to get an insurance company settlement?”

There is no one answer for every case.  Cases in certain counties tend to move more quickly than cases in other counties. This is true for both New York as well as New Jersey.

The common types of personal injury cases like car accidents and trip and fall accidents tend to move the quickest. The less common cases like contruction accidents or medical malpractice claims usually take longer.

We tell our clients that most car accidents cases and trip and fall claims brought in Supreme Court, Richmond County settle in between two to three years.  Some cases settle more quickly, some take longer. But there are so many different factors that determine how long litigation takes until a trial or settlement, that it is not fair to give a specific length of time for litigation, especially without knowing the particulars of your case.

Worker’s Compensation claimants may receive no settlement at all. Such settlements only occur when the claimant’s medical conditions have stabilized and the doctor submits a report commenting on disability. There is no set time how long a medical condition takes to stabilize. Furthermore, unlike cases brought in Supreme Court, there are formulas that the Componsation Board uses to calculate the amount of a settlement. (The amount of the settlement is computed on a case by case basis.)

Liens on Accident Claims

If my medical bills were paid by insurance, do I have to pay back the insurance company from my personal injury settlement?”

There is no short answer to this question.  When someone is injured in an accident, they need immediate medical trereatment.  There is no time to wait for a personal injury case settlement which coulkd take years. Medical providers like to be paid for their services rendered. So in almost all accident cases, there is some insurance entity paying the bills for medical treatment. The question really is, will that entity that paid for medical treatment have to be repaid for those medical billls it paid?

Generally, for car accident cases, there would be no lien (but there are certain cases where you do have to pay back medical bills paid by insurance).

For many claims involving innuries on the job, the Worker’s Compensation Carrier who paid the bills would have to be repaid. The amount of that lien would be reduced by proportional amount of legal fee and disbursements. (This would mean the reduction of the lien would be at least one-third of the total lien. (But there are certain types of Worker’s Compensation liens could be waived entirely, but that depends on the type of accident.)

For those accidents covered by Medicare, there is a lien and Medicare would have to be repaid for medical bills covered. But, just like Worker’s Compensation Carriers, Medicare will reduce its lien based on the amount of legal fee and disbursments.

For many other cases, there is no lien. It is difficult to understand the lien reductions without specific facts. But the best answer to the original question would be that there could be a medical lien reduction or waiver, but it really depends on the specific facts of your case.

Personal Injury and Worker’s Compensation

“What does my Worker’s Compensation claim have to do with my law suit for personal injuries?”

The question is not specific about the type of case you have. There are many different types of cases that have both a lawsuit and a Worker’s Compensation claim. This article will cover two of the more common types of claims.

One type of case occurs when a person is injured in a motor vehicle accident on the job. A person who is making a delivery on the job would be a typical case. When that person is injured making a delivery they have two potential claims. One claim is for medical expenses and lost wages through Worker’s Compensation paid for through the employer’s insurance carrier. A second claim for pain and suffering is made against the wrong doer who caused the accident. A person who makes a claim for pain and suffering cannot collect a settlement without the consent of the Worker’s Compensation carrier. In the case of a motor vehicle accident, that consent is easily obtained as long as the Compensation carrier pays the same benefits as motor vehicle no-fault insurance carrier.

A second type of case occurs when a person is injured on the job in a trip and fall accident. A construction worker who falls at a construction site would be a typical case. That construction worker also has two claims. One claim is for medical expenses and lost wages through Worker’s Compensation paid for through the employer’s insurance carrier. A second claim for pain and suffering is made against the wrong doer who caused the accident. In a construction site accident, that wrong doer is typically a general contractor. In the case of a construction site accident, the Compensation carrier has a lien on the recovery from the personal injury suit. Your attorney can work to reduce that lien, but section 29 of the New York Worker’s Compensation Law entitles Compensation Carriers to the lien and the injured worker risks obtaining Compensation benefits in the future if the lien is ignored.

There are many more details left out of this discussion, but you should know that there is a relationship between Compensation claims and personal injury claims because the legislature said so. To ignore this relationship could jeopardize future Compensation benefits.