I JUST GOT FIRED FROM MY JOB… HELP!

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For today’s blog post I’m switching gears from auto accidents, and addressing a topic that will effect all of us in one way or another at some point in our lives: employment.  I receive countless calls and questions from people about their jobs.  Many times these calls involve someone (1) being fired from their job; or (2) being harassed at work and having to work in a miserable environment.  Today I am going to tell you what you can do if this happens to you.

First off, Michigan is an “at will” State.  That means someone can ordinarily fire you for whatever they want.  You remind them of their ex wife?  Fire away.  They don’t like your long hair?  Fired (luckily this hasn’t happened to me).  Personality conflicts?  Too bad.   But what about this “right-to-work” law we all have heard about?  Sorry.  Right-to-work was a dressed up name for a law that was passed to bust the unions in Michigan.  It has nothing to do with you keeping your job.  You generally never have a “right to work”, unless your employer promises you that in your contract.

However, there are exceptions.  You can’t fire or harass someone if they belong to a “protected class”.  This is legal jargon.  We all belong to protected classes, no matter who we are.  But in English this means you can’t discriminate against someone as stated below:

What are the protected classes in Michigan?

In all 50 states, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin (e.g., Indian, Pakistani, Israeli)
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability (including refusing to accommodate your disability)
  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Genetic information
  • Taking time off work under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

In addition, Michigan state law also prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions)
  • Disability: physical or mental
  • Age
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • AIDS/HIV
  • Height or weight
  • Firing someone for refusing to break the law or do unethical things (public policy exception).
  • Whistleblower – Report unethical / illegal activities to outside agency.

As I said above, we all belong to a protected class of some sort.  Take me for example, it would be illegal for an employer to discriminate against me because I’m: white, Catholic, or male.

So what constitutes discrimination?  There are two main types of employment discrimination: (1) Harassment; and (2) Disparate Treatment.  Let’s take a look at each one.

Harassment

The legal term for this is “hostile work environment”.  It is illegal for your employer to subject you, or allow you to be in, a hostile work environment because of a protected characteristic.   An easy example is sexual harassment, but it can take many forms.  Let me give you some examples of real life cases my firm and I have handled involving harassment:

  • A young woman is constantly sexually harassed at work by coworkers. She has a dildo given to her after she breaks up with her boyfriend and is told that “she will probably need it.”  Co-workers make unwanted advances on her.  She is texted inside and outside of the office on a regular basis.  She complains to her boss, but he really doesn’t fix the problem.  She has to go to work every day in a sexually hostile work environment.  This is illegal because she is being harassed because of a protected class: sex.  In other words, if she was a man she would not be treated this way.
  • An African American man has a racist white supervisor.  The supervisor never outright calls the African American employee names or racial slurs. However, the supervisor treats the African American worker significantly worse than the white employees, gives him much more work and some of the worst jobs possible, and when the worker complains the supervisor brushes him off and says “you don’t know nothing about discrimination. This is illegal because it is harassment based on race.

Disparate Treatment

Disparate treatment is a lawyer way of saying something bad at your job happens to you because of a protected class.  Common examples are: you are fired; you are denied a promotion; you are demoted; you are denied other benefits such as raises.  There can be more.  Again, the reason the event happens must be based, at least in part, on a protected characteristic.  Examples are:

  • A highly qualified black candidate is passed over in a promotion to a lesser qualified white candidate;
  • A woman is given lower wages than her male counterparts;
  • A person is fired after revealing to their employer that they have a medical condition (e.g., epilepsy)

Employment law is convoluted and complicated.  You MUST contact an attorney as soon as the first signs of trouble appear so that he or she can advise you on how to handle the situation.  You don’t have to have smoking gun evidence.  Don’t keep telling yourself things will work out.  Don’t wait.  It can be too late. My clients who come and see prior to being fired are in much better shape than a client who comes to me only after the illegal employment actions have already taken place.  I have handled hundreds of employment cases, so if you or someone you know is facing an employment issue, do not hesitate to contact me.

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What to Do if You are Critically Injured in a Car Accident? Can you Sue in Michigan?

Can you sue in Michigan for an auto accident even though its “No-Fault”?  The short answer is yes, if your injuries are serious enough.

In my previous two blog posts, I explained what to do if you are in an auto accident and how the Michigan auto no-fault system works.  Today, I’m going to explain when you can bring a lawsuit against the other driver in an accident.

As I explained last week, if you are injured in an auto accident your own insurance pays for your medical bills and some other benefits.  But what about everything else?  What about pain and suffering?  What if you can’t work for the rest of your life? That’s when you have to file a lawsuit against the other driver.

To file a lawsuit in an auto accident in Michigan, you have to be seriously injured.  So that fender bender where you have a sprained ankle usually doesn’t count.  You have to have a “serious impairment”.  The injury has to affect your ability to lead your normal life.  While there is no exhaustive list, things that can make a serious impairment could be:

  • Can’t return to work for some time;
  • Can’t do hobbies or recreational activities for some time;
  • Have serious unresolved medical issues;
  • Surgery or scarring;
  • Long lasting medical treatment.

There are many different factors to consider so you should see a lawyer to evaluate your claim.

Who’s Responsible?

To sue another driver, they have to be responsible (at least in part) for the accident.  Sometimes this is easy, such as where the other driver was drunk or ran a red light.  Other times, its trickier.  Don’t always rely on what the police officer who comes to the scene determines.  They weren’t there for the accident and are trying to reconstruct what happened based on witness statements.  I have had cases where the police came and one of the drivers was already in an ambulance so the officer could only speak with one driver to determine what happened.   A lawyer will help you determine if you have a good case and whether other parties are responsible.

Sometimes there is more than one responsible party.  I just had a case where my client was T-boned at an intersection and his seatbelt snapped right out of the doorframe, causing his head to go into the windshield.   He now has permanent brain damage. In that case, we brought a lawsuit against both the car manufacturer and the driver who T-boned my client. Be sure to save pictures, receipts, your car, and anything else to help prove your case.

What Damages Are You Entitled to Be Compensated For?

If you are seriously injured and have to sue another driver, you are entitled to most things that your own insurance did not cover.  This can include:

  • Money for Pain and Suffering, humiliation, mortification;
  • Money for lost wages due to being unable to work;
  • Loss of your relationships with your loved ones, including wife.

Some people think its unfair that we award people money for pain and suffering.  But in our system that is that only way to compensate someone who has been seriously injured.  These damages can be quite severe.  Imagine the man I described above whose head went into the windshield and he now can’t work or care for his family.  His relationships with his children are ruined and they will never have the father they once had because a company wanted to save 2 cents on a bolt and installed a defective seatbelt.

Lawsuits aren’t easy.  Contrary to popular believe, it’s not a lottery ticket.  It can take between 1 – 2 years for your lawsuit to run its course.  You have to prove your case and “frivolous” cases are thrown out by judges before they even get to trial.  If you or someone you know is injured, its important you get the help you need right away.  Don’t wait.  Call a trusted attorney.

AUTO NO FAULT? WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?

One person died in this three-car crash. (KATU News photo)

In Michigan, when we talk about auto insurance and auto accidents we hear the same familiar phrases: “Michigan is a no fault state”, “first-party benefits”, “third-party case”. But while everyone seems to know that Michigan is a “no fault” state, do we really know what that means?

Prior to devoting my entire life and career to the law, I didn’t. So I’m guessing that many of you don’t either. In today’s blog post, I’m going to try to demystify and lay out just what “no fault” means for you. After all, in Michigan we all pay the highest auto insurance rates in America. We should know what we’re buying when we write that check to the insurance company every month.

Once upon a time, a long long time ago in Michigan, we didn’t have “no fault”. If you were in a serious car accident, even one so serious that you died or you were unable to work or you lost a limb and became disfigured or paralyzed, your only option was to sue the driver of the car that hit you. If you wanted to be compensated for your loss you had to go after the driver who was at fault for the accident. One of the big problems with this system was in almost every accident, there’s someone who’s at fault (the person who ran the red light or was drinking and driving) and there’s someone who’s not. So if you were at fault for the accident and you screwed up, which frankly happens a lot, your whole life could be ruined. The system led to a lot of lawsuits and litigation.

So a long time ago the insurance companies, the legislature, and all the attorneys got together and instituted in Michigan a revolutionary idea: no fault auto insurance. Under no fault, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault for the accident. It doesn’t matter if you were drinking and driving. It doesn’t matter if you ran the red light or were speeding. It doesn’t matter if both drivers are pointing the finger at the other driver blaming them for what happened. Under no fault, every person would purchase auto insurance that made sure that they would be protected and be given certain limited benefits if they were in an automobile accident and hurt. Think of it as Obamacare for auto accidents.

But nothing’s for free. So as part of this grand bargain, the attorneys and the legislature and everyone else agreed that since everyone was going to be covered regardless of fault, drivers had to give up certain rights to make claims that they were traditionally allowed. So let’s talk about just what no fault means for you.

As I stated, under no fault, if you are in an automobile accident you’re entitled to certain benefits regardless of who’s at fault for the accident. Even if you are the driver who is at fault, you are still entitled to benefits. And sometimes, even if you don’t have your own auto insurance you can get benefits (e.g., you’re a passenger). As long as your injuries came from the accident you are generally entitled to the following benefits:

 

  1. Medical Bills

You are entitled to all your medical bills incurred as a result of the accident, to be paid by your insurance company. Let me repeat that. Every single medical bill that you incur as a result of the accident your insurance company has to pay. You need physical therapy? No problem. Your insurance company has to pay for it. Do you need a nurse to come in and take care of you for a while? No problem. Do you have to have invasive back surgery that costs $50,000.00? No problem. As long as it was due to the accident, your insurance company is obligated to pay for it under no fault auto insurance.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you have your own healthcare insurance to be entitled to these benefits. I’ve represented pedestrians and even homeless people who have been hit by a car, who have no insurance and no way to get medical care, and they are entitled to have all their medical bills paid under the No Fault Act.

Perhaps even more important, your entitlement for medical benefits is for life. That means if you’re in an automobile accident today and let’s say you rupture a disc in your back. But you’re able to live with it for five years and it doesn’t get worse. But after five years that disc degenerates to the point where you need to have back surgery. It’s still covered. As long as you can trace the medical bill to the auto accident, the insurance company has to pay for it.

 

  1. Nursing Care

You’re also entitled to nursing care, under the No Fault Act. This is commonly referred to in legal parlance as “attendant care.” It doesn’t need to be performed by a nurse. But if you need help with traditional caretaker functions, such as bathing, taking you to the doctor, administering medications or caring for your wounds, or other caretaker functions, the insurance company is obligated to pay your caretaker an hourly rate. You can have an outside professional agency perform these duties and be reimbursed by your insurance company. Or, under the law you can actually have a family member perform these duties.

So let me give you another example. I represented a gentleman who was in a serious car accident which displaced the vertebrae in his back. This guy was in a lot of pain and he couldn’t work and could hardly perform his jobs. He needed someone to take care of him at least eight hours a day. This means he needed someone to help him get up and get back on the bed, remain in the general proximity to care for him, and to help him use the bathroom. He didn’t want a stranger coming into his house and doing all these invasive things. So he had his wife, who was not trained in nursing or had any medical experience, perform these services for him. His wife was entitled to be paid at an hourly rate for caretaker services by the insurance company under no fault insurance.

 

  1. Lost Wages

If you can’t work, you’re still entitled to a paycheck for your lost money due to not being able to work. The insurance company is obligated to pay you 85 percent of what you would have made had you not been in the automobile accident.

Let’s say that you make $1,000.00 a week at your job. You’re involved in an automobile accident and you have to take a month off of work to get better. You lose $4,000.00. Under no fault, your insurance company has to give you a check for 85 percent of the money that you lost ($3,400.00).

Things can get a little tricky if you own your own business or you have variable income such as bonuses, commissions, etc.. An attorney can assist you in ensuring that you get all the money that you’re entitled to under your insurance.

 

  1. Household Chores

A big thing for people that are injured in an automobile accident is that they can’t do some of the stuff around the house that they used to. Who’s going to mow the lawn? Who’s going to take out the trash? Who’s going to clean? A lot of these activities involve bending, twisting and being able to be physically active and to be able to do them.

Don’t worry. Under the No Fault Act, you’re entitled to $20.00 a day to pay for someone to come and do household chores that you can’t do because you’re hurt. Just like nursing services, this can be a family member or friend, it does not need to be a professional company.

 

  1. Mileage

You’re also entitled to mileage reimbursement for traveling to and from doctors’ appointments and other necessary appointments related to the accident. So if you have to travel 75 miles to go see your specialist, your insurance company will reimburse you for that mileage.

 

  1. Other Benefits

There are also other benefits you may be entitled to, such as modifying your home or car for your injury. Check with an attorney to see just what you are entitled to.

 

I’ve laid out the basic benefits of no fault above. So what are you giving up? All these benefits don’t come for free. The insurance company wouldn’t agree to that. As a result of no fault and the benefits that it gives, people who are in car accidents give up certain rights. Among them, is the ability to claim and collect for pain and suffering, and for certain other benefits. Some of the benefits that I have listed above, such as household cleaning and work loss, are limited and only last a certain amount of time.

As with anything else in the law, there’s always exceptions and there’s always special circumstances. For your specific situation, you must contact an attorney who can advise you on what benefits you’re entitled to and what you need to do to get them. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have come into my office who have been in a serious accident and who have lost thousands upon thousands of dollars in benefits that they were entitled to under their own insurance policy because they had no idea what they were doing.

 

You can’t rely on the advice of your own insurance company when you get into an auto accident. Oftentimes, the insurance company will give you the least benefits that they can get away with.

 

Go and see an attorney as soon as you can. Another reason that it’s imperative that you see an attorney as soon as possible after an auto accident, is that the insurance company will often fight you on certain benefits, deny you benefits, or after a certain amount of time arbitrarily just cut your benefits off. I recently had a woman come into my office who is a speech therapist in the medical field and who was involved in a serious car accident. The car accident caused her serious brain injury and she could no longer work. She has been undergoing weekly medical rehabilitation services to try to get her back to normal. At first, the insurance company paid her benefits. But after eight months, without warning, the insurance company cut off her benefits and has refused to pay her medical bills or her lost wages. As a result this poor woman is unable to get the medical care she needs to get better, and she is losing her house and her ability to survive. She’s in jeopardy of being out on the street. I’m currently in the process of helping this woman, but it would have been a lot easier had she come to me from day one. I might have been able to prevent her benefits from getting shut off in the first place.

I hope that this week’s blog post has helped shed some light on the no fault system in Michigan so the next time that you or someone you know is involved in an auto accident you will know your rights. Or at the very least, the next time someone starts mouthing off about Michigan no fault, you’ll be able to know what you’re talking about. Michigan’s no fault system can be very complicated and confusing. I have personally helped thousands of people get the benefits that they’re entitled to and put their lives back together after an auto accident. Feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

Next week, I’m going to cover what’s known as “third party” auto cases. This is where you actually sue the driver or person responsible for the automobile accident. So instead of getting benefits from your own insurance company as in no fault, in a third-party case you’re actually suing someone and going after them and their insurance company. Confused? Don’t be. All will be revealed next week. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend.