How Long Will My Car Accident Case Take? Answers from a NY & PA Car Accident Lawyer

Don't let insurance adjusters mislead you about the comparative negligence rule in New York State.

Immediately seek medical assistance and consult an attorney after a car accident.

Jessica Whitton, a freelance writer and paralegal, has written a good summary of the major steps in a personal injury lawsuit.

Before I summarize what she wrote, I want to point out one important factor:

Time is of the essence in IMMEDIATELY consulting a lawyer. There are many insurance companies who are training their employees to immediately contact an injured person with hopes that the can get that injured person to sign off on their claims before that person has a chance to learn the true severity of their injuries or the full extent of their possible claims.

Many times, these claims adjusters will mislead the vulnerable injured person, and accordingly, it is critically important that an injured person hire a lawyer to protect their interests.

Please remember the time for bringing a negligence claim in New York state is three years and two years in Pennsylvania.

Here is Jessica’s step-by-step approach to understanding the typical steps in a personal-injury lawsuit:

  • Seek Medical Attention: Immediately. Go to your doctor or closest hospital and get checked out. Immediately. As Jessica points out, it will give you an edge if your insurance company tries to prove that there was no injury and an immediate hospital visit shows the jury you were hurt.
  • Talk To A Lawyer: Call or email me if you have an accident, 24 hours a day, seven days a week: (607) 733-8866 or jreed@zifflaw.com.  If I am not immediately available, I will get back to you ASAP.
  • Commencement Of Investigations: Starts immediately after your lawyer agrees to accept your case. Make sure to provide all pertinent information and be honest about the accident and your medical condition to avoid surprises in the courtroom.
  • Attorney Files An Insurance Claim: Jessica correctly writes that most personal injury cases get settled out of court but to be safe and well-prepared, at ZiffLaw we assume every case will go to trial. We have learned that if you are ready to go to trial, you have substantial leverage to achieve the best results for our clients.  In car accident cases, we submit a comprehensive settlement package to the at-fault driver’s insurance company detailing important information about your claim:  your injuries, lost wages, medical treatment, and any permanent limitations.
  • Attorney Files A Lawsuit: If the insurance company does not settle your claim out of court, your attorney may see no other option than to file a lawsuit.
  • Discovery: The plaintiff and defendant investigate one another using the documents and evidence submitted.
  • Mediation: Following the completion of discovery and before trial, the parties may agree to mediate the case with a trained mediator who attempts to broker a mutually acceptable settlement.
  • Trial: All parties are present as the jury hears the evidence in the case. Most car crash trials are relatively short– 3-4 days– but some more complex cases can take weeks or even months.

At ZiffLaw, we do everything in our power to keep our cases moving as quickly as possible.  With that said, we will not rush any case as we know achieving maximum recovery for our clients often requires us to do things the hard way, not the easy and fast way.  We truly believe our willingness to go the extra mile distinguishes us from other lawyers who are willing to accept an easy and fast settlement rather than do the hard work necessary to get the very best result.

Thanks for reading! Leave me a message below if you have any questions.

Jim

___________________________________

James B. Reed
Best Lawyers’ “2015 & 2017 Lawyer of the Year”
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

New Drone Pilots Need To Follow Regulations, Be Safe, Says NY and PA Injury Lawyer

drones-faa-hobbyist-regulations_h

As winter turns to spring in the Twin Tiers and people of all ages get ready to fly the new drone they got for Christmas, I would encourage all new owners of all ages to do some homework, if they haven’t already, before taking to the air.

113154-fullDrones are not toys. If a child will be flying the drone, prepare the child. Drones in the wrong hands can damage property, injure and kill people on the ground, and endanger passing commercial aircraft. It’s a HUGE responsibility, and in careless or uneducated hands, drones can be a dangerous weapon that could lead to criminal charges and lawsuits for the operator and their family. As an experienced personal injury lawyer, I know drones are going to be a big problem for those who don’t respect the power they possess in a drone.

I will say it again: It’s NOT a toy.

A few basics you need to know right now:

Go to the FAA website and look at the rules and regulations on drones. (Click on Part 107 for a summary of the rules and regulations.)

  • You need to register the drone – that is something a lot of people don’t know. The buyer should have been told that when they bought the drone but if not, Remember: Ignorance of the law is no defense.  You can register your drone here.  The good news?  It only costs $5.
  • You must have visual identification of your drone at all times. If you can’t see your drone, you are not operating it properly and you can be subject to penalties and fines.
  • You must not operate your drone over other people, under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Your drone can’t exceed 100 mph or weigh more than 55 lbs.

Most of the new Twin Tiers drone operators will be recreational users. You have to register your drone with the FAA but you don’t need any special license operate it, like commercial users do. A handy site for recreational users is here.

Here are the website’s safety guidelines for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS):

  • Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
  • Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
  • Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  • Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
  • Contact the airport and control tower before flying within five miles of an airport or heliport.
  • Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
  • Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
  • Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
  • Do not conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission (see AMA’s privacy policy).

Do your homework, and be prepared before you take your first flight.

It’s a big responsibility. It’s not a toy.

Thanks for reading,

Jim

___________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Upstate NY Law Firm Selected Among Best Law Firms In U.S. For Sixth Straight Year

Ziff Law attorneys, from left, Mike Brown, Christina Sonsire, Jim Reed, and Adam Gee.

Ziff Law attorneys, from left, Mike Brown, Christina Sonsire, Managing Partner Jim Reed, and Adam Gee.

For the sixth year in a row, the Ziff Law Firm is the only law firm in the Elmira, Corning, and Ithaca area named to a nationally recognized directory of top personal injury law firms in the United States.

Ziff Law was named a National Best Law Firm for 2017 in the practice area of Personal Injury Law for Plaintiffs by U.S. News – Best Lawyers.

I am so proud of the team we have assembled and the incredible results we have achieved. We have always believed that working hard and caring deeply about our clients would create good results, and it is so gratifying to see that we were correct. Winning this award once was great. Winning it six years in a row is amazing, and we could not be any happier.

Law firms were evaluated using client and peer reviews, and additional information provided by the firms, according to U.S. News – Best Lawyers, which ranked more than 10,000 law firms in more than 100 practice areas.

The rankings were announced this month by U.S. News & World Report, the parent company of U.S. News, and Best Lawyers, a national directory of top-rated attorneys that included Reed in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

To learn more about the Best Law Firms rankings, go to bestlawfirms.usnews.com.

Thanks for reading!

Jim

___________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

NY Injury Lawyer Wins $550,000 Jury Verdict For Elmira Woman Injured In Rochester Hospital Fall

Highland Hospital in Rochester.

Highland Hospital in Rochester.

A six-person Chemung County court jury awarded an 83-year-old Elmira woman $550,000 Friday afternoon as a result of a 2013 fall at Highland Hospital in Rochester. Christina Sonsire of the Ziff Law Firm represented the woman in the one-week trial.

Christina Sonsire.

Christina Sonsire.

The jury of three men and three women deliberated for less than 20 minutes before returning with the verdict in response to a personal injury lawsuit filed in Chemung County’s State Supreme Court in Elmira.

Judge Judith O’Shea presided over the trial and attorney James Wolford of the Wolford Law Firm in Rochester represented Highland Hospital and its corporate owners, Strong Health MCO, LLC, and Strong Partners Health System Inc.

“The jury’s award sends a huge message to Highland Hospital and other regional medical providers that if they are going to encourage people to come for treatment, they need to take basic steps to make sure their facilities are safe,” Christina said. “My client will have to live with chronic limitations from a shoulder injury for the rest of her life, something that greatly interferes with her ability to care for her daughter with disabilities.”

The Elmira woman fell shortly before 6 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2013, while helping her daughter get into a wheelchair in a parking garage near the hospital’s emergency entrance.

“Highland Hospital allowed cement parking stops to be placed inside a pedestrian walkway that bordered the handicapped parking stalls. The parking stops were the same color as the parking garage floor, and lighting in the area was grossly inadequate. My client – who was told to report to Highland Hospital in the early morning for her cancer surgery – was walking near her car when she tripped,” Christina said.

“As a result, my client suffered a severe fracture of her left shoulder, leaving her with a significant loss of range of motion. These limitations make it very challenging for her to care for her daughter in the manner she did before the fall.”

The trial was about much more than the placement of parking stops, Christina said.

“When my client first learned she had cancer, her Elmira-area doctor told her she needed to seek treatment in a bigger city. She decided to go to Rochester, just like many people from our area choose to do,” Christina said. “This case showed Highland Hospital and other regional providers who invite people to travel for their medical services need to do much more to make sure their patients are safe.

“The managers of Highland’s maintenance and security departments were unable to provide any inspection or maintenance records for the area where she fell, they offered inconsistent testimony regarding very basic safety measures in the parking garage, and they even tried to shift the blame to my elderly client by claiming she should have used a flashlight when she got out of her car. Taken together, Highland Hospital gave the impression in the trial that my client’s well-being was not important to them – and the jury took notice.

Twin Tiers residents can be confident that Ziff Law lawyers are capable of achieving big-city results,” Christina said. “We are not afraid to stand up to big corporations that cause people in our community to suffer injustices. It’s not always easy to do, but the alternative – allowing things like this to happen without doing what we can to bring them to light – would be the greatest injustice of all.”

Thanks for reading!

Jim

___________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 


Jim Reed Named Among Best Lawyers in U.S. for Sixth Year In A Row

Jim Reed is managing partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

Jim Reed is Managing Partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

Jim Reed, Managing Partner of the Ziff Law Firm in Elmira, has been selected by his peers as a “Best Lawyer in America” in a national directory of top-rated attorneys for the sixth year in a row.

Jim, selected as a Best Lawyer in Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice law, was named to the 2017 Best Lawyers in America guide following a survey of lawyers in his geographical region and areas of practice. Reed was first selected for the 2012 guide.

In September 2014, Jim was named the 2015 Plaintiffs’ Lawyer of the Year by the Best Lawyers in America guide among personal injury lawyers in the Southern New York Region, based on the recommendations of lawyers in Chemung, Steuben, Tompkins, Broome and Tioga, N.Y., counties.

JIm, who has been practicing law since 1986, has argued cases at every level in the New York State court system and has successfully handled many multi-million dollar cases. His practice handles serious personal injury, bicycle accident and medical malpractice cases in NY and PA.

Jim’s leadership, experience and hard work have helped to made this the best year ever at the Ziff Law Firm, with multi-million dollar recoveries on behalf of our injured clients.

His selection as a Best Lawyer shows that he has an excellent reputation in the Twin Tiers legal community, and a trial lawyer’s reputation means everything.

Every client should care about the reputation of their lawyer because it can influence the success or failure of their case. If you have a good reputation, as Jim does, opposing counsel and judges afford you courtesy and respect. They know that every case handled by a lawyer of Jim’s stature is a good case.

Jim is also the legal expert for WETM-TV in Elmira and appears in a segment called “Law Talk” at about 12:20 p.m. each Wednesday during WETM’s noon newscast to discuss legal issues in the news.

Thank you for reading,

Adam
__________________________________________

Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: agee@zifflaw.com

 

 


Ziff Law Lawyers Fighting In Albany For NY Families

 

tort reform art

Christina Sonsire and Adam Gee of the Ziff Law Firm recently went to Albany to fight for grieving families in New York State – like Craig and Melissa Storms, who lost their 2-year-old son in a hospital emergency room.

“Knowing that the same family could recover if they lived just across the border in Pennsylvania due to its strong wrongful death laws makes it even tougher for us to deal with families in New York,” said Adam Gee.

“Knowing that the same family could recover if they lived just across the border in Pennsylvania due to its strong wrongful death laws makes it even tougher for us to deal with families in New York,” said Adam Gee.

Christina and Adam lobbied with other members of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association in the New York State Legislature to fight for reforming New York’s 153-year-old wrongful death law, something the lawyers at Ziff Law have been doing for nearly a decade.

“We have been to Albany numerous times to fight for justice for those who lose a loved one due to negligence. It’s one battle we will never stop waging until the laws in New York finally improve,” Christina said.

Under the present wrongful death statute in New York, the assessment of damages is based almost exclusively on expected future income, something that is very biased toward the state’s highest-earning residents. Worse, New York is one of only seven states that do not compensate family members for their grief and sorrow.

“The reality is that New York law discriminates against people who are very young, retired or out of the work force, such as stay-at-home parents or people with disabilities,” said Christina Sonsire. “The families of people who are not actively engaged in the work force have little to no claim for wrongful death in New York.”

“The reality is that New York law discriminates against people who are very young, retired or out of the work force, such as stay-at-home parents or people with disabilities,” said Christina Sonsire. “The families of people who are not actively engaged in the work force have little to no claim for wrongful death in New York.”

“The reality is that New York law discriminates against people who are very young, retired or out of the work force, such as stay-at-home parents or people with disabilities,” Christina said. “The families of people who are not actively engaged in the work force have little to no claim for wrongful death in New York.”

Having to tell a family that we cannot take a case because their loved one’s life is worthless in the eyes of New York State law is a very difficult thing to do, Adam said. “Knowing that the same family could recover if they lived just across the border in Pennsylvania due to its strong wrongful death laws makes it even tougher for us to deal with families in New York.”

The tragic case of 2-year-old Zachary Storms highlights the discriminatory nature of New York’s wrongful death law.

Zachary’s story is heartbreaking.

Craig and Melissa Storms rushed their child to a hospital emergency room because they feared he may have ingested some red and blue dye from a child’s chemistry set.

They did all the right things. They consulted with the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which recommended, to be safe, that they take the child to a local hospital for precautionary treatment.

Things turned nightmarish quickly.

The Poison Control Centers urged “observe-only” to the hospital, but instead, the doctor forced young Zachary to drink an activated charcoal solution. He vomited and refused to drink more and the hospital put a gastrointestinal tube down his throat and poured so much liquid that it filled his throat, stomach, and lungs, killing him almost instantly.

“He was running around the emergency room, playing. Then he was dead,” said Melissa Storms.

“This is about justice and holding the people who caused his death accountable,” said Craig Storms.

However, New York’s wrongful death law only values financial loss, not human loss. A toddler, Zachary clearly was not earning any income, and his young age made it too speculative to project what he would make in the future. Therefore, under New York’s current wrongful death law, Zachary’s life was worthless.

When Congress established the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund, it circumvented the law so surviving victims and victims’ families could be properly compensated. “Congress understood New York’s law is antiquated, and doing something like denying compensation to the parents whose children died that day was just wrong,” said Christina.

It’s time for New York State to do the same and take a giant step toward civil justice reform.

The lawyers at the Ziff Law Firm will not stop fighting for families until New York State changes this law.

Contact your local state representative and tell them about Zachary and why it’s important to modernize the state’s wrongful death law.

Thanks for reading.

Jim

___________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 


Is Your Surgeon Operating On A Second Patient At The Same Time?

surgery photo

Here is a new practice that Twin Tiers residents should remember when they, their family or their friends are facing medical procedures in a local hospital: concurrent surgery.

Last fall the Boston Globe newspaper reported Massachusetts General Hospital has surgeons who are performing surgery in two operating rooms at the same time. It’s called double-booking.

mass-generalDouble booking is a very controversial and risky procedure that is apparently an open secret in hospitals. But patients are rarely told. The surgeon responsible for the patient relies on a general surgeon or surgeon-in-training as he or she goes from room to room, performing multiple operations at the same time.

There is a lot of disagreement in the medical community over both the ethics and safety of double-booking. Let’s face it – it’s clearly done to make money and get as many patients through operating rooms in the shortest amount of time possible.

As the Boston Globe reports: Hospitals that permit double-booking consider it an efficient way to deploy the talents of their most in-demand specialists while reducing wasted operating room time. For patients, however, it can come as an unsettling surprise — especially when things go wrong.

At the very least, patients have the right to informed consent. In other words, patients must be informed their surgery has been double-booked so that they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to allow it.

It should be very interesting to see what transpires.

Thank you for reading!

Christina Sonsire
csonsire@zifflaw.com

 

 


$9.15 Million: ‘Big City Results’ For Ziff Law Lawyers

depuy-hip-recalled

The lawyers at the Ziff Law Firm live for our motto – “Local Lawyers, Big City Results!” – and recently delivered life-changing results for two Twin Tiers families.

Jim Reed.

Jim Reed.

In May, Jim Reed and Christina Sonsire earned settlements topping a total of $9 million in one week. We celebrate those awards at the Ziff Law Firm because justice was served for two families who have waited for justice for years.

“I think there is a perception that in cases where there are substantial damages, either serious injuries or wrongful death, people have to hire lawyers in bigger cities to get the best legal representation,” said Christina, a partner in Ziff Law and a medical malpractice attorney for eight years. “These cases show that we can bring about the best results possible here in Elmira. It feels good to know that Jim, Adam (Gee), and I can perform at the same level or better than attorneys in the region

Christina Sonsire.

Christina Sonsire.

or across the state.”

Jim and Christina can’t talk about the details of their settlements because they are bound by confidentiality agreements, but what’s important now is their clients can start to get on with their lives.

“The public needs to understand that these settlements are not just about big payouts – these are payments for something that has been taken away from our clients: a death that takes away a father, an injury that permanently disables someone so they can never work again,” said Jim, the law firm’s managing partner, who has been a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney for almost 30 years.

Christina’s case was settled for $6.9 million during a one-day, nine-hour mediation hearing with a former judge as mediator, following months of pretrial litigation, depositions and discovery.

Christina had hired a team of top medical experts to assist if the case went to trial, something she believes helped her achieve such a good result. “I was able to retain four of the best experts in the United States – perhaps even the world – in their respective fields, and had discussed the case with a fifth, whom I likely would have called if the matter went to trial.”

According to Christina, the quality of the expert witnesses can make a big difference in getting cases resolved. “When the other side knows you are prepared and ready to present a strong case, the likelihood of settling a case for good value goes way, way up.”

At the mediation, Christina and the defense attorney set up in separate rooms and the mediator guided them to the settlement. “The mediator’s job is to go from room to room with information and try to resolve our differences,” she said. “We were successful in our negotiations.”

Sometimes, such as in this case, defendants require confidentiality as terms of the settlement, she said. “The nature of the damages necessitated that we settle the case for the most money we could achieve because of the seriousness of the damages. We did not want confidentiality to become a sticking point that prevented a successful negotiation. Therefore, agreeing to it was the right decision.”

Jim’s $2.25 million settlement in a fatal car accident case was reached after protracted settlement negotiations, he said. The settlements are a reminder of what is lost on a personal level in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

“This is not about ‘winning the lottery’ because nobody wins when people have been killed or disabled,” he said. “Every one of my clients would gladly trade their settlement money for the ability to go back to a time before they were injured or a loved one was hurt or killed. Our clients have suffered profound losses and these settlements are an imperfect way to try to make the best of very bad situations.”

Jim takes pride in learning while preparing every case because it makes him a better lawyer. “I worked with a nationally recognized trauma surgeon in this case, and under New York state’s archaic wrongful death law, the information I learned assisted in greatly enhancing the value of my client’s case.”

The hard work by the Ziff Law team resulted in settlements that will help people in great need, Christina said.

“We were able to bring the cases to successful outcomes and that’s what this is really all about,” she said. “We did everything we could to right some really bad wrongs.”

Jim said the settlements show that Ziff Law lawyers are among the best in the state. “Two settlements totaling over $9 million in one week is something I thought I would never see from a small Elmira firm,” he said. “Frankly, that would be a phenomenal result for a huge firm in a big city, so it confirms for me that we have achieved my goal of becoming David and Goliath – a small firm capable of big results! Insurance carriers know the lawyers who are capable of the biggest results, so this achievement will be a powerful benefit to our current and future clients.”

Thank you for reading,

Adam
__________________________________________

Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: agee@zifflaw.com

 

 

 


Icy Roads Kill…..Especially When Large Trucks Fail to Slow Down for Conditions…..

The driver of a UPS tandem tractor-trailer similar to this one triggered an accident Tuesday morning that killed an dessa man.

The driver of a UPS tandem tractor-trailer similar to this one triggered an accident Tuesday morning that killed an dessa man.

There is a fundamental rule every new driver is taught:  You are REQUIRED to reduce speed when conditions require.

Unfortunately, many drivers violate this fundamental rule and often the consequences are deadly.

An Odessa man who was critically injured Tuesday morning when a UPS tandem tractor-trailer struck and rolled over on his vehicle on an icy Route 13 died early Wednesday, according to the New York State Police.

Troopers said Glenn Marsh, 58, of Odessa, was driving south on Route 13 at about 8 a.m. Tuesday when the truck, which was traveling down a hill, crossed the center line near the Chemung-Schuyler county line and struck Marsh’s sedan head-on and rolled over on it, according to news reports.

20863-2Marsh suffered massive injuries, troopers said, and had to be extricated from his crushed vehicle by emergency workers. He transported to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, PA.

New York State Police Sgt. Steve Neuberger told the news media it was the fault of the UPS truck driver: “The UPS driver lost control due to slick conditions. The truck went across the road and struck the car, and the car went under the trailer.”

Marsh died during the night, police said.

This is the latest tragic example of what happens when tandem tractor-trailers hit icy conditions, especially on hilly two-lane highways!

Thanks for reading,

Jim
______________________________________
Jim Reed, N.Y. Truck Crash Lawyer
jreed@ziffaw.com


Feds Put Pressure On Doctors, Hospitals To Make It Easier For Patients To Receive Their Medical Records

the-information-age-has-enabled-doctors-to-view-patient-data-on-laptops-_1508_608708_0_14091474_500

The Obama administration is knocking down the obstacles that Americans face when requesting their own medical records, which will be a big boost in prosecuting medical malpractice cases.

The federal government told doctors and hospitals that in most cases they must provide copies of these records within 30 days of receiving a request. Patients have been able to obtain copies of their records for a long time, but millions of people have complained to federal officials that they were thwarted in trying to exercise that right.

doctor-with-clipboardIn the new guidelines, which were announced recently, patients will not be required to state a reason for requesting their records, and doctors and hospitals cannot deny access out of concern that patients might be upset by the information.

“Based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information,” said Jocelyn Samuels, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces federal health privacy standards, in The New York Times. “This must change.”

According to the Times, under the new guidelines, a health care provider cannot require patients to pick up their records in person if they ask that the records be sent by mail or email. A health care provider cannot deny a request for access to health information because a patient has failed to pay medical bills. A doctor or a hospital may charge a fee to cover the cost of copying, but cannot charge for the cost of searching for data and retrieving it.

The rules were issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Doctors and hospitals are supposed to provide consumers with access to personal health information within 30 days and, in some cases, can extend the deadline by 30 days. But most requests should be fulfilled in fewer than 30 days, the government said.

Unfortunately, I see this issue firsthand far too often. Many times, people attempt to get their medical records before calling a lawyer. Although this should be a good way to see what the records say quickly, they are often faced with delays of weeks — or even months — before their requests are honored.

Hopefully, these new guidelines will help, though time will only tell whether they can begin to remedy what appears to be a deep and systemic problem.

 

To read more about your rights, click here.

 

A summary of important changes:

Some of the ways in which the new guidance should make it easier for patients include:

  • Doctors and hospitals are not allowed to ask you why you want your records. If you happen to volunteer your reason for requesting your records, they cannot deny you access to your records based on your reason for wanting them.
  • Your doctor or hospital cannot require you to go to the office of facility in person if you request that they mail your records to you.
  • Nor can they require you to use a web portal to request access to your records, because there are still people who do not have internet access.
  • They must provide your records within 30 days. That’s calendar days, not business days. Under certain circumstances, that time limit can be extended by up to 30 days, but you must be notified of the extension within the first 30-day time period.
  • You can be charged a fee for the cost of making paper or electronic copies and postage, but not fees for searching for your records, storage, or retrieval. This applies even if your state laws allow the extra charges.

 

Thanks for reading,

Christina Sonsire

csonsire@zifflaw.com