In the aftermath of unthinkable loss or catastrophic injury caused by the negligence of others, shock, uncertainty, and anger set in. You can’t change what happened but you can control your next step with a plan, one that will help your family tackle the challenges ahead and ease the overwhelming burden. Few understand this more than the nationally recognized lawyer, Kyle Bachus.
With more than 25 years of experience representing families in catastrophic injury and death cases, Kyle gained firsthand knowledge of his client’s experiences when his own mother was struck and killed in a crosswalk. Now, in Unthinkable, Kyle provides a practical roadmap for navigating a path that no one chooses.
He takes you through the process in chronological order from what to expect in the police investigation to your rights as a victim and claiming victim’s compensation. You’ll gain the tools you need to handle numerous issues and unforeseen questions in the aftermath of tragedy, including insight into your options for holding those at fault accountable, through the civil justice system.
An invaluable asset for anyone struggling with the next steps or for someone who knows who is, Unthinkable is the guidance you need to control what you can, gain peace of mind, and focus on what truly counts. Here’s my conversation with Kyle Bachus.
Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host, Benji Block, and today, we’re excited to be joined by Kyle Bachus. He’s just come out with a new book. The book is called Unthinkable: Real Answers for Families Confronting Catastrophic Injury or Death. Kyle, thank you for joining us on Author Hour today.
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ.: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Benji Block: Kyle, let’s start our conversation here. Could you just provide some context for us on the work you do and just what a maybe a day in the life of Kyle Bachus looks like?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Sure. I’m a lawyer and I represent families who had the worst thing probably happened to their family that they are likely to experience and that is, somebody in their family has been killed or has been unfortunately suffered very catastrophic type injuries. I don’t work for the government, I work as a private lawyer and I represent people and families in civil cases. We work and try to put the families back together financially after something has happened as a result of the conduct of another person.
That’s what we do. I work as a moniker, a personal injury lawyer, that’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done, I’ve graduated from the University of Florida Law School in 1992 and I went to work for a personal injury firm the Monday after law school. I’ve been doing it every day of my life for the last, whatever that is, 29 years.
Benji Block: What originally got you interested in that work? Specifically, as a lawyer, you can have multiple options by going into a personal injury
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: It’s interesting. I always felt akin to the little guy, the David versus Goliath and this world, I could have — as a lawyer as you said — there were plenty of opportunities to do other things. I could have gone and been a corporate lawyer, I could represent businesses, I could have represented insurance companies.
I was really drawn to representing individual people who need help and who need help navigating a process that involves bringing claims against multibillion-dollar insurance companies. That just is something that I was drawn to, I thought I would have an interest in it. I didn’t know when I graduated from law school but I really fell in love with the ability to help people in that situation and it’s all I’ve ever done.
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones When Faced With the Unthinkable
Benji Block: You’ve been doing it for many years now and now you’re writing this book, there is clearly a genesis of this book, there is a reason why maybe now is the right time but would you walk us through and explain why you chose to do this now?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Absolutely. I spent, like I’ve said, more than 25 years representing families who are dealing with a death or a catastrophic injury and really as you do that, as you might imagine, in the back of your mind, you just hope it never happens to you or your family. You hear about it happening in other families and you represent other families and work with them but you hope it never happens to you.
Unfortunately, on April the 28th of 2020, my own mother was struck and killed while out on a COVID walk. Actually, right in the early days of COVID when she was self-isolating she was told by her doctor, “You know, you probably shouldn’t be around your grandkids but you can go out and do daily walks” and five blocks from her house, crossing the street, doing everything she should have been doing. Unfortunately, it was all caught on video. I never watched the video but from law enforcement sources.
She’s doing everything she’s supposed to be doing, crossing the street, and she was run over and killed instantly by of all things, a concrete mixer truck and suddenly, on the evening of April 28th, 2020 my family was thrown into the sort of chaos and catastrophic loss that I have spent my entire career representing people from other families regarding. Truly, the impetus for the book was that, there was so many — I mean, I understood and do understand and have thoroughly understood the legal process, right?
There were so many things that were coming at our family in terms of decisions that had to be made and when you’re in the midst of this kind of loss, what I learned both from myself, my own experience, my brother, my sister or other family members is that there’s so many questions that are unanswered. And then when you go on Google, right? Google is the main source for information for so many of us and you start trying to — my sister and brother would say they try to Google for information about what’s going to happen with the police investigation or just information.
When you’re up all night and not sleeping and you’re looking for information to get some sort of control over this terrible thing that’s happened to your family and all you’re really find are a bunch of lawyer ads that almost make and paint a picture like, “Oh congratulations, you just hit the lottery or you’re going to get paid, call us” but very little substantive; real information that is helpful to families in the throes of this kind of loss and “Should I get an autopsy or not, when would one be requested? Should I — What happens with the stuff, what do you do with pets? What do you do with the police and they want to talk to your family and what should you expect?”
There’s just a myriad of things that’s coming at you. So, I really felt like as time went by that I was in a very unique position of both having spent so many years representing families and understanding the civil justice system and the consequences and availability of ways for achieving accountability through that system. But there’s this whole other different set of issues and questions that come up that became very real for me and I just felt like I was in a great position to try to help families who are going through really — that’s the title of the book, right going through, truly, the unthinkable event that nobody should have to go through.
Benji Block: Wow. Well, first I want to say, my condolences to your family and I’m so sorry for your loss. You are so uniquely positioned to talk on this topic that it’s pretty remarkable actually, reading the book, I’m going like, “What are the chances?”
I would want to ask you just on a personal level first before we get right to the content here, how did your 25 years of experience then maybe shift or your perspective shift when it was happening to you? What was one of the main learnings as you were all of a sudden, on the other side?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: I think it’s a great question and what I learned almost immediately is that yes, it’s very important to know that there are things you can do to protect your rights and your family’s rights in the civil context but the loss is so much more holistic than my previous view of the loss.
I mean, I felt like and I think my clients would say, over the years, I felt like I did the best that I could to understand what they’re feeling and what where they’re coming from and what their needs were but after experiencing it myself, realizing the needs are so much greater than the service that I was providing or with any lawyer that I know provides and just representing a family in the civil context.
The questions are much broader, the needs are much greater and the speed at which these issues arise seem to me to be much faster when you’re going through the experience yourself. That was part one and part two was, there is no guide out there for families going through this process, the chaos. The families, when you’re a family going through it as opposed to the lawyer working on it, you’re not sleeping. You’re just trying to make it through the next hour and then try to make it through the next day and you want to have some sense of control over what really is the most uncontrollable circumstance that you can imagine.
Some things sometimes — unfortunately, it’s a tough topic to talk about but I mean — sometimes, things happen that are so bad that they can’t be fixed and so many of us think, you want to be a fixer and you want to like, “How can I solve the problem, how can I fix the problem?” and sometimes, things can’t be fixed. So it’s a matter of, “What can I grab a hold of, what can I help to take some control over?” I don’t know if you’re — knowledge is a big piece of that.
Benji Block: Having a guide in a season like that, I can see being so important to just even though, you don’t really have control but it offers some semblance of order that is helpful to keep things kind of having some sort of forward motion and moving. I imagine the shock, right, that sets in, then all of a sudden, it feels like you’re rushed into decision-making mode, and making decisions when you’re still in shock and it’s still so fresh is really hard.
What this book does is really give an order of what to expect and kind of focus on — and we’ll jump into content here because you have so much good content to lay out what to expect, and you start with the investigation. What’s vital to know, Kyle, when it comes to that portion and sort of those first steps and those early days post such an unthinkable event happening?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Yeah, one of the things that I think people tend to think about in the abstract is that the police won‘t conduct an investigation. I think sometimes we don’t step back and ask ourselves, well — despite best intentions and I believe in my work with law enforcement that they’re there to do the job and to do it to the best of their ability — that just like anything else, their ability is constrained by their experience and exposure to the type of investigation underhand and found their way.
I think that I kind of refer to this as the investigation lottery, right? That is the police department in the location where the death occurs is going to send a police officer out or more than one police officer out to start an investigation.
It literally depends upon who is on shift that day in that particular department and what their skill level is. Now, they can bring in others, sure, but I think that one of the most surprising things when I talk to clients and I even experience in myself [is when] my mom was killed in Winter Port Florida, which is not a big community, it’s a suburb of Orlando but the police department there is not a big police department. It’s a small police department, it’s a small-town police department.
That’s much different than if something catastrophic happens in New York City, for instance, right? Where you might have officers who — this happens with enough volume and frequency that they are doing this on a day-to-day basis. You might be in a small town, they may be dealing with one fatality a year. You might have a small-town police officer who has never investigated a fatality. That’s just the facts, I mean, and that’s nothing against police.
I’m a huge proponent of the police department but that, I think, is a big thing. So, there are ways that are discussed in the book, of course, that you can take control of that and get people independent of the police department out there making sure that evidence is secured. And remember that when something terrible like this happens, it primarily happens in automobile collisions, because that’s what we do most frequently, that’s the most dangerous thing you do every day.
They close the road, right? You’ll see them close down the road. Well, once they secure the evidence that they think that they need, they open the road, and from that moment on, evidence starts to dissipate. Things start to go away, marks on the road, et cetera… So that’s what I mean, in part, by how important the timing is of trying to make certain that you’re not depending, that the future of your family is not depending upon the lottery of the police department and on a staff police officer happens to be out there and their investigation is not the end to determining who is involved and why.
Navigating the Investigation Process
Benji Block: Is there anything we can do to make our case more of a priority for the police?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: The other thing that I think — well, it depends upon your exposure experience with police officers, right? The fact is, that they’re public employees and they are there to serve and help the community. The vast majority of them that’s what they really enjoy about their job is helping people, right? I think it’s important to know that it’s perfectly fine.
A fatality or a catastrophic injury, that’s a significant issue and you have every right to speak to the police chief and work your way through and make sure that they know — not that you’re trying to interfere of course, not that you’re trying to support what they’re doing but it’s kind of squeaky wheel effect of making certain that they know that they put a face and a person and a family with the victim.
That they know that you’re engaged and that you want to do what you can to help. That kind of squeaky wheel effect is very important early on in establishing a relationship with law enforcement who is involved in the investigation, [it’s] very important.
Benji Block: You say that families who have endured a catastrophic loss are often extremely unhappy with the outcome of a criminal case because of the system itself and I wondered if you would just take a second to explain some of the complications and problems when you look at the system.
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Yeah, very few. There are some but very few catastrophic losses that result on the roadway. Very few times, you are dealing with somebody who was at fault who intentionally ran over somebody or intentionally ran into somebody and caused a catastrophic loss, right?
Most of the time, it’s not that it was their intentional act but it was their negligent act and the criminal justice system, which is what the government does to prosecute people who break the laws in society to try to make society safer for everyone, most criminal laws are based on the idea of criminal intent.
In fact, there is a Latin name for it and for lawyers, that’s called Mens Rea. That is the mental capacity, the mental intent of the individual actor. So when you have situations where even if there is a catastrophic injury or a death but the actor who caused it didn’t actually intend that to be the outcome, the criminal justice system falls back into very low-level criminal acts.
You might get careless driving resulting in serious bodily injury or careless driving [that] resulted in death. These are misdemeanors and these are offenses for which most people don’t stand a day in jail, okay? Then you are in the lineup on the police department to properly execute on it, right? In my mother’s case, the police officer — and it takes months for them to complete an investigation because people have constitutional rights and you want to charge them one time.
You’d be in a position to move forward with the crime. Well, in my particular case, it took two or three months. They decided that they are going to charge the driver with careless driving resulting in death or a similar Florida statute that defines that conduct but the police officer forgot to check on the box resulting in death.
Benji Block: Wow. How do you forget that?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: I don’t know. I don’t know how you forget that but that actually happened. So the driver who killed my mom received a ticket that said, “Careless driving with no death.” It was a $180 ticket and that driver immediately paid the ticket. By the time the police figured it out and tried to recharge with the correct charge, even though it was going to be a misdemeanor to begin with, with a $1,000 plus fine and maybe a year loss of the driver’s license and no jail time, they messed that up.
So by the time they tried to correct it, it was too late and that was the end game from the criminal justice system in my mom’s case. The person who killed her driving a commercial vehicle didn’t lose his license for a single day, paid a $180 dollar fine and that was the consequence.
You can see that doesn’t happen so often, right? Where somebody forgets to check a box but the reality of the criminal justice system is it’s really designed to punish with great magnitude people who act intentionally to cause harm to other people, not people who accidentally or even recklessly cause harm to other people.
Benji Block: I mean, there is so much we could go into there. That’s frustrating and I know you’ve seen all sides and probably have numerous stories like that, so we won’t go too far down that road. Let me ask you, what’s a timeframe that people can expect to kind of go through the system? What should people be prepared for there?
J. Kyle Bachus ESQ: Yeah. The criminal justice system, like I said, there’s a requirement, a constitutional requirement that you need to know what the charges are and what should make the charges. Then there’s a timeframe, a speedy trial rule that forces the criminal justice system to bring somebody to trial within a certain period of time, and let’s say that’s six months after a charge.
Well, they want to make sure that they have their ducks in a row before making a jury because sometimes, with a catastrophic injury or a death case, it might be six months to a year before the investigation is completed and charges are brought and then the speedy trial rules apply but the defendant who has been charged with the crime can wave that speedy trial rule and elongate the process.
It could take a year or more to get to the conclusion of a criminal justice system wherein the end, you’ll probably not going to feel that great about it unless there was some sort of intentional conduct and that’s why there are other things that families can do. You have rights as victims in a lot of states and you have the right to access the civil justice system to get answers to the questions that you might have too.
Benji Block: In your second section, you call it Practical Challenges for Families After a Traumatic Death and you talk about that first week as people are in shock but there is several things; trying to plan a funeral and having to start taking care of remains. Everyone’s experience is going to be different as far as how they grieve but what are some of those practical things that are important that you just have to get going and doing in that time?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Well, some of the things that people have to deal with immediately are things like pets, right? A lot of people don’t know that pets can be in a person’s will. Pets are considered personal property just like furniture. Unfortunately, I mean pets are much more near and dear to families but they’re considered as a matter of law, they are considered to be personal property.
One of the first tasks, when there are pets involved, is to determine is there a will. Where do you look for a will? The book provides some insight as to various places where you might find that document and then, is it a valid will and if it is, are pets considered within the will? And if not and if there is no will, that is an entirely different set of laws that apply to personal property and each state has a statute and the legal name for it is it’s called an Intestate Succession Statute.
That statute in each state defines what happens to personal property and to real property, which is real estate when somebody dies if they do not have a will and so one of the things that we’ve done in the book is included a table in the appendix that list out where you can locate each of the intestates succession statutes for each state in the country. It starts to give you an idea of, “Well, what if there is no will?”
That’s what I mean by things, [by] some immediate decisions. That is an example of an immediate decision that you are forced to start looking for these things.
Benji Block: Yeah, things you have never thought about or aren’t top of mind. All of a sudden, you’re having to figure it out and you got foggy brain and all sorts of things going on.
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: That’s right.
Benji Block: Your mom didn’t have a will. You said you’re in Florida there. How did that complicate it?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Well, I mean that’s where some of my legal knowledge helped because we are able to say, “Okay, let’s look at the places where people might keep a will.” And if you haven’t had those discussions with your family, you don’t know one way or another but we were unable to locate and still to this day never did locate a will. I was able to talk to my brother and sister and say, “Okay, well let’s look at the Florida Intestate Succession Statute.”
In that particular case, if you pass away and you’re not married even if you have adult children then the adult children equally split the personal property and that then made the pets — obviously, we want to take care of the pets, my mom’s two cats that she loves so dearly — but that legally, we have a legal obligation to make sure that that was handled even if we didn’t want to, which we did and I think most families do.
I think it is important to know that sometimes legal obligations arise that are important to know about.
Handling Creditors Against the Estate. Is It an Inherited Obligation?
Benji Block: One more of those kinds of practical questions that you cover, that I wanted to mention here too, is what happens to bills, right? Because that is one that I don’t think many people are thinking about. What does happen when someone passes, to their bills and just the practical side of having to figure that out?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Right, this is something that I think is — I’m glad you brought it up — it is hugely important. I think a lot of people believe that if they are the heirs either by a will or by intestate succession if they are an heir and somebody has bills that there is an obligation on the part of the heir’s or surviving family to pay those bills and really, there’s not. Now, we have to get into some technical discussion about what’s the value of the estate and who’s the personal representative and how do you put creditors on notice, and so forth.
The bottom line, simple fact, is that there is a process, a legal process, by which those who are owed money — let’s say there is a medical bill. Somebody is maybe injured and they incur medical bills before they die or let’s say that they had other medical bills unrelated to the catastrophic injury that caused their death and you’re like, “Okay, well, do we have to pay those bills?” Well, those are creditors against the estate.
Those creditors have to act within a certain timeframe to actually certify and make a claim against the estate for those bills otherwise they’re not owed. The credit card companies for instance kind of build-in, most credit card companies build into the interest rate that they’re charging to everybody. The fact that some people are going to die and not be able to pay and those estates aren’t going to be there.
Most credit card companies frankly, don’t pursue the recovery against the estates even with estates notifying them and their asset. I think it’s really important to, and I offer some guidance in the book, about the best and most simple way to work through their bills and it starts with just informing each creditor.
Every bill that comes in the mail moving forward informing them that a death has occurred and not making any new obligation by not offering to pay the bills but just say, “Hey, here’s a death certificate. This person passed away,” leave it at that and send that back instead of money to the credit card company. And believe it or not, in most cases, if you do that for a few months, they just stop pursuing it because it is not worth their time to go through the process to notify the estate and to hire a lawyer, and each of these events around the country to pursue the recovery of those bills.
Now, people may morally decide that they want to pay a bill, you know more power to you. The book is not to tell you whether to pay the bills or not to pay the bills but to tell you what your legal rights are with respect to that obligation.
Benji Block: Your wisdom in the book is so helpful because I think things like that can just be not fully thought through and so this is going to be a great guide. Really, when we look at the context of the entire book that you wrote, I only covered about two sections. I would love to do this as we start to wrap up, would you just provide a little bit of context for what you cover in sections three to the end just so people know what else may be to expect there?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: Sure. Because the investigation side of things and then your rights as a victim are the same, whether there is a catastrophic injury or a death, the first part of the book deals with those topics; what your rights are as a victim and what to expect with the investigation in the criminal justice system and then beyond that it breaks out into one part that deals with some of what we were talking about in terms of the aftermath and the practical issues that arise after a death.
Then there’s another part that deals with the same sort of practical realities after a catastrophic injury: what the Americans with Disabilities Act provide and doesn’t provide, what the fair housing act provides and doesn’t provide, and a series of things in terms of your communications with doctors in a catastrophic injury setting. Then we move on to the civil justice system and how that works and that’s what I’ve done my whole career, which is represent families to pursue money damages, and accountability and to get the answers to information.
Underwrote and studies that you’re entitled to do that through the civil justice system and then the book concludes, I think with hopefully, some hope. Really, the book concludes with the section on legacy and I think that all of us have heard about the creation of some entity in honor of somebody who has been killed or lost. I think that there is universally almost a desire to not have a death or a severe catastrophic loss be without purpose of some sort.
I mean again, what can you control? So, there’s just some ideas that are provided about an example of how people that I’d represented and that my family, as well, took action to live their life a little bit differently. There is a whole spectrum. You can just be as simple as living your life a little bit differently in honor of the person who you’ve lost or all the way to create an endowment or a scholarship and other things along the way. Just think about how you can take some control over what the legacy is moving forward as a family.
Whether it’s a death case or a catastrophic injury case, your life is changed forever and it really concludes with some ideas about redefining what your future looks like and how to honor the loss that you have sustained.
Benji Block: Well, Kyle, thank you for the work you’ve done on this book and for the last 20 plus years to help families that are in these unthinkable situations. For people that want to stay connected with your work or maybe reach out beyond just the book, where would they do that and follow you?
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: I’ve put up a website. It’s kylebachus.com and there, I really wanted — and one of the things that I say there is you tell me based on your experience what are we missing, how can we do a better job of helping people who are in the situation. I think that unfortunately, there is an active community of people who on a daily basis are going to experience this loss, who are going to need the help and I really hope that the website can be a resource for that community of people.
Benji Block: Well, the book is called, Unthinkable: Real Answers for Families Confronting Catastrophic Injury or Death. Kyle Bachus, thank you so much for spending time with us on Author Hour and for creating a resource for those that are in some situation that they could have never anticipated. Kyle, thanks for being here on Author Hour today.
J. Kyle Bachus, ESQ: I really appreciate the opportunity.