You’ve all seen it.  The car swerving ahead of you.  The car drifting into your lane.  The car slamming on brakes at the last minute to avoid the line of stopped traffic.  When you pass by, if you are lucky enough to get by them safely, you see the driver’s head looking straight down at their cell phone actively scrolling their social media or text messages, and ignoring the rest of us on the road.  Not a care in the world except to be intently focused on the latest happenings on social media.

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The most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report that only about 3% of drivers are using cell phone or other electronic devices while driving.  I, for one, do not believe this for a minute.  There is not a day that goes by where I do not see multiple people drifting from their lanes and fully absorbed in their cell phone while driving.  Each day seems to be worse than the previous day.  People are addicted to their Fakebook (you know people are lying about their perfect seeming lives on Facebook, right?) or Instagram accounts.

Cell phone use while driving is dangerous and is considered distracted driving.  Distracted driving accounted for 3166 deaths in 2017 and would appear to be on the rise as we all witness more and more distracted drivers in our daily commutes.  We often perceive distracted driving to be centered around the use of a cell phone while driving, but it can also include eating, talking to passengers, adjusting the radio, or fumbling for other control devices on your dashboard.   In 2017, there were also 599 non-occupants killed in distracted driving crashes which are typically unsuspecting pedestrians, bicyclists, and others just minding their own business.

No two settlements are identical.  But my friend/cousin/neighbor/etc. settled their claim for $$$$ and they were not hurt as bad as I was.  We hear this all the time when it comes to personal injury settlements.  Unfortunately, all I can say in response is “Good for your friend/cousin/neighbor/etc.”  Even within the same vehicle in an accident, there can be different settlement results among the claimants.  That’s because no two people are identical (except identical twins! And even they are going to have some differences—just ask their Mom).

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                Think about it.  Even in a rear-end collision, the occupants of the vehicle are going to be affected differently. *  Those in the back seat may be impacted greater than those in the front seat since they are physically closer to the impact.  Or maybe not.  Maybe the backseat passengers are children who are secured in proper car seats and are more insulated from the impact and were not injured at all, and yet the parents in the front seat sustained soft tissue injuries to their neck and back, or a knee injury from striking the dashboard, or a head injury from striking the steering wheel.  Each of those injuries, or lack thereof, is going to merit a different settlement value.

                However, the nature of the injuries alone do not dictate settlement value.   The amount of settlement bills incurred are also a factor in determining settlement values.  In North Carolina, the amount of bills incurred in an accident has become a veritable playground for insurance companies and hospitals and a minefield for claimants and their attorneys.  This is due to North Carolina General Statute 8C-1-414, commonly referred to as Rule 414.  This is an evidentiary rule stating evidence of medical expenses is limited to the amount “actually paid to satisfy the bills.” Therefore, if the two parents in the above scenario are both employed and each have their own health insurance through their respective employers, and they both go to the same hospital, that hospital may have a difference contract with each health insurance provider.  This can result in the hospital charges that each parent are allowed to claim toward the total bills are different, even if the actual amount of the two hospital bills are the same.  Of course, that would even be assuming they received the same treatment at the hospital.

It goes without saying that you don’t discuss politics or religion if you want to keep from upsetting some folks. So, I am going to briefly discuss both J. I hope you can not only tolerate my comments but go a step further and perhaps rethink your perspective, even if  you disagree with mine.  I want to discuss these issues in the context of the Bill of Rights. I am in the business of helping people, defending and fighting for their rights. All people. I believe in the Bill of Rights with every part of my being. According to the Bill of Rights it does not matter if you are straight or gay, black or white, man or women, republican or democrat or any “one off” from what I have listed.  We all have the same rights recognized and granted to us in the first ten amendments  to the US Constitution.
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Under Amendment 1, we all have the right to believe in whatever religion we choose, including no religion. Each of these are equal, none greater than another. While I am not a huge fan of ORGANIZED religion (of any kind), I respect your right to believe, as well as your right not to. We are also granted the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. So, say and think what you like, but make sure you stop talking and let others do the same. You are not necessarily right; you are opinionated. Let others give their “2 cents” and if you have an open mind you might learn something. Let the press do their job and be thankful, even if you don’t like their slanted view, that they have a RIGHT to report it. I miss the days of straight forward news reporting instead of the opinionated perspectives we get today, but they are FREE to do it that way. Fortunately, you can get the facts if you change the channel and learn to listen and determine your own opinions. I encourage you to stop regurgitating  the sound bites you hear and get the full story, contemplate it and share “your thoughts” not as truth but as “your thoughts.”   
 
Under Amendment 2, we have the right to own and keep guns. If you don’t like them, don’t buy them. If you like them, buy them and act responsibly. It is this right that in my humble opinion keeps our government and others from suppressing us the citizens even more. I often get concerned about our government infringing on our rights, both parties by the way. My guns are my last line of defense and I will keep them. Thank you.

Picture it:  you’re driving home from a long day at work. You reach an intersection with a green light. But, you’re t-boned by someone that runs the red light while on their cell phone. You have suffered some very severe injuries. You must be extracted from your car by the fire department. You’re flown by helicopter to the nearest trauma center and spend a month in the hospital. Your medical bills when you’re released are more than $150,000. You also have a permanent injury and can’t return to your old job or way of life.accident-on-the-city-road-at-night_t20_neaR6K-300x200

            The liability insurance for the person that caused the accident becomes the first source of your recovery. Each state sets the minimum amount (“minimum limits” in lawyer-speak) each driver must have in order to drive. North Carolina’s minimum limit is $30,000South Carolina’s minimum limit is $25,000.  There are no hard statistics, but (in our experience) the vast majority of drivers carry only the amount required by law. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that a minimum limit policy doesn’t go very far in your situation.  This sad scenario is something that we as injury lawyers see far too common. There is no worse feeling than telling an injured person that there is no way to get more money for a client.

            So, how do you avoid being out of money in a serious accident. You need to add a three-letter acronym to your own car insurance:  UIM.  UIM stands for under-insured motorist coverage. It is an optional coverage in both North and South Carolina.  UIM provides coverage to you in the event you’re in an accident in which the at-fault driver (the person that caused the accident) doesn’t have enough insurance to pay your bills. UIM covers you as a driver, not just your vehicle. The more UIM you buy then the greater your protection will be in the event of a catastrophic accident. The law in South Carolina requires an insurance agent to make a “meaningful offer” of UIM coverage. But you should specifically ask for UIM coverage as part of being an informed consumer.

BLUE LIGHTS – EMPTY WALLETS

IF YOU USE A CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING IN NORTH CAROLINA

A bill has been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly to make it a crime to use your cell phone while driving.  House Bill 144 would outlaw “distracted driving” and impose penalties that increase with subsequent offenses.  Beginning December 1, 2019, the police will have reason to pull over drivers who use their hands to engage in distracted behavior that impairs their operation of a motor vehicle.  The definition includes the use of a handheld mobile telephone or handheld electronic device.  If you receive one of these tickets, then be prepared to spend a pretty penny because the infraction carries a $100 fine in addition to the costs of court which boosts the total cost of a citation to nearly $300.  If you receive a second offense, then the fine goes up as well as carrying insurance points which will also cost you more money.  If you don’t learn a lesson from the previous two tickets, then you can expect a $200 fine, court costs, and 2 insurance points for another offense within 3 years.

The 7th Amendment, is a tool designed by our founding fathers to ensure that the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor, the politically connected and the unknown are equal in their ability to share their story with a jury.  Making sure these rights are forever retained by the citizens, helps protect us from tyranny.  This changed in the early 80’s when a handful of Supreme Court decisions incorrectly applied the Federal Arbitration Act to consumers and employees instead of leaving it between merchants as it was intended. It was a voluntary way merchants (equal power) could resolve disputes quickly and cheaply without having to go through the court system for contract disputes. The Supreme Court has allowed the Arbitration Act to be applied to individuals and enforced even when state law has voided them. This irrational reasoning was again the foundation of a 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision last year in Epic Systems Case, which allowed enforcement of arbitration clauses preventing employees from banding together to hold employers breaking the law accountable. When Wells Fargo cheated its customers by creating and charging for extra accounts, it protected itself with the forced arbitration clauses consumers did not know they had signed when they opened accounts. You find these forced arbitration clauses in all kinds of unusual places like nursing home agreements, cell phone contracts, banking agreements etc. It protects big business by preventing the harmed individual from having his or her day in court. The arbitration process limits discovery of information does not apply the rules of civil procedure, they frequently require secrecy of the results and are subject to the whim of a private arbitrator without the ability to appeal.

The US House of Representatives has passed H.R. 1423 to repeal mandatory forced arbitration. Call your senator and tell them to support the “Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act”. Every citizen deserves their right, assured to them under the Constitution to have a trial by jury. This is not a Republican versus Democrat or Conservative versus Liberal issue, it is as necessary to protect the right to a trial as it is to protect freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of religion or any other right afforded us by the Constitution. Be heard and fight for what is yours as an American, YOUR RIGHTS.

 

 

Voir Dire, the Art of Jury Selection

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I have picked a handful of juries over the years and I must tell you that it can be one of the hardest parts of a trial for a lawyer. First off, we really do not pick the jury. The court sends out random notices to citizens that they have been selected for jury duty and tells them where and when to show up or what number to call to find out about having to show up. Then, they all go to a room and watch a video, and some get randomly called by a clerk to go to a particular court room. Perhaps more than one trial is going on in the court house. Then those random folks sit in a court room and the clerk randomly selects (in most cases) twelve of the group to get in the jury box. Frequently the judge will ask several questions and he may excuse some of those folks only to have the clerk randomly select replacements. Then, finally, the lawyers in some jurisdictions get to ask questions and strike some of those potential jurors only to have them randomly replaced by others in the room. In our question asking process we are trying to learn enough about each juror to determine if he or she has any natural biases that would negatively impact our client or benefit the other side. Since both sides of the case participate in the process, in the end we should have in theory a fairly neutral jury. Let me give you some examples of the biases we often deal with when picking a jury. I try a good many motorcycle injury related cases. Some folks think motorcyclists get what they deserve (translation= you ride you are partly at fault) when they have been injured by another motorist because motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than a car. Perhaps some of the potential jurors have had experiences not seeing motorcycles on the road and identify with the defendant and hesitate to hold the negligent driver accountable. Some folks think all motorcyclist are bad people (translation= they deserve it), like these believers have watched way to many TV shows. The same type of concern happens to the defense when you represent someone who has been injured by a large commercial truck. The fear they have is that the jurors will have a natural bias against big commercial trucks (because it makes them nervous on the road) and the bigger truck can cause serious harm (translation= they are dangerous) and it is a corporation (translation= they can afford to pay for their mistakes). It is not easy to get potential jurors to open up to you about their beliefs, particularly those beliefs that may be biases. Too, they just met you, you are a stranger, they are in front of other strangers in a place they are uncomfortable and not accustomed to. Jury selection is an art, some lawyers are naturally better communicators than others but like all things, preparation, practice and experience makes us all better.  When I talk to jurors about bias, I talk about the bias I have for a sausage biscuit over a ham biscuit. I would want to be fair if I was randomly selected to decide the winner of a breakfast biscuit contest, but if one was sausage and one was ham, as fair as I might want to be, my bias/favoritism means the sausage biscuit  is going to win, and the contestants need to know of that bias. I would be a better judge or juror for a different kind of biscuit/trial. Often if we can put our legal questions in everyday scenarios, we can learn a lot about our juries and perhaps win our clients trial.

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Liability Insurance: A Necessary Evil

Let’s face it, just about nobody likes auto insurance.  For most people, it’s a cost you’re forced to pay for something you never get anything from.  Making matters worse, most people have no idea about what coverage they are paying for or what kind of options they really have.  For many, the only thing that matters is the cost.  However, if you are involved in a collision, having the right types and amount of insurance can make all the difference.  This post will address one of those types, liability insurance.

Liability Insurance

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Chances are that you have encountered driving through a city that has placed red light cameras at intersections.  The stated purpose is to increase safety at intersections by imposing a penalty for those drivers who run red lights.   The penalty fine varies from place to place but is typically $50 or $100 for a violation.  If not paid timely, then the fine amount doubles in most locations.

The Good.  When driving through an intersection, it is nice to know that other drivers may be less likely to run a red light if they fear being fined for that bad driving habit.  We know that 40% of the roughly 6 million car crashes that occur in the United States every year are intersection-related crashes.  Various surveys and data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warn us that intersections can be dangerous places.  If red light cameras cause drivers to be more careful not to enter an intersection on a red light, then that should be a good thing for all of us.

The Bad.  While red light cameras may make drivers more reluctant to enter an intersection on a red light, they can create situations where drivers slam on their brakes to avoid getting a ticket resulting in rear end collisions near these red light camera equipped intersections.  A review of studies on the topic by the Federal Highway Administration supports the conclusion that red light cameras reduce the number of right angle (T-bone) crashes, but also increase the number of rear-end collisions.  As a result of the conflicting safety data, many cities have removed previously placed red light cameras and at least 9 states have banned them altogether from being used.

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Choose Wisely…Your Insurance Company Matters

It seems like any time you turn on a television, radio or computer these days, you can’t escape a commercial from an insurance company.  Think about.  I bet you can hum the jingle or say the catchphrase from half a dozen insurance companies without even thinking hard.  That’s not a coincidence.  There are a handful of insurance companies that flood the airwaves with commercials and have done so for years.  I’ll admit, some of these are pretty clever.   Whether it is a talking amphibian, a guy constantly causing chaos or an athlete giving neighborly advice, the goal is always the same: to sell you insurance.  And you know what, it works!  The biggest advertisers have the most insureds in the United States.

So you may be thinking, so what, who cares how much these companies advertise?  Here’s the thing: The top advertisers are also the most difficult insurance companies to deal with from a settlement perspective.  It’s my opinion that the biggest advertisers make up for all of those advertising fees by paying less on insurance claims.  How a claim is handled, varies greatly one from insurer to the next, yet the top advertisers are almost all the most stingy when it comes to paying claims.  I don’t think that is a coincidence.

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