Articles Tagged with lawyer

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.

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.

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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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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