Author Archive

Driver License Offenses in NC

Traffic Attorney

Driving While License Revoked, Driving without an Operator’s License, Driving with an Expired License are NOT the same thing!

People call me looking for help with tickets all the time, and one of the things we run into is the use of words that don’t mean what people think they mean. Here’s a typical example…

“I hope you can help me. I got a ticket for driving with no license. What can you do to help?”

Well, that depends on what you mean. “Driving with no license” might mean you simply didn’t have your wallet with you. Not a big deal, easy fix, low charge. It might mean your license was expired, or maybe you simply haven’t gotten a license yet. Once again, not a huge problem, relatively easy to fix but with some hoops you’ll need to jump through, and not a big charge for me. Or it might mean your license is revoked. That IS a big deal, and depending on why it’s revoked, could end up being a lot of legwork for you, and a big charge from me to fix the mess.

Not having a license at all is different from having a license but not having it with you, which is different from having an expired license, which is totally different from having a revoked license. These. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Please, if you have a license problem, talk to an attorney, and get good advice ASAP to avoid making your problems even worse.

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Missed Your Court Date? It’s Worse Than You Think.

Traffic Attorney
Oh, snap! It’s the Po Po!

This happens DAILY… Someone gets a traffic ticket, they drop it in their purse or man bag or whatever, thinking, “I’ll deal with that later,” and POOF it’s forgotten.  Then they get pulled over for something silly in a few months, their license is revoked, and they go to jail. WHAT?!?! How can this happen?

I get it. You think “it’s only a traffic ticket” and you don’t prioritize it. You’ve got lots of stuff going on.  

I’m telling you, though, you need to take this seriously. 

Even a mere speeding ticket can have a huge impact on your life.  Even if it’s just speeding, not handling the charge correctly can be expensive at best, or can get you jail time.  That’s right. If you are driving while your license is revoked, that can lead to a jail sentence. Seriously.

This often happens to folks who, for whatever reason, also haven’t updated their address with DMV, so when DMV sends their warning letter about the missed court date (Failure to Appear, or FTA) and impending revocation of their license, the person doesn’t get it!  So the built-in warning system that DMV has to prevent this doesn’t work because they don’t know where you are anymore! Driving With Licensed Revoked (DWLR) is a Class 2 Misdemeanor in North Carolina, and the sentencing guidelines allow for jail time.  I refer to this as “snowballing”, because what starts out as a simple thing to manage starts rolling down the hill and turns into a much bigger and more dangerous problem, just like the snowballs rolling downhill turn into snow boulders in cartoons.

And you’re probably not surprised to find out it’s more expensive to hire an attorney on a DWLR charge than on a speeding ticket. So if you had just hired me initially, you’d have been WAY better off!

This can happen to you!  If you have an Orange County or Chatham County ticket, and you don’t want to go to court (or forget to go to court!) you need someone to help.  Call me at 919-929-2992 and I’ll be glad to help.  Don’t let something silly turn into something dangerous. 

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Approval Process for Settlements of Minors

Injury claims for Minors (under the age of 18) in North Carolina can present several difficulties. Today we’ll talk about the last hurdle: Getting the settlement approved in court.

When do you have to seek court approval for settlements for minors? Click here to read what I have to say about that.

Why do you need court approval? That’s also in the link above, but here’s a quick summary…Technically, minors can’t enter into a contract, which means they can’t settle their injury claim. Their parents can’t do it either, because it’s (mostly) not their claim! Granted, the medical bill portion of the minor’s claim is in fact the parents’ claim, but it normally gets lumped in with the minor’s recovery unless there are good reasons not to (sometimes there are). So the legislature empowered the courts with the ability to approve settlements for minors when they are, in the judgment of the court, in the best interests of the minor. This allows everyone involved finality so that when junior turns 18 he can’t come back and raise that claim again.

But let’s assume you’ve reached the point where everyone has agreed to settle. What happens then?

The first step is getting a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) appointed. This is where the Clerk appoints an adult with the ability to make litigation-related decisions for the minor. I normally request this at the same time that I file what is referred to here as a “friendly suit.” That gets you a court file, which then allows you and the defendants, represented by an attorney usually hired by an insurance company to jointly petition the court to approve the settlement. This is a Motion to Approve a Minor Settlement.

The rest is fairly straightforward. You get a date on a Motions Calendar and then the attorneys for the plaintiff (the minor) and the defendant, as well as the GAL and the minor, too, generally, unless there’s a good reason not to. At the call of the calendar, the judge determines the order of the Motions. Normally, these cases go first because they are short and because they want to get the kids back to school, or at least out of court.

Judges have different processes and standards for these, so it behooves you to do your research as to which judge you’re in front of and make sure you have all that they’ll require. But generally it’s a matter of presenting the facts and letting the GAL state that they understand and approve of the settlement. The judge may require further information, but this is normally the minimum.

The judge will, in his or her discretion, sign the proposed Order which will always tell what money comes in, what goes out, and to whom. The most important bit here is that the minor can’t just get the money yet. Depending on the amounts and the time-horizon (how long until they reach majority) there are different things that might happen to that money. The basic option is to leave it with the Clerk of Court. They hold it, but most of whatever minimal interest is made is eaten by the Clerk’s fee for holding it. Not ideal, but relatively safe. Another option often chosen is a structured settlement, which is, in a nutshell, giving the money to a financial company who in return promises to give it and more money back at a pre-determined time marker (age 18, or periodic payments thereafter). Some folks opt for a Trust so that the money can be used for the benefit of the minor in their minority. But the trust itself costs money to create and administer, and may or may not be a great option once again depending on the amount and time-horizon, as well as the needs of the child.

That’s the Minor Settlement Approval process in a nutshell. It can get complicated, and I don’t recommend doing it on your own without an attorney. If you have an injury claim, call me at 919-929-2992.

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Why you need an attorney ASAP after an accident

I heard a story recently that turned into a case study as to why you should call an attorney right after an automobile accident involving an injury.

Child was riding with his friend’s mother. Friend’s mother passed out at the wheel and crashed, resulting in injury to the child. Mother of the injured child spoke with the insurance company for the driver that passed out. They had questions as to whether or not the driver was negligent. There was an offer to pay “reasonable” medical expenses and a little on top for the trouble. This was accepted.

It turned out there were several things the mother of the victim didn’t understand:

  • The claim was potentially devalued due to the question of whether it was the driver’s fault that she passed out or not. Had she had an attorney, would could have easily discerned if there was a history of previous episodes, which would then have made a much stronger case…this was not done.
  • The mother didn’t know that she should have used her health insurance to pay the child’s medical expenses. It wasn’t until a year later that she started getting bills, so she didn’t know what was owed (see below) AND it was then probably too late to get her health insurance to pay, resulting in potentially HUGE financial loss from the loss of the insurance adjustments.
  • When the mother was negotiating the settlement of her child’s claim, she had no idea how to value the claim. Particularly, she didn’t even know what her medical bills were, or who was technically responsible for them (she was!), or how to get help with them (see above). Also, she didn’t take into consideration the offer was for “reasonable” medical expenses…guess who gets to define “reasonable” under the terms of that deal? You guessed it, and it ain’t mom.
  • She accepted the settlement deal as offered by the at-fault carrier. Maybe she and her daughter are stuck with that, even though they really didn’t know what should have been considered or what the case might potentially have been worth!

It baffles me every time I hear someone trying to manage something this complex on their own. I get it. There are some successful, smart people out there that feel like they’re totally competent to handle an injury claim. Maybe they can. But what if they can’t? You don’t get do-overs in this business. And every mistake you make can cost you money. Would you start to build your own house, then after you had a big pile of crap try to hire a contractor to fix it? NO! You’d hire a contractor from the start to make sure it was done right the first time.

If you’re in an accident and you’re hurt. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992. Maybe you don’t need me. But maybe you do. Either way, I can help you understand better what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

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Use my Health Insurance or Let the Provider Claim a Lien?

Generally speaking, it makes sense to use your health insurance for your healthcare costs after an accident in North Carolina. That’s what you’re paying for, right? But sometimes the health insurance isn’t necessarily the best option for you. So what do you do?

Let’s talk about how we normally see health care bills paid for under different circumstances…

Normally, you go to the hospital, you have them file your health insurance. You have some co-pay, and/or maybe you have to reach some deductible amount you have to reach before your health carrier pays. Either way, you still probably get a pretty good discount on the treatment costs because of the “contractual adjustment” that your carrier has negotiated with your provider. But depending on your plan, that co-pay and/or deductible amount may be astronomically outside of your current means. In that case, if you can’t pay your part, you might not be able to use your health insurance. So what then?

Sometimes health care providers get the sad fact above, and in those cases they may offer to claim a lien on any potential settlement. In other words, if someone else’s negligence led to you seeking health care, then that provider might say that they’ll withhold collection attempts until your case gets settled, and if they do what they’re supposed to, you’ll be legally obligated to pay at least some of their bill from any settlement proceeds.

Which option is right for you? Only you can decide that. But it makes a lot of sense to talk to someone – like me – who deals with this sort of situation all the time to help you better understand your options and concerns, and then make the best decision for you. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Do you get a bigger settlement with an attorney?

Look. No one, not me, not an insurance company, not that uncle that knows everything that all of my clients seem to have, can tell you what your settlement might be with an attorney and what it might be without an attorney. I know you want to know, but it’s just impossible.

Still, there are things you can think about that can help you answer the question, though maybe not answering the exact question.

In 1995, Allstate produced a training manual for its claim adjusters [Allstate Insurance Co., Unrepresented Segment Training Manual, 15-30, July 1995]. This document stressed the importance of convincing claimants to represent themselves and not retain an attorney.  Why? Allstate explained its position with a number of telling statistics: With settlements under $15,000 injured claimants represented by an attorney averaged $7,450 in a total settlement. Those who represented themselves to Allstate averaged only $3,464.

With the insurance giant’s own data, the average of settlements they themselves were paying out tilted heavily in favor of victims represented by attorneys. That’s a big deal.

Now, will that always be the case? Who knows? But if you’re the type of person who generally believes past performance predicts future outcomes, then there ya go.

The other thing to look at is how you would come about obtaining that settlement. In the end, to me, the biggest difference is how much work YOU, as the injured person, have to put into the result. If you’re not represented, the answer is ALL of the work (not to mention the fact that you probably don’t know the best way to do all of that work). But if you’re represented by an attorney, THAT’S what you’re paying for. And you’re not even paying! In a contingency fee arrangement, the fee is a percentage of the recovery. Worst case scenario, maybe you could have gotten the same result (but see the first point above!), but even if that’s the case, with an attorney, you didn’t have to work to get it. Isn’t that worth something?

If you’re an accident victim, talk to an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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You have the right to remain silent

Most people, thanks to the all-powerful television, know their Miranda rights when it comes to an interaction with law enforcement. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you…” You should also consider this as guidance when dealing with insurance companies.

Remember, adjusters and other investigators working for insurance companies are trained to ask questions in such a way as to elicit responses that are unfavorable to you. When beginning a conversation with an injury victim, they might ask (as we all might), “How are you today?” to which the victim with an injury might, by default, reply, “I’m fine, how are you?” Great. You just said you were “fine.” Your words. Not theirs. You done messed up.

That’s a silly example, but it illustrates the issue. Assume everything you say is being recorded. And let’s face it, you’re not trained to do this. You’re not trained to be suspicious of every question. In fact, most of us are hard-wired to try to work with others and get along and show that we aren’t hiding anything. Well guess that what gets you? It gets you problems.

If you’ve got a claim with an insurance company, especially an injury claim where there is so much riding on it, talk to an attorney before you speak too much to the insurance companies involved. You could save yourself a lot of trouble, time, and money. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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How soon should you get an attorney for your accident claim?

Trucking Accident Attorney

I’ll go ahead and say it: Some people prefer the wait and see approach. That is stupid.

The very minute your accident occurs, you are in an adversarial confrontation. The other driver’s insurance company doesn’t want to pay you anything, and if they have to pay you something, they want to pay you as little as possible. So you better believe that from that very moment of the accident forces will be working against you and your claim. How much damage can be done before you hire an attorney? You’d be surprised.

Insurance adjusters are trained to ask you questions in such a way as to elicit answers that will help them, not you. In North Carolina, we still have an ancient law called Contributory Negligence. If the adjuster can make you accept even 1% of responsibility for the accident occurring, they have a great reason to deny your claim – by your own admission?

And that’s just one of the ways they’ll look to trip you up.

If you want to protect yourself and your rights after an accident call a lawyer ASAP. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Back to Back Auto Accidents

Ugh.

Because of some weird law of the universe that is as of yet unexplained, clients often suffer two auto accidents within a few months of each other. This makes for a complicated claims scenario that no one wants, but we have to deal with it sometimes. So where to begin?

If you’re lucky (that being relative, of course), your accidents are completely distinct. If case one involves a neck injury and case two involves a foot injury, then that makes things infinitely more simple. But often times we’re faced with similar injuries, or possibly aggravation of the first injuries. That makes things way more difficult.

The onus will mainly lie with the health care providers to help you distinguish between your diagnoses and what caused what when. Having a health care provider who can confidently help you navigate that will be crucial to the successful presentation of your claim, so choose wisely!

If possible, create a cut-off between treatment for the two accidents. If you were close to wrapping up treatment on the first one and then the second one happens, you might as well call it quits on the first treatment period and move forward with trying to resolve that claim if possible. The first insurance carrier is going to give you grief about paying for anything that happens after the second date of injury, so this makes a lot of sense for both sides of the case.

It is hopeful that you’ve already handled your property damage claim from the first accident because if you haven’t, you’re in for a world of nonsense. Good luck!

All personal injury claims require tailored advice and solutions because they all have their own character and difficulties. These back to back cases are even more temperamental, so seek advice as soon as you can. Call an attorney. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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When can I pay off my ticket in NC?

Traffic Attorney

“The cop told me I can just pay this ticket off? Is that a bad idea?”

Almost certainly, yes, that’s a bad idea.

Look, obviously I have some interest in you hiring me to handle your ticket for you, but hear me out: There are only VERY rare circumstances in which paying off your speeding ticket won’t hurt you from an insurance point perspective. So when is it OK to pay off a speeding ticket?

The ONLY time I think it’s reasonable to pay off a speeding ticket in NC is when you have ALL of the following circumstances:

  1. You’re charged with speeding 10 mph over the limit or less;
  2. You have not been convicted of any moving violation within the past 3 years;
  3. You haven’t been in an at-fault auto accident within the past 3 years.

If you have those exact circumstances, fine, pay it off if you want. But it’s still smart to call an attorney who handles tickets in that county to see if you might be able to do better. Paying a little extra up front might save you a lot of trouble later. You see, if you do get convicted of a moving violation within 3 years of paying off that ticket, you’ll get the points from the new ticket AND the points from the old one will be activated.

Like lots of legal stuff, it’s tricky. So get some quality advice before you act. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Contact Jeffrey

Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
1829 E. Franklin St. - Bldg 600
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

(P) 919-929-2992
(F) 919-636-4779

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