Author Archive

But it’s my first ticket!!!!

Traffic Attorney

When you get a ticket in North Carolina you should take it seriously. Tickets aren’t just about the dollar amount on the paper you were given (if there is one). They can have HUGE impacts on your future insurance rates for years to come and MIGHT even result in the loss of your license. Tickets can be a big deal!

Most of you know this, so you naturally want to use everything you can think of to defend yourself against the consequences. But I’m here to tell you, “But this is my first ticket!” is NOT a valid defense.

Sure, if you’ve got a clean record that can help you in negotiating a better outcome. But PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY get the idea that you get one free ticket out of your head. This is NOT a thing.

If you’ve got a speeding ticket in NC, you should seek legal advice immediately, preferably from an attorney in the same geographic area as where you received the ticket. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Empty Your Cup

I learned a great lesson from a story early in my life and I’ve found that lesson to be relevant almost every day of my life since. It’s particularly relevant when you are going to seek help from someone who is an expert in their field. Here’s the story:

A young man who had begun studying a subject and who had discussed said subject with his friends and family decided it was time to further his studies in the field by seeking an acknowledged master in the field. The teacher he sought had studied the field in a rigorous academic setting for years, had been tested by other recognized experts in the field, AND had decades of practical experience working hands-on within that field.

The young man finally found the teacher and asked her to teach him. She said that first they should have a cup of coffee and discuss things. The teacher began to set out cups and to pour the coffee. As she filled the young man’s cup, it began to overflow, but she continued to pour. The young man exclaimed, “Teacher! My cup is already full!”

The teacher replied, “Exactly. When you come seeking knowledge you must first empty the cup of the knowledge that you are looking to improve upon. If your cup is already full, I cannot fill it.”

This is something we should all carry with us. We might think we know something, or even a lot, about a certain subject. We might have talked to Uncle Joe or Cousin Suzy or our friend Aaron and gotten their take on it, but we must consider the source of our so-called “knowledge.” Did we learn what we think we learned from actual experts in this field? Did the people we discussed this with give us hard-won, field-tested practical knowledge they had gained through study and work, OR did they simply confirm our own bias/prejudice and we sucked it up just because it felt good to be validated?

If you really want to learn, empty your cup. If you seek the information/guidance/assistance of an actual expert in a field, then dispose of the dross that you’ve accumulated in your head from non-authorities. Do not insult the practical experience of the expert whose help you’re seeking by contesting it against the anecdotal drivel you’ve allowed yourself to be poisoned by.

If, on the other hand, you just want to keep believing what you already believe, or thinking what you already think, just because that feels comforting then do that. But don’t try to compare your feelings to the expert’s knowledge. They are not the same.

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How to Avoid A Nightmare Injury Claim in NC

This title is a little misleading in that I can’t tell you EVERYTHING you would need to eliminate the possibility of a nightmare injury claim scenario in NC, obviously, but I can only put so much in a title. Bear with me.

I’ve seen this so many times and its tragic each time: Person is driving along, minding their own beeswax, when out of nowhere BOOM some knucklehead rams into them, resulting in horrific injury. As knuckleheads are wont to do, this particular knucklehead only purchased the bare minimum insurance coverage required by the State of NC to operate a motor vehicle legally. That, by the way, is $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. That means if you’re the unfortunate victim here. The MOST their insurance company has to pay you, regardless of the extent of your injuries and the cost of your medical care and the time you missed from work and whatever disability you have now, is $30,000. That’s it.

Of course, you are welcome to sue the bad guy and try to get a judgment in excess of that $30,000. That’s totally within your rights. But how do you turn that into actual money? What you would have to do with your judgment is called “execution,” which means you send the Sheriff out to collect his personal belongings and sell them. What do you think are the odds of a person who has $30,000 in liability coverage also happening to have a significant dollar amount worth of personal property? Pretty low, I’m thinking. If someone were to empty the contents of a rando’s home in NC, there might be, what, $10,000 worth of stuff at an auction? Is that really going to help you?

This all sounds really depressing, right? I know. So you’re probably asking, “But Jeffrey, what can we do to avoid this scenario? We can’t make people get more insurance? Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?” You’re totally right and I’m glad you asked. The first step is to call your insurance agent. What you need is as much “Underinsured Motorist Coverage” (UIM) as you can possibly afford. Some companies will let you purchase this increase independently of your own limits. Otherwise your UIM coverage will match your own liability coverage. But if you have to increase your liability to get some reasonably high UIM, I think it’s worth it. Obviously, don’t go bankrupt over-insuring yourself, but chances are you won’t. This sort of coverage is relatively inexpensive and if buying that stuff and never using it is the worst financial decision you make in your life, you’re lucky. But if you do end up needing it, you’ll be SOOO glad you did.

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This is how you are not getting out of a traffic ticket

Traffic Attorney

Oh, lort. I’ve heard ’em all. Everyone has a reason why they were speeding. But guess what!? The reasons almost never matter. Speeding is speeding. If you’re going over the limit, whether you meant to or not, or had a very compelling reason, you’re still breaking the law. Not my fave either, but it’s how it is.

What are some good old chestnuts? These are classics:

“But I was driving with the flow of traffic!” This is just another way of saying everyone, including myself, was speeding. That’s not a great alibi, buddy.

“I didn’t know the speed limit had changed!” There was probably a sign. Derp.

“I wasn’t speeding until this guy started tailgating me, and then I had to speed to get away from him.” OK, Magnum, good job getting rid of your tail, but you were speeding.

“I was behind this tractor trailer that was going so slow and I just sped up to pass him!” If you speed while speeding you’re speeding.

“Yeah, I was speeding but this is my first ticket.” You don’t get speeding ticket mulligans, my dude. Although, the PJC is kind of that, come to think of it, but don’t rely on your clean record as a defense.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I have seen tickets get dismissed for some very valid reasons. The most obvious one is where I had a lady produce a birth certificate for the child she bore right after getting the ticket on the way to the hospital. Free pass on that one is totally the right call. But unless you’re popping a kid out, your excuse is probably dumb. Just sayin.

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How Do I Write My Pain Journal?

If you follow my writing or have been a client, you know that to help build the framework for the pain and suffering aspect of my clients’ personal injury claims, I recommend that they document their recovery/suffering/experience in a Pain Journal. Many of them ask, “How should I write my pain journal?” and I don’t have a super clear answer for them, sadly. Here’s the deal:

Your pain journal should be yours. It should be in your words, in your ways. I want it to not only reflect your experience throughout your recovery, but to reflect you and your personality. Because of all of that, I can’t say it should look like this or look like that; this is a very personal account of a painful experience, and the more micromanaging of that process I do the less powerful it tends to be.

Having said that, the minimum standard I ask for is that the journal should reflect 1) what hurts, 2) how badly, and 3) how it affects you in your day to day life EACH DAY FROM THE ACCIDENT UNTIL YOU REACH MAXIMUM MEDICAL IMPROVEMENT. I prefer them in a Word Doc or a Google Doc because they’re easily shared. Otherwise, formatting and content are totally up to you. More is more, generally, but you can guess that there’s a point where it becomes oversharing. Trust your gut.

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Working WITH Your Attorney For Best Results

For the most part I’m an extremely lucky guy (for being an attorney, anyway). The vast majority of my clients get it. They know that this is a two-party relationship where each of us – attorney and client – have individual roles to play that, when combined, are greater than the sum of their parts. When attorney and client worth TOGETHER on a claim, the best results for the client are far more likely to be obtained. Conversely, when the client doesn’t participate, bad things happen in the claim.

Once again, I’m luck enough that most of my clients do not fail to participate. Most of my clients are actively involved in the development and management of their claims, which is great for both of us. The claim is made healthier by client involvement, which typically results in better settlements, which results in happier clients and a happier attorney, frankly. Everyone wins in that scenario!

The opposite is true when clients fail to participate. What do I mean by failing to participate? Here are some examples:

  • I need to know how your treatment is going. I’ll typically reach out by email to each client every 2-4 weeks, depending on circumstances, to obtain updates as to treatment. If you don’t let me know what’s happening (or not happening, as the case my be) I can’t help you manage that situation to better your outcome. You gotta communicate!
  • I need you to complete the tasks I set you. Some folks think that when they hire an attorney for their injury claim, the attorney does ALL of the work. The truth is the attorney does A LOT of the work, but there are some things that the attorney CANNOT do for the client. I can’t write your pain journal. I can’t make you attend your treatment regularly. I can’t make sure your health insurance is being billed. I can’t talk to your health insurance for you about potential subrogation issues. I can’t provide documentation about your own auto insurance coverage to myself. I can’t make sure that you’re adequately describing all of your symptoms to your providers and making sure you’re going to the right ones. I can’t guess if you want to make a diminished value claim, nor can I make your appraisal appointment for you. I can’t send myself bills that you are getting in the mail. There’s simply a lot of stuff that I cannot do for you because, in short, I ain’t you.
  • I need you to respond to questions, particularly about settlement. This one is less of a problem because if we’ve gotten to the point of settling the claim then that’s normally because the client has been reasonably responsive so far (or else we wouldn’t have likely gotten there, though there are exceptions). But sometimes you’ll run into clients that simply lose interest (or maybe just have some other stuff going on) and as a result they don’t respond to questions about settlement authority. I can’t settle your case without your consent. Another way to say this is unless you tell me it’s OK, I can’t get you the money you hired me to get you. So it’s in your interests to talk to me.

What it really boils down to is this: It takes two to tango. In the immortal words of Jerry McGuire, “Help me to help you!” As much as I can do for you (and I can do a lot!) I can’t handle your case without your help. It really is about communication. If you just respond to questions and assignments this entire process will be better and easier for everyone involved. Don’t ghost me, or your claim will be the thing that really suffers.

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Dog Attack Liability in NC

Liability for dogbites/dog attacks (let’s just use the latter for now, because it doesn’t have to be a bite for it to be bad) in North Carolina can be a bit confusing.

Nominally, there is strict liability for dog attacks in NC. But it’s very contextual. IF a dog owner has knowledge of a dog’s “dangerous propensities” and the dog causes injury, then they’re on the hook. So what does all of that mean?

First, you have to show that the dog possessed “dangerous propensities.” This is just another way of saying that the dog had a history of doing something that might cause injury. Had it bitten a dog before? A person? Does it love to jump up and knock people down? Those are all dangerous propensities.

Second, you have to show that the owner was aware of those propensities. Assuming the previous action happened on the owner’s watch, then they’re aware. Though you can imagine some scenarios where this might not be the case.

This has led to the nomenclature of the “One Bite Rule.” That essentially means if your dog is sweet as sugar and has never done anything bad to anything or anyone, THEN it does, it’s first bit of shenanigans gets a pass because you weren’t aware of any dangerous propensities.

But after that, now you might be on the hook. After a dog has been involved in an attack (bite, tackle, whatever), the owner is theoretically legally liable for the damages caused by all future incidents.

The history of the one-bite rule goes back to English Common Law. That’s right, we still employ legal principles that were invented before people bathed regularly and slavery was no big deal. Although the majority of states have amended these laws, some have not (I’m looking at you, backwards ass NC legislature).

While North Carolina still has the One Bite Rule, you aren’t necessarily stuck with that. You can still make a normal negligence argument stick in a situation where you can prove that a reasonably prudent person in the same or similar circumstances would have acted differently. However, this also puts into play another stupid old English Law we have – Contributory Negligence – so watch out for that.

Like many injury claims, dog attacks can be complex. It’s worth talking to a lawyer, so if you’re in this unfortunate situation, call a lawyer. Call me. 919-929-2992.

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Orange County and Chatham County Speeding Tickets

Traffic Attorney

I get calls all the time asking if I’m a “traffic ticket lawyer,” and while I don’t like to label myself, it is very true that amongst the many services that I offer is assisting people with traffic tickets in Orange and Chatham Counties in North Carolina. So, if you insist, that might make me a “traffic ticket lawyer.” Fine.

Call me what you want, but it makes A LOT of sense to get a lawyer if you have a traffic ticket. Speeding tickets can do so much harm to you if you aren’t careful. If the speed is high enough you might lose your license, and that’s not even counting what they might do to your insurance rates (doubling over the next three years sound fun?).

It’s not worth the risk. If you get a speeding ticket in Orange County or Chatham County, NC, call me to get some help. 919-929-2992

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Diminished Value Appraisals…Are They Worth the $$$?

If your vehicle is damaged and repaired after an accident, you may have what’s called a diminished value claim, meaning your car might be worth less than it was before the accident and you might be entitled to compensation for that. So how do you know?

As with most things in this business, you never really know. You might have certain factors that strengthen or weaken your claim, but you never really know for sure. So let’s talk about how these claims work.

First, I will say that in my experience, if your car is older than 5 years and/or has greater than 50k miles on it, you’re probably putting good money after bad trying to pursue a DV claim. Can it work? Maybe. But are you more likely than not just spinning your wheels? I think so. But having said that, there’s more to it…

The main thing you should know is these claims are expert-driven, which means that your ability to prevail is very much dependent on what your nominated expert says as to the lost in value to your vehicle. Who is your expert? Is it you? Is it your uncle who is a used car salesman? Is it Carmax? Is it a licensed appraiser? Who is saying what you’ve lost makes a HUGE difference in these claims.

The gold standard for DV claims is having a licensed appraiser document in writing what their opinion as to the loss of value is. People ask me all the time if the appraisals are worth it and the thing is, I can never answer that before the claim is resolved. I really can’t say for sure. But what I can say for sure is that you’re FAR more likely to get some sort of semi-reasonable offer WITH such an appraisal than you are without. So in that sense, I think they’re worth it. But that would also be affected by the inherent strength of your claim (see the age/mileage note above). Another way to state this is that if you just show a Carmax offer to buy your car and you say, “Hey, that’s less than I thought it was!” then you probably won’t be taken as seriously as you would be if you paid for an appraisal.

Of course, there are other factors to consider. Was your car just off the lot? That actually hurts, because new cars always drop in value immediately, so while you have an argument there, it’s a little weaker than it would be if your car was about a year off the lot. That’s kind of the sweet spot for these claims. Did you have another accident a few weeks after this one? That’s probably a killer there. Was the car a salvaged vehicle? Good luck with that. Was it just a bumper replacement? That’s a tough argument.

As with lots of stuff, it’s complicated. I can’t always say that a DV appraisal will be worth it, but in the right circumstances it can take an arguable claim to a very solid one. Talk to a trustworthy attorney about your facts and get some good advice. Talk to me. 919-929-2992.

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How to Pay Your Bills After An Auto Accident

Having medical bills pile up following an auto accident in North Carolina is one of the biggest stressors that comes from having a personal injury claim. And there’s a great deal of confusion – even after I write blog post after blog post! – about who is responsible for victims’ bills immediately following an accident. Here is the low-down:

Who is responsible for paying my medical bills after an auto accident I didn’t cause? Sadly, you are. That’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s how our system works. Don’t get me wrong, with the right facts a good personal injury attorney (wink wink) has a great chance of getting you paid back for your medical expenses and then some. But at the beginning, your bills are your bills and no one else’s. If you want to avoid collections, you have to deal with them.

How do I deal with my medical bills after an auto accident I didn’t cause? First step is USE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE. They are still on the hook, regardless of the event giving rise to your need for medical care. So make sure they’re being billed! The next step is to SET UP A PAYMENT PLAN if necessary. You can avoid being sent to collections (and have a lot of headache and credit damage) simply by offering to pay $10/month toward your bills. At the end of the case, we can hope to pay all of that off plus pay you back what you paid out. But this is how you handle it at the beginning.

This hits a lot of people hard. When you’re hurt due to the negligence of another, it really seems weird that you’re on the hook for your own treatment. But the fact is that’s just how our system is built currently. Once again, with the right facts you might have a legal claim against the at-fault party that may allow you to recover your medical expenses as well as other losses, but that’s the next step. The first step is addressing the medical expenses up front to avoid damage down the road. Follow my advice and you should be OK. And remember, call an attorney – call me – if you’re in this situation. 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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