MINORS’ SETTLEMENTS – WHERE THE MONEY GOES

Injury cases for minors require court approval in the State of NC.  But where does that money go when it’s approved?

Let’s start where it doesn’t go:  It does not go to the parents.  The concern is that it would be spent for some other reason than for the minor, so the courts don’t allow this.  But what do they allow?

The most common option is to give the money to the Clerk of Court.  It will be conservatively invested and the minor can come get it when they turn 18.  The minimal fees that the Clerk charges will eat up whatever minimal returns the money makes, so it should be roughly the same as the principle.  The Clerk has authority to release funds when the minor requires them, but that’s discretionary, and as a matter of practice, doesn’t happen a lot.

The defendants can also purchase an annuity that will pay the child over time.  This will normally  have the money being essentially in reserve until the child reaches a target age, at which point periodic disbursements can begin, or perhaps a lump sum.

You can also have a trust created for the child.  This is kind of like the Clerk option, but a private version of it.  A trust would have to be drafted outlining the rules for the funds.  A trustee (not a parent!) would be appointed and they would be responsible for following the rules of the trust.  That trustee would have authority, under those rules, to disburse funds when it was in the best interests of the child.  This allows the child more access, in theory, but the cost of the trust is somewhat high, and a court isn’t guaranteed to accept it.

If you’ve got an injury claim for a minor, call me.  919-929-2992.

 

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Do I have to pay my own medical bills after an accident?

BOOM!  Some jack@$$ runs into you.  You go to the hospital and all that.  A few weeks later, you’re hit with medical bills from the hospital AND maybe even ongoing treatment costs from physical therapy, medications, and whatever else.  So who’s to pay?

Sadly, in NC, we all are responsible for our own health care UNTIL we make someone else assume responsibility.  That means that you’re on the hook for all of those bills, at least for the time being.

Remember, this is EXACTLY why health insurance still exists.  USE IT!  I don’t care what your hospital or other providers say, you can use your health insurance for a liability claim.  NC does NOT have PIP or no-fault coverage so they can’t hope to get paid more from that stuff.  Use your health insurance.  Of course, that means you’re stuck with c0-pays and deductibles, but that’s better than having to pay it all at once.

If you have an attorney (like me) we can also ask providers to back off collection efforts if you find yourself in that position; they are not legally obligated to stop collection efforts, but most providers in NC understand this situation and will often hold off for a bit.

When you’re all done with care, or at least to a point where it makes sense to move on your claim, we then try to get everything we can from the at-fault party’s automobile liability insurance, and maybe, if necessary, from your own UIM auto coverage.

In a nutshell, you’ve gotta pay your bills at first, but attorneys like me try our best to minimize that outflow and then to maximize your recovery for those bills you incur.

If you’re in an auto accident, call me.  919-929-2992.

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Sudden Emergency Doctrine is Kinda BS, but Kinda Not

You’re driving down the road.  KAZOW!  A deer leaps in front of you.  You slam on brakes.  So does the chap behind you, but he hits you anyway.  He’s liable, right?

Not necessarily.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine is a defense to negligence claims for people who, “through no fault of their own, are suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with imminent danger to himself or others” and is compelled to act instantly.  In those situations, even if the person doesn’t make the best decision possible, they might not be found liable.

The doctrine has good intentions. If you’re on the other end of this, it makes more sense…let’s say you were driving on the highway at 65 mph (when that’s the limit, of course) and a truck loses a 3000 pound pipe.  You swerve to avoid it and run into someone else.  Hey, you swerved into someone, so that’s your bad, right?  Well, that looks like a Sudden Emergency to me, and you didn’t cause it, so you’re probably not at fault!

I get it.  Stuff happens, and sometimes the person we think should be held liable really shouldn’t be.  But as with all things created by man, this doctrine can be misused by insurance companies.  So watch it!

Cases where there might be a Sudden Emergency defense should be handled carefully.  If you have a situation that this might fit into, please call me!  919-929-2992.

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Texting While Driving is a Problem

It’s wild out there.  With so much technology available at our fingertips, people are paying less attention tot he road and we’re all in danger as a result.

Of course, there are benefits.  We can entertain our children and ourselves better, we can work, etc., but do those benefits outweigh the risks?

Check this out:

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/dangers-texting-while-driving

In a nutshell:

  • Over 8 people are killed and 1,161 are injured daily in incidents reported as distraction-affected crashes in the United States.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and an estimated additional 391,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.
  • In 2015, the National Occupant Protection Use Survey reported that handheld cell phone use continued to be highest among 16-24 year old drivers.

Be careful out there, can call me if you need help: 919-929-2992.

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This is what your injury claim process should look like

Nah, it shouldn’t look like that guy.

Your injury claim process should, in the best situations, look something like this:

 

*There is a video summary of this stuff here:

https://www.jeffreyhowardlaw.com/category/video-library/introduction-to-the-claims-process/

 

Dear Client,

We probably discussed this in our initial interview, but I like to make sure we’re all on the same page as we move forward with your case.  So you’ll be able to look back at this document to understand what I’m doing on your case and what your responsibilities are, I’ve outlined below how most cases will progress.

 

CLAIM INITIATION

If the insurance company doesn’t already know, I’ll make sure a claim is set up with the at-fault insurance company.  They may request a recorded statement from you to help their initial set-up.  If so, we’ll discuss whether or not we want to do that.  You should make sure I’m aware of any alternative insurance coverage that you have as well, including Medical Payments coverage, Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage, or anything else.  I can set up those claims as well.  Don’t talk to any insurance company representatives.  My job at this phase is to make sure the insurance company is off of your back so you can focus on what’s really important: your health.  Parenthetically, I will add your email address to my monthly newsletter list.  Please let me know if you would prefer to not be on that list.

*IF your vehicle was not totaled, AND you believe that the damage done to the vehicle will dramatically affect the resale value of it, then you should act immediately to secure a diminished value appraisal.  If you require assistance in coordinating this, please let me know immediately.  Failure to act on this promptly can make recovery on this issue difficult or impossible, so act now if you think it is an issue. Also, if your vehicle is in storage, let me know ASAP and work on getting it out if necessary!

 

TREATMENT PHASE

If you’ve hired me to help with your case, you’re probably injured.  That means you’ll be getting some kind of health care treatment.  I’d like to hear from you every two to four weeks just to get an update as to how your treatment is progressing.  There are many developments that can occur, so knowing where things are headed will help me handle your claim that much better.  Make sure you’re sending me copies of bills as you receive them and make sure I’m aware of ALL of the health care providers related to your claim.  If you have health insurance by all means use it!  There are some circumstances, like with chiropractors, that you may not need to use your health insurance.  Talk to me if you have questions about that.  If you don’t have insurance, talk to me about how bills get paid and what sort of plan you might need to come up with.  They don’t have to suspend collections, but if you send me copies of the letters you send I can ask them to do so.  If your health insurance contacts you about your claim, particularly asking if someone else is responsible for your accident or simply asking to be paid back, you should let me know immediately.  We normally won’t try to settle your case until you’ve reached what’s called “Maximum Medical Improvement,” meaning you’re as good as you’re going to get after your injury.  This will help me know how to value your claim and how to move forward, so it’s important I know when you’re released from care. Also, don’t forget to keep a pain journal about how your injuries are affecting you every day and what you are missing out on.

An important note on EMS bills:  They WILL garnish your wages if you don’t  pay them something (health insurance, payment arrangements, etc.) so let me know if they are hassling you ASAP.

 

DOCUMENTATION PHASE

When you tell me you’re done with treatment, that’s when I’ll get all of your records and bills together.  For the most part I’ll be able to get all of that stuff on my own.  Some providers are fast and some are slow with these things, so bear with me during this process.  What I won’t be able to get will be documentation of your lost wage claim.  If you have one, you will need to get me something from your employer stating clearly how much time you lost and how much money that represents to you.  If you’re interested in claiming any other damages as a result of this claim, you should let me know now so we can determine if it’s feasible and how we can document it.

 

NEGOTIATION PHASE

After I have all of the documentation necessary to value your claim, you and I will discuss what I think a reasonable settlement goal is for your case.  At this assessment, I will take into consideration liability arguments, possible defenses, damages, proof of causation, and intangibles.  I will compare these factors of your case with similar cases I’ve had or other attorneys have had to determine what we should be looking for.  I’ll then prepare a settlement brochure with a demand letter clearly documenting your damages and explaining our theory as to why your case is so good (of course I’ll puff a little).  Afterward the insurance company will evaluate it and we will negotiate; they’ll work me down and I’ll work them up.  At a certain point we will both cease moving and you and I will know whether or not we will get this case settled.  If we don’t, then we’ll have to talk about litigation, which is a whole memo unto itself.  If we do get it settled…

 

SETTLEMENT PHASE

…then in most cases the insurance company will send us two things: 1) a two-party check and, 2) a release.  The two-party check will be written to you AND to my office.  I’ll need you to sign that check so I can run it through my trust account to make sure it clears (I have had insurance companies bounce checks on me) and so I can disburse the funds as necessary for your case.  This is where we will pay outstanding medical bills, liens, fees, and other expenses, AND you’ll get your check.  The clearing process takes at least a week in the bank, so once again, bear with me during this process.  The release will need to be signed by you (and sometimes notarized).  This document normally simply says that you are not going to sue the defendants over any aspect of this claim any more.  Normally, I’ll mail you the check and release so you can sign both of these documents at the same time.  I’ll call you when your check is ready and I can mail it to you or you can come by if you like.  I will often leave your check on the sill outside my office so you can come by as you are available.  This doesn’t mean that I am trying to avoid you!  I do this for YOUR benefit so you’re not tied to my very, very busy schedule.  Almost every day I’m meeting with new or old clients, in and out of the office, am in court, or am in a meeting of some sort, so it’s really hard to catch me when most people are available, so this works best for most people.

There you have it.  This should explain most of what will happen in the normal claim.  As always if there are any deviations I’ll do my best to let you know.  If you have any questions, just call!  I look forward to working with you.

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The Dirty Secret of Personal Injury Law

Whether it’s fair or not, the amount of damage done to your vehicle has a LOT to do with the value of your personal injury claim.

I’ll be the first to say that, categorically, there is no 1:1 correlation between the damage done to a vehicle and the physical damage sustained by the occupant.  Every health care provider that I have ever deposed, or even spoken to off the record, has told me that the property damage does not necessarily predict the injuries to the occupant (there are, of course, some insurance company prostitutes out there, but we’re not talking about them).

It’s really just physics.  Cars are made from different substances than people, so they take impacts differently.  The best analogy is that of the egg carton: Your egg carton in the store might look totally fine, but all of your eggs could be cracked.  Same with cars…a car might look fine after an accident, but the occupant might be seriously injured.

The problem is that we’re talking science.  We’re talking logic.  And as we have seen particularly with regard to our most recent presidential election, things like logic and science don’t necessarily hold sway with everyone.

Over the years insurance companies have seen a lot of traction with the argument, “If the car ain’t hurt then the person in the car can’t be hurt!”  Conservative/uneducated/bitter jurors are easily swayed by this argument.  It is not based in science, and virtually every health care provider will argue against it.  But that doesn’t matter.  Sadly, there is a large contingent of our population that simply doesn’t care about the science or the logic behind the argument.  They are driven by different motivations.  They see people who file suit after auto accidents as taking advantage of the system or trying to profit from an accident.  They have fallen prey to the conservative attacks in the media that argue for “tort reform” despite the fact that things like medical malpractice verdicts are virtually non-existent these days, particularly in NC.  All they want to do is tell the plaintiff “No” and they will hang their hat on ANY argument, even if it’s not backed up by science (see also climate change skeptics, as these are generally the exact same people).

This is what we’re up against.  The strength of your case in many ways can be totally compromised by this backwards, cynical, uninformed mindset.  Unless and until we can guarantee that we won’t have these sort of people on juries we can’t avoid taking your property damage into account when providing a realistic evaluation of your case.  It’s just the way it is now.

If you have an accident, call me and I hope to help: 919-929-2992.

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Safest Vehicles on the Road

 

http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/TSP-List

 

Hey, y’all!  If you’re looking to buy a new car and safety is a concern, check out the above list.  It’s a bit much to digest given all of the categories, but still, you can see a lot about what manufacturers care about safety.

Acura looks great and has Top Safety picks in several categories.  Honda is the same and has tons of vehicles that show up.  Subura makes a fair game of it considering their limited output.

It was fascinating to me to see how few BMWs showed up.  So much for that German engineering, huh?

I have to say that the surprising thing about this list is the prevalence of Kia.  Hynuday, too.  They’re making some safe cars out of Korea!  Who knew?

Hope you’re all safe out there.  But let me know if you’re in an accident!  919-929-2992

 

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Stupid Traffic Tickets and Stupid Policies

Yeah, I make money handling traffic tickets.  But I can still say that they are often stupid.  Still, I get it.  The threat of the costs (immediate and ongoing) is often more compelling to drivers than fear of accidents, so it does make the roads somewhat safer.

But what really irks me are some of the stupid policies employed by the various DA’s offices in negotiating traffic tickets.

The dumbest by far is the contradiction of tickets arising out of accidents vs. those that aren’t.

For example, let’s say you run a stop sign on Day 1 and cause an accident.  Then on Day 2 you run the same stop sign but don’t cause an accident.  On each day you get a ticket for Failure to Stop at a Duly Erected Stop Sign.  The first ticket will almost certainly be dismissed based on most DA’s policies as long as you show your insurance company is taking care of the damages.  The second ticket, though, almost certainly won’t be dismissed.  That’s right, if you cause an accident you’re more likely to get your ticket dismissed than if your infraction results in 0 harm to anyone else.

Granted, the facts underlying the policy do make some sense; you will have financial consequences in the form of insurance rate increases over the next three years because of the accident, so dismissing the ticket is more fair in that you’re already being punished, whereas the only financial consequences you’ll face on the second ticket will be from the ticket itself.  If makes sense, but it still kinda doesn’t.

Call me if you need help. 919-929-2992.

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No, Your Ticket Will Probably Not Be Dismissed

I’m probably not going to get your ticket dismissed.  I’m sorry.  It’s just not likely.  If that makes you not want to hire me, cool.  But whoever you end up hiring probably isn’t going to get it dismissed either, and if they’re promising to do so, that’s a whole new problem entirely.

I don’t mean to be a jerk, I just want to be honest about your expectations.  Every case is a little different, and maybe, just maybe, there are facts surrounding your ticket that could give the ADA reason to dismiss your ticket.  But if you want honest, straight-forward, no BS advice from years of experience handling thousands of tickets, you are probably not going to get it dismissed.   It’s the exception, not the rule.

Speeding in NC is a strict liability offense.  That means that if you’re speeding, then you’re guilty.  Having an explanation doesn’t make you not guilty, it just serves as a confession that you were, in fact, speeding.  “But I was just trying to pass someone!”  I know, I know.  But if you go faster than what the limit is, that’s speeding.

But to turn this into a positive post (maybe it’s too late for that), let’s talk about what I CAN do…

There’s an excellent chance I can get it dismissed so as to reduce – or maybe eliminate – insurance points.  But that depends on your charge, your record, the county, and your facts.  If you want to know, call and talk to me about it.  But I’ll go ahead and tell you it probably ain’t getting dismissed, so don’t ask.

 

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Legal Advice and Where You Should Get It

Everyone thinks they know how a traffic ticket should be resolved. Everyone thinks they know what a personal injury claim is worth.

The key word in those statements is, “thinks.”

Every day I talk to people about these two subjects, and every day I have to dispel myths and and correct misinformation on these topics.  It’s frustrating that people propound this nonsense as gospel, but frankly I find it even more frustrating that people choose to believe it.

Some really good advice that I can give you is this:  Don’t take legal advice from anyone just because they have a mouth. I busted my @$$ for three years in law school and for three months studying for the Bar exam so I could legally give advice on the law.  And right after the bar, I knew a lot, but I didn’t really know anything because I hadn’t actually practiced law yet.  After more than a decade and a half of practice, after handling thousands of speeding tickets and hundreds of injury claims, I feel pretty confident that the advice I give is hard-earned and accurate.

To make this easier for you, I’ve broken this down into two lists:

 

PEOPLE FROM WHOM YOU SHOULD TAKE LEGAL ADVICE

  • Attorneys licensed to practice law in the state in which your legal matter is situated (even better, attorneys who work primarily in that area of practice!)
  • Literally, no one else

 

PEOPLE FROM WHOM YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE LEGAL ADVICE

  • the officer writing your ticket
  • anyone who had a ticket before
  • jail house lawyers
  • law students (seriously…I will beat your a$$3$ if I catch you)
  • your uncle who stubbed his toe in Wal-Mart and says he got $3.5 million (spoiler alert: he’s full of $#!^)
  • anyone who uses the acronym, “PFJ”
  • your mechanic who says if he writes a note that your speedometer was off the DA will always dismiss your ticket
  • anyone who says that an injury claim should settle for at least 3 times the medical bills (I might fight you if I hear you say this to someone)
  • attorneys who do not practice law in NC talking about NC things
  • (I reserve the right to add to this list)

In summary, call me if you want some accurate and reliable legal advice on traffic tickets in my region of this fine state or on injury claims throughout North Carolina.  If I give you advice on anything else you can tell me to STFU.

 

 

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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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