I continue to be interested in the ways technology is changing the way we get around. In previous blog posts I've discussed ride-sharing apps as well as Google's driverless vehicle. While new technologies have made these innovations possible, I fear that old-fashioned concepts of liability and insurance are not being fully considered by the consumer.
car2go is a car sharing company owned by German company Daimler. Their vehicles (Smart Cars) are currently found in more than a dozen cities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Recently, NPR reported on car2go and how a "cultural shift" has taken place in how we now view automobiles. The story quoted Jeffrey Tumlin of the transportation planning firm Nelson Nygarrd as saying, "People of my generation believed that our private automobile said a lot about who we are, that [it] defined our power status. The younger generations don't seem to be buying into that anymore, and they are seeing automobiles as simply a tool." Of course the idea of the car being "simply a tool" is even more true in urban centers - and that's where companies like car2go have launched their car sharing product.
I liken car2go to Redox - the popular movie rental kiosks. For example, in Seattle, there are nealy 300 car2go vehicles parked at various locations throughout the downtown area, or "home area" The vehicles are to be used within the home area and must be returned to any car2go approved parking space. Using either the car2go website or app, you can locate an available vehicle and reserve it vehicle up to 15 minutes prior to commencing a trip - or you can start using it immediately if it's aviailable. Here's a screen shot of the car2go Seattle map. The blue icons indicate the location of a car2go vehicle:
Once registered to use a car2go vehicle, you are issued a "member car" which is similar to a credit card. Each car is equipped with a card reader and you simply swipe the card and you are checked in to use that vehicle. For security purposes, you are required to enter a PIN in order to start the car. You are charged .38 cents per minute to use the car. You do not have to pay for parking and you do not have to pay for gas. You also do not need to purchase insurance - it comes included. And for me, that's where the problem lies - how much insurance is car2go providing and can you purchase additional coverage? Would your own personal auto insurance cover you?
To begin to answer these questions I went searching for the "terms and conditions." After some searching, I finally found 15 pages of the fine print. Here's some notable items:
- car2go reserves the right to repossess any car2go vehicle operating outside the Fixed Area of Operation.
- The driver is responsible for any traffic/parking tickets.
- The driver must notify car2go and its insurer of any traffic tickets.
- The driver shall not use the vehicle while under the unfluence of alcohol or drugs - whether legall prohibited, prescribed or otherwise - "a zero-tolerance policy is adopted and a limit of 0.0% applies."
- The driver shall not allow third parties to drive the car.
- The driver is solely responsible for all damage to a vehicle.
The above items seem fairly obvious. Here's an interesting one:
- "In the event of an accident, the Member shall not acknowlege his or her culpability, shall not accept or admit any liability, and shall not make any similar declaration."
And here's the provisions on insurance coverage:
- "The Member qualifies as an insured under the car2go insurance only if the Member complies with these Terms and Conditions . . . [t]he car2go insurance does not cover a Member (or any other driver or vehicle occupant) if the vehicle is used in violation of these Terms and Conditions."
- The car2go insurance provides . . .
(a) liability insurance coverage for bodily injury and property damage to a maximum limit of $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident
(b) basic no-fault benefits if the applicable state has adopted a no-fault statute
(c) uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage with a coverage limit equal to the lesser of: the statutory minimum financial responsibility limits for the applicable state or province and the minimum limits of uninsured motorist coverage defined by the laws of that state.
- No other insurance is provided by car2go.
First, $100,000 may be sufficient liability coverage for the run-of-the-mill low speed fender bender. But what if you hit and kill a pedestrian who is in a crosswalk? All of a sudden you are under-insured and facing excess exposure. If you carry your own personal auto insurance, it's possible that you will be afforded excess coverage, but on the other hand, an exclusion may apply. For example, if you use a car2go vehicle on a daily basis, your own auto insurance company may invoke the "regular use" exclusion - denying coverage on the basis that the car2go vehicle is available for your regular use. Second, you have to abide by the Terms and Conditions in order to be covered. What if you forget to notify car2go about that parking ticket? What if you get in an accident outside of the home area or fixed area of operation? What if you get in an accident in violation of the zero-tolerance alcohol drug policy - maybe your blood-alcohol content is only .01%?
My biggest concerns deal with the minimal limits of uninsured motorist coverage that is provided and lack of underinsured coverage. If you get seriously injured as a result of a uninsured hit-and-run accident, you may only have coverage of $10,000 - $25,000 (depending on the state). That small amount of coverage may not even cover your medical bills. Second, there appears to be no underinsured motorist coverage. Underinsured coverage protects you in the event the at-fault driver doesn't have enough insurance to cover your damages. I believe you are taking a big risk by operating a vehicle without underinsured coverage. Again, it's unclear as to whether your own insurance (if you have it) will cover you in the event you are in an accident while operating a car2go vehicle. Before using a car2go vehicle, it wouldn't be a bad idea to call your insurance company and ask some questions.
The bottom line is, if your're going to use a car2go vehicle just be aware of the possible ramifications should an accident occur. It's important to be familiar with the Terms and Conditions and read the fine print. I don't bring up these issues to necessarily discourage people from using car2go. I think it's an clever and innovative service that fills a need for urban consumers. It's affordable, practical and convenient. I applaud car2go for at least providing the $100,000 in liability coverage. These are complicated issues and we'll just have to see how they play out.
Within the last few years, Utah's Rules of Civil Procedure have undergone a major face lift. The main idea behind the changes was to provide some "proportionality" in the way cases are litigated. So, the amount of discovery and time spent on a case should be commensurate with the value of the case. If a case is valued at $300,000 or more, then more time, resources, and discovery should be devoted to that case. On the other hand, if a case is worth $50,000 or less, we should move that case through the courts and litigation process more quickly. As a plaintiff's lawyer I litigate against insurance companies that have unlimited resources. If an insurance company wants to spend $20,000 on defense costs, on a case that is only worth $10,000, they can do that. However, the new Rules of Civil Procedure, and Utah's third-party motor vehicle accident arbitration statue in particular, make it worthwhile to litigate car accident injury claims that have a value of $50,000 or less.
As long as a client's motor vehicle injury case is worth less than $50,000, I nearly always recommend that we arbitrate the case. I believe that with arbitration, we can get quicker and more cost effective results. In addition, I believe we get more consistent and predictable results than we may get with a jury. I'm certainly a proponent of the jury system, but for soft tissue injury cases, I think arbitration is the way to go. In Utah, we're lucky to have very qualified pool of arbitrators to choose from. These arbitrators have extensive experience in this area of law and are adept at getting to the heart of the issue.
Utah Code Ann. 31A-22-321 governs the arbitration process of these claims. The statute allows the plaintiff to elect to submit her claim to arbitration within 14 days after the complaint has been answered. The statute requires that discovery be completed within 150 days. This means all written discovery, including interrogatories, requests for admission, and requests for production of documents, and all depositions and expert discovery must be completed within this relatively short period of time. The effect is that for the most part only necessary discovery is conducted and discovery abuses are greatly diminished. Pursuant to the statute, the parties will agree on a single arbitrator to resolve their claims. If a single arbitrator cannot be agreed upon, then the parties may select a panel of three arbitrators.
Following the decision by the arbitrator, either party may "appeal" the award by requesting a trial de novo in the district court. In order to discourage abuse of the trial de novo, the statute imposes some risk on the moving party. For example, if the defendant is the one who requests a trial de novo and if he does not obtain a verdict that is at least 30% less than the arbitration award, then the defendant is responsible for the the plaintiff's costs (capped at $6,000).
Obviously this is only a brief overview of the third party motor vehicle accident arbitration statute. In general, I've found this arbitration statute to provide an efficient way of resolving smaller car accident injury claims. On behalf of my clients I've taken advantage of the statue dozens of times. If an insurance company is not offering you a fair settlement, you should consider arbitrating your claim. There are many factors to consider when making this decision, so you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. If you would like to talk about your case, please call us at Handy & Handy for a free consultation.
Today NPR reported on the issue of who's liable when a driverless car is involved in an accident. The NRP story touches on a lot of the issues that I mentioned in my previous blog post. It's a good story and adds some perspective to what I have already disucssed. If you have a few minutes, I recommend listening to the story.
For me, Google's driverless car is a fascinating topic. It brings up questions of safety, liability, convenience, insurance, and the future of how we will get around. There's a great (and short) TED Talk by Sebastian Thrun about the driverless car. He is director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and he helped build the Google car. According to Thrun, he is convinced that the driverless car will dramatically reduce the number of car accidents. Here's the video:
There's also a Wikipedia page devoted to the Google driverless car that has some interesting info. For example, in August 2012, the Google team responsible for the development of the car reported that they had test driven the vehicle more than 300,000 miles with no accidents. The article also mentions that the state of Nevada recently passed a law allowing driverless cars on the roads in that state. I can only assume that other states will eventually follow suit.
As a personal injury lawyer, I'm all too aware of the fact that in the vast majority of cases, auto accidents are caused by human driver error. It may be that the driver was inattentive, drowsy, under the influence, followed too close, failed to yield, drove to fast for conditions, etc. With driverless cars, will human driver error be taken out of the equation? If so, does every auto accident claim become a product liability suit? Will we have to prove that the vehicle's computer malfunctioned? That the sensors were not properly tuned? How will auto insurance cover a claim involving a driverless car? Typically, auto insurance covers the driver for negligent acts, or accidents. Does a driverless car commit acts of negligence? I don't mean to be philosophical, but our conception of negligence may have to change if driverless cars start hitting the roads.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming years. Maybe driverless cars won't catch on - after all, for some of us, we enjoy being in control and driving our own vehicle.
. . . well, maybe sometimes it is. This video was posted on FaceBook by a friend of mine and I thought it was hilarious:
Over the years I have handled my fair share of slip and fall cases and I have seen some very significant injuries occur because of a slip and fall. I'm always amazed at the severity of injury that can occur from just a ground-level fall. Last year we resolved a case for a client where he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk. In that case, the property owner had left the sprinklers on over night - at the end of November. The next morning was cold, sunny, and dry (there hadn't been any snow or rain for many days). Our client was totally unsuspecting when he slipped and fell. He sustained a serious knee injury which required hospitalization and two surgeries. He was very pleased with the outcome as we were able to settle his case for $262,000.00. We were able to make sure all of his medical bills were paid from the settlement and he was able to be compensated for his life-changing injury.
Liability can be difficult to prove in a slip and fall case. It is important to get contact information of any witnesses and to document the incident by taking pictures if possible. In addition, if the slip and fall occurs inside a retail store, it's important to report the slip and fall to management and fill out an incident report and retain a copy of the report for your own records. If you have been injured because of a slip and fall accident, give us a call at Handy & Handy and we would be happy to discuss your individual case.
1. Get medical treatment immediately: Did you know that your own automobile insurance company will pay at least your first $3000 dollars in medical bills? If you suspect that you might be injured, there is no reason not to get checked out by a medical professional. This also documents your injuries and helps build your case for future compensation. Call us if you have questions.
2. Take photographs: Obtain photos of property damage including pictures of the cars involved and, if possible, the accident scene. You should also take pictures of any visable injuries that you may have sustained.
3. Obtain witness information: Often witnesses have critical informaion and as time goes by those witnesses become harder to locate. Therefore, it is important to gather their contact information soon after the accident.
4. Document lost wages: If your injuries prevent you from going to work, you wil need to obtain a doctor's note releasing you from work. In addition, you will need documentation from your employer verifying your employement, rate of pay, and days absent.
5. Get legal advice: Don't provide a recorded statment for the insurance companies until you have called our office and spoken with an attorney. Insurance companies often offer quick settlements before the full-extent of your injuries are understood and before you can get advice from a legal professional.
Even accidents where fault appears straight-forward, such as a rear-end car accident, can be complex and require the assistance of an attorney. Our attorneys have handled thousands of car accident cases and will get you a fair settlement to compensate you for your losses.
The experienced attorneys at Handy and Handy have a solid record of results in motor vehicle accident cases. Call Handy and Handy at 801-264-6677 today to discuss your possible claim.
We've had some unusual weather here in Salt Lake City today . . . freezing rain. Apparently this is only the 10th time since 1940 that we've had freezing rain and today accounted for the most accumulation of freezing rain since 1983. When I lived in North Carolina while attending law school we had our fair share of ice storms and freezing rain. However, I'm just not used to seeing it here in Utah. It's twenty degrees out and it's raining!
Of course, the freezing rain is creating havoc on the roads. There have been countless car accident and tangled commutes. Here's an article from the Salt Lake Tribune describing the weather.
Chantal Beyer, a 24-year-old woman from South Africa, was gored by a rhinoceros after her tour guide suggested she "stand just a little bit closer" to the rhino for a photo op. The Telegraph reported:
"Game park owner Alex Richter had reportedly told a group of visitors it was safe to get out of the safari vehicle to take photos, and he even used food to coax the rhinos closer."
Ms. Beyer's lung was punctured and she suffered broken ribs. It has been reported that she is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.
You've got to love bizarre tort cases, right? I don't know how this case would be treated under the laws of South Africa, but in the United States, and Utah in particular, Ms. Beyer would have a strong case against the game park owner. I'm sure you could argue that Ms. Beyer has some comparative negligence and assumed some risk by willingly standing a few feet from a 4,500 pound animal (with a very sharp horn). However, other factors to consider are whether Ms Beyer had any familiarity with rhinos and the fact that the tour guide was in a position of authority and likely held himself out as an expert in regards to these animals. If the tour guide tells you to stand a little closer to the rhino then it must be OK, right?
This is clearly a case of negligence and recklessness on the part of the tour guide/game park owner. They put her in a position where she was at risk of serious injury or death. But negligence aside, the other question is whether the game park is "strictly liable" for its actions. If the game park has "control" over these rhinos (they own them, feed them, fence them in, etc.), then under Utah law, they may be strictly liable. For example, Utah Code Ann. § 18-1-1 holds a "person owning or keeping a dog . . . liable in damages for injury committed by the dog." Under the statute, there's no need to prove negligence, or that the dog was "of a vicious or mischievous disposition." Under the right circumstances, I think the dog bite statute could be used by analogy to apply to a case like this.
Anyway, I wish Ms. Beyer the best of luck and hope that she finds a good South African lawyer to represent her!
As a follow-up to my post about auto-pedestrian deaths, I recently heard that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing a rule that would require hybrid cars to make more noise at low speeds so that they can be heard by pedestrians and cyclists. According to the NHTSA press release:
"The sounds would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. At 18 miles per hour and above, vehicles make sufficient noise to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to detect them without added sound. Each automaker would have a significant range of choices about the sounds it chooses for its vehicles, but the characteristics of those sounds would need to meet certain minimum requirements."
The NHTSA press release goes on to say that if the proposal were implemented there would be "2,800 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, . . . as compared to vehicles without sound."
Personally, I was not aware that hybrid cars posed this kind of danger at low speeds. I have yet to come across a case where a hybrid car's noiselessness was at issue. Regardless, if auto manufacturers can take steps to make these cars safer vis-a-vis pedestrians and cyclists then I'm all for it. I'm sure auto manufacturers are not happy with this proposed rule, but at least they can pick the sound the car makes, right? The rule has been sent to the Federal Register and the public has 60 days to comment on the rule. The rule comes as a result of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010.
A few weeks ago I posted about Motor Vehicle Deaths being on the decline. In contrast, I recently heard a NPR story which reported on the nationwide increase in the number of hit and run deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists. NPR cited a study by the National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration as evidence of this troubling statistic. Apparently the cities of Los Angeles and New York have the highest incidences of hit and run fatalities.
For example, in 2012, LAPD investigated 2,500 auto-pedestrian incidents. According to a University of Michigan study, the number of auto-pedestrian accidents in LA is nearly three times the national average. The NPR story goes on to cite a couple of LAPD officers who investigate these hit and run accidents. According to Officer Rhiannon Talley, "There's so much - so many cases, so many victims, and not enough hours in the day." Speaking of the disturbing nature of someone fleeing the scene of an accident after causing serious injury or death to a pedestrian, Detective Chris Laurino said, "They'll drive their car home, and they'll wash the blood off, cover up the car and act like nothing happened . . . [i]t's incredible the lack of conscience some people have." The officers recount that one of the first things a hit and run driver will do is to take the car to a body shop to have the damage repaired and often that is where they can catch the offenders. The NPR story reported that the LAPD Valley Traffic Division solves only about half of the hit and run accidents.
As a personal injury lawyer, I've handled many hit and run accidents. Often the person who caused the accident is never found. In those cases, we're usually still able to help the accident victim by making an uninsured motorist claim. Preston and I discussed uninsured motorist claims in a recent interview:
By carrying sufficient uninsured motorist coverage you can be sure that you, your family, and passengers are protected in the event you are invovled in an accident with a hit and run driver. Unfortunately, you cannot always depend on the other driver to take responsibility for his or her actions and stick around for the police to show up. So, protect yourself by making sure you have the right insurance coverage.
In addition, pay attention to details if you are invovled in an accident. If possible, get a good description of the other vehcile and a license plate if possible. The police can often locate the other vehicle even if you can only provide a partial license plate. A hit and run driver may stay at the accident scene for a few moments before leaving, in which case, quickly take a photo of the other vehicle. In some cases, you may get lucky and video surveillance form a convenience store or gas station may show the hit and run vehicle.
Finally, locate all possible witnesses to a hit and run accident. Do what you can to make sure witnesses stay at the accident scene in order to provie a statement to police.
With good police work, a little luck, and some hard work, we're hopeful that hit and run drivers will be caught and held responsible for their actions in both the criminal and civil courts. But as mentioned, even if the hit-and-run driver is never caught, we can still help you with your case. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a hit and run accident, give us a call at Handy & Handy to discuss your case. We're here to help you.
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We hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and that you had a fun New Year's celebration! I talked with several people about their New Year's Eve plans and more than once I was told something like, "I'm staying home . . . there are too many drunk drivers on the roads."
The Utah Highway Patrol and other police agencies in Utah held a DUI blitz and were able to arrest more than 100 drunk drivers from Dec. 28th to Jan. 1st, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune. A big thanks to Utah law enforcement for doing their part to keep our roads safe from drunk drivers.
At Handy & Handy, we pay particular attention to those accident and injury cases where a DUI is involved. When reviewing the case facts and the police report, we're always on the look-out for any circumstances that would show the driver was intoxicated. Having a DUI defendant provides us with great leverage when negotiating with insurance companies. We have been able to obtain Field Sobriety Tests, DUI Reports, and even dash cam footage showing intoxicated driver. This can be great evidence for us to use to make sure that insurance companies play fair. In some DUI injury cases, the victim (our client) may be entitled to restitution and even punitive damages.
We take DUI injury cases seriously. We're committed to making sure that DUI defendants are held accountable for their actions and that our clients receive fair compensation for the injuries they received. If you have questions about a DUI-related accident, please call us at 801-264-6677 to discuss your case.
By Garrett Handy
Did you know that if you are injured while on the job, your employer is immune from any lawsuit that you may bring.?* In Utah, this is called the "exclusive remedy." Basically, if you are injured on the job, your exclusive remedy comes in the form of workers compensation benefits - paid by the emplopyer's workers compensation insurance carrier. Even if your employer was negligent, you do not have a right to file a lawsuit against your employer on that basis. At Handy & Handy, we do not typically handle workers compensation claims; however, we often help injured workers/employees when a third-party is involved.
For example, let's suppose you are on the job (within the course and scope of your employement) and you are a passenger in a company car driven by a co-worker. If your co-worker runs a red light (an act of negligence) and causes and accident with injuries to yourself, your exclusive rememdy is limited to work comp benefits. You cannot bring a negligence claim against your co-worker and recover damages for pain and suffering.
On the other hand, let's assume the same facts, but this time, another driver runs the red light causing an accident with injuries to yourself. In this scenario, your co-worker did nothing wrong; the accident was caused by a third-party. So, even though you are on the job, you are entitled to make a claim against the other driver for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Third-party workers compensation claims also commonly arise between sub-contractors working on the same job. For example, let's say you work for a stucco company doing residential construction. At the job site, there may be many other contractors working at the same tiime. While you're doing stucco, the roofer may be doing shingles on the roof. If the roofer drops a load of shingles on your head, causing a brain injury, the roofer would be a third-party, enabling you to bring a negligence claim against the roofing company. Again, you cannot bring a claim against your own employer - even if you claim your employer was in the wrong for not providing you with a hard hat.
Third-party workers compensation claims are common. These are often fact intensive cases involving significant injuries. If you have been injured on the job, and you think a third-party may be liable, please Call us at Handy & Handy to discuss your case.
* One notable exception is the "Intentional Injury Exception" as outlined in Helf v. Chevron, (Utah 2009). I'll save a discussion on the Chevron case for another post.
By Garrett Handy
Last month, AAA released a study titled, Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age: United States, 1995-2010. I was surprised to learn that motor vehicle deaths are on the decline. In 2008, nationwide annual motor vehicle deaths fell to its lowest level since 1961. The study points out that from 1995 to 2007, annual motor vehicle deaths were consistent at about 42,500. However, beginning in 2008, we started to see a sharp decline in the number of deaths. Here's some data regarding deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents:
2007 - 41,259 deaths
2008 - 37,261 deaths
2009 - 33,883 deaths
2010 - 32,885 deaths
2011 - 32,310 deaths
The AAA report then correlates the data to different age groups. Here's a quote from the summary:
"Rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths decreased over the study period for all driver age groups, and this was the case whether examined in relation to the total population, or number of miles driven. While drivers of all ages experienced decreases in rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths over the study period, decreases in population-based and driver-based rates were largest for teenage drivers; decreases in mileage-based rates of crash involvement, injury, and death were largest for drivers aged 75-84."
Another interesting finding: "In relation to their share of the driving population, fewer people were killed in crashes involving drivers ages 85 and older than drivers of any other age." On that topic, I heard an interesting piece on NPR this morning regarding older drivers. The NPR article cites some reasons older drivers are safer: they use seatbelts more, they driver slower, and they're less likely to drink and drive.
AAA does not provide any reasons for the drop in motor vehicle deaths. However, I think we must assume that advances in technology and vehicle safety have made an impact. For example, air bags and vehicle stability control systems have saved lives. Further, many vehicles now have "hands-free" features. Finally, public safety awareness campaigns must be working . . . maybe people are finally getting the message to buckle up, not drive while drowsy or drunk, etc.
In spite of advances in safety technology and awareness, I'm still surprised we're seeing such a dramatic drop in motor vehicle deaths. With the advent of smartphones, we're increasingly connected - we're always on-line and it seems that many drivers, including our younger drivers, have a hard time putting the phone down and paying attention. To me, drivers seem more distracted than ever. I think many younger drivers feel compelled to answer that last text message, use the navigation system, or find music amoung thousands of songs on thier iPods.
Regardless, the good news is that we're seeing fewer and fewer deaths on our streets and highways. Here in Utah, we've had several fatal car accidents in the last month. In Utah, winter driving conditions are upon us and all drivers must continue to drive defensively and exercise caution out on the roads. Even though the numbers are declining there's more we can do to limit the number of deaths each year due to car accidents.
All Utah auto insurance policies must carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. Unless you have been injured in a car accident, you may not understand how PIP works. I deal with PIP every day and I find that many of my clients are surprised to learn that their own auto insurance company will pay for some medical bills, lost wages, and household services expenses - even though they were not at fault for causing the accident.
PIP is a "no fault" coverage, meaning PIP will pay benefits regardless of who caused the accident. (At some point, your insurance will get reimbursed for amounts paid from the at-fault insurance company) With PIP coverage you can be sure that you can get some immediate relief from expenses and damages you begin to incur immediately following an accident.
PIP provides the following coverages and benefits:
Payment of at least the first $3,000.00 in medical expenses (you can often purchase higher limits)
$250 per week or 85% of your lost wages (whichever is less)
$20 per day for household services (stuff that you need help with around the house, i.e, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, etc.)
Funeral benefits of $1,500.00
Death benefits of $3,000.00
Obviously, these are minimal benefits. These benefits and coverages are only meant to provide some initial relief following an accident. The at fault party is on the hook to pay all damages above and beyond what is paid by PIP (including reimbursing your PIP carrier).
Keep in mind that your PIP coverge extends to all passengers in your car. For example, if you were involved in an accident and you have three passengers, PIP would pay at least $3,000.00 in medical expenses for each of you (for a total of $12,000.00). Also, the lost wages and household services are payable for one year following the accident.
Again, if you have a Utah auto insurance policy, you have PIP coverage. However, it would be wise to just check your coverages. For a small additional premium you may be able to increase your PIP medical limits. Especially if you don't have health insurance, having higher PIP limits can be critical in helping to pay medical bills following an accident.
This has been a just a cursory overview of PIP coverages. If you have additional questions, please call us at Handy & Handy at 801-264-6677. Or, you can read the PIP statute, Utah Code Ann. 31A-22-306, et al., here.
I often get compliments on this portrait of Abraham Lincoln that hangs in my office. And considering that Lincoln is a hot topic right now with the recent release of the Lincoln movie, I thought it a good time to share some of my thoughts about Lincoln and this portrait in particular.
In fact, I might as well put in a plug for the movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. The movie is very well done and Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic in his portrayal Lincoln. The movie draws heavily from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book of a few years ago, Team of Rivals. The movie deals with the passage of the 13th amendment and the political deals that were made to make the abolishment of slavery a constitutional amendment. Here's the trailer to get you interested:
Back to the portrait . . . one of the other lawyers I admire is George B. Handy. George is my grandfather and practiced law in Ogden, Utah for about 60 years. He was an institution in the Ogden legal community. This portrat of Lincoln hung in his office for decades and when he retired a few years ago, he gave it to me to hang in my office.
Seeing this portrait of Lincoln reminds me of the high ethical standards to which we as lawyers must adhere. Lincoln was someone who had the courage to do what was right in the face of huge adversity, sacrifice, and unpopularity. Finally, Lincoln was one of a great debaters and speakers of his time. He was a masterful speachwriter (See Gettysburg Address) and knew how to effectively communicate with his audience in both subtle and forceful ways. Obviously it's not a stretch to say Lincoln was one of our greatest presidents if not the greatest.
An interesting new ride-sharing/carpooling/taxi service is emerging in the form of apps that can be used to help you find a ride from point A to point B. It's a very innovative idea, but as a personal injury lawyer, I can't help but look at this from a liability perspective. This new phenomenon reminded me of the old ride board that we had at college where students would put a note on a bulletin board so you could get a ride home for the holidays. This is basically a sophisticated form of hitch-hiking. One of the apps is called Side Car. The FAQ page on their website says:
"SideCar instantly connects people with extra space in their cars with those who need to get from one place to another. Like a quick and hassle-free carpool, SideCar offers an easy, safe, reliable, and completely donation-based way to get from here to there."
So, basically anyone can sign up to be a driver and people who need rides can get connected with you and if you have space in your car, you can give them a ride. Payment is "voluntary," but the app provides a community average "which shows you how much others are paying for rides of similar durations and distances." As far as screening drivers, SideCar says:
"Not only must all community drivers have a valied driver's license, insurance and a good car in working order, but we also run background checks, conduct interviews and use GPS technology to track the progress of every trip."
OK, let's hold it right there and do some legal analysis. First, how much liability insurance must the driver carry? It's not enough just to have insurance. Would it be OK for the driver to carry Utah's minimum liability limits of $25,000 per person/$65,000 per accident? I think not. Personally, I wouldn't advise anyone be a SideCar driver unless they had at least $1 million in coverage.
Second, would your insurance even cover you if you caused an accident? I have big concerns about this. Here's another quote from SideCar's FAQ page:
"Do I need special insurance? SideCar requires community drivers to carry liability insurance coverage as mandated for all drivers by the state in which they drive. No special insurance coveage is needed for carpool/rideshare use of your vehicle. Please contact your insurance company if you'd like more information."
Apparently SideCar doesn't think insurance coverage is an issue. If you're operating a defacto taxi service using your personal vehicle, your insurance company is going to have an issue with providing coverage. When providing you with liability coverage your insurance company did not contemplate that you would be giving people rides and charging fares, even if it's considred a voluntary donation.
Third, let's assume you cause an accident while acting as a SideCar driver. Are you an employee or agent of the company? Are you an independent contractor? There are lots of factors to weigh and analyze when determining whether a negligent party is an employee acting within the course and scope of his employment with the company. Often companies will characterize employees as independent contractors in order to excape liability, taxes, insurance, etc. In the event of an accident I'm sure SideCar would characterize you as an independent contractor. However, this is also going to be a fuzzy issue. Under Utah law we would need to look at how much control SideCar exercised over the driver. We know that SideCar is arranging the ride through their apps. They are also tracking you using GPS. Finally, they are vetting you by performing background checks and verifying you have a current driver's license. They are providing their stamp of approval that you are a safe driver.
I anticipate a lot of litigation will occur invovling these issues. However, SideCar isn't the only company signing up amatuer volunteer "taxi" drivers. There's also Zimride and Lyft. Zimride uses social media, like Facebook, to find carpooling buddies. PayPal is used to pay for your ride. Here's a video from Zimride explaining how it works:
From what I can see, Lyft is the only one of the three that provides excess liability insurance for its drivers. From the Lyft website:
"The Lyft platform provides drivers with excess liability insurance up to $1,000,000 per occurrence through an A++ rated insurer. This first-of-its-kind solution offers peace of mind for both drivers and passengers."
Lyft also requires a vehicle inspection and only allows model years 2000 or newer. Drivers are also given a rating by the passenger and if your rating drops below a certain level, they are "removed from the Lyft community."
Again, I think these are three very interesting and ingeneous products that have a lot of potential benefits. However, just be aware of the possible liability and insurance issues. If you have experience using one of these services I'd love to hear about it. Likewise, if you would like to more fullly understand your legal rights in regards to these ridesharing/carpooling/taxi services, call us at Handy & Handy at 801-264-6677.
When I read about a woman who was caught driving on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or be appalled. Honestly, I often find myself scratching my head wondering what people are thinking. Apparently a 32-year-old woman in Cleveland, Shena Hardin, pulled her car up onto the sidewalk to get around a stopped school bus. It was reported that the bus driver had observed Ms. Hardin doing this maneuver on a number of occasions and he was able to catch her in the act by using his cell phone to get a video. Fortunately, the police were called and she was apprehended. As a result of her reckless behavior, she was fined $250 and her license was suspended for 30 days. But the kicker is, the judge has ordered her to wear a sign that says, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid the school bus.” She has to stand near the “crime scene” and wear the sign for a total of two hours.
I’m amazed at how brazen some people can be in deliberately breaking the traffic laws – even when it puts school children at risk. Maybe some public humiliation will have an impact on this woman and correct her dangerous behavior. What do you think of the Judge's sentence?
Of couse, it's a whole other matter if this woman would have hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk. Thankfully none of the school kids were outside of the bus when this woman pulled this dangerous maneuver.
As a personal injury lawer, I am all about public safety and as a driver on Utah roads I am not a fan of traffic congestion. UDOT has made an attempt to work through both of these issues in Taylorsville by creating 'flex' lanes that run one way during the morning rush hour and the opposite direction during the evening rush hour. Check out the video on UDOT's website.
I have used similar lanes while visiting other states, but am interested to see how these play out in Utah. For one thing, there are no barriers for the flex lanes, so cars may move in and out of the lanes at will and drivers need to watch the lights above their heads to know if they are in the right lane. I have not heard of any wrecks so far, but people will have to be vigilant while driving in that area.
Do you think these Flex lanes will work? Are there other roads in Utah where they need to be incorporated?
It seems that concussions sustained by athletes are a big topic right now. Whether we’re talking about top NFL players or pee wee football kids, or girls soccer, this is an important issue. New rules are even being implemented regarding sitting out games and other precautions when a concussion is diagnosed or suspected. For example, as I watched a college football game over the weekend, a player had to go to the sideline and sit out the next a play if his helmet came off while on the field. Even if it was a “minor” hit and the helmet came off, he had to go to the sideline. When this happened in the game I was watching, the announcers complained that it was a ridiculous rule. I had to wonder, with all of the recent studies and brain science out there, can we really take too many precautions when it comes to protecting the human brain?
A few days ago, I heard an interesting story on NPR about this very issue. The title of hte story was, Head Injuries Rattle Even Devout Football Parents. The story caught my attention when they interviewed Dr. Robert Cantu. Dr. Cantu is a leader in the field of brain injuries. He is a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University. The story stated, “Cantu says children are among the most vulnerable to concussion because of weak necks, immature musculature and brains that are still developing. He advises kids not to pay tackle football until age 14, and play flag or touch football until then.”
I became acquainted with Dr. Cantu when I once hired him as an expert in a personal injury case. Dr. Cantu provided us with strong expert opinions and we were able to prevail on our case. I was impressed with his knowledge of the traumatic brain injuries and spinal injuries.
Traumatic brain injuries have been widely discussed over the last half dozen years. Starting with our Iraq War veterans who sustained traumatic brain injuries on a large scale to now discussing brain injuries in the context of football players. For me, as a personal injury lawyer, traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, has been an important topic as I have handled many TBI cases which my clients have often sustained in car accidents. I’ve attended several seminars devoted solely to the topic of TBI as it relates to accident and injury cases.
When I evaluate a personal injury case for possible for possible TBI, there are several factors I look for: loss of consciousness, concussion, glasgow coma score, MRI reports, personality changes. etc. We talk to “before and after” witnesses – such as a spouse who can talk about the differences in the person before and after the accident. We look for memory issues, difficulty staying on task, and mood changes. A brain injury is not always apparent and so it is important to take some time of evaluate these cases carefully. Further, just because there was no loss of consciousness or no objective MRI findings does it mean there is no brain injury.
Whether you have a child playing football right now or if you know someone who was recently injured in an accident, be sure to be vigilant for the signs of traumatic brain injury. If you suspect a brain injury, get proper medical attention. If you have sustained a brain injury because of someone else’s negligence, call the Utah personal injury law firm of Handy & Handy. We would be happy to talk to you about your case.