March 29, 2015

Lemley v. Wilson - Liability in Roadside Work Crew Death Case

Roadside work crews undoubtedly have a dangerous job. They suffer not only the risk of injury faced by all construction workers (which is high in comparison to other occupations), they also risk working near fast-moving traffic.
In fact, the danger was the basis for North Carolina's recent expansion of the "Move Over" law to include roadside work crews, in addition to emergency workers, tow trucks and incident management workers.

When a roadside crew member is injured or killed as a result of a motor vehicle collision, there may be more than one remedy available. First and foremost, there is workers' compensation. That is considered the "exclusive remedy" under state workers' compensation law, but that is only as it pertains to the employer. There may also be opportunity for civil litigation against other contractors, individuals, the at-fault driver, insurance company and other relevant third parties.

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March 27, 2015

Bean v. Pacific Coast Elevator Corp. - Non-Economic Damage Award Valid

When someone is injured in an auto accident, it often will cost them more than the expenses totaled on medical bills. There is the time they lose at work (if they are even able to return), and the repairs that must be made to the vehicle.
But beyond that, a car accident can leave a person with lasting physical and emotional damage that adversely impacts almost every corner of their life - from their physical activities to their personal relationships to their overall daily mood. If someone is suffering from chronic pain, they aren't apt to engage in activities they once loved.

Collectively, these are referred to in civil law as "non-economic damages." That is, they are those losses that can't be tabulated in exact terms on an itemized billing spreadsheet. Nonetheless, injured persons deserve to be compensated for them.

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March 25, 2015

Rental Car Safety Urged Ahead of Vacation Season Travel

It's been a rough winter in North Carolina, with snowstorms causing major power outages, frigid temperatures, icy roads, school cancellations and halted flights. Now that we are beginning to thaw, many are thinking about a spring or early summer getaway.
Not wanting to pay the money for a plane ticket or put the wear-and-tear on their own vehicle, many will choose to rent a car.

Travelers taking this route need to keep in mind a number of important points regarding the safety and liability. A few of these were recently outlined in an editorial penned by AARP Driver Safety National Director Julie Lee for The Huffington Post.

Most people consider things like whether a vehicle has enough leg room for the number of passengers being accommodated, the fuel mileage and penalty fees for fuel overages or late return times. However, not enough people consider factors, such as insurance, safety, weather, and if a vehicle actually fits the driver.

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March 23, 2015

Midwestern Indem. Co. v. Brooks - Stacking of UIM Coverage Benefits

When a person is involved in an auto accident with another driver who lacks insurance - or lacks enough insurance to cover all damages - the injured party can pursue uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage through their own insurer.
The term "stacking" in reference to UM/UIM claims refers to the practice of combining the UM/UIM limit applicable to any one vehicle on the policy with the limit on other applicable vehicles. However, N.C. Gen. Stat. 20-279.21(b)(3) limits this practice. Within that same statute is a stipulation barring intrapolicy stacking for UM/UIM claims.

However, there may be instances in which interpolicy stacking (under two or more insurance policies) is permissible for both UM and UIM claims where non-fleet, private passenger vehicles are involved.

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March 21, 2015

Cedillo v. Farmers Insurance Co. - Motorcycle Accident Case by Arbitrator Challenged

Under some auto insurance policies, it is required of plaintiffs to handle any claims against the insurance company through arbitration. Although the proceedings differ from those that take place in a courtroom, it is no less a necessity for accident victims to secure experienced legal representation. The total amount of damages one receives could highly depend on it.
Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party (arbitrator) hears the evidence and makes a decision - much the same way a judge would. However, there are no technical rules of evidence, which can either help or hurt your case, depending on your situation. Either way, you can bet the insurance company is going to fight aggressively to whittle down your overall compensation.

The recent case of Cedillo v. Farmers Insurance Co., weighed by the Idaho Supreme Court, was an appeal stemming from an arbitration decision regarding damages in a motorcycle accident.

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March 19, 2015

State ex rel. CHP v. Superior Court - State Could be Liable for Negligence of Contracted Tow Firm

While government agencies can be and frequently are held accountable for the negligence of their employees, the lines become a bit blurred when it comes to the negligence of independent contractors for government agencies.
A recent ruling by the California Supreme Court indicates there is at least the possibility the government could be liable for injury cause by an independent contractor, so long as it could be shown the government was a "special employer" of the contractor. The court noted it could find no prior case in the state where the employee of a private contractor qualified as a special public employee for purposes of vicarious liability, but ruled it was not outside the realm of possibility in certain circumstances.

The case is State ex rel. Dep't of Cal. Highway Patrol v. Superior Court, and it started with a traffic crash on a California highway.

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March 17, 2015

Crusoe v. Davis - Hearsay in Motor Vehicle Accident Litigation

Courts are very particular about the kinds of evidence they will allow for consideration. Judges have to ensure the science being presented is solid, the arguments match the facts and that courts don't become a he-said-she-said war of words - even if sometimes, it comes down to which side you believe more.
One type of evidence courts seek to avoid is hearsay. This is information received from other people that can't be adequately substantiated. What surprises many people in car accident litigation is that many times, police reports - or at least significant portions of them - are considered hearsay. In many cases, even when the reporting officer is called to the stand, he or she can only attest to the information he or she personally observed - not what other people told them at the scene.

Because information-gathering from third parties is a lot of what officers do at the scene of a crash, that can mean big chunks of the crash report get excluded from evidence - both in criminal and civil cases.

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March 15, 2015

Hilyer v. Fortier - Truck Injury Default Judgment Reversed

A miscommunication between vehicle insurance agents resulted in a default judgment favoring the mother of a tractor-trailer crash victim for $550,000.
However, courts are generally loathe to issue default judgments because it usually means only one side of the case has been presented. Default judgments can survive in some cases, but generally, if a defendant can show he/she has a meritorious defense, the plaintiff won't be unfairly prejudiced by a reversal and it wasn't the result of defendant's culpable conduct, the court will set that ruling aside.

That was the unfortunate realty for plaintiff in Hilyer v. Fortier, who was no doubt hoping to put the entire matter behind them and move on as best as possible. However, now they will have to prepare for either settlement negotiations and/or trial.

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March 12, 2015

Miller v. Holloman - NC Appeals Court Affirms Crash Lawsuit Dismissal

A man who was injured by a hit-and-run driver in North Carolina several years ago has lost his bid to have the case heard before a civil court.
The dismissal was issued for a number of reasons, but primarily had to do with the fact plaintiff did not immediately report the crash, thus hindering collection of evidence that might have bolstered his case, and also a lack of preparation for trial, despite it being four years from the time of the crash and one year since he'd filed his case.

In Miller v. Holloman, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed trial court's summary judgment favoring defendant, as well as denial of plaintiff's motion for reconsideration - effectively ending plaintiff's bid for $100,000 in compensatory damages.

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March 9, 2015

Fatal Greenville Crash Blamed on Wrong-Way Driver, Possibly Drunk

Authorities are investigating whether alcohol or drug impairment may have been to blame for a wrong-way wreck involving six vehicles on I85, which killed four people and injured several others in Spartanburg County.
All four killed were Spartanburg County residents, and one was the at-fault driver, though authorities have yet to identify that individual. A definitive finding won't be available until toxicology reports are returned, but troopers were aware of a wrong-way driver traveling at high speeds just minutes before the crash. They were unable to reach the vehicle in time to stop the collision.

Investigators say there are "signs" the wreck involved impairment by the driver.

Wrong-way accidents result in some of the most severe injuries because they often occur head-on and at higher rates of speed.

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March 6, 2015

Primas v. City of Milledgeville - Auto Accident Compensation Hinges on Sovereign Immunity Finding

One might think the concept of liability in a car accident case would be a straightforward matter.
But complications can arise depending on who was driving, who owned the vehicle, whether the at-fault person was working at the time and whether a defective vehicle part or poorly-maintained vehicle may have been to blame.

In the recent case of Primas v. City of Milledgeville, plaintiff argued before the Georgia Supreme Court that a city-owned van leased to a state prison system had poorly-maintained brakes, which caused a crash resulting in injury for which the city should pay.

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March 3, 2015

Back Seat Passengers No Safer Than Front Seat Passengers

South Carolina's seat belt law requires, with few exceptions, that every driver and every occupant of a motor vehicle being operated on a public street or highway be fastened into a safety belt.
However, there are many other states in which back seat passengers are not required to wear seat belts, or exceptions are made for those traveling in livery cabs or other public transport vehicles. This lends to the erroneous assumption that backseat passengers are somehow safer than those seated in the front.

For years, this was true. It's why the front passenger seat position was often referred to as the "death spot." Those in the front were simply closer to the impact of the crash, and often had few protections, whereas at least those in the back had the front seat to slow or stop their ejection.

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February 28, 2015

Winter Weather Road Conditions Spell Peril for North Carolina Motorists

A 19-year-old girl from Hertford County was killed after she reportedly lost control over vehicle after hitting a patch of ice on a recent Tuesday night.
The fatal crash prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to issue a warning to motorists regarding the dangerous winter weather road conditions.

Officials say the teen in this case was approaching a slight curve. She slid into oncoming traffic, and was struck by a pickup truck traveling the opposite direction. The other driver was unhurt.

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February 26, 2015

Piltch v. Ford Motor Co. - Injury Lawsuit Fails for Lack of Expert Witness

There are many car accident lawsuit that do not require the aid of an expert witness. The facts are straightforward enough that lay witnesses can describe the facts of the case to satisfy the legal standards of negligence and liability.
However, car accidents that result from product defects often do require the input of an expert witness, especially with regard to the issue of causation. The reason is that one must be able to prove first that the defect existed, and secondly that the claimant's injuries were caused or substantially worsened as a result of that defect.

These are not usually elements that can be legally satisfied absent the testimony of an expert.

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February 24, 2015

Combs v. NC Division of Motor Vehicles - DUI License Revocation Upheld, Even as Criminal Case Tossed

Drunk driving is a major problem nationally, but especially here in North Carolina. Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates deaths related to drunk driving cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year, not to mention the personal emotional losses suffered by survivors and those injured.
Still, it can be tough to prosecute a drunk driving case in criminal court, and that makes it easier for offenders to skate by with few consequences and likely re-offend - putting everyone else on the road at risk.

The burden of proof in a civil negligence lawsuit is lower than what it would be in a criminal case, but such lawsuits are only filed once someone has been seriously injured or killed. There is, however, one civil avenue that state officials have to pursue action against DUI violators, even if the criminal case isn't successful. That's license revocation.

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