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In most car accidents, injured persons or survivors of those deceased may seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company or, in some cases, their own through uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. wreckedcar1

But in cases where the person injured or killed was performing a work-related function, there may also be an option for workers’ compensation coverage.

Claimants must be careful in seeking these benefits because there is a possibility these benefits/damage awards could offset one another.

Because the system of subrogation is often complicated, it’s imperative for interested parties to seek counsel from an experienced Fort Myers traffic accident attorney. Knowing how one claim could affect another may govern the type of benefits you pursue, and when.

In the case of Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez, the question before the Texas Supreme Court was whether the widow of a deceased driver was entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits through his employer. The man died in a crash while on his way to a remote job site, and was carpooling with several other workers.

According to court records, worker was employed by an oil and gas processing company in Texas. The job routinely required him to work at remote locations, often hundreds of miles from his home. While at these sites, the company paid for his lodging and food, and provided him with a vehicle and money for gas to get to-and-from his hotels to the work sites.

Other workers for the company were often in the same situation, and they often carpooled with the person provided the company vehicle. There was no express policy on this, but it was common practice. Workers were not paid for their travel time.

One morning in September 2007, worker was driving himself and two other workers from the hotel to a job site when he was involved in an auto accident. He died as a result of his injuries.

His widow sought death benefits from the company’s workers’ compensation insurance, but the insurer denied coverage, arguing the worker was not acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash.

This question is often a complex one, and each state handles the answer differently. Generally, though, workers who are traveling to and from work are not considered to be acting in the course and scope of employment, however, particularly if they aren’t paid for their travel time and the company does not benefit from this time they are in transit.

At a contested hearing in the case, a hearing officer determined worker was acting in the course and scope of employment (and was therefore covered by workers’ compensation insurance) because his work involved travel away from the company’s property and he was engaged in or furthering the affairs of the company when he was traveling.

Insurer challenged these findings, and trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the widow. Insurer appealed, and the appellate court affirmed.

Insurer then appealed to the state supreme court. This court too affirmed, noting worker was commuting from his employer-provided housing to a job site in an employer-provided vehicle in an area he would not have been in were it not for his employment with the company.

Thus, benefits were granted.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Seabright Ins. Co. v. Lopez, June 12, 2015, Texas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Rodriguez v. United Sch. Dist. No. 500 – Student Athlete Crash Covered, June 28, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Attorney Blog

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A car accident victim sued the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act after he was injured as a passenger in a vehicle struck from behind by a postal truck. backseatride

In Lopez v. U.S., before the U.S. court of Appeals for the Eighth District, plaintiff asserted the presumption of negligence on a driver who strikes another vehicle from behind should prevail.

But as this case revealed, sometimes it’s not always so straightforward.

It is true – in Florida as well as in many jurisdictions – there is a presumption of negligence on the rear driver in a rear-end crash. The general thinking is that even when the driver ahead brakes abruptly, the driver in the rear should have been maintaining a safe, assured clear distance.

However, this presumption can be successfully refuted because there are some exceptions.

Most notable among these exceptions:

  • Evidence of mechanical failure/medical emergency by rear vehicle driver
  • Evidence that driver in front made a sudden and unexpected stop or lane change
  • Evidence the vehicle in front was illegally stopped in the roadway

Courts are picky about when these exceptions apply. Just because a driver ahead of you makes a sudden stop, for example, is not enough to refute the presumption. It has to be both sudden and unexpected. For example, a driver on the highway arbitrarily stops. That is both sudden and unexpected. However, if a driver makes a sudden stop at an intersection to avoid running a red light, this may be sudden, but it’s not unexpected.

In the Lopez case, driver of vehicle in which plaintiff was a passenger was proceeding toward an intersection when she realized that just past the intersection, the lane would end. In an effort to avoid having to merge quickly or stop after passing through the intersection, she reportedly “jumped” into the middle lane just before reaching the light.

However, already in that lane was a postal truck driver. He would later say the passenger car driver cut him off.

The light ahead had just turned red, and the passenger car driver slammed on her brakes. The postal truck struck the passenger car from the rear.

The car driver would later concede she hadn’t glanced in her rear view mirror before she hit the brakes.

Impact of the traffic crash did push the vehicle into the intersection, but airbags did not deploy. Although plaintiff would later characterize the vehicle as severely damaged, photos appeared to indicate only cosmetic, minor damage.

Further, responding officer indicated she believed the postal driver’s account because there had been a number of similar accidents at that intersection.

At trial, plaintiff asserted the presumption of negligence on the part of the rear driver. He argued no evidence had been presented to rebut this presumption.

However, district court rejected that argument, found plaintiff’s testimony was not credible. the officer’s testimony was believable and the car driver’s own testimony indicated she was at-fault.

Plaintiff appealed, but the federal appeals court affirmed.

Although there is a presumption of negligence in rear-end crashes, the court ruled, there were several facts presented that supported the assertion car driver had abruptly merged lanes and then stopped in front of the truck driver, therefore depriving the truck driver of the time and distance he needed to stop safely.

Thus the government, which plaintiff sought to hold vicariously liable, was not responsible for the crash or injuries.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Lopez v. U.S., June 26, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Auto Makers Fight Deadly Distraction With Technology, June 30, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Attorney Blog

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A school bus driver who was texting was the cause of a deadly December 2014 crash that killed two students and a teacher’s aid, according to a recently-released report filed at the conclusion of a six-month investigation into the crash. deadend

The 48-year-old bus driver was reportedly sending and receiving text messages when he made a sharp left turn, crossed over a concrete median and slammed into another school bus on Asheville Highway, investigators determined. The driver too suffered serious injuries and died earlier this month. Officials said had he survived, criminal charges would have been filed against him. Three wrongful death civil lawsuits have been filed against the school district.

The tragic outcome of this case is a reminder of how quickly a driver can lose control when distracted. Obviously, someone responsible for a busload of children has a great responsibility to ensure their safe transportation. But the fact is, every driver on the road owes a duty to the rest to drive carefully. Failure to do this resulting in injury can be the basis for a civil lawsuit for victims to recover damages.

Amid this emerging awareness of the dangers of texting and driving, auto manufacturers are responding with a wave of new technology intended to curb this behavior. Distraction isn’t solely the result of smartphones constantly buzzing and pinging, but that’s a big part of it. It’s also an aspect where car makers see opportunity to limit distraction.

According to a recent article published in The Huffington Post, a number of those companies are taking steps to make driving safer by helping to maintain driver focus.

For example, Ford has created a new operating system called SYNC. It allows drivers’ to send and receive text messages audibly, so they aren’t having to tear their eyes from the road to stay engaged.

Ford also has a feature called MyKey that gives parents the ability to block text messages and phone calls when a teenager is behind the wheel.

Auto manufacturer GM is also developing a feature that involves eye-tracking technology. Similarly, BMW announced it is working on a system that will give drivers the ability to simply point to the in-vehicle navigation system in order to take a call, rather than needing to actually pick up the phone.

Similarly, Hyundai Sonata models have incorporated Android Auto software that allows the phone’s interface on the dashboard screen, so drivers don’t have to look at their phone to stay connected. Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari models allow Apple Car Play that allows for the same kind of feature only for those with iPhones.

Although these features for the most part don’t entirely bar a driver’s ability to engage in outside communication, car company executives say they are trying to create features to meet the realistic need. They say drivers aren’t likely going to broken of the habit of looking at their phones. As a result, they are working to develop communication devices that will be in the driver’s field of vision so their focus won’t be taken from the road in front of them.

This is done with an understanding of just how dangerous distraction has become. The risk of a car accident quadruples when a motorist is on the phone, and use of a phone is the No. 2 cause of wrecks for teen drivers.

New technology features are popping up even in lower-end models, with manufacturers seeking to simplify the process wherever possible. Still, there remains question about whether these features actually make the driver safer or tempt them with additional modes of distraction.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Deadly Distraction: school bus driver texting caused fatal crash, June 5, 2015, By Jim Matheny, WBIR

More Blog Entries:

Police: Drunk Driver Kills College Student in South Florida, June 20, 2015, Fort Myers Car Accident Attorney Blog

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In the recent case of Rodriguez v. United Sch. Dist. No. 500, the question before the Kansas Supreme Court was whether a student athlete could recover damages for the school for injuries he sustained in a crash that occurred while he was on his way to a soccer match in the back of a friend’s pickup truck.foggymorning

The state supreme court reversed the appellate court decision and found that in fact, the school was liable to provide coverage for the student’s injuries stemming from the accident.

According to court records, student was a soccer player on the school’s team and was traveling to his first match of the season. He was seated in the bed of a pickup truck driven by a fellow student and teammate. The pickup truck was involved in a traffic collision with another vehicle.

Plaintiff was thrown from the vehicle. He sustained injury so severe, he now requires 24-7 medical care.

His mother filed a lawsuit on behalf of her son against the district, the driver of the pickup and the driver of the other vehicle.

During the course of the lawsuit, plaintiff came to understand that the association which contracts with this school and many others to provide extracurricular activities throughout the state, had an insurance policy to cover injuries suffered by student athletes during events the association organized. This included in some cases travel to and from these sporting events.

It was never disputed this particular match was a competition in line with what the policy offered. “Covered travel,” meanwhile, was defined as that which was to and from a sanctioned event that was both authorized and subject to reimbursement by the school. It was considered to start at the point of departure and end at the time of arrival.

The insurer denied coverage, arguing the school hadn’t asked for any reimbursement for the travel and it had never made any reimbursement requests for travel expenses incurred by parents or students going to and from sports events for the school.

All school expenses have to be approved by law, and there was no state law that allowed the school to pay a private person to use a private care to transport student athletes, such as those in this case.

Insurer was added as a defendant.

A bench trial ensued and was limited in scope solely to the issue of whether coverage was provided.

It was noted during this trial the student’s parents signed a permission slip that allowed him to travel with other players to and from practice or matches. Other players testified they didn’t know the school even provided a bus for students to get to the game, and no one had informed them they had that option.

District court held the insurance company should be dismissed as a defendant because the travel in this case didn’t count as “authorized” and wasn’t reimbursed by the school – the two requirements noted under the policy.

The appellate court affirmed, finding this travel did not qualify as “covered” under the policy terms.

Kansas Supreme Court justices, however, reversed, finding coverage did exist. The trip was “authorized,” the court found, on the basis his parents had signed a permission slip expressly allowing student to travel with other players, who had not been made aware of team transportation. Additionally, the travel was subject to reimbursement, even if it wasn’t actually reimbursed.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Rodriguez v. United Sch. Dist. No. 500, June 18, 2015, Kansas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

NHTSA: Large Truck Fatalities Increase, June 9, 2015, Fort Myers Traffic Accident Lawyer Blog

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A person injured in a crash with a drunk driver who was undeniably at-fault might reasonably expect the insurance company covering that individual to offer a fair settlement to avoid litigation.traffic

That person would probably be wrong.

Most insurance companies are interested in limiting liability wherever possible, and they bank on injured victims, desperate for money for medical bills, signing off on low-ball settlement offers to end the case. These companies know victims often don’t want the hassle and the headaches that can accompany litigation.

But what many accident victims don’t realize is the amount to which they are in fact entitled. In many cases, it’s far in excess of that initial offer by the insurer.

The recent case of Wolfe v. Allstate Cas. Ins. Co. is one recent example. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit presided.

According to court records, the underlying crash happened around 4 a.m. in suburban Pennsylvania.

Defendant driver rear-ended plaintiff’s vehicle after consuming his 15th or 16th beer that night. It was later revealed defendant’s blood-alcohol level was around 0.25 percent – more than three times the legal limit to operate a vehicle.

Plaintiff was injured in the accident and received treatment at the local hospital emergency room.

Defendant was insured by Allstate, and the policy provided for up to $50,000 in coverage. The policy also required the insurance company to defend its insured for lawsuits from third parties arising out of automobile accidents.

Policy stated insurer would not defend against damages which aren’t covered in the policy, and the policy did expressly bar payment for punitive damages. What that means is if plaintiff sought and received punitive damages, defendant would be personally liable to pay that amount.

Plaintiff made a settlement demand for $25,000, based on initial medical records provided to the insurer. Allstate, however valued the claim at between $1,200 and $1,400, and extended a total settlement offer of just $1,200.

Plaintiff rightfully rejected this offer, and then filed a lawsuit.

Allstate told its insured (the drunk driver) that because the claim didn’t indicate total damages, he might be personally responsible to pay anything in excess of $50,000. He was advised to hire his own lawyer at his own expense to cooperate with counsel from Allstate. Insured did this, but his attorney wasn’t actively involved in the case.

During the discovery phase, plaintiff learned just how drunk defendant had been, and at that point, amended the complaint to assert punitive damages. These are damages intended to punish rather than compensate.

Allstate again informed defendant his policy didn’t cover punitive damages and he would be responsible to pay for it.

Case went to trial and jurors awarded plaintiff $15,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. Allstate paid the $15,000, but refused to cover the $50,000.

After trial, defendant assigned his rights to pursue his insurer for bad faith to the plaintiff in exchange for not enforcing the punitive judgment against him.

Plaintiff, standing in the shoes of the drunk driver, then sued the insurer for breach of conduct and bad faith, seeking to recover the $50,000 in damages plus attorney’s fees.

Trial court denied insurer’s motion for summary judgment and found it had acted in bad faith, awarding no compensatory damages but $50,000 in punitive damages.

Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Appeals court justices found trial court was right to deny summary judgment to defense, but could not in the next trial consider evidence of the punitive damages awarded in the initial trial.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Wolfe v. Allstate Cas. Ins. Co. , June 12, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Travelers Home & Marine Ins. Co. v. Castellanos – UIM Coverage Debated, June 11, 2015, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog

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When it comes to establishing fault in a motor vehicle accident, there are many cases in which witness statements, surveillance videos, accident reconstruction and forensic evidence paint a pretty clear picture of who was in the wrong.trafficsignals

In other cases, fault may be hotly contested. Oftentimes, it comes down to the word of those involved and the ability of your attorney to present the facts in a way that is both digestible and convincing to a judge and/or jury.

Recently, the case of Browning v. Hickman was weighed by the West Virginia Supreme Court, when plaintiff appealed following a jury’s determination in favor of a defendant in an auto accident case.

According to court records, the accident in question occurred in October 2011. Defendant was reportedly traveling straight through the intersection while plaintiff, traveling in the opposite direction, was making a left turn across defendant’s lane of travel.

Front passenger side of defendant’s vehicle struck the rear passenger side of plaintiff’s pickup truck. Plaintiff’s truck spun around, causing him to suffer injuries and totaling his truck.

Both drivers insisted they had the right-of-way.

Plaintiff sued defendant for personal injuries and property damage stemming from the auto collision.

Over the course of a two-day trial, plaintiff testified that as he turned left, he had the green lighted arrow, which meant he had the right-of-way. Although he did see defendant approaching the intersection, he testified he proceeded through it both because he had the arrow and because defendant was a fair distance away at the time. He contended plaintiff was speeding and thus made it to the intersection far faster than plaintiff anticipated.

Defendant countered these assertions. He insisted he had the green light. He indicated he was only about 10 feet from the intersection when plaintiff pulled out in front of him. Defendant said he immediately slammed on his brakes and swerved, but he couldn’t avoid the other vehicle.

It appears only one other person witnessed the collision, although she was never personally called to testify. A woman who identified herself as “Toni” contacted 911 and indicated plaintiff’s truck pulled out in front of defendant’s vehicle. The woman described each vehicle and gave the location of the incident.

At trial, defendant sought to enter this as evidence – something to which plaintiff strongly objected. Although a call center representative verified the call, plaintiff argued their side should be given time to locate the actual caller. Circuit court denied these requests and trial proceeded.

A local city police officer was called to testify about his accident report and observations at the scene. In the accident report, officer indicated defendant failed to yield right-of-way. However, he later conceded during pre-trial depositions that he didn’t know who actually had the right-of-way. Therefore the court barred any questioning pertaining to the officer’s conclusions. That was a huge blow for plaintiff’s case.

Jurors ultimately decided the case in favor of defendant, finding he was not negligent and hadn’t proximately caused the crash.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing trial court was wrong to deny the motion for mistrial after the 911 call was admitted and for excluding the full accident report.

State supreme court affirmed, holding trial court did not abuse its discretion in either of these aspects.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Browning v. Hickman , June 10, 2015, West Virginia Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Purton v. Marriott International – Holiday Party Drinking Results in Fatality, June 11, 2015, Fort Myers Accident Attorney Blog

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Authorities say a 49-year-old man was drunk when he blew through a red light in St. Petersburg, killing a 22-year-old college student who was on her way home from a night of bowling with her boyfriend and some friends. trafficlight

Family members gathered the following weekend, struggling to grasp the gravity of their loss. A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, she was working toward a degree in physical therapy at St. Petersburg College. Loved ones referred to her as an “angel” who “hurt no one” and had a loving, “Christian heart.”

Investigators believe the at-fault driver was operating a Chevy pickup truck when he ran a red light at 34th Street South and 5th Avenue in St. Petersburg. He slammed into the passenger side of the vehicle, where decedent was seated.

The crash happened around 3:50 a.m., and decedent was declared dead at the hospital. Her boyfriend was also transported for treatment for injuries, though his are not life-threatening.

Alleged drunk driver fled on foot, but authorities caught up to him soon after and he was apprehended following a brief struggle. He too sustained injuries and was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and then released to the custody of authorities.

He is now facing charges for DUI manslaughter, driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident involving death, vehicular homicide and battery on a law enforcement officer.

Prior to this incident, defendant was no stranger to the law, according to news reports. He’d previously been arrested on charges ranging from burglary to drug trafficking to disorderly intoxication to driving without a valid license and battery, as well as a host of traffic-related offenses.

Our Fort Myers DUI wrongful death accident attorneys know there is nothing that can ease the burden of a loved one lost to such reckless and unnecessary actions.

It’s true the criminal case will hopefully hold the accused to account for his wrong deeds. But families in these cases are also entitled to pursue compensation via the civil court system.

In a situation like this where the at-fault driver was driving on a suspended license (and therefore likely uninsured), compensation will most likely come from one of a few places: Decedent or decedent driver’s insurance company (in the form of uninsured motorist coverage), directly from the at-fault driver (which may not be worth pursuing depending on his or her financial status), the owner of the vehicle driven by at-fault driver (if different from the driver) and/or the bar or restaurant that served alcohol to driver (only as applicable under Florida’s dram shop law).

Florida’s dram shop law only allows recovery of damages from licensed facilities that served alcohol to either a minor or someone known to be habitually addicted to alcohol.

Owners of vehicles can be held personally responsible through vicarious liability for the actions of the driver, as motor vehicles are considered dangerous instrumentalities under state law.

Insurance companies often refuse the full policy limits at the outset of a case, but can often be persuaded by an experienced injury lawyer.

There are typically a number of viable theories of law by which decedent’s estate may recover damages. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

DUI driver runs light, causes fatal accident in St. Petersburg, May 24, 2015, 10 News Staff WTSP

More Blog Entries:

Travelers Home & Marine Ins. Co. v. Castellanos – UIM Coverage Debated, June 11, 2015, Fort Myers DUI Accident Lawyer Blog

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Auto insurance companies are in the business of doing whatever they can to limit payouts to those owed – even their own insureds, who dutifully pay their premiums each month.motorcycle1

We are seeing an increasing number of these cases involving motorcycles, as ridership of two-wheeled vehicles has spiked dramatically in recent years, particularly in Florida.

A 2013 study by the Florida Department of Transportation analyzing a decades-worth of data found the majority of motorcycle accidents in Florida can be blamed on motorists and truck drivers who fail to yield the right-of-way to motorcycle riders. That’s true in at least 60 percent of the cases.

But Florida also has a huge portion of uninsured drivers, so the brunt of the damages often falls back on the motorcycle operator’s own insurance company. Our Fort Myers motorcycle accident lawyers recommend crash victims contact an experienced injury lawyer as soon as possible following a crash to ensure your rights and best interests are protected.

The recent case of State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Earl out of the Indiana Supreme Court is a good reminder.

Claimant was once an active man. He enjoyed fishing and hunting and building projects. He co-owned a small construction firm and was active with his family, grandchildren and playing in a local men’s basketball league.

All of that changed in 2008. He was riding his motorcycle along a major highway in Indiana when a tractor-trailer entered his lane and forced him to swerve out of the way and into the median. He was ejected from his motorcycle while traveling 65 miles-per-hour.

In addition to numerous broken bones and ribs, he suffered a lacerated liver, collapsed lung, blood clots and worse. His family physician feared he would not survive. He did. However, his life was forever altered. He was unable to return to full-time work, and the business suffered. Everyday basic tasks – feeding his animals, driving a vehicle, playing with his grandchildren, sleeping – caused him severe pain and discomfort.

Although the crash was severe, the driver of the truck never stopped and was never identified.

He had a policy with his auto insurance company that allowed uninsured motorist coverage of up to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. The insurer refused to pay the full amount, even though it conceded liability. He sued, with his wife adding a claim for loss of consortium.

While the case was pending, claimant died of unrelated illness and his wife was substituted as personal representative of his estate.

At trial, jurors awarded $175,000 to decedent’s estate and $75,000 to his wife – for a total of $250,000 – the total policy limit amount.

Insurer appealed, arguing trial court erred and abused discretion by allowing into evidence the exact amount of coverage limit, which insurer argued unfairly prejudiced jurors and was irrelevant.

A divided appellate panel reversed and remanded, and plaintiff appealed to Indiana Supreme Court.

The state supreme court again reversed, finding judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing evidence of the policy limit.

Judges are given broad discretion as to which evidence is probative in any given case. In a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, the court ruled a jury may potentially be informed by the policy limit, and it’s up to the individual judge to decide whether the information is relevant and appropriate for jury presentation.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Earl , June 9, 2015, Indiana Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Experts: Death of Math Genius, Wife, Show Need for Backseat Belt Use, June 14, 2015, Fort Myers Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog

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There is a pervasive yet erroneous belief that people in the back seat of a motor vehicle are somehow shielded from the impact of a serious crash. The truth is, those in the back seat are often at risk of injury.mAKYunM

Basic physics do tell us the greatest risk of injury occurs at the initial point of impact, and most collisions are frontal, which is why we still see severe injuries and fatalities occurring more frequently with drivers and front seat passengers. However, while safety technology improvements have focused on those in the front, reducing the overall injury and fatality risks, the same cannot be said for those in the back, and their injury/fatality rates have remained stagnant or increased.

The recent deaths of John F. Nash Jr., 86, the Nobel prize winner and mathematician portrayed in the blockbuster film, “A Beautiful Mind,” and his wife recently on the New Jersey Turnpike underscore this point. The pair were allegedly thrown from the back seat of their taxi, and they weren’t wearing seat belts.

Similar circumstances claimed the life of longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon, 73, a legendary CBS News foreign reporter who was ejected from the back seat of his taxi during a traffic collision in New York City.

These deaths come years after law enforcement agencies and safety advocates have been underscoring the need for people to buckle up. But there is a powerful cultural mindset that continues to grip the country, and that is the belief that being in the back seat is somehow safer. This is underscored by conflicting seat belt laws that would seem to suggest just that.

Drivers may be ticketed for the failure of front seat passengers to wear seat belts, but not for adults in the back (children are a different story). But speaking of children: They are barred from riding in the front seat in many states until they are 13. Again, this undermines what we know about motor vehicle accidents, which is that technically, no passenger is safe.

In many large cities, people typically ignore seat belt laws when in livery cabs and taxis, and they are allowed by law to do so because seat belt laws that apply to those in private vehicles don’t apply to those riding commercial, unless they are in the front seat.

A survey released last year polling taxi and limousine passengers revealed more than 60 percent didn’t wear seat belts.

There is now growing support for legislative changes to the current seat belt laws, with the primary goal of altering public perception of the back seat as a “safe” place for passengers, who don’t need to wear seat belts if riding there. Similarly, some want to extend seat belt laws to apply to those in taxis, livery cabs and other commercial vehicles to combat the notion passengers are somehow safer with a “professional” driver.

Speaking for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a spokeswoman noted the death of the Nash’s is a reminder that even people who are intelligent, logical and thoughtful can still be lulled into thinking “They have an invisible shield around them.”

In truth, the laws of physics apply to everyone.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Deaths of Math Genius John F. Nash Jr. and Wife Show Need for Seatbelts in Back, Experts Say, May 25, 2015, Winnie Hu, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Alleged Florida Drunk Driver Texts Minutes Before Crash, May 23, 2015, Lehigh Acres Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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Underinsured motorist coverage is intended to cover damages when the at-fault driver’s own insurance policy limit isn’t enough to cover all the costs incurred by plaintiff as a result of a crash. Uninsured motorist coverage, meanwhile, is intended to help in situations where at-fault driver has no real insurance coverage.airbag4

Insurers market it as a cushion that consumers can lean on, with feel-good slogans that compare the company to a “good neighbor” and assuring you that you’re “in good hands.”

It’s true that uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) is good to have. That doesn’t mean if you need it that it will be easy to get. In fact, insurance companies use every tactic at their fingertips to limit liability. This is true even when causation seems clear and customers who faithfully pay their rates make reasonable offers of settlement. That’s why so many insurance companies are pursued for claims of “bad faith” – for failing to treat fairly those to whom they are liable.

Battles against insurance companies over UIM coverage play out every day across the country. One of those recent cases was before the Georgia Supreme Court. In Travelers Home & Marine Ins. co. v. Castellanos, the court was asked to weigh the burden of proof between insured plaintiff and the UM carrier, where the carrier denied coverage based on the assertion the at-fault driver in the case was not “uninsured” as defined in the policy.

The incident that set off this case was a 2009 traffic accident. We don’t know the details of that crashed based on the state supreme court records, except that plaintiff obtained a judgment against the at-fault driver for both compensatory and punitive damages.

During these proceedings, defendant driver was defended by his insurance company, and was personally absent from the trial.

Jurors awarded both compensatory and punitive damages in the case. Post-trial, defendant insurer sought a settlement with plaintiff that was less than the judgment, claiming punitive damages weren’t covered in the at-fault driver’s policy.

When plaintiff rejected this offer, the insurer denied coverage to its insured/defendant on grounds he failed to cooperate in defending the lawsuit, as required under the policy.

At that point, plaintiff sought coverage from his own carrier via uninsured motorist coverage.

The carrier refused to pay out the claim, asserting the at-fault driver wasn’t “uninsured.” Plaintiff sent written demands for payment, but insurer never responded. Plaintiff then, in addition to his pending lawsuit for UM benefits, also sued for bad faith refusal to pay under the existing policy.

Plaintiff’s insurance company insisted the at-fault driver’s insurance company illegally denied coverage under at-fault driver’s policy, and thus, he was not an uninsured motorist and therefore, the crash was not covered under plaintiff’s UM policy.

Trial court sided with insurer, finding plaintiff didn’t present evidence showing there was a legal denial of coverage by at-fault driver’s insurer. In a split opinion, the appellate court reversed, finding the proof burden was wrongly shifted to the plaintiff. However, the state supreme court sided with the dissenting judges, determining the proof burden should have been on the plaintiff, who failed to prove the other insurance company had lawfully denied the claim.

In this case, two insurance companies are playing tug-of-war with a plaintiff who simply wants to collect reasonable damages for compensable injuries.

This case shows why even with adequate insurance coverage, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer following a crash.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Travelers Home & Marine Ins. co. v. Castellanos, June 1, 2015, Georgia Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Glazer v. State – Defective Road Design Lawsuit, May 25, 2015, Fort Myers Accident Lawyer Blog

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