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What you need to know about ride sharing services and the law

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When the transportation app Uber was officially launched in 2011, it was both praised for providing consumers with easier and less expensive transportation options and criticized as unfair competition and dangerous.

Fans of the service, and the similar app Lyft, immediately liked the cheaper fares and the ease of using their smartphone to arrange pick-ups. Some praised it for allowing individuals to make extra money using their cars.

Uber has since grown into a $40-billion company. It didn’t take long after the launch for some cracks to appear in this transportation revolution. Several media outlets and consumer safety groups started questioning the business practices of Uber, such as the screening process and qualifications for drivers. Questions also arose about whether those drivers are employees of Uber or independent contractors.

This new type of transportation arrangement also presented legal issues regarding who is responsible when something goes wrong.

These types of companies are referred to by lawmakers as Transportation Network Companies (TNC).

Taxicab companies are often highly regulated by state laws requiring training of drivers and proof of liability insurance. But Uber contended that it was only providing a platform in the new “sharing economy.” In other words, Uber was only providing a way for people who need a service to connect with people who provide a service, and therefore Uber couldn’t be held responsible or legally liable for the actions of the individuals using the platform.

Uber argued they were exempt from many of the regulations imposed by the states where they conducted business. In response, Uber faced heavy opposition and was even banned in some states and cities. State lawmakers struggled with the tension between innovation demanded by consumers and regulation of commercial activity that protects those same consumers. Uber then actively lobbied for laws more favorable to them.

These transportation companies also found themselves at odds with insurers, who have been quite clear that “personal automobile insurance is not intended to cover people who use their vehicles for commercial purposes,” according to an article in Insurance Journal.

A highly publicized fatal wreck involving an Uber driver and a 6-year old pedestrian in California brought into focus the issue of who caries liability insurance in a sharing economy.

At the time of the wreck, the Uber driver didn’t have a passenger but he was logged into the Uber app between rides. Uber had a liability policy providing up to $1 million in coverage but said they were not liable since the driver didn’t have a passenger.

That would mean the driver’s policy, which likely carried much less coverage, was the only policy from which the family of the little girl could recover. However, standard personal automobile insurance policies exclude coverage for people who use their vehicles for commercial purposes, meaning there would be no policy from which the family could recover.

Responding to negative publicity after the accident, Uber eventually backpedaled on its policy and said it would cover drivers with the app activated but not yet carrying a passenger.

The girls’ family settled a lawsuit against Uber in 2015. Terms were not disclosed.

North Carolina lawmakers addressed this issue in 2015 when they passed legislation requiring drivers transporting individuals via a Transportation Network Company, such as Uber and Lyft, to carry $1.5 million per accident in bodily injury coverage.

If the TNC driver is logged in to the app but not providing service, there must be $50,000 per person, $100,000 per accident coverage. The law further stated that the coverage could be maintained by the TNC driver, the TNC or any combination of the driver and company. The new law also says that “a TNC driver is an independent contractor and not an employee,” which would impact a drivers’ ability to make a workers’ compensation claim.

In a future blog post, one of my colleagues will talk about how workers’ compensation laws apply to Uber and Lyft drivers.

As our economy changes and new technology and services emerge, new legal issues arise.

Do you  traditional taxicabs be replaced by Uber and other ride-sharing services? As the sharing economy grows and changes, what other novel legal issues will lawmakers be called upon to address? We’d love to know your thoughts.

 

Driverless Cars Raise Big Legal & Insurance Issues

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Driverless cars have the potential to make roads safer and save lives, according to the companies pursuing this cutting-edge technology. But when there’s no one at the wheel, big legal questions arise.

When a driverless can causes a crash, who is legally liable?

The Washington Post called that the “big question about driverless cars no one seems able to answer.”

At the Deuterman Law Group we’ve been watching this emerging market with particular interest as to how liability legislation will develop.

Google created a huge buzz when it first introduced the concept of driverless cars. More than 33,000 people are killed on the road every year, and 94 percent of those accidents are due to some type of human error, Chris Urmson, the technical director of Google’s self-driving car project told NPR.

“The good news is we can build software and hardware that can see the road and pay attention all the time and react more quickly and keep people safe on the road,” he said.

Now more and more companies are investing in this technology. Right now these vehicles are primarily in the testing phase in a very few cities, but it appears this may be the future of transportation.

In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledged that the software, and not the human passenger, is legally the driver in these new types of cars.

What does this mean for liability and insurance coverage for these types of vehicles when they become available for purchase?

There are no clear answer yet.

Automakers could be held liable when driverless cars fail and cause crashes.

“This is largely a matter of product liability, several auto and insurance analysts said, not personal insurance — though as a 2014 study from the Brookings Institution suggests, determining where one type of coverage ends and the other begins will be tricky,” the Washington Post reported. “Basically, victims of a collision could (directly or indirectly through their own insurers) try to seek damages from a driverless-car maker for manufacturing a vehicle that didn’t operate as it was supposed to.”

So what happens if you buy a driverless car? Would your car insurance policy or rate change? Possibly, but no one really knows yet what these policies would look like or how much they would cost.

These cars will have different levels of automation, so insurers likely won’t have a standard policy that applies to all driverless cars. And while the federal government has weighed in on these vehicles, many states have not. “And it’s their laws that really matter to insurance companies,” the Washington Post reported, based on an interview with Wayne McOwen, executive director of the District of Columbia Insurance Federation.”That’s because it’s the states that ultimately issue the drivers’ licenses that insurers use to evaluate risk.”

Indeed, there’s a lot to ponder about driverless cars. Will they make our roads safer? Who should be allowed to operate them? How should these types of vehicles be insured? Who should legally responsible when these cars are involved in crashes?

What do you think?

Don’t Skip This Important Insurance Coverage

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Anyone who has been in a car accident knows that getting insurance to pay is never as easy as it seems in TV commercials.

The insurance companies have created the perception that simply having automobile insurance will protect you if you’re involved in a car accident. But to get the most out of their insurance, consumers need to make sure they have the right kind of coverage.

If your auto insurance policy does not include Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage and Medical Payments (Medpay), you could be left with medical bills to pay out of your own pocket even if someone else caused your injuries.

North Carolina law requires all drivers to carry automobile liability coverage. But many people break the law and drive without any liability insurance coverage. Or their insurance policy may not be sufficient to cover all the expenses of an accident.

Minimum coverage amounts

The law states the minimum coverage requirements are $30,000 for bodily injury per person and $60,000 per accident. That may seem like a lot of money, but consider that healthcare costs are rising and just a trip to the emergency room could easily cost more than $5,000 and much more than that if you have traumatic injuries.

If your injuries require extensive treatment over several months, you could have medical bills that exceed the minimum coverage limit. Then what happens?

Doesn’t the liability carrier HAVE to pay my medical bills no matter how much they are?

The surprising answer is not always. If the at-fault driver has no insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage on his policy, you could be responsible for medical bills that exceed his coverage limits. That’s why you have to protect yourself.

How do I protect myself?

This is the easy part. Auto insurance carriers offer Uninsured (UI) and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM). UI and UIM are typically sold together and listed as separate coverage on your policy.

Uninsured coverage (UI) covers you if the at-fault driver failed to carry liability insurance or if you were injured by a Hit and Run driver. As long as you can prove there was actual contact between your vehicle and the driver who fled, you can recover your damages under your UI provision. If this happens to you, be sure to notify your insurance carrier within 24 hours of the collision.

Underinsured coverage (UIM) covers you if the other driver doesn’t carry enough coverage. An underinsured driver is defined as someone whose liability coverage limits are less than your own and not enough to cover the expenses of the people injured in the accident.

This means that to protect yourself adequately, you should carry more than the minimum limits. You should have at least $50,000 in UIM on your policy and more if you can afford it. UIM will pay the difference between the other driver’s liability limits and your own Underinsured Motorist limits.

Check your policy or contact your agent today to see if you are adequately covered. Tell your agent that you need to have at least $50,000 in UIM on your policy.

Ask your agent about medpay as well since this type of coverage is usually very affordable.

During hard economic times, it can be tempting to get the least amount of coverage required by law, but too frequently we see people who took that risk and ended up with unpaid bills.

Download this handy chart that explains what the different types of auto insurance cover

 

 

Beware Jury Duty Scam

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If you get a phone call saying that you’re in trouble because you missed jury duty, hang up. It’s a scam.

Court officials in several North Carolina counties report scammers are calling people and telling them they owe jury duty fines and if they don’t pay, they could be arrested.

A caller informs the resident that a bench warrant (or a warrant for arrest) has been issued because the person failed to report for jury duty. The caller then instructs them to make a payment by telephone in order to satisfy the bench warrant. Sometimes the caller states that failing to pay this fine will result in a jail sentence. This is a scam.

Don’t fall for the scam. Hang up. Don’t give out any personal or financial information over the phone, including bank account details, credit card numbers or your Social Security number.

Court staff and the sheriff’s department employees NEVER contact citizens by phone or email and ask for money, or any sensitive personal or financial information. If you receive a call like this, report it to your local sheriff’s department.

If you’ve already been a victim, contact the credit reporting agencies and the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271, as well as your bank.

Beware of scam emails: they may look and sound official, but they’re not

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A client recently forwarded me an official-sounding email he received that mentioned his court case and also referenced problems with his Social Security number.

The email, which appeared to come from another law firm, said the client was facing criminal charges for fraud, among other things. It also said his Social Security number had been “put on hold by the U.S. government” until legal matters were resolved. It also said that the client would owe close to $12,000 in legal fees if convicted of these so-called charges.

Our client was smart to be suspicious of this email.

It was a fake. A fraud. It’s what is known as a phishing scam — when Internet fraudsters impersonate a business or government agency to trick you into giving out your personal information. Phishing emails may also be used to transmit viruses to your computer.

OnGuard.gov, which investigates and fights cyber crime advises:

Never reply to email, text, or pop-up messages that ask for your personal or financial information. Don’t click on links within them either – even if the message seems to be from an organization you trust. It isn’t. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through insecure channels. 

Don’t open attachments on emails from people you don’t trust. And even if an email appears to come from someone you know, be careful before opening an attachment. The message that appears to come from your friend or family member may actually be from a hacker or phishing scammer.

Be wary of calling phone numbers included in phishing emails. They may be fraudulent, as well.

If you receive a scam email, you may want to forward it to [email protected]. If the email message mentions a specific bank, company or organization, forward it to them, as well. You also may report phishing emails to [email protected]

If you think you may have been tricked by a phishing email:

 

 

Backup cameras will be required on new cars after 2018

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There’s a story out of Washington today that shows how civil lawsuits can help drive new legislation and regulations that make us all safer.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today that beginning in May 2018, all new cars, SUVs, and minivans, as well as some new small trucks and buses must be equipped with backup cameras.

Every year, 210 people are killed in backover accidents, about a third of them children. Many of these accidents happen in people’s driveways, and many times the deaths occur when a parent backs over their own child because they didn’t see him or her.

In 2008, a new law required the NHTSA to reduce backover deaths, but it has taken six years for the agency to make backup cameras mandatory. Several safety advocacy groups sued the government and asked a federal judge to require backup rules be adopted, according to CNN.

Rear facing cameras would prevent between 59 and 69 deaths a year, according to NHTSA estimates. It will cost automakers about $140 per vehicle to equip them with backup cameras, and less for those that already have in-dash displays, CNN reported.

This is just the latest examples of how civil litigation has resulted in improvements to auto safety. Seat belts, airbags and many other safety innovations resulted or became standard on vehicles after lawsuits. The American Association for Justice has a fascinating report called Driven to Safety about how cars are safer thanks to the civil justice system. I highly recommend it.

 

Penalties for Texting While Driving

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A 13-month-old North Carolina girl was killed in a Christmas day car wreck that police originally thought was caused by texting and driving

Originally, police in Wadesboro charged the girl’s father with texting and driving, alleging he sent a text message saying “Merry Christmas” just moments before the crash that killed his daughter and seriously injured his wife and two others.

Later, the police investigation revealed the father did not send a text message, though he did receive one near the time of the crash. There’s no evidence he looked at the message while driving.

When news of the charges first broke, many people took to social media and said the police were too harsh in charging the grieving father in the accident that took his daughter’s life.

We want to know what you think about the legal consequences and penalties for texting while driving.

Scientific students — and countless fatal accidents — have proven that texting (and even talking on the phone) distracts drivers’ attention. In fact, some studies show texting while driving is as dangerous as drinking while driving.

North Carolina is one of 41 states (and the District of Columbia) with laws against texting while driving.

Depending on the state and the severity of the infraction, the penalties for texting while driving range from a ticket or fine to jail time.

  • Monetary fines- these can range from as low as $20 up to $500 depending on the state
  • Criminal charges- in some states texting while driving can result in criminal misdemeanor charges (Class B or C)
  • Jail or prison time- if the offense has resulted in bodily injury to another driver, jail or prison time may be imposed

Source: LegalMatch

In N.C. you can be fined from $25 to $100 for texting while driving, depending on your age. Bus drivers who are caught texting while driving face a $100 fine and a Class 2 misdemeanor charge. However, you won’t get points on your license or face increased insurance premiums for texting while driving violations.

Given the serious danger texting while driving presents to motorists and those who share the roads with them, do you think the penalties for texting while driving are severe enough?

Should penalties for texting while driving match those for driving under the influence?

In N.C., DUI penalities are much stricter and include loss of driving privileges, fines ranging from $200 to $10,000, jail time and substance abuse assessment and treatment.

 

New low-cost health clinic set to open in Greensboro; still few options for affordable health care

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There’s a bit of good news for people who don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to pay for medical care.

Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine has received a federal grant under the Affordable Care Act to open a health clinic for low-income residents, the Triad Business Journal reported recently.

Unfortunately, the new clinic will not make up for the gap in affordable health care options created by the closing of HealthServe.

HealthServe had about 8,500 active patients — 70 percent of them were uninsured with no way to pay for healthcare. Patients paid on a sliding scale, based on their income. Most HealthServe clients were not covered by Medicaid.

The clinic was their safety net.

The new clinic to be opened by HealthServe’s parent company, Triad Adult & Pediatric Medicine, unfortunately will not serve as broad a population. The new clinic, which will have two medical providers and a staff of about 12 people, will be able to treat about 3,500 patients annually, mostly the homeless and people living in public housing.

That still leaves a large population of people without access to affordable health care. In Guilford County has few options for free and low-cost health care, so many people don’t get the medical care they need.

On our website, we have a listing of health clinics throughout the region offering free medical care or payment on a sliding scale based on income. You can download the list here.

Be sure to also check out the listings at the Guilford County Community Care Network.

There are no details yet on when the new TAPM clinic will open or where it will be located. We’ll continue to share news about that clinic and other low-cost and no-cost healthcare options as news is available.

Handy Information If You’re Ever in an Accident

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Did you know we have lots of helpful downloads on our website?

If you haven’t already downloaded a copy of these resources, you should. They’ll help you when you’re shopping for insurance or if you ever involved in an automobile accident.

Do you have the right auto insurance coverage? Find out here.

Do you know what to do after an auto accident? Our Auto Accident Basics newsletter includes everything you need to know about crashes. It even includes a list of tips that you’ll want to clip and save for your glovebox.

Auto insurance policies can be confusing. We explain how to read your auto insurance policy here.

If you prefer to download a copy, you can access that here.

 

Labor Day Travel Safety Tips

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This weekend is Labor Day, the holiday that celebrates workers.

We hope you have fun plans for the end-of-summer hurrah. And we also hope you’ll stay safe over the holiday weekend. 

With so many people traveling, spending time at the pool, beach or lake and grilling out, Labor Day can be a prime time for injuries.

The National Safety Council estimates nearly 400 people will die in automobile accidents over the Labor Day weekend, and some 42,000 people will suffer injuries requiring medical treatment.

Wearing your seatbelt — and making sure others in the car with you buckle up, too — is one of the smartest safety measures you can take this weekend.

The National Safety Council estimates that seatbelts will save 143 lives this weekend. And if everyone buckled up, the number of Labor Day traffic fatalities would be reduced by 100.

“NSC issues fatality estimates for major holiday periods to draw attention to the need for drivers to exercise safe driving practices, especially when a significant number of drivers are expected to be on our nation’s roads,” said Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO.

Thanks to lower gas prices and an improving economy, AAA Carolinas estimates a 5 percent increase in Labor Day travel this weekend by North Carolinians.

An expected 972,600 North Carolina residents will travel more than 50 miles from home during the five-day holiday travel period, which ends Monday.

To ensure a safe Labor Day holiday weekend, NSC recommends drivers:

  • Establish and enforce a distraction-free zone, especially in cars equipped with electronic devices including cell phones, global positioning systems and other in-vehicle technology (We’ve warned about distracted driving before.)
  • Make sure all passengers are buckled up and children are in safety seats appropriate for their age and size
  • Allow plenty of travel time to avoid frustration and diminish the impulse to speed
  • Drive defensively and exercise caution, especially during inclement weather
  • Designate a non-drinking driver or plan for alternative transportation, such as a taxi

The American Red Cross also suggests that drivers carry an emergency supply kit in their trunk. It’s also a good idea to let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive.

Roadways aren’t the only place where you need to exercise caution this weekend.

Swimming pools, lakes, beaches and backyard barbecues also pose risks.

Follow these Labor Day safety tips from the American Red Cross to ensure that your holiday celebrations remain fun and safe.

Tips for Safe Swimming

  • Check weather and water conditions beforehand and throughout the day.
  • Always swim with a buddy in a designated swimming area supervised by a lifeguard.
  • Provide constant supervision to children in or near the water and always stay within arm’s reach of young children and inexperienced swimmers while they are in the water.
  • Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

Tips for Safe Grilling

  • Keep the grill away from the house, tree branches, or anything that could catch fire.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.