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Is Your Car Really a Total Loss?

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Have you ever owned a vehicle you loved? It’s not unusual to get sentimentally attached to a car or to think of it as more than just a way to get from one place to another. Many people like driving an older car with no car payments.

What happens if that car is damaged in a wreck? You may be willing to do whatever it takes to repair the vehicle, despite the cost or time involved.

But the insurance company may declare a vehicle a “total loss,” even if the mechanic or body shop says it can be fixed.

What gives? Is the insurance company being purposely difficult? Do they know something about your vehicle you don’t?

The term “total loss” has a different meaning in the insurance industry than it does to the average person or even a mechanic. When you’re told a car is a total loss, you may take that to mean the car is beyond repair and must be scrapped.

Total loss, as used by an insurance adjuster in a property damage claim, does not mean your car can’t be repaired. It means the expense of repairing the car exceeds the present day value of the car. This is an important distinction to understand, because the insurance company is only responsible for paying what your car was valued just prior to the wreck. If the repair costs are more than 75 percent of the total value of the car, the car is considered a total loss.

To determine whether the necessary repairs exceed this amount, the insurance company must assign a value to the vehicle. That’s part of what an insurance adjuster is doing when he or she examines your vehicle.

Insurance companies base their payout amounts on “actual cash value,” or ACV. The insurance company may consider several different factors when determining ACV, including make, model, mileage, year and condition. As you can see, the insurance company can’t evaluate the sentimental value of a car, because there’s no objective formula to determine it so the adjuster will stick to those factors listed above. The method of valuing a vehicle isn’t standard across the industry. One insurance company’s calculated ACV may differ significantly from the next.

These inconsistencies in calculating ACV give you some room to negotiate with the insurance company to increase the valuation of your vehicle. This could mean more money in your final insurance payout.

Start your negotiations with the insurance company by requesting a copy of the valuation report it used to determine ACV. The valuation report is an itemized list of the specifications of your vehicle — such as the make, model, and mileage — as well as an inventory of factory upgrades that may affect the overall value. Certain “extras” that increase the value of a vehicle, such as leather interior, airbags or a sunroof, may be missing from the report. If information is missing, alert the adjuster immediately.

The property damage adjuster may be willing to consider certain information you provide in the ACV. The Kelley Blue Book value, the value of similar vehicles in your area and upgrades (such as a state-of-the-art, after-market sound system) can all help to increase your ACV. Keep in mind that the adjuster will only consider the price of vehicles in your area and not nationwide.

If your vehicle has been deemed a total loss, the insurance company will offer the ACV to settle your property damage claim. If you’re unhappy with the offer, you can have an independent appraisal performed at your expense to see if the appraiser values it higher. If you agree with the ACV, then you need to decide if you want to surrender the car to the insurance company or keep the car and pay for the repairs yourself. Typically, the insurance company takes possession of a “total loss” car for its salvage value. If you want to keep the vehicle, the insurance company will pay you the actual cash value, minus the amount it would have received at a salvage yard and minus any applicable deductibles. From there, you can take the payout and have the repairs completed yourself.

If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, it’s important to understand your rights in North Carolina. An experienced North Carolina auto accident lawyer will help protect you from unfair insurance company practices and ensure you get maximum compensation.

For answers to other frequently asked questions about auto accident claims, visit our online news & learning center.

 

Understanding your auto insurance policy – Uninsured Motorist Coverage

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Today we’re sharing a guest post from the N.C. Advocates for Justice about the importance of having Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage as part of your auto insurance policy.

You can learn more about the different types of auto insurance coverage and understanding your policy in these articles:

Being involved in a wreck is a bad situation. Being involved in a wreck that is not your fault and where the other driver has no insurance is worse. Although N.C. law requires liability insurance, the reality is many drivers on the road lack liability insurance to pay for harm they may cause. Fortunately, since 2009 every policy of personal auto insurance issued in North Carolina requires coverage for this type of situation. That coverage is called Uninsured Motorist or “UM” coverage. This is not to be confused with Underinsured Motorist or “UIM” coverage, which applies when the at-fault driver has some insurance coverage, but not enough to cover the harm caused.

N.C. law requires that all policies have a minimum of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident of UM coverage for injury and $25,000 for property damage, with the option to select higher limits. This coverage pays for damage to your car, medical expenses, lost wages and other damages resulting from your injuries. In essence, the UM coverage on your policy steps into the shoes of the uninsured at-fault driver and pays damages that person could be held responsible for under the law, with a few exceptions.

One such exception is punitive damages. Punitive damages involving automobile are most often situations involving drunk driving, racing, or similar plainly dangerous and reckless behavior. Punitive damages are intended to punish the reckless driver for what he did and deter him or her (and others) from repeating that conduct in the future. While the law allows that claim against the reckless driver, your UM coverage would not pay punitive damages even if a jury allows them.

“Hit-and-run” situations also require a particular analysis in North Carolina. In order to have a valid UM claim in North Carolina in a hit-and-run situation, you must prove “contact.”

The “contact” rule does not require the hit-and-run motorist contact your car. As long as the hit-and-run motorist contacts some vehicle or object which contacts your car, then you can be covered under the UM coverage.

Two different scenarios can show how that plays out. Let’s say you are driving to Wednesday night church, and your pastor happens to be traveling behind you in his car. As you enter a curve, an oncoming car is over the center line and heading towards you. If that vehicle hits your car, but doesn’t stop and leaves the scene never to be identified, you have a valid UM claim for any injury. That’s because of the physical contact between the hit-and-run vehicle and your own.

Alternatively, if you swerve to avoid the car and there’s no contact, but you end up going off the road damaging your car or being hurt, there is no UM coverage. This is true even if your pastor would swear under oath that you did nothing wrong and had to swerve or be hit head on. This can leave you with medical expenses that still must be paid. For property damage to be covered under UM, contact along is not enough. A valid UM claim for property damage requires both contact and the identification of the hit-and-run or uninsured driver responsible.

Requiring contact for a valid UM claim is designed to prevent fraud, so a person can’t simply wreck their vehicle on their own and falsely claim another driver caused it. A trend in other states to combat potential fraud, but allow UM coverage, involves allowing a UM claim with no contact if there is an independent witness or other corroborating evidence. To date, North Carolina has not followed that trend and we remain a strict “contact” state.

Facts in specific situations can result in different answers, and this basic description of UM coverage does not cover all scenarios. If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation like the ones described, seek legal advice for your particular situation. And remember, to protect yourself against drivers who lack sufficient insurance you should review your current coverage with your agent and purchase protection such as Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist coverage in high enough limits to cover you and your family.

If you have been injured in an auto, truck or motorcycle accident, give us at call at (866) 373-1130 or contact us here If you have been involved in an automobile, truck or motorcycle accident that was somenoe else’s fault, you may be entitled to compensation for car repairs, pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, permanent impairment, mileage to and from your doctors’ appointments, prescription costs and rental car fees.

How to Talk to Your Doctor

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how to talk to your doctorYou’ve been injured, and you’re in pain so you go to the doctor. But once you’re there, you feel like the doctor isn’t saying or doing much. Or the doctor is using words or terminology you don’t understand.

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re not being heard or that you don’t understand what your diagnosis or treatment is. Some patients might not feel comfortable asking questions or questioning their doctor. But the ability to effectively talk with your doctor means he or she will be better able to help you.

Effective communication is a two-way street. There’s a lot of information about how doctors can better communicate with their patients. Some of that information discusses how doctors don’t have as much time to spend with each patient as they like. One study showed doctors spend on average about 15 minutes with each patient. When you think about it, that’s not a lot of time for the doctor to learn everything about your symptoms, your history, physically examine you, make a diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.

So how can you make the most of that 15 minutes? Start by being prepared with a list of your symptoms and your medications, and even your questions. Having your list with you will help you remember everything rather than you trying to rely on your memory when you’re in pain. When you’ve been injured in a car wreck, you probably hurt all over. However, that might not be detailed enough information for the doctor.

Describe in detail how your injury occurred

If you were in a wreck, tell the doctor how it happened. Was it a T-bone wreck or head on? How fast were you going when you were hit? Did your car spin after impact? Did the airbags deploy?

If you fell off a dock at work and now have elbow pain, show the doctor how you landed and use your hands to show how high up the dock is.

Describe your symptoms

Because doctors can’t “see” pain, they only know what you’re telling them about your pain. Try to be descriptive about what’s happening.

For example, is your lower back pain sharp or dull? Is it worse in the morning or at night or with certain activities such as bending over to tie your shoes or sitting at a desk all day? Does the back pain seem to go down your leg?

If you have shoulder pain, does it hurt when you try to put on a jacket? Does it hurt in the front, back or top of your shoulder? Be sure to point to the specific areas that hurt. For instance if you say your lower back hurts, but you’re pointing to your hip, the doctor knows to look there.

Describe how the injury has affected you

Your doctor may or may not know what you were physically capable of doing prior to your injury, so try to share examples. For instance, if prior to your injury, you picked up extra shifts as a CNA, but now you can’t because your legs give out when trying to lift a patient, that’s important information to give your doctor.

Or perhaps you had no trouble working on spreadsheets on a computer all day, but now you’re having trouble concentrating and are making mistakes. Even describing common tasks that you can no longer do such as getting a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator or vacuuming or mowing the yard will be helpful information to your doctor.

Ask questions

If you injured your back lifting heavy equipment at work and the doctor mentions spondylosis or medial branch blocks, you may not know what he or she is referring to. Don’t be afraid to ask. Many doctors may even show you on a chart or a model of a spine what they are suggesting.

Most importantly, don’t wait for the doctor to ask you questions. Most doctors will ask lots of questions, but don’t mistakenly assume that because your doctor didn’t ask, there’s no need to volunteer the information or it must not be important. You best know your body, your job and your home life, so be sure to share the information you have so that the doctor can do the best job to help you recover.

Visit this link for more tips on how to talk to your doctor and how to understand your doctor.

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

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ride sharing services and the law

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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risks of texting while drivingA 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.