Articles Posted in Car Collisions

Farm-Bureau
Recently, in Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company v. Rockefeller, the Court of Appeals of Georgia upheld the trial court’s ruling that declined to allow the insurance company to offset Rockefeller’s worker’s compensation recovery against the amount the company owed to him under his policy. Because the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident did not have sufficient insurance coverage to pay for Rockefeller’s damages, he sought additional compensation under his policy with Georgia Farm Bureau.  Rockefeller had four uninsured motorist (“UM”) policies totaling  $100,000 that were in effect at the time of the accident. However, Georgia Farm Bureau argued that because Rockefeller received $197,966.55 through workers compensation benefits for his injuries, and a $25,000 settlement from the other driver’s insurance company, his recovery exceeded the coverage limits of his UM policies, thus reducing Georgia Farm Bureau’s liability to Rockefeller under the UM policies to zero.

But, Rockefeller’s workers’ compensation award provided a weekly amount less than the wages he was earning at the time of the accident, so he accumulated an additional $183,022.38 in lost wages for which he was not compensated. The Court of Appeals rejected Georgia Farm Bureau’s argument, and held that the insurance company was liable up to the $100,000 combined coverage limit of Rockefeller’s four UM policies for losses he sustained that were not covered by his worker’s compensation award or his settlement with the other driver’s insurer.

The parties’ argument in this case revolved around the interpretation of OCGA § 33-7-11 which essentially provides that insurance policies may contain provision which provide for exclusions of liability of the insurer for personal injury or death for which the insured has been compensated under a workers’ compensation policy. Rockefeller’s insurance policy with Georgia Farm Bureau contained such a limitation, but the court refused to allow Georgia Farm Bureau to offset the amount owed to Rockefeller under his uninsured motorist policy by the amount Rockefeller recovered from other sources. This case provides an important precedent establishing a distinction between situations where plaintiffs would receive a duplicative recovery and where insurance companies seek to avoid the disbursement of funds owed under insurance policies simply because the policy-holder received some compensation from other sources. Thus, even where a plaintiff recovers some compensation from a source, like worker’s compensation, a non-duplication provision does not bar the insured from recovering from his insurer for uncompensated losses. While it is understandable that insurance companies would want to include non-duplication provisions in policies with their insureds, this ruling makes clear that insurance companies will not be let off the hook simply because their insureds have been partially compensated by alternative means. This holding reaffirms the precedent in Marby v. State Farm Automotive Insurance Corporation, which states that insurance companies remain liable up to the amount set forth in the policy limits so long as the plaintiff remains uncompensated for at least a portion of their damages, including future medical expenses, future lost earnings, and past and future pain and suffering.


marijuana-plant-1462950A recent study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute is raising red flags about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and its correlation to an increase in the number of vehicle collisions reported to insurance companies in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The study compared the collision rates of Colorado, Oregon and Washington both before and after each state passed the legalization initiatives with the rates from Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming, where marijuana is still illegal. According to the Institute, since marijuana was legalized, claims are up 6.2 percent in Washington, 4.5 percent in Oregon and 16 percent in Colorado. The increase in reported collision rates appears to correlate to the lapse of time since the legalization, with Oregon being the most recent to legalize marijuana and having the smallest increase out of the three states, and Colorado being the first to legalize marijuana and having the greatest increase.

Critics of the study question the validity of the findings, as population densities in Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming have significantly less dense population centers than Colorado, Oregon and Washington. However, according to researchers, the study accounted for factors such as the number of vehicles on the road, the driver demographics, employment status and weather. Certainly such variations will affect the outcome of a study to some degree, but the significant increase in reported traffic collisions should not be minimized. While the Highway Loss Data Institute cautioned that the study did not look at highway fatality rates nor did it allege that the increase was directly caused by drivers who were high, the findings did indicate a greater crash risk to all drivers on the road.

To be sure, some of the increased percentage could be linked to an increased willingness of high-drivers to report traffic collisions due to the decreased risk of criminal culpability. While driving high is still unlawful, modern technology currently provides no means of determining the degree of influence a marijuana user may be under in a manner similar to that of a breathalyzer test for blood alcohol concentration. Thus, if the driver believes he can conceal the fact that he is under the influence of marijuana and he in possession of the substance, he will be far more willing to contact local law enforcement officials to report a collision than if he were in a jurisdiction that still outlaws pot. More significantly, as more and more states pass initiatives legalizing marijuana for recreational use, the rate of marijuana consumption will inevitably climb and the rate of high drivers will follow suit. After all, high drivers have a significantly greater chance of getting away with driving under the influence than drunk drivers due to the absence of any on-scene testing mechanism.

car-crash-300x169This morning, a motorist, Javarius Exum, (25), was in a stopped 2009 Dodge Charger on I-75 North in Henry County, Georgia. For reasons unknown, Mr. Exum stopped his vehicle in the far right hand lane of I-75 North.  The AJC article indicates that the vehicle was disabled – yet, I suspect that is an assumption at this point.

(Photo credited to Georgia Department of Transportation)

A passing motorist noticed Mr. Exum’s stopped vehicle, called 911 at approximately 4:18 a.m., and notified authorities that the Dodge only had brake lights activated.  Roughly, three minutes later, a bus from Tennessee that was also traveling northbound was unable to get into the left lane (to the left of Mr. Exum) and struck Mr. Exum’s vehicle from the rear.

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Among other rules of the road, Georgia’s rule related to left hand turns is set in stone: thou shall yield to oncoming traffic prior to making a left hand turn.  In fact, the Highway Administration estimates that roughly 22% of wrecks are caused by left hand turns alone.  And, UPS made notice of an estimate that a left hand turn adds on an additional 30-45 seconds to a road trip.  Apparently, through creating its own software and maps, UPS has been able to avoid left hand turns that saves UPS from 6-8 miles per route, 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year,  emission pollution equivalent to over 21,000 less passenger cars per year and 10 millions of gas each year.

But, wait, there’s more. A study determined that right hand turns only cause about 1.2 % of all crashes.  And, out of all crashes that occur whilst turning or crossing an intersection, 61% relate to left hand turns as opposed to 3 % as to right hand turns.  If you read further, you discover that left hand turns are three times more likely to result in a fatal wreck.  Thus, if you are a pedestrian, it is probably better to use a sidewalk to the right of moving traffic.

I have been practicing personal injury law for over 25 years.  I represent motorists that have been injured by the negligence of drivers that have made left hand turns.  The law in Georgia, O.C.G.A. 40-6-71, basically mandates that drivers intending to turn left must yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction irrespective if that vehicle is in an intersection or so close to one that it is a hazard.

fitbitWorried that your fitbit may be used against you in a situation where you are injured in an accident? Fitbits are technological devices that are readily available in the market and are crafted to track your physical activities that may range from your heart rate monitoring to your body weight. Personally, I have a Fitbit. One of my friends recommended it to me at a time when I needed to be my own health coach. My core reason for purchasing a Fitbit was to track my exercise activities and sleep pattern.

After buying it, I was all hands on deck determined to make it useful and make a positive change in my life. At first, it was difficult to get used to sleeping with a gadget on my wrist since am not a gadget person. However, my sheer determination to track my physical activities made me adopt to it. Since then, I have grown to enjoy it and I would say that I can’t do anything without it.

One day as I was going through the advantages and disadvantages of using a Fitbit, it came to my attention that the data collected by the gadget can be used in court cases as admissible evidence. This puzzled me and made me develop reservations about using Fitbit.

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Allstate Insurance recently completed an analysis of the best drivers in America by reviewing the frequency of property damage caused by drivers insured by Allstate from 2013-2014.  The analysis and conclusions were published in a report that looks at the 200 biggest cities (as identified by U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Estimates) in the United States.  The purpose of the study was to contribute to the ongoing discussion of driving safely and attentively behind the wheel – particularly, as to the popular driving season in the summer.  For our purposes, the study concluded that Atlanta had some of the worst drivers in the country and that 183 of the biggest cities in the United States had safer drivers than us.  FYI, Boston was the worst with a rank of 200 – I think the haphazard road and highway configuration is to blame…. Brownsville, Texas had the safest drivers…

Of course, Allstate has a vested interest in the results of the study as Allstate’s general aim is to take in insurance premiums from customers and minimize payouts to persons injured and property damaged by Allstate insured drivers.  As an interesting side note, I read that Allstate recently requested (from Georgia Insurance Commissioner – aka rubber stamp) and received a 25% increase in the premiums it charges in the State of Georgia.  And, sure enough, I checked the price of my renewal of office insurance policy and it increased exactly by 25%.

Some other general statistics gleaned from the study reflect that the average driver will be involved in a collision (there are no accidents – just negligence of behalf of the motorist) at least once every 10 years and that distracted driving causes 26% of motor vehicle collisions. Allstate polled more than 4,500 drivers and published some interesting statistics on distracted driving:  37% of motorists talk on the phone while driving; 39% of motorists say texting is largest contributor of distracting driving; 34.3% of motorists say their ability to talk on the cellphone or text while driving is poor (while less than 1% say it is excellent); 60.4% say texting and distracted driving is about as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and 35.7% of the motorists know someone who has been involved in a car crash caused by distracted drivers. For more information in a well-written blog on distracted driving, please click here, here, here and finally here.

BILLS
For purposes of this blog post, let us assume that you were not at fault for the collision and do not have medical insurance or medical payments coverage (on your own auto insurance) that would otherwise be available to pay your medical, therapy and hospital bills that you incurred as a result of your injuries in your car crash.  In Georgia, the insurer for the at-fault motorist is not obligated to pay your medical bills as soon as you incur them or when such bills become due and payable.  Typically, medical bills are paid out of a lump sum money settlement after you have finished your treatment. That is why it is always important to use an experienced personal injury attorney to fight for the highest settlement possible!

TIP 1:  Buy medical payment coverage on your auto insurance.  This coverage is cheap and will pay the medical bills that you incur as a result of your car crash irrespective of whether you were at fault.

On occasion, auto insurers will (surely try) promise to pay you (an unrepresented victim) a small paltry sum for pain, suffering and inconvenience and represent it will “pay” your medical bills.  Don’t fall for it – it is a sucker’s bet – and you if you agree to it – then you allow the at-fault insurer in essence to control your medical treatment – and your interests are obviously opposed to one another.  If you have a question regarding this contention, then please contact me and I will happy to speak to you. Now, back to the topic at hand.

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I remember the day and the time that it happened to me.  It was a Saturday night around 11 p.m. in the mid 90s and I was leaving a restaurant in a small retail shopping center in Atlanta near Collier Road after meeting with some friends.  I walked out into the parking lot and spent over 10 minutes looking for my car. I retraced my exact steps when I initially arrived at the restaurant from parking the car and walking into the restaurant. I attempted this fruitless maneuver several times without success.  At this point, I was a little concerned.  I knew that I only had two drinks at a nearby restaurant and that my inability to find my car was not based on my intoxication or lack of familiarity with the surroundings.

I decided to walk one more time to what I thought was my initial parking spot.  I looked all around and didn’t see the car.  Then, I decided to look down.  Sure enough – there was shattered car window glass on the ground in my spot – you know, the type of glass that is shatter proof and crumbles upon impact.  At this point, I called the Atlanta Police Department and filed my stolen car report.  APD found my car the next day near the water treatment plant.  Some perps had stolen the vehicle for a joyride and damaged the vehicle beyond its fair market value – not hard to do, as this was a late model Pontiac Bonneville.  Fortunately, I had the right type of auto insurance that compensated me for my loss.

What happened to me that night was not an aberration of human behavior in Atlanta?  Typically, the higher the population, the higher the incidence of crime, particularly, in a large metropolitan city.  Unfortunately, car theft, break-ins and resulting property damage in retail shopping centers in Atlanta are on the rise.

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Georgia Uniform Vehicle Accident Report Overlay

Unfortunately, you were involved in a car collision as a driver, passenger or pedestrian.  The investigating officer arrived at the scene of the car wreck; performed an investigation; and then spoke to you and stated that you could pick up your Georgia Uniform Accident Report (GUVAR) either in person or on-line within several days.  If you chose to obtain your car accident report on-line, then you probably read my blog regarding how to buy your report over the computer.  However, the police agencies that utilize www.buycrash.com in Georgia typically do not offer the Georgia Uniform Vehicle Accident Report Overlay with the report.  Yet, you can typically pick up the overlay form at the police station.

What is the overlay and what does it have to do with your car accident report?  The overlay is broken down into twenty-one (21) separate categories that function to provide crucial information regarding the who, what, when, where and why of car crashes in Georgia. The categories are as follows: alcohol and/or drug test given, type test, driver condition, direction of travel, vision obscured by, vehicle condition, vehicle maneuver, pedestrian maneuver, first harmful event/most harmful event, contributing factors, vehicle class, vehicle type, traffic control, cargo body type, vehicle configuration, traffic-way flow, weather, surface condition, light condition, manner of collision, location at area of impact, road composition, contributing road defects, road character, damage to vehicle, age, sex, taken for treatment, injury code, construction/maintenance zone codes, ejection, safety equipment, extrication, air bag function, seating position and points of initial contact.

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Let’s take a look at an interesting scenario. A young man in his late 20s is involved in a car crash through no fault of his own.  At the time of the wreck, he is coming back from the gym where he had a thorough workout.  The collision involved a side impact to his passenger door.  He experiences pain in his neck, shoulder and back at the scene and is transported to the hospital.  Upon release from the hospital, the ER physician tells him to follow up with his choice of health care providers for any continuing pain.

The next day, the man decides to visit a clinic that provides chiropractic and medical treatment.  He undergoes several months of treatment and, while his neck and back get better, his shoulder continues to be in pain and he experiences limited range of motion.  The medical doctor refers him for an MRI (magnetic resonance image) of his shoulder that enables the doctor to see the shoulder tissue. The MRI results indicate that the man tore the minor labrum (part of a ring of cartilage that helps to form the shoulder socket) and he undergoes surgery to repair the tear.

After surgery and several months of physical therapy, the man is able to obtain 85-95% of range of motion in his shoulder.  However, the orthopedic surgeon places the man on a permanent restriction of no military pushes or any activity that involves lifting his arms above his head.  Consequently, he is unable to perform about 30% of the exercises that he used to do several times a week at the gym to stay in shape and build muscle.

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