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Car Accidents

PIP – Personal Injury Protection

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The average person lives their life without ever going to court for anything more serious than a traffic ticket. Our lives are filled with ordinary day to day events, such as work, errands like grocery shopping, school, ball games, family cookouts and dinners, and the like. Most of us will never know what it’s like to be in a serious car accident, and we’ll never see a friend or family member go through the aftermath of a catastrophic personal injury.

Most car accidents are minor, and the injuries consist of some bumps, bruises, and muscle soreness. For these minor accidents, Utah law mandates Personal Injury Protection, or PIP. What’s PIP? It’s $3,000 in insurance coverage for the average driver, and it provides a predictable means of resolving most injuries in a car accident.

No one wants a lawsuit, and PIP is a quick, easy way of covering injury expenses for those involved in an accident. Even if you’re at fault in a wreck, you can still get coverage for your injuries from the PIP on your insurance policy. The reason PIP is the law is to avoid lawsuits by making it easy to pay for medical expenses from minor injuries. In fact, before you can sue for an accident injury in Utah, you have to first exhaust the $3,000 of PIP on your insurance policy.

This covers both the at-fault party and the victim in a car accident, because each party can pay for their minor injuries via their PIP, coverage thereby keeping the courts free of minor lawsuits with under $3,000 in medical expenses. This is good news for you if you’re at fault in an auto accident, because the other party can simply go to their insurer to get their minor injuries covered on their insurance policy. It’s also good news for you, because as the at fault party, you’ve got no grounds to recover for your injuries from the other party. Thanks to PIP, you can to your insurer and get those minor medical issues taken care of, as long as they’re $3,000 or less.

At the very least, you’ll save $3,000 in overall medical expenses, even if you happen to be at fault for the accident.

You won’t have to wait six months to three years, either. That’s how long it can take a personal injury lawsuit to settle or be resolved in a trial. Regardless of whether or not you’re the person to blame, or the victim, PIP covers you no matter what for those bumps and bruises and trips to the chiropractor’s office. It ensures that you won’t be choosing between buying food for those family cookouts and paying for your minor medical expenses after an accident.

The Utah Educational Center for Personal Injury hopes you never have even a minor injury, but if you do, your PIP will be there for you.

Wrongful Death

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At some point in your life, you’ve likely known someone who was injured in an accident, either at work or in traffic.  Accidents are a fact of life, and unfortunately, sometimes accidents result in the death of an individual.  When this happens, Utah law provides for the compensation of dependents and family members.  However, most people have no idea where to begin when their loved one dies as the result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another party.

Not a single person reading this sits around contemplating the wrongful death of a family member or a close personal friend.  Tragedies are unthinkable outcomes, and wrongful death is not an everyday occurrence in our lives.  We live our lives among our friends and loved ones, secure in their company and comforted by their continued presence in our day to day lives.

A wrongful death is the absolute worst case scenario for many of us, but if and when it happens to your spouse, your child, or someone you know, a crash course in the law is usually what ensues. At a time when you’re grieving the loss of someone close to you, the law is the last thing on your mind.  That’s why you need to contact an attorney.

An attorney is your advocate during the most unimaginably heartbreaking time.  They’re your guide, and when you’ve lost a loved one, you need to focus on healing and recovery.  Very often, the person you lose can be a breadwinner, a provider, a mother, a father, an adult child taking care of elderly parents or a disabled spouse or child.  The loss isn’t just emotional; it’s financial.  Life insurance and the estates a deceased individual leaves behind are often not enough to ensure the future of their surviving relatives.

In the event that a child dies as a result of negligence or wrongdoing, parents and siblings are left with the knowledge that no amount of money can bring their child back to life.  However, civil damages are intended to both compensate a loss that cannot be quantified, and deter the wrongful conduct that resulted in the loss of a child.

Second, Utah law limits wrongful death claims to the heirs of the deceased victim, or a personal representative of the deceased. Who are the heirs under Utah law?

1. A surviving spouse, such as a husband or a wife.
2. A surviving adult child.
3. A surviving parent or parents either natural or adoptive.
4. The surviving stepchildren, if they are under 18 at the time of death and dependents of the deceased person.
5. Any other blood relatives listed in Utah’s inheritance laws.

The presumption under Utah law is that one of the heirs will take on the role of personal representative for the deceased; however, if the deceased died with a will or an estate plan, they may have named a personal representative who can also file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative has to file in civil court. This is the person who will contact and hire an attorney to deal with those responsible for the wrongful death and their insurance company.

Third, you have to file within two years of the deceased’s death.  If the negligent party is a government entity, you only have one year to file.

Finally, you can recover damages under Utah’s wrongful death law. These damages can include the following:

1) Compensatory damages for:
-Medical expenses related to the injury causing the death.
-Lost wages, such as future wages and benefits lost.  This means that you should be able to  recover the wages the person would have made if they were still alive to work.
-Pain and suffering resulting from the death.
-The loss of companionship, guidance, and care.  Very often, the deceased will be a spouse or  parent whose loss cannot be quantified in mere lost wages.  Children rely on their parents for  guidance and care, and spouses rely on their other half for companionship and care as well.

2) Punitive damages: these damages are intended to send a message, and that message is that the negligent or intentional behavior that resulted in a wrongful death should not be tolerated or repeated. Punitive damages are awarded to punish intentional or negligent behavior, and they are also awarded to discourage that behavior in the future.

We all hope that we never have to deal with the aftermath of wrongful death, but if and when we do face that horrific possibility, knowledge is the key.  The Personal Injury Education Center of Utah is a resource to give you the knowledge you need when the unthinkable occurs.

Martin v. Herzog

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What Happened: Martin was driving his buggy during the night and was killed in a collision between his buggy and Herzog’s car. It was dark when the accident occurred. Martin was driving without lights and Herzog did not keep to the right of the center of the highway. Martin alleged that Herzog was driving on the wrong side of the road. Herzog claimed that Martin was contributorily negligent for driving without headlights as required under the law.

Question Before the Court: Does a jury have the power to relax the duty that one traveler on the highway owes under a statute to another on the same highway? Is negligent conduct actionable by itself unless there is a showing that such conduct was the cause of the injuries incurred?

Court Ruling: The unexcused violation of a statutory duty is negligence per se and a jury does not have the power to relax the duty that one traveler on the highway owes under a statute to another on the same highway. Negligent conduct is not actionable by itself unless there is a showing that such conduct was the cause of the injuries incurred.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell

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What Happened: In 1981, Campbell caused an accident in which Todd Ospital was killed and Robert G. Slusher was left permanently disabled, a fact confirmed by both witnesses to the accident and investigators. Notwithstanding the evidence against Campbell, Campbell’s insurance State Farm decided to contest liability and decline the settlement offers from both Slusher and Ospital’s estate. Both parties were offering to settle for $25,000 each, or $50,000 total, which was Campbell’s policy limit. State Farm assured the Campbells that “their assets were safe, that they had no liability for the accident, and that State Farm would represent their interests, and that they did not need to procure separate counsel. However, a jury rendered a verdict that Campbell was 100 percent liable for the accident and awarded a judgment of $185,849. State Farm refused to pay the excess amount, nor would it post a supersedeas bond to allow Campbell to appeal the verdict; Campbell obtained his own counsel to appeal the verdict. While the appeal was pending, the Campbells reached a settlement with Slusher and Ospital’s estate, whereby those parties agreed not to seek satisfaction of the judgment against the Campbells, and the Campbells would pursue a bad-faith action against State Farm. The attorneys for Slusher and Ospital’s estate would represent the Campbells in the bad-faith suit and would make all major decisions regarding it. No settlement would take effect without the approval of Slusher and Ospital’s estate, and they would receive 90 percent of any verdict against State Farm.The Utah Supreme Court denied Campbell’s appeal concerning the underlying car accident and State Farm then paid the entire amount of the judgment including the excess amount.

Nevertheless, the Campbells filed suit against State Farm alleging bad faith, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Campbells won a $145 million verdict against State Farm for their bad faith actions in not protecting their insureds, Resulting in over $116 million dollars to the Estates of Ospital and Slusher and $29 million to the Campbells.

Question Before the Court: There were two questions before the court; (1) was Campbell liable for the original car accident, and (2) did State Farm act in bad faith by not paying the verdict against the Campbells or settling the case for a reasonable amount?

Court Ruling: Campbell was liable in the underlying accident and State Farm acted in bad faith by not paying the original verdict, not settling the case for a reasonable amount, and not paying for the supersedeas bond; essentially, State Farm violated their duty owed to their insureds the Campbells.

Car Accident

By | Articles, Car Accidents, Personal Injury, Spine and Back Injuries, Wrongful Death | No Comments

America has a love affair with the automobile.  We drive everywhere: to work, to play, to eat, to church, and to school.  Driving is a rite of passage; every year, teenagers mark their passage into adulthood with their learner’s permit or their first driver’s license.

The down side of driving is the accident.  If you’re reading this, you’ve either been in a wreck or you know someone who’s been in a wreck.  If you were fortunate, it was just a fender bender and no one was hurt.  However, car accidents aren’t always just fender benders.  Sometimes people get hurt, and when you’re hurt in a car accident, you need to know what to do in order to maximize your compensation for any injuries or damages.

A car accident can result in major injuries, hospital bills, and even lost wages.  What will your family do if you can’t work?  Utah law provides the means for victims of an accident to recover money for the damages they suffer, but being hurt in an accident is so much more than a lawsuit.

If you have any passengers, make sure everyone is okay.  Even if they appear to be okay, call 911 to report the accident.  Internal injuries may not present symptoms initially, and erring on the side of caution can be the difference between a treatable and untreatable injury.  If it’s safe to move, everyone should move to the curb or shoulder of the road.  Turn on your hazard lights, and if you have any cones or triangles, put them out to increase visibility and prevent another accident.

Keep calm.  Don’t escalate the situation.  It’s normal to feel angry and upset after an accident, but it’s not going to help you come out ahead.

That 911 call is going to come to into play when the police arrive.  You’ll need to show the police your driver’s license, registration, and insurance.  Fill out the accident report, and request a copy from the officer.  Make sure you get the officer’s name, badge number, phone number, and the report number.  The accident report will be critical to recovering any damages from an insurance company.  It’s the product of an unbiased third party, which makes it harder for the insurer to challenge.

Don’t skip calling the police, because as we mentioned, injuries aren’t always obvious at first. The police report can strengthen your credibility, but the most important thing for you to do is to get checked out by a physician within 72 hours.  Insurance adjusters rely on data to determine the amount of any potential settlement, and when an injured party sees a physician within 72 hours of an accident, their actions create what is known as a “value driver” that can increase the amount of any settlement offer by an insurance company.

By not going to the doctor, you’re only reducing the amount of money you can collect.  You’re making it harder for your attorney to get a fair settlement with the insurance company.

Finally, make sure you collect as much information as possible.  Use your smartphone to take pictures of the accident scene, any other parties involved, the vehicles, and get the names of any other drivers and their passengers.  Collect their insurance information.  If at all possible, get an email address. This is information that can be used later to prove you weren’t at fault.

The steps above all presume that you’re in good enough condition to function. If you’re severely injured, you may not be able to do any of this.  If that’s the case, you’ll need to rely on passengers and witnesses.  Understand that your well-being comes first, and don’t worry if you can follow the steps above.

Whatever you do, don’t sign anything from an insurance company. An insurer has one sole purpose: limiting their loss, regardless of whether or not their offer is sufficient to compensate you for your medical bills, lost wages, and suffering.  Make sure your family understands this, and if you’re related to someone who’s been injured in a car accident, don’t hesitate to speak up.  The insurance company’s interests are not aligned with your interests: you need to make sure you have enough money to pay your medical bills, make up for lost wages, and keep your family afloat financially.  That’s why you need to use an attorney to defend your bottom line and make sure you receive adequate compensation for your injuries.

We’ve covered what you need to do, but what is the law in Utah when it comes to car accidents? Utah has a no-fault system, which means that your own insurance company will cover medical expenses and lost income regardless of whether or not you were at fault.  This is why you pay for Personal Injury Protection or PIP on your insurance policy.  PIP coverage is usually $3,000 in Utah.

Only after you exhaust your PIP coverage for any injuries under Utah law can you pursue a claim against the other driver for lost wages, pain and suffering, and all other damages.  That’s why we stressed seeing a doctor within 72 hours after an accident: you want to get any and all injuries diagnosed and treated, and you want to keep your options open by exhausting your PIP coverage.

However,  if your injuries are serious, there may be an exception to the no-fault requirement that you first exhaust your own insurance coverage through PIP, and having an attorney to guide you will enable you to potentially pursue a claim against the other driver sooner. Some examples of serious injuries include dismemberment, permanent disfigurement, and permanent disability.

The other factor to consider in Utah accident law is comparative fault.  If you’re found partially at fault in an accident, this reduces the amount you can recover from other parties.  If you’re more than 50% at fault for your injuries, you’ll recover nothing.  The percentage of your fault is subtracted from the total damages you’re awarded by a jury.  Again, this is why we stressed collecting as much information as possible earlier: the police report, photographs, and documentation can be used to reduce the level of fault attributed to you, thereby increasing the amount of your recovery.

You’ve got four years to file from the date of the accident under Utah law, and there are no economic caps on the damages you can recover for medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering, permanent disability, and vehicle repairs. If the court finds that the defendant’s actions merit punitive damages, the court will order the first $50,000 to be paid to you, and any punitive damages above $50,000 will be split between you and the state.

We here at the Personal Injury Education Center of Utah hope that you and your loved ones have a safe driving experience, and many happy adventures on the roads.  Have fun, but always be safe when you’re on the road.