Client Alerts

VEHICLE INSURANCE

Most of us don’t even look at our vehicle insurance policy until it is too late. Remember, you cannot rely on the at-fault party’s insurance to cover all expenses right away. Even when a collision is the fault of someone else, that person may not have insurance, or delays in the claims process may result in significant out of pocket expenses until the claim is settled.

RENTAL CAR COVERAGE

What do you do when there is a wreck that damages your vehicle and requires repairs? How does you get around until your vehicle can be fixed or replaced?

Many insurance companies will offer coverage to pay for a rental car while their insured’s is in the shop. Many times consumers will ask their insurance agent to provide them with rental car coverage, only to find out when they need it that the standard coverage is too low to cover the expense of a rental car. Many policies will set the coverage as a specified sum, such as $15.00 per day—less than half of what it costs to rent a car. Check your policy to ensure you have adequate coverage, or that you are not paying too much for the little coverage provided.

ARBITRATION AND APPRAISAL CLAUSES

A disturbing trend has emerged in the insurance industry in that most policies now include provisions for mandatory arbitration or appraisal should any dispute arise between the policy holder and the insurance company. If your policy contains an arbitration clause, it will usually state that if there is a disagreement between you and your insurance company over whether the company should pay your loss or over the amount of the loss, the dispute will be submitted to an arbitrator, and the arbitrator’s decision will be binding—meaning that you have lost your rights to have the dispute decided in a court of law.

Because these clauses limit the consumer’s access to the judicial system, some states have declared that these clauses violate public policy, and the arbitration clauses will not be enforced. An appraisal clause is similar to the arbitration clause, but is limited to disputes over the amount of the loss to be paid. Typically, if you do not agree with the insurance company’s offer, an appraiser must be hired by the consumer, and the insurance company and the consumer split the cost of a referee. Regardless, your right to judicial determination is lost. We encourage anyone who has either an arbitration or appraisal clause in their policy to check the laws of their state to determine the legality of such clauses. If your state law allows the use of these clauses, we would encourage you to change companies, if necessary, to obtain a policy which protects your access to the courts.

CRS – CHILD RESTRAINT SYSTEMS

There are far too many wrecks in which adults involved walk away, while infants restrained in child safety seats are seriously injured.

Child safety seat changes and auto industry changes in the way the seats are installed have not meshed. There are hundreds of injuries every year from CRS’s being negligently manufactured or installed in cars not designed to accept them safely.

A recent survey found that 80% of CRS’s are installed incorrectly, and it is not the parents’ fault! There are now seven major types of seatbelts, countless child-seat styles and many seatbelt systems now require special modifications to ensure safety.

Most specifications for seat belt/CRS safety hail from when bench seats were used, and the seat belt anchors were located at the rear of the seat bight (crack in the seat). Seat belt anchors in today’s cars are rarely behind the seat bight, and more commonly are located on a stalk or otherwise situated significantly forward of the bight. It has been established since the early 80s that seat belt anchors forward of the seat bight create a compatibility problem between child restraints and automobiles.

CRS manufacturers typically do not warn of which autos their systems are not compatible. The manufacturers of these products have known for years that their products do not fit in many cars in which they will be used, but have failed to take responsibility to see that children are not injured and killed by their unsafe products.

There should have been some tremendous strides made in the last few years in fixing this long-standing compatibility problem between child restraints and automobiles. Child restraints made after September 1998 have to have certain safety features that they did not generally have before, such as a lower anchorage system that could be clipped into anchors in automobiles – so the CRS is secured at the bottom tightly against the seat without using the auto seat belt. The CRS head excursion limit was reduced by 3 and 1/2 inches, and all CRS manufacturers complied by installing a tether on the top of the restraint that hooks to the back of the auto seat. But the attachment hardware to hook up these new CRS features in vehicles has been phased in, and it is just this year that new car models are required to have a lower anchorage attachment and an attachment to secure a child restraint tether on top. In the meantime, there will be many years to come of injuries to children from child restraints in automobiles made prior to this point in time. The manufacturers are leaving the old restraints on the market and not recalling them due to their failure to comply with current safety standards!

If your child is injured or killed in a child restraint that you believe was used properly, there is a good chance that you are not to blame, and that the product itself is primarily to blame for what happened.

ATV/AUTO/HOMEOWNER POLICIES

Most homeowner policies specifically exclude ATVs, as do some auto policies. We highly recommend that ATV owners buy a separate $100,000.00 liability policy to get up to the minimum umbrella floor for most umbrella policies.

POLICE, FIREFIGHTER, MILITARY, EMS AND TEACHER DISCOUNTS

On personal injury cases we are happy to offer a fee discount to police, firefighters, military and EMS personnel and teachers. The fee discount is 10% of any normally charged fee. For example, in cases and situations where the fee normally would be 25%, the fee is reduced to 22.5%. We regret we cannot extend this fee discount program to medical negligence, nursing home or product liability cases.

CELL PHONE AND TEXTING LAW BY STATE

In January, 2010 the National Safety Counsel released a statement estimating the at least 1.6 million (28%) of crashes per year involve the use of a cell phone.

Only 9 states, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. 30 states and Washington D.C. ban all cell phone use by inexperienced drivers. 34 states, Washington D.C. and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers. Maine, New Hampshire and Utah consider cell phone use and texting part of the “distracted driver” issue. Many states have begun to record cell phone use data on accident report forms.

Arkansas*:

Handheld Ban: 18-20 years old

All Cell Phone Ban: School bus drivers and all drivers under the age of 18

Text Messaging Ban: All drivers

*Effective October 1, 2011, Arkansas also bans the use of handheld cell phones while driving in a school zone or a highway construction area.

Missouri:

Handheld Ban: None

All Cell Phone Ban: None

Text Messaging Ban: Drivers under the age of 21

Tennessee:

Handheld Ban: None

All Cell Phone Ban: School bus drivers and those carrying a learner or intermediate license

Text Messaging Ban: All Drivers

Texas:

Handheld Ban: None

All Cell Phone Ban: School bus drivers with passengers under the age of 17

Text Messaging Ban: School bus drivers with passengers under the age of 17 and the first 12 months for any individual carrying an intermediate license

Oklahoma:

Handheld Ban: Learner or intermediate license and school bus drivers

All Cell Phone Ban: None

Text Messaging Ban: School bus drivers and learner or intermediate license

For a list of cell phone laws in all states, please click on the following link:

http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html