Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Was Involved In a Motor Vehicle Accident; Now What?


Motor vehicle accidents are common in Los Angeles. In fact, it brings to mind the Saturday Night Live skit, "The Californians." All too often, Angelinos communicate about their commutes, experiences on the road, and traffic. Also, people talk about their unfortunate "accidents" on the highways.

When you, a loved one, or friend, is involved in an accident, there are some steps that should be taken immediately. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your injuries are addressed and that any future claims are protected.

One, pull over, if possible, to a safe location with the other driver involved. After an accident, it is easy to get distracted and careless. Remember to protect yourself by moving your vehicle to a proper stop area, if possible.

Second, call the police. Emergency personnel are trained to handle all types of accidents, including motor vehicle. This step addresses a few things: (1) you get to reflect on any pain and whether you are severely hurt; (2) you get to engage an independent third party who can testify as to what happened during the incident; and (3) you can receive immediate medical treatment, if necessary.

Third, exchange the proper information with the other party involved. This step is common knowledge, or so it seems these days, but it is essential. Have the other driver give you insurance information, personal information, like address and phone number, and ask him or her what happened immediately prior to the accident. Take mental notes as what happened during this exchange.

Fourth, give a statement to the police and see if any witnesses are at the scene. Let me be clear: it is extremely important that you seek immediate medical attention if you need immediate care. In the event that you do need immediate medical attention, do not stay at the scene of the accident. Inform the emergency personnel and proceed to a hospital. But, if your injuries do not need immediate attention, talk to any third parties who may have been near or at the scene of the accident. Collect their information too.

Fifth, take notes as to where your vehicle is going, if towed. Usually, vehicles are damaged to such an extent that they need to get sent to a body shop. It is important to have the body shop and towing information for the future.

Sixth, go to your doctor and if you do not have a primary care doctor, go to a hospital. Even if your injuries are not severe, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Attorneys are not doctors, and more often than not, neither are the individuals involved in the accident (as a matter of probabilities). Doctors are the best professionals suited to ascertain the extent of your injuries and how to treat it appropriately. Do not hold off going to the doctor, because it could lead to more medical problems.

Seventh, open up insurance claims with your own carrier and the carrier of the third party involved in the accident. Automobile insurance, required by law, will have information about your coverage, including whether you can obtain a rental, and how quickly your vehicle can be repaired, if at all.

Eighth, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. Accident lawyers know how to resolve personal injury disputes, deal with insurance companies, and preserve your rights. It is simply not smart to move forward without representation, because of the nuances of personal injury law.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these steps should be taken after an accident. Of course, accidents are frustrating, painful, scary, and annoying. But hopefully, this short blog can make the experience less frightening. We welcome your calls and questions; our firm would love to help if you or a loved one has been involved in a motor vehicle accident.















Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Civil Compromise in a Theft Case


Allegations of theft usually take place at large retail stores like Target, Sears, and Walmart. These establishments have their own security protocols in place, including but not limited to: guards, cameras, detectors, and other devices. These steps prevent merchandise from being taken unlawfully.

Despite these steps, people will sometimes take an item without consent. When this happens, the injured store will send a civil restitution demand letter to the perpetrator. Further, a theft charge is usually filed against the individual shortly thereafter. A misdemeanor or felony carries possible jail time, fines, and a permanent criminal record, which could affect employment in the future. So, theft can lead to both a civil and criminal case.

Under California law, when a person is charged with a theft crime, like petty theft, there may be an opportunity to have the charge dismissed.

A civil compromise is one way that a criminal charge can be dismissed. Pursuant to Penal Code section 1378, an injured party may indicate to the court that it has "received satisfaction" for the injury. In other words, the victim of the theft can represent to the judge that there was an agreement made between the parties. At that point, the trial court, in its discretion, may stay the prosecution and order the defendant to be discharged. The case cannot be adjudicated again. Let me be clear though that the judge is not obligated to accept a 1378 civil compromise. Also, a victim may not be open to a civil compromise.

While every company does not offer this type of civil compromise, a criminal defense attorney can certainly explore this option.

Moreover, a civil compromise is not the only way to successfully defend against a theft charge. A defendant may be able to argue insufficient evidence, or mistaken identity. There have been instances where an employee at the store made false accusations. A video may vindicate a defendant.

Similar to a drug diversion, sometimes a defendant can even receive a conditional dismissal. A conditional dismissal means that a court will eventually dismiss the case after a condition has been met.

My office has negotiated conditional dismissals in past theft cases. For example, one client had his petty theft charge dismissed after he completed 10 hours of theft classes. Such plea bargains enable the defendant to avoid jail time and other negative consequences.

Regardless of the different ways a case can proceed forward, it is important to have a criminal defense lawyer retained on your case. Experience and commitment goes a long way in a theft case. We welcome your calls and questions.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

California Appellate Case Adds Bite to Bad Faith Litigation


Insurance companies are supposed to serve the interests of their insureds. By paying a premium, insureds should expect peace of mind, financial security, and a good faith investigation in the event of an accident. Unfortunately, that isn't the case all of the time.

Sometimes insurance companies act in "bad faith."Bad faith" is a legal term derived from principles of contract. Certain contracts,  like insurance, require that  parties act with "good faith and fair dealing," with one another. Specifically to insurance, insurers are mandated to fairly investigate, evaluate, and process a claim.

When an insured's insurance company fails to properly evaluate or process a claim, it could potentially lead to "bad faith" litigation against that insurance company. Recently, a California case expanded the ability for insureds to bring a bad faith litigation case against their own insurance company.

MASLO V. AMERIPRISE AUTO & HOME INSURANCE (2014)

The Plaintiff in Maslo was involved in a motor vehicle accident where it was found that the other driver was at fault. After medical treatment for a number of months, Plaintiff submitted a demand to his own insurance company for the policy limits under his UM (uninsured motorist) provision.

Ameriprise, the insurer, asked for an extension, and then commenced arbitration proceedings. In doing so, it did not make a settlement offer and refused to mediate the matter. As a result, Plaintiff had to wait an additional 2 years to receive an award, less than the policy limits.

After arbitration, Plaintiff filed a bad faith lawsuit against Ameriprise. Plaintiff alleged that Ameriprise forced Plaintiff into arbitration without investigating, evaluating, and attempting to resolve the claim. Ameriprise rebutted, as a defense, that there was a "genuine dispute" regarding payment, and that the arbitration award evidenced as much, since it was less than the policy limits. Ameriprise further stated that it was the fault of Plaintiff for overvaluing his own claim.

The trial court agreed with Ameriprise but the California Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate District disagreed and reversed. The Appellate Court held that an arbitration award lower than the policy limit does not necessarily preclude an insured from bringing a bad faith lawsuit. It stated, in part:

"An insurer’s statutory duty to attempt to effectuate a prompt and fair settlement is not abrogated simply because the insured’s damages do not plainly exceed the policy limits. Nor is the insurer’s duty to investigate a claim excused by the arbitrator’s finding that the amount of damages was lower than the insured’s initial demand. Even where the amount of damages is lower than the policy limits, an insurer may act unreasonably by failing to pay damages that are certain and demanding arbitration on those damages."

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR OTHER INSUREDS?

The recent decision makes it clear that insurance companies cannot simply rely upon an award, in of itself, to clear themselves of "bad faith." Insurance companies have a duty to thoroughly investigate, evaluate, and process a claim after liability is determined, no matter if they think that they can prevail at an arbitration proceeding. This means that insurance companies will have to make a good faith attempt to settle first party claims prior to arbitration.

It is always best to have an attorney represent your interests. Our office has a lot of experience in dealing with insurance companies -- and potential "bad faith" situations. We welcome your questions, calls, and cases.





Monday, July 14, 2014

I Was Arrested for a DUI; Now What?



A California DUI carries some harsh penalties. Due to the nature of this offense -- it is a clear public safety concern, our state has elected to take a tough stance. But just like any other criminal charge, there are steps that an accused can take that will help him or her in the future.

THE DUI ARREST

When there is sufficient probable cause, law enforcement may investigate and arrest an individual for a DUI. While defense attorneys can later challenge probable cause, it is wise to be respectful when stopped for suspicion of a DUI.

You should be polite and cooperative with law enforcement. It does not mean that you should waive your rights, but it will not help to be combative during the stop. Cursing, yelling, and being rude will not make the officer go away. In fact, it will be mentioned in the police report.

However, you should not volunteer information. Exercise your right to remain silent. Miranda is the landmark case, which protects statements from being admitted into evidence if there has not been an affirmative warning, but Miranda warnings only have to be given after a formal arrest. Thus, law enforcement will always utilize your statements to assess guilt before a warning. Slurred words, admissions of guilt, and memory lapses can lead to problems down the road.

AFTER THE ARREST

If you have been arrested, you should exercise your right to an attorney. There is a reason that there is law school and a bar examination. Further, there is a reason why attorneys charged with a crime will almost always retain another attorney. It is difficult for someone, under an emotional state, to represent themselves.

More than that, retaining an attorney will mean that a professional can immediately begin to protect your rights. Experience and knowledge can go a long way in fighting a DUI charge.

Schedule your DMV suspension hearing, or have your attorney do it immediately. There are two aspects to a DUI, as discussed on my website. There is the actual criminal charge handled by the superior court, and the DMV aspect of the case. They are distinct and separate, although the court can impact what the DMV will do.

Within 10 days of the arrest, a hearing needs to be scheduled. A DMV suspension hearing is a great opportunity to explore probable cause, the officer's testimony, and other evidence that will be used against you. Do not sleep on your privileges with respect to licensing issues.

AFTER YOUR "OR" RELEASE

 Finally, after you have been arrested and released under your own recognizance, exercise your right to information. The web has become a treasure trove of free legal content, including my blog and website. You should become familiar with the criminal, and DMV, process. Further, you should research potential DUI attorneys. An accused should be aware of the charge against him or her, and the consequences of that charge.

Our office invites your questions. We have experience in DUI, and other criminal cases. Remember that time is of the essence, so do not procrastinate if you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI.