Saturday, November 22, 2014

Proposition 213 in Motor Vehicle Accidents

A number of our blog posts have touched upon the subject of prospective clients being injured by the actions of an uninsured motorist. This post will talk about individuals who are uninsured, that happen to get injured by an insured party in a motor vehicle accident.

Back in 1996, California voters passed Proposition 213. The purpose of the proposition: remedy an imbalance in the justice system that resulted in unfairness when an accident occurred between two motorists -- one insured and the other not. The law wanted to encourage insurance, and legal, compliance. So, it precluded uninsured motorists, and drunk drivers, from pursuing noneconomic damages in a lawsuit. Noneconomic damages include, pain and suffering, physical impairment, and disfigurement.

Prior to litigation, when there is a claim open with an insurance company, Proposition 213 can have a serious impact on negotiating a settlement. If a party is uninsured, but bringing a claim, the value of his or her damages are limited. Typically, adjusters will calculate noneconomic, or general damages, in their evaluations. But they will also calculate Proposition 213 if the claimant is uninsured -- they have an incentive to settle it for far less.

Initially, plaintiffs attempted to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 213. The Equal Protection Clause, First Amendment, and Due Process Clause were all cited as grounds for invalidating Proposition 213. The claims all failed and Proposition 213 was upheld by the California Supreme Court.

Since 1996, the law has been expanded and interpreted broadly -- sometimes unjustly. Of course there are exceptions in place. For example, an uninsured employee driving an employers vehicle, which is not insured, can still recover if they are injured by a third party. A decedent's estate may also pursue general damages if the decedent was uninsured. Nevertheless, Proposition 213 is still applicable today, and important in evaluating a potential personal injury case.

The important take away: make sure you are insured! It is not only the law, it is also in your financial interest. And like our office has stated in other posts, you may as well add "uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage" and "med pay coverage." As always, we would be happy to speak with prospective clients to discuss your potential case in more depth. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Utilizing a Penal Code section 1538, Motion to Suppress, in a DUI Case

Not all criminal cases go to trial. In fact, more often than not, a criminal case will be disposed of prior to a trial. Plea deals are common because they can be beneficial for both the defendant and the People.

But, there are also circumstances when a case can be dismissed prior to a trial. One common motion that can be brought during the pre-trial stages of a case is a Motion to Suppress. Penal Code section 1538 provides the right of an accused to challenge evidence that may have been obtained illegally. Typically if the evidence is suppressed -- like the blood results of a DUI stop -- the case must be dismissed because the evidence is dispositive to the case.

One example of when a Motion to Suppress could be successful is when an officer stops an accused for a traffic stop that was unlawful. An officer cannot stop an individual without sufficient probable cause, a legal standard provided by the Fourth Amendment. Thus, if an officer reports that he stopped an accused for violating the Vehicle Code, but there was no Vehicle Code violation, the accused may be able to prevail at a P.C. 1538 hearing.

A criminal defense attorney has the responsibility to perform an adequate investigation. Evidence obtained by an attorney could lead to a decision to file a Motion to Suppress. An investigation can include, but is not limited to: requesting discovery from the prosecution, subpoenaing documents, and looking at possible video surveillance. It is now common for officers to have dashboard cameras, and also cameras on their persons. A video could show that a traffic stop was unlawful.

Some of my clients have asked what a motion consists of. A motion is a request for the court to do something. The party "moves" the court to make an order. A motion is started (usually) by an opening brief. The attorney files a memorandum with points and authorities (cases in support of the motion). Then, the prosecution (again, usually) files an opposition brief, highlighting their position against the motion. This allows the court to familiarize itself with the law and facts of the particular case. After the briefing with physical documents, there is an evidentiary hearing where witnesses testify. The arresting officer most likely will testify as to the facts of the stop or arrest.

A Motion to Suppress is a constitutional protection. It safeguards citizens from police abuses. There are other type of situations, as well, when a P.C. section 1538 may be appropriate. Law enforcement cannot exercise a warrant based on false information. Police cannot execute a warrant outside the constraints of the warrant. Facts should be scrutinized in every criminal case.

In conclusion, a defendant may not need to persuade a jury. There are pre-trial motions that can be potentially made, which could lead to a complete dismissal. It is important to contact an attorney should you be charged with a crime. We welcome your calls and questions. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Primary and Secondary Insurance in an Automobile Accident

The world of California insurance is based on contract law, California statute, and insurance regulations. There are many overlaps, some of which can lead to confusion. Insurance disputes can cause a person to become disoriented -- because there is potentially a lot of issues that need to be resolved.

One such issue that arises frequently in my practice as an accident attorney: which, if any, insurance policy provides coverage for the accident. Two individuals involved in an accident does not mean that there will be only two policies in place at the time of the accident. Let me explain.

Yes, one could expect at least two insurance policies in place at the time of the accident if there are two parties involved (because California law requires insurance when driving); but, there could be two more if they were both driving during work, and within the scope of their work. Most employers carry commercial auto policies. Therefore, an attorney, representing an injured party, should certainly investigate to see whether there was an employer auto policy in place at the time of the accident.

But wait, there still could be more policies (more than 4)! Let us take the same hypothetical above, and add one set of facts. Two individuals are involved in an accident, during work, but one of them is borrowing his uncle's vehicle. Now, there could be a potential issue with the vehicle involved in the accident, because it is owned by a non-party to the accident. Insurance policies will sometimes follow the vehicle, particularly if the driver is a "permissive" driver, meaning that the driver had permission to drive it. With this new set of facts, there could potentially be 5 auto policies in place.

For fun we can add more. Take the second hypothetical but add yet another twist. Say two individuals are involved in an accident, during work, one of whom was driving his uncle's vehicle, but the accident was partly caused because a road was not properly maintained. The road should have been maintained by a government entity but it was not. Governments carry insurance too. The third hypothetical could involve 6 auto policies.

Because insurance can be carried by a number of parties, and can potentially cover the same accident, it is important to understand some of the basics of primary and secondary coverage.

More policies does not necessarily mean that an injured party will receive more. A person's damages are limited to the extent of the person's injuries. One million dollars of insurance will not be paid out (more often than not) for an extremely minor collision. However, more policies does mean that in the event of a catastrophic accident, a person will likely receive more.

At the outset, insurance carriers will determine who is the primary carrier. Those insurance carriers that are not primary are usually referred to as "excess" carriers, meaning that they will not have to pay out a claim unless the damages exceed the primary insurance's "limit." Typically the primary insurance carrier is the insurance carrier of the negligent party. Thus, if a primary carrier only has a limit of $15,000, it is more likely that an "excess" carrier will have to pay out a claim as well, if the injuries were significant.

Like I stated at the beginning of this blog post, it can be problematic if an injured party does not have the same knowledge as a seasoned personal injury attorney when it comes to insurance. It is extremely wise to contact a lawyer for the reasons above for a consult. Should you need to discuss a potential case, we welcome your calls and questions.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

California Posed to Reform Criminal Justice

Come November, California voters will get the opportunity to vote yes on Proposition 47. The proposed legislation would be beneficial for everyone -- residents, defendants, and inmates. As a criminal defense lawyer, I get to see everyday how our criminal justice system needs urgent reform.

A short while ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered that California lower its prison population. The harsh three-strikes law implemented 20 years ago led to a surge in incarceration. Also troublesome was the severity of non-violent crimes like: petty theft, fraud, forgery, and most drug crimes.

The proposition on the ballot will help allay some of these problems. First, it will mandate that a large amount of non-violent crimes be charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. This will ensure that individuals involved in a theft, in an amount under $950, and other individuals involved in personal drug crimes, will not face prison time. They will face jail time instead.

Reclassifying some felonies to misdemeanor will help but Proposition 47 does more. It will directly allow already incarcerated individuals apply for relief if they are eligible. Thus, those individuals already in prison for possibly stealing an item less than $950, and where violence was not involved, could be released. This will alleviate some overcrowding.

The savings derived from the release of inmates will benefit the community at large. Money from the budget will not go towards overcrowded prisons. Instead, all of the savings will be used for mental health programs in California. People who have struggled with substance abuse will be able to seek out help. Those that need counseling will receive it. These preventive measures do far more than mass incarceration to decrease recidivism.

Opponents cannot claim that Proposition 47 will lead to more violence because the reforms will only impact those who are involved in a non-violent crime. Further, the proponents of the reform make some great arguments, both legal and moral.

One of the biggest backers of Proposition 47 is a conservative Christian who believes in redemption and forgiveness. He was encouraged by prison ministries, a non-profit organization founded by Chuck Colson to help inmates readjust to non-prison life. Mr. B. Wayne Hughes Jr. wants to use his wealth to do good for those who are trying to change their lives for the better.

I encourage you to vote yes on Proposition 47. Further, if you want a consultation with respect to a criminal charge that may be impacted by this legislation, I welcome your calls.