Articles Posted in Insurance

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 1175023_magnolia.jpgAfter a very sad incident, a recent arrest in our area demonstrates what the law says about the death of an unborn child in a crash. In this accident, the baby’s dad was driving the vehicle in which his wife was riding as a passenger. The Carroll County resident made an attempt to avoid responsibility for the passing of his unborn baby in this auto crash. But after investigation, he was arrested for the crime of feticide in the first degree as well as insurance fraud. The crime of feticide is found in Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-6-393.1. This crime carries a penalty of imprisonment for between two and 15 years. The death of an unborn baby is tragic under any circumstances. In this case, it is truly a somber event, given that the dad was at the wheel of the vehicle involved.

The father of the baby was driving in with his wife on South Cobb Drive and ended up on the wrong side of the road. He hit another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle sustained some significant injuries. And his pregnant wife was injured as well. But the unborn baby was not able to withstand the impact of the crash and died at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. Both the driver and his wife are alleged to have claimed that she was driving the car at the time of the crash. His license was already suspended and he was not supposed to be behind the wheel due to this fact. However, after a review of the evidence, the authorities determined that in fact the wife had not been the driver, the husband was driving and both allegedly tried to hide this fact. The parties have been charged with insurance fraud and the father of the baby faces the additional serious charges related to feticide.

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This past Sunday in Lawrenceville, a car crashed into a restaurant–the second such incident to occur in Gwinnett County over the past two weeks, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. And then on Monday, a Snellville man slammed his car into his own home.

AutoAccident5.jpgSunday’s restaurant crash happened at a Sonic drive-in on Grayson Highway; the driver who caused the accident said that his accelerator got stuck as he was trying to park at the church next door. Instead of going to church, however, the man and his passenger ended up inside the fast-food restaurant, and then the Eastside Medical Center with minor injuries. Luckily, no one in the Sonic was hurt, but the eatery did have to be closed for structural repairs.

The previous restaurant accident happened 10 days prior in Snellville, when a driver slammed into the Hot ‘n’ Cold Chinese Buffet. This time the people inside the building weren’t so lucky; nine were injured.

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I am asked this question all the time in my practice by people who have been seriously injured in an auto accident, truck accident or motorcycle accident. After all, a personal injury or wrongful death wreck case is not really worth pursuing unless the offending driver had insurance, right? Well, unless the person that hit you is really wealthy, that’s right. Of course, if that tortfeasor was wealthy, he or she would probably have insurance. You are much more likely to be hit by a poor person or be a victim of a drunk driver without insurance. Why is that so? Think about it. I could get into the socio-economics of that debate, but I have limited space here. Here’s what to do if you want to find out if the other driver or drivers in your accident had auto insurance.

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First, go to the Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Report. A Georgia accident report has conspicuous blanks for the insurance information of all parties. Police officers are required to obtain insurance for both drivers in a wreck, and I have found they do a very good job. Making sure all the parties have the insurance information of the others is really the main point of the accident report process. Contrary to popular belief, it is not to assign blame. With the insurance info in the hands of the parties, the officer and his department can rely on the insurance companies to sort out the details while they get back to protecting and serving. It is against Georgia law to drive without insurance, and an officer can and will arrest a driver who he discovers does not have insurance at the scene of a wreck.

Second, if the Georgia accident report does not exist or does not reveal the insurance company, you have the right to ask the other driver to give you his insurance information. The Official Code of Georgia § 33-3-28 (a)(2) requires an insured to disclose the name of his or her insurer within thirty (30) days of receiving a written request for that information from the claimant. If you read the statute, however, you will discover that it is relatively toothless. There are no useful penalties for failure to comply. You could sue the other driver, but you might as well sue him for your injuries.

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In this latest installment on Georgia Accident Reports, we ask the question: What happens if you are in a Georgia accident on private property, like a parking lot? Who decides fault between the parties, and how does one obtain the insurance information for the other driver? If a crime was committed, like a drunk driving wreck or a hit and run collision, then the police will of course have jurisdiction. If a crime or obvious traffic offense was not committed, then an officer is under no obligation to act. Law enforcement officers will usually not draft an accident report if there are no injuries and the accident occurred on private property. I myself have been involved in truck accident in a private parking lot. The police officer refused to complete a report. Luckily for me, the other driver was honest about what happened, and his insurance company paid the claim. This dosen’t always happen.

The Georgia Department of Transportation does offer a Georgia Private Property Accident Report. This form is very detailed and thorough with respect to the quantity of information. However, this form is not required to be filed in Atlanta with the DOT and according to a DOT spokesperson I spoke to: “Is only for people to give to their insurance company.”

It is questionable to me whether this report is valuable at all, since the person filling it out will probably be only one party to the accident emphasizing his or her own version of events. On the back of the form, there is a blank where one can list in narrative detail what happened, but this does not require all parties to complete it.

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As a Metro Atlanta tractor-trailer accident attorney, I was happy to see a recent report in the Times-Georgian of Carroll County about a new campaign to educate the driving public about the dangers posed when a large truck collides with a passenger vehicle. According to the newspaper, the Georgia Department of Public Safety is stepping up enforcement of the law and trying to raise awareness as part of the Georgia Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks initiative. The current effort is the third wave of enforcement to hit west Georgia this year, combining efforts of state troopers, local sheriffs’ deputies and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the DPS.

Joey Boatright, the Georgia State Patrol Villa Rica Post Commander, said drivers in both cars and trucks are sometimes responsible for the aggressive driving that can cause serious semi truck accidents. Large trucks need three times as much distance as cars to come to a complete stop, he said, when they’re going at the same speed. That makes tailgating by both cars and big rigs extremely unsafe, he said, removing the space the truck needs to stop safely in an emergency. Blind spots on trucks are also an important issue for both kinds of drivers to be aware of. To raise that awareness, the article said, troopers cited about 300 vehicles on busy west Georgia roads in one week in mid-August. They also stepped up inspections of 18-wheelers, looking for mechanical and safety problems such as bad brakes or missing headlights.

As a Georgia trucking crash lawyer, I have seen the terrible injuries a trucking accident can cause firsthand. Truck1.jpgCommercial trucks weigh many times more than the average family car — and in a crash, all of that extra weight translates into greater force. As a result, crashes between tractor-trailers and cars are much more likely than car-car crashes to be fatal or cause catastrophic, disabling injuries. That’s true regardless of who caused the crash. When the stakes are this high, I believe both parties have a strong incentive as well as a legal duty to be extra careful about safety, leave enough following distance and follow state and federal safety laws designed to prevent these terrible accidents. Unfortunately, accident statistics show that too many drivers don’t understand these risks, and thousands of lives are lost each year as a result.

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As I have blogged about before, Atlanta truck accident victims suffer vertebral disc injuries which can go undiagnosed by their doctors. The reasons for this are twofold. First, ER doctors do not typically order MRIs (magnetic resonance images) of the neck or back, the diagnostic test used to show a disc injury. It simply is not an ER doctor’s job. He is there to make sure that his patients do not die from an immediate injury, not to diagnose every single injury. Once he is convinced that someone is stabilized and not in mortal danger, the ER doctor either admits the patient to the hospital for further care or discharges him or her with instructions to follow up with another doctor. This is called triage. Second, MRIs are expensive, and insurance companies don’t want to pay for them. Therefore, they insist that orthopedic doctors exhaust conservative measures before they order and MRI. Sometimes, orthopedic doctors don’t even order them at all except for the insistence of the patient.

Sometimes, the patient, especially a man, wants to be tough and not admit to others he was hurt too badly. The adrenaline of the accident can convince someone he or she is fine. Dealing with an insurance company for a diagnostic is not fun either.

Whatever the reason, don’t wait. Get the MRI. Back and spinal injuries, including disc injuries are very serious. If they are not diagnosed within a reasonable time, the insurance company of the at-fault driver may deny coverage. The later the diagnosis, the more these insurance companies argue that the injury was not suffered at the time of the collision. If the treating doctor cannot definitively say that the injury was caused by the accident, the victim may be out of luck. It’s a vicious cycle.

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As an Atlanta car crash lawyer, I was grateful to see a good resolution to a terrible hit-and-run accident that took the life of a little girl this week. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Aug. 13 that a man who fled the scene after hitting a girl with his car has turned himself in. DeKalb County law enforcement officers say 44-year-old Gregory Armwood of Covington illegally changed lanes to pass a stopped MARTA bus before hitting six-year-old Sukmaya Mager. Mager died in the hospital Aug. 12, the same day she would have started elementary school. Armwood is charged with second-degree vehicular homicide and failure to exercise due care.

According to the article, a Clarkston police officer saw Armwood cross a double line to pass the stopped bus and another car. Mager, her mother and a neighbor were crossing the street in front of the vehicles, putting them right in Armwood’s path. The article did not specify whether Mager’s mother or neighbor were hurt in the crash, but it did say they were refugees from Nepal who had just arrived two weeks ago and don’t yet have jobs or good English skills. State records show that Armwood has multiple traffic offenses on his record, most recently in 2003, including speeding, DUI and running stop signs and red lights. He and his attorney did not comment for the article.

My heart goes out to this family, which must deal with this terrible tragedy while they build new lives in the United States. According to the article, the Magers have no relatives here, speak no English and have not yet found jobs, which means they will have trouble paying for their daughter’s cremation. As a Georgia auto accident attorney, I’m sorry to say that I see families thrown into similar financial situations all the time. Although the vast majority of my clients have jobs and are native-born Americans, a car crash can wreak havoc on a family’s finances, causing six-figure medical bills and weeks of lost wages from time when victims cannot work. Part of my job is helping families in this situation find solutions to these overwhelming legal and financial problems, caused by a serious accident that was no fault of their own.

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The Georgia Motor Vehicle Accident Report is a standardized form that was designed by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Accident reports were once the province of the Department of Motor Vehicle Services, but according to the DOT:

“House Bill 501, enacted by the General Assembly in the 2005 Legislative Session, approved as of July 1, 2005, disbanded the DMVS and transferred the responsibility for issuing driver’s licenses and maintaining driving records to the Department of Driver Services (DDS) and the responsibility of the statewide repository for Georgia Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reports (GUMVAR) to GDOT.”

AutoAccident1.jpgThe DOT is also the statewide keeper of these documents, meaning that the agency is supposed to have a copy of every official accident report completed anywhere in the state. If you were involved in an automobile accident, then you probably have the contact information drafted by the officer at the scene, who told you when and where to pick up your copy. However, if you did not speak to the officer because of serious injuries from the auto accident, or if you have difficulty obtaining the Georgia accident report, then you can order a copy from an accident that occurred anywhere in the state by submitting to the DOT office in Atlanta the Individual Request for Crash Report. The form is the same regardless of whether you were involved in an accident with a tractor trailer truck, commercial vehicle, bus, recreational vehicle or any similar vehicle. Motorcyle crashes are also covered by these standard reports, while boating accidents are not. Make sure you get the Georgia Accident Report Overlay, so that you can interpret the report.

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In a tragic automobile accident, a Lawrenceville mother was killed by a drunk driver on Sunday, June 7, 2009. The woman, Sabrina Stanek, was standing in her yard when she saw a man in a Ford 350 pickup truck zooming up and down the road in her residential neighborhood. Stanek began waving at the man, Constantin Toncz, to slow down when she was struck and killed. Toncz apparently jumped the curb and struck Stanek, and then slammed his truck into her boyfriend’s parked truck, pinning Stanek in between. After the violent truck wreck, the drunk driver did not stop to render aid. Instead, he abandoned his truck and walked to a family member’s house down the street. Police arrested Toncz there later that night. Toncz has been in trouble with the law before and was out of jail on bond for a felony theft charge when the tragedy occurred. Police reported that Stanek died just after 9 p.m. Toncz was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, breach of duty to drive, stop, or return to the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol.

The tragic drunk driving auto accident devastated members of the young mother’s family, who claimed she was simply trying to protect her children. Stanek’s parents are now attempting to gain custody of their daughter’s two children, ages 4 and 6. Mercifully, the children did not witness the accident because they were asleep in the home. Stanek had worked as a manager at a Lawrenceville product distribution company.

In a later development, Gwinnett County District Attorney Jennifer Taylor filed a petition to revoke bond. The District Attorney’s office had uncovered new evidence that suggested Toncz had acted intentionally in striking Stanek. It is unknown what additional facts were discovered, but Toncz’s bond was revoked.

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In my last post, we discussed an incident in which a drunk, wrong way driver caused 9 different motor vehicle wrecks on I 85 in Atlanta. Obviously, the fact that this guy was drunk in the middle of the afternoon suggests that he might have some alcohol problems. If he has previous arrests for drunk driving, then he may have minimum insurance, no insurance or insurance with a low rated carrier.

What about the 9+ victims? How are their cases resolved if there are multiple injured victim’s suing for limited insurance proceeds? Suppose the drunk driver has a 25/50 policy. The drunk driver’s attorney may file an “interpleader” action, whereby he tenders the total policy limits of $50,000 to the court and asks the court to apportion the proceeds. The drunk driver’s attorney could also individually negotiate with each victim. Either way, some or all of these victims will not be fully compensated.

Can the victims sue the drunk driver for more money irrespective of the policy limits? Sure, assuming he has any money. There is also the possibility that the driver has other insurance on other vehicles or, if he was on duty at the time, that his employer could be held liable. How do you find out all the liability insurance available? Read the accident report first. If you cannot identify additional policies, then contact an drunk driving accident attorney.

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