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If My NC Social Security Disability Claim Is Approved, How Much Will I Receive Per Month?

Before deciding to apply for disability benefits, many people wonder how much the Social Security Administration (SSA) actually pays for disability. It is smart to start thinking about your potential disability benefits payment amount before filing a disability application, because the type of disability you apply for will have an impact on your monthly payment amount.

Supplemental Security Income vs Social Security Disability Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the disability program that provides payments to people who have low income, assets, and resources in their name and in their household. To be eligible to apply for SSI, the disability applicant has to show that they are financially eligible for the program before the SSA will determine if they are disabled.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is the disability program that provides payments to people who have earned enough work credits and are still insured by those work credits. To be eligible to apply for SSDI, the SSA will review your work history and the income taxes that you’ve paid in to determine your insured status before determining if you are disabled.

Not everyone is eligible for both SSI and SSDI, but it is possible to be eligible for both. Therefore, you want to determine your eligibility before submitting your application. Filing the wrong disability claim can lead to you getting less money than you could have had if your claim is approved, as the SSI payment amount is a fixed amount, called the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), and the SSDI payment amount is based on your past wages, which can lead to a monthly payment higher than the Federal Benefit Rate.

Make sure not to confuse SSI and SSDI with SSA’s Retirement Benefit. SSI and SSDI are for people who are disabled before retirement age and if you are simply seeking to file for Retirement, you do not need to prove a disability or have an attorney. However, an experienced attorney could be a valuable asset in SSI and SSDI claims because you need to prove to the Social Security Administration that you are disabled and cannot work before you can be paid disability benefits.

It is also important to note that how much you may receive monthly is not based on how disabled you are like veteran’s disability through the VA. Once you are found to be disabled, your payment is based on the FBR, your past earnings and other benefits that you may be receiving.

Calculating SSI Benefits

Calculating your SSI benefit amount starts by looking at the FBR. The FBR is the maximum monthly payment amount that a disabled person can receive under SSI. The FBR changes annually as the SSA adjusts the amount to reflect cost of living increases and inflation. For 2020, the FBR is $783 for individuals that are eligible and $1,175 for eligible married couples. As stated, the FBR is the maximum payment from the SSA. However, there may be reductions in that payment amount or supplements to the payment amount, as discussed below.

Calculating your potential SSDI benefit amount starts by looking at your average lifetime earnings. There is no base rate for SSDI like there is for SSI. The SSA will utilize a formula to calculate your benefit amount that takes into account your covered earnings (earnings where you paid income taxes). Thankfully, you can get an estimate of your specific benefit amount on the SSA’s website by using one of their Social Security Calculators. For high earners, it is important to note that there is a maximum payment amount that also fluctuates annually. For 2020, the maximum monthly SSDI benefit amount is $3011 for an eligible individual. Like SSI, there can be reductions to the SSDI payment.

Other Factors that Affect Your Potential Payment

As discussed above, the SSI and SSDI benefits amounts start by looking at the FBR and average lifetime earnings respectively. From there, if you qualify, there can be reductions and supplements to that starting monthly payment amount. When calculating how much you will be paid monthly, the SSA will also look at things like other disability payments that you receive, if others provide you with financial support and which state you live in.

VA and Private Disability Insurance

One piece of good news is that VA disability and private disability insurance benefits, like a short-term or long-term disability policy, do not affect your SSDI benefits. The short-term or long-term disability insurer may seek reimbursement for payouts during the time that you also received disability from the SSA, but the SSA will not reduce your SSDI payment if you received short-term or long-term disability. However, those non-SSA benefits may affect your SSI payments if they are high enough to make you financially ineligible for SSI.

Workers’ Comp and State Disability

The bad news is that some benefits, like workers’ compensation and state disability benefits, do affect your monthly SSDI benefits and can reduce your monthly payment amount. If you receive workers’ compensation for a work-related condition or state or federal employee disability compensation, the SSA can reduce your monthly SSDI payment to ensure that the combination of all the benefits does not exceed 80% of your average earnings before you became disabled.

Long story short, the SSA will prevent you from making a profit off of being disabled. If you receive workers’ compensation and/or state or federal employee disability benefits, it is a good idea to contact the SSA to determine your average earnings to see if your benefits will exceed the 80% threshold. As with other benefits, workers compensation and state or federal employee disability benefits can make you financially ineligible for SSI. If you would like to read more about how Workers’ Compensation or State Disability Benefits impacts your Disability payment, the SSA has a publication available here.

When Kindness Is Income: Support From Loved Ones

For SSI benefits, the SSA can also reduce your monthly benefit amount if someone else is providing for you. For example, if a friend or family member buys your food or pays your rent, the SSA will consider that to be income. The SSA calls this In-Kind Support and Maintenance (ISM). If there is ISM, the SSA will total the value of the ISM and reduce your SSI payment by the amount given to you.

Upward Adjustments and Increasing Your Potential Benefit Amount

Thankfully, there can be supplements or increases to the monthly payment amount. As stated above, some disability applicants are eligible for SSI and SSDI. If your averaged lifetime earnings calculation would lead to you having an SSDI payment below the FBR and you are otherwise financially eligible for SSI, you can receive SSDI and SSI once approved. The SSI would supplement the SSDI benefit amount to bring you up to the FBR of $783. Also, the vast majority of states provide a State Supplement for SSI benefits. The supplemental payment ranges from an extra $100 to $400 per month and depends on where you reside. The amount will be determined by factors like your residence and care needs; i.e. being a resident in a nursing home or permanent care facility.

If You Think You May Not Be Getting the Benefits You Deserve, Contact an Experienced Social Security Disability Attorney

The Social Security system is complicated, and there are many, many moving parts. How do you know you’re filing in the right order and how do you try to ensure you get the benefits you’re entitled to receive? Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin for a free case evaluation at 866-900-7078. We’re here to assist you!

Why Don’t North Carolina Juries Know Who Is Really Being Sued in Car Accident Cases?

Did you know that in North Carolina, the deck is sometimes stacked against people who have been injured – through no fault of their own – by negligent drivers? It’s a fairly complex nuance to our state’s laws that many people wouldn’t know unless they have experience with it or are a lawyer themselves. That’s why it’s so important for people who have been injured in North Carolina to seek out an experienced personal injury lawyer if they were injured by another’s negligence.

Insurance Companies Can Play Hide and Seek Against a Jury

One example of the deck being stacked is the state’s evidentiary rule that allows liability insurance companies to essentially “hide” from juries at trial. Specifically, in North Carolina, a jury is not allowed to know that an insurance company has an applicable insurance policy that could cover the money being sought by the injured party in trial. Rule 411 of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence reads as follows:

Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible upon the issue whether he acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of insurance against liability when offered for another purpose, such as proof of agency, ownership, or control, or bias or prejudice of a witness. (1983, c. 701, s. 1.)

The stated rationale for this rule is that juries could be convinced to award higher damages to the plaintiff if they know that the defendant’s insurance company is “on the hook” for it, rather than the actual defendant for causing the injury.

NC Juries May Not Know Just How Much Insurance Companies Control

The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, there is liability insurance coverage involved. This means that the insurance company is responsible for paying any awards within the policy limit, and they are also responsible for deciding whether or not to settle the case out of court or to take the case to trial. It is also the insurance company who hires the lawyer who represents the defendant in court. In other words, they call the shots on behalf of the defendant.

The fact of the matter is that the liability insurance company controls every aspect of the case from the defendant’s side — and yet an insurance company cannot be named as part of a lawsuit or referenced in a trial? That’s extremely unfair to the plaintiff and all injured parties.

Effects of Withholding Liability Insurance Information on Juries

Granted, this rule may make sense under certain situations, but it has a significantly pro-defendant effect on juries, and in my opinion, has resulted in many unfair jury awards to plaintiffs who have been seriously injured, especially when a juror is made to believe that the defendant may have to pay the award out of his or her own pocket. And while at the conclusion of the trial, the judge will give the jury an instruction to not consider the defendant’s ability or inability to pay any award reached, in reality, I believe this is always a factor that a jury will consider.

What about when the defendant is a close friend or family member of the plaintiff? The friend or family member certainly does not control whether the insurance company treats the plaintiff fairly. So when the insurance company refuses to fairly negotiate a settlement, your attorney has no other choice but to name that close friend or family member in a lawsuit.

Now who has the upper hand? The insurance company just forced the plaintiff to sue a friend or a relative in court, and that never looks good to a jury. The insurance company is very aware of this tactic, and will not be afraid to use it.

A Real-World Example

About few years ago, there was a case that received national attention when a New York woman sued her twelve-year-old nephew (who was eight at the time of the incident) over a badly fractured wrist she had sustained when he accidentally knocked her over and caused her to try to catch herself with her wrist.

The backlash she received from the public was brutal as they could not understand why she was suing her twelve-year-old nephew for $127,000. How in the world could the boy ever be able to pay that much money? The jury came back and awarded the plaintiff nothing on her claim.

The truth of the matter is that the plaintiff was never seeking any money from her own nephew. She was seeking to get her existing medical bills covered by the applicable homeowner’s insurance policy. Prior to trial, the insurance company offered a measly $1 to settle her case.

Even though plaintiff’s dispute was with the insurance company and not the nephew, New York has a similar rule to North Carolina’s, where the insurance company could not be named as a party to the suit nor could there be any mention of liability insurance.

If the jury were to have been made aware of the full details of this woman’s claim, is there any doubt that there would have been a different result?

North Carolina Personal Injury Cases Can Be Complex – Call a Personal Injury Attorney for Help

If nothing else, this blog should illustrate just one of many complexities of a personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina, as well as why it can be critically important to have an experienced personal injury attorney to guide you through the process.

And while the deck may be stacked against personal injury plaintiffs in the state, there are usually exceptions to many of the rules – depending on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. An experienced personal injury attorney can help level the playing field by identifying those exceptions that may tend to benefit your case and protect you against the insurance company’s tactics.

Please call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078, chat with us, or contact us here for a free case evaluation. We don’t recoup an attorney’s fee if we don’t get you compensation.

From Injured in a Car Accident to Sitting in Court: When a Case Goes to Trial

When you’re hurt in a car accident in North Carolina, many people think hiring an attorney to represent you implies that you’ll be in a court at some point. But how often do car accident injury cases really end up in court, and what does a personal injury attorney do when that happens? Here’s how it works.

What Does a Trial for a Car Accident Lawsuit Look Like in NC?

Most of the time, your personal injury attorney won’t even need to file a lawsuit. The vast majority of claims made to insurance companies are settled. If you are looking at the prospect of having to file a lawsuit against someone in a personal injury matter, it likely means one of two things. Either the person’s insurance company has denied their insured is legally responsible for your injuries, or there is a significant disagreement as to the value of your case. Don’t fret as there is good news.

Of the cases when a lawsuit is actually filed, U.S. Government statistics show that only about 5% of personal injury cases go to trial. The other 95% tend to settle at some point between the filing of a complaint with the court and the actual jury trial.  While experienced trial lawyers enjoy the litigation process, to the average personal injury plaintiff, the process can be best described as long.

It takes, on average, between twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months for a case to reach the trial stage depending on your jurisdiction. The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to the various stages of the litigation process. These are 1) Pleadings Stage 2) Discovery Stage 3) Mediation Stage and 4) The Trial.

Pleadings – Stating a Claim

This is how a lawsuit starts. The Plaintiff’s attorney files the Complaint with the Court. Then it’s served to the Defendant. The Complaint itself is a rather formal document in language and format, setting forth the legal and factual basis for the lawsuit.

The Complaint will tell the Defendant why they are being sued through a series of allegations that the Plaintiff’s attorney believes they will be able to prove through evidence at trial. The Complaint needs to state any reasons why the Defendant is liable for your injuries so that the Defendant can respond to them.

Once the Defendant has been served with the Complaint, most commonly by the Sheriff’s office or by certified mail return receipt requested, the Defendant(s) has 30 days to respond. This is usually done via a document called an Answer. It’s not unusual for the Defendant to request, and be granted, an extension of 30 days in which to formally respond to the Complaint.

Like the Complaint, the Answer is a formal legal document both in its language and format. Within the Answer, the Defendant will usually respond to each and every allegation of the Complaint by admitting or denying each allegation made. Additionally, the Defendant will state reasons why he or she does not believe they are legally responsible for Plaintiff’s injuries. It may even assert its own claims against the Plaintiff, called counter-claims, which the Plaintiff would have to formally respond to as well.

Discovery – Making the Case

Discovery is the pre-trial stage in a lawsuit when each party investigates and tries to establish the facts of the case. This is done through the rules of civil procedure. Both sides obtain evidence from the opposing party and wherever else it can be found. This is accomplished using “discovery devices.” That’s a fancy name for “asking for things.” A few examples are requests for answers to interrogatories, requests to production of documents and things, requests for admissions as well as depositions.

Typically, each party will serve discovery requests on the opposing party with the initial pleadings referenced above. Occasionally, these requests will be sent shortly thereafter. Each party will generally have thirty (30) days to respond, but as a matter of course will request and be granted an extension of thirty (30) additional days in which to respond.

During that time, the Plaintiff and Defendant will meet with their counsel to provide answers and documents to respond to the various requests. The attorney will then finalize those answers and provide to opposing counsel in a timely manner. The terminology gets a little complicated if you’re not an attorney, but here are some terms you’re likely to hear and what they mean.

Interrogatories are open-ended, written questions to the opposing side. They’re used to gain information regarding the case. For example, one may ask the other party to identify any and all evidence they will rely upon in support of their claim or defenses. Interrogatories can become very complex with multiple sub-parts, so most jurisdictions limit the number of interrogatories either party can ask of the other.

Requests for production are arguably the most useful of the discovery tools. They allow one party to ask the other to provide documents or other tangible evidence, even electronically stored information. In addition, a request for production allows you to seek similar information from non- parties (people other than the Plaintiff and Defendant) by way of subpoena.

Requests for admissions ask another party to admit or deny certain carefully worded questions. For example, one party may ask the other to admit certain facts related to an automobile wreck that may tend to prove that party’s liability or responsibility. These questions are used to narrow down the issues of fact truly in dispute in the matter.

Once the written discovery is complete, the parties will schedule depositions. Depositions are the process of taking live testimony from witnesses and parties before a trial. The witness or party is required to appear (usually in their own attorney’s office) and testify under oath before a court reporter, who records the entire proceeding.  While the testimony and questioning are governed by the rules of evidence, there is no judge present and counsel will note any objections for the record to be dealt with at such time the testimony seeks to be introduced at trial. An experienced personal injury attorney will prepare you for your testimony ahead of time to make sure you are comfortable and prepared for any questions you may receive.

Mediation – Can We Come to Terms?

A mediation is when the parties to a lawsuit and their attorneys sit down with a neutral third party, called a mediator, and work towards resolving the case, if possible. Also present at the mediation is the insurance adjuster.

The mediation occurs after the facts of the case are largely established but prior to trial. This is really one of the last times that the Plaintiff will have an opportunity to choose how his or her case will be decided.

The mediator is almost always an attorney who typically doesn’t know anything about the case. The format is simple. The mediator will do a brief introduction of the parties and participants, explain his or her role, and establish how the mediation will proceed.

As the Plaintiff, your attorney will give a presentation to the mediator and the other side regarding the strengths of your case. The insurance company’s defense attorney will do the same from his or her clients’ perspective. Expect for the opposing side to make statements that you will strongly disagree with.  It will happen.

After each side makes its opening presentation, the parties will separate with one party moving to another room. The mediator will then meet with each party privately to learn more about each party’s case and find a way to help the parties reach some sort of compromise. The mediator will use the information he or she has learned from each party, except any information received in confidence, to help each side to see something about their own case, whether good or bad, they have not yet seen or appreciated.

This back and forth by the mediator continues while the parties negotiate and feed, through the mediator, information, arguments and offers to the opposing side until the matter is settled or until an impasse is reached. Occasionally, a case may require the parties to reconvene for a second session. If a settlement is reached, the parties will sign a binding document advising the court that the case has been resolved and what the terms are. If an impasse is reached, the mediator will notify the court and the parties will make final preparations for the trial.

The Trial – Your Day in Court

The trial is the culmination of all of the work done on your case. The very first thing that happens on the first day of trial are pre-trial motions, or motions in limine. These are motions by either side seeking to either exclude certain testimony or to limit the issues for the jury to decide. A common motion by the insurance defense attorney would to exclude any references to liability insurance in the presence of the jury.

After the motions in limine, there may be any number of housekeeping matters the judge may want to discuss with the attorneys, including checking once more to see if the parties can reach an amicable settlement prior to trial.

The next order of business is picking a jury. This is also called the voir dire (pronounced vwar DEER).  Voir dire is where both attorneys, as well as the judge, will question members of the jury pool to determine whether they are suitable to serve as jurors on this particular case. Each side has a certain number of potential jurors they can remove for various reasons. For example, an experienced trial attorney would likely not want a jury member who is an insurance adjuster. Conversely, the insurance defense attorney would likely not want someone on the jury who had been injured by a negligent driver and had to resort to filing a lawsuit. Once the jury (usually 12 people and an alternate) is chosen, the judge will give instructions regarding how to govern themselves throughout the course of the trial.

Next come the opening statements. The opening statements are when the attorneys outline for the jurors what the case is about and forecast what they believe the evidence will be. Typically, the Plaintiff’s attorney goes first, as he or she has the burden of proving his or her case to the jury.

Once both sides give opening statements, the Plaintiff’s side will call its witnesses. During this phase of the trial, the Plaintiff’s attorney will question each witness to solicit testimonial evidence used to support the case that is being made. The testimonial evidence is also used as the foundation to introduce documents and other exhibits to the jury as well. This is called the direct examination of a witness.

After the Plaintiff’s attorney completes his or her examination of each witness, the Defense attorney will get to cross-examine each witness. An example of a list of witnesses that may be offered by the Plaintiff would be: the Plaintiff, police officer, any witnesses to the collision, Plaintiff’s doctor(s) and maybe a friend or family member of the Plaintiff who may testify about the Plaintiff’s injuries and how they may have impacted him or her.

Once the Plaintiff has finished questioning witnesses and introducing evidence, the Defense has an opportunity to examine witnesses and introduce evidence if they choose to do so, and counsel for the Plaintiff will have an opportunity for cross-examination. Throughout the questioning of witnesses and introduction of evidence, the lawyers may occasionally object to a question or a response or a particular document and the judge will need to rule on whether the material objected to can be considered by the jury. Under some circumstances, certain objections to evidence (testimonial or otherwise) will need to be argued outside of the presence of the jury.

Once both sides have concluded examinations of all witnesses, the jury will usually take a break and return to the jury room while the judge and attorneys conference to determine what jury instructions are appropriate based on the admitted evidence received during the course of the trial. Once completed, the jury is returned to the courtroom and closing arguments begin.

The closing arguments are speeches made at trial after all the evidence has been presented. Each side reviews and summarizes the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the side making the argument. This is the last time the attorneys will be able to speak to the jury prior to a verdict, so they are a pretty big deal. During the closing arguments, an experienced personal injury lawyer will passionately and persuasively explain why the verdict should be in favor of the Plaintiff.

Following the closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jurors on the questions that need to be answered as well as the applicable law that will govern their deliberations. Once complete, the jurors will return to the jury room, choose a foreperson and begin deliberations. Deliberation times vary. They can be as short as maybe 30 minutes or as long as several days depending on the magnitude and the complexities of the case, as well as the level of disagreements between the various jurors. The verdict must be unanimous.

When a verdict is reached, the foreperson informs the Bailiff, who informs the judge, who will then notify the parties. Once the parties are seated in the courtroom along with the judge, the jury members will return to their seats. The judge confirms that a verdict has been reached, and the clerk will publish the verdict by reading aloud. With the verdict published, the jurors are thanked and dismissed. The verdict essentially ends the lawsuit, except in the rare case where the losing party wishes to, and has legal grounds for, an appeal.

An Experienced North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney Willing to Go the Distance

When you’ve been injured in accident, you have to understand that the insurance company wants to give you as little as possible – that’s how they make a profit. It’s not personal to them. For you, who could be in a lot of pain, with mounting worry and medical bills, it IS personal.

You want an attorney who is ready and willing to fight for you, including going to trial. If you’ve been injured, our attorneys are willing to go the distance.  Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078, or click here. We’ll listen to you, evaluate your case, and explain your options free of charge. Tell them you mean business!

What Is Backpay in the Context of Social Security Disability?

When applying for disability, it is important to know not only what the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for while deciding on a disability claim, but also what benefits you’ll receive if it is approved. If you have done your research or spoken with someone that has received disability, you have probably heard of the term “backpay,” but you might not know what it is exactly, or how you receive it.

Social Security Disability Backpay, Defined

In short, Social Security Disability backpay is a lump sum payment for the time period that you were eligible to receive disability payments but were waiting to be approved for disability benefits. Because it can take people years to get approved for disability benefits, many people receive backpay and some people can receive a significant amount.

Once you are approved for Disability benefits, the SSA will then determine the following for backpay:

  1. When exactly you became disabled
  2. When you were entitled to start receiving payment
  3. How much your monthly benefit payment will be going forward, and
  4. How much backpay or retroactive disability benefits you are owed

Generally, your backpay amount is a calculation of your monthly benefit amount and how many months you were entitled to a payment before you were approved for benefits. There are many exceptions where backpay can be reduced.

However, generally speaking, the SSA will multiply the monthly benefit amount by the number of months that you were entitled to a payment before being approved and then will pay that total amount as one lump sum once you're approved.

Before applying, it is important to know that your monthly benefit amount and how much backpay you may receive will be dependent on which disability program you apply under and the onset date of your disability, as determined by SSA.

For Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability applicants, the SSA may grant backpay benefits back to the month after you applied for disability. SSA issues a backpay payment to compensate you for the time that you were disabled and eligible for payment but had to go through the SSA’s application process to get approved. It is important to note that although it is possible to receive backpay for the time that your claim was being processed, receiving backpay is not guaranteed. Additionally, if backpay is granted, the duration of time for which you will receive backpay and the amount of backpay are determined by the SSA.

SSDI and SSI Application Process: When Backpay Starts

When you submit your application for disability, you will tell the SSA that date that you believe you became disabled. This is called your Alleged Onset Date (AOD). After the SSA reviews your claim and finds you to be disabled, they will give you an Established Onset Date (EOD). The EOD is the day that the SSA has determined that you became disabled.

For SSI applicants, the earliest possible EOD that SSA will give is the day that you applied for SSI. This is why SSI backpay does not go back farther than the month after you applied for SSI.

For SSDI applicants, your EOD can be much earlier than the date of the application. For SSDI applicants with an earlier EOD, it is possible to get retroactive disability payments.

Disability Backpay vs. Retroactive Disability Payments

It is important to avoid confusing disability backpay and retroactive disability payments.

For SSDI applicants, it is possible to receive backpay for the period that you were waiting to get approved and retroactive disability payments for some of the time that you were disabled before you applied.

Retroactive disability benefits are paid for the time period after your EOD, after your entitlement date, but before you applied for SSDI. Retroactive disability benefits can be paid for up to twelve months (one year) prior to the submission of the SSDI application. To determine the amount of retroactive disability benefits, the SSA will set the EOD and the date of entitlement.

The date of entitlement is the date that someone approved under SSDI became entitled to monthly disability payments. This date is different from the EOD because under the SSDI payment rules, there is a mandatory five-month waiting period after the EOD before someone disabled under SSDI can start getting payments.

Whether you’re receiving backpay only or backpay and retroactive disability benefits, once the amount of benefits are calculated, you will receive the lump sum payment within two months of being approved for disability benefits.

Contact a North Carolina Social Security Disability Lawyer

Remember, backpay is not guaranteed and you can be approved for disability payments going forward without receiving an award for backpay or retroactive disability benefits. You should contact an attorney if you would like to know if you can receive backpay or retroactive disability benefits before you apply for SSI or SSDI. Please call our legal team at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us here if you have any questions.

Weather and Auto Accidents – Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)

So, what happens if you’re injured in an accident during, or caused by, severe weather conditions? For a skilled analysis, we’ve asked James Scott Farrin shareholder and litigation attorney Hoyt Tessener for his perspective. His answers may surprise you.

The Weather, the Road and Personal Injury

  • Let’s get this one out of the way first. Can the weather be at fault for an accident while I’m driving?

Yes. The weather can be at fault for a wreck but only under unusual circumstances. For example, the road could be poorly constructed. The weather can also be a contributing factor if for example the vehicle goes into a defective guard rail. 

  • If another driver is involved, how important is it to determine fault, and how is it determined?

It is very important to determine fault. Initially, fault is determined from the crash report that is prepared by the investigating law enforcement officer. It is always important to call the police whenever there is a wreck. However, the law enforcement officers may make a mistake or enter the wrong codes. Fault is ultimately determined in a negligence case by what a jury of twelve people decide.

  • Can’t it even be the weather’s fault?

If the weather is at fault, it is an accident.

  • Does it matter if there are severe weather warnings? Does that make me more responsible for my choice to drive in that weather or does it matter?

If you are driving during severe weather, you may be contributory negligent. If the weather comes upon you suddenly or upon somebody else suddenly, then it can be what is described as a sudden emergency. A sudden emergency is a heightened standard of care. Basically we all have an obligation to drive and operate a vehicle as a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances. If you are hit with sudden adverse weather, the standard becomes  driving as a reasonable person would in those same or similar circumstances – the adverse weather.

  • Let’s say a storm knocks out power to an intersection and the traffic signals are out. What happens if I get hit and injured while going through that intersection?

The rules of the road always apply. If traffic signals are out, then you have to follow the rules of the road as if there is an intersection with no traffic lights and all roads have stop signs.  Everyone is expected to come to a complete stop at the intersection. The vehicle that arrives first goes first and then you circle around counterclockwise. A vehicle turning yields to a vehicle going straight.

  • What happens if my child is on a school bus during severe weather and is injured in an accident?

A child on a school bus is injured due to severe weather, it is an accident. However, if the bus driver and/or another person is at fault, for example for running a stop light, and your child was injured as a result of the collision, then your child would have a claim. 

The Takeaways: While storms can contribute to an accident, injury caused directly from weather conditions is an act of God. And you can’t sure God. If your actions or reactions cause an accident, you are likely to be at fault just as in normal weather. If someone else’s action or reactions cause you injury, you may have a claim. And, in certain cases, a weather-related accident may be worsened by a defect, such as a bad road or a faulty guardrail. In those case, you may have a claim.

Contributory Negligence Defined
contributory negligence: n. a doctrine of common law that if a person was injured in part due to his/her own negligence (his/her negligence "contributed" to the accident), the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages (money) from another party who supposedly caused the accident. Under this rule, a badly injured person who was only slightly negligent could not win in court against a very negligent defendant. NOTE: Some exceptions or exclusions can apply, which is why it is always advisable to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney.

Storms, Wind and Who Pays if You Get Hurt

  • I’ll get a bit more specific. What if I’m hurt by an actual tornado while driving? They’re freak storms, after all.

If you are driving during a tornado and injured as a result, you would not be entitled to any recovery.

  • What if a tree from a yard along the street gets blown over and hits my car, injuring me. Does that homeowner have to pay for my injuries?

A tree that is blown over by a storm would only create liability if the tree owner knew the tree was weak or damaged and should have been removed or replaced.

  • What if that tree is already in the road when I hit it and get injured?

If you hit a tree in the road and are injured, you have no recovery unless someone was chopping down the tree expecting it to fall in a different direction and instead it fell on you as you were driving by.

  • Let’s say I’m driving on the highway and high winds blow a tractor trailer over, causing me to crash. That’s not my fault, right?

Right. 

When a Storm Blows Over… a Truck
The University of Kansas Department of Engineering performed a study in 2009 to determine the effects of wind on motorists. Full tractor trailers were found vulnerable to being blown off the road in winds of 60mph or more. Empty tractor trailers, on the other hand, were adversely affected in crosswinds of just 15-20mph.

The Takeaways: Storms that have high winds pose numerous risks, but the vast majority of their effects are acts of God. There is little chance that someone is going to be at fault – other than you. The lesson here is not to drive during wind storms. Got off the road!

Water Hazards, From Above and Below

  • Water is dangerous as well, especially over the road. Let’s say I drive into water that’s covering the road and get hurt. Does it make any difference if there’s a flash flood watch?

If water pools on the road due to a defective road design or maintenance, you may have a claim. If you just drive into standing water, you are responsible for your own actions and would not have a claim. If you have decided to drive during a flash flood watch and you are in an area that is known to flood, you would have no claim.

  • What if I hit someone trying to avoid the water? Or they hit me trying to avoid it?

If you hit someone while driving, regardless of the reason, it is likely that you are going to be at fault. The same applies for them.

Half a Million Injuries a Year Occur on Wet Roads
According to the U.S Department of Transportation, the seemingly innocuous wet road is one of the most dangerous places to drive. Each year, about 75% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on wet roads, and nearly half occur while it’s raining. Wet road crashes account for more than 5,000 fatalities and more than 540,000 injuries. Roadway flooding was said to be the greatest source of fatalities.

The Takeaways: Water on the road is a tricky issue. If you choose to drive during heavy rain when there are flood watches and warnings, you could be seen as contributing to the accident – contributory negligence. If the flooding happens due to poor road design, you may have a claim. As always, you are responsible for your choices and actions. A court and a jury will hold you to the standard of what a reasonable person would do in your specific circumstance. And reasonable people do not often drive during flood warnings!

What Happens if You Can’t Recover From an On-the-Job Injury?

When you’re injured on the job, getting better becomes your job. What happens, though, if you can’t recover fully? Following medical treatment due to a work injury, a medical provider or physician will release an injured worker from treatment once he or she believes that they have reached “maximum medical improvement” or MMI. Basically, the worker is “as good as he or she can get.”

What Happens if I Reach MMI?

Often, despite this release from treatment, an injured worker has not necessarily made a full recovery and continues to suffer from some permanent partial impairment or disability. A medical provider will assign a percentage of impairment to the injured body part once the worker has reached MMI.

Previously, an injured worker could only recover a specified amount if the injury to their particular body part was listed in the WC statutes – and that was their only remedy. This was and is referred to as a “scheduled injury.”

This changed more than 30 years ago, and now, an injured worker may elect the most beneficial remedy available to them, depending on whether it makes more sense to either recover for the scheduled injury or receive partial or total disability benefits. The choice between recovering for the injury and the disability benefits is an important one to consider. For this reason, it is important to consult an attorney to make sure an injured worker is receiving the best outcome for their situation.

What Happens if I am Disfigured, or Have Permanent Scarring?

Sometimes there are instances of serious facial or head disfigurement or serious bodily disfigurement as a result of the work injury. The workers’ compensation law allows certain benefits to be “stacked” or combined.

For example, if an injured worker is assigned an impairment percentage rating to their arm following a surgical procedure, but the arm has permanent disfigurement due to surgical scarring, then he or she may be able to recover not only for the percentage that was assigned by their doctor upon reaching MMI, but also due to the disfigurement. The two benefits stack.

Here’s another example. Let’s say a worker sustains serious burn injuries to their leg, resulting in permanent impairment of the leg. That leg is also permanently disfigured due to the scars from the burns. In this case, he or she may be able to recover for the scheduled injury and percentage of disability that was assigned by their doctor in addition to recovery for disfigurement.

Who Decides How Am I Compensated for Being Disfigured?

Compensation for serious bodily disfigurement is discretionary. Prior case law has defined serious bodily disfigurement as “an outward or external, observable blemish, blot, scar, or mutilation” that is permanent and mars the appearance to the extent it is repulsive to others and it may reasonably impair that person’s ability to secure future employment considering their past work experience, age, and other factors.

There is wide discretion for the North Carolina Industrial Commission (NCIC) to determine awards for serious bodily disfigurement and no present loss of wages is required. Compensation for serious facial or head disfigurement, on the other hand, is not discretionary and it is mandatory.

Under the law, the determination of whether an injured worker has sustained serious facial or head disfigurement is a question of fact to be decided by the NCIC. The definition of facial disfigurement is similar to the previous definition for bodily disfigurement but it is slightly different with regard to the ability to obtain future employment. Under the law, the Industrial Commission may award proper and equitable one-time distribution not to exceed $20,000 for serious facial or head disfigurement or an amount not to exceed $10,000 in the case of serious bodily disfigurement.

When Is Permanent Disability Certain?

With regard to permanent disability, under the law, the loss of both hands, or both feet, or both legs, or both eyes, or any two thereof shall constitute total and permanent disability. Regarding vision loss, where there is 85% or more loss of vision in any eye, then this is deemed “industrial blindness” and the injured worker will be compensated for the total loss of vision of that eye.

If You’ve Been Injured at Work, Consult an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Being hurt on the job is tough situation, and some injuries can be truly life-altering. It’s important to know you’re getting the benefits to which you’re entitled, especially if your injury has long term effects. Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin for a free case evaluation by calling 1-866-900-7078, or you can reach us online.

How Do Various Types of Insurance Coverages Work Together After an Automobile Collision in NC?

Most people don’t think much about their auto insurance until they need it. There’s a reason that personal injury attorneys exist. Sometimes, even with all the insurance, you have to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to receive fair compensation. Where does that compensation come from?

If you’re injured in an accident in North Carolina, there are generally four (4) types of automobile insurance coverages that may come into play. These four coverages are liability coverage, uninsured motorist coverage (UM), underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) and medical payments coverage. Both liability coverage and uninsured motorist coverage are mandatory coverages for all drivers under the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Safety and Financial Responsibility Act. The others are optional.

What Is Liability Insurance and What Does It Do?

Liability Insurance covers your liability, or fault, in an automobile wreck as it relates to other parties’ bodily injury or property damage. Conversely, if you are the victim of a negligent driver, then their liability coverage covers any damages you may have which may include, but are not limited to medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, as well as damage to your automobile.

In North Carolina, the law requires that the owner of a registered and operated motor vehicle must carry the following minimum amounts of insurance coverage: a minimum of $30,000 for bodily injury per person, $60,000 bodily injury per accident and $25,000 property damage.

In certain situations, when the injuries are serious, an injured party can collect liability coverage from multiple policies. The most common way this occurs is when the at-fault driver is driving someone else’s vehicle yet owns an insured vehicle himself. Under this scenario, the injured party can collect from the liability policy covering the at-fault vehicle actually involved in the wreck, and also from the liability policy of the at-fault driver’s own vehicle that was not involved assuming the total damages exceeded the coverage of the at-fault vehicle.

If We All Have Uninsured Motorist Coverage, There Are No Uninsured Motorists, Right?

Not quite. Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM), as defined by North Carolina’s Department of Insurance, is coverage that “will provide protection when an uninsured driver, who is at-fault, injures you or another covered individual.” It also provides property damage coverage.

Sadly, not all vehicles are insured. An uninsured vehicle may be a vehicle where the owner has failed to carry insurance on the vehicle in violation of State law. It can also be a stolen vehicle being driven by the perpetrator or any other person without expressed or implied consent by the owner to be operating the vehicle. An uninsured vehicle can also be a vehicle whereby the owner has purchased the requisite insurance policy, but for one of various reasons the insurance company has denied coverage for a particular loss.

An example of such a situation would be if there were a material misrepresentation made on an insurance application that the insurance company later finds out about, like the applicant representing the car being used by an accident-free 50 year old to go to and from work when the vehicle is really being used by his 16 year old son. That may cause the insurance carrier to deny coverage for a particular loss.

Finally, uninsured coverage may be necessary if you are the victim of a hit and run are not able to ascertain the identity of the perpetrator or whether the at-fault vehicle is insured. Please note, however, because of North Carolina’s “No Contact Rule” for uninsured accident claims, if the hit-and-run vehicle (phantom vehicle) does not make contact with your vehicle, uninsured motorist coverage will not apply. An example of this may be a phantom vehicle running a motorcycle or another vehicle off the road yet the vehicles never made contact.

When Enough Is Not Enough: Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) is coverage, as defined by the North Carolina Department of insurance as coverage that “will provide protection when an underinsured driver, who is at-fault, injures you or another covered individual. An underinsured driver is one whose limits of liability are less than your UIM limits, and not enough to cover the losses of the people the underinsured driver injured.” Unlike liability and uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage is optional. Therefore, you must inform your agent that you wish to purchase this additional coverage.

An underinsured motorist claimant can be a driver or passenger in the faultless vehicle. Both are considered insureds under that vehicle’s underinsured motorist coverage, so long as the UIM coverage in the faultless vehicle exceeds the available liability coverage(s) applicable to their at-fault vehicle(s). In other words, the coverage kicks in if there’s not enough insurance on the vehicle at-fault.

A common rule when analyzing insurance coverages is that “the insurance follows the vehicle.” In the context of underinsured motorist coverage (UIM), one can also present a UIM claim if that person is injured and has damages that exceed the liability coverage(s) available to the at-fault driver(s) and either owns a vehicle or resides with a family member (also known as “resident relative”) who owns a vehicle that carries UIM coverage that is greater than the available liability coverage(s). Sounds complicated, but it just means that, if you’re injured and the at-fault driver’s coverage isn’t enough, you may have a claim if you have UIM on your car or live with a family member who does.

A family member has been interpreted by our courts as “a person related to the [named insured] by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of the [named insured’s] household.” Resident has been interpreted by our courts to mean anything from “a place of abode for more than a temporary period of time” to “a permanent and established home.” Obviously, a child of a named insured would certainly be deemed as a relative resident.

What about a situation where the person seeking UIM coverage lives primarily with his mother who does not have UIM coverage on her car, but his father, who he lives with every other weekend or during the summer, does have this coverage on his vehicle? Or what about a college student who is off at college, yet she still comes home for breaks and during the summer? Is she deemed a “resident” of her parents’ home while away at college so as to fall under her parents’ UIM coverage?

Our courts have said yes to both of those scenarios, but there are often many other facts and circumstances that require an experienced personal injury lawyer. You also may be able to collect UIM coverage under multiple policies (referred to as “stacking”). An experienced personal injury attorney can also advise if this is applicable to your situation.

Bodily Injury: Medical Payments Coverage and How It Works

The final insurance coverage to be discussed in the context of an automobile wreck is Medical Payments Coverage or Med Pay. Med Pay coverage is an optional, first party coverage that can be purchased to cover your own vehicle. It reimburses you or a covered insured for reasonable and necessary medical expenses and funeral expenses resulting from a motor vehicle collision. It pays for any other injury on or about the vehicle covered under the policy, regardless of fault.

Determining whether someone is covered under the Med Pay coverage of a policy uses a very similar analysis to the UIM coverage discussed above in terms of 1) being in a covered vehicle, 2) whether you own a covered vehicle, or 3) whether you are a resident relative to someone who owns a covered vehicle. The limit to the coverage is determined by the amount of coverage purchased by the named insured.

The normal increments you will find for purchase are generally $1,000/$2000/$5,000/$10,000. Med Pay coverage can also be “stacked” under certain situations. That can be determined by speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer. As Med Pay is not a fault-based coverage, you are entitled to coverage even if you were at fault.

Conversely, if you are the victim in an automobile wreck, you are entitled to have all of your damages covered by the at-fault driver’s liability coverage and you are also entitled to coverage under your Med Pay coverage, subject to certain limitations that can be explained to you by an experienced personal injury attorney.

If You’ve Been Injured in an Accident, Don’t Hesitate to Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Just because someone has a lot of insurance doesn’t mean the insurance company is simply going to pay the maximum benefit. They’re likely going to work to reduce what they pay, and that may not be enough to cover your injuries, medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering. Call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.

Is There a Comprehensive List of Impairments That Social Security Considers Disabling?

Many people with serious medical conditions find themselves wondering, “What does it take for me to get approved for disability benefits?” Unfortunately, there is no quick answer. When the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews disability claims, they look at many factors of the claim before making a decision.

The SSA will look at your age, your education level, your prior work history, your medical conditions and how your medical conditions affect you. Once they view the full picture, the SSA will make a determination as to whether they think your medical conditions stop you from working.

Because the SSA will look at factors other than your medical condition when determining if you are disabled, there is no exhaustive list of medical conditions that SSA considers disabling. However, there are some conditions that the SSA recognizes as severe. The disability claims containing those recognized severe conditions may receive special consideration while the disability claim is being processed.

The (Non-Comprehensive) Listing of Impairments and How It’s Used

The SSA does have a Listing of Impairments, also called the Blue Book, which contains a list of severe medical conditions that can be considered disabling and can qualify someone for disability. The Listing of Impairments establishes the criteria that need to be met for someone to qualify under the listing. Because the listing is utilized to quickly identify disabling conditions, the criteria can be extensive and hard to meet. To assess the strength of your claim compared to a listed condition, you can look to see if your condition matches the listing.

If your medical condition is included in the Listing of Impairments, you will want to carefully review the specific medical listing and the criteria to see what medical evidence the SSA will need to determine that your condition matches, or “meets” the medical listing. The criteria can be anything from lab results, procedures done by your medical team, the duration of time that you’ve had the condition and how the condition affects you day-to-day.

If you are not sure if you meet the listing, you can ask your medical provider to review it with you to see if all the criteria have been met. If you do not meet all of the criteria, you may be able to get approved if the SSA believes that your condition “equals” the listing.

Equal Versus Meet on the List of Impairments

Meeting the listing criteria means you have all of the evidence you need to prove you have the listed impairment. Equaling the listing means you may not have all of the evidence the criteria require, but are functionally the same.

Arguing that you equal the listing, or have medical equivalence, means that your medical condition has the same severity level of the listing criteria even if it does not meet the exact listing criteria. The SSA understands that the criteria are rigid and that someone may have the same condition at the same severity level but not check all the boxes. To evaluate your condition, the SSA may have a medical provider examine you to see if your conditions are severe enough to be equivalent to the medical listing.

Reviewing the List of Impairments and the Compassionate Allowances

Take a few minutes to review the Listing of Impairments on the SSA’s website. The medical conditions will be separated by type of illness. For example, if you have Asthma, you will want to look at Listing 3.00 for Respiratory Conditions or if you had a Stroke you will want to look at Listing 11.00 for Neurological Conditions.

Remember, the Listing of Impairments covers a broad range of conditions and it is possible to have more than one Listing condition. Take the time to review the Listings thoroughly. The Listings are found here: https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/AdultListings.htm

Separate from the Listing of Impairments is a shorter, more specific list of conditions that the SSA has developed to easily identify conditions that are considered to be automatically disabling. The Compassionate Allowances list is a list of extremely severe conditions that are clearly disabling, and therefore require less evidence to process the claim.

A lot of terminal illnesses and cancers are on the Compassionate Allowances list. These conditions qualify for expedited claims where people can be approved for disability within a couple weeks. If you would like to see if your medical condition qualifies for a faster, Compassionate Allowance claim, you can view the Compassionate Allowances list here: https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm

Make Your Claim, and Speak to an Experienced Social Security Disability Attorney if You Have Questions

Remember that the SSA will look at your entire application when deciding on your disability claim. So if you do not meet or equal a Listing condition or qualify for a compassionate allowances claim, you can still be approved for disability.

The process can be confusing, and claims are often denied. Don’t be discouraged. Contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin for a free case evaluation at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us online. We have a NC State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law and several people with experience working in the Social Security system. We’ll listen to you, review your information, and help you understand what to do next.

No Female Crash Test Dummies = Women at a Greater Risk for Injury or Death

Did you know that the first attempts to study car crash impact used cadavers, live animals, and even live humans as recently as the late 60s? They were the precursors to the crash test dummies of today, which are human-like versions of an average man. But therein lies the problem. The average size, weight, and shape of a man in the 1960s was representative of many of the drivers at the time, but as time went on, the “average driver” evolved — but the crash test dummies evolved much slower.

The standard crash test dummy is a 171-pound, 5’9” androgynous, faceless dummy, modeled after an average male in the 60s and 70s. This means the safety statistics you see when researching car safety are likely based on studies conducted on an outdated dummy.

Now consider these recent statistics:

Car Crash Research Initially Left Out Women

Leaps and bounds have been made in improving car safety technology since the 70s, when the auto industry started using crash test dummies that had been originally developed to test ejection seats in jet planes.

The automotive and research industries were male-dominated fields when car crash dummies were first used. The idea behind it, of course, was to reduce fatalities in the event of a car crash. It was highly successful, as cars were developed with the results of those studies built into the design. And the NHTSA agrees that newer cars are safer cars.

But safer for whom?

Men are surviving automobile crashes, but women are still getting injured and dying at a higher rate, simply because the impact of an automobile accident on women isn’t as thoroughly studied. Regulators asked the NHTSA to create a female dummy in the 1980s. That is to say, this is not a novel issue that’s recently come to light.

There are crash test dummies now for pets and obese people, but the female crash test dummy still represents the smallest 5% of American women back in the 1970s.

Female Crash Test Dummies: A Recent Development

You may or may not be surprised to learn that it wasn’t until 2003 that the NHTSA finally put female crash test dummies in a car to conduct research on a car’s safety. Even then, she still rides as a passenger or doesn’t ride at all.

Perhaps even more surprising? She’s just a smaller version of the male dummy. At five feet tall, 110 pounds, she can also double as a 12 or 13-year old child. According to the Center for Disease Control, the average woman today is 5’3” and 170.5 pounds. Moreover, the female dummy doesn’t take into account the biomechanics of the female anatomy.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), women account for about 50% of the drivers on the road.

Women’s Bodies React Differently to a Car Crash

A wide variety of factors affect women that don’t affect men, and vice versa. Lynda Tran, a spokesperson for the NHTSA told a Washington Post reporter in 2012, “Studies show that women, having smaller bones and lower bone density, are at greater risk than men of suffering injury or death in crashes. Their less muscular necks make them more vulnerable to whiplash. In general, smaller people cannot tolerate crash forces as well as can full-sized men.” More here.

Jason Forman, a scientist at UVA’s Center for Applied Biomechanics and the principal researcher for the study mentioned earlier in this blog, said in an interview with CityLab, “’We obviously know a lot of ways that men and women are different bio-mechanically,’ he says, in terms of both body size and shape. Female pelvises, for example, are generally wider and shallower than those of males, and fat is distributed differently. Females typically have more tissue concentrated around the waist and thighs, while in males it’s more concentrated around the belly.”

Safercar.gov, a website powered by the NHTSA, lists the safety rating for cars on the road, if you’re interested in seeing how your vehicle rates. Note that two out of the three tests assume the driver is male, and those are the results that are reflected there. In the third test, a female driver crashes from the side into a pole.

Whatever the case may be, the safety rating of a car is certainly something to consider with your next vehicle purchase or lease.

North Carolina Car Accident Lawyer: We’re Here to Help if You’ve Been in a Car Crash

We’ve been in the business of fighting insurance companies and protecting North Carolinians harmed by negligent parties since 1997, and we’ve helped recover more than $1 billion for over 43,000 clients since then.*

We’ll evaluate your case for free, and we don’t collect an attorney’s fee unless we get compensation for you. If you’ve been in an auto accident in North Carolina, call us at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us here.

Tell your insurance company you mean business.

 

*Each case is unique and must be evaluated on its own merits. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Categories: Posts

The Rules of the Road: How Failing to Maintain or Repair a Vehicle Can Spell Negligence in Court

We’ve all seen them. Those cars on the road that we look at and wonder, how is that thing still moving? How did it pass inspection? Who would drive a vehicle that’s in that condition? They’re idle thoughts, but there is a very real threat. A poorly maintained or malfunctioning vehicle is more prone to failure. Crashes follow.

Notice, I do not say accident. Any crash caused by a driver’s failure to maintain a vehicle or affect repairs to critical systems is not an accident – it’s a choice. And, if the court sees it that way, a negligent driver may be on the hook for thousands in damages or more.

The Basics: What North Carolina Law Requires in Regards to Vehicle Condition

As every driver in North Carolina knows, a vehicle has to pass a yearly safety inspection in order to have its registration renewed and be legal to operate. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but let’s focus on the vast majority of cars on the road that must pass inspection.

The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles requires the annual safety inspection to be completed no more than 90 days prior to the renewal of the vehicle’s registration. It’s a simple but thorough inspection by a licensed mechanic, who uses a checklist established by the state to ensure the vehicle is safe to operate. In addition to safety, 22 counties also require an emissions inspection at the same time.

The safety inspection covers:
* Lights and signals
* Braking systems
* Steering systems
* Tires
* Horn
* Mirrors
* Windshield wipers
* Exhaust system
* Window tint

If something does not pass the safety inspection, the driver will be notified and the vehicle will require repair or maintenance in order to pass the inspection and be registerable to drive.

Consequences on the Road – and in the Courtroom

People who drive vehicles with critical components in poor condition are asking for trouble, on the road and beyond. Operating a vehicle in such a way is negligent, and if that can be proven, insurance may not cover the damages incurred in an accident.

Bear in mind, an accident with property damage is bad enough. What if someone is injured or worse? These consequences rarely come to mind at the time, but they’re very real.

The case law is cautionary.

Lights Lights Lights

You have to have sufficient light on your vehicle for driving conditions. It’s not just so you can see the road – other drivers have to see you. Whether we’re talking headlights, tail lights, brake lights, or turn signals, make sure they’re all working.

The precedential case law comes from the 60s here. In White v. Mote, a town was sued because its employees failed to have lights on their work vehicle. Perhaps the court in Scarborough v. Ingram said it best: “The statutes prescribing lighting devices to be used by motor vehicles operating at night (G.S. §§ 20-129 and 129.1) were enacted in the interest of public safety. A violation of these statutes constitutes negligence as a matter of law.”

In other words, if you operate a vehicle without proper lighting equipment, you’re acting negligently. And in case you’re wondering, according to Bigelow v. Johnson, strapping a flashlight to a vehicle does not meet legal requirements.

Bad Tires Are a Bad Decision

Take for example the case of Scott v Clark. In this case, two pickup trucks were approaching each other on a highway. One of the trucks suffered a blowout of the front left tire, causing the driver to lose control, swerve into the oncoming lane, and strike the other truck killing its driver.

It was found that the driver of the truck that suffered the blowout was driving on a used mobile home tire on the left front corner of the vehicle. The tire was specifically labeled as such. Furthermore, it had only 15-20% of its tread remaining, and numerous holes. The tube inside the tire was satisfactory, but the tire was entirely unsafe. (This was in the 60s, and some automotive tires still used tubes at the time.)

The state requires tires to be in good condition. Check your tires every so often – not just yearly at the inspection!

Steering Away From Danger

It seems pretty simple to most people that if your vehicle has a steering issue, you should have it towed – not drive it. The law basically says the vehicle must be equipped so that a driver can safely operate it.

This should not be confused with a failure of the steering parts while in operation. The law does not expect us all to be mechanics. However, when we are aware of a problem with our steering mechanisms, we’re expected to cease operation of the vehicle and have the issue remedied.

So, if a state inspection finds that there are steering parts in need of replacement and you continue to operate the vehicle without doing so, you risk an accident and may be held liable for negligence!

Stopping Power

Brakes may be the most ignored part of vehicle safety systems. It’s not usually easy to tell when the brake pads, drums or rotors are worn. With lights and tires, a visual inspection is simple. Modern brakes will make noise when they’re at the end of their life, and changes in braking performance should alert drivers to the need for inspection.

If you knowingly operate, or allow to be operated, a vehicle with faulty brakes as in Wilcox v. Motors Co, the law will hold you negligent. Unexpected failures, such as the one in Mann v. Knight, are not negligent.

In Other Words…

Much of the case law that informs the idea of operator negligence in vehicles depends on what someone knowingly did. If you did not know or could not reasonably know of a defect, you cannot be held negligent. A vehicle inspection is a record of information.

Insurers and Negligently Poor Vehicle Condition

Let’s start with this: Because the other driver can always argue that they were not on notice of the poor condition of the vehicle, insurers usually have a basis to fight negligence in these cases.

Of course, every North Carolina driver is required to have some form of car insurance. The driver at fault usually bears the brunt of the claims – through the insurance company that’s covering them. If a driver is proven to be negligent by operating an unsafe vehicle, the insurance company is going to fight hard to avoid paying claims.

This is because most of the insurance policies, if you bother to read them, are agreements on both sides. The insurance company agrees to cover the driver, but the driver agrees to be responsible for how they conduct the task of driving, and that includes the condition of the vehicle.

For example, let’s say a driver knows his car has a problem that reduces its safety on the road – in this example, let’s say his vehicle inspection revealed a leak in his brake lines. He chooses to drive the car in that condition for the next few weeks, never quite finding the time to have it repaired. Then, he rear-ends someone during a commute, totaling both vehicles and injuring the other driver. His insurance company could very well fight any payout because he was driving the car knowing the brakes were bad, and surmising that the rear-end collision was the result of ineffective braking equipment.

This could cost the driver tens of thousands of dollars. First, the other driver’s insurance company isn’t going to want to pay for their insured’s medical bills or car. The faulted driver’s insurance isn’t either. He could be left holding the bag. He’ll surely be sued for those damages. The uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on the victim’s policy may engage, but it may be well short of the amount necessary to make the victim whole. The rest is coming from the faulted driver’s pocket.

Makes a few hundred dollars’ worth of repairs seem like a real deal, doesn’t it?

If You’ve Been Hurt in a Crash That Was Not Your Fault, We’re Here to Help

Being injured in accident means you’re in pain, adds stress, and may make it difficult to work and earn a living. At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we understand. Let us handle your case so you can focus on getting better. For a free case evaluation, call us at 1-866-900-7078 or click here.

Contact Information

Asheville Law Office

300 Ridgefield Court Suite 309
Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: 828-552-8215
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Charlotte Law Office

301 S McDowell St, Suite 900
Charlotte, NC 28204
Phone: 704-599-1078
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Durham Law Office

280 South Mangum Street, Suite 400
Durham, NC 27701
Phone: 919-688-4991
Fax: 800-716-7881

Fayetteville Law Office

2915 Raeford Road, Suite 204
Fayetteville, NC 28303
Phone: 910-488-0611
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Goldsboro Law Office

1308 Wayne Memorial Drive, Suite B
Goldsboro, NC 27534
Phone: 919-731-2581
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greensboro Law Office

300 N. Greene Street, Suite 850
Greensboro, North Carolina 27401
Phone: 336-665-7072
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greenville Law Office

702 Cromwell Dr. Suite G
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-355-5205
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3227

Henderson Law Office

514 Dabney Drive, Suite 200
Henderson, NC 27536
Phone: 252-492-4600
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Morganton Law Office

216 N. Sterling Street, Suite B
Morganton, NC 28655
Phone: 828-219-3080
Toll Free: 1-844-520-2894

New Bern Law Office

1505 South Glenburnie Rd, Unit P
New Bern, NC 28562
Phone: 252-634-9010
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3422

Raleigh Law Office

4325 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: 919-834-1184
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Roanoke Rapids Law Office

709 Julian R. Allsbrook Highway
Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870
Phone: 252-537-9670
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Rocky Mount Law Office

144 Woodridge Court
Rocky Mount, NC 27804
Phone: 252-937-4730
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Sanford Law Office

703-B South Horner Boulevard
Sanford, NC 27330
Phone: 919-775-1564
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Wilson Law Office

2315 Airport Blvd Suite A
Wilson, North Carolina 27896
Phone: 252-246-9090
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Winston-Salem Law Office

301 N. Main Street, Suite 2409-C
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078