How To Avoid No-Fault Nightmares: Review Your Car Insurance Today

emergency

Karen Wheadon, a paralegal who works with Ziff Law Managing Partner Jim Reed, has written the following blog post about no-fault insurance coverage.

Many of our clients are victims of car crashes, and therefore, subject to the rules and regulations of no-fault insurance. Unfortunately, many of our clients struggle financially because they have inadequate no-fault coverage.

Karen Wheadon.

Karen Wheadon.

Briefly, state-required minimum no-fault insurance consists of $50,000 in coverage for the following:

  1. All necessary doctor and hospital bills and other health service expenses, payable in accordance with fee schedules established or adopted by the New York State Insurance Department.
  2. Eighty percent of lost earnings up to a maximum monthly payment of $2,000 for up to three years following the date of the crash.
  3. Up to $25 a day for a period of one year from the date of the accident for other reasonable and necessary expenses the injured person may have incurred because of an injury resulting from the accident, such as the cost of hiring a housekeeper or necessary transportation expenses to and from a health-service provider.
  4. A$2,000 death benefit, payable to the estate of a covered person, in addition to the $50,000 coverage for economic loss described above.

When shopping for car insurance, many people don’t think to invest in anything other than that basic coverage. However, additional coverage can be purchased … and can make a huge difference to someone’s life and financial stability. When we consider the growing costs of health care, $50,000 does not last long.

Here are some examples of crash victims and their no-fault insurance coverage,

Mike

Mike, like many of our clients, receives Medicare benefits. He had a serious car crash and exhausted his basic no-fault coverage. His medical bills were then submitted to Medicare for coverage and he was personally responsible for co-pays. On top of that, under federal law, Medicare (and Medicaid) are allowed to assert a lien against any third-party recovery.

What that means for Mike is that the personal injury claim/lawsuit we filed against the person responsible for causing the crash and Mike’s injuries now has a lien against it. At the time of the settlement, Mike has to pay Medicare back from his settlement. Had Mike had additional no-fault coverage, he could have avoided his bills going to Medicare and kept more of his settlement for himself.

Michelle

Michelle, injured in a car crash in 2016, had basic no-fault coverage that was paying her medical bills and was also reimbursing her for lost wages because she is unable to work. Like so many of our clients, Michelle relied on her monthly wage loss checks to pay for her basic necessities (mortgage, groceries, etc.).

Michele’s no-fault benefits were exhausted in May, leaving her with NO income at all. She has an application pending with Social Security Disability, but applicants often wait a year to hear if they are accepted or denied. If denied, the appeal process is even longer.

On top of that, Michelle’s private health insurance is through the Affordable Care Act. She has catastrophic coverage only with a $6,000 deductible. The neck surgery that was being scheduled is now on hold because she cannot afford to pay a $6,000 deductible without any income.

Obviously, Michelle would have benefited greatly from additional no-fault coverage. Her story is a great argument for universal health care because her health insurance plan is abysmal. She is a hard-working, taxpaying citizen who found herself with a disability and unable to work after a car crash. She should not have to put off medical treatment because she can’t afford her co-pay.

Opponents of universal health care argue that they don’t want the government making their medical decisions, but insurance companies already do that all the time. They arbitrarily decide a patient only needs 10 physical therapy sessions, or that they can’t have a drug prescribed by their doctor because it is too costly, or that surgery is not necessary because they have not exhausted conservative treatment options. Insurance companies base these decisions on money – their money that they would rather not pay out!

Justin

My stepson, Justin, was involved in a near-fatal car crash in 2015. He was taken from the scene of the crash by ambulance to Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, and then quickly transferred to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa. From there, he was life-flighted to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., where he was admitted for more than a month and underwent numerous surgeries to repair his fractured neck and re-attach a shoulder and arm.

There are a lot of miracles associated with Justin’s crash – too many to recount here. The fact that he is alive and well and now a father of two beautiful little children is sometimes more than I can believe. We are very, very blessed. But as you can imagine, the medical bills were astounding. The life-flight bill alone was $54,999, which was paid in full by his primary no-fault coverage.

Luckily, in addition to the basic no-fault coverage of $50,000, Justin had $10,000 of med-pay, $25,000 of OBEL (Optional Basic Economic Loss), and $150,000 of APIP (Additional Personal Injury Protection). He had such incredible coverage because he was the passenger of a vehicle that had more than basic coverage and he was also covered under his own policy which had even better coverage. This is far from the norm.

But even all of that coverage was very quickly exhausted, leaving a balance due to Geisinger Medical Center in excess of $1 million. This was turned over to his health insurance.

Justin was 23 years old at the time of his crash, but thankfully he was still covered by his father’s health insurance plan as a result of the Affordable Care Act, which extended medical coverage for children up to age 26. Donations from friends and family through a gofundme campaign covered the deductible, so Justin did not have to file bankruptcy because of insurmountable medical debt, as so many Americans do.

Justin’s example shows that even incredible no-fault coverage cannot adequately cover you from a catastrophic injury. But catastrophic injuries are, thankfully, rare.

The vast majority of our clients are like Michelle and Mike. They have broken bones that may or may not need surgery. Most of our clients seek medical treatment locally and don’t have multiple ambulance and life-flight bills. However, even routine injuries that require fairly routine medical treatment will quickly exhaust a basic no-fault policy.

So make the wise choice and protect yourself by asking your insurance agent about increasing your no-fault coverage. Had Michele or Mike had Justin’s maximum no-fault coverage, they would not be facing hard financial and medical decisions. We hope you won’t have to, either.

Therefore, we recommend adding Additional Personal Injury Protection (APIP) of at least $75,000 and Supplementary Underinsured (SUM) Coverage of at least $250,000. The good news is that adding this additional protection does not cost much more but will give you much better protection.

If you have questions, or would like us to review your insurance policy for free, please email me at [email protected] or Jim Reed at [email protected].

Thank you for reading,

Karen Wheadon
Paralegal
Ziff Law Firm
[email protected]


Steuben County Magistrates’ Association Honors Retired Special Counsel

annette pic

From left, Hon. Betsey Farley, Steuben County Magistrates’ Association secretary; Hon. Annette Viselli Thorne, Steuben County Magistrates’ Association vice-president; Hon. Christie Brothers, Steuben County Magistrates’ Association treasurer; Maryclaire Donovan Frank; Hon. David Domm, Steuben County Magistrates’ Association president; Hon. David Gideon, New York State Magistrates’ Association president.

The Steuben County Magistrates’ Association honored recently retired 7th Judicial District Special Counsel Maryclaire Donovan Frank during its monthly meeting on May 11 at the Bath American Legion.

Maryclaire was instrumental in molding many judges throughout Steuben County, providing town and village justices with personal care, support, education, and instruction that went above and beyond the call of duty.

Maryclaire was town justice in the Town of Erwin for 17 years and was in private practice until 11 years ago, when she retired and was appointed by the New York State Office of Court Administration to the position of special counsel.

Maryclaire supervised town and village justices in the following counties in the 7th Judicial District: Steuben, Yates, Wayne, Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, and Seneca.

Maryclaire is the daughter of retired State Supreme Court justice W. Denis Donovan.

The Ziff Law Firm salutes Maryclaire and wishes her well in her retirement!

Thanks for reading,

Jim Reed

Best Lawyers’ “2015 & 2017 Lawyer of the Year”
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Email: [email protected]
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Web: www.zifflaw.com
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
NYBikeAccidentBlog.com


We’re No. 1! Ziff Law Firm Is AGAIN Voted Best Law Firm In The Twin Tiers!

 

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StarGazette

The readers of the Star-Gazette have again voted the Ziff Law Firm is the best law firm in the Twin Tiers.

Jim Reed.

Jim Reed.

We are honored that, in a poll of 5,000 residents, the Ziff Law Firm was recognized as the best law firm in the region for the second year in a row in the Elmira Star-Gazette’s “Best of the Twin Tiers” Awards, which were announced Thursday.

We are gratified that our hometown newspaper’s readers selected our law firm, out of all the local law firms, as the best Elmira-area law firm.

As much as it is gratifying to have your fellow lawyers name us as the best (for example, Best Lawyers in America, NY SuperLawyers and many other awards), there is nothing more gratifying than having the local folks who know us so well call us the best.

The Ziff Law family prides itself on being a hard-working, dedicated part of the local community, so it means the world to us when our friends and neighbors appreciate us. We have always said our professional reputation is our single most important asset, and we strive every day to uphold that reputation.

Thanks for your support and thanks for reading!

Jim

_________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Ziff Law Firm Is First Law Firm EVER In Twin Tiers To Be Selected As A “Best Law Firm” In The U.S.!

Jim Reed, managing partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

Jim Reed, Managing Partner of the Ziff Law Firm.

The Ziff Law Firm of Elmira is honored to be the first Twin Tiers law firm EVER to be named to a nationally recognized directory of top law firms in the United States.

Ziff Law was named a Tier 1 National Best Law Firm for 2014 in the practice areas of medical malpractice and injury law by U.S. News & World Report. 

This national recognition, that we are among the best in the country, is important because a firm’s reputation is critical to how seriously opposing lawyers and insurance companies take our cases. Our strong reputation greatly assists our success in achieving the very best outcomes for our clients.

Law firms were evaluated using client and peer reviews and additional information provided by the firms, according to U.S. News – Best Lawyers, which ranked more than 10,000 law firms in 118 practice areas.

The rankings will be announced nationally Nov. 1 by U.S. News & World Report, the parent company of U.S. News, and Best Lawyers, a national directory of top-rated attorneys that included Reed in 2012 and 2013.

To learn more about the Best Law Firms rankings, go to BestLawFirms.USNews.com.

To read more about other recent honors for the lawyers at the Ziff Law Firm, click here and here!

We have a proud tradition of serving the best interests of our clients, dating back to 1946, when Bertram “Bert” Ziff founded our law firm! We appreciate the recognition, because many of the honors our lawyers have received were because of the support of our clients and other legal professionals.

So while celebrate these recognitions, and thank the community for its support, we know we have to get back to work now fight for our clients.

We never lose sight of what’s important.

Thanks for reading!

Jim
_________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 


NY Car Accident Lawyer Explains Why Lawsuits Can Be GOOD and Save Lives!

'02 Monte Carlo Driver Airbag Deployment

These days, it’s popular to blame trial lawyers for almost EVERYTHING bad.  However, it’s important to remind folks of the GOOD that comes out of lawsuits that have served to make our lives safer.

Trial lawyers have helped in changing safety standards in everything from flammable pajamas that needlessly killed thousands of children to seat belt laws to safer workplaces to safer cars to safer highways….

The bottom line is  that consumer lawsuits have saved countless lives because corporate America responds to one punishment– HIT THEM IN THE WALLET AND THEY WILL RESPOND!  Sad to say but corporate engineers are constantly weighing the costs of improving a product to make a product safer versus the possible costs of lawsuits for people who are injured or killed because a less safe design was used.   Because of this cold, hard, dollars-and-cents analysis, the costs of a possible lawsuit have the direct effect of making products safer.  And that is GOOD for all of us!

A recent op-ed in the Washington Post about safer automobiles got me thinking about how trial lawyers have made a difference in all of our lives.

Gibson Vance, the president of the American Association for Justice, reminds us of the role litigation has played in improving safety for motorists. In the April 15, 2011, op-ed “How our cars got safer,” Mr. Vance said new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures show that traffic deaths are at their lowest since 1949.

Mr. Vance observed that better technology, better regulations and better-informed consumers all made an impact, then he made this important and often-overlooked point: “History shows that litigation and the civil justice system have served as the most consistent and powerful forces in heightening safety standards, revealing previously concealed defects and regulatory weaknesses and deterring manufacturers from cutting corners on safety for the goal of greater profits.”

Rather than cave to ongoing pressure from auto manufacturers to ease regulations and limit liability, legislators must continue to hold manufacturers accountable and protect consumers’ access to the civil justice system.

Mr. Vance cites as an example the litigation that drove American automakers to universally implement safer switches on power windows. The deaths of seven children in a three-month period in 2004, killed by power windows in cars, and the litigation that followed, led U.S. automakers to change the switches from ones you push down to raise the window to ones you have to lift up to raise the window. Children no longer get trapped accidentally in the windows by leaning on the switches.

Mr. Vance also said the auto industry has, for years, “worked to undermine regulations and limits its liability by pushing for complete immunity from lawsuits when their vehicles comply with minimum federal safety standards.”

As he correctly points out, this would be DEVASTATING for consumers.

He concludes: “… Without the civil justice system, gas tanks would still explode in rear-end collisions, seat belts and airbags would not be standard, and cars would roll over onto roofs that would be easily crushed.”

An important report:

To learn more about the role of litigation in safer automobiles, read the American Association for Justice report, “Driven to Safety: How Litigation Spurred Auto Safety Innovations.” I think you’ll find it interesting, important and eye-opening reading.

Thanks for reading, Jim
_________________________________
James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Web: www.zifflaw.com
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

MUST-KNOW Emergency Information for Our Friends in the Twin Tiers!

Emergency-phoneThe Ziff Law Firm recently compiled this emergency reference guide to include in our print newsletter. We thought our blog readers could use this source of important information as well.  Stay safe!

(If you would like to sign up for our print newsletter, just click on the link and fill out a quick form!)

NY-ALERT

In New York State, to get emergency information on severe weather warnings, road closings, and other local emergencies, subscribe at www.nyalert.gov. You can choose how to receive messages: land or cell phone, text or e-mail message, on the Web, RSS feeds, and more.

If you do not have Internet access, call (888) 697-6972.

ALERT PA

Pennsylvania uses AlertPA to deliver emergency and weather alerts, health notifications and other important updates. Subscribe at https://alert.pa.gov and have alerts sent to e-mail account (work, home, other), cell phone (via SMS), pager or Smartphone/PDA.

Local 911 Help and Information

Broome County: Call 911 to reach the Broome County Emergency Dispatch/911 Center. For non-emergency inquiries, call the county’s Public Safety Center at (607)778-2170

Bradford County, PA: Call 911. The Bradford County 911 Center answers calls from 14 boroughs. For non-emergency information, call the center at (570) 265-9101.

Chemung County: For emergencies in Chemung County, call 911. For information, the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office number is (607) 737-2929.

Schuyler County: Call 911. For information, the Emergency Management Services number is (607) 535-8200.

Seneca County: Call 911. For non-emergency information, call the Seneca County Office of Emergency Management at (315) 539-1756.

Steuben County: Call 911. For non-emergency questions or information, call (607) 664-2700.

Tioga County, NY: Call 911. For information, the Emergency Management Office number is (607) 687-2023 or e-mail: [email protected]

Tioga County, PA: Call 911. For a complete list of Emergency Medical Services in the county, visit www.seda-cog.org/tioga/cwp/view.asp?A=887&Q=432043.

Tompkins County: Call 911. For information, the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response number is (607) 257-3888

Yates County: Call 911. The Yates County 911 Communications Center is an enhanced 911 center, which coordinates all emergency services within the county.

Recognize and React to Medical Emergencies

Stroke warning signs (www.strokeassociation.org):

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Call 911.

Heart attack symptoms (www.americanheart.org):

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Call 911.

Signs of cardiac arrest (www.americanheart.org):

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness (no response to tapping on shoulders).
  • No normal breathing (the victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds).

Call 911 and begin CPR immediately.

Emergency Weather Information

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association: www.weather.gov. Results can be filtered by state and county for precise forecasts.

NOAA Weather Radio: Check www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/stations.php for your local frequency.

Storm Terms to Know

  • Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm Watch indicates conditions are favorable for their formation in and close to the watch area. The watch is issued to alert you to the possibility that thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail may develop. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio and your local media weather updates and stay informed!
  • Severe Thunderstorm Warning means a severe thunderstorm is occurring or is imminent. In addition to strong damaging winds of 58 mph or greater, severe thunderstorms may contain hail close to an inch in diameter. When thunderstorms are occurring people should remain away from windows or in an interior room.
  • Tornado Warning means a tornado is occurring or is imminent. Tornado winds have been estimated at speeds greater than 260 mph. People in the path of a tornado should move to “tornado safe areas.” These include interior rooms on the lowest floor of a building. When caught outside in a storm with no well-constructed building available, highway underpasses can provide protection. If no building or underpass is available, look for a ditch or low-lying area (preferably without water). Never try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle

How to Contact Us

Ziff Law Firm, 303 William St., P.O. Box 1338, Elmira, NY 14902–1338

Toll Free: (800) 806−2852

Main office phone: (607) 733−8866

Fax: (607) 732−6062

E-mail: [email protected]

Our Web site and blogs:

www.ZiffLaw.com

NY Injury Law Blog: www.zifflaw.com/NYInjuryLawBlog

NY Injury Bike Accident Blog: www.zifflaw.com/NYBikeAccidentBlog

NY Bankruptcy Blog: www.zifflaw.com/NYBankruptcyBlog


Elmira Skateboarder Badly Injured by Hit & Run Driver

My heart goes out to a local teenager and his family following a tragic hit & run collision that occurred on Hoffman Street in Elmira in front of EFA High School.  I have three teenagers of my own who attended EFA and I just hope and pray that this poor teenager will be OK.

While my heart bleeds for the victim, I have nothing but contempt for the driver who hit this poor kid and left the scene.  Several years ago, I represented a family whose 14 year old son was run down and left to die on Maple Avenue and I can still feel the anguish of that family who would always wonder if their son might have been saved had the cowardly hit and run driver stopped and rendered aid to their son……

This latest tragedy involves a teenager who was skateboarding and I was asked by our Elmira TV station, WETM-TV, to discuss the laws that might be applicable to this skateboard and car collision.

As many of my readers know, every Wednesday I do a LawTalk segment on WETM-TV news where I discuss current legal issues and laws.  I love doing these shows for two reasons:  first, it is an opportunity for me to help folks better understand the many laws that effect their daily lives; and second, it is an opportunity for me to improve my own legal knowledge as very often I need to do research to better understand the weekly topic we will be discussing.  It is a win/win for everyone.

This week we discussed the laws pertaining to skateboard use in New York State.  As I told our viewers, under NY law, skateboarders, like bicyclists, have a legal right to use the roads. Bicycles, in-line skaters, and skateboarders may all use the roads subject to the rules of the road that pertain to cars and motorcycles– bicyclists and skaters must obey all traffic signals, signs and pavement markings that apply to other drivers with obvious exceptions and special rules.

I also told our viewers that my best legal advice to the hit & run driver is to promptly talking to a criminal defense lawyer (not me as I only represent injury victims like the skateboarder, NOT the people who inflict those injuries!) and then turn themselves in to the police.  It’s the legal thing to do and it’s the moral thing to do.

My best to the skateboarder and his family.  My best to you and your families.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks, Jim
_________________________________
James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer

Here is the WETM-TV Story that prompted our discussion:

Elmira, N.Y. – Elmira Police are saying the teen victim is 18 years of age not 19 as originally reported.  Elmira Police are still searching for the driver involved.  The incident happened around 8pm Tuesday night in front of Elmira Free Academy. Police stated that they are looking for the driver of a golden or tan colored sport style sedan. Officials stated that the vehicle may have damage to the front end.

The 18-year-old victim was taken to Arnot Ogden Medical Center. Police are not releasing his name at this time. One witness tells WETM 18 News that he could not believe what he saw Tuesday night. “I just happened to be looking out the window and I said wow what was that? I thought the car had run over the grate or something but it was so loud. Then I saw something in the street and I thought it was a hat rolling or something and I saw the kid laying there,” stated witness James Banks.

Elmira Police need your help in finding the driver involved. If you have information, you are asked to call them at 271-HALT or the Elmira Police Traffic Bureau at 737-2940.


NY and PA Motorcycle Accident Attorney Reminds Bikers to Wear All the Gear, All the Time

This article was previously published on Adam Gee’s newest blog, NY Biker Law Blog.  The original article can be found here.

Every biker should know the acronym ATGATT.

It stands for All The Gear All The Time. But maybe knowing what it means isn’t enough. It could be that some people need to see the disfiguring, agonizing, even life-threatening effects of Road Rash – the awful result of hitting the pavement when not wearing all your motorcycle gear.

I came across a blog post , “Road Rash Girl Speaks Out” where one young girl was brave enough to show some of her scars and willing to describe her long recovery  from a motorcycle accident. Road Rash girl lost skin on her stomach, back, legs, hands, arms – one breast was almost ground off – almost everywhere on her body except her thighs, she says.

The accident was out of the blue – she hopped on the back of a friend’s bike in a casual summer outfit and a helmet. I see girls dressed just like her on the backs of bikes almost every day.  What she and her friend never expected was that she would be pulled from the back of the bike by a gust of wind, and strike the asphalt at high speed – tumbling, rolling, and scraping.

She didn’t die in the crash, but at times she wished she had.  She suffered severe, third-degree road rash – which led to painful skin grafts and skin debridement (the removal of dead tissue).  My clients tell me the skin debridement is more painful than the actual crash, as the doctors scrape and brush at the the road rash, trying to pick dirt and rocks out of the skin to prevent infection.

Road Rash Girl is a survivor. She talks about how the pain helped remind her that she was alive, and she felt so lucky to be alive after the accident.

I can’t help thinking what a shame she wasn’t wearing protective gear, riding wear that could have taken some of the damage and abuse that happened instead to her skin.  It is amazing the abuse that a proper riding jacket can absorb.  A recent client of mine hit the pavement at 65 miles an hour and walked away with not so much as a scratch on the parts of his body the jacket covered.  He had some rash on his knees through a pair of jeans, and a little on his wrists between his gloves and the jacket.  His full face shield helmet protected his head.  All his equipment did its job.

The American Motorcyclist Association has an Interactive Motorcycle Gear Page. It’s the outline of a biker, and as you click on each part of the body, recommendations about helmets, jackets, pants, and boots pop up. You can learn just what you need to get, why, and how to pick it out.

Remember ATGATT.   ALL THE GEAR, ALL THE TIME!  I know if you read Road Rash Girl’s story and see her photos, it’s unlikely you can forget.

Please ride safely out there,

Adam
_______________________________
Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Motorcycle Accident Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]
www.zifflaw.com

My book, “Would You Ride Your Motorcycle Naked?” It is available FREE to New York and Pennsylvania bikers; follow the link to order your copy today.

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Safety in Numbers: 17 Ways to Have a Great Group Motorcycle Ride

American Motorcyclist Association

This article was previously published on Adam Gee’s newest blog, NY Biker Law Blog.  The original article can be found here.  We are re-printing the article here in the hopes that  reading this will keep people safer on the highways whether you are a biker or not.

Riding with your friends is a fantastic way to get out and enjoy your motorcycle. Heading for the same destination, enjoying the same road and sights – like all kinds of activities, it’s better when you get to share it with others who have the same appreciation.
Group rides depend on good communication between cyclists, however. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a video about safe riding in groups, and the American Motorcyclist Association has a list of oft-quoted, but very important 17 tips to make a group ride safe and fun.

Before we get into the 17 tips, I’d like to add just one more piece of advice: Know your hand signals!The correct hand signals are how you will be able to communicate turns, stops, hazards and other information to your fellow riders. They are indispensible knowledge for every motorcyclist. Here is a breakdown of the important signals from the AMA:

17 Strategies for a Safe Ride from the American Motorcyclist Association

1) The first thing you want to do is organize the ride. This can be as informal as standing around in a parking lot, or as complicated as a special meeting to hand out maps and cellphone numbers.

2) Remember that riding in a group does not mean you surrender any decision making when it comes to your safety. Ride your own ride, and don’t go any faster than you feel comfortable going.

3) When picking your route and the stops you’ll make along it, consider the stamina of the group, the experience of all the riders, and the limits of the motorcycles in the group. Remember, these are your friends. If it’s going to be a long ride, be sure to have a few break stops along the way.

4) You’ll need to communicate while on the ride, so make sure everyone knows the signals you’ll use (posted above).

5) When creating your formation, it’s wise to have your experienced riders at the lead and running sweep. Consider positioning the less experienced riders immediately behind the leader. This allows the front rider to adjust the pace if necessary.

6) Ideally, the sweep rider will have a cellphone to call for help if a motorcycle is disabled, or if there has been an accident.

7) If the goal of the ride is to keep the group together, the leader should only go at the pace of the least experienced rider.

8 ) While riding, don’t fixate on the motorcycle in front of you. Instead, remember your basic training. Look well through the turn to where you want to go.

9) If the group is riding faster than you are comfortable with, let the sweep rider know you’re dropping out and ride at your own pace. So you may reach your destination a few seconds behind the others, but you will get there, and that’s what’s important. Keep in mind, it’s all about fun.

10) All riders are also responsible for making sure their motorcycles are mechanically up to the task. Before you even meet up with the group, make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel in the tank, and you’ve taken care of all those maintenance issues. Not sure what to check? Use the T-CLOCS inspection checklist. You really don’t want to be the reason for stopping the group for something mechanical you could have prevented.

11) If it’s going to be a large group, consider establishing a buddy system among the riders, or divide the group into smaller five- or seven-rider packs. That way, if something goes wrong, you don’t have 25 motorcycles sitting on the side of a busy highway. Also, smaller groups can more easily navigate through city streets.

12) On the road, motorcyclists should have at least a 2-second cushion in front and behind them. If you want to keep the group tight, consider a staggered formation. Leave enough room per lane so each rider can maneuver side-to-side if need be. Avoid side-by-side formations as they shrink your space cushion.

13) Trikes and sidecars should stay in the center of the lane, and should be given the same amount of cushion as if they were a car.

14) As turns get sharper, or as visibility decreases, move back to a single file formation. You’ll also want to use single file when entering or exiting a highway, at toll booths, or when roads have a rough or questionable surface.

15) At intersections where you’ve come to a stop, tighten the formation to side-by-side to take up less space. As the light turns green, or when traffic opens up, the bike on the left proceeds through first.

16) Remember we share the road with many other vehicles, and it’s against the law to block an intersection.

17) When parking, try to get the group off the roadway as quickly as possible. If you can, arrange in advance to have pull-through parking at your destination, or at the very least, make sure there is ample parking for your size group.

Remember these rules when planning a motorcycle outing with friends, and the outcome should be safe and fun for everyone.

Thanks for reading and ride safe,

Adam
_______________________________
Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Personal Injury and Malpractice Attorney
The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]
www.zifflaw.com

Visit the New York Biker Law Blog at: http://www.NYBikerLawBlog.com


PUNITIVE DAMAGES IN NY: A TOUGH ROAD

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I am in the process of drafting a complaint against a doctor, nurse and hospital for extremely egregious medical malpractice that led to the premature and unnecessary death of an Elmira man.  Included in my complaint is a claim for punitive damages.

In drafting the complaint I did a fair amount of research about punitive damages in New York, and learned several helpful tips for both practitioners and potential claimants.

At the onset, it is critical to understand what punitive damages are designed to do as well as the strict limitations New York Courts apply in their application.  New York’s tort system (the system that allows injured people to recover against the people or entities that caused their injuries through negligence, malpractice and intentional conduct,) generally allows an injured person to only be compensated for actual economic and non-economic injuries directly related to his or her injuries.  These types of damages are called “compensatory damages” because they are designed to compensate victims.  Compensatory damages include such things as lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and future treatment costs.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are designed to punish and deter the wrongdoer or “tortfeasor”.  In other words, the purpose of awarding punitive damages is to send a message to the torfeasor and all similarly situated persons or entities that the conduct alleged is so egregious and unacceptable as to require punishment in order to deter others from engaging in the same types of acts.

In 2008 the New York Law Journal published a very interesting article called “The Rules On Punitive Damages.”  In this article authors Steven Napalitano and Hayden Coleman explain, “[t]hese damages, also known as exemplary damages, serve a dual purpose: first, to punish the tortfeasor, and second, to deter both the wrongdoer and others similarly situated from engaging in the same conduct in the future.”

There is no question the bar for allowing an injured person to recover punitive damages in New York is set very high.  In a recent landmark case, New York’s Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York) observed:

“Punitive damages are permitted when the defendant’s wrongdoing is not simply intentional but evince[s] a high degree of moral turpitude and demonstrate[s] such wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations”. (Ross v Louise Wise Serv., Inc., 8 NY3d 478, 489, quoting Walker v Sheldon, 10 NY2d 401, 405; see Prozeralik v Capital Cities Communications, 82 NY2d 466, 479; Sharapata v Town of Islip, 56 NY2d 332, 335).

Indeed, Napalitano and Coleman assert “New York courts have strictly limited punitive awards to the most reprehensible instances of wrongdoing; they are only awarded in cases involving gross, wanton or willful fraud, or other morally culpable conduct.”

So, the question emerges: are punitive damages appropriate in my case?  Of course, the analysis required to answer this question must be performed on a case-by-case basis.  However, there are a few general considerations every practitioner and potential claimant should keep in mind:

1.   Does the conduct warrant punitive damages?

This is the million dollar (figuratively speaking, of course) question.  In many ways the answer starts in your gut.  Do the tortfeasor’s actions make you mad? Really mad?  Seething mad?  Do they make you want to call the newspaper and the cops and 20/20 because this sort of thing should never happen in the USA?  If the answer is a resounding yes, then perhaps you have a claim.

Much more critically, do the torfeasor’s actions make your 72 year-old/very fiscally conservative/wary of lawsuits/cheerleader of tort reform mother-in-law seething, red-faced mad?  Too often we see our cases through a rose-colored lens, and, after having sat with a grief-stricken family, believe punitive damages are a given.  They’re not.  Ever.  Vet your case out to your neighbors, your families, your colleagues.  Become part of some active list-serves.  Read verdict sheets.  There is simply no substitute for good old research.  It can save you a lot of time (and face) down the road when you are answering the summary judgment motion the defendant will surely bring.

2.   Would the conduct have made your mother-in-law seething, red-faced mad at the time it occurred?

Do not overlook this step!  Determine when the conduct occurred.  Is this a toxic tort case that involved conduct in the 1950’s?  Is this an asbestos case where the building was erected 50 years ago?

According to Napalitano and Coleman, “a claimant should be precise in defining the time period of the conduct allegedly justifying punitive damages. In cases where the conduct at issue happened many years ago, as is often the case in the toxic tort context, a plaintiff must be prepared to show that the conduct was outrageous based on the norms and knowledge then prevailing. Defense counsel may seek to engage an expert witness to establish that the conduct was not sufficiently malicious or vindictive at the time. Finally, if circumstances have changed so that the allegedly offending conduct could not happen today, as with a change in the law, defense counsel may properly assert that the goal of deterring future improper conduct cannot be satisfied.”

3.   Is the claim for punitive damages insured?

As usual, insurance is the 110 pound gorilla in the room.  It is one thing to be a crusader and secure a 10 million dollar punitive damages verdict for your client, but a whole other beast to actually translate the judgment into money your client can take to the bank.

Unfortunately, it appears claims for punitive damages are generally uninsurable in New York.  New York’s Court have ruled the public policy underlying a claim for punitive damages – that tortfeasors actually endure punishment in order to deter future bad conduct – is eradicated if insurance companies simply pick up the tab.

The law firm McCullough, Campbell & Lane, LLP created a detailed list of the rules governing the interplay of punitive damages and insurance in all 50 states, including New York:

Directly assessed punitive damages are not insurable in New York. See Public Service Mut. Ins. Co. v. Goldfarb, 425 N.E.2d 810 (N.Y. 1981); Hartford Accident & Indem. Co. v. Village of Hempstead, 397 N.E.2d 737 (N.Y. 1979); Soto v. State Farm Ins. Co., 600 N.Y.S.2d 407 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993), aff’d 635 N.E.2d 1222 (N.Y. 1994); National Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Ambassador Group, Inc., 556 N.Y.S.2d 549 (N.Y. App. Div. 1990), appeal dismissed, 571 N.E.2d 85 (N.Y. 1991).

In addition, the court in Home Ins. Co. v. American Home Products Corp., 550 N.E.2d 930 (N.Y. 1990), aff’d in part, rev’d in part, 902 F.2d 1111 (2d Cir. 1990), applied the prohibition to out-of-state punitive damages awards for which the insured seeks coverage in New York. The court pointed out that “the punitive nature of the award, coupled with the fact that a New York insured seeks to enforce it in New York against a New York insurer … calls for the application of New York public policy.” 550 N.E.2d at 933. See Zurich Ins. Co. v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 642 N.E.2d 1065 (N.Y. 1994) (noting that only when a statute allowing indemnification awards damages that serve a wholly punitive, and not compensatory, purpose are they precluded by New York policy).

Vicariously assessed punitive damages are not insurable in New York. See Zurich Ins. Co., 642 N.E.2d 1065.

This of course does not mean claims for punitive damages should never be asserted in NY, nor does it mean they are always uninsured.  It simply means practitioners should have their eyes wide open with respect to collections matters.

Thanks for reading!

Christina

_________________________________
Christina Bruner Sonsire, Esq.
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, New York 14902-1338
[email protected]
Office: 607.733.8866
Toll-Free: 800.ZIFFLAW (943.3529)
Web: zifflaw.com
Blog: NYInjuryLawBlog.com