Personal Injury Updates

Information about Personal Injury in Washington State

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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Teen Drivers: Stats and Tips

Categories: Practical Tips You Can Use

By Jacob W. Gent. Posted on .

There are few things in life more exciting for teenagers, and more unnerving for parents than receiving the license to drive.  This important rite of passage marks the first big step toward adulthood and independence for a teen.  Parents play a vital role in this transition and must be proactive in educating the new driver to be safe and responsible behind the wheel.

According to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report, overall traffic fatalities dropped during the first half of 2011.  However, the number of American 16- and 17-year old teenagers killed in motor vehicle collisions rose 11 percent during the same period, from 190 to 211.[1]

More than 20% of teens in the United States never receive driver’s education prior to receiving their driver’s license.  The number of teens who have not received driver’s education is even greater in states which do not require formal training.[2]  Driver’s education usually consists of 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of training behind the wheel.  The original goal of formal driver’s education when it was implemented in the 1950’s was to produce safer teenage drivers, who are four times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision than older drivers.

It is not clear, however, that increasing the rate of driver education would result in fewer collisions.  According to Jean Shope, a professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, driver education is effective in teaching teens the rules of the road and how to maneuver a vehicle, but it does not necessarily make them safer drivers.  Supervised practice driving over a period of many months makes a bigger difference in producing safe teen drivers.[3]

The website www.distraction.gov provides from suggestions on how to keeps teens safe while driving:

  • Talk about the consequences of driving distracted with your teen.
  • Establish safety rules, including forbidding talking or texting on the phone while driving.
  • Have everyone in the family sign a pledge form to drive without distraction.
  • Become familiar with your state’s laws about distracted driving, and educate your teen about the legal consequences of distracted driving.
  • Be a good role model by turning your cell phone off while you drive.

Other facts and tips for parents to know in raising safe teen drivers include:[4]

Drive Now. Talk Later: Cell phone use is the most common distractions for drivers.  Dialing a hand-held device increases the risk of a motor vehicle collision by almost 33%.[5]

Pay Attention.  Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the crash.  A high percentage of the crashes reported by teens involved rear-ending a car that had stopped while the teen driver was looking away from the road.

Get Ready at Home – Not in the Car.  Activities such as applying makeup, fixing your hair, and eating while driving increases the risk of a crash or near-crash by almost 3 times.

Drowsy? Pull Over.  Drowsiness is a significant problem that increases a driver’s risk of a crash or near-crash by at least a factor of four.

Limit Teen Passengers.  Teen passengers can distract a beginning driver and lead to greater risk taking.  Fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers are much more likely to occur when other teenagers are in the car. The risk of a fatal crash increases in proportion to the number of teenage passengers.

 



[1] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_122014.html

[3] Id.

[4] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[5] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Vehicle Recall Notices vs. Technical Service Bulletins – What’s the Difference?

Categories: Personal Injury Resources

By Arthur D. Leritz. Posted on .

Chances are, if you own a car or have watched the news lately, you are familiar with vehicle recall notices issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for vehicle defects that can potentially be dangerous.  A safety recall can either be initiated by a NHTSA investigation or by the manufacturer.  Once aware of a potential safety issue, the manufacturer is obligated to notify the owner that the vehicle has a problem that affects its safety.  The owner then can have the car fixed, free of charge.

What I was surprised to learn back when I bought my first car is that this strict notification system only applies to safety issues – not technical service bulletins or other issues not affecting driver or passenger safety.  A “technical service bulletin” is created by the manufacturer and deals with parts or service issues that have cropped up after a vehicle is manufactured, but that typically do not affect the car’s safety.

In my case, a few years ago I took my then new car to the dealer because the MIL (malfunction indicator light) kept coming on.  An annoying problem, but the car seemed to drive fine otherwise.  Once the problem was identified (a defective mass airflow sensor) it was easily fixed – but the dealer wanted to charge me several hundred dollars for the fix.  Fortunately, the nice person at the counter looked up the service bulletin for my year and model and was able to quickly determine that the part was defective and that the dealer was replacing these parts free of charge.

I was fortunate that I had an honest counter representative, but others may not be so lucky.  I can see how a person could be taken advantage of in this situation.  Fortunately, NHTSA maintains a database of all technical service bulletins for all makes and models and there are other web sites that provide a similar service.

So, if your MIL comes on or your car is performing poorly, go online and see if there are any technical service bulletins for your car.  It could mean the difference between and expensive fix and a free one.

Court Extends “Equitable Fee Sharing Rule” for the Benefit of Passengers and Pedestrians

Categories: Personal Injury Resources

By Jacob W. Gent. Posted on .

Two cases1 recently decided by the Washington State Supreme Court clarified an existing rule which requires insurance companies who provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits to pay a fair share of legal costs incurred by injured persons who recover those benefits paid on behalf of the insurer.

As a rule, plaintiffs must pay their own attorney fees and costs when bringing legal action against another party.  However, there are certain exceptions.  In claims involving a motor vehicle collision, an injured party whose medical bills are paid by PIP insurance is required to reimburse the PIP insurer for those benefits paid from any settlement or judgment obtained from the at-fault party.  Under the “equitable fee sharing rule” first announced in Mahler v. Szucs2, a PIP insurer is required to pay a pro rata, or proportionate share of the legal expenses incurred by the injured person who recovers from the third-party and reimburses the PIP carrier for those benefits paid.3  The PIP carrier typically contributes to those legal expenses by reducing the amount it is entitled to receive from the settlement.  The Mahler court reasoned that any recovery obtained by the injured person from a third party created a “common fund” from which the PIP insurer benefited and held that a PIP insurer could not benefit from the efforts of the injured party (and their attorney) in recovering the PIP benefits paid without contributing to the expenses incurred in securing that recovery.

Later cases expanded the Mahler rule to include situations where the injured party recovered funds from both the underinsured at-fault party and their own Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage4; and where the at-fault party was uninsured and the injured person received benefits under both the PIP and Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage.5

In Matsyuk, the plaintiff was a passenger in a motor vehicle who was injured by the driver’s negligence.  Matsyuk’s medical bills were paid by the driver’s PIP coverage with State Farm.  Matsyuk later settled her negligence claim against the driver under their liability coverage, also with State Farm Insurance.  State Farm sought reimbursement of its previous PIP payments through an “offset,” or reduction, against the liability payment to Matsyuk.  Matsyuk demanded State Farm pay their a pro rata share of her legal expenses in accordance with Mahler.  State Farm argued it was not required to reduce its reimbursement claim under Young v Teti,6 a Court of Appeals decision which held a plaintiff was not entitled to recoup a pro rata share of attorney fees where the liability insurer and PIP insurers were the same.
The Court of Appeals upheld State Farm’s argument.  The supreme court reversed the appellate court, stating the Young decision was inconsistent with the Mahler rule, subsequently expanded by Winters and Hamm.

The Matsyuk decision is an important victory in that it further establishes a clear, consistent rule regarding the obligation of an PIP insurer seeking reimbursement of benefits paid to contribute to the legal expenses incurred by the injured party who secures that reimbursement.

 


1  Matsyuk v State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. and Weismann v Safeco Ins. Co., 2012 WL 402050 (Wash.).

2 135 Wn.2d 398 (1998).

3 Matsyuk at 2.

4 Winters v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 144 Wash.2d 869 (2001).

5 Hamm v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 151 Wash.2d 303 (2004).

6 104 Wash.App. 721 (2001).