Articles Posted in Insurance Issues

Everyone is talking about and expecting self-driving cars to be on the road by 2019.  One of the side effects of self-driving cars should be less accidents.  According to a study done by the accounting firm of KPMG, the coming technology of autonomous cars could bring an 80% reduction in accident frequency by 2040.

The accounting firms states this reduction in auto accidents will result in a potentially drastic reduction in loss costs and premiums.  However, accident expense could go from $14,000 per accident to $35,000 as the self-driving cars have more expensive technology that can be damaged in accidents.  They claim the normal insurance company business model will be flipped upside down.  Autonomous cars under Google logo crossed the million-mile logged mark.  In January, 2016, Apple registered the domain name Apple.Car.com.  Apple expects to turn out cars by 2019.  Apple has hired more engineers from 600 to 1800 for jobs related to the autonomous auto.

94% of industry survey respondents say actual policy coverage will change 52% saying property coverage will change and 71% expecting coverage to change reflecting costlier vehicle part replacement.  KPMG among the same data found competition for insurance policies will “rev up”.  Niche insurance companies will handle 42% of the market.  New providers falling to 39% of the market and consolidation in store for 29% of the providers.

The number of texting tickets in New York continue to increase in 2015.  According to an article in The Journal News on April 11, 2016 by Joseph Spector, state and local police issued 84,720 tickets for texting while driving in 2015, an 11% increase from 2014.  Distracted driving tickets and talking on a cellphone while driving were down 10% in 2015.  The number of cellphone tickets fell 20% to 132,000 in 2015.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Cuomo and New York legislators have increased fines for texting and penalties and made cell and texting use a primary offense.  The state last year increased the penalty for texting and cellphone use from 3 points on your license to 5 points and increased the fines to $200 on the first offense.  Drivers under 21 with junior licenses can get their license suspended for a first offense.  These changes and increased law enforcement has led to a surge in tickets.  The article points out that in 2013, the State issued 56,000 texting tickets, a 52% increase.  In Westchester, the tickets issued for texting increased by 14%.  In Putnam County, the tickets issued increased from 319 to 368.

We previously blogged on two prior occasions on April 21, 2015 and December 24, 2014 about texting and cellphone use.  In an article published in The Journal News on September 4, 2016 by Denise Lavoie discusses phone use in the U.S.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates nearly 3500 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, up from 3200 in 2014.  The number of deaths from cellphone distraction rose from 406 in 2014 to 476 in 2015.  The article points out that accidents, as a result of cellphone use, are vastly under reported.

Last week we gave you the automobile accident checklist. Today we go into details to the lawyer’s functions in prosecuting a personal injury lawsuit.

Contact tortfeasor’s insurance company

Dealing with the culprit’s insurance company following an accident is frustrating, confusing and leads to the insurance company low balling your case and ending with the injured party recovering for less money. Then, if they hired a personal injury attorney, once you call the Law Offices of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC, we take down in a telephone interview, the facts of the accident and the injuries sustained. We will then have you come into the office to sign up the case and go over the details of the accident and injuries sustained. The injured party, the plaintiff, will sign HIPPA authorizations so we can get copies of all medical records from your treating physicians. We get the list of hospital, doctors and physical therapy places where you have treated. If your treatment has ended with the hospital or doctors, we immediately order your records by writing for them with the HIPPA authorizations. We wait until you finish treating with a particular doctor or rehabilitation facility before ordering the medical records.

A shift in focus has occurred by nursing homes to attract short term care. Rehabilitation facilities are attracting many Medicare patients who are forced to leave hospital as soon as their Medicare for in patient care runs out. After a hip replacement or knee replacement, the patient is pushed out of the hospital where they had their surgery and yet those patients cannot take care of themselves when pushed out of the hospital. As a result of this trend, nursing homes/rehabilitation facilities are going after these patients who are on Medicare for short term care after their hospital stay. The concept is that Medicare pays far more than Medicaid. Most long term care at these nursing homes is paid for by Medicaid at a much lower rate then Medicare. The nursing homes have a very small margin of profit from Medicaid patients so they are going after short term patients on Medicare.

In an article written in The New York Times by Katie Thomas on April 14, 2015, entitled “As Nursing Homes Chase Lucrative Patients, Quality of Care is Said to Lag”. She points out that promises of decadent hot baths on demand, putting greens for golf putting and gurgling waterfalls to calm the mind. The cutthroat race for Medicare dollars leads nursing homes to turn to amenities to lure patients leaving a hospital and in need of short term rehabilitation after an injury or illness. As these nursing homes are investing in luxurious living quarters, the quality of care is strikingly uneven. These nursing homes are not up to the challenge of providing intense medical care. Many are often short on nurses and aides and do not have doctors on staff.

The article points out that the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Inspector General found that 22% of Medicare patients who stayed in a nursing facility for 35 days or less experienced harm as a result of their medical care. An additional 11% suffered temporary injury. The report estimated Medicare spent $2.8 billion on hospital treatment in 2011 because of harm done to these patients in nursing facilities. Dr. Arif Nazir, an associate professor of clinical medicine who studies at Indiana University studies geriatrics and said many patients leave hospitals with acute medical needs before infections have been fully treated. “These patients are leaving the hospital half-cooked”. Competition for these patients has become intense because Medicare pays 84% more for short term patients than nursing homes get from Medicaid for long term care.

We previously wrote about cell phone and texting while driving showing how dangerous it is and resulted in auto accidents. Initially when the law first passed, the police could not write a ticket for cell phone or texting violations without another traffic offense. The New York Legislature, with a very big push from Governor Mario Cuomo, changed the laws and made cell phone and texting while driving a primary offense allowing police to enforce the law with tickets.

In an article in The Journal News on Monday, April 13, 2015, Joseph Spector and HOA Nguyen headlined the paper with an article entitled “u r busted!”. The number of texting while driving tickets increased 35% between 2013 & 2014. The highest increase in texting tickets

was Westchester County where texting tickets surged 50% over the last 2 years. For the rest of New York State, the increase was 15%. Rockland County increased 35%, Putnam County 38% and police gave out more than 75,000 tickets for texting while driving, up from 56,000 in 2013.

In December an article was written in The Journal News about a crash in the Poconos when a 15 year old from Pleasantville, New York was at her parent’s vacation home in Pennsylvania. She was driving her father’s Chevrolet Suburban, lost control and flipped it resulting in 3 15 year old deaths. When the police arrived at the scene, the unlicensed 15 year old driver stated “I was driving too fast, arrest me”. In December, four months after the accident, the driver’s father, Mr. Ware , age 53, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children. Ware’s daughter who also faces her own charges in Juvenile Court told police her father let her drive the vehicle even though she was unlicensed and had given her permission for an earlier solo trip taking her friend to Dunkin Donuts. Mr. Ware’s defense attorney declined to address whether Ware knew his daughter had taken the car. The attorney said that even if Ware had given the teen permission to use the SUV, charging him in the accident is a stretch.

The driver’s 15 year old friend who also lives in Westchester, New York and went on the family road trip to Pennsylvania confirmed the driver’s father walked the two children to the SUV and Ware put in his sandwich order and waved goodbye before the teens drove off. Thus, giving permission for his unlicensed 15 year old daughter to drive his SUV from the Ware summer home in Wallenpaupack Lake Estates. The daughter and her friend went to pick up four other teens before driving to BBQ Pit where surveillance cameras show the group climb into the SUV moments before the crash.

Killed in the accident was a male, fun loving varsity lacrosse player, a basketball and football player and an altar server. Another male was an accomplished athlete who volunteered with Special Olympics. These last two boys were thrown from the vehicle and the third boy was pinned beneath the vehicle. The driver and her girlfriend and a fourth teenage boy survived the crash. The boy told the police he and his friends (now dead) tried to tell Ware’s daughter to slow down prior to the crash. After the crash, Ware told police at the scene he didn’t know his daughter had taken the vehicle which contradicted the story of young girlfriend who survived. Ware’s daughter told police that at the time of the crash, she and her friend “thought they were supposed to say they had the vehicle without the permission so as not to get her father in trouble”.

The months of January & February, 2015 were full of ice storms causing havoc on the roads and a nightmare for pedestrians. The property owner is responsible for cleaning snow and ice off their premises. When a pedestrian falls on snow and ice on a property, the property owner may be liable. The property owner is not automatically responsible to pedestrians. There is no duty of the property owner to keep their premises free of snow and ice during a storm. The property owner must have reasonable time to clear the snow and ice after the storm has stopped. Many municipalities actually have statutes that gives the property owner a set number of hours to clean their property after a storm (i.e. 4 hours, 6 hours, even as much as 12 hours.)

In an article in The Journal News on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 by Bill Cary sets forth “tips for homeowners” listing the kind of salt for icy driveways, sidewalks or decks. The article states many homeowners use rock salt which is terrible for lawns, gardens and trees. Rock salt also eventually makes its way into reservoirs, streams and lakes as storm water runs off. Instead of using rock salt, homeowners should use calcium chloride or “safe salt”. It does not create poisons and it does not eat away at bricks or concrete. The use of sand is also necessary (especially when the temperatures are in the single digits) as other salts do not causing melting but sand can create a coarse surface to make the ice less slippery. A property owner can be held liable to an injured party if they clean the area but do not use sand or salt. This would be considered an incomplete clearing of ice and snow and the injured party can have a successful recovery against the property owner.

This especially applies to commercial properties in parking lots of stores or malls. In most of these cases, the commercial property owner can be held liable along with the snow plowing company if they attempt to clean the area but fail to salt and sand the area. The snowplower can also be held liable for improper removal of snow and ice by making large piles of snow which later melt and refreeze causing icy conditions.

.M. went through great efforts to quickly produce replacement ignition switches for millions of cars under recall. However, the harder part is getting customers into dealerships to get the cars fixed. GM met its October, 2014 goals of having 1.96 million recalled cars. In an article in USA Today – The Journal News by Chris Woodyard points out only 55.7% of owners have had the repairs done by November 20, 2014 leaving 833,630 still to be fixed. The initial flood of customers trying to get recalled cars fixed has dwindled to a trickle.

After barraging customer with letters, e-mails, etc. GM has gone beyond traditional communication to try to reach owners’ Facebook and on line Roku games. This still hasn’t done the job so GM is trying a $25 gift card for owners who bring recalled cars to dealerships by January, 2015. The Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety states it is a lot cheaper to give $25 to a million customers to get the recall done than to pay a $25 million judgment on a recalled vehicle that killed a consumer because the car wasn’t fixed. GM claims that it is not as if the owners don’t know about the recall, 99% are aware. GM representatives Stooke says they just aren’t coming in possibly from the limelight and recall publicity has shifted to Takata’s exploding airbags.

The article points out that the potential danger becomes more apparent by the week as death counts due to switches based on settlement totals put out by GM’s Independent Compensation Administrator, Kenneth Feinberg now totals 35, far above the 13 that GM originally linked to the defective switches.

In an article in the Journal News on December 16, 2014 by Theresa Juva-Brown states that in 2013, 63% of tickets that made their way through New York Courts, 135,738 tickets resulted in guilty as charged convictions. Another 26% of tickets resulted in convictions for other driving violations. The guilty as charged convictions remain high but they have declined since stiffer penalties went into effect in 2013. In 2012, before cell phone violations added 5 points to your license, 72% of tickets processed ended with guilty as charged convictions and 17% resulted in convictions for other driving violations. (Plea down the cell phone ticket). However, now that the 5 points are added to your violations, you get more people fighting the tickets.

The number of cell phone tickets issued is on a downward trend. (Hopefully people are obeying the cell phone laws). During the first seven months of 2014, 152,188 tickets were issued for violating cell phone and texting laws. Before the steeper penalties, people would begrudgingly plead guilty and paid the fines. Now that they are facing up to 5 points, they call a traffic attorney. Without records to show you were not using the phone at the time the ticket was issued or a witness to support your claim of not using the cell phone, the Court will find you guilty. The monetary penalties are also getting steeper. New York State fines to a maximum of $200 for the first offense and up to $450 for three time offenders. In New York City Traffic Court, they will not let you plea to a lesser charge to avoid the highest penalties. Therefore, you have more traffic trials. People getting tickets for the first time are seeing that it’s not just that you can’t talk or text, you need to keep your hands off the phone and on your wheel.

Last month, New York State also tightened penalties for young drivers caught with a handheld electronic device. Drivers under 21 with a texting or talking while driving conviction will have their junior license or permit revoked for 120 days. If they receive a second conviction in six months, their license or permit is suspended for one year.