Category: Automotive

The SUM Bill and Insurance Law

In June 2012, the New York State Legislature passed an amendment to the Insurance Law that would protect car insurance policyholders and their loved ones from injuries caused by uninsured and underinsured drivers. The SUM bill requires that a driver’s SUM insurance limit match their liability coverage — unless the driver chooses to decline the cost of the added protection. The amendment was later vetoed by Governor Cuomo in December 2012.

In New York State, drivers are currently required to carry 25/50/10 in bodily injury and property damage liability on their policy. This means that $25,000 is the maximum amount payable for bodily injury per person; $50,000 is the maximum payable per accident; and $10,000 is the maximum payable for property damage including the other driver’s vehicle as well as street signs, buildings, light posts, etc.

If an accident is deemed your fault, in theory your insurance policy will compensate any parties injured by your carelessness. The problem occurs when the negligent party has little or no insurance on the car. Often the most dangerous drivers have low policies because risk-factors (including previous accidents, speeding citations and DWIs) have given them high premium rates. Others are just trying to save money by lowering their insurance coverage; NY is 4th in the nation for auto insurance costs according to a 2013 report by the Insurance Information Institute.

Whatever the reason, many individuals are paying the minimum of $25,000 – hardly enough to cover a serious accident. In 2010, the National Safety Council reported the average cost of an accident with disabling injuries is over $70,000. SUM (Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist) coverage allows individuals to “supplement” the insurance of negligent drivers who cause an accident. For example, if the victim has liability coverage of $100,000 with SUM benefits while the driver at fault has the state minimum of $25,000, the latter would be considered “underinsured.” The victim could then receive the $25,000 from the negligent driver’s insurance company as well as $75,000 from their own. Such was the case in a 2012 lawsuit that energized the issues surrounding SUM insurance. In June 2010, 24-year old Johns Hopkins graduate Kaitlynn Fisher was killed in an intersection collision in Baltimore, Maryland. Fisher’s estate asserted a liability claim against the driver and her own insurer, Progressive, for compensation and SUM benefits. Progressive declined to pay out the benefits claiming that Kaitlynn was the negligent party, thereby creating a highly-publicized controversy. A lawsuit against the surviving driver determined that Kaitlynn was not the negligent party and the case was eventually settled.

In August 2012, a New York Times article referred to the incident as “The Auto Insurance Case That Blew Up on the Internet.” Aside from being a PR nightmare for Progressive insurance, the case also caused many officials and individuals to take a closer look at car insurance and policyholders’ understanding of it – particularly with regard to SUM coverage. The law remains that insurance companies do not have to offer more than the state required minimum of $25,000 unless a policy holder requests more body liability coverage. The new amendment would have required insurers to provide increased SUM coverage matching the chosen liability limits, though individuals could opt to decline it via a waiver or statement. In lieu of Governor Cuomo’s decision, a debate over whether the amendment protects responsible motorists or is unfair to consumers continues. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) says the amendment keeps taxes low for New Yorkers because underinsured drivers will not have to rely on benefits like Medicaid. Others, including The New York Public Interest Research Group praise it for potentially reducing auto fraud by medical companies who have a history of excessive billing, while United Policyholder (UP) feels it encourages people to be more financially literate and take more interest in how their coverage works. The bill’s sponsors are currently moving on a modified bill to address the governor’s concerns.

Opponents of the amendment like Governor Cuomo and the group New Yorkers Stand Against Insurance Fraud believe the law will unfairly increase insurance rates for NY drivers who already pay more than the national average. The governor stated in his veto message that “consumers should be free to choose what level of SUM coverage makes sense to them” and should not have to “affirmatively opt-out of such coverage.”

Despite the debate, many drivers remain unaware that SUM coverage exists. For a comparatively small premium (usually around $50-$100 per year) SUM coverage can protect those involved in an accident from the low insurance policies of negligent drivers. If an individual is injured by a driver with no insurance, an expired policy, a stolen car or a hit and run, SUM insurance will be their only compensation. The founder of UP, Amy Bach, points out that while awareness is low and insurers undersell SUM coverage, if drivers knew about it they would likely opt for it as a “common-sense” addition to their policy.

The mission of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association is “To promote a safer and healthier society, to assure access to the civil justice system by those who are wrongfully injured and to advance representation of the public by ethical, well-trained lawyers.” Okun Oddo & Babat partner, David Oddo is an active member of the NYSTLA.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd. copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Pedestrians & Bicyclists Injured by East Village Driver

Manhattan’s East Village was the scene of an auto accident in front of a Bodega that caused severe personal injuries and the driver of the vehicle in police custody. According to a New York Times article eight people were injured, three of them with life-threatening injuries. The accident also caused property damage to the storefront  and street. Continue reading “Pedestrians & Bicyclists Injured by East Village Driver”

Alcohol-Related Accidents, Injuries & Fatalities

Few errors in judgment affect others so detrimentally as drunk driving. When an individual makes the decision to drink and drive, they put everyone on the road in danger including other drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians.

In New York State, a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle can be considered legally impaired if their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) exceeds 0.05%. Once their BAC is 0.08% or greater, they are considered legally intoxicated.

In 2011, drunk drivers caused approximately 10,000 deaths in the United States with 315 fatalities occurring in New York State. According to MADD, every 2 minutes someone is hurt in an alcohol-related accident, with injuries including minor bumps and bruises, broken bones or trauma to the neck, brain and spinal cord. 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lives.

Young people are most at risk of being involved with drivers 21 to 24 years of age most likely to be intoxicated during a fatal crash. Most states have a zero tolerance policy for underage drivers. Other common offenders are motorcyclists and drivers who have previous convictions for drunk driving. While a majority of DWI arrests involve men, a report by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation reveals that DUI and DWI arrests for women rose nearly 30% from 2000-2010. In total, there were 35,541 arrests in 2011 in New York related to driving under the influence.

Drunk drivers tend to take greater risks than sober drivers
including driving aggressively, speeding, ignoring traffic signals
or even falling asleep at the wheel. The NYC police department reports that every month about 100 traffic accidents involve alcohol.
These can be especially deadly due to heavy rush hour traffic, road construction and scores of pedestrians on the road.

While the criminal justice system will punish drunk driving with jail sentences, heavy fines and fees, license suspension and/or treatment programs, it may fail to fully address the financial burden the accident and resultant injuries have on innocent victims.

Many choose to pursue a civil action against the parties responsible. This may not just involve the intoxicated driver. In some instances, bar or restaurant owners who over-serve customers, hosts of social gatherings or employers at work-related events who allow a clearly intoxicated person to leave in their car may also have some liability. Medical bills, repair of damages, loss of wages and wrongful death compensation are just some of the costs that may be recoverable from those responsible.

Okun, Oddo & Babat specializes in the representation of victims who have suffered serious personal injuries. We represent accident victims in all areas of personal injury arising out of automobile accidents, medical malpractice, hospital negligence, defective products and drugs, premises liability, construction site accidents and wrongful death. We handle civil litigation and trials in both the State and Federal Courts. We also offer high quality representation in all types of criminal and commercial matters. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our New York attorneys.

Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd.
copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.

Motor Vehicles Injuries Are The Leading Cause of Injury Related Death in New York State

The New York State Department of Health website states that Motor vehicles traffic injuries are “the leading cause of injury related death, second leading cause of injury related hospitalizations and third leading cause for injury related emergency department visits in New York State.” Studies available on the website and through links provided there indicate specific incidence, risk factors and societal costs for traffic crashes and injuries as well as safety tips to avoid such injuries.

Slick spots on the road caused by rain, snow, freezing temperatures can in many cases be the cause of accidents. Driver distraction, using handheld mobile devices while driving are another unfortunate cause of accidents today. Unfortunately reckless driving accidents occur every day. If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident and suffered personal or property injury, or wrongful death through the fault of someone else, contact us right away for a consultation. We will evaluate the circumstances, educate you on your legal rights and if necessary pursue prompt, fair and just compensation that may be due you as a result of the negligence or recklessness of others. Please call Okun, Oddo & Babat at 212-642-0950 or you may email us.

Roadway Conditions and Auto Accidents

Automobile accidents are caused by a number of circumstances ranging from driver neglect, impairment or recklessness, to roadway conditions involving weather, construction, obstructions or other circumstances. Unfortunately, automobile accidents happen every day and regardless of the circumstances, and even if you are only mildly injured, it is important that you call the police from the scene of the accident, and later obtain a copy of the official police report. Often the police officer may site opinion on who was at fault in such cases where there is clear evidence to determine the cause. This will help you in working toward receiving a settlement from your insurance company. In other situations, there may be no clear explanation and the underlaying causes are not very evident. When a roadway or roadway-related accident occurs, in addition to a police report and depending on the complexity of the circumstances, an accident survey should be additionally conducted, if possible, immediately following the accident, before debris is removed and traffic proceeds in the area. In some circumstances, law enforcement officials are equipped to quickly and accurately document the scene. In some cases, independent land surveyors or engineers may also be hired to assess factors relating to curves and grades in the road that may be a contributing factor. Measurements can be taken and scene mapping can be done as a means of determining if roadway defects or design flaws could be contributing factors to the accident. Forensic engineers are familiar with design regulations and maintenance requirements.  Injuries and property damages may make your case more complex. It may be in your best interest to hire an accident attorney before filing your claim. At Okun, Oddo & Babat, regardless of the circumstances, we are equipped to evaluate your accident case and potentially help you recover the highest compensation possible. Contact us for a courtesy evaluation.

House Committee Approves Auto Safety Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an auto safety bill where “automakers would be required to meet new safety standards to prevent unintended acceleration in vehicles” as well as “new rules for brake override systems and vehicle black boxes and tougher penalties for slowing down a recall. ”AP(5/26, Thomas).” The Washington Post (5/27, Whoriskey) reports that the bill seeks to make the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s oversight “more aggressive” and would prohibit NHTSA employees from lobbying activities, on behalf of automakers, within a year of their employment. Okun,Oddo & Babat will continue to monitor this bill, and will provide updates on its progress.

Compromise in Auto Safety Bill

The Washington Post (6/8, Kindy) reports that a “series of compromises” between Congress and the auto industry over the auto safety bill that will force the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) “to set and enforce stricter standards,” citing “weaknesses” in NHTSA’s oversight of automakers. The bill, which could see action in both the House and the Senate this week, would compel NHTSA “to set standards for the first time on electric components in vehicles, increase penalties for automakers who lie or mislead the agency about safety defects and bar agency officials hired by automakers from working with the agency for three years.” The Post further reports that earlier drafts of the bill have been softened after auto industry groups complained that its deadlines were unrealistic. Okun, Oddo & Babat will continue to update you on this very important bill.