February 5, 2016

Peer-to-Peer Car Services: Who is Liable?

d53DJFQR.jpgModern technology and creative innovation have led to the rise of a "sharing economy" in the United States today. There are peer-to-peer vacation rental services (such as AirBnb), peer-to-peer businesses (such as Ebay), and perhaps the most controversial of all: peer-to-peer car services. These dynamics are all relatively new, and very few details have been established as to who holds liability for whatever may go wrong. The very question has the potential to incite an entire series of debates, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to discuss car-sharing specifically.

There's no denying that this model has caught on like wildfire, especially in larger cities and even more so on weekends and holidays. It makes sense. It's affordable and incredibly easy to access. However, making the decision to offer your vehicle up as a form of public transportation is seriously risky business. On the other side of the same coin, what happens if you are involved in a car wreck while you are riding as a passenger in one of these vehicles? Who will be held responsible for compensating you for your injuries? These are the questions that ride-sharers have failed to consider, and in just a few short years, we've seen an unfathomable number of conflicts arise as a direct result. (This fatal collision in Boston, for example, or this 6-year old child who died after being hit by a negligent Uber driver in San Francisco).

Insurance Concerns for Drivers
Ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft carry insurance for their drivers. That is, the insurance becomes effective when the passenger is picked up and deactivates when the passenger is dropped off at his or her destination. Sounds legitimate, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, there have been numerous reports of drivers being involved in accidents while "on call" for the service but while no passenger was in the vehicle. If this happens, you're on your own. In any case, you need to have the fine print reviewed by someone who understands that level of legalese. If you're thinking that your policy has been written in intentionally confusing language, you would be correct. That's a common tactic that you should be watching out for.

Keep in mind that these blanket policies are written in favor of the insurance company itself. Their secondary concern is for their client, the ridesharing company. You are the very least of their concern.

Finally, because these policies are often considered secondary to your own private car insurance, you may want to check with your insurance provider about what would happen if you needed to file a claim related to ridesharing. Many providers will deny coverage based on these circumstances.

Understanding Your Role as a Peer-to-Peer Driver for Hire
These companies are led by some very clever individuals. Not only do they refuse to classify themselves as a car service (these businesses are considered web-based services - a mobile app, to be precise), but they also have an employment structure that has been designed to insulate them from taxes and civil liability.

You are technically an "independent contractor" when you offer your vehicle to your peers using this service. That is a total game changer, folks. To put it plainly, in the event of a collision, you will be held solely responsible for damages. Do not accept this level of liability unless you clearly understand the risks and are willing to accept them.
If you have been in a collision involving a peer-to-peer car service, you need to speak with an experienced auto accident attorney who can help you navigate these very murky waters. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

February 3, 2016

New Laws That Took Effect in Mississippi on January 1st, 2016

file3441297827352.jpgIt happens every year. On January 1st, hundreds of new laws become effective in various places across the country. Mississippi is no exception to this, and when our calendars rolled over into 2016, we welcomed all sorts of new changes, ranging from health insurance policies to gun control. Here is a quick overview of new laws that took effect in Mississippi on January 1, 2016:

Changes to Regulations Governing Concealed Carry Permits

As of this year, not only will permit fees be waived for honorably retired law enforcement officers, but gun permits must clearly state that they are former officers of the law. This includes retired prison guards, as well. Again, they must have left the force on good terms in order to enjoy this benefit.
To learn more, see Senate Bill 2394

Changes Encouraging the Hiring of Veterans

If you are a business owner and you hire a veteran to work for you, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $2,000. The catch is that the vet must have served in the U.S. military after September 1, 2001, and he or she must have been honorably discharged. This credit is granted per veteran you hire, and it repeats for up to 5 consecutive years for each. The benefit will cut off when you reach a cumulative total of $1 Million for all of the veterans you hire.
To learn more, see House Bill 33

Changes Affecting Health Insurance

The insurance industry changes so constantly, it's hard to keep up! This year, we have two specific changes: one affecting cancer medications, and the other deals with autism diagnoses. Health care plans are now required to cover autism spectrum disorder screening, diagnosis, and treatment. They are also now prohibited from dropping your coverage if a member of your family is diagnosed with the disorder.
To learn more, see House Bill 885

Where cancer medications are concerned, insurance providers are now limited in the additional co-pays and deductibles that they can ask you to pay for cancer treatment. You will now pay the same amount of money for your self-administered cancer medication as you do for the medication that is administered by your doctor (in a hospital or clinical setting).
To learn more, see House Bill 952

Changes Affecting State and County Institutions
Four new circuit judgeships and three new chancery judgeships were created this year. The new judges were elected in November 2015, and they took office on January 1st, per House Bill 703. Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol troopers and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents were granted pay raises, as mandated by Senate Bill 2500. Finally, Senate Bill 2303 says that the superintendent is now appointed, rather than elected.

These new Mississippi laws are diverse and have been met with varying opinions. If you have questions about how these laws affect you, contact the Coxwell and Associates team today.

January 30, 2016

The Dos and Don'ts of Car Insurance Claims

unsplash 2.jpgAutomobile accidents are one of the leading causes of personal injury claims in the United States today. If you've ever been in an accident, you know that it can become quite a hassle. Fortunately, minor incidents (such as that parking lot "fender bender") can usually be resolved between the drivers involved. However, larger collisions with significant injuries or property damage will almost always require the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Regardless of the magnitude of your collision, there are some universal "dos and don'ts" that you should keep in mind if you've had a run-in with another driver. Here are just a few of them:

DO call law enforcement immediately. No matter the size of your accident, you need to have an official third party there, and this is something that the police do every day. You will need their documentation for your insurance company, and should you need to pursue this in court, you will need it there, as well.

DO take as many photos and write down as much information as possible. Even if your accident only involves one side of the vehicle, take photos or video of the entire car from every angle. Do that for both vehicles involved. If you think that you are distracted in all of the mayhem, take a photo of the other driver's license, rather than trusting your ability to jot that information down correctly. Finally, make sure that you leave with a copy of your official police report.

DO NOT admit fault, even if you are clearly the cause of the accident.

DO NOT attempt to speak with your insurance provider until you are sure that you understand your insurance policy. If the policy is too complex for you, speak with your agent first (without mentioning the accident). Ask for a plain-text explanation, and if you can do so in email, that's a great way to get your explanation in writing. Once you understand your coverage, call the provider to report your accident and follow through.

DO NOT provide any written or formal statements to your insurance company without first speaking with your attorney. DO NOT allow them to record your conversation. DO NOT sign any type of release or waiver without first having it reviewed by your attorney.

DO act quickly if you have been in a car accident. Insurance policies have time limits for reporting, and in terms of civil lawsuits (should you need to file one), there are statutes that limit the amount of time you have to take the other party to court.

If you are unsure about how you should proceed after an automobile accident, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

Image courtesy of Mari Helin-T.

January 27, 2016

Why You Should Never Flee the Scene of an Accident

unsplash 1.jpgExperiencing a car accident is bad enough on its own, but unfortunately, the trouble doesn't stop there. At the very least you need to exchange information with the other people involved in the accident. Unfortunately, hit-and-run accidents occur daily, and they are extremely detrimental to the victims. There is an obvious moral issue with failing to take responsibility for the damage you have caused, but what about the legal ramifications? Here are just a few of the reasons why you should never flee the scene of a car accident:

It is a crime.

...and being convicted of a crime is expensive. If you don't think a "hit and run" is a big deal, you're absolutely wrong. A ticket for leaving the scene can result in either felony or misdemeanor charges, depending on the details of your particular case. At the very least, you can expect some pretty hefty fines. The other monetary consequence is obviously going to come in the form of restitution to your victim.

You could find yourself behind bars.

In addition to the financial expense, imagine what would happen if your case is severe enough to warrant jail time? That's certainly a possibility, especially if someone suffers significant injuries or death as a result of your carelessness. If someone has died in your hit-and-run, you will very likely be charged with a felony, which could mean a sentence of up to 20 years in jail, in some cases.

You won't be going anywhere for a while.

...because your license may be suspended or revoked. Can you imagine being permanently dependent upon others every time you want to go somewhere? Even if you are brave enough to attempt driving after your license has been revoked, you may not have a vehicle to drive. In some cases, vehicles involved in a hit-and-run are impounded (which also added to the financial expense, by way of daily impound and storage fees).

You can be sure that you will be sued.

Any person who has been the victim of a hit-and-run is going to contact their attorney right away. They are also going to contact law enforcement. It would be silly not to. They will pursue you, and in this age of sophisticated technology, it is very likely that you will be found. When they find you, unless you are immediately able to reimburse your victim for any personal injuries and property damage, you can expect to see them in court.

If you have been on either end of a hit-and-run accident, you should speak with an attorney right away. The longer you wait, the more trouble you will have being compensated for the damages. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation. Let us handle all of the complexities of your case, while you focus on getting well and getting back to doing the things that you enjoy most.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

Image courtesy of Elly Filho

January 22, 2016

What We Can Learn From Making a Murderer

Making_A_Murderer.jpgWhen the docudrama, Making a Murderer, hit Netflix on December 18, it was an instant hit. The show was filmed over ten years and sheds light on some of the shortcomings of the American justice system. Specifically, it outlines how the Manitowoc County, Wisconsin justice system failed one of its local citizens, Steven Avery. Unfortunately, like many criminal cases, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered.

In a recent interview published on Yahoo News, it was explained that there is significant evidence in this case that we (the viewers) were not aware of. Many of the individuals who were involved maintain that the evidence falsely depicts Mr. Avery as innocent. Here is the evidence that, according to the article, was not included in the documentary:

  • There was more DNA found in the car. In addition to the blood that we know was smeared on the vehicle's interior, there was sweat found under the hood of the car, which was determined to belong to Steven Avery.

  • Suspicious items, including arm and leg restraints, were found at the Avery home, which were not included in the documentary.

  • Viewers were informed that a bullet with the victim's DNA was found in Avery's garage. What was not explained is that the bullet had been confiscated by police in November 2005. The possibility of it having been planted prior to being "confiscated" is pretty strong.

  • Regardless of the evidence that was used in this case, the key point that is being made by these filmmakers is that there are holes in the American justice system that are simply not acceptable. It's such a travesty that the public has watched this film and reacted in sheer outrage.

    There are currently petitions requesting a presidential pardon for Mr. Avery. On Change.org, one petition has garnered over 100,000 signatures. Another 18,000 names can be found on the petition posted at Whitehouse.gov. The hacktivist organization, Anonymous, has even committed itself to proving Mr. Avery's innocence. Clearly, these criminal justice shortcomings are something that our citizens feel very strongly about.

    The team at Coxwell & Associates also feels very strongly about protecting the freedom of innocent citizens. Our criminal justice system exists for a reason, and it is certainly a necessary part of our society. However, there is no question that flaws exist. Having erroneous charges brought against you for a crime that you did not commit is something that can change your life forever. It's not something that we, as a society, should simply overlook.

    If you have been accused of a crime, the first step you need to take is to contact an attorney. If you have been charged or arrested, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    Image Courtesy of WP:NFCC#4 via Wikipedia

    January 16, 2016

    What You Need to Know About Premises Liability

    caution tape.jpgWhen someone enters your home or a property that you own, they almost always assume that it is safe to do so. This is a pretty reasonable assumption; your guests are not going to stop and ask about any potential hazards before they knock on your door. Your obligation to provide a relatively safe environment for visitors falls under what we refer to as "premises liability". As you may have guessed, this area of the law is extremely broad. After all, any number of things could happen on your property.

    "Slip and Fall" Accidents in Commercial Establishments

    Perhaps the most notorious type of premises liability lawsuits are of the "slip and fall" variety. We've all heard the story a million times, but as an example, say someone slips in the grocery store as a result of a spill was never wiped up. Were the grocery store staff alerted that there was a spill? Did management place a "wet floor" sign at the site of the incident that went ignored by the victim? Essentially, this will boil down to what measures were taken to rectify the situation and whether or not the victim acted reasonably.

    Although these cases have become the subject of more than a few jokes, there is a very real concern with this. Shop owners and managers have a duty of care to the customers who enter their stores. You shouldn't have to worry about suffering some sort of injury every time you go shopping. It's expected that these people are doing whatever they can to maintain a safe environment for you, their patrons.

    Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters

    A similar duty of care exists on rental properties. When you pay to live in an apartment or other rental home, it should be safe for you and your family. This obligation is generally well understood by all parties, but should also be expressly stated in your lease agreement. In most cases, landlords will be solely responsible for the property they own. However, there are some cases where they will attempt to mitigate their own duties and responsibilities by hiring a property manager or property management firm.
    In cases that involve property managers, there is a pretty complex dynamic at play. Property managers are liable to both the landlord and the renter. The possibilities here are limitless. The most obvious example would be if the property manager knows of a potential hazard, but fails to address it or notify the landlord, you wouldn't sue the landlord. The property manager would be the one who neglected his or her duty of care.
    Another fact about rental properties that is often forgotten is that as a renter, you may also be liable for certain aspects of the premises. Particularly, your own rental unit should be maintained reasonably well while you're living there. If your guests enter and are injured due to your own neglect, you will be held liable (not your landlord).

    Negligent Security

    Did you know that businesses are required to take certain security measures to protect you? If a business knows that its customers are at risk of falling victim to a violent crime, they should take extra precautions, such as hiring security guards, installing security cameras, securing entrances and exits, or anything else it takes to keep you safe. If you are robbed or assaulted in a public establishment with poor security, the business owner may be at fault.

    A good example of this is a case that was litigated by Coxwell & Associated involving Martez Smith and the Remington Hunt Club in Hattiesburg, MS. Mr. Smith suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of being shot on the club's property. The allegations were that the club had hired security guards with no training and provided them with no procedural guidelines to follow. Background checks were not performed on prospective employees, and as a result, many of the club's staff members were involved in gang-related activity. All of this, along with the fact that similar criminal activity had occurred at the club in the past, meant that this incident was both foreseeable and preventable. A duty of care had obviously been neglected, and the case was settled.

    The Status of Visitors to Your Property

    If you are (or will soon be) on either end of a premises liability lawsuit, you should understand that a property's visitors may be classified in a few different ways. If you have invited a person into your home, we say this person is an invitee. The term invitee also applied to customers in a business; they may not have received a formal invitation, but their presence was both welcome and expected.

    If someone enters your property for their own purpose, and you don't mind their presence, you may refer to this as a licensee. Examples of licensees may include a mail courier or delivery driver. Another term, social guest, is quite similar to a licensee. A social guest is a welcome (but unexpected) visitor who has come for mutual personal reasons.

    Trespassers are the only category that would truly be considered unwelcome. These are people who have entered your property without any right to do so, and it's also worth mentioning that trespassing is illegal.

    Licensees and trespassers take their personal safety into their own hands when they enter your property. You have made no promises to them, and there is no reason for them to assume that the premises has been made safe for their entry.

    As you can see, these cases can be quite complex. If you are on either side of this situation, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible about the details of your individual case. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation. Let us handle all of the complexities of determining liability, while you focus on getting well and getting back to doing the things that you enjoy most.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    Photo Credit: bcostin via Compfight cc

    January 13, 2016

    What To Do If You've Been in an Accident with an Uninsured Motorist

    car wreck 5.jpgAny type of car accident is frustrating, but car accidents involving uninsured motorists are even more exasperating. There is no guarantee that the other person will pay for damages, especially considering that they are not even willing to pay for the minimum state-mandated liability insurance. If your accident is severe enough that you require extensive medical attention or lose time from work, those expenses will almost certainly go unreimbursed. That is, unless you speak with a personal injury lawyer about filing a lawsuit against the uninsured driver (and it is determined that you have a viable case).

    How is it possible for motorists to drive without insurance?

    In Mississippi, as well as most other states, drivers are required to carry a certain level of liability insurance in order to register their vehicle. They may pay for any amount of coverage that is permitted by the provider (usually in increments of 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months). Many times, if these vehicle owners have a tight budget, they will pay for the minimum duration. So, the policy may expire after 3 months, for example, while registration lasts for one year. A lot can happen in that 9 month time difference.

    What should I do if I've been hit by an uninsured motorist?

    At the scene of the accident, you shouldn't treat this any differently than you would any other type of collision. Collect as much information as possible. Write down the other driver's information exactly as it is listed on his or her license, and ask a third party to check your notes for accuracy. Write down the vehicle's tag number, make, model, and any distinguishing characteristics. Request a police report. Take photos of both vehicles from every angle.

    It's when you leave the scene that things will be handled differently. Rather than speaking with an insurance provider, you should speak with your attorney. Don't wait to see if the other driver will pay for damages. At the very least, request that a demand letter be sent to the uninsured motorist's home as quickly as possible. While your attorney is handling that, collect quotes from your mechanic and/or body shop for the anticipated repairs. If you have received medical attention, save all of the documents that have been provided by your doctor or hospital, especially billing statements. You'll need those if you expect to be reimbursed.

    Statistics You Need to Know

    The possibility of being hit by an uninsured motorist is not that far-fetched. According to the Insurance Information Institute, approximately 12.6% of all drivers in the United States are driving without insurance. That figure doesn't seem like much, until you narrow it down to our state, specifically. In Mississippi, 23% of drivers are uninsured. That's almost a quarter of our drivers! In fact, we have the third highest percentage in the nation, only falling behind Florida (23.8%) and Oklahoma (25.9%). With that in mind, it pays to be prepared for anything when you get behind the wheel.

    If you have been hit by an uninsured motorist, DO NOT WAIT. You need to begin working toward a settlement as soon as possible. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC today at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    January 9, 2016

    Understanding Gross Negligence

    negligence2.jpgIn every society, there is what is known as the "standard of care". There may not be any formal written declaration, but it comes in the form of social expectations. The underlying concept is that there is a certain level of attention or caution or prudence that a reasonable person would exercise in a given situation. If you put yourself in a situation that requires a certain level of caution, there then exists what we refer to as "duty of care".

    In an earlier blog post, we explained that duty of care is most often implied as part of a given role. For example, the standard of care for a bus driver is that he or she will obey traffic laws and safely deliver passengers to their destination. The person who accepts a job as a bus driver has a duty to uphold this implied standard of care. It's never discussed, but it goes without saying that we expect bus drivers to practice safe driving habits.

    As we've explained before, if a person's actions do not meet the express or implied standards of care, we refer to this as negligence. This can apply to anything that has the potential to harm another person. Negligence may be classified as criminal or civil in nature. Below are some common examples of each.

    Examples of Criminal Negligence

    Every state has its own definition of criminal negligence. Anyone convicted of criminal negligence could possibly be facing jail time.

    • Driving drunk could be an instance of criminal negligence.
    • Discharging a weapon at a crowded group of people could lead to criminal negligence.
    • Texting and driving and most other forms of grossly reckless driving could lead to criminal negligence.

    Examples of Civil Negligence

    If you do something that causes harm to another person, the victim may sue you. This is often referred to simply as "civil liability".

    • A person knowingly allows an aggressive dog to be around a small child, and the dog bites the child.
    • A company releases a dangerous drug to market without fully exploring all of the potential side effects.
    • A store employee mops the floor in an area that is accessible to customers, but fails to put out a "wet floor" sign.

    How is Gross Negligence Different?

    The glaring difference between negligence and gross negligence is that the latter is so gross and wanton that the law looks upon it as tantamount or equal to intentional conduct. With negligence, the guilty party has simply failed to meet a given expectation. With gross negligence, the guilty party willfully ignored expectations and did so with complete disregard for the well-being of others.

    For instance, in the earlier example of the drug company releasing a dangerous drug, it would be considered gross negligence if the company did, in fact, test for side effects, but failed to list them for consumers. The idea in this scenario is that intentionally withholding information is far worse than simply never knowing.

    That is really the root of gross negligence. It is a more serious crime than simple carelessness or ignorance. With gross negligence, the guilty party knows that people are likely to be injured by his or her failure to meet the standard of care, but chooses to act recklessly anyway.

    If you have become the victim of gross negligence, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC today at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.
    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    Photo Credit: Mic445 via Compfight cc

    January 6, 2016

    Common Tactics Used by Insurance Companies to Avoid Paying Your Claim

    insurance (1).jpgThe average American spends thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars per year on various types of insurance. There is automobile insurance, homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance, professional liability insurance, health insurance, vision and dental insurance, disability insurance, and the list could go on. You can be sure that insurance companies will capitalize on anything that carries even the smallest chance of loss or liability.

    So, when something goes wrong and you need to file a claim, it's absolutely reasonable to expect your insurance company to keep their end of your mutual agreement. After all, you continue to uphold your end of the bargain every month when you pay your premium. Unfortunately, because large losses happen relatively rarely in an individual's lifetime, most people are not particularly well-versed in the way that insurance providers operate. There's no question that those companies are taking advantage of your ignorance; they have a significant amount of money on the line.

    If you're going to try to level the playing field, it's important to understand the most common tactics used by insurance companies in order to avoid paying your claim:

    Refusing to investigate a claim.
    In order for your claim to be paid, it must be confirmed to be legitimate. In some cases, such as with auto accidents, you may also need to prove which party was at fault. There may be any number of factors that need to be explored, but if the insurance company refused to look into it, you may be denied payment.

    Refusing payment on a legitimate claim.
    Even if the claim has been found to be legitimate, the company may still refuse to pay. It is certainly not unheard of for a verifiable claim to go without reimbursement. In some cases, an insurance company will simply issue a very general denial without any clear explanation. Oftentimes, frustrated consumers will simply accept this as the final say, which is exactly what they hope you will do.

    Delaying your claim until it dies out.
    Delaying claims is another common tactic employed by insurance providers, and it is surprisingly effective. Policyholders simply become exhausted with the process of chasing after the insurance company for answers or payment. Even worse, there have been cases where, with the knowledge that the insured is terminally ill, long-term care insurers delay claims until patient death.

    Intentionally confusing you, the policyholder.
    The contract(s) that you sign in order to put your policy into effect are intentionally dense and difficult to comprehend. These companies know that you need insurance (and in many cases, are required by law to have it), and they know that you will probably sign whatever document is required in order to activate your coverage. So, when the time comes to file a claim, you may find that you inadvertently signed something that was not exactly in your favor. The fact that you do not fully understand what is and is not covered under your policy puts you at a disadvantage, and these companies are notorious for capitalizing on that.

    These tactics are all very shameful and fall under what is known as "insurance bad faith". An insurance company is said to be engaged in bad faith activities when it fails to treat insured people in a fair and reasonable manner. This is a very serious wrongdoing, and you do have options for legal recourse. You need to speak to an attorney about your individual case, but in many cases, bad faith insurance companies may be liable for fraud or intentionally causing emotional distress. You may be entitled to recover punitive damages.

    If you are facing difficulties with an insurance claim, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC today at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    December 29, 2015

    What is Malicious Prosecution?

    file0001305562393.jpgWhen someone is wrongfully charged and prosecuted for a crime, what are the consequences? We're fortunate to live in a nation that provides extensive protection for our personal liberties. Where malicious prosecution is concerned, there are two particulars that you should know about:

    • The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you and your property from unreasonable seizure, meaning without a warrant. It also states that a warrant will not be issued without probable cause.

    • The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that you have a right to your life, your liberty, and your property, and none of those things can be taken from you without due process.

    If action was taken against you without probable cause and with the intent to cause personal injury, we refer to that as "malice" in legal terms. At the very core of this issue is the other person's desire to take away your liberty, which is illegal, according to the fourteenth amendment.

    This type of situation can cause a wide variety of complications for the person on the receiving end. You'll probably miss time from work, incur legal fees, and experience a variety of other financial consequences. You may also experience problems that have nothing to do with your finances, such as harm to your personal reputation and strain on your relationships with your loved ones.

    If you have found yourself in this situation, you should know that you have options for recourse. You don't have to simply accept the damage that has been done to your personal and professional life. Speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

    Malicious Prosecution as it Relates to the Prosecutor of Your Case

    When someone has been incorrectly accused of committing a crime, it's natural for that person to feel hurt and angry. For most people in this situation, it's not enough to know that the arrest and prosecution records have been wiped clean. One very frequently asked question is "can I sue the prosecution for filing charges against me?"

    The answer to that question depends heavily on the details of your specific case. As a general rule, however, filing suit against a district attorney (or similar government attorney) is an extremely challenging task. That's not to say it's an insurmountable task, but the lawyer in question would have to have committed a very egregious offense.

    Malicious Prosecution Can Be a Form of Police Misconduct

    As soon as a police officer charges or arrests you for committing a crime, prosecution has been initiated. It's extremely important that you understand this, for a number of reasons. You should also know your rights if you do find yourself in this situation.

    First and foremost, know that if you ask to leave and you are not permitted to do so, then you have been arrested. This is true even if you are not actually being charged with a crime. If you are detained without good reason (which should be very clearly explained to you), you may be experiencing what is known as false imprisonment. While false imprisonment is a separate issue, the underlying concept does support your malicious prosecution case.

    Again, prosecution begins as soon as you are arrested; if that prosecution began without justifiable cause, you may be able to argue that you have been maliciously prosecuted.

    Malicious prosecution involving law enforcement might also fall under Federal Civil Rights 42 U.S.C. 1983, which states that anyone who deprives you of your rights and privileges as a Unites States citizen will be held liable for the damage that is done to your personal life.

    You can find options for recourse in state court, as well. For example, you may have a valid state court claim if a store owner or security guard has taken action against you for theft in the absence of probable cause and with the purpose of harming you in some way. Another state court action that you should be aware of in this situation is Abuse of Process, because it often goes hand in hand with malicious prosecution cases.

    The fact that you have successfully defended yourself against criminal charges does not automatically mean that you have been maliciously prosecuted. If there was even a remotely viable reason for officers and the prosecution to believe that you had committed the crime, you will not be successful in bringing a civil suit against them.

    If you believe that charges have been brought against you with the purpose of intentionally harming you, it's best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    December 23, 2015

    The Basics of Vehicular Manslaughter

    auto accident.jpgVehicular manslaughter, also sometimes known as "vehicular homicide", occurs when an auto accident has caused the death of another person, and the driver was negligent in some way. This might mean that the driver was speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or disobeying any other traffic law. Essentially, the driver was reckless while behind the wheel, and another person died as a result.

    In Mississippi, reckless driving is defined as "any person who drives any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." This definition applies to all vehicles that would normally be found on a public roadway (for example, cars, trucks, 18-wheelers, etc.).

    Driving While Intoxicated | Driving Under the Influence

    If you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of an accident that caused the death of another person, you may be dealing with an even more complex issue. By their very nature, these two charges often go hand in hand. You may hear this referred to as "DUI Manslaughter", "DUI Homicide", or some other combination of these terms.

    Sentencing for those who are convicted of DUI Manslaughter may include:

    • No less than 5 years in prison and as much as 25 years
    • Up to $10,000 in fines

    Keep in mind that this is for each person who died as a result of the accident. If multiple people were in the accident with you, and all of them died, you will be charged for each one.

    These penalties are very severe, especially when you consider that this is not a truly violent crime, but one of negligence. Unfortunately, this is one of those mistakes that many people spend a large portion of their lives paying for.

    In Mississippi, the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is 0.08%. If you are caught driving at this level or higher, you will most certainly be charged with a DUI. The thing you need to understand, however, is that you do not have to actually test at any given BAC level to be charged. If you're showing signs of being under the influence of any substance, you can be arrested for what is known as Common Law DUI. The only thing that has to happen in this situation is that an officer says you are drunk strictly based on your behavior; this is a very common occurrence. Remember that you do not have to be truly drunk to be considered "under the influence".

    DUI arrests that do not involve alcohol are also becoming increasingly more common. If you show signs of intoxication, and marijuana or other drugs are found in your vehicle, you will be charged with "DUI-Other Substance".

    Whether or not your DUI also includes vehicular manslaughter changes, time is of the essence. You need to contact an experienced DUI attorney as quickly as possible.
    Vehicular Manslaughter Involving Pedestrians (with or without alcohol)
    It's hard to believe unless you've witnessed something like this, but "vehicle vs. pedestrian" accidents actually aren't all that uncommon. Below is an excerpt from the CDC Pedestrian Safety Statistics:

    Alcohol involvement for the driver or the pedestrian was reported in 48% of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian death. Where alcohol involvement was reported, 34% of pedestrians killed had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of greater than or equal to .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) and 14% of drivers had a BAC of greater than or equal to .08 g/dL.

    You didn't read that wrong. The CDC is telling us that where these types of accidents are concerned, the pedestrian is drunk in more instances than the driver. While that is certainly some interesting trivia, it is generally not considered a crime to walk while intoxicated.

    Even in the absence of mind-altering substances, if you hit a pedestrian while driving recklessly, this may also be considered vehicular manslaughter. It's not hard to guess why children and elderly individuals are the most at-risk pedestrians, and it's also no surprise that the majority of these incidents happen at night at poorly lit locations.

    It's very important to remember that negligence is the key to the entire concept of vehicular manslaughter. If the event was truly an unavoidable accident, wherein the driver was acting responsibly, then no real crime has been committed. There are a number of factors to consider, which is why you should speak with an attorney about your case as soon as it happens.

    Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC today at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    Photo Credit: orangesky3 via Compfight cc

    December 21, 2015

    Why is "Duty of Care" So Important to My Personal Injury Claim?

    negligence.jpgThe phrase "duty of care" refers to the legal expectation that a certain standard of care should be upheld when someone is participating in anything that could potentially do harm to others around them. This concept can be applied to just about any scenario you can think of. For example, the company that employs you upholds their duty of care when they provide you with personal protective equipment. Public transportation operators do so by obeying traffic laws and properly maintaining the vehicles that carry their passengers.

    One of the first things we ask ourselves in a personal injury lawsuit is whether or not the other party actually owed a duty of care, and the answer can be heavily dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the incident. To give you a better idea of how this works, consider the common "grocery store slip-and-fall" scenario. If you slip and fall due to a spill that was ignored, you can reasonably argue that the grocery store staff failed to uphold their responsibility to provide a safe environment for their shoppers. However, if your fall occurs in a restricted area (such as an employee break room, for instance), the store personnel would have had no way of knowing that you would be there. They did not have a responsibility to keep shoppers safe in an area that was clearly marked as restricted for employee use only. It simply wouldn't be reasonable to hold them accountable for that incident.

    How Do I Know If Duty of Care Exists?

    In many cases, duty of care is simply an implied characteristic of a given role or situation. You don't discuss your safety with your city bus driver every time you step foot on the bus, but it's implied that he or she will act reasonably behind the wheel in an effort to keep passengers safe. These implicit responsibilities have, over time, become part of our common law through various incidents that have happened throughout history.

    In other instances, however, duty of care may be formally included in some type of written agreement between the parties. A lease is a great example of this. Your obligations as a renter are often clearly defined (pay your rent, keep the property in good condition, etc.), and your landlord's responsibilities to provide a clean and safe structure for you to live in should also be plainly stated. Nursing home contracts are another instance where duty of care is often clearly outlined.

    What Does it Mean if the Duty of Care has Been Breached?

    If the other party has failed to uphold their duty of care, they are guilty of negligence. There is almost never a need to prove duty of care in order to establish negligence, but rather, you simply need to make a reasonable argument for why a duty of care was owed in the first place.

    How Does Duty of Care Apply to Automobile Accidents?

    As we mentioned previously, duty of care is implied with many of the activities in our daily life, and that applies especially to driving. Drivers have a responsibility to behave in a way that preserves the safety of others on the road, including other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and road workers. Silly road stunts, running red lights, speeding, and texting while driving all seem like such small infractions. However, if a collision is caused by any of these careless behaviors, you will likely be charged with negligent driving.

    Duty of care is a universal concept that applies to everything from driving to nursing homes. If you have been injured physically, emotionally, or financially as a result of someone else's negligence in any capacity, the first thing you should do is speak with an attorney about your options. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    Photo Credit: sandiegopersonalinjuryattorney via Compfight cc

    December 17, 2015

    Car Accident Liability

    car-crash-insurance.jpgDetermining who is liable for the injuries and property damage that has occurred due to an auto accident isn't always as simple as one would like to believe. Not only is this a complex and frustrating process, but you are probably more concerned with your own recovery after an auto accident to even begin thinking about who was most at fault.

    An experienced personal injury lawyer will know exactly what questions to ask and how to proceed with the investigation of your accident, but it will be helpful for you to have a basic understanding of what they are looking for.

    One of the first things you should know is that liability does not always have to fall on one of the drivers at the scene of the accident. For example, if the accident was caused by a vehicle defect, the manufacturer may be held liable. There is also a possibility that there are multiple liable parties. If you're dealing with a case of impaired or distracted driving, things are usually not quite so complex. Many cases, however, require you to look a bit deeper.

    One of the biggest factors to consider is whether or not there was an error (intentional or not) made by the other driver, such as disobeying traffic signals or road signs, speeding, reckless/careless/aggressive driving, or some other obvious type of misconduct or negligence. Unfortunately, in most cases, the driver is not very likely to come right out and admit these things, so this becomes one of the objectives of your auto accident investigation.

    The investigation may include any combination of the following:

    • Inspection of the vehicles involved in the collision
    • Review of the police report and other forms of documentation (including photos)
    • Interviewing the other driver and any witnesses who may have been present
    • Visiting the scene of the accident
    • Review of medical records pertaining to injuries sustained during the accident

    In almost all cases, your attorney will need to pull in various other experts to ensure that your investigation is as thorough as possible. This is all a very complex process, and you would be doing yourself a terrible disservice by attempting to face all of this alone.
    If you've been in an auto accident, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation. Let us handle all of the complexities of determining liability, while you focus on getting well and getting back to doing the things that you enjoy most.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    December 15, 2015

    What Constitutes Aiding and Abetting After a Crime Has Already Been Committed?

    abetting.jpgAiding and abetting can occur either before or after a crime has occurred. In Mississippi, if you have aided and abetted a criminal after a crime has been committed, you are said to be an "accessory after the fact". In order to be convicted of this, it must be proven that you knew the criminal had committed a crime and you helped them in some way to evade arrest or prosecution (after the commission of said crime).

    For many people who are charged with aiding and abetting, the part that causes confusion is trying to understand what type of "help" actually qualifies. Unfortunately, the answer to that question includes just about anything you can think of, from giving a loved one a place to crash for the night to letting them borrow money and even something as simple as giving them advice or support by phone. Those acts may seem innocent enough, especially if you're dealing with a family member or close friend. If you know that they've committed a crime, though, you absolutely can be held accountable for any type of assistance that you offer.

    Other examples of how you can become an accessory after the fact include:

    • Buying anything, including basic necessities, that may help a criminal "get by" until he or she is capable of getting those things for themselves (that is to say, once the dust settles).
    • Hiding evidence
    • Lying to police about the criminal's whereabouts or anything else relating to the crime
    • Transporting the criminal, either locally or across county or state lines
    • Hiding the criminal in your home or on your property in an effort to help them evade law enforcement

    Unfortunately, you do not have to be present in order to be considered an accessory to a crime. Once you have knowledge of a crime that has occurred (or is about to occur), you are on very shaky ground.

    If you are more closely involved in the crime, however, the concept of "concert of action" may apply. With concert of action, both parties are held equally responsible for their coordinated efforts. An example that is commonly used to explain concert of action is drag racing. If two people are drag racing and a pedestrian is hit, both parties will be held liable for any resulting injuries or fatality, because the event was a result of the two people acting "in concert" with one another.

    Being charged as an accessory to a crime can come as quite the shock. In many cases, it's a simple matter of helping a loved one in a time of perceived need... then, finding yourself charged with a crime, as well. If you are in this very stressful situation, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands exactly how these cases work, and you should make that call as soon as possible.

    Our team of criminal defense lawyers are available to discuss your circumstances, and we will explain your options in terms that will be easy to understand.

    Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free case consultation.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

    December 13, 2015

    Understanding Liability in Public Transportation Accidents

    city busPeople are using public transportation more now than ever before, and when we step onto one of these mass transit vehicles, we trust that we will arrive at our destination safely. When we talk about public transportation, we may be referring to any of its various forms, such as buses, trains, planes, subways, cable cars, cruise ships, and more. Taxis may even fall into this category, depending on what you're talking about. So, if an accident occurs involving any of these types of public transportation, who should be held responsible?

    The answer to this question is often very complex, even more so than questions of liability in accidents involving privately-owned vehicles. These cases involve professional drivers, the company (or possibly the government entity) that owns the vehicle, their insurance company, and their attorneys. These are people who are extremely well-equipped to defend their case, and they have a lot on the line. You can rest assured that they'll do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility for anything that happens to their passengers or the other vehicles around them.

    Passenger Safety

    In most cases when you're dealing with liability for personal injury, the need to prove that the other party was negligent is the only way to win your case. Fortunately, these public carriers are held to the highest degree of care when transporting their passengers from one place to the next. If you can prove that the transit company has failed its duty of care in any way, they will be held liable for any of the resulting personal injuries that have been suffered by their passengers.

    Property Damage

    Public transportation companies are also liable for any property that has been entrusted to them in the course of their work. This may refer to carry-on items that stay on your person while you travel or checked baggage that is stored in a cargo hold over longer journeys. In either case, loss or damage to property is far less serious than those cases involving personal injuries. It's typically easier to work with the transportation company directly when property is the only thing that has been compromised. They have comprehensive insurance policies that will often reimburse you for the damages with minimal hassle.

    Roadway Safety

    There are all types of circumstances that would make a public transportation operator liable for collisions with other vehicles. This, of course, would most typically apply to the buses that share the road with other cars and trucks. Was the driver of the vehicle distracted, speeding, or disobeying traffic signs and signals? Was the vehicle itself poorly maintained or in need of repair? Whatever the underlying cause, a collision with a large public transportation vehicle will almost have significant consequences.

    Depending on the details of your accident, an extended hospital stay and extensive vehicle repair may be warranted. You'll often lose income, as well, because you'll be in no condition to return to your daily routine for quite some time. In some very unfortunate circumstances, people have even lost their jobs due to extended absences like these. If you've incurred any of these unexpected expenses, you should act quickly, because it's possible that this will have a significant impact on your family's finances.

    Be sure to keep in mind that injuries on governmental transportation are different from commercial companies, like Greyhound. If you've been in an accident involving public transportation that is owned by a government entity, it falls under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, and you could lose your right to seek compensation if you do not see a lawyer for advice and file a Notice of Claim within one (1) year from the date of the incident.

    If you have been involved in any type of incident involving public transportation, contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation. We'll help you determine the best course of action and ensure that you are fairly compensated in a timely fashion.

    Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.