Monday, October 28, 2013

What Happens When My Car is a Total Loss and I Owe More on it than it is Worth?

Car accidents are a reality of life when you live in Las Vegas, Nevada. If you have just bought the brand new car of your dreams and were just rear-ended in a car accident, you may be dealing with personal injuries, as well as the damage to your car.  If your brand new car is totaled, you may owe more on your car, than it is worth.

When the other driver’s insurance company is trying to determine what to pay for your car, they do not look at what you owe on it.  Instead, the insurance company looks at what your car is actually worth.  Kelly Blue Values are a good place to start, to figure out what your car is actually worth. 

The question your Las Vegas car accident Attorney gets asked, is what happens when the amount owed on the car is more than the value of their car.   The answer is GAP insurance.  GAP Insurance, is a shorthand name for Guaranteed Auto Protection. GAP insurance covers the difference between the value of your car and how much you still owe on the financing you took out on the car.

When you are in a car accident in Las Vegas and your loan amount is higher than the value of your car, the only avenue for compensation is if you purchased GAP insurance when you bought the car.  They would have offered you GAP insurance when you met with the financing person at the place you purchased the car.  Some finance companies actually require you to have GAP insurance.   If you are not sure if you have GAP insurance, you can talk to your finance company and ask them if you have it. 

If you have GAP insurance, then you can seek the difference of the value of your car and amount owed. Also, in some GAP policies, they cover your deductible.  So, if you have just bought or are planning to buy a brand new car with financing, you may want to consider buying GAP insurance, in case you are in a car accident and your car is totaled.

Next time, we will discuss the overall Court system for Las Vegas car accident cases.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do Juries Get to See Car Wreck Photographs, in Las Vegas Car Accident Cases?

Is it possible to stop pictures of a car that has been in an accident from coming into evidence at trial?  The short answer is that it depends. The admissibility of photographs in Las Vegas car accident cases is highly fought over issue in litigated car accident cases. Although the  Nevada Supreme Court has not decided this issue, other Courts exclude photographs when no expert testimony is introduced linking the vehicles’ property damage to the injuries from the person hurt in the car accident.  

So, in Nevada, it is left up to the individual judge deciding your case, whether they allow the jury to see photographs.  Why is this issue so important?  Because, when juries see only a scratched bumper, they tend to think a person could not have possibly been injured in the accident.  This is a false assumption. This hurts people who have been injured in minor property damage car accidents, preventing them from getting the compensation they deserve. 

In a 2008  “unpublished” opinion (which means it is an advisory and not mandatory law) out of a New Jersey court, in  Twal v. Hinds, 2008 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2666 (2008), the New Jersey court excluded the car wreck photographs.  The New Jersey Court felt that the car accident pictures would prevent the injured party from getting a fair shake at trial.   The legal jargon for this is that the pictures were “more prejudicial than probative”.   The court reasoned that there was a lack of evidence  to support the defendant’s argument that a relationship existed between the vehicle damage and the injured person’s injuries. This helps the person injured in a Las Vegas car accident. 

Common sense may tell us that if a car was barely damaged in an auto accident, then a person could barely have been injured.  However, common sense also tells us that when we step outside and look at the horizon, that the earth is flat.  Now, we all know that our senses deceive us, and the earth is actually round.  The same principle applies to damage to cars in car accident cases.  Our senses deceive us. The amount of property damage to a car involved in an accident has nothing to do with personal injuries someone can suffer in a car accident. 

Delaware has also agreed with the New Jersey approach and doesn’t allow photographs of cars to come into evidence, for the jury to speculate on injuries. In the case of Davis v. Maute, 770 A.2d 36, 40 (Del. 2001), the court said that“[a]s a general rule, a party in a personal injury case may not directly argue that the seriousness of personal injuries from a car accident correlates to the extent of the damage to the cars, unless the party can produce competent expert testimony on this issue”.

The Supreme Court of Delaware explained that “[a]bsent such expert testimony, any inference by the jury that minimal damage to the Plaintiff’s car translates into minimal personal injuries to the Plaintiff would necessarily amount to unguided speculation.”  Davis, 770 A.3d at 40.  
Similar to New Jersey and Delware, New York has come to the same conclusion that car accident photos cannot tell the story of a person’s injuries in an accident.   In the New York case of Clemente v. Blumenberg, 183 Misc.2d 923, 934 705 N.Y.S.2d 792 (1999), the court rightly concluded that “using repair costs and photographs as a method for calculating the change in velocity of two vehicles at impact is not a generally accepted method in any relevant field of engineering or under the laws of physics”. Because not even experts can come to such conclusions, allowing jurors to do so invites naked speculation based upon “common sense”.
What is interesting about these types of cases, is that the person causing the car crash, almost always admits they were at fault for the car wreck.  The case is then what are the extent of injured person’s injuries.  To top it off, the injured party has almost always been paid for the damage to their car.   So, with the property damage decided and paid for, the pictures of the property damage are completely irrelevant at trial.
Since the Nevada Supreme Court nor the State legislature have not made an actual law on whether car accident photos come into evidence in a Las Vegas jury trial, it is up to the judge who is hearing the case to decide it the pictures come in.  As you can imagine, each judge can decide the issue differently.
Next time we will discuss what happens when your car is a total loss and you owe more on it that it is worth.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Property Damage Can Affect the Value of Your Car Accident Case

One of the most basic issues that determines the value of your car accident case, is the amount of property damage to your vehicle.  Although there is actually no credible evidence that says minimal property damage = no personal injuries,  insurance companies and juries still come to that conclusion.
There was a recent study conducted by the Trial Survey Group, which presented the same case to similar mock juries (a mock jury is just another word for a test group of potential jurors).   In each case they presented the same injured person with the same injuries.  However, the only thing they changed were the photos of the injured person’s car. 
The juries changed the amount they awarded based upon the amount of property damage they saw in the photos.  When there was a scratched bumper, the jury gave just $6,000.  When the property damage to the car was minor, a small dent instead of just a scratch, the jury tripled its award and gave $18,000.  When the car was totaled, the verdict again doubled.   So, in your Las Vegas Personal Injury case, the visual damage to your car determines, in part, how much the insurance company is willing to offer to settle your case. 
Next time we will take about the related topic of how to potentially prevent minor car accident photos from coming into trial.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why Don’t Insurance Companies Settle?

This is probably the oldest and most oft repeated question I get in my law office.  The answer is simple, the insurance companies care more about their bottom line, than you.  I often give the example of the insurance adjuster who is trained to deny every claim, no matter what the case is about.
But, once a personal injury attorney is hired, the insurance company generally takes the case more seriously.  However, there are still many insurance companies and individual insurance adjusters, who still deny claims without any reasonable reason.
In the Las Vegas personal injury arena, there are some insurance companies, as a whole, who categorically deny all claims that come before them.  It is unfortunate that some insurance companies behave in such a reckless manner, raking in premiums from unsuspecting honest people.  When you come into my office, I can tell you which insurance companies those are.
Other insurance companies have made a financial decision to offer only very low amounts to injured persons.  Those insurance companies believe that it is in their best interests to take every case to trial and let a jury possibly award nothing.  When the economy was doing poorly, the men and women who sat on juries, adjusted their awards to fit the changing economic landscape.  Now that the economy is picking up steam, it is still the proverbial crap shoot when it comes to what type of jurors will be sitting in judgment on your case and hence what type of verdict they are going to award.
Another reason why insurance companies don’t offer any money to settle, is if they believe that liability is at issue.  Sometimes personal injury attorneys think they are the only ones who deal with unreasonable insurance companies, but we are not alone.  I had a colleague who related a story, where the insurance company denied liability, after his client had a 40,000 pound cargo container dropped on the vehicle he was driving!  So, when the insurance company denies liability in a rear-end car accident, don’t feel bad, the depths of the insurance company’s unreasonableness, has no boundaries.
Next time we will talk about property damage and how it impacts your case.