Ask Our Lawyer January 2015

Ask Our Lawyer

by Rod Taylor – ABATE Legal Services

JUST IN TIME LAWYERS

Q: I just had a traffic accident ? Do I need a lawyer right now?

A: Well, that depends. First, it never hurts to call and talk to someone at your ABATE Legal Services. You can get valuable starting points that way. Most traffic accidents fall into four categories: property damage only, minor injury, moderate injury and major injury. These classifications aren’t exact, but can be useful guidelines. (This discussion presumes that you weren’t at fault and there is some insurance coverage available.)

  1. Property damage only: Almost always, no lawyer needed, except when a special edition or customized bike is involved. The damage to the car or bike is readily evaluated, and the insurance company will make a settlement based on the value of the property and the policy provisions. There may be a little room for negotiations, but generally, the estimates will dictate the settlement. As to value disputes with the insurance company, get on EBAY and get comparative value information. And remember that you paid retail – not wholesale as the adjuster may try to pull one over on you. If you have trouble call us.
  1. Minor injury: Generally, no lawyer needed, so long as your injury is truly minor. Make your doctor sign off on that one before you even think about signing a release and accepting a settlement for your injuries. But, if the insurance company is not responsive, call us. We can help.

In these types of accidents, the injured person has bumps and bruises, and may be a bit sore, but has no symptoms that last more than a week, and will have lost no more than a couple of days off work. Oftentimes, the medical claims will be only for a brief visit to the hospital to be checked out after the accident, a follow up visit to the family doctor, and some pain medication or muscle relaxants. In these cases, the insurance company will make a settlement offer after you have been released from treatment by the doctor. The settlement will generally include the medical bills, lost wages, and an amount to compensate you for your pain and inconvenience. The amount of the settlement will be negotiable, and the insurance company may not make an offer unless you have made a demand first. Make sure that your communications with the claims adjuster are in writing, and keep your demands reasonable. We can assist you with a proper evaluation.

  1. Moderate injury: A lawyer is needed. These injuries are ones that may debilitate for a period of time, or may lead to lifelong impairments of a part of the body, but are not life threatening. The lost wages may be significant, or the calculation of the pain and suffering damages may be complex. Our office will be able to negotiate with the insurance company and secure the best compensation for you. If a suit is necessary, we can represent your interests.
  1. Serious injury: You should always contact a lawyer. These cases involve life changing accidents. There are many complex issues that will have to be evaluated and considered. Without an attorney, you could be at a serious disadvantage.

SIGNS AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH MATTERS

Q: Our local chapter has an ABATE sign that we want to put up on some property we own. We’ve been told by the local authorities that we can’t. Do they have a legal basis to prevent us from placing a sign on our property? ABATE member.

A: Let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page. If the sign is one that is of a commercial nature, then the zoning officials have authority to regulate it. If we’re talking about a sign with an explicitly political message, there may be First Amendment protections. From the question, it looks like we’re talking about a non-political, non-commercial informational sign.

The definitive case on this subject is from the United States Supreme Court. In City of Ladue v. Gilleo (512 US 43, 1994), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that, while municipalities may regulate sign size and location for certain valid reasons. The court essentially used a balancing test and decided that the individual’s right to express her opinion with a sign outweighed the City’s power to prohibit signs.

The question here, then, is whether the zoning authority has expressed any reason why the ABATE sign should not be allowed. Is there is a zoning ordinance prohibiting the sign? If so, has anyone asked for a variance? If not, you should consider that course of action. Often these proceedings are held before the zoning board. The person seeking the variance can present to the board their reasons for the request. Other interested persons can also make presentations, either in support of the variance or against. These interested persons are sometimes referred to in the zoning board minutes as remonstrators. Pursuing the available administrative options may make it easier to win a case in court. Courts are disposed to rule on a case if the plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies.

CUSTOM BIKE BLUES

Q: I have a bike that I bought stock five years ago and have made a number of improvements to it since then, including a lot of chrome, custom paint, and other customized equipment. My bike was stolen last month, and the insurance company only wants to offer me book value for the bike. By my estimation, it’s worth about twice the book value of a stock bike. Is there any way I can convince the insurance company to re-evaluate their offer? ABATE MEMBER.

A: There may be a way to do that, but it depends on how good your records are. Most insurance contracts/policies cover customization and items added to bikes, but the insurance company has to assure itself that the customizations that you claim you added were actually added to the bike and became a part of the bike. Some insurance companies will agree to a value up front and charge a premium based on that value.

The easiest and best way to make your claim is to document all the customizations done to the bike. This means keeping records of the modifications done to the bike, who did them, when they were done, how much they cost, and what effect those customizations had on the value of the bike. And don’t forget the photos; you can’t have too many. Oftentimes you need to hire the services of an appraiser to evaluate the bike with and without the modifications.

Let’s assume you did a custom job with three distinct components: First of all, you did some body work – you put on a new fork, new handlebars, and new wheels. You did that during the course of one season and didn’t plan on doing any more work that season. It would be a good idea once that work was completed, to take pictures of the bike, put them together with all the receipts from the work done to the bike and send copies of all that information to your insurance company, asking them to add that to your file and explaining that those modifications have been done to the bike since you purchased it. You may at that point want to get an appraised value for the bike from an appraiser. Often, appraisers will work at a motorcycle shop or dealer. You would want to get an appraisal if the value of the bike in total with the additions is more than the value of the bike plus the value of the additions. For example, you bought the bike for $5,000.00; you added $5,000.00 worth of additions, but those additions caused the bike to be worth $15,000.00 rather than the value of the bike plus the parts, which was $10,000.00. In that event, getting an appraisal would be in your best interest because you could prove to the insurance company that the bike is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Now let’s assume it’s the next season, and you have added a lot of chrome to the bike. Again, you would want to take pictures of the bike, keep copies of the receipts, description of the work done, and submit it to the insurance company for their files so you can maintain the value of the bike. Let’s assume now that you have decided to complete the customization and get a custom paint job on it. Once you finish all the customization that you plan on doing, at that point you almost always have to get an appraisal of the value of the bike to show the insurance company what it’s worth with all the customizations. With all those documents and evidence of the customizations, you will be in a good position to prove the value of the bike to the insurance company should you need to make a claim. And always send the insurance company copies of your latest appraisals.

Some insurance companies offer special insurance deal for customizations bikes or those with historic or antique value. If your bike has value for collectors beyond the book value of a stock bike, check with your insurance agent about modifying your insurance policy to make sure your investment is covered.

PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE

Russian Roulette – that’s what you’re doing if you don’t buy uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for your motor vehicle/motorcycle insurance policy.

Studies by the Insurance Research Council indicate that more than 10 to 14 percent of drivers do not carry any sort of coverage. Let’s say you go down to Daytona for Bike Week and cruise through Florida. Even if they have some coverage, in most accidents with a motorcycle, the coverage is inadequate. Remember the blue-hair you saw driving that 1979 Buick Electra? She hasn’t had insurance since 1980, and she’s going to run into you. What can you do to get the bike fixed, not to mention paying your medical bills? How about mortgage or rent payments and living expenses?

The answer is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverages. Without it, you may be out of luck. Most people who don’t have insurance do so because they don’t think they can afford it or don’t want to pay for it. The odds of them having sufficient resources to pay off a personal injury claim are slim and none. Without coverage of your own, there’s no compensation. You might be able to get a 1979 Buick Electra, but that doesn’t pay the bills.

If you don’t have uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist coverages (UM/UIM coverage), you are underinsured. If you carry the legal minimum coverage, you are in compliance with the law. Unfortunately, that coverage only protects the other guy, not you. And when was the last time you heard of a motorcyclist that caused personal injury to the driver of a car/truck? Where you made the mistake was in declining the uninsured motorist/underinsured motorist coverages (UM/UIM coverage.) Why? Well, my guess is that you wanted to save a few bucks, and figured that since the law required everyone to have coverage, you didn’t need to pay for additional coverages.

Unfortunately , not everybody complies with the financial responsibility laws. Some people simply never get insurance and give a bogus policy number when the register their cars. Others may have coverage, but they cancel it after getting the car registered. That means you are left holding the bag when you gets injured in an accident with one of the scofflaws.

You ask, but how would that get my bike fixed? Simple. Remember that even if you have medical insurance that will cover your medical bills, you would still be entitled to compensation for your lost wages, impairment and pain and suffering. That’s YOUR money, to spend or pay bills as you please. If you want to fix your bike, you can.

Don’t forget that when you get your insurance that you may be asked if you want to have your UM/UIM coverage at the same limits as your own personal injury coverage. For example, you can have liability coverage of $50,000/$100,000 (that $50,000 per person and $100,000 total per accident) and have UM/UIM coverage in the same amount, or elect to have only $25,000/$50,000 UM/UIM coverage. The cost difference is very small, and the added coverage you would have could make all of the difference to you and your family. The best advice is to have the highest limits (both liability and UM/UIM) that you can afford. The reason for this two-fold. One, higher limits protect your assets (your house, car, boat, vacation cabin, bike, etc.) if you get sued after an accident. Two, higher UM/UIM protects you if you get injured in accident, even if the other guy carries basic coverage. Let’s say you get injured in an accident that is the other guy’s fault. You have damages from the accident (medical bills, bike repairs, and pain and suffering) of $200,000.00. The other guys has basic coverage, $25,000/$50,000. His insurance coverage pays you the $25,000.00, leaving you with $175,000.00 of uncompensated damages. You can make a claim for the additional damages from your carrier under your UM/UIM coverage. However, you can only make a claim for coverage to the extent that your UM/UIM coverage exceeds the other guys basic coverage. For example, if you have $25,000/$50,000 UM/UIM coverage, then you can’t make a claim because your coverage doesn’t exceed his coverage. If you have $50,000/$100,000, you can claim $25,000 of coverage from your UM/UIM coverage. The higher your coverage is, the better your protection is.

Other writers in this magazine and others devoted to the rider’s lifestyle have encouraged the reader to carry UM/UIM coverage. Let me add my voice. There is no excuse for ANYONE to decline UM/UIM coverage. It can be your resource of last resort. Don’t be caught on the wrong side of being injured – protect yourself and your bike, and carry UM/UIM coverage. You can’t afford to play Russian Roulette.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206-2850, or email to brianshadiow@abatelegal.com.

Ride Safe & Free,

Rod Taylor


ABATE Legal Services

abatelegal.com

All questions from ABATE members are answered confidentially unless otherwise authorized and only after the matter is concluded, except when authorization for publication anonymously or otherwise is given for pending matters. Remember, injured ABATE members pay only 28 ½% of total recovery and expenses as approved by client, consistent with and conforming to applicable state law. Elsewhere, you may pay 33 ⅓%, 40% or even 50% of your recovery. ABATE members are not charged for recovery of damage to your motorcycle, and have access to a 24-hour toll-free telephone number. Call us at (800) 25-RIDER. © 2015

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