Archives for July 2014

When a drunk driver hits your car

Police emergency light & conesA drunk driver is a hazard to him or herself, other drivers and pedestrians. In 2011, there were an estimated 193 alcohol-related driving fatalities in New Jersey. That constituted 30.8 percent of all fatal auto accidents that year.

If a drunk driver is responsible for causing a car accident, that driver can be held criminally liable. Under New Jersey law, it’s a crime to drive while intoxicated. Intoxication can be measured by a blood or breath test of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Anyone with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher while driving a car can be charged with DUI.

The driver, the driver’s auto insurance carrier and possibly the person or business who served alcohol to the driver could also be held financially responsible.

Criminal and civil claims

Criminal prosecutors may file charges against the driver who caused the accident. If the driver is found guilty or pleads guilty as part of a plea bargain, the driver may be ordered to pay you restitution. Even if the driver is able to pay this amount, it’s probably not what your civil case may be worth.

To recover civil damages, a lawsuit must be filed in a civil court. If the driver was convicted or plead guilty to DUI, this is prima facie evidence (enough evidence to create a presumption that the person did what he’s accused of doing) of reckless behavior. This will support your civil claim and makes it very difficult for a defendant to contest the lawsuit’s allegations.

Dram shop and social host laws

Depending on the circumstances, New Jersey’s dram shop law may allow you to pursue damages from the bar, nightclub, restaurant or alcohol vendor who served the driver who caused the accident. The state’s social host law holds noncommercial individuals liable if a guest leaves their home or event too impaired to drive.

  • These statutes make negligent commercial establishments and individuals potentially liable for damages caused by drunk drivers they have served.
  • They also could enable you to cast a wider net in which to find additional potential defendants, increasing the chances you will be able to resolve your case for a greater amount of money.
  • These laws are particularly important if the driver who hits you is uninsured or underinsured, and/or your uninsured or underinsured coverage on your own auto policy is insufficient to meet your needs.

We represent plaintiffs who were injured by drunk drivers. If this has happened to you or a loved one, contact our office so we can discuss your situation and your options to seek compensation.

What if I can’t work anymore due to an on-the-job injury?

Physical therapyAn employee left unable to work due to a workplace injury is in a difficult situation, but may still have options to collect an income to support him or herself. We offer complete services to those injured on the job, including those facing a future with a complete disability.

Who is considered to have a permanent total disability?

After a workplace injury, you will go through treatment and rehabilitation to improve your condition. You will reach your Maximum Medical Improvement, and a doctor will determine whether the injury will totally disable you and prevent future work.

If a catastrophic work-related injury or occupational disease causes a complete inability to return to work, the employee may collect benefits for a permanent total disability. This total disability is presumed when a worker loses the use of two or more major body parts (such as eyes, arms, hands, legs or feet). It can also be proven with facts concerning other types of conditions that establish a complete inability to resume gainful employment.

Permanent total disability benefits can be paid for up to 450 weeks. These payments can be like a pension with a regular disbursement or a lump sum. The amount is usually 70 percent of the average weekly wage, subject to certain caps and minimums. These payments can be extended past the 450 weeks if the claimant can prove the disabling condition continues to prevent a return to work.

Other sources of income

Workers’ compensation may not be the only benefit a totally disabled employee could tap into. Through the employer, or purchased by the worker, there may be a private disability insurance policy that could be used. Many of our clients can also receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

If you become totally disabled, SSDI can provide income if you have been paying into Social Security for a sufficient time (that amount changes each year) and it’s been determined you are disabled.

  • In 2014, you earn one credit for each $1,200 of wages. When you’ve earned $4,800, you’ve earned your four credits for the year. How many work credits you need to qualify depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.
  • To be considered “disabled” you must show you are unable to perform “substantial gainful employment.” If someone qualifies for SSDI two years after the “disability onset date,” they will also be eligible for Social Security Disability Medicare, which provides free medical care.

If you have suffered a serious work-related injury and want to learn more about your rights and legal options, contact our office.

Preparing for the Divorce Ahead of Time

Creating a checklistA divorce can be a long, complex, life-changing event. Based on our many years of experience representing clients getting divorced, it’s not something you should just jump into unprepared. If you’re seriously considering getting a divorce, talk to one of our attorneys about your situation and take these steps to prepare for the process.

1. If you have kids, maintain a stable, safe home environment for them.

It’s rarely a good idea to move out of the marital home and leave your children with your spouse. If you do, a judge may get the impression that you think your spouse is a great parent and is perfectly capable of taking care of your children. Depending on the circumstances, that may or may not be a message you want to send.

2. Keep a daily record of everything you do with your children.

Include the time they spend with your spouse as well. Note any negative events (arguments started in front of your children, belittling comments about you said in their presence).

3. Gather documents to support what you’ve said in your record.

Write down names of witnesses who have knowledge of your parenting skills or those of your spouse. Get copies of relevant police reports or school records.

4. Gather all information and documents related to your financial situation and make copies.

Look for bank statements, credit card statements, investment account statements, retirement account statements, loan applications, the last three to five years’ tax returns and W-2 forms, property tax bills, mortgage statements, etc. It’s common that one spouse maintains the financial records, makes payments and cuts checks while the other stays out of the finances. In a divorce, this may leave one spouse unaware of what the other is doing.

5. Take an inventory of all of your personal property.

Normally, property that was yours before the marriage is considered to be separate property and should remain yours (with some exceptions).

6. Save some cash.

The divorce process can be very expensive. Put aside some cash so you have some liquid funds. Put the money in a new account in a bank other than the one you normally use. You may need money to live on or to hire legal representation, financial experts and mental health professionals to guide you through your divorce.

7. Open your own post office box.

This will ensure that your mail will sit securely in a locked box that only you can access so you can receive confidential mail from your divorce professionals, as well as bank statements. Start an e-mail account that only you can access, which may also help keep online correspondence private.

8. Get a copy of your credit report.

Resolve any disputed debts as soon as possible. Monitor your credit report to make sure that your spouse is not dissipating marital assets. If you fear your spouse might borrow money in your name, sign up for a credit monitoring service so you can be notified if there’s a change to your credit history.

If you have any questions or concerns about getting a divorce, the legal process and how it may affect you, contact our office for a free consultation.