Monday, June 30, 2008

Dear bicyclists: please ride safely!

We have handled a number of cases involving bicycles v. motor vehicles over the years. Unfortunately, given the difference in mass and velocity, the bicyclist rarely fares well. While we have been quite successful in such cases, we would all prefer it if the accident was avoided in the first place.

With the beautiful weather upon us, and the ridiculously high gasoline prices, it make sense that many people are taking to bicycles as their primary, if not secondary, mode of transportation. It is becoming apparent, however, that a certain segment of these cyclists are either first-time riders, or have not ridden for a number of years. Moreover, many motorists simply do not take notice of bicyclists. Given that bicycles travel so much slower than vehicles, even if 5% of motor vehicles do not pay proper attention to bicycles, chances are good that a bicyclist will be passed by one of these motorists on the roadway. Thus, certain safety rules are important to keep in mind, newbies and veterans alike. Here are a few points to remember:
  • Obey all signs & traffic lights. Bicycles must be driven like other vehicles if they are to be taken seriously by motorists. Never ride against traffic.
  • Use hand signals. Hand signals tell motorists what you intend to do. For turn signals, point in the direction of your turn.
  • Ride consistently. Ride as close as practical to the right. Exceptions: when traveling at the normal speed of traffic, avoiding hazardous conditions, preparing to make a left turn, or using a one-way street.
  • Choose the best way to turn left. There are two ways to turn left: 1) Like a car: look back, signal, move into the left lane, and turn left. 2) Like a pedestrian: ride straight to the far-side crosswalk, then walk your bike across.
  • Use caution when passing. Motorists may not see you on their right. Where there’s no bike lane, pass cars on the left. Be careful when overtaking cars while in a bike lane. Watch for parked cars pulling out and doors opening. Make eye contact with drivers.
  • Avoid road hazards. Watch for sewer grates, slippery manhole covers, oily pavement, gravel, and ice. Cross railroad tracks at right angles. For better control as you move across bumps and other hazards, stand up on your pedals.
  • Ride a well-equipped bike. Outfit your bike with a good bike lock, tool kit, fenders, and bike bags. You are required by law to use a strong white headlight (visible from 500 feet) and rear red reflector or light (visible from 600 feet) at night and when visibility is poor.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear a Snell or ANSI approved hard-shell helmet whenever you ride (required by law for cyclists under 16 years of age). Wear light-colored clothes at night, preferably with reflective strips.
  • Get a green light. If you come to a red light and see a symbol of a bicycle rider with a line above and below it on the street, position your bike directly over it. Wait and soon the light will turn green. If a car is already there, it will activate the light for you.
  • Go slow on sidewalks. Pedestrians have the right of way on walkways. You must give an audible warning when you pass. Cross driveways and intersections at a walker’s pace and look carefully for traffic.
  • Know the city ordinances for your community. Many cities have ordinances regulating the use of bicycles. For instance, bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalks in downtown Portland. Know your city ordinances! They can often be found online, or at your local library.

Personally, I ride a Specialized mountain bike. I try to avoid riding on the roadway as much as possible. However, I do enjoy taking my 16 month old around in her Burley bike trailer. Such trailers cannot be taken off road, so I am forced to ride the streets. I do my best to adhere to the above guidelines and so far, knock on wood, there have been no close calls.

So, the next time you are on a ride, have fun and be safe!

-Tim Williams

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A card to share.

I recently received a card from a client that I wanted to share. I will not disclose the client's name for privacy reasons, though will share some of the background facts. This particular client was involved in a car wreck that required a neck fusion surgery to address her symptoms. Because she had a similar surgery ten years prior, the insurance company tried to blame all of her symptoms on the prior surgery, and not accept the fact that the car accident caused the new symptoms and need for surgery. Apparently, it did not matter that the prior surgery was a success, as she had been symptom free for ten years.

In any case, we filed the claim with court, proceeded through several depositions, two mediations, and finally, just two weeks before trial, received a settlement offer. We negotiated back and forth, and finally settled the case for a reasonable sum. Shortly after things were wrapped up, I received a bottle of wine and a card written as follows:

"Dear Tim,
Just a small token of my appreciation for all the care and hard work you put into my case. Your honesty and integrity was greatly appreciated. You made me feel as important as any "big money" client. As my son & granddaughter say..."You rock." :o) I will always remember you and your family when I talk to the Lord. God Bless."

Needless to say, I was tickled pink. I've had many happy clients over the years, and have received several cards to boot. Indeed, one very sweet elderly client sent me no less than six Harry & David gift boxes! However, this card is one of my favorites.

-Tim Williams

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pay the dough you know you owe!

Before I joined Dwyer Williams Potter, I was an insurance defense attorney. On that side of the case, I did essentially the same thing as I do here; namely, review the medical records, put a value on the case, and try to settle it.

My first week as a Plaintiff’s attorney here at DWP, I was given a file to review. The case involved a guy who was severely injured by a driver who only had $25,000 insurance coverage (the minimum in Oregon). Fortunately, our client had a $100,000 insurance policy. So, we took the $25,000 from the at-fault driver and made an underinsured motorist (UIM) claim against our client’s own insurance carrier. I started work for DWP just as the UIM claim was getting started.

It took one look through the medical records and investigative file to determine the case had a value of several hundred thousand dollars. Knowing there was only a $100,000.00 insurance policy, I called the insurance adjuster and explained my position and asked for the entire policy. Rather than talk about the merits of the case or the value, the adjuster said he needed "one more document" to complete his investigation and a settlement offer would be coming soon. After several more telephone calls and additional requests for meaningless documents, I realized the adjuster was never going to pay and he would always ask for “one more document” to review. I filed the case, went to arbitration, and received an award well in excess of the policy. Of course, I could only collect up to the policy limits. This begs the question, why won’t insurance companies pay the dough they know they owe? The answer is two-fold.

First, there is always the chance that someone will take less than they are owed. People take less than they are owed for a number of reasons. One reason is that people can’t wait out the insurance companies like they can wait you out. You have car payments, a mortgage, and living expenses. The insurance company does not.

Second, even when the insurance company evaluates a claim and knows they should pay; they can make money on the money they should be paying you. Because they have your money invested, the longer they hold the money the more they can make. The insurance company has little or no incentive to pay what is due.

Unfortunately, it often takes an attorney to push forward and make the insurance company go to trial or arbitration to pay what they know they owe. Litigation can be costly and distressing, but it is often necessary, as insurance companies rarely do the right thing for the injured person. Remember, insurance companies are in the business of making money. They make money by taking premiums and paying out little or nothing. Your interest and the insurance company’s interest are opposite each other.

If you wait for insurance companies to treat your fairly or do the right thing, you may be waiting in vain. Even more troubling is that you have specific time limits, known as the statute of limitation, by which you must either file a lawsuit or settle. Of course the insurance company knows about these times and dates and has them calendared. The insurance company would love nothing more for you to wait around while the time to bring your case slips by. If that happens, you’ll have lost your rights to pursue your case forever.

-Arne Cherkoss

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We have a new location in Bend!

We are now up and fully operational in our new Bend office, on the third floor of The Bond building. Because it is a brand new building, we were able to design the space to fit us. It took a bit to get our phone and computer systems moved over and fully operational, but it is finally done. Feel free to stop by and check out our digs sometime. We are across the street from the courthouse, which makes it convenient come trial. We're also across the street from the Deschutes Brewery, and on the same block as the Villiage Grill - two of our favorite places to eat in Bend. Our other offices remain in their same locations.

- Tim Williams

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Do you need more insurance?

Sad but true. Over the last year, we have handled four significant uninsured motorist cases where our client's insurance policy was simply too small. The first of these cases prompted me to greatly increase my own insurance policy, not only for my sake, but for the sake of my wife and infant daughter as well.

A year ago, I litigated a case where a client was hit from behind by an uninsured motorist while riding a bike. I obtained an award of over $500,000. Unfortunately, our client only had a $300,000 insurance policy. Because this was an uninsured motorist case (where the most money you can get is the limit of your own insurance policy), our client was unable to recover $200,000 of his award.

Ten months ago, I litigated another case where our client was hit from behind by an uninsured motorist while on a bicycle. He was awarded over $250,000 in damages, but because he only had a $100,000 policy, he was unable to recover the difference.

A couple of months ago, Arne Cherkoss obtained an arbitration award of $300,000 in an uninsured motorist case. Our client only had a $100,000 policy, and could not recover the difference. Then, just last week, Arne achieved another $300,000 award in another uninsured motorist case where our client had only a $100,000 policy. Again, our client could not recover the difference.

In these four examples alone, four of our clients were unable to recover roughly $750,000 of the arbitration awards. Each individual was severely hurt, and has suffered permanent, life changing injuries.

Unfortunately, you cannot control how much insurance coverage other drivers on the road have. You wouldn't believe how many cases we have where the driver who caused the accident didn't have any insurance at all, even though Oregon law requires it! However, what you can control is the amount of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage you have, so there is at least some guarantee as to how much insurance might be available.

There is one thing to keep in mind, however. In Oregon, unlike in Washington, uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage does not "stack" on the bad driver's policy. For example, in Washington, if the bad driver has $25,000 in coverage, and you have $100,000, you can add the two policies together, giving you a total of $125,000 in coverage. If the other driver had $100,000 in coverage, you would add that to your policy, giving a total of $200,000 of available coverage.

In Oregon, on the other hand, your insurance policy would only cover the difference between the two limits. Thus, in Oregon, if the bad driver had $25,000 in coverage, you could only collect an additional $75,000 from your own, as your insurance would get credit for the $25,000 you had already collected. If the bad driver had $100,000 in coverage, you couldn't collect a dime from your own insurance policy. Thus, in Oregon, when you buy a $100,000 underinsured motorist policy, you are only buying a guarantee that there will be $100,000 available from which to collect; however, you are not buying an additional $100,000 in coverage!

Just food for thought.