The 7 Stages of a Car Accident Claim

If you or a loved one is involved in a motor vehicle or car accident, it is unlikely you will be prepared for what is to come.  Here is a simple step by step guide showing what you can expect:

  1. Car Accident: Of course, the first step is the car accident.  If you are in a car accident, it is imperative that you get immediate medical treatment.  It is not unusual for people injured in a car accident to think they are fine immediately after the accident, because their adrenaline is high or they are worried about something else besides themselves.  They refuse medical treatment, either an ambulance or a trip to the emergency room, but then later on or even the next day, they are in severe pain, because they have been injured.
  2. Hire an Attorney: Ideally, if you have been injured in a car accident, you should hire a personal injury attorney right away.  Once you have hired an attorney, the attorney can help you with every aspect of the case.  The attorney will help you get your vehicle fixed, get a rental car, find appropriate medical providers, settle your claim, and file a lawsuit, if necessary.
  3. Get Medical Treatment: There are many doctors that do not handle injured victims of car accidents.  Your attorney can help you find doctors that will help you get back to being yourself and that will not charge you anything up front.  It is very important to get medical treatment as soon as possible.  The longer you wait to get medical treatment, the more likely the insurance company will be to claim you were not actually injured in the car accident.
  4. Make a Demand: Once your treatment is complete, your attorney will collect ALL of your medical records and medical bills, as well as any documentation for your lost wages or any future medical bills.  This will be prepared into a demand package and sent to the insurance company.
  5. Negotiations: After the demand package is sent to the insurance company, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a favorable settlement for you with the insurance company.  This can be a time consuming process with many offers, demands, counter offers, and counter demands.  An experienced personal injury attorney, can help you set reasonable and realistic goals for the negotiations and give you an idea of what similar cases are worth in your area.
  6. Settlement: Congratulations!  But, the case isn’t finished just yet.  At this point, you still have to pay your medical bills, your attorney, and any of the costs or expenses associated with the claim.  Your attorney should negotiate with your medical providers to make sure all of your medical bills are paid and get you the money you deserve.
  7. File Lawsuit: If the case does not settle, your attorney will then file a lawsuit.  Keep in mind, even though a lawsuit has been filed, this does not mean your case will necessarily go all the way to a jury trial.  It is common for settlement negotiations to continue between your attorney and the attorney for the insurance company during the lawsuit.

Once you hire an attorney after a car accident, it is the attorney’s job to assist you with all aspects of your case and car accident claim.  Having an attorney assist you with the case, allows you to focus on the most important task, getting better and getting back to normal, while your attorney deals with the time consuming demands of the insurance company.  If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, call us today so we can take the pressure of having to deal with the insurance company off your shoulders and let you focus on getting better.

Top 3 Things To Do If You Have Been Sued

  1. IMMEDIATELY CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY: If you have been sued for a car accident, something that happened inside your home, or for any other situation where you might have insurance to cover the claim, immediately contact your insurance company and notify them of the lawsuit.  In situations like these, the insurance company has a duty to hire an attorney to defend you, but only if you promptly notify them.  In Oklahoma, you or your attorney only have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit or a default judgment could be entered against you, so it is imperative that you contact your insurance company immediately.  This gives your insurance company enough time to retain an attorney on your behalf and for the attorney to properly respond to the lawsuit.
  2. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY: If you have been sued (and you do not have insurance or your insurance is not going to defend you), immediately contact an attorney.  As we mentioned above, you only have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit once you have received it.  If a default judgment is entered against you for failing to respond, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to get a default judgment overturned.  It is much easier to simply respond on time and never have the default judgment entered against you, than to try and get a default judgment overturned.
  3. DO NOT POST ANYTHING ON SOCIAL MEDIA: This one may seem completely obvious or at least it should seem completely obvious, but defendants (and even some plaintiffs) post things on Facebook or Twitter or some other social media site that is damaging to their case.  In one case, I was representing a jailer that had been accused of strip searching a woman.  This was the central issue in the case, whether or not what happened was in a strip search.  Well, unfortunately, the attorney for the plaintiff found that my client had posted on myspace “a strip search with every accommodation” as her quote.  This was very damaging and we ultimately lost the case.  Likewise, 50 Cent is currently involved in a bankruptcy case.  Recently, he has posted photographs of himself with large piles of cash.  Because he has been posting these pictures, he was summoned to court to explain to the judge whether he was hiding assets, a very serious charge.  Turns out, he was posing with fake money, which is probably even more embarrassing for his public image and persona than the bankruptcy case.  The lesson here  is quite simply, do not post anything on Facebook that the other side could use against you in court.  Just don’t do it!

Oklahoma’s Never-Ending Quest to Erect A Ten Commandments Monument at the State Capitol

As we first discussed in Devil Be Gone: Oklahoma and the Ten Commandments Monument, on June 20, 2015, in Prescott v. Capitol Preservation Commission,  the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol had to be removed pursuant to Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.  This section states “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”

Immediately, members of the Oklahoma legislature called for the repeal of this section of the Oklahoma Constitution and to impeach the Supreme Court justices that voted against the Ten Commandments Monument in Prescott.  Now, there have not been any real attempts to impeach the Supreme Court justices, but House Bill 3162 was recently passed to significantly change the Judicial Nominating Commission (which was established decades ago in the wake of a bribery scandal among Supreme Court justices in the 1960’s).  The sponsor of this bill, House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, says the Judicial Nominating Commission’s power to select top judicial candidates has been greatly overdone and needs to be trimmed back, but in reality this was  not an issue until after the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Ten Commandments decision.

Similarly, the Oklahoma House and Senate have both passed bills to ask voters to repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.  Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon, whom I consider a personal friend, says “that if Article 2, Section 5, is not removed from the Constitution, a range of state activities that touch on religious institutions, including support for religious-affiliated hospitals, could be invalidated, particularly given the Supreme Court decision.”  And, to be fair to Rep. Jordan, that is a concern, but it is overstated and it is clear from the rhetoric immediately following the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision in Prescott that this is really about the Ten Commandments monument.  Besides, those that make this argument point to no Oklahoma case law to support their position.  In fact, there are two cases dealing with challenges brought under Article 2, Section 5 where the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the maintenance of chapels for the use of the children in a state orphans home did not violate Article 2, Section 5 (State ex rel. Town of Pryor v. Williamson, 1959 OK 207) and where the maintenance by the city of a cross on the city’s fairgrounds did not violate Article 2, Section 5 either (Meyer v. City of Oklahoma City, 1972 OK 45).  I think it is fair to say that the fear that failing to repeal Article 2, Section 5 will result in Native American art being taken down or support for religious-affiliated hospitals being invalidated is overblown, at best.

The bottom line is, even if the people of Oklahoma vote in favor of repealing Article 2, Section 5 and the Ten Commandments monument is re-erected on the grounds of the State Capitol, it will likely all be for not.  Why?  Because, the Ten Commandments monument, most likely, also violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment, in relevant part, states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  The First Amendment applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.    In Van Orden v. Perry, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.  This Ten Commandments monument was nearly identical to the one that was on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the Supreme Court found that it was permissible for Texas to have it.  However, there are significant factual differences between the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument and the Texas Ten Commandments monument.  For example, the Texas Ten Commandments monument was a gift from the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1961 and had been in place for 42 years before the lawsuit was filed challenging its placement.  Further, it was part of a display of seventeen monuments, all located on grounds registered as a historical landmark, and it was carefully located between the Supreme Court building and the Capitol building housing the legislative and executive branches of government.  The Supreme Court specifically mentioned the importance of these facts in determining that the Texas Ten Commandments monument was permissible.  By contrast, the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument has no history.  It was placed on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2012.  It was not donated to the State by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, or some other secular organization, but was paid for by the family of State Rep. Mike Ritze, who also authored the bill to allow for the Ten Commandments monument to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol.  Further, this monument was not placed among many other historical monuments, but was placed in an isolated location far from the main entrance to the Capitol.  Because the Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument is a new monument with no history, it is likely the Supreme Court would find it is in violation of the First Amendment.

I think it is fair to say that, clearly, these measures are in direct response to the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Ten Commandments decision and that is a shame.  The continued pursuit of placing the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol disenfranchises Oklahomans who are not Christian and is time consuming and expensive for the State to defend.  At a time when we have a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, wasting money defending a monument that is more than likely unconstitutional seems like a waste of time and resources.

Natural Born Citizen and who can be President of the United States?

Recently, the question of who is Constitutionally eligible to serve as President of the United States has become a national issue.  There were those that claimed President Barack Obama was ineligible to be President, because he was actually born in Kenya and those that argued “natural born citizen” meant both parents had to be United States citizens.  The issue has again risen to the forefront, because Donald Trump has claimed that Senator Ted Cruz is not a “natural born Citizen” based on his birth in Canada.  This blog will examine the Constitutional requirements to be President and what is meant by “natural born Citizen.”

Article II, Section 1 states, “[n]o person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”  Since, Sen. Cruz was clearly not a Citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, he has to be a “natural born Citizen” to be eligible to the Office of President.  Unfortunately, “natural born Citizen” is not defined, at all, in the Constitution. To interpret the Constitution, we must look to the British common law at the time the Constitution was adopted and at the actions and words of the First Congress, because so many of the members of that Congress were directly involved in the drafting of the Constitution.

First, in looking at the British common law, the laws in effect in the 1700’s stated that children born outside of the British Empire, but to subjects of the Crown were subjects themselves and even explicitly used the term “natural born” to describe these children. 128 Harv. L. Rev. 161, March 11, 2015.   In fact, as early as 1343, the British Parliament passed a statute stating “there was no manner of doubt that the children of our Lord the King, whether they were born on this side of the sea or beyond the sea, should bear the inheritance of their ancestors.”  In 1677, 1708, and 1731 the British Parliament passed additional statutes that explicitly said children born to fathers (even mothers were included in the 1677 statute) that were natural born subjects of the Crown were natural-born subjects of Britain.  United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 1898.  Although not dispositive of this inquiry, it is certainly informative to note that even in France, around the time of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, it was the general rule and understanding that “children born in a foreign country, of a French father…, were also deemed Frenchmen.”  Thus, the British common law, at the time of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, clearly embraced the concept that a child born to a citizen of Britain, at least to the father, was a natural born Citizen.

Likewise, the acts of the First Congress fall in line with the British common law.  In 1790, just three years after the drafting of the Constitution, the First Congress established that children born abroad to U.S. citizens were in fact U.S. citizens at birth and stated they “shall be considered as natural born citizens.”  Even more persuasive than just the acts of the First Congress is the fact that by successive acts Congress has routinely provided foreign-born children of U.S. citizens with citizenship at birth.  These statutes have been passed by Congress in 1790, 1795, 1798, 1802, 1804, and 1855.  United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 1898.  The statute in force when Sen. Cruz was born, enacted in 1952, provided for the citizenship at birth of a child born outside of the United States to a parent citizen, so long as that parent had been physically present in the United States for one year prior to the birth of the child.  Act of June 27, 1952, 66 Stat. 235-236; Title III, ch. 1, section 301(a)(7).   It is safe to say, since the drafting of the Constitution, it has been widely understood that children born abroad to a citizen of the United States was also a citizen at birth.

Interestingly, this debate has only become so intense in recent elections.  Senator Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona before it was a state, but he was the Republican Presidential nominee in 1964.  Governor George Romney was born in Mexico to U.S. citizen parents and ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1968.  And, in 2008 when Senator John McCain, who was born to U.S. citizen parents in the Panama Canal Zone, was running for President as the Republican nominee, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating that any interpretation of the natural born citizenship clause as limited to those born within the United States was “inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the ‘natural born Citizen’ clause of the Constitution of the United States, as evidenced by the First Congress’ own statute defining the term ‘natural born Citizen.’”  128 Harv. L. Rev. 161, March 11, 2015.    S. Res. 511, 110th Cong. (2008).

Now, there are those that argue Sen. Cruz is not a natural born Citizen because “a natural born citizen cannot be someone whose birth entitled him to citizenship because of a statute – in this case a statute that confers citizenship on a person born abroad to an American parent.”  “Ted Cruz is Not Eligible to be President” www.slate.com, Feb. 8, 2016.  Or because “the framers of both the original Constitution and the 14th Amendment seem to have distinguished between constitutionally and legislatively conferred citizenship.  Those who acquire their citizenship by virtue of birth in the United States are, according to the 14th Amendment, constitutionally conferred citizens, which also seems to be the original understanding of “natural born” citizens.”     Ted Cruz Isn’t a ‘Natural Born’ Citizen www.usnews.com, Feb. 19, 2016.  The problem with these arguments is that, as shown above, the British common law and the acts of the First Congress (and subsequent Congress after subsequent Congress) has afforded citizenship, even “natural born” citizenship, on the children of citizens born abroad.  This was discussed in depth over 100 years ago by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark.  The second problem with this argument is that the 14th Amendment was not ratified until July 9, 1868 – well after the drafting of the Constitution.  Considering the British common law and the actions of the First Congress, both sources routinely approved by the United States Supreme Court to be used in interpreting the Constitution, support this position, it is antithetical to use the language found in the 14th Amendment to argue otherwise.

Although it would be quite ironic for Sen. Cruz to be ineligible to run for President based on an originalist approach to the Constitution – considering his love of that theory – it just doesn’t fit here.  As Congress has recognized since the founding of this nation, a foreign-born child of a U.S. citizen is a “natural born citizen” and is eligible to serve as President.

Should You Have Uninsured Motorist Coverage?

In Oklahoma, motorists are only required to have $25,000.00 in automobile insurance to cover potential injuries they may cause while driving.  Unfortunately, with the rapidly rising costs of healthcare, $25,000.00 does not go very far.  In many situations, an innocent individual, who just happens to have the misfortune of being hit by someone with these minimum limits, will be stuck with medical bills that far exceed $25,000.00.  If the individual is lucky, the doctors and hospitals may be willing to take a pro-rata share of the available $25,000.00 and call it even, but they do not always do so, leaving the innocent individual with thousands upon thousands of medical bills to pay for, even though they did nothing wrong.

What can you do to try and make sure this doesn’t happen to you?  Well the most important thing you can do is make sure you plan ahead and get the appropriate insurance coverage on your automobile policy.  In Oklahoma, drivers are given the option of purchasing uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage or UM/UIM coverage for short.  Many Oklahoma drivers decline to purchase this insurance, because it is optional and it makes their auto insurance premium increase.  This is a huge mistake.  In a situation where your medical bills exceed the amount of available insurance from the other driver or even where the other driver has no insurance at all, you would be able to collect from your UM/UIM coverage – assuming you decided to purchase it.  And having UM/UIM coverage can be a huge boost in a case like this, because if you have more than just the state minimum coverages you could have $50,000.00, $100,000.00, or more in UM/UIM coverage to help pay for your medical bills and other damages associated with being injured.

Some people will argue that UM/UIM insurance is too expensive for such a remote possibility of being used.  But, I would disagree.  I have seen too many clients come to my office and tell me about an auto accident they were involved in where there was no insurance or not nearly enough insurance available to cover their medical bills to agree that this coverage would be rarely used.  In fact, on the occasions where my clients had UM/UIM coverage available and we did use it, they were all extremely grateful they had it.  Without question, I believe every driver that has automobile insurance, even if they have health insurance or other insurance available, should have UM/UIM coverage to help protect them and their loved ones.

Daniel Holtzclaw Violated the Victims’ Civil Rights

Former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was charged with 36 counts of sexually assaulting 13 African-American females between December 2013 and June 2014, while serving as an Oklahoma City Police Officer.  On December 10, 2015, Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 counts, including four counts of first-degree rape.  Of the 13 victims, Holtzclaw was convicted of sexual offenses involving 8 of the victims.  It is quite possible that Holtzclaw will spend the rest of his life in jail.  However, for these 13 victims, it is also clear that their Civil Rights have been violated by Holtzclaw and, possibly, by his supervising officers and/or the Oklahoma City Police Department.

These 13 victims, and any other victims of Holtzclaw, would have a Civil Rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C.  §1983.  Section 1983 provides a private cause of action to anyone whose rights, secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, were violated by a person acting under color of state law.  These women’s’ rights were clearly violated.  One possible right that would have been violated would be their substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Due process protections have been provided “to matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity.”  Clearly, a police officer sexually assaulting someone would violate their right to bodily integrity.  Williams v. Berney, 519 F.3d 1216 (10th Cir. 2008).

Likewise, Holtzclaw would clearly have been acting under color of state law.  Based on the allegations that have been made public, Holtzclaw picked these women up, while on duty, and sexually assaulted them.  Because he exercised power “possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because [he] is clothed with the authority of state law,” he would be said to have been acting under color of state law.  West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988).  While he was committing these crimes he was acting in his capacity as a police officer and with the authority provided to him by state law.  As a result, this is one of the clearest examples of someone acting under “color of state law.”

Further, there may even be a claim against his supervising officers or against the City of Oklahoma City.  However, these are much more difficult.  The victims would have to show that their rights were violated by virtue of the supervising officials “own conduct.”  Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1197 (10th Cir. 2010).  This is a difficult burden, but if the victims can show that the supervising officers set in motion a series of events that they knew or reasonably should have known would cause Holtzclaw (or other officers) to violate the rights of the victims, then they could also be held personally liable.

Similarly, if the victims can show that there was a policy or custom of the City of Oklahoma City that caused their rights to be violated, the City could be held responsible for Holtzclaw’s actions.  However, this is a very difficult burden, as the victims would be required to demonstrate and identify a specific deficiency in the policies and/or procedures that was obvious and closely related to their injuries.

Finally, even though Holtzclaw was only convicted of sexual offenses relating to 8 of the 13 victims, the other 5 victims would absolutely have a civil rights claim against him.  This is because the required standards of proof are different in a criminal case and a civil case.  In a criminal case, each allegation against Holtzclaw had to be proven beyond a preponderance of a doubt.  This is the highest burden of proof in our legal system.  However, in a civil case, which a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations against Holtzclaw would be, the burden of proof is only beyond a preponderance of the evidence-often referred to as more probable than not.  This burden is much lower.  Because this burden is lower, these women would still have a civil rights claim against Holtzclaw.  Ultimately, not only has Holtzclaw committed multiple crimes for which he will be punished, but he has also violated the Civil Rights of these women and they are entitled to bringing a claim against him, personally, for these violations.

Are My Medical Bills Covered?

If you have been injured in an automobile accident or a premises liability slip-and-fall case, one of the first things you have probably wondered about was how were your medical bills going to be paid.  This is a very important issue for you and there are several different factors and strategic decisions to be made.

  1. If the accident is your fault: If the accident is your fault, then the other driver’s insurance company will not be helping pay for your medical bills.  In a situation like this, you may still use your health insurance to help pay the cost of your medical bills.  You may also have medical payments (med pay) coverage on your automobile insurance policy.  Typically, med pay policy limits in Oklahoma are less than $10,000.00, but under Oklahoma law they are available to you regardless of who was at fault for the accident.  It is very important to contact your insurance company after an accident to determine if there is med pay coverage available to you.
  2. If the other driver is at fault: If the other driver is at fault for your accident and your injuries were caused by the accident, then the other driver or their insurance company will be responsible for reimbursing you for your damages.  Your damages include any medical bills you have incurred or any future medical bills you will incur.  But, and this is important, the other driver or insurance company is not required to pay your medical bills as you incur them.  In a normal case, they will only look at settling your case once you have completed all of your treatment.  Many hospitals and medical providers will agree to hold your bills and not turn them over to collections until your case has been settled.  However, some will require you to pay them immediately, to avoid having the bill turned over to collections.  It is important to communicate with the hospital or medical providers early on.  Keep in mind, even if the other driver is at fault, you can still receive your med pay benefits from your automobile insurance company.  In Oklahoma, you are allowed to “double dip” and receive a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company and receive your med pay benefits.
  3. If you are injured in a slip-and-fall accident or other premises liability case: If you are not injured in a car accident, but are injured at a business or on someone else’s property, the business or property owner may be responsible for your medical bills.  Basically, if the business was negligent-legally responsible for your injuries- and failed to maintain their premises in a safe condition, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  If this is the case, typically, you will be able to get med pay benefits from the business and a settlement for your injuries.  However, even if the business was not negligent and, thus, not legally responsible for your injuries, you may still be able to recover med pay benefits to help pay your bills.

It is important to keep in mind that in none of these situations are your medical bills paid as you incur them.  An attorney can often help during this process by contacting the medical providers and letting them know that you are represented and that a claim is being made for your injuries.  An experienced personal injury attorney can also help ensure that you maximize your recovery through any and all available insurance.  Finally, an attorney can help to negotiate your medical bills with your medical providers, so that you end up with more money in your pocket.  If you have any questions or if you or a loved one has been injured and is trying to figure out how to pay medical bills that you have incurred, feel free to contact a personal injury attorney at The Cotton Law Firm for a free consultation.

Syrian Refugees: Are we a Christian nation or not?

After the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France more than half of the governors – 27 states in all — of the United States have said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their States.  They have made this decision under the guise of safety and protecting American citizens from ISIS terrorists.  Not surprisingly, 26 of these states have Republican governors, including Oklahoma.  What is most disheartening is that, for the most part, these are the same States and the same governors that have fought to have Ten Commandments monuments placed on the grounds of the State Capitol, fought same sex marriage because it is against their Christian beliefs (Alabama), and tried to pass restrictions on Sharia law.  We live in a country where Christian people are upset if a business’ employees says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” are offended because Starbucks only has a red cup for Christmas, and protest the participation of Muslim U.S. veterans’ in a Veterans’ Day parade, simply because they are Muslim.  We say that we are a Christian nation, yet our actions show something very different.  When faced with the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, we respond with fear, xenophobia, and isolationism.  We ignore these people in their time of greatest need.

There are approximately 12 million Syrian refugees.  Let that number sink in.  12 million people that have fled their homeland.  New York City has a population of only 8 million.  The population for the entire State of Oklahoma is 3.8 million.  There are more refugees from Syria than people that live in the entire State of Oklahoma and New York City combined.  Of those 12 million people, roughly half are children.  These children are especially at risk.  They are susceptible to malnutrition and disease.  Often, they have to work in dangerous and demeaning jobs to help provide for their family.  They are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.  And, between 2 and 3 million of these Syrian children are unable to even attend school. These are all things that we take for granted for our children here.  Of the more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees that have left Syria, more than 50% are women. It is obvious that the refugees are not predominately military age males.  This is a crisis that affects the young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian alike.  This is a crisis of biblical proportions.  These people have fled their homes and are running for their lives; running from ISIS and the civil war in their home country.

Unfortunately, here in the United States, we greet them with distrust and fear.  We are willing to accept the Christian refugees, but we are not willing to accept Muslim refugees.  We believe them to be untrustworthy, solely because of their religious beliefs.  We believe them to be terrorists or members of ISIS, even though, that is precisely what they are running from.  This fear, this distrust, is wholly irrational.  There is no evidence that any of these refugees are dangerous.  And, here in Oklahoma, it is especially irrational because, so far, there are only 3 Syrian refugees in the entire state.

In times of great crisis, Christians are given an opportunity to show what our beliefs truly mean, to show the world what it is to be a Christian.  As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and visit the imprisoned.  These Syrian refugees are hungry, thirsty, naked, and homeless.  They are in dire need of our help, as they leave their homeland just on the hope that they will survive.  Unfortunately, our irrational fear of people that are different drives us to ignore their pleas.  Here in Oklahoma, we are more concerned with putting up a Ten Commandments monument, sharia law, who gets to marry whom, protesting Muslim U.S. veterans’ participation in a Veteran’s Day parade, and what color Starbucks cups are for Christmas.  Maybe we shouldn’t #prayforparis or #prayforsyria, maybe, just maybe we should #prayforus, because our actions are not those of a Christian nation or a Christian people.

How Much is my Personal Injury Case Worth?

The one question that I get nearly every time a prospective client comes into the office to discuss their personal injury case is always “how much is my case worth?”  This seems like a simple enough question, but in reality it is a complex question and the answer is based on multiple factors.  Here are some of those factors:

  1. Your medical bills:

The first consideration in the value of your case is how much are your medical bills.  This is generally the starting point for a damages award in personal injury cases.  Of course, it is never that simple.  Oklahoma, recently, passed a law that only allows for the amount of your medical bills that was actually paid to be considered in calculating damages and not the amount charged by the medical provider.  So, for example, if you went to the emergency room right after the accident and the ER billed $5,000.00 for their services, but your health insurance only paid them $1,000.00 and the remainder was “contractually adjusted” or written off by the ER, you would only be able to claim the $1,000.00 that was paid for your personal injury claim.

  1. The extent of your injuries and the quality of your care:

As one would imagine, if you are more seriously injured, your case is likely to be worth more.  For example, if you have broken bones or torn ligaments, your case will be worth more than if you just have whiplash or “soft-tissue injuries.”  The reason for this is pretty simple, injuries that a jury can “see” are more powerful and, as a result, typically result in larger jury verdicts.  Likewise, if you receive treatment right after the accident from an emergency room or you go to an orthopedic surgeon for intensive care or surgery, your case will be worth more than if you just went to a chiropractor and received a few adjustments.

  1. You waited to get medical treatment:

Lots of times potential clients will come to my office and tell me that even though they were hurt immediately after the accident and have been hurting for weeks or even months, they have still not sought any medical treatment.  The reasons for doing this are rarely nefarious; typically, people just don’t have the time to go the ER or simply believe that their symptoms will go away on their own.  Unfortunately, waiting to receive medical treatment is one of the most common ways people cause the value of their case to decrease.  Insurance companies look at someone that waited to get treatment for several weeks or months as someone that must not be very hurt – in their eyes, if someone is hurt that badly, they would have immediately gotten medical treatment.  As a result, the insurance company is likely to discount any medical treatment they ultimately received or even to completely ignore it.

  1. Lost wages:

If you missed time from work, you are entitled to recover your lost wages under Oklahoma law.  As a result, the amount of time you missed from work because of the injuries you sustained in the car accident typically has a direct correlation to the value of your case.

  1. The damage to your vehicle:

It may seem like this would have no relation to the value of your personal injury claim, after all these are separate claims and issues, but they are not!  Insurance companies closely look at how much damage was sustained by your vehicle.  If the car has very minimal damage, or by extension if the impact was minor, they will argue you should not have been injured.  This is a very powerful argument – juries tend to look at pictures of vehicles with very minor damage and believe there is just no way someone could have been injured in such a minor accident.  As a result, if your vehicle does not have extensive damage, the value of your case is likely to be less, regardless of your injuries.

  1. Who’s fault was the accident:

Obviously, if you are at fault for the accident, your personal injury claim would have zero value.  This is because insurance companies are only required to pay in situations where their insured was negligent and at-fault for the accident and for your injuries.  This becomes a big issue when there are questions as to whose fault the accident was.  In some situations, both drivers are partly at fault for an accident.  When that happens, the value of the case goes down correspondingly.

  1. Miscellaneous:

Unfortunately, there are many other miscellaneous factors that can affect the value of your personal injury claim.  For example, under Oklahoma law, the insurance company is now allowed to factor in whether or not you were wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident.  As you can imagine, if you were not wearing your seat belt, your case will be worth less, because the insurance company can argue that you would not have been injured if you had been wearing it.  Other considerations that attorneys typically have to pay attention to are your personality and likeability to a jury; the personality and likeability of the other driver; who your doctors are and are they good at testifying, if necessary; and even something like the relationship between your attorney and the insurance company’s adjuster can affect the value of your personal injury case.

The bottom line is personal injury cases are complex and to maximize the value of your personal injury claim and to get everything that you are entitled to according to the law, it is in your best interest to get an experienced personal injury attorney working for you as soon as possible.  Here, at The Cotton Law Firm, we offer free initial consultations, so that we can discuss the details of your particular case and give you the best chance to maximize the value of your case.

Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

♫So I pull over to the side of the road and I heard

“Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”

Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low

Do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know

Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?

“Well you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four

License and registration and step out of the car

Are you carrying a weapon on you?  I know a lot of you are”

I ain’t stepping out of s***, all my papers legit

“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”

Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back

And I know my rights, so you gon’ need a warrant for that

“Aren’t you sharp as a tack

You some type of lawyer or something

Or somebody important or something?”

Nah, I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit

Enough that you won’t illegally search my s***.

“Well we’ll see how smart you are when the K-9s come.” ♫

 

Jay-Z released “99 Problems” in 2003 and it included this verse about criminal procedure and your rights during a traffic stop.  Unfortunately, not all of it is accurate.  So, with the increased national focus on traffic stops and citizens’ rights when dealing with the police after the incidents in Ferguson, New York, Texas, and even here in Moore, Oklahoma let’s take a closer look at “99 Problems” and citizens’ rights during a traffic stop.  The questions we will answer are: what are your rights during a traffic stop?  Can an officer search your vehicle during a traffic stop?  And, what about the use of K-9s?

1. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

First, and foremost, if you have been stopped by the police you have the right to remain silent.  You do not have to answer a police officer’s questions and your silence cannot be used against you.  If you are going to invoke your right to remain silent, you must do so verbally and you must make it clear to the officer that you are doing so.  For example, say “I refuse to answer any questions” or “I want to speak to my attorney” or “I wish to remain silent.”   However, like all rights, the right to remain silent is not absolute.  If you have been pulled over and a police officer asks for your identification, you do have to provide it to him, along with your insurance verification.  Also, there is an exception to the right to silence in many states, if a police officer asks you for your name, address, and date of birth, you are required to provide that information.

2. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH OF YOUR VEHICLE

Second, you have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle.  “Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?  Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back and I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”  Do not be fooled by the casualness of the question “do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”.  This is a request to search the vehicle.  And, you are fully within your rights to refuse this request.  However, the police officer does not need a warrant to search the vehicle if you refuse to give consent.  There are several situations where police officers may conduct a search of your vehicle without a warrant, even if you do not give consent., including if the officer has probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime or your vehicle may be searched if you are arrested, and the officer may seize any illegal objects in your vehicle that are in “plain view.”  The most important of these exceptions is probable cause.  The United States Supreme Court has found that it is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment for the police to search a vehicle (this includes the entire vehicle, locked glove boxes, locked trunks, and everything inside the car, including any containers) without a warrant whenever they have probable cause to believe the car contains evidence of a crime, because of the inherently mobile nature of vehicles.  So, even if your glove compartment and trunk are locked, they may be searched, if the police officer has probable cause to search the vehicle.

However, even if you exercise your right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle and if none of the exceptions discussed above exist, the police officer may have a drug dog sniff the vehicle, because this is not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.  The United States Supreme Court has held that dog sniffs do not reveal any information about the contents or the object sniffed except the presence of contraband, of which you do not have any right to privacy.  Thus, and this is the key, as long as the traffic stop is not prolonged to allow time for the K-9 unit to get there, the police may have a drug dog sniff your vehicle when they pull you over for a traffic violation and you have no right to object to the sniff.

3. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO LEAVE

Third, if you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave.  In a traffic stop, once the officer has processed the ticket or warning for the traffic violation that you were pulled over for, unless you have been arrested, you are free to leave in a calm and peaceful manner.  Just keep in mind, you may be arrested for a simple traffic violation.  Every crime (including a traffic offense) is an arrestable offense.

4. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

Fourth, if you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney.  If you are arrested, do not answer any further questions and immediately ask for an attorney.  You have the right to talk to an attorney and to have your attorney with you while you are being questioned by the police.  You may even exercise your right to an attorney after you have begun talking to the police and once you request an attorney all questions should immediately stop.  Even if you cannot afford an attorney, for most criminal charges, one will be appointed to you by the Court.

The bottom line during a traffic stop is:

  1. You have the right to remain silent;
  2. You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle;
  3. You have the right to leave, if you have not been arrested; and,
  4. If you have been arrested, you have the right to an attorney.

However, keep in mind, the best thing to do during a traffic stop is to be polite, respectful, and to cooperate with the police officer.  Do whatever you can to set their mind at ease by showing them some basic courtesies:

  1. Roll your window down all the way;
  2. Stay in your vehicle;
  3. Keep your hands on the steering wheel; and,
  4. If it is at night, turn on your interior light.

Police officers are killed every day during “ordinary” traffic-stops and doing these things will help to alleviate any fears and concerns they may have as they approach your vehicle.  If they request your driver’s license and insurance information, provide it to them.  Do not argue with the officer about the reason for your stop.  This is not the time or place to try and prove your innocence-that is in court, with your attorney.  You are not going to convince the officer that he should not have stopped you and, more likely than not, you will just talk yourself into a ticket.  And, most important, if you are arrested do not resist or fight.  Even if you believe the arrest is illegal, you do not have the right to resist, cooperate, request an attorney and allow your attorney to fight the arrest in court.  If you argue with the police, are disrespectful, or resist the arrest you will have “99 problems.”