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Auto Accidents

Car Accident Liability for Junior Vehicle Operators

Junior Vehicle OperatorsIn Massachusetts, young drivers generally obtain a junior operator license after their learner’s permit. This license gives drivers ages 16.5 to 18 years of age the opportunity to operate a motor vehicle. Similarly, New Hampshire drivers between the ages of 16 and 21 years receive a Youth Operator license. In both cases, these drivers are subject to a few extra restrictions and obligations. Here’s a closer look at the junior and youth operator licenses and liability issues.

Obtaining Youth and Junior Operator’s License

To obtain a junior operator’s license, you must have had a learner’s permit for at least six months, completed an approved driver education and training program, and driven a certain number of hours under the supervision of your parent or guardian. You must also pass a written test. During the first six months of having your junior operator’s license, you can’t transport any passengers under the age of 18 years unless they are immediate family members or you have a licensed driver over the age of 21 with you. You also cannot drive between 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless a parent or guardian accompanies you.

In New Hampshire, drivers must take a driver’s education course, complete a certain number of supervised driving hours, and pass a test to obtain a youth operator’s license. With this license, minors can’t drive alone between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and up to their 21st birthday, these drivers may have their licenses suspended for a variety of offenses, including building up demerits on their driving record.

Insurance Requirements

All Massachusetts and New Hampshire drivers are required to have car insurance. Youth and junior operators need liability coverage for bodily injury, property damage, personal injury protection, and uninsured motorists, but to be on the safe side, they may also want to have comprehensive and collision coverage as well as coverage for underinsured motorists. They should also consider getting bodily and property damage coverage above the legally mandated limits.

Statistically, teens are three times more likely to get into an accident than drivers over the age of 20. To protect your family financially, you should always ensure that teen drivers are well insured. As a general rule of thumb, insuring a teen driver is more expensive than insuring an adult driver. Parents can add teens to their own policies, and in fact, many insurers require you to add all licensed drivers who live in your home to your policy. The only way to get around this requirement is to buy the junior operator their own car and insure them just on that vehicle.

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Failure to List Licensed Drivers

If you fail to list licensed drivers on your insurance policy, your insurer may refuse to pay your claim in the event of a car accident. In fact, even if you are insured and you are driving, the insurer may still refuse to pay a claim if you have an uninsured junior operator in your home. In this situation, you may end up being personally liable for any costs incurred due to the accident.

However, some insurers will accept exclusions. You must submit an exclusion form to the insurer declaring that the junior operator will not ever drive your car and that you want them excluded from your policy.

Driving Without Insurance

If your teen driver takes your car and they are not listed on the insurance, you are responsible. In some situations, your insurer may cover the accident under the “guest driver” rules of the policy, but as indicated above, the insurer may not be legally required to cover these accidents. As a result, you may end up being personally liable. In other words, you may have to cover the cost of the accident with your assets and wages.

Even if your teen takes your car without permission, you can still be held responsible. Parents are often liable for their teens’ actions. The argument in these situations is that you are responsible for watching your child. If your child sneaks out, takes your car, and grievously injures someone, you may be to blame from a legal perspective. In some cases, you may escape criminal penalties, but you may still be civilly liable.

Finding the At-Fault Driver

Unfortunately, teens are often perceived to be irresponsible drivers regardless of how careful they are as individuals, and if a teen is in an accident, the other driver may rely on that stereotype to cast blame on the teen. However, if the teen didn’t really cause the accident, the other driver should be held liable. In these situations, you should consult with an attorney. They can find witnesses or proof of who was at fault, and they can help to ensure that the teen doesn’t have to bear the liability for an accident that they truly didn’t cause.

If you have a teen driver, you should take steps to help them be as careful as possible on the road. Remind them not to text and drive and to minimize other distractions. Also, keep in mind that you may be liable if they are in an accident. Make sure they have adequate insurance on your car or their own car, and if you decide to exclude them from your policy, make sure that you follow the rules of the exclusion and never let them drive the excluded vehicles.

Unfortunately, accidents can happen. If your teen has been in an accident or if you have been in an accident with a junior operator, you may need legal help. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we help clients after auto accidents as well as after a variety of other types of injuries.

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Inherent Liability: Who’s Liable When a Driver Crashes Someone Else’s Car?

Driver Crashes Someone Else’s CarWhen a driver crashes someone else’s car, the liability isn’t always clear, and it varies based on the location and the specifics of the situation. To help you get a sense of who’s liable, here’s a brief look at inherent liability and an overview of who’s liable when a car accident occurs in someone else’s car.

Permissive Use

Most car insurance policies have a permissive use clause. This simply means that if the owner gives someone permission to use their car, their insurance covers that driver. To explain, imagine someone lets their brother drive their car and the brother crashes the car, causing property damage. In this situation, it doesn’t matter whether or not the brother has coverage because the owner’s policy covers the damages.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. In Massachusetts, for example, you are required to list all other regular drivers on your policy, and some insurers interpret this broadly to mean that you should list all drivers, even if they only use your vehicle occasionally. As a result, the insurer may deny the claim if the driver isn’t listed on the owner’s policy. To learn about the laws in New Hampshire, contact an auto accident attorney directly, as this state has unique laws.

Roommates and Family Members

Typically, every licensed member of a household has to be listed on the car insurance policy for that household. This applies to family members, but surprisingly, it can also apply to roommates. If you share a house with a few people, your car insurance company usually won’t require you to list them on your policy if they have their own vehicles and their own insurance coverage.

However, if one of your roommates is a licensed driver without a vehicle or insurance, your insurance company may assume that they are likely to borrow your car, and because of that, your insurer may require you to list them on your policy. In this situation, if that individual borrows your car, your insurance should cover any liability issues.

Excluded Drivers

Adding certain drivers to your policy can drive up your premiums, especially if the driver is young or has a bad driving record. To sidestep those extra costs, you can exclude certain members of your household from your auto insurance policy. Those people need to be expressly listed as excluded on the policy, and they should never drive the vehicle, as they are not covered.

Theft

Whether someone is an excluded driver or not, if they take a vehicle without permission, the owner is generally not liable for anything that happens. In that situation, the thief is exclusively liable for any accidents that occur. However, for this to hold true, the owner of the vehicle may need to charge the driver with theft. That helps to establish that the driver did not have permission to use the car and this step may be necessary to protect the vehicle’s owner from a liability standpoint.

Non-Permissive Use

If the owner of the vehicle isn’t claiming that theft was involved, non-permissive use rules may come into play in a different way. Typically, if someone takes a car without permission, their insurance kicks in first, and then, the owner’s policy fills in any gaps. Conversely, if the driver doesn’t have insurance, the owner’s auto insurance policy may cover the damages, but that is not always the case.

For example, in the case of Wayne Mahoney vs. American Automobile Insurance Company, the judge ruled that the insurer was not responsible when a driver caused an accident with a rental car because the rental company (the owner of the vehicle) had not authorized him to use the vehicle. However, this only applies to adult drivers, and the rules vary based on whether or not a child was involved.

Parental Responsibility

In some cases, parents exclude their teenagers from their policies, and if the teen takes the family car without permission, the parents can charge the teen with theft as explained above. However, with parents and children, the rules are a bit more complicated. Parents are expected to be responsible for their children, and if a teen takes a vehicle, crashes it, and hurts someone, the parent can be held responsible. That’s true whether the parent let the teen borrow the car or not. Similarly, parents often can be held criminally and civilly liable for allowing their children to commit a range of other crimes.

Company Cars

When someone is driving a vehicle for work, their employer is usually liable for any accidents that occur. For instance, if a delivery truck driver hits a pedestrian, the owner of that company is liable for the damages. In situations where the driver is an independent contractor, the inherent liability is not as clear. Ride-sharing services in particular, often try to absolve themselves of liability unless the driver is actively carrying a passenger, but the courts have held these companies responsible for accidents occurring between fares.

Liability is a complicated issue, and if you’ve been in a car accident, you need a professional who truly understands the laws inside and out. To get the justice you deserve, contact Mazow | McCullough, PC today. We will help you take a stand against the people who hurt you, regardless of whose car they were driving.

Distracted Driving – Safety for Drivers & Pedestrians (Video)

Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and some ways for both drivers and pedestrians to stay safe.

There’s a law here in Massachusetts against distracted driving. The purpose of that law is to prevent or avoid injuries. The problem is, people aren’t following the law. Way too many drivers nowadays are operating motor vehicles using their cell phones, eating food, drinking a beverage. If you’re driving a motor vehicle, whether it’s a highway or a side street, you need to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Whether it’s a motor vehicle in front of you, beside you, or that small child that could run into the street chasing that ball.

Pay attention to the roadway. If you’re a pedestrian, don’t assume that the driver of that motor vehicle is going to stop for you at that intersection. Take the time to hit the traffic signal. Wait for the light. Cross in the crosswalk. Make eye contact with that driver, give them a wave. Make sure that they know that you’re about to cross the street. There are a number of different things that we can all do to avoid collisions, incidents, and injuries. Be mindful of that, follow the law and do everything that you can to be safe.

Distracted Driving – Recent Pedestrian Accidents (Video)

Robert Mazow of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and some recent pedestrian accidents brought to the firm’s attention.

In the last month or so, my office has been retained to represent people who’ve been seriously hurt as a result of being hit by distracted drivers. In one instance, a man was crossing the street on a rainy night and a vehicle being driven by a young woman, who was texting, failed to stop for him and ran him over. She left the scene. Thankfully, she was caught and she was arrested. This poor gentleman was taken by ambulance to one of the Boston hospitals where he has been still suffering from life-threatening injuries.

In another instance, a woman was on Facetime while she was driving and took out two people who were clearly in the crosswalk in the early evening, right in front of her face, had she been looking. One of those people is still in a coma today. In another instance, on a major street in Beverly, a man was crossing the street and he was struck by somebody who was distracted, not by texting but because he had been drinking. He was actually drinking while he was driving down the road and struck this gentleman and changed his life. Distracted driving is no joke in Massachusetts or elsewhere.

You cannot be behind the wheel of a car and have your mind anywhere else but on the road. If for any reason you know somebody who has been hurt as a result of a distracted driver, please have them give us a call, because the right lawyer makes all the difference.

Distracted Driving – Pedestrian Safety (Video)

Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and pedestrian safety when crossing the road.

As a pedestrian looking to cross a large intersection of a busy street, it can be frustrating, waiting your turn and waiting for that crossing signal to occur. It is extremely important that you as a pedestrian do everything you can to cross that street safely. We know these days there are too many distracted drivers — drivers not paying attention to the traffic signals, drivers who aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them, or simply a driver who does make a stop, looking to make a quick right turn on a red signal.

Just because you think you have the crossing signal, please take that extra step to be careful to make sure that it’s safe to cross the street. Make eye contact with that driver. Wave to that driver. Wait for them to look at you or wave back. That’s the safest way to ensure that the driver of that car sees you, and it’s safe to cross the street.

Distracted Driving – It Only Takes A Second (Video)

Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and how it only takes a second of distraction for an accident to occur.

We’re all familiar with the cliché that “it only takes a second”. When it comes to driving a motor vehicle, and causing a collision involving injuries or death, it truly is accurate, and it really does only take a second. Driving a motor vehicle is difficult enough with all of the distractions going on around you, paying attention to your speed, what’s ahead of you, and pedestrians who may be crossing the street. It becomes even more difficult when people try to multitask, including using a cell phone. Whether it’s checking your email, checking incoming text messages, or sending a text message, it’s something that can wait and should wait.

People who are involved in motor vehicle collisions while using their phone will readily tell you how they should have waited, or they could have waited, before accessing their phone or using their phone. When you’re driving a motor vehicle, please be mindful of those on the roadway ahead of you and pedestrians who may be looking to cross the street. Be safe, be careful, wait before you access your phone or send that text message.4

Distracted Driving – Increasing Pedestrian Accidents in MA (Video)

Kevin McCullough discusses distracted driving, and the increasing number of pedestrian accident cases that the firm is seeing in Massachusetts.

At the lawyer offices of Mazow and McCullough we’ve been representing those injured in motor vehicle collisions for almost 20 years. During the last several weeks we’ve seen a dramatic increase in pedestrians being hit by motor vehicles. There has been an increase in the entire North Shore here in Massachusetts including incidents in Lynn, Peabody, Salem and Beverly.

We believe that this large increase in pedestrian and motor vehicle collisions is due to distracted driving. It’s more than distracted driving involving cell phones and using the cell phones and text messages. Distracted driving happens every day, and it could involve an upset child in the vehicle; someone late for work trying to put their make-up on as they’re driving down the roadway; someone simply not paying attention to the roadway ahead of them and looking at what’s going on on the side of the road or the sidewalk.

If you’re driving a motor vehicle, please be careful of what’s going on around you and be mindful of what’s going on around you. If you take your eyes off the roadway for one second, a collision can occur and people can get injured.

Distracted Driving – Common Misconceptions (Video)

Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and some common misconceptions about distracted driving accidents.

Distracted driving can be dangerous. It can also be deadly. There’s a common misconception that most distracted driving collisions occur on the highway. That’s not true. More often it’s that side street or that main roadway in that small town where that distracted driver causes a collision. There’s also a common misconception that distracted driving collisions occur at a high rate of speed. That’s not true. Most distracted driving collisions occur between the speeds of 5 to 30 miles per hour.

As you can imagine, the everyday roadway, traveling at the typical speed, is the most common factors involved in distracted driving collisions. If you’re driving a motor vehicle here in Massachusetts, you need to pay attention. Not only is it the law, but for the safety of those around you. Not just other motor vehicles, but also pedestrians. Be careful, be safe, be aware of what’s going on around you.

Distracted Driving – Cell Phone Use While Driving (Video)

Robert Mazow of Mazow McCullough discusses distracted driving, and cell phone use in particular, and how you might help to avoid distracted driving by using your phone’s built-in “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature.

Some day when you’re driving to work, look around the vehicles around you and see what people are doing while they’re driving. You see some people reading the paper. You see other people applying makeup. You see the most people looking at their phones. These days, our phones act so much more than just communication devices. We can browse the internet. We can check the weather. We can see almost anything we want to, but the time to do that is not when you’re in your car.

The time to do that is when you’re safely stopped, when you’re in your office, when you’re in your home. It’s not the time to do it when you’re behind the wheel. Some new phones are now equipped with a way to shut off the ability to communicate when your car reaches a certain speed limit. My suggestion, use that application. Do not be distracted because you take your eyes off the road for one minute, one moment, one second, it can change your life or the lives of somebody around you. Be smart. Be safe. Don’t be distracted.

Liability in Accidents with Uber and Lyft Drivers

Liability in AccidentsTypically, when you are in a motor vehicle accident with a professional driver, the driver’s employer is liable for the accident. However, with rideshare companies, the liability is not as cut and dry. Drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft are independent contractors. That means they are not directly employed by these companies, and as a result, these companies may not assume liability for the accident.

However, judges often have a different opinion on the matter. As a result, you may have recourse against these companies for any losses incurred.

Massachusetts Liability Laws for Ride-Share Companies

Under Massachusetts state law, rideshare drivers must have at least $1 million in liability coverage when they have a fare in the car. Both Uber and Lyft have policies that comply with this law. However, at the time of writing, there are no state laws demanding the company have liability coverage for drivers in between fares.

Uber and Lyft Liability Coverage

According to Uber, drivers are covered by a $1 million commercial liability policy when they accept a job, pick up a fare, and deliver the fare to their destination. That means if you are riding in an Uber, you are covered by that policy. Similarly, if you are hit by an Uber while they have a fare or are on the way to pick one up, you are also covered by that policy.

If a driver is in an accident between fares, their personal auto insurance covers the damage. If the driver doesn’t have enough coverage, Uber has a policy worth $50,000 per individual up to a total of $100,000 per accident; Lyft has very similar policies. Unfortunately, that amount is often not enough to cover the damage that occurs after an accident.

Driver Versus Uber Responsibility

In 2013, Huan Hua Kuan was crossing the road with her four- and six-year-old children when they were hit by an Uber driver, and her six-year-old daughter died. The driver was held criminally responsible for the pedestrian accident, but Uber initially refused to acknowledge any responsibility.

Kuan noticed the driver looking down at this phone just before the accident, and Uber admitted he was logged into its app at the time. However, the company expressly said it was not liable as the driver didn’t have a fare and wasn’t on the way to pick up a fare. Lawyers argued that the driver was looking for a fare and thus engaged with the company at the time of the accident. Although the $68-billion company tried to shirk financial responsibility, eventually Uber settled the case, but the records were sealed in relation to the amount.

This case underscores the fact that these companies are reluctant to admit liability after an accident. However, in spite of their reluctance, they may still be held responsible.

Changing Legal Climate for Uber and Lyft

Recently, both Uber and Lyft have been under fire for their business model, and many people are calling for these companies to take more responsibility. That includes better screening and training of drivers, but it also includes taking responsibility for driver accidents anytime the driver is logged into the app. California and Washington passed laws related to this issue, and other states may follow.

The laws are not always clear, and in many cases, they are still being written. If you have been affected by an accident involving an Uber, Lyft, or other ride-sharing driver, do not take the company’s word on their legal responsibilities for the accident. Instead, contact the Law Offices of Mazow | McCullough, PC at (978) 744-8000 or (855) 693-9084. We can help you get the justice you deserve.

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