An Absentee Parent Can Recover Under California's Wrongful Death Law

An Absentee Parent Can Recover Under California’s Wrongful Death Law

You are the mother of a 35-year-old daughter. She recently died of fatal injuries arising from a Sacramento car accident along Stockton Boulevard. You have been divorced for 10 years, and your ex-spouse hasn’t seen or talked to your daughter since the divorce. You want to know if you can recover monetary compensation for the loss of your daughter, and you have an issue with your ex-spouse also recovering compensation given his prolonged absence from your daughter’s life.

California Code of Civil Procedure section 377.60 establishes a wrongful death recovery for a surviving parent if the deceased child (adult or minor) is not survived by a spouse, domestic partner, child and/or grandchild. The claim is personal to the surviving parent and allows the surviving parent to recover for the loss of the child’s love, care, comfort, and society as well as for loss of future financial support and funeral/burial costs.

The wrongful death law does not distinguish between loving and engaged parents, on one hand, and absent parents, on the other hand. A parent just needs to qualify as the biological parent and/or a parent-by-adoption. A parent’s absence from his or her child’s life does not disqualify a parent from making a wrongful death claim, but evidence of an embittered and/or absent relationship will affect the amount of damages to be recovered by that parent. After all, how can an absentee parent claim that he or she lost the love, care, comfort, and society of his or her child if that parent had not been communicating with his or her child for several years?

Nevertheless, the above situation is frustrating for the close and engaged parent since the close parent may have to reduce his or her recovery in favor of the absentee parent. In fact, California law requires that all persons entitled to recover for wrongful death are to be joined in an action for wrongful death. As a result, the close parent will typically have to notify the absentee parent so that the absentee parent can also make a wrongful death claim.

Moreover, if a child dies as a result of a car accident, then the per-person limit–not the aggregate limit—of any applicable automobile liability insurance policy applies to all wrongful death claimants, collectively. This means that all the wrongful death claimants share the one-per-person limit. For example, California only requires drivers to carry liability coverage affording policy limits of $15,000.00 per person/$30,000.00 per accident. If the at-fault party only carries $15,000.00 per person, then all wrongful death claimants share $15,000.00 unless other insurance, such as uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and assets are available.

In the above scenario, your daughter was killed in an auto accident. As a result, you will likely have to share the at-fault party’s per-person limits with all others who are entitled to recover for the wrongful death of your daughter, including your ex-spouse who hasn’t seen or communicated with your daughter in years. Thus, you need a good law firm to protect your interests.

At Curtis Legal Group, we protect a client’s interests and look for all means of recovery, insurance or otherwise, to ensure that our clients recover all available compensation.

How To Check The Safety Ratings Of A Car

How To Check The Safety Ratings Of A Car

You’re driving your car along University Avenue in Sacramento on a rainy winter day. You’re thinking about what you will be doing during the upcoming weekend. Suddenly, a car traveling in the opposite direction veers across into your lane and hits you head on. Hopefully, your car, which you recently purchased, received a high safety rating for frontal crashes!

No doubt you checked the safety ratings for your car before you bought it, right? If you’re like most of us, that was not something you did. However, it’s something that easily can, and should be done by all of us when purchasing a vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA,) part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has tested for safety many of the vehicles on the road today. They have a 5-star rating system (the more stars the better) which reflects vehicles’ overall safety and the results of frontal crash tests, side barrier crash tests, side pole tests and rollover resistance tests.

The frontal crash test reflects head-on crash safety and the side barrier test determines how a vehicle will withstand a broadside (t-bone) type impact from another vehicle.

The side pole crash test reflects how a vehicle will handle a situation where it slides sideways into a pole and the rollover resistance test determines how a vehicle will withstand a rollover crash.

You can access NHTSA’s ratings for most vehicles from their website. Lucky for you, your car received the maximum 5 stars for overall safety and 4 stars for frontal crash safety. These ratings are reflected in the fact that you come out of this accident with only minor injuries.

The other guy didn’t fare as well. His car got only 2 stars for frontal crash safety and 3 for overall safety. His next ride was in an ambulance.

Next time you’re in the market for a car, check out the NHTSA ratings before you make your decision. It could save a lot of wear and tear on your most important asset: you.

Seat Belts on Buses in 2018

Seat Belts on Buses in 2018

Among the new laws going into effect this year is one dealing with the use of seatbelts on buses. Effective July 1, 2018, any passenger 16 years or older riding a bus equipped with seatbelts must buckle up.

The law also requires parents of children between 8 and 16 to make sure their children use seatbelts if provided while riding a bus. However, the law does not apply to school buses.

As for children under 8 years old, and under 4 feet 9 inches in height, parents must make sure they are “acceptably restrained by a safety belt” while on a bus if the bus is so equipped. If it is not possible to do so, the child must be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system.

If the child is under 2, they may be held by a parent or guardian.

Obviously, the legislature and governor believe that wearing a seatbelt promotes safety. This belief is supported by a number of studies.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) in 2015, seatbelt use saved an estimated 13,941 lives. Also, of the 35,092 people killed nationwide in motor vehicle accidents that year, 48% were not wearing seatbelts.

In addition, according to NHTSA, seat belt use reduces the risk of fatal injuries in an accident by 45% and of moderate to critical injury by 50%. These numbers clearly point toward the benefit of seatbelt use.

I know from my own experience handling hundreds of motor vehicle injury cases in Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto that people who wear seatbelts are less likely to be ejected from their vehicles in a crash. They are also less likely to strike objects inside their vehicles, such as the dashboard, windshield or other occupants.

Whether you are riding a bus down Watt Avenue in Sacramento, are a passenger in a car on March Lane in Stockton, or driving your car on Briggsmore Avenue in Modesto, it makes sense to always “buckle up.”

dont serve alcohol at a minors party

Consider This Before Serving Alcohol at Your Child’s Party

Last week, a Modesto family suffered a tragic loss. A teenager, driving while allegedly under the influence, drove a luxury automobile into another passenger car causing the passenger vehicle to roll over. A mother and daughter lost their lives in this senseless accident. Indeed, the State will likely pursue criminal charges against the teenage driver.

The relatives of the mother and daughter will also be able to pursue the teenager under California’s wrongful death statute (California Civil Code section 377.60). That statute allows certain family members and those dependent upon the decedents to recover for the loss of love, care, comfort, and society as well as financial support provided by the decedents. Hopefully, the teenage driver was covered under an automobile liability insurance policy.

The relatives and dependents, however, do not have to limit their wrongful death action to the teenage driver. They can explore a negligence action against those adults that furnished any alcoholic beverages to the teenage driver that may have caused the driver to become intoxicated while driving. Under California Civil Code section 1714(d), parents, guardians or adults that knowingly furnish alcoholic beverages, at his or her residence, to a person under 21 years of age are liable for the injuries and death caused by the latter person if the alcoholic beverages were a proximate cause of the injury or death.

The question here is whether the teenage driver was furnished alcohol by an adult and was that alcohol furnished at the adult’s residence. If so, then those family members and dependents may have additional sources of compensation against those adults that provided the alcohol to the teenage driver. The adult(s) may even have criminal liability.

At Curtis Legal Group, we fight for the victims of accidents. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to the family members of those that died in this horrific crash.

Hit and run accident lawyer

Watch Out For Those Street Monsters On Halloween

Halloween is a great time of year in the Central Valley, whether in Sacramento, Stockton or Modesto. Friends gather and celebrate the holiday with costume parties. Fully-costumed kids run up to neighborhood homes whether in Sacramento’s Arden Arcade district, Stockton’s Weston Ranch area or Modesto’s Village One neighborhood. They knock on doors while calling out “trick or treat” and receive a candy surprise in exchange. The holiday can be fun for all and especially children.

However, there can be dangers associated with Halloween. We have all heard of children receiving dangerous candy so candy should be checked thoroughly before consumed. Yet, there is even another danger: anxious children tend to run across neighborhood streets and outside crosswalks not being aware of their surroundings. They do so under the excitement to gather more and more candy. In the meantime, neighborhood residents and others continue to drive their automobiles, and if not careful, could easily crash into these children.

As a motorist, you may think that any crash would be the fault of the adult charged with watching the child. After all, the parent or adult should not allow the child to walk or run in the middle of the street. You would be right. Under California law, a parent is considered to have a “special relationship” with his or her child and is responsible for maintaining the child’s safety. Also, an adult who assumes the responsibility to care for a child would also be responsible for the child’s injuries as well.

However, as a motorist, you too may bear responsibility. Motorists have a duty to follow California Vehicle Code section 22350, which states, “No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.” A strong argument may be made that a reasonable driver knows or should know that children walk and run outside crosswalks on Halloween Night. Although streets are not typically blocked off for pedestrian traffic, pedestrian traffic is known to consume some neighborhoods on Halloween Night. Therefore, as a driver, you need to drive slow enough to watch out for children.

Be safe this Halloween and watch out for those street monsters.

Sacramento bicycle laws explained

Sacramento Bicycle Laws May Not Be What You Think

You are driving your car along Fair Oaks Blvd. in Sacramento, California. Suddenly, you see a bicyclist occupying your car’s lane of travel. When you look closely, the cyclist is riding without a helmet, and he’s biking somewhat fast. He has one headphone in his ear, and he isn’t even riding in the bike lane conveniently placed to the right of your lane. You pause and ask yourself, “How can this cyclist’s conduct be legal?” Believe it or not, this cyclist is riding his bike in a legal manner.

The laws for California cyclers are quite different than cycling laws in other states so it is important that all automobile drivers and bicyclists fully understand these specific laws.

Where are bicyclists allowed to bike on the street?
Bicyclists must ride closest to the right side of the street as possible, including the bike lane, if they are biking slower than traffic. However, if a bicyclist is able to maintain the speed of the traffic, he can bike anywhere within the street.

Does a bicyclist have to signal when he or she is about to turn?
Yes, a bicyclist must always signal. Much like an automobile driver, a cyclist must provide some sort of signal indicating when he or she will turn left, right, and stop. Generally, a cyclist motions other motorists with hand signals.

Do bicyclists have to wear a helmet?
Yes and No. Only bicyclists under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet.

Can a cyclist ride his or her bike across the crosswalk?
In order to cross a crosswalk, a cyclist must walk their bike across the street.

Can bicyclists operate a cell-phone while biking?
Yes. Although automobile drivers and motorcyclists aren’t permitted to use cell phones while driving, bicyclists are allowed to use a handheld phone while biking.

Are cyclists allowed to use headphones while biking?
Yes and No. Bicyclists are not allowed to wear headsets covering both ears, but it is legal to insert a headphone in one ear.

Can bicyclists bike under the influence?
No. If a cyclist is caught cycling under the influence, then he or she could be fined at least $250.

Although the law is somewhat forgiving for bicyclists, bicyclists should take every reasonable precaution to be safe. After all, a cyclist can also be liable for causing a traffic accident where others may suffer severe injuries.

We at Curtis Legal Group wish you all a safe biking experience as you cycle through California!

Texting While Driving in California

Why Is It Illegal To Text and Drive?

We’ve all heard the warning that texting and driving can be dangerous and leads to car accidents, but why has the California legislature made it illegal. Why is that so?

In this busy world we live in, many of us feel the need to multitask in order to just keep up. Why not use that free time we have while we drive down Howe Avenue in Sacramento or McHenry Avenue in Modesto in order to catch up on some texting or e-mailing or even make some hands-free phone calls?

Science is beginning to discover the answer: There is really no such thing as efficient multi-tasking. Our brains just don’t work that way.

Some recent studies have shown that using our phones in any way, even hands-free, while driving makes us just as impaired as having had a few drinks. Multitasking while driving reduces our perception-reaction times as much as one-third to 40% (The Real Dangers of Multitasking, from a lecture series presented by Professor Indre Viskontas, PH.D.)

The problem is that our brain really cannot do two things at once. Instead, the brain switches back and forth between them. So, while we are concentrating on one thing, such as texting, our brain is really not paying attention to the other thing: our driving. We think we are being efficient when we are really not.

The effects of multitasking are easily seen if you observe someone trying to text while walking in a crowd, such as at a shopping mall. They tend to walk slower and appear just a bit unsteady on their feet. This is usually not a problem in a mall setting but it can be deadly behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

While we’re driving, our speed greatly reduces the amount of time we have for making critical decisions. At 40 miles per hour, we are traveling 60 feet per second. If we don’t immediately realize that the car in front of us is braking, we won’t hit our brakes in time and the next thing we know we’ve rear-ended that car.

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blind at 55 mph for the length of an entire football field!

Here are some other sobering facts from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration: In 2015 3,477 people were killed and an estimated 391,000 people injured as a result of distracted driving.

All the information available points to one conclusion: texting while driving (or any type of distracted driving, for that matter) is dangerous and should be avoided. However good we think we are at multitasking, there is no place for it when we get behind the wheel. That’s why it’s illegal.

Emotional Stress Personal Injury

Severe Emotional Stress is a Personal Injury

Recently, one of our young clients was involved in a serious rollover car accident. He was a front-seat passenger in his friend’s motor vehicle when it struck a median barrier near Mack Road in Sacramento. Our client was transported by ambulance to a local hospital where he underwent an extensive physical examination. Luckily, he was wearing his seatbelt, and he was diagnosed with only a sprained neck and shoulder.

The accident, however, was an emotionally traumatic event in our client’s young life. He now suffers from recurring nightmares and is chronically fatigued due to lack of sleep. He no longer enjoys riding in an automobile for fear of crashing. His parents have sought the help of a counselor to alleviate his mental suffering and wish to recover damages for their son’s emotional injuries.

California recognizes two general types of emotional distress damages. General emotional distress damages refer to the typical emotional distress that a person experiences from suffering physical pain associated with an accident or trauma. This form of emotional distress is considered an element of pain and suffering damages.

Severe emotional distress damages involve those emotional conditions that are specific to the injured person and are not necessarily associated with physical pain. These damages should be addressed separately from general emotional distress damages.

In this case, our client requires the services of a mental health counselor. He has emotional trauma that is not linked to his neck and shoulder pain. Therefore, a severe emotional distress claim can be made in these circumstances.

Severe emotional distress can sometimes be overlooked following an accident. It is important for attorneys to fully evaluate a client’s severe emotional distress injuries in order to recover all of the damages to which the client is entitled.

Car Baby Seat Position

Don’t Turn That Baby!

It’s a hot summer afternoon in Sacramento, California. Your one-year-old child is positioned in his car seat facing the rear window and seatback. The temperature outside is over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but it feels like 150 degrees in your car. You are driving southbound on 99, and your baby is strapped in the car seat’s Velcro and buckle restraint system. He is screaming at the top of his lungs and you are becoming increasingly annoyed and frantic. You want to do something to end the turmoil. But whatever you do, don’t turn that baby!

A new California law prohibits turning your baby forward in his or her car seat unless certain requirements are met. Since January 1st of 2017, California law requires children under the age of two to remain seated and strapped in their car seat facing the motor vehicle’s rear seatback. Of course, the car seat must be installed in the rear seat. There are some exceptions, however, if the child is over 40 inches tall or weighs over 40 pounds, then the child then may be turned around facing the front seat; the car seat must still be installed in the rear seat. Of course, most parents can’t wait to turn their child forward, but now they will have to wait until their child meets these new requirements.

Some parents are quick to turn their baby around once their baby’s legs extend well beyond the confines of the car seat. After all, the baby appears uncomfortable with his or her legs crunched up against the rear seatback. Even if the baby’s legs seem cramped in that frog-faced position, studies have shown that a child is just as comfortable as before. It is much more difficult to return the baby to a rear facing position after introducing him or her to a front facing position.

Most importantly, according to an American Pediatrics Study, children younger than two years old are 75% less likely to die in a car accident if the car seat faces the rear of the car. Since your child’s body is nowhere near fully developed, a severe neck injury can be mitigated by keeping your child and the car seat facing the rear seatback.

If law enforcement finds that you are violating the law, then you can be fined more than $500 and receive a point on your motor vehicle driving record. The California Highway Patrol can help you with car seat rules and tips to make it easier for you and your baby should you wish to learn more about these new car seat requirements.

We at Curtis Legal Group wish you all a cool and safe summer, and remind you not to turn the baby’s car seat too soon!

Hit and Run Car Accident Uninsured Motorist

Does Uninsured Motorist Coverage pay for Hit and Run Car Accidents?

Every now and again, I receive calls from clients who were driving along a freeway, such as Interstate 5 in Stockton, California when another vehicle suddenly veers into their lane, not striking their vehicle, but causing them to turn their car into the median barrier or even worse, into the opposite lane of travel. They suffer bodily injuries and car accident damage. The car that veered into their lane did not stop but rather drove away as if the accident did not occur.

The clients want to know if their automobile policy’s uninsured motorist coverage will cover them for their vehicle’s damages and their bodily injuries even though they have no information on the hit-and-run driver. In other words, they don’t know if the hit-and-run driver is insured or uninsured. We call this driver, “THE PHANTOM DRIVER”.

No, the phantom driver is not like the “Phantom of the Opera”. If you have ever seen the play or movie, the “Phantom of the Opera”, then you know that the phantom in the play appears and disappears throughout the show. Unlike the “Phantom of the Opera”, the phantom driver appears but then permanently disappears. He or she is a driver that is almost impossible to trace. This person causes a motor vehicle accident and then abruptly decides to drive his or her car away from the scene. As a result, it is almost impossible to write down their vehicle’s license plate number.

Uninsured motorist coverage, pursuant to California Insurance Code section 11580.2, will generally cover the insured’s injuries and property damage depending on whether an insured carried uninsured motorist coverage. In California, an insured must expressly waive the coverage; otherwise, the coverage should be in place. Uninsured motorist coverage may be restricted to bodily injury coverage or may cover both property damage and bodily injury. Therefore, our clients will be told to bring their policies to us for review.

However, it is not sufficient to just carry uninsured motorist coverage. The insured will generally have to prove that there was contact damage to the vehicle. In other words, the phantom driver operated his or her car so that it directly struck the insured’s vehicle. If there was no contact, then uninsured motorist coverage is typically denied. The insurance industry sought this protection to avoid fraudulent claims.

Therefore, in the scenario above, uninsured motorist coverage will likely be denied. However, our clients don’t lose hope. At Curtis Legal Group, we encourage our clients to see us regarding these cases so that arguments may be made in order to achieve compensation. We look at all the factors to see what can be done to achieve justice.