I was the victim of a crime – why aren’t the police helping me more?

We receive many calls and emails from victims of crime, mostly sexual assaults, who say the police are not doing enough to investigate the crime and bring the perpetrator to justice.  They want us to make the police take action.  Sometimes a lawyer can help the victim in this situation.  However there is a lot that crime victims can do to help members of law-enforcement do their jobs better in these situations.

First, it is very important to report a crime right away.  This is necessary for the preservation of evidence while it is fresh.  If you were raped, do NOT take a shower or wash your clothes!   Many women feel so disgusted by what has happened to them that the first thing they want to do is bathe. This can destroy essential evidence that investigators need.  If you have been raped or assaulted, you should go to the hospital immediately.  Emergency department personnel have a set of evidence-gathering tools called a “rape kit” that helps them gather hair, fiber, and DNA evidence.  The results are submitted directly to law enforcement.

Victims of sexual assault often hesitate to come forward, and every victim needs to decide for herself what she feels strong enough to do.  Just understand that the sooner you report a crime, the better equipped law enforcement officers will be to help.

Second, it is very important to tell the investigator every detail you can think of. Often, due to societal pressure, victims of sexual assault feel shame about what happened to them, and sometimes they leave out crucial details that they may thing make the crime more demeaning.  Later, they may contact the investigator with more facts.   It is much more helpful to law enforcement if all the facts are provided early on.

Third, if you are struggling to get the support you need, whether from law enforcement or from any other service provider, there are resources to help you.  There are many professionals whose job it is to help victims of crime.  One source of support in our state is the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network.   Another organization providing support and referral services is the National Center for Victims of Crime.   In some situations victims of crime can pursue civil remedies against the perpetrators.

The law firm of Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC regularly represents victims of crime in cases against service providers, schools and other institutions that have failed to protect children and adults to whom they have a duty of care.  For more on this firm, visit http://www.cjglawfirm.com.

Debt Collection A to Z: L is for Letter

A staple of the debt collection industry is the dunning letter. Dunning refers to the letter’s mission to influence the debtor to pay up lest face consequences. Generally speaking, sending such letters is legal but there are guidelines as to what must and must not appear.

On the “must” side are usually:

  • warnings that the letter is a communication to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose
  • statement of the name, address, and contact phone number for the collector
  • statement of the account on which collection is sought as well as the amount claimed due
  • in the first letter to the debtor, a statement of the debtor’s right to obtain validation of the debt

On the “must not” side are:

  • threats of violence or physical harm to the debtor for failure to pay
  • threats to take action the collector either cannot or does not intend to take
  • false or misleading information about the collector’s status
  • false or misleading information about the nature or amount of the debt

Despite these rules some collectors create their own rules and policies and abuse the collection process. In these cases action is warranted and too often the collector will intimidate the debtor into thinking nothing can be done. Click here to learn a few tips and tactics on dealing with debt collectors. There are state and federal laws regulating debt collection and it is worth consulting an experienced attorney if you believe you have been subjected to letters or other communications and actions that violate these laws.

John T. O’Neal is a practicing attorney with the O’Neal Law Office in Greensboro, NC who focuses his practice in Personal Injury/Wrongful Death, Consumer Law (includes Auto Dealer Fraud/Vehicle Issues and Debt Defense Lemon Law), and various types of Civil Litigation handling cases across North Carolina. A long-time NCAJ member, he is a former Chair of the NCAJ Consumer Areas of Practice Section and a two-time Ebby Award winner. 

Can I receive Workers’ Comp and Disability at the same time?

The short answer is, Yes, you can receive both workers’ compensation and Social Security Disability benefits at the same time. But most often, the Social Security Administration will reduce the amount of SSDI benefits if you are also receiving workers’ comp. Typically you cannot receive more than 80 percent of pre-disability wages, if you are receiving workers’ comp as well.

If you have suffered a job-related injury, then you deserve compensation to help you get the medical care you need, as well as rehabilitative care and replacement of the wages you lose. The experienced workers’ comp and SSDI attorneys at the Ricci Law Firm know how to handle these cases and pursue the benefits that you are owed. Attorney Brian M. Ricci is even a bar-certified specialist in Social Security Disability law.

If you live in or around Fayetteville, Charlotte, Raleigh or Greenville, NC, and want to know more about recovering workers’ comp and Social Security Disability, please call the Ricci Law Firm at (855) 444-9764 for a free consultation. Our attorneys have lengthy experience securing workers’ comp and SSDI benefits for our clients. 

If an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver Crashes into You

Sometimes good drivers are involved in crashes with drivers who are uninsured or underinsured. One of the most difficult challenges I face in working with families in the aftermath of a tragic loss or serious injury is the lack of insurance coverage that applies to help with those loses.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012 North Carolina was the fifth (5th) deadliest state in which to drive, with a 5% increase over the number of fatalities in 2011. Only California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas had more fatalities in 2012 than we did.

And it is no surprise that Charlotte is North Carolina’s most dangerous city for drivers.

When struck by an underinsured or uninsured driver, do you have enough coverage?

In North Carolina we have the option to purchase substantial amounts of uninsured and underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist coverage. This is the coverage that applies when we are injured in a crash caused by someone else who has little or no liability coverage.

Good news: it is not expensive.

Coverage for uninsured and underinsured crashes: why you need it

Beyond our health insurance, short and long term disability and life insurance, UM/UIM is the only auto coverage we can buy to protect ourselves and our loved ones against our own losses when someone else is at fault.

Too often I must explain to a client that the person who caused the crash that injured them so badly has only minimum policy limits of $30,000, and the client only has $50,000 or $100,000 in UIM coverage.  This often means the maximum the client can recover for all their injuries, lost wages, future medical bills and pain and suffering is the $50,000 or $100,000 limit on their own policy.

And from that amount they must pay their medical bills as required by statute, health insurance liens and attorney fees.

Without adequate UIM coverage, a serious crash becomes a physical, emotional AND financial nightmare.

 Uninsured and underinsured coverage is not expensive

More often than not, after the shock of the limitations of coverage wears off, the client is astounded to hear how inexpensive much better UM/UIM coverage costs. A local insurance agency advised that average costs for UM/UIM coverage limits of 100/300 is about $7/month, for 250/500 is about $10/month and for 1M is about $13/month.

All too often clients tell me that they have carried the same auto insurance for years and had no idea they did not have enough coverage.  Many do not even know what UM/UIM coverage is for.

How can you tell if you have the right coverage?

Please, take a look at your auto insurance declarations page, which shows what auto coverage you have, and consider increasing your UM/UIM coverage.

If you only have $50,000 in UM/UIM coverage and lose your ability to earn a living in a crash, you will forever rue the day you thought it was a shrewd financial move to save $100 per year instead of buying better coverage.

You do not have to wait until your renewal date to make this important change in your coverage. 

 Amanda Mingo of Rawls, Scheer, Foster, & Mingo, P.L.L.C.
After working in the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting drug crimes and violent felonies Amanda Mingo went into private practice. She now practices in these areas: Personal Injuries and Wrongful Death; Motor Vehicle Accidents; Administrative Hearings; Premises Liability; Whistleblower/Qui Tam Cases; and Alienation of Affection Defense with the law firm of Rawls, Scheer, Foster, & Mingo, P.L.L.C.  For more on Rawls, Scheer, Foster, & Mingo, P.L.L.C. visit http://rdslaw.com.

Don’t Kill Your Case with Social Media Posts!

  1. Don’t post comments that could harm your claim or your credibility

The actual facts of your case are crucial, so don’t muddle them up with a post. A client of mine recently posted on Facebook that she had fallen while riding her horse. She was already making a claim for a shoulder injury that occurred at work when she fell off the horse. In the horse incident, she bruised her hand on the other side of her body from the shoulder injury, and did not hurt her shoulder. The insurance adjuster sent her for an IME with a doctor to check out her shoulder, and told the doctor that the woman had fallen off her horse. The doctor concluded that she hurt her shoulder falling off the horse, not at work, even though he had no evidence to support this notion except for her Facebook post that she had fallen off her horse. This IME report has now complicated her case a great deal.

  1. Don’t post photos on social media that could harm your claim or your credibility

Your credibility as a witness is extremely important in a workers’ comp case. A couple years ago a client of mine who was claiming a disabling back injury had a photo on his Facebook page of himself jumping off a picnic table, jumping up and over his girlfriend’s head, as she was standing on the ground at the end of the picnic table. The photo was undated. It was posted AFTER he got hurt at work. We had to track down the friend who had snapped the photo to try to get the digital photo EXIF data to show that the photo was taken BEFORE he got hurt at work. The insurance company claimed that the photo was taken after he got hurt, and that it proved he was not hurt as badly as he claimed. The only way to defeat that bogus defense was to find the friend who took the photo and get the proof of exactly when the photo was taken.

  1. Don’t let your friends or family post things on their pages that could hurt your case or your credibility

You can keep your own page clean but if your social media friends are posting stuff on their pages that can hurt your claim, then the fact that it is not on your page is not really a defense. Pictures in particular are very compelling and persuasive. So try to monitor what your friends are posting about you, and ask them immediately to take down anything that may harm your claim or your credibility. A “tagged photo” can cost you a lot of money–A client with a knee injury once allowed the defense to find out he had been to the beach, playing touch football, the weekend before his mediated settlement conference. This tidbit of information cost him a lot of money in his settlement. If you are not sure about a post or photo, consult with a workers’ comp lawyer about it.

The Bollinger Law Firm, PC, is based in Charlotte, but takes workers’ compensation cases across North Carolina. Founded in 1999, the firm has a strong reputation as a law firm of advocates for injured and disabled people.

Debt Collection A to Z: P is for Publication

Hear ye! Hear ye! Now hear this….be careful what you publish and how you publish. This maxim definitely applies to debt collectors.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (applies only to debt collectors; not original creditors) and the North Carolina Debt Collection Act (applies to ALL species of debt collectors including individuals collecting on their own debt) when you are making phone calls, sending letters, posting notices, and otherwise engaging in debt collection be conscious of how you do it. One illegal tactic used by some collectors is the “deadbeat list” in which the names of debtors and the amounts owed (and often other information) is posted in a place for third parties to see. Presumably the goal of the deadbeat list is to shame the debtor into making arrangements to pay the debt. While it may be effective it is illegal.

Homeowners associations, condo associations, and similar entities often employ deadbeat lists. In one case I worked on a community in the Triad area posted a deadbeat list of the names, unit numbers, and monetary amounts owed by homeowners who allegedly owed for homeowner dues, assessments, and other monetary amounts. North Carolina law on publication of debts (N.C.G.S. § 75‑53) states the following:

No debt collector shall unreasonably publicize information regarding a consumer’s debt. Such unreasonable publication includes, but is not limited to, the following:

… (2) Using any form of communication which ordinarily would be seen or heard by any person other than the consumer that displays or conveys any information about the alleged debt other than the name, address and phone number of the debt collector except as otherwise provided in this Article.

Suffice it to say that publication of a debt may not be a good strategy for the debt collector. In some cases it could wind up making the debt collector the debtor when the actual debtor has counterclaims and significant monetary damages from the nature and/or quantity of the publication. Feel free to publish this blog post to your social media, links, favorites, family, and friends. If you believe your debt has been illegally published contact an experienced attorney for a consultation.

John T. O’Neal is a practicing attorney with the O’Neal Law Office in Greensboro, NC who focuses his practice in Personal Injury/Wrongful Death, Consumer Law (includes Auto Dealer Fraud/Vehicle Issues and Debt Defense Lemon Law), and various types of Civil Litigation handling cases across North Carolina. A long-time NCAJ member, he is a former Chair of the NCAJ Consumer Areas of Practice Section and a two-time Ebby Award winner.

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation – A Guide for Injured Workers – Time Limits for Filing the Claim

If you are injured at work in North Carolina, or while working anywhere in the country for a North Carolina employer, then you need to take prompt action to report your injury to your employer.

You should first give your employer verbal notice of your accident and your injury. If you have an occupational disease, which is a condition such as carpal tunnel that develops over time, then you should give your employer verbal notice of the condition as soon as you learn about it. In an accident situation, you need to get medical attention as required by the injury. Don’t hesitate to call 911 for an emergency; reporting the incident to the employer can wait until you are done at the emergency room!

Under NC law you are also required to give your employer written notice of the incident that hurt you. You need to provide this written notice within 30 calendar days of when it happened. You need to describe how you were hurt–the accident or incident itself–and you need to disclose the nature of your injury as well. The North Carolina Industrial Commission has a form designed for this purpose–the Form 18 Claim form, which can be filled out online at the Commission’s web site and then sent to both the Commission and the employer. However, if you plan to do this yourself, it is advisable to first contact a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Specialist Attorney for a free consultation in order to learn how to fill out this form properly. Using the wrong word or not giving enough detail about how you were hurt can result in a denial of your claim that may take months to overturn.

If you fail to give this written notice within 30 calendar days, then the employer and its insurance carrier have a defense to your workers’ compensation claim. The law provides that notice given to the employer is deemed to be notice to the insurance carrier, so you do not need to worry about notifying the insurance carrier separately. The employer has a contractual duty to notify the carrier promptly when the employer learns of your claim.

There are some exceptions to this 30 day notice rule, but the better practice is to always file the written notice with the employer within 30 days, and not risk your claim on an exception to the rule. You have two (2) years to file this notice of claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, so getting the notice to the employer on time should be your first consideration after the initial emergency medical care is received.

North Carolina workers’ compensation law is complex and it changes a bit every month when our appellate courts release a new decision. In 2011, our General Assembly passed a reform bill that made large and far-reaching changes to the law. If you are injured at work in North Carolina, it makes sense for you to contact a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Workers’ Compensation Law for a free initial consultation before you start filing legal papers to begin your claim. Doing it right the first time is much easier than doing it incorrectly and then having to hire a lawyer to help you fix it later.

The Bollinger Law Firm, PC, is based in Charlotte, but takes workers’ compensation cases across North Carolina. Founded in 1999, the firm has a strong reputation as a law firm of advocates for injured and disabled people.