Friday, March 21, 2014

So You've Been in an Accident...Now What? Six Points You Should Know About Personal Injury by Kara North

Did you know that on average, Americans spend the equivalent of nearly one work week stuck in traffic each year?[1] Sounds miserable doesn't it?   What can make it even worse is if you happen to be in one of the roughly 50,600 vehicles on Utah roads each year involved in a reported accident.[2] 
Lately, it is a rare occurrence to see a driver not on their cell phone or otherwise distracted.  The more time we spend on the road, the more likely we are to be involved in a motor vehicle accident.  This is true regardless if you are a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian.  So what can you do to protect yourself?
1. Insurance Coverage: Before an accident ever occurs, you should look at your own insurance policy and determine whether you have sufficient coverage. In my years of practicing personal injury law, I have been surprised how little people know about their own policies, despite paying the premiums each month.  In Utah, the minimum coverage you are required to have is $25,000.00 for bodily injury or death of one person or $65,000.00 total liability for bodily injury or death of two or more persons.[3]
 Even in relatively "minor" car accidents, the state minimum limits are frequently not enough to compensate you for your medical bills and other damages. or another injured party.  I always recommend to my clients and friends that they increase not only their liability limits, but also their underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage to no less than $100,000.00 per individual and $300,000.00 per injury causing occurrence.  An even better option would be limits of $250,000.00 and $500,000.00.  The cost to increase your limits is relatively small, and protects you against negligent drivers that either don't have insurance or only have the state minimum limits. 
If your medical expenses exceed what you collect from the other driver's policy, you are entitled to make a claim with your own insurance under your underinsured motorist coverage policy.  Usually the difference in premiums for the increased coverage is only a few dollars per month and can make a big difference in the long-run whether you are fully compensated for your injuries. 
2. Document Everything:  If you are injured in an accident, even if you believe the accident is only a "fender-bender," take pictures of the scene, get the other driver's insurance information, and call the police.  This is the easiest way to demonstrate the extent of damage to your property and convince the liable-driver's insurance company it should accept responsibility right away.  It may also protect you from being wrongfully blamed later. 
If you miss work or even your daily work-out at the gym, document that as well.  In addition to being entitled to compensation for your medical expenses, Utah law requires insurance companies to compensate you for your lost wages, household expenses, and general pain and suffering.  If you have a Doctor's note excusing you from a certain number of days of work and clear documentation that shows the number of hours you usually work per week, the insurance company is less likely to resist paying your lost wages.  If a Doctor has restricted you from lifting more than 10 lbs. and this prevents you from working, cleaning or other household duties, you may be able to receive compensation for hiring the need for others to do your "essential services," even if this is a family member that does not charge you.  Moral of the story, document everything you can as it occurs.  This will ensure you have accurate records and strengthen your case.
3. Seek Immediate Medical Treatment and Be Consistent: Depending on the severity of the accident, medical personnel may or may not be called to the scene.  If they do, I recommend allowing them to evaluate your condition, even if you are not sure whether you are hurt or not.  I once had a client who declined medical treatment at the scene because she did not think she needed it.  Later that evening she was taken to the hospital by family due to extreme pain in her back, leaving her unable to move.  X-rays showed she actually fractured her back.  Despite medical records demonstrating this, the insurance company repeatedly argued her failure to get immediate treatment was a sign she was not as severely injured as we claimed. 
If you believe you may be injured, get checked out by a doctor and be consistent in whatever treatment is prescribed.  Your treatment may require regular visits to a medical doctor, physical therapist, or chiropractor.  Until such treatment is officially terminated by the medical professional, make it a priority to attend every appointment.  Inconsistent or sporadic treatment will cause the insurance company to significantly undervalue the extent of your injuries. 
 4. The Insurance Company is Not Your Friend: Whether it is your own insurance provider or the other driver's, once you are in an accident, the insurance company is not your friend.  Every time you talk to a representative from an insurance company, they are recording the conversation in hopes that the next time they speak to you, your story will slightly change or that you will make some statement that will hurt your case.
Prior to working at Fillmore Spencer, I worked at an insurance defense law firm.  My job, whether you were our insured or not, was to ensure the insurance company paid as little as possible for your claim.  In order to do this, our company contracted with private investigators to follow individuals who claimed to be injured and take video surveillance.  A colleague of mine even shared an experience with me where his 5 year-old client was videotaped riding her bike by her own insurance company.  The insurance company then claimed that because she was able to ride a bike, she couldn't have been injured.  Insurance companies will monitor your social networking pages to see if you posted pictures or made statements which could even slightly undermine your case.  Bottom line, the insurance company is a business and it is only successful if it takes in more money than it pays out, and that means paying you as little as possible.
5. Filing a Claim with the Insurance Company is Not the Same as Filing a Lawsuit: Media outlets today commonly publish sensationalized stories meant to grab your attention with an outrageous headline.  Often, these stories portray someone filing a supposed "frivolous lawsuit" that makes your blood boil that someone could be so greedy.  Of course, a lot of the story which may validate the claim has been left unpublished.  Nonetheless, these types of stories leave many in the general public to have a distaste for the legal system and lawyers generally.  As a result many individuals, despite being severely hurt as a result of another person's negligence, don't want to be viewed as "that person," and are hesitant to even meet with an attorney about filing a claim. 
Filing a claim with an insurance company is not the same as filing a lawsuit.  Many times your claim can be resolved without ever stepping foot into a courtroom.  Only when the insurance company is being completely unreasonable in providing you the compensation you are entitled to is it necessary to discuss filing suit.  If you choose to negotiate with the insurance company on your own, it is important that you are aware that Utah law requires a suit for personal injury be filed within a certain period of time, or else the claim may be barred.  The statute of limitations can be as short as 1 year.   
6. Hire An Attorney: Many people think they can handle the insurance company on their own.  Insurance companies know that if they can give you the run around, eventually you'll get tired of dealing with them and accept whatever amount of money they offer, whether it is sufficient or not.  Don't allow this to happen to you. Hire an attorney to handle your claim on your behalf.  Studies show that injured people with an attorney fare better, even when attorney fees are considered, than those who don't have an attorney.[4]
Although some worry hiring an attorney is just one more expense they can't afford, what most people don't realize is attorneys typically take personal injury cases on what is called a "contingency fee" arrangement.  That means if the attorney doesn't collect money for you, you don't owe the attorney anything.  Because of this arrangement, it's not only in your best interest, but my best interest to get you the maximum amount of money possible.  As a client, you are my number one priority and dealing with the insurance company is something I not only know how to do, but actually enjoy. 
If you have been injured due to someone else's negligence allow the experienced attorneys at Fillmore Spencer to remove the stress and burden of handling your claim so you can focus on your recovery.[5]



[3] Utah Code §31A-22-304(1)(a) and (b). 


[5] The information is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.  Each situation is unique in its application of the law, and being general in nature, this information may not apply to your specific case.  If you have questions about your personal injury case, you should contact an attorney about the specific facts of your case. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The “Millionaire Maker” Credit: A Different Take on the Low-Income Housing Credit by Mary K. Black-Whitby

What do you normally think of when you think of Low-Income Housing? The Ghetto? That part of town that’s falling apart? That’s what most people think of, but it shouldn’t be and here is why:

The Basics: Congress has made a credit to encourage investment in affordable housing for low-income tenants. For Utah, the Utah Housing Corporation certifies housing for low-income tenants and determines how much credit is allocated to the investors. For 2011, Utah was able to give a credit of up to $6,020,000 for low-income housing projects.

Investors are given a credit of up to 9% of the cost of developing the housing project for up to ten years. That means the investor gets back up to 70% (present value) of the total cost of the housing project! (The rate differs depending on financing and the type of building project contemplated.) Furthermore, there are federal financing options that can help the builder finance the project with below market interest rates.

Those individuals who qualify to live in low income housing must meet the income requirement, and the rent charged for low income housing is a percentage of the median income for the community. (These amounts differ depending on the region and family size)

Why do I call this the “Millionaire Credit” Then? It’s because after 10 years, the property goes back to the investor who can do with the property as he or she pleases! I envision an investor using this credit most efficiently by not building cheap apartments. Rather, an investor would build some of the nicest apartments or houses in town. Everyone would be clamoring to live there and as a result the investor would be able to pick and choose who the tenants would be. The rental agreement could be quite strict as to unreasonable damage to ensure that the investment real estate would stay pristine so that after ten years it could be sold or rented at a higher price.

Retirement Plan. Anyone tired of worrying about their retirement? What if you could ensure a steady stream of income? The Low-Income Housing Credit could be the answer. The best use of the credit would be for an investor to build an apartment complex, a house, or (on a larger scale) a block of houses every year for ten years. After ten years, the first building project would become available to sell with a net gain of up to 70% (the low-income housing amount), or the building could be rented at a higher amount with the result of a steady stream of income for life.

Why build the ghetto when you can have a practically interest free, government paid retirement plan? Go for the gusto and get the best bang for your buck!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by Levi Adams

In June of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and who meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.

Since 2012, our office has filed many DACA applications and received many approvals.  Many people here in the United States were brought to the country when they were children.  Some of my clients have been here since they were one or two years old.  They often don’t know any other culture because they have been raised in the U.S.  However, because their parents brought them here illegally or any lawful status has since expired, pursuant to the immigration laws, they are not here lawfully and therefore cannot obtain social security numbers or work authorization.  This presents a major problem for those wanting to work or go to school. 

The DACA program was a step in the right direction to help those that had no choice in coming to the United States unlawfully.  It is important to understand, however, that those people granted deferred action do not obtain lawful status nor do they have a path to citizenship.  Rather the Department of Homeland Security is saying that any adverse action against these individuals will be deferred and they will be eligible for work authorization.  Those that received deferred action receive a social security card that is valid only for work purposes and with this number they are able to obtain a driver’s license. 

On February 19, 2014, the Department finally issued the long awaited guidance on how to renew the deferred action for those who are approaching the two years.  Surprisingly, the Department is essentially requesting a reapplication.  Therefore, those wishing to renew must submit forms I-821D, I-765, and I-765WS along with the filing fee of $465.  They must also meet the same criteria that was set forth previously.  An individual whose case was initially deferred under DACA by ICE or are DACA recipients with an employment authorization that will expire in the next 120 days, may be considered for renewal of DACA from USCIS if he or she:
  1. Was under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;  
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
I believe that this is a positive law that allows individuals to get jobs or attend college and contribute to society.  I hope that the Department will look for other ways to help those individuals who were brought here by their parents when they were minor children. For now, I recommend that those who qualify apply for deferred action and take advantage of this program so that they can be lawfully employed.