Would a New Distracted Driving Law Help Brainerd Personal Injury Lawyers Help You?

State Attorney General Lori Swanson vowed to take tough action against the “epidemic” of distracted drivers on Minnesota roads.

The Gopher State already has a rather broad cell phone law. But Ms. Swanson wants to mandate hands-free devices, toughen the penalties for distracted driving, and include a license suspension provision for repeat offenders. In other words, the distracted driving law should more closely resemble the DUI law, she said. The issue is not just limited to young drivers, she added. According to a 2017 report, drivers aged 30 to 49 represented almost half of all texting-while-driving citations.

Between 2013 and 2017, distracted drivers caused about a fifth of the fatal car crashes in Minnesota.

What is Distracted Driving?

The distracted driving laws in most states, including Minnesota, are device-based. They focus exclusively on handheld cell phones. Indeed, these devices combine all three forms of distraction, which are:

  • Manual (taking a hand off the wheel),
  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road), and
  • Cognitive (taking your eyes off the road).

A few states have broader, behavior-based laws. Until very recently, Georgia had one of the broadest distracted driving laws in the country. In 2015, officers cited a Marietta man for eating a cheeseburger while driving. Cobb County prosecutors subsequently dismissed that case, and the Georgia legislature subsequently amended the state’s distracted driving law.

Safety advocates routinely push for behavior-based laws, but many people consider them intrusive. So, most states focus on device-based laws. One of the major problems with these kinds of laws, according to top Brainerd personal injury lawyers, is that there are too many gaps.

For example, there is considerable evidence that hands-free devices are not risk-free. In fact, they may be more hazardous than hand-held cell phones. When people use hands-free gadgets, they are still visually and cognitively distracted. Moreover, researchers have identified a hands-free latency effect. It takes most drivers at least twenty seconds to re-engage after they hang up a hands-free device.

Nevertheless, even an incomplete distracted driving law is certainly better than no law at all. Furthermore, the Minnesota Attorney General’s proposed distracted driving law could make it easier to obtain compensation in court.

Negligence Per Se in Distracted Driving Cases

Under current Minnesota law, it’s illegal to text and drive. “Texting” includes any text-based communication. That includes not only person-to-person text messages but also emailing and instant messaging. Minnesota’s prohibition even extends to posting on social media and some other Internet use.

If a tortfeasor (negligent driver) violates the distracted driving law, or any other safety law, the negligence per se shortcut usually applies. Brainerd personal injury lawyers may use this doctrine if:

  • The tortfeasor violated a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially caused the crash.

Typically, the negligence per se rule establishes liability as a matter of law. Limited defenses are available, such as urgent justification. But lots of luck with that.

If the victim sustained a serious injury, damages in a negligence per se case include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Minnesota law defines a “serious injury” as one which involves more than $4,000 in medical bills.

Brainerd Personal Injury Lawyers and Distracted Driver Negligence

It’s still possible to obtain such compensation in non-device cases. Compensation may even be available in situations like the aforementioned burger-eater. In non-device cases, victim/plaintiffs must establish the five elements of a negligence case, which are:

  • Duty: In Minnesota, most drivers have a duty of reasonable care. This legal responsibility is basically a lawyerly version of the Golden Rule which many Brainerd schoolchildren once had to memorize.
  • Breach: Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) breach their duties when their conduct drops below the standard of care. The jury decides where to draw that line. For example, talking to a passenger is technically distracted driving (visual and cognitive distraction). But most Crow Wing County jurors would not consider such behavior to be a violation of the standard of care.
  • Cause-in-Fact: There must be a direct connection between the tortfeasor’s conduct or misconduct and the victim/plaintiff’s damages.
  • Proximate Cause: This is a legal term which basically means “foreseeability.” If a distracted driver veers off the road, hits a light pole, and that pole hits a pedestrian, that’s a foreseeable consequence. If a doctor makes a medical mistake during surgery on that pedestrian, that’s not a foreseeable consequence.
  • Damages: The damages must be physical, because near misses and close calls usually do not count. However, as outlined above, compensation is available for intangible losses, such as emotional distress. Sometimes, the zone of danger doctrine does expand. Parents who see their children hurt in car crashes are usually eligible for compensation.

In both negligence and negligence per se cases, Brainerd personal injury lawyers must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in Minnesota law. Sometimes, the victim/plaintiff’s testimony, when coupled with the accident report and medical evidence, is more than enough. Witness statements and electronic evidence, perhaps from the car’s black box data recorder, are also usually available if needed.

Work with an Experienced Attorney

Distracted drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd personal injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.

Brainerd Injury and Dog Bite Claims

Most people in Minnesota have at least one pet, and about a third of the families in Crow Wing County have at least one dog. Large mastiff breeds are especially popular in Minnesota, as many people have rather large properties where these animals can largely roam free. Most of these dogs are very friendly to people they know. But it is in their genes to attack strangers or people who make any moves the dog sees as threatening. Owners can change behavior, but they cannot change DNA.

Perhaps due to the high number of mastiff dogs, Minnesota has one of the broadest dog bite statutes in the country. Some states have laws that protect owners. Neighboring North Dakota and South Dakota both embrace the controversial one-bite rule. This rule basically immunizes owners unless they know their animals are dangerous. But Minnesota’s law protects victims. It establishes strict liability and allows for few defenses.

Medical costs have increased significantly since 2007. So, the average dog bite damage award has increased as well. Moreover, doctors now better understand how a dog bite affects the brain. So, Brainerd injury noneconomic damages, for things like emotional distress, have increased as well.

Liability for Dog Bites

Minn. Statutes Annotated, Section 347.22 states that if a dog “attacks or injures any person. . .the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.” The statute goes on to define an “owner” as “any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable.”

There are at least two important points here. First, the strict liability provision is very broad in terms of both the attack and the damages.

Many Brainerd injury victims are young children or senior citizens. In these situations, the dog’s knockdown may cause as much injury as the dog’s bite. Some strict liability laws only apply to bite injuries. But Minnesota’s law applied to all injuries.

Other states have strict liability laws that also limit damages. For example, in New York, most owners are only strictly liable for medical bills. But Minnesota’s law applies to “the full amount of the injury.” That includes noneconomic damages.

These noneconomic damages include things like emotional distress and loss of enjoyment in life. Many Brainerd injury victims suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for months or years after a dog bite. Other times, the victim has severe scars. Even if they are not on a visible part of the body, such scars significantly affect a person’s self-confidence.

Second, an “owner” is more like a custodian. Dog walkers, vets, and other custodians are all strictly liable for damages. The record owner remains vicariously liable in these situations. So, the victim may generally file a claim against the owner’s homeowners insurance policy and possibly obtain additional compensation.

Minnesota’s strict liability law only applies to direct injuries. In one interesting case, an unrestrained dog tried to get from the back seat to the front seat of a vehicle. That action distracted the driver, who veered off the road and fatally struck a young boy in a ditch. The court eventually held that the plaintiff could not sue under the strict liability law, but a negligence action would probably succeed.

Negligence actions might be available in other dog bite cases as well. For example, a schoolteacher who allows his children to play with a strange dog arguably displays a lack of ordinary care.

Limited Defenses to Minnesota Dog Bites

The vaunted comparative negligence defense is unavailable in dog bite cases. So, insurance company lawyers cannot use this legal loophole and shift part of the blame for the accident onto the victim.

Assumption of the risk may be a defense. This doctrine applies if the victim:

  • Voluntarily assumes
  • A known risk.

Courts have consistently held that dog groomers and other such professionals cannot sue dog owners under the strict liability law. These individuals assume the risk of injury when they agree to handle dogs.

“Beware of Dog” signs are in a grey area. The insurance company will probably argue that such signs put the victim on notice that the dog is dangerous. But most Crow Wing county want to see additional evidence in these Brainerd injury cases. For example, the insurance company might have to prove that the victim could read the sign and fully understand it.

The provocation defense is the only defense which courts always recognize. In this context, however, provocation is more than teasing or a threatening movement. Instead, the insurance company must prove that the victim inflicted so much pain on the animal that it had to respond violently. Moreover, in 2011, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that provocation must be intentional. A person cannot accidentally provoke a dog.

Team Up with Experienced Lawyers

Dog bites often cause extremely serious visible and invisible injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd injury attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

How Do Buffalo Injury Attorneys Handle Alcohol-Related Crashes?

A generation ago, DUI was little more than a traffic ticket. Many officers released impaired drivers with warnings, as long as they promised to drive carefully and go straight home. If these cases made it to court, prosecutors had a hard time obtaining guilty verdicts, because the laws in Minnesota were quite weak.

Those days are over now. Police officers and prosecutors both have additional tools for dealing with intoxicated drivers, such as roadside checkpoints and tough new per se DUI laws.

Nevertheless, alcohol is still responsible for almost a third of the fatal car crashes in Wright County. Alcohol is a depressant which slows motor skills. This substance also gives people a sense of euphoria and so impairs judgment. This combination significantly increases the chances of a serious injury in Buffalo. Fortunately, victims usually have several legal options.

Direct Evidence of Intoxication

Most alcohol-related vehicle collisions also involve a DUI charge. That allegation usually triggers the negligence per se shortcut. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are usually liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, such as the DUI law, and
  • That violation substantially causes the victim/plaintiff’s injury.

Assume that a drunk driver misses a stop sign and broadsides a car in the intersection. Running the stop sign caused the wreck, but the tortfeasor probably would not have missed the stop sign if she were sober. So, alcohol substantially caused the collision.

Furthermore, a DUI arrest is sufficient to trigger the negligence per se shortcut. In civil cases, the jury determines all facts, including guilt/innocence in a DUI. So, if our hypothetical tortfeasor got off on a technicality or pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the negligence per se doctrine still applies.

Damages in negligence per se cases usually include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may also be available in extreme cases, such as very high BAC levels.

Circumstantial Evidence of Impairment

There is a difference between intoxication and impairment. Most people must consume about three drinks before they become legally intoxicated. But impairment begins with the first drink. The aforementioned effects begin with the first sip of alcohol. Many people take driving for granted, but it is actually a very complex process. All senses need to be at peak efficiency. If the tortfeasor had any alcohol at all, that’s simply not the case.

The victim/plaintiff may use circumstantial evidence to establish impairment. Such evidence includes physical symptoms like:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Slurred speech, and
  • Slow reflexes.

In fact, the burden of proof in civil cases is so low that even this evidence may not be necessary. Victim/plaintiffs must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). If the tortfeasor came from a place which serves alcohol, it is more likely than not that the tortfeasor also had something to drink.

Third Party Liability

These commercial providers may also be liable for Buffalo injury damages, even though they had nothing to do with the crash itself.

Minnesota has a very broad dram shop law. Minn. Stat. §§ 340A.801 applies to bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and other commercial providers. These entities are jointly responsible for damages if they illegally sold alcoholic beverages to someone who subsequently caused a car crash. An illegal sale could involve:

  • An underage customer,
  • After-hours sale, or
  • A sale to an obviously intoxicated person.

The circumstantial evidence mentioned above is also admissible in this context to prove that the sale was illegal.

Vicarious liability is very important in alcohol-related crashes, because the Buffalo injury damages are often catastrophic. Minnesota has one of the lowest auto insurance minimums in the nation. So, in a wrongful death case, the tortfeasor may not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation. Dram shop and other vicarious liability theories give victims an additional source of recovery.

Minnesota’s dram shop law may also apply to social hosts, if the tortfeasor was under 21. If the tortfeasor was over 21, a social host may also be liable for damages under a theory like negligent undertaking.

Work with Dedicated Lawyers

Alcohol-related crashes almost always cause extremely serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo injury attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.

BUFFALO INJURY LAWYERS

215 East Highway 55
Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

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How Can Buffalo Car Accident Lawyers Help David’s Family?

One fine Friday morning, David drove into Minneapolis to spend a weekend with his son, who was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. Unbeknownst to David, Frank was also in town for the weekend. He landed in MSP that morning and rented a car. But Frank had almost no idea where he was driving, so he paid more attention to his GPS device than the road. Frank missed a stoplight and t-boned David’s car in an intersection. The impact left David in critical condition with a head injury.

The doctors did everything they could to save David. Alas, he passed away after ten days in the intensive care unit.

Losing their husband and father was tragic enough. But David’s family also learned that Frank declined the insurance on the rental agreement, even though he had a spotty driving record. They wisely turn to a Buffalo car accident lawyer for help, but their expectations are low.

Can a Buffalo Car Accident Lawyer Pay Medical Bills?

David’s medical bills are probably immense, so taking care of them is probably the family’s immediate concern. Ten days of ICU care will probably be over $100,000, and the complex head injury treatments may add another $100,000. There are other expenses as well, such as medication and supplies, and these costs add up.

Hopefully, David had life insurance which may put a dent in this bill. More than likely, since David was hurt in a car accident, his health insurance company will not pay anything. So, the family is left holding the bag, at least for the most part.

To take care of this immediate problem, Buffalo car accident lawyers send letters of protection to medical providers. So, providers defer their bills until the case is resolved. In other words, David’s family pays nothing for his medical treatment until they get their settlement money.

Is Frank Able to Pay Damages?

This settlement could be substantial. In addition to David’s medical bills and his pain and suffering, the family is also entitled to compensation for things like funeral expenses, lost future financial support, and lost future emotional support. Additionally, they may also be entitled to compensation for their own grief and sorrow over their loss.

It appears that Frank was clearly negligent. Emergency responders almost certainly faulted him for the accident. Additionally, distraction is one of the five types of driving impairment.

But establishing liability is only part of the puzzle. Since Frank was not driving his personal vehicle at the time of the crash, his auto insurance policy will probably deny coverage. There is a good chance that Frank had additional umbrella coverage. But for purposes of this post, we’ll assume he did not.

If any tortfeasor (negligent driver) is uninsured or under-insured and there is no umbrella coverage, it’s usually possible to file a claim against the individual as opposed to the insurance company. But many people are effectively judgment proof. So, a Buffalo car accident lawyer usually needs to find another way.

Can the Family Sue the Rental Car Company?

Negligent entrustment may be available. To prevail on this claim, David’s family must prove that Frank was an incompetent driver. There is substantial evidence of incompetence in this case, to-wit:

  • Frank had a poor driving record. Let’s assume that included a prior safety suspension and three at-fault collisions.
  • Frank did not know his way around Minneapolis, so he over-relied on his GPS navigation aid.

In court, David’s family must only establish incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

However, there is a major problem. The Graves Amendment protects many vehicle rental companies from negligent entrustment claims. This provision was an add-on to a large transportation bill, so it went under the radar. Like many such add-ons, it is short, completely unsupported by any hearings or other legislative history, and rather poorly drafted. In fact, the Graves Amendment has two big exceptions:

  • Trade or Business: For immunity to apply, the defendant must be in the trade or businesses of vehicle leasing. If Frank rented his car from Enterprise or some other provider, that company is probably immune. But if Frank rented his vehicle from a car dealer that rents some cars on the side, the trade or business requirement might be absent.
  • Not Otherwise Negligent: Arguably, verifying driving records before a commercial rental is now the industry standard. Violating this standard is evidence of negligence. So, if the clerk allowed Frank to rent a car with no questions asked, liability could attach.

Other third-party liability theories include employer liability and dram shop liability. Employers are generally responsible for the negligent acts of their employees, and commercial alcohol providers are sometimes responsible for the wrecks their impaired patrons cause.

Reach Out to an Experienced Car Accident Attorney in Buffalo

Even if things look bleak, legal options are almost always available. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo car accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.

BUFFALO ACCIDENT LAWYERS

215 East Highway 55
Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details

Map and Directions

How Do Buffalo Car Accident Lawyers Win Compensation in Hit-and-Run Claims?

Until recently, hit-and-run crashes were very rare. But these incidents have increased 62 percent since 2009. Without a responsible tortfeasor (negligent driver), many accident victims assume they cannot obtain compensation for their injuries. But, that’s not necessarily true.

Even after a Buffalo car accident lawyer identifies the tortfeasor, obtaining compensation may still be a problem. Minnesota has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country, so many drivers are dangerously underinsured. But many hit-and-run drivers flee the scene because they are intoxicated. This impairment opens a number of doors in terms of third party liability.

The Burden of Proof in Civil Cases

It’s difficult to obtain criminal convictions in hit-and-run cases. The burden of proof in these cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. So, the prosecutor needs a witness or some other evidence which places the driver behind the wheel at or very near the time of the crash. Otherwise, there may be a reasonable doubt as to the driver’s identity.

That’s not true in civil cases. The burden of proof – a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not – is much lower in tort cases. If the victim/plaintiff identifies the car, this evidence may be sufficient.

Assume a witness sees a dark-colored sedan strike a pedestrian and then drive off. The witness says the last two letters of the license plate are “XG.” That’s not much to go on, but it is probably enough for a Buffalo car accident lawyer. There may only be a few dark sedans in Buffalo with XG plates. It is definitely more likely than not that one of them is the tortfeasor, especially if the owner lacks a rock-solid alibi for the time of the crash.

Additional Evidence in Hit-and-Run Claims

To further narrow the list of potential tortfeasors, Buffalo car accident lawyers can use additional circumstantial evidence and establish a negligence case.

Culling the area for additional witnesses is usually a good idea. To return to the above example, a witness a few blocks from the crash might have seen a dark sedan with the license plate “LXG.” There may also be additional witnesses at the scene who did not speak to police officers, for whatever reason.

Emergency responders often inquire at major nearby body shops to find clues. But many hit-and-run tortfeasors do not go to these places for repairs. Instead, they go to underground places. Only a Buffalo car accident lawyer, perhaps working in partnership with a private investigator, can find such places.

The more evidence the victim/plaintiff has, the stronger the claim for compensation becomes. This compensation usually includes money for economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Moreover, many Wright County jurors intensely dislike hit-and-run drivers. So, they often award additional punitive damages in these cases.

Buffalo Car Accident Lawyers and Third Party Liability

Alcohol-related crashes usually involve vicarious liability, since Minnesota has a very strong dram shop law. Restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, and other commercial alcohol providers are liable for damages if their patrons negligently cause damages if:

  • Illegal Sale: It is illegal to sell alcohol to minors. It is also illegal to sell alcohol to a person who is obviously intoxicated. In underage sales, the evidence is usually clear cut. The person was either over or under 21. In adult sales, circumstantial evidence of impairment, like bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, is admissible.
  • Foreseeable: It is foreseeable that a person who drinks and drives may cause an accident. It is also foreseeable that if a person buys packaged alcohol, that person will have a drink on the way home.

Minnesota’s dram shop law also applies in noncommercial transactions. Party hosts and other social hosts are vicariously liable for damages if they control the premises where the tortfeasor acquired the alcohol, and the owner recklessly allowed consumption to take place.

The alcohol third party liability laws apply in other alcohol-related cases as well.

 

Call Today To Speak With an Experience Buffalo Car Accident Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

Even if the tortfeasor flees the scene, a successful claim may still be in the cards. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo car accident lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

215 East Highway 55
Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details | Map and Directions

Special Issues in Buffalo, Minnesota Bus Crashes

Between public bus services and tour bus services, many of these large vehicles pass through Wright County on a daily basis. These passengers put all their trust in the drivers who operate the buses, the mechanics who make sure they are road-worthy, and the other people that work to make these trips successful. Because of that trust, there are some special duty and liability issues in this area, as outlined below.

Unfortunately, not all these trips are safe, and so Buffalo, MN lawyers deal with many bus crash cases. These incidents usually cause catastrophic injuries, so the compensation is usually substantial.

That compensation usually includes damages for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well. Victim/plaintiffs are entitled to these damages if there is clear and convincing evidence of intentional disregard for the safety or property of other people.

Enhanced Legal Duty

Bus drivers, Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and other operators who transport people for money are common carriers in Minnesota. In the words of one landmark court decision, every common carrier has “a duty to use the highest degree of care for the safety of its passengers.” In fact, Minnesota judges have consistently held that common carriers are all but insurers of safe conduct.

This duty has at least two components. First, drivers must be extra cautious on the road. For example, most noncommercial drivers may proceed through intersections if they have green lights. But arguably, commercial carriers must pause and make sure the way is clear before they move forward. The same thing applies with regard to vehicle speed, especially since large buses are so hard to stop.

Second, drivers or other company employees must ensure that the passenger area is safe. They must clean up wet spots on floors and change burned-out light bulbs. They must also make sure that altercations between passengers do not become violent. That’s especially important in party bus trips wherein many of the passengers are at least mildly intoxicated.

The higher duty makes it easier for Buffalo, MN lawyers to establish liability, as outlined below. The higher standard of conduct also means that Wright County jurors often award higher damages in these cases.

How Buffalo, MN Lawyers Establish Liability

Fatigue is one of the leading causes of Buffalo bus crashes. In fact, drowsy drivers may cause about 40 percent of these wrecks. While there is no Breathalyzer test for fatigue, there are a number of ways to establish drowsiness in court:

  • Witness Accounts: Passengers may see drivers stare off into space or even nod odd briefly. They may also overhear drivers make statements about their lack of sleep. What witnesses see is nearly always admissible in court. The things they overhear may be admissible in some cases.
  • Driver Statements: Even if they are not recorded in the police accident report, Buffalo, MN lawyers may be able to admit statements like “I’m sleepy” because of an exception to the hearsay rule.
  • Time of Day: Both tour and interstate buses often operate late at night or early in the morning. Everyone has a circadian rhythm. So, most people are naturally sleepy at these hours, no matter how much rest they got the night before. This effect is even more pronounced if the driver recently changed shifts.
  • Electronic Logging Devices: The trucking industry fought the ELD mandate tooth and nail. But it finally took effect in the spring of 2018. These gadgets automatically record hours of service. They are essentially tamper-proof and connected to the vehicle’s ignition. As such, they provide basically foolproof information about hours of service compliance.

To establish liability, Buffalo, MN lawyers must show either a violation of a safety rule or a lack of care. The first three bullets above all concern a lack of care. The fourth relates to a violation of the HOS requirement, which is negligence per se in Minnesota.

Damages Available in Bus Crash Cases

When a busload of passengers crashes, the injuries are usually widespread and catastrophic. The victims usually have no warning, and the vehicles usually have no seatbelts or airbags. In particularly severe cases, damages sometimes run into the millions of dollars. Under the respondeat superior rule, the bus owner is vicariously liable for these damages if the driver was:

  • An Employee: Almost all bus drivers are “employees” in this context because the bus company controls them to some extent. Even unpaid volunteers are usually employees under this broad standard.
  • Acting Within the Scope of Employment: Any activity which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That could include driving an empty bus back to the garage.

Minnesota is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple responsible parties, Wright County judges usually apportion damages based on the percentage of fault.

Call Today To Speak With A Lawyer in Buffalo, MN Today From Carlson & Jones

Bus crashes are tragic, but justice and compensation are both available. For a free consultation with experienced Buffalo, MN lawyers, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We have offices located throughout the state.

BUFFALO LAWYERS

215 East Highway 55
Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

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Should Couples Consult Hutchinson Lawyers About Premarital Agreements?

Homeowners do not expect their houses to burn down, and they certainly do not hope that they burn down. Nevertheless, responsible owners always get fire insurance.

The same idea applies with regard to premarital agreements. No one expects to get a divorce, and we’re quite certain that no one goes into a marriage hoping that it ends in divorce. But responsible spouses, like responsible homeowners, should be prepared for the unexpected and unfortunate. So, especially if one or both spouses have been married before, most couples should talk to a Hutchinson lawyer about a premarital agreement.

Minnesota is one of the few states that has not adopted the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act. However, the law in the Gopher State is very similar to the UPMAA. So, results are quite predictable, both inside Minnesota and across state lines. That’s important, because most married couples move frequently.

Making a Premarital Agreement

Money is one of the leading causes of marital strife. Financial problems come in many forms. Some couples have problems paying the bills, and that situation causes stress. However, in many cases, such issues are also rather easy to address, as long as each partner is willing to make sacrifices.

But excess money is another matter. Some people are savers, and some people are spenders. Absent guidance, they will always be at odds. A Hutchinson lawyer could use a premarital agreement to provide that guidance. These pacts remove money from the equation before it has a chance to poison your relationship.

Many couples include language in their premarital agreements which limits spousal support in some situations. Pre-arranged property clarification and division provisions are very popular as well.

Premarital agreements can do more than address money. Assume Ben divorces Sue but he remains very close to Ben Jr. Under the laws of Minnesota and most states, if Ben marries Jane, Ben Jr. would not receive a share of Ben’s inheritance and would be unable to take over Ben’s Barber Shop. A premarital agreement can cover complex inheritance and succession matters like these.

The Bens of the world might also consider drafting wills, trusts, and other executory documents to go along with their premarital agreements.

How Hutchinson Lawyers Can Break Premarital Agreements

Minnesota law has a strong presumption in favor of spousal agreements. Judges usually uphold such agreements if at all possible. However, almost no contracts are ironclad, and premarital agreements are no exception. So, there are basically four ways to challenge a premarital agreement in Minnesota:

  • Full Disclosure: Each spouse must provide all important financial information about all their nonmarital property holdings. To win on this point, challenging spouses must also normally prove that they could not get the missing information from any other source.
  • Separate Counsel: This is one of the major provisions which did not make it into the UPMAA. If each party did not have a different Hutchinson lawyer, the agreement is invalid. This rule is also related to the next one.
  • Involuntary: There is almost always some pressure to sign a premarital agreement. That pressure may even include an ultimatum, like “sign this deal or the wedding is off.” At some point, the pressure is too much. So, this point is specific to the facts of each case. If both spouses had lawyers and plenty of time to consult with them, involuntariness is hard to prove.
  • Unconscionable: A premarital agreement cannot be egregiously unfair, e.g. one spouse gets all the assets and one gets all the debts. Normally, the agreement must be unconscionable at the time it was made.

Hutchinson lawyers insert severability clauses into most premarital agreements. So, if a judge invalidates one part, the remainder survives.

How It Works

One of the more famous premarital agreement disputes involved Frank and Jamie McCourt, the erstwhile owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unlike Minnesota, California is a UPMAA state, so the results may be a little different here.

Frank and Jamie owned the team through most of the early and mid-2000s. After several years of subpar play, the team had fallen on hard times financially. The club eventually declared bankruptcy in 2011.

While the team was in bankruptcy court, its owners were in divorce court. Since the team was basically worthless, Jamie signed away her half for about $200 million in cash and property. Shortly thereafter, Frank sold the revitalized team for $2 billion.

Jamie tried to overturn the property agreement. She argued that Frank withheld financial documents and that the agreement was unconscionable. It left her about $900 million shy of a 50-50 split.

But the court disagreed. The judges observed that Jamie was a team co-owner at the time, so she could have easily dug deeper into the team’s value. Furthermore, the agreement was not unconscionable when it was made.

Jamie may have lost her appeal, but President Donald Trump recently made her ambassador to Monaco and France. That’s not a bad consolation prize.

Call Today To Speak With A Hutchinson Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

A solid premarital agreement puts your marriage on a firmer foundation and gives you peace of mind. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We have offices in Hutchinson, Brainerd, Buffalo, and Minnetonka.

HUTCHINSON LAWYERS

114 Main Street North
Hutchinson, MN 55350
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (320) 289-4761
Fax: 763-682-3330

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Six DWI Roadblock Requirements in Minnesota

Normally, police officers must have reasonable suspicion to detain motorists for DWI or other criminal offenses. Such reasonable suspicion could be an offense committed within plain view, like a traffic infraction, or a tip from an informer.

Roadside checkpoints are a major exception to this rule. At a roadblock, officers need not have any suspicion at all, reasonable or otherwise, to detain motorists. Instead, officers can detain motorists according to a pre-arranged formula.

Roadblocks are a key weapon in the anti-DWI law enforcement arsenal. So, MN DWI lawyers must take extra care to hold the state accountable in such situations, to protect people from government overreaches. Many of these requirements are outlined in 1990’s Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. In this case, the United States Supreme Court finally set ground rules for DWI checkpoints, some of which are discussed below.

Supervisor-Level Planning

Before Sitz, some states allowed informal checkpoints. A group of officers could get together and block traffic for almost any law enforcement-related purpose.

The Supreme Court put an end to this practice for good. In DWI checkpoint situations, every detail about the roadblock’s operation must come from a supervisor. Generally, officers can have no discretion when it comes to items like:

  • Checkpoint location,
  • Hours of operation,
  • Manner of detaining motorists, and
  • Checkpoint purpose.

As indicated below, officers have some limited discretion when it comes to the manner of detaining motorists.

If police supervisors only make a general operational outline and allow officers to fill in the blanks, the checkpoint is probably invalid.

Safe Location

Most officers would like to place checkpoints in high-traffic areas, like freeway off-ramps. Moreover, they would like for these checkpoints to be at peak driving times.

But these conditions simply are not safe for motorists. If they exist, a MN DWI lawyer may once again be able to challenge the checkpoint’s validity. High-speed and high-traffic areas create a high potential for accidents.

Prior Publicity

Before officers set up the roadblock, the sponsoring agency must advertise the checkpoint’s exact location and hours of operation. A post on the police department’s website may be sufficient, but a social media post is even better. The idea is that people should have the chance to avoid the area altogether. Without sufficient publicity, motorists would be unable to exercise that right.

Sufficient Signage

There is a similar purpose here. There must be warning signs far away from the actual checkpoint. Motorists must have the option of turning around before traffic backs up. As a rule of thumb, a sign like “DWI Checkpoint Ahead” must be at least a quarter-mile before the checkpoint itself.

There are other requirements in this area as well. Officers should be available to direct traffic, or they should at least place safety cones in the road. Furthermore, the signs should clearly set forth the checkpoint’s purpose as well as its authorization under Minnesota law.

The signage question is really a question of individual rights, and these are the rights that MN DWI lawyers fight to preserve.

If officers see a motorist turn around to avoid the checkpoint, they have the right to follow that motorist. If they develop reasonable suspicion, perhaps because of the motorist’s unsafe lane change, they may detain that driver.

Minimal Disruption

Officers must keep traffic flowing as quickly as possible. Any wait longer than about three minutes is probably excessive. That includes both waiting in line and the time spent interaction with officers.

This is the one area where officers have some discretion. For example, many checkpoint operating instructions allow officers to pull over every other vehicle. However, if traffic backs up and wait time increases, they may have the discretion to detain every third or fourth vehicle. These alternate instructions must be clearly laid out in writing.

Respect for Individual Rights

Police officers are not the only people with rights at DWI checkpoints. Drivers have important rights as well.

Motorists have a legal responsibility to produce certain documents, such as a drivers’ license and proof of insurance, for inspection. There usually needs to be a sign to that effect. The obligation ends there. Motorists need not answer questions or even roll down their windows. A refusal to interact does not constitute reasonable suspicion. However, motorists who exercise their right to remain silent may pick up police tails, as outlined above.

Call Today To Speak With A MN DWI Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

Any failure to comply with Sitz or other rules may invalidate a checkpoint. For a free consultation with an experienced MN DWI lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We have a number of offices throughout the state.

What You Need to Know About Prenuptial Agreements in Brainerd

Until recently, only super-rich couples bothered with this area of family law. There was no uniform law, so these documents were difficult to draft. This lack of law also meant unpredictable results. Brainerd lawyers could enforce prenups without issue in some places and be laughed out of court in other jurisdictions.

But the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act changed all that. This law, or a variation of it, is effective in all Minnesota counties and most U.S. states. The UPMAA sets clear ground rules for what is, and is not, allowed in premarital agreements.

As a result, anyone with any appreciable amount of nonmarital property should probably get a prenup. The same thing goes for any person who has been married before. Premarital agreements are not just “divorce insurance.” They are a way to help your marriage get off to the best possible start.

Why Should a Brainerd Lawyer Make a Premarital Agreement?

Money is generally considered to be the leading cause of marital strife. Sometimes, the issue is a lack of money, and a premarital agreement really cannot fix that problem. Other times, however, there are disagreements as to excess money. Some spouses are savers and some people are spenders. When these two philosophies clash, things could go sideways in a hurry.

Debt payment is often an issue as well. For example, Wife may resent the fact that Husband uses money from his paycheck (marital property) to pay off his student loans (non-marital debt).

A prenuptial agreement basically removes financial matters from the equation. If money is not an issue, it can never be a problem in your marriage. Furthermore, if needs change, a Brainerd lawyer can simply amend the pact.

These financial matters obviously extend to divorce-related matters. In some cases, a premarital agreement can place a very low cap on spousal support payments or even eliminate this obligation altogether. The same thing applies to property division.

Premarital agreements can also cover inheritance and succession matters. That’s particularly important if a spouse owns a small business. A prenup can specify what happens to the business after the marriage ends. Many people also draw up wills and other executory documents at this time.

How Can Brainerd Lawyers Break a Premarital Agreement?

Under the old system, judges upheld premarital agreements or struck them down largely based on what they believed to be fair. But once again, the UPMAA has standardized the process. Now, there are basically two ways to break premarital agreements:

  • Involuntary: Almost all premarital agreements involve some pressure to sign, up to things like a “sign or else” ultimatum. Such pressure usually does not invalidate the agreement. But if one spouse springs a prenup on the other spouse at the absolute last minute, or the other spouse does not have a lawyer, the agreement may be involuntary as a matter of law.
  • Unconscionable: There is a difference between “uneven” and “unconscionable.” 60-40, and even 70-30, is uneven but probably not unconscionable. Furthermore, the agreement must be unconscionable at the time the parties signed it.

Brainerd lawyers usually insert severability clauses into prenuptial agreements. So, if a judge invalidates one part, the rest remains in effect.

How It Works

Some baseball fans may recall the names Jamie and Frank McCourt. This super-rich California couple owned the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early 2000s.

After winning the World Series in 1988, with the help of Kirk Gibson’s unbelievable home run, the Dodgers underachieved throughout the 1990s. Fan interest waned and revenue dried up. By 2011, the team was in bankruptcy court.

At roughly the same time, the McCourts were in divorce court. Since the team had basically no value, Jamie agreed to give up her half of the club in exchange for about $180 million in cash and property.

The team soon bounced back, both athletically and financially. In just a few short years, the Dodgers were back on top. Frank, who was the sole owner at that time, sold the team for over $2 billion (with a “b”). Jamie almost immediately went back to court, attempting to undo the property agreement. She argued that the agreement was involuntary because Frank withheld documents. She also argued that the agreement was unconscionable, since it left her about $900 million short of a 50-50 division.

The court disagreed. Frank produced thousands of financial documents during the divorce proceedings. And even if he withheld information, Jamie was a co-owner at the time, so she had full access to the numbers. Furthermore, the agreement was not unconscionable when it was made. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Jamie got a lot of money, and Frank got a worthless, has-been baseball team. Jamie lost her appeal, but President Donald Trump recently tapped her as ambassador to France. That’s a pretty nice consolation prize.

California is also a UPMAA state, so the results would have been basically the same in any uniform law jurisdiction.

Call Today To Speak With An Experienced Brainerd Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

People who have been married before should consider premarital agreements. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd lawyer in family law, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Crow Wing County and nearby jurisdictions.

BRAINERD LAWYERS

17025 Commercial Park Road
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Brainerd, MN 56401
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How Hutchinson Lawyers Obtain Maximum Compensation in Hit-and-Run Cases

Statistics vary among different jurisdiction, but around 50 percent of hit-and-run drivers are successfully prosecuted in criminal court. For the reasons outlined below, the proportion may be a little higher in McLeod County civil courts.

Many hit-and-run drivers are either uninsured or underinsured. Others have outstanding warrants or no valid drivers’ license. Still others know they are at fault. They run because they are worried about the consequences of their action. The bottom line is that these individuals are scared of something. However, that’s certainly no excuse for fleeing the scene of a collision.

These claims present complex issues for Hutchinson lawyers. Starting at pretty much square one, attorneys must build successful claims. Much more often than not, the results are quite impressive.

What Causes Hit-and-Run Accidents?

Some form of human error causes about 95 percent of car crashes. Things like defective products and dangerously-designed roadways cause a few crashes here and there. But the vast majority are related to one of the four kinds of driving impairment as identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Alcohol: A few drinks makes most people great fun at parties. But alcohol is a depressant which slows reaction time. It’s also a mood-altering substance which impairs judgement. This combination makes it very, very dangerous to drink and drive.
  • Drugs: This category includes “street drugs” like heroin, legal prescription drugs like Oxycontin, and even some over-the-counter medicines like Unisom. It could also include caffeine and some other drugs commonly found in food and beverages. The jury is still out as to the relationship between marijuana and driving impairment.
  • Distraction: Hand-held cell phones combine all three types of distracted driving. These users take their eyes off the road, take their minds off driving, and take a hand off the wheel. Hands-free cell phones are not much safer. They involve two types of distraction while giving drivers a false sense of security.
  • Medical Condition: Millions of Americans suffer from conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and epilepsy. These individuals may lose consciousness at any moment, often with little or no warning.

Fatigue causes many car crashes as well. Alcohol and drowsiness affect the brain in about the same way. Driving after eighteen straight awake hours is like driving with a .08 BAC.

Tracking Down the Tortfeasor

In many hit-and-runs, there is little evidence at the scene which points to the tortfeasor (negligent driver). Typically, first responders do not investigate these cases very carefully. They are more concerned with securing the scene and taking care of injured victims. So, it’s often up to Hutchinson lawyers to run down evidence like:

  • Surveillance Video: A witness may have only a vague description of the offending vehicle. But a nearby security or other camera might have recorded the license plate number or some other identifying information.
  • Additional Witness Statements: Hutchinson lawyers can often convince reluctant witnesses to come forward and share what they know. This exercise must take place quickly, because memories fade very quickly.
  • Physical Evidence: At the other end of the scale, collecting physical evidence takes time. Hutchinson attorneys often partner with private investigators. These individuals may stake out the area to see if the tortfeasor returns or check out nearby body shops for damaged vehicles.

In criminal court, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, there must be a witness or other evidence that puts the driver behind the wheel at or near the time of the crash.

But in civil court, Hutchinson lawyers need only establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). In practical terms, that usually means attorneys need only identify the vehicles. If they do that, it is more likely than not that the owner was also the driver.

Hutchinson Lawyers and Unknown Tortfeasor Cases

Some people believe that if there is no tortfeasor, the victim has no way to obtain compensation. But that’s normally not true.

Many victims in these situations may file claims against their own insurance companies. Hutchinson lawyers are available to serve as advocates in these cases. If the two parties cannot agree on a settlement, these cases often go to arbitration instead of trial.

In both litigation and arbitration cases, this settlement often occurs during mediation. A neutral party, who is usually another Hutchinson lawyer, conveys offers and counteroffers between the two sides. This form of mediation is at least partially successful in roughly three out of four cases.

The damages in a hit-and-run case usually include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. If the tortfeasor is identified, many McLeod County jurors are inclined to award additional punitive damages. Most jurors do not like hit-and-run drivers, so they often want to punish these tortfeasors.

Call Today To Speak With A Hutchinson Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

Hit-and-run victims have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

HUTCHINSON LAWYERS

114 Main Street North
Hutchinson, MN 55350
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (320) 289-4761
Fax: 763-682-3330

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Buffalo Lawyers

215 East Highway 55, Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

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Brainerd Lawyers

17025 Commercial Park Rd, Suite 2
Brainerd, MN 56401

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (218) 736-9429
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Hutchinson Lawyers

114 Main Street North
Hutchinson, MN 55350

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (320) 289-4761
Fax: 763-682-3330

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Minnetonka Lawyers

3911 Ridgedale Dr, Suite 404E
Minnetonka, MN 55305

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (952) 260-9640
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