You Should Know: Praising the Organizations That Make a Difference

These Justice Organizations Lead the Fight to Protect the Safety, Rights of All Americans

Every year for the Justice Served Awards issue, we celebrate injured people and their families who have stepped up to make America a safer, more just nation. This year, we’re shining a bright light on the organizations that tirelessly support and advocate for all Americans.

Center for Justice and Democracy

Located at New York Law School, the Center for Justice & Democracy is the only national consumer organization in the country exclusively dedicated to protecting the civil justice system. It investigates and exposes attacks on judges, juries, injured consumers and attorneys by powerful corporations and special interests. The Center also raises public awareness and support for the civil justice system and combats the dangerous campaign behind the so-called “tort reform” movement. The Center believes that “America’s civil justice system is one of the only places left in America where individual citizens can successfully challenge powerful industries and institutions and hold them accountable.”

Public Citizen

Founded in 1971 and based in Washington, D.C., Public Citizen “serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital.” The organization champions citizens’ interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies and the courts. Through its five policy groups – Congress Watch, the Energy Program, Global Trade Watch, the Health Research Group and the Litigation Group – Public Citizen fights to make sure government works for the American people and not corporate power.

Consumers Union

Consumers Union is the policy and action division of Consumer Reports magazine. It works with its activists and alongside subscriber input to pass consumer protection laws in states and in Congress. It holds dangerous and unsafe corporations accountable and celebrates those who put their consumers first. Consumers Union has helped pass consumer protection laws for healthcare, financial services, the food and agriculture industry, clean energy, the auto industry and more.

Consumer Federation of America

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy and education. Nearly 300 diverse state and national advocacy groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Workplace Fairness

Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit organization working to preserve and promote employee rights. It believes that fair treatment of workers is sound public policy and good business practice. Workplace Fairness also supports and creates comprehensive, unbiased information about workers’ rights in order to empower employees everywhere. With this information, Workplace Fairness educates workers and organizations and advocates for fairness through awareness and public policy.

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ProPublica

Founded by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street JournalProPublica is an independent nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. These investigations shine a light on exploitation and work to create positive change. ProPublica is nonpartisan organization that works to adhere to strict standards of journalistic impartiality. It does not ally with any politicians or advocacy groups in order to provide an unbiased look at businesses, government, unions, education systems, healthcare organizations and the media.

The Leapfrog Group

The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality and safety of American health care. Its Leapfrog Hospital Survey program collects and transparently reports hospital performance, empowering purchasers to find the highest-value care and giving consumers the lifesaving information they need to make informed decisions. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, Leapfrog’s other main initiative, assigns letter grades to hospitals based on their record of patient safety, helping consumers protect themselves and their families from errors, injuries, accidents and infections.

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Safe Kids Worldwide

Safe Kids Worldwide is a global organization dedicated to protecting kids from unintentional injuries, the number one cause of death to children in the United States. Safe Kids does this through research reports, education and awareness programs and safety focused public policy. Since 1988, the work of Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 60 percent.

 

This article appeared in our August 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

Outer Banks Rental Agreements and the Power Outage: Your Rights as a Vacation Renter

The Outer Banks power outage has disrupted vacation plans for thousands of renters

The Outer Banks power outage has disrupted vacation plans for thousands of renters

The recent electrical outage affecting Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, resulting in a mandatory evacuation of all non-residents has raised some interesting legal issues. What are the rights of the vacation renters who were in the middle of their stay when they were forced to leave? What are the rights of the renters whose vacation stay was supposed to start on the following Saturday or Sunday, or even next week, given an estimate of two weeks to repair the severed electrical cable? These issues are not quite as clear as one might imagine they should be given the long history of storms along the Outer Banks. This is especially true in light of some renters reporting that landlords are refusing to refund monies for nights missed, even for those whose stay was supposed to begin long after the initial evacuation orders were issued.

Vacation rental agreements in North Carolina are governed by the provisions of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act (N.C.G.S. §§ 42A-1 thru 36). That act, in effect since 2000, requires that all vacation rental agreements be in writing, signed by both the landlord and the renter, and that the rental agreement is subject to the provisions of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act (“the Act”). Among the provisions in the Act, landlords may collect fees, taxes, and rent in advance, and can disburse the fees to themselves right away, but must place rent for future rentals in a trust account until the day the rental is to begin. At that point, the landlord can release the rent to themselves. As to refunding the advance rent, most rental agreements provide for a cancellation policy and refund if done more than 30-90 days in advance of the rental start date. After that deadline passes, there is generally no refund allowed. The exception is the one contained in G.S. §42A-17(b), which provides that “except as provided in G.S. §42A-36, if, at the time the tenant is to begin occupancy of the property, the landlord … cannot provide the property in a fit and habitable condition or substitute a reasonably comparable property in such condition, the landlord … shall refund to the tenant all payments made by the tenant.” In North Carolina, a lack of electricity (and by extension, water, since pumps don’t work without power) is deemed to render a property in an unfit and uninhabitable condition. So it would seem simple enough, but the refund statute is expressly subject to G.S. §42A-36, which deals with “mandatory evacuations” ordered by State or local authorities.

Under G.S. §42A-36, if an emergency evacuation is ordered by the authorities, renters are obligated to comply. The statute then goes on to say that in the event of such an evacuation, renters are entitled to a refund of their rent, fees and taxes from the landlord based on a prorated formula using the nights actually spent on the property, and the nights missed due to the evacuation. That seems pretty straight forward, but the General Assembly did not stop there. They added an exception to the required payment of prorated rent refunds from the landlord based on the renter’s purchase or non-purchase of evacuation insurance offered by the landlord (or their rental agent). What the statute says is that: “The tenant (renter) shall not be entitled to a refund if: (i) prior to the tenant taking possession of the property, the tenant refused insurance offered by the landlord or real estate broker that would have compensated the tenant for losses or damages resulting from loss of use of the property due to a mandatory evacuation order; or (ii) the tenant purchased insurance offered by the landlord or real estate broker.” So, the landlord doesn’t have to pay the refund if the renter buys, or if the renter doesn’t buy, the evacuation insurance. Confused? Well, look at it this way; if the renter is offered evacuation insurance and doesn’t buy it, then that is a choice they made, and the risk of there being an evacuation scenario should fall on them, not the landlord (at least in the minds of the General Assembly). If on the other hand, the renter does buy the insurance, then the insurance company pays the prorated rent, so the landlord gets to keep the entire rent. That’s a win-win for everyone but the insurance company (which still makes a large profit off of the policies even if it has to occasionally pay out when an evacuation occurs). The problem is that these policies typically do not cover “man-made” catastrophes like the one that occurred when the contractor building the new Bonner Bridge severed the main trunk line carrying electricity to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. The policies were originally designed to cover weather events, like huge storms or hurricanes. Many policies thus exclude man-made (or human) caused problems. 

So, it seems that what many vacationers are now experiencing is a Catch-22 whereby the landlords are using the evacuation order to place the renters (and the landlord’s) rights under the language of §42A-36 (rather than §42A-17), and are then saying that they (the landlords) do not have to pay any refunds (so long as they offered the evacuation insurance to the renter) because the renter either did buy insurance or didn’t, but either way the landlord doesn’t have to pay. Worse still, some landlords are denying refunds to those renters whose stays were to begin this week (long after the “evacuation” took place), and who weren’t part of the group actually evacuated pursuant to the order, relying on that part of the statute which says that the evacuation order applies to a renter, “whether in possession of the property or not,…”. 

Assuming that the landlord’s position that §42A-17 is subservient to §42A-36 even for those renters who were not even there when the evacuation order was issued (since there is still an order in place preventing non-residents from entering the islands) what can the renters do to receive a refund for the missed days? First, each renter must answer the question of whether or not they were offered evacuation insurance in advance of their stay by either the landlord or their rental agent. If not, then the landlord owes the refund. If the landlord or real estate agent handling rentals did offer it, then did the renter buy it? If yes, then read the policy carefully to see if the policy might provide coverage in this case. If it does, then make the claim on the policy. If the policy does not cover this event (because it is man-made, and not a natural event), or if the renter chose not to buy a policy that would not have covered this event, then a valid legal argument can be made that the landlord owes the refund. Why? Because of the language of the exception in §42A-36 that says with regard to not purchasing the insurance, that it must be, “insurance offered by the landlord or real estate broker that would have compensated the tenant for losses or damages resulting from loss of use of the property due to a mandatory evacuation order;…”. Clearly the exception is meant to apply only to policies that would provide coverage, not to policies that would not. This makes sense, and is also the fair and just allocation of risk between the landlord and tenant. So if the policies issued by the landlord’s insurance company exclude payments for an event like this one, then the statutory requirement that the policy “would have compensated” is not met. By extension, the argument can be made that the same logic applies to those who did purchase policies that don’t compensate the renter for that same loss of use due to the evacuation order; they don’t meet the statutory requirement to trigger the exception, and the landlord owes the refund. It would be a difficult legal argument to win, that the statute having defined the policy to be sold as requiring that it would have compensated the loss if purchased, to then say that policies actually purchased that don’t provide such compensation should still give the landlord the statutory protection.

Charles F. Carpenter is a partner with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, in Durham, NC.

Michael Kohagen Named President of Durham’s Rotaract Club

Michael E. Kohagen, attorney with Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC, is making a difference in Durham. He was recently named president of Durham’s Rotaract, a service club for young men and women ages 18 to 30 who are dedicated to community and international service. 

Its membership totals over 184.000 in more than 8,000 clubs worldwide. Rotaract clubs are self-governing and self-supporting and can be either university or community-based. Individual Rotary clubs sponsor Rotaract clubs and offer guidance and support, making the Rotaract clubs true ‘partners in service’ and key members of the family of Rotary. 

Last February the Durham Rotaract club packaged diapers for the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, a service that provides and delivers diapers to families in the local community. Other recent service opportunities the club has volunteered for include Habitat for Humanity builds and serving food at Urban Ministries. 

Thank you Michael, and your fellow Rotaract members, for volunteering in the Durham community!

You Should Know: Beware the Insurance Company Three D’s

When you buy insurance, you’re buying security. In exchange for your hard-earned dollars, you trust the insurance company to be there when disaster strikes, to shoulder a potentially devastating financial burden. But too many insurance companies care more about profits than policyholders. They employ shady tactics to keep from paying legitimate claims, a practice we call The Three D’s.

If you’ve ever had to file an insurance claim, you know the frustration that seems baked right into the maze of endless forms and confusing small print. Companies that once lived up to their promise to “be on your side” when disaster strikes dramatically shifted business practices in the 1990s to meet Wall Street demands for short-term profits. The result is chronicled in the book Delay, Deny, Defend: Why Insurance Companies Don’t Pay Claims and What You Can Do About It by distinguished Rutgers law professor Jay Feinman. Not surprisingly, insurance companies are recording astronomical profits. Here’s how it works:

Trick #1: Deny, Deny, Deny Claims

Insurance companies will outright deny that an accident occurred or that the policyholder was seriously injured. Some companies even offer gifts and bonuses to employees who deny claims and keep payments to a minimum. Arbitrary rules will crop up, often referencing provisions that do not exist or that contradict a previous statement. The hope is that denial after denial will defeat and deflate claimants, making them feel they have no choice but to throw in the towel.

Trick #2: Delay Paying as Long as Possible...
Even Until Death

Endless forms, arbitrary rules and a sea of fine print discourage claims.

Endless forms, arbitrary rules and a sea of fine print discourage claims.

You’ve jumped through all the hoops and the insurance company has agreed to pay the claim, so you can rest easy, right? Think again. Delaying payment is another common tactic to boost profits. Insurance companies have been known to send out incorrect forms and then blame claimants for the error, or set very short time limits on when a claim can be made after an accident, injury or illness. In cases involving elderly or gravely ill claimants, some insurance companies have even delayed payments in hopes that the customer dies before they have to pay.

Trick #3: Defend in Court

Following a denied claim or a delayed payment, insurance companies know they can further delay writing a check by defending their questionable tactics in court. Billions of dollars in profits and thousands of high-priced lawyers on the payroll means they are always ready for a trial. Insurance companies know that many of their customers may be afraid or unwilling to hire a lawyer, and they use that fear to convince claimants that a court battle would only end in an insurance company victory.

Getting Paid What You Deserve

Forcing a claimant to sue for benefits owed is one way insurance companies fail their customers.

Forcing a claimant to sue for benefits owed is one way insurance companies fail their customers.

What can a David do against these insurance company Goliaths? Here are some tips on what to do before, during and after making a claim to an insurance company:

  • Pick a reputable company: It pays to do a little homework before you sign on the dotted line. Start with this list of best/worst insurers ranked on claim denials and bad-faith practices.
  • Read your policy carefully: You should know exactly what is covered and what you need for an appeal in case your claim is denied.
  • Double- and triple- check forms: An incorrectly filled-out form can be used by an insurance company to deny or delay claims. Past forms can even be used as a way to retroactively deny coverage. Be thorough and honest on every piece of paper you fill out.
  • Do not cash the check right away: Insurance companies will send checks with very low offers, or pay premium refunds if they rescind your coverage. Cashing these checks can be legally interpreted as accepting their offers.
  • Get everything in writing: If you need to fight your insurance company, you must be able to produce every bill, form and piece of correspondence.
  • Reach out for help: An experienced plaintiff’s lawyer can guide you through your claims process and provide the firepower necessary to challenge the insurance company in court if necessary.

This article appeared in our July 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

Join us in congratulating Malvern King!

(l-r) Christy Malott (former President of the 14th Judicial Bar Association), Guy W. Crabtree (current President) and Malvern F. King, Jr. photo courtesy of Bob Friedman, Publisher, NC Triangle Attorney at Law Magazine

(l-r) Christy Malott (former President of the 14th Judicial Bar Association), Guy W. Crabtree (current President) and Malvern F. King, Jr.
photo courtesy of Bob Friedman, Publisher, NC Triangle Attorney at Law Magazine

Malvern F. King, Jr. was honored for 50 years as an attorney at the recent annual meeting of the 14th Judicial District Bar and Durham County Bar Association.  

Malvern King concentrates in the areas of corporate law, commercial transactions and estate planning and administration. Many of his clients have developed close business relationships with Mal, working with him over the years as their businesses prospered and their legal needs evolved. With his broad understanding of commercial law, he’s known as one of the preeminent business attorneys in Durham and surrounding counties. In 2007, he was inducted into the North Carolina Bar Association General Practice Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors in the profession.

Mal received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation from law school, he served on active duty with the U.S. Naval Security Group and retired as a Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve Judge Advocate Generals Corp. Mal was a founding partner at Pulley, Watson, King & Lischer, P.A. for over 30 years before joining Crabtree, Carpenter & Connolly, PLLC when the firm began in 2015.

You Should Know: Watchful Parents Can Prevent Playground Injuries

School’s out for summer, and kids are bursting to get outside and hit area playgrounds. No surprise then that June is a particularly dangerous month for playground injuries. Before you let those kiddos loose, learn how adults are the key to playground safety with tips on equipment, clothing and safe behavior.

Adult Supervision Is the Number One Way to Prevent Playground Injuries

Seventy-five percent of playground injuries take place on public playgrounds.

Seventy-five percent of playground injuries take place on public playgrounds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 200,000 children age 14 or younger are treated in emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries. More than 10 percent of these are traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and the rate of TBIs is rising.

Because public playgrounds are numerous and easily accessible, most kids spend their time on these rather than private playgrounds. Thus, the largest percentage of playground injuries take place on public facilities. Monkey bars and climbing equipment are responsible for the highest number of injuries.

But despite the risks, we know kids love playgrounds and benefit from the exercise and social interaction. The good news: Adults can play a key role in keeping kids safe on their favorite playgrounds with these tips and resources:

Keep Your Kids Safe With These Tips

  • Areas underneath the equipment, known as fall surfaces, should be made of soft material such as wood chips, mulch, sand or rubber.
  • Inspect equipment for any piece (especially metal) that may be hot from the sun.
  • Watch for hazards or protrusions like bolts, hooks, stumps or rocks that could trip or cut children.
  • Look for neglected maintenance, such as rusty or broken equipment.
  • Make sure kids wear safe clothing. No loose scarves or hoodies with drawstrings, as these can become a strangulation hazard if entangled with equipment. Shoes should be comfortable for play and protect feet, like sneakers. Tie long hair back as well.
  • Make sure there are strong and sturdy guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Your children should be using age-appropriate equipment. Read all playground signs for warnings and instructions.
  • Most importantly, the best way to prevent injuries is parental supervision. Talk to your kids about appropriate playground behavior before you visit the playground and watch them while you’re there.

More Resources for Safe Playgrounds

To ensure your local playground is safe, the National Recreations and Parks Association has a network of Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (CPSI). The CPSI certification program provides comprehensive and up-to-date training on playground safety issues, including hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods. To find your local CPSI, click here.

A thorough playground safety checklist and ranking tool, created by the National Program for Playground Safety, can be found here. If you see safety hazards or poorly maintained equipment, reach out to the owner as soon as possible. In most cases, this will be a school or park district. 

Keeping our kids safe while out on the playground is an issue we can all get behind, and one that benefits the community as a whole. So let’s all get out there and have some fun!

This article appeared in our June 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.