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Alaska Car Crash. One Fatality, Hoogland and Popovich Injured. Here’s the Law…

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The Alaska State Troopers Report
that a motor vehicle wreck occurred on 07/03/08 at 0930 Alaska Standard Time
near mile 43.5 of the Seward Highway. It appears that Donald Setters, 61, was
driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee northbound on the Seward Highway when he crossed
the center-line and struck a 1993 Ford Aerostar, driven by JoeAnna Hoogland,
26, head-on. Paul Popovich, 21, thereafter struck the disabled vehicles.
Hoogland and Popovich were transported to local hospitals. Setters died at the
scene.

Because both
the Alaska State Troopers and the Fairbanks DUI team responded, alcohol is
likely a factor.

Incidents
like this give rise to many legal issues. For example, passengers (if any) in Setters’
vehicle, along with Hoogland and Popovich (and all passengers in all vehicles), have “civil
claims” against Setters’ (and his insurer) under Alaskan law. These
civil claims can be very important – depending on whether folks are badly hurt.
To understand these legal rights, keep reading…

1.
Statute of Limitations
: All
claimants need to understand that Alaska Statute AS 09.10.070 provides that the Statute of Limitations (SOL) in Alaska for injury/death to adults is usually
two years. For minors (kids under 18 years old) the SOL is “tolled”
until the minor reaches 18 years old. The SOL thus normally expires on a
minor’s 20th birthday. If an injured person waits until after the SOL expires
to either settle, or file a lawsuit, his/her right to compensation will likely
be severely limited – even destroyed. This is HUGE. Do not delay. Take immediate
action to protect your legal claims/rights.

2. Available Tort Claims: Hoogland, Popovich and occupants in all vehicles (if any)
appear to have claims against Setters for at least negligence. In Alaska,
“Negligence” usually amounts to just not being “reasonable”
under the circumstances. Thus, if Setters was driving too fast, fell asleep at
the wheel, lost control, or just screwed up, a negligence claim may exist.

Under Alaskan law, a negligence
claim entitles 1P1 and all occupants to: (a) property loss – value of the car;
(b) medical bills, past and future; (c) lost wages, past and future; and (d)
pain/suffering, disability and disfigurement.

Valuing these claims can be
difficult. I recommend using Jury Verdict Research (JVR) statistical software.
It is a bit expensive, but well worth the money and time involved in its use.
JVR compares injuries arising from a particular wreck to a database of more
than 250,000 other incidents – providing a range of resolution values that can
be shared with insurers. As long as it is honestly used, JVR can provide solid
guidance. Actually, there are a number of outfits who can help value claims
like this. Check the web. The best is a qualified personal injury attorney who
actually practices law in the area where the wreck occurred.

3. File Insurance Claims: Alaska
requires that all drivers have auto insurance before getting on Alaskan roads.
The statutory minimums for liability insurance are $50K per person, and $100K
per accident (50/100).
Uninsured / Underinsured (U/UIM) insurance is also required, unless waived in
writing. It has the same statutory minimum limits of 50/100.
Most people have 100/300 of liability and U/UIM insurance. Some folks have
“umbrella” insurance policies, covering millions of dollars.

This means that anybody hurt in
an automobile wreck should immediately file a written claim against whomever
insurers the person causing the wreck. Be sure to sign and date your claim
letter, keeping a copy for your files. Most attorneys will provide a form you can use that will
provide notice of claim to most Alaskan auto insurers. Be sure to send a copy to Setters’ address.

You should also always consider
whether the roadway contributed to the wreck. Alaskan law allows you to bring a
claim against the State of Alaska
for injuries caused by roadway defects and negligent design of roadways. The
catch is that the State of Alaska
must have actually known about the defect/problem before your wreck. Otherwise,
the State is not responsible. Where a person is badly injured in an auto wreck,
it is thus critical that you hire a qualified accident reconstruction expert to
help explain what the State knew – and when.

IMPORTANT: Alaskan law allows
passengers to bring claims against: (a) the other driver; (b) the driver of the
vehicle the passenger occupies; (c) the occupied vehicle’s U/UIM insurer; and
(d) the passenger’s own U/UIM insurer – for their own vehicle that was not even
involved in the wreck. Use the same form, sending it to EACH of these insurers.

Finally, if Setters was an agent
for, or working for anybody when this wreck occurred – and was in the
“course and scope” of such employment, you have a claim against the
principal or employer. It is important to get such agency / employment
information up front. Again, most attorneys will provide you with an appropriate form. Just call.

4. Statutory Claims: Alaska’s
Rules of the Road” are found in title 13, chapter 2 of its
administrative law.
It is worth perusing this section of Alaskan law to locate exactly what rule
was violated in this wreck. This is the first place a competent injury attorney
will look.

Furthermore, if Setters was
intoxicated, the injured people are entitled to not only their normal injury
claims, but also to actual attorney fees they incur in getting those claims
paid. Alaska Statute AS 09.60.070 is directly on point. This is important because attorneys are expensive. It’s
always easier to seek legal help when the other side pays for it.

In some cases it can be argued that
the offending driver’s conduct amounted to an assault “in any degree”
– pursuant to AS 09.60.070(c)(4), entitling the claimant to actual attorney
fees, such as when the other driver was DUI.

5. Background Steps: Be assured that the insurance companies are
already in action – their massive wheels investigating, weaseling, and grinding
toward you. It is thus very important to do your background investigation now,
before problems arise. Be sure to: (a) get all witness information – names,
phone numbers – addresses of everybody who happened upon the scene of this
wreck; (b) get all photos, from police and whomever else was at the scene; and
(c) get the police report. Alaskan police are very good at investigating motor
vehicle wreck scenes. Because of our weather and road conditions, they do it a
lot up here. Next, consider hiring an accident reconstruction expert. Alaska has about five of
them. Seattle
has some really good ones. These engineers are well-experienced at determining
what caused a wreck. They are also quite expensive.

For more general information on
automobile wrecks and personal injury claims in Alaska, go to www.SlowDownAlaska.org. It’s
packed with good information and advice. It also has no advertising.
(Disclaimer: My wife, Lori, and I built SlowDownAlaska.org as a public service to help survive Alaskan Roads.)

6. Hire an Attorney: Hire a qualified Alaskan personal injury
attorney to help sort out claims associated with this wreck. Most will provide
a free initial consultation. Do it now. Many folks try to do this on their own
– and end up paying for the mistake. Injury/death cases are complicated. Hire a
good attorney.

Check the yellow pages, or go
on-line. Consider checking the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) to find
a board certified injury attorney. (Disclaimer: I’m
the Alaska Representative for the NBTA.) Call the Alaska Bar Associations’ free
attorney referral service: 800-770-9999. Try the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

7. Caveat: THIS IS NOT ADVERTISING. I AM NOT SUGGESTING
THAT YOU CALL ME. Call whatever attorney you want. I do this blogging as a
public service – helping injured folks avoid getting mugged by unscrupulous
insurance companies. BTW, I’m tired of being flamed by narrow-minded dolts
calling me an ambulance chaser. I’m not. If you’re considering calling me names
for doing this, how about instead you have a tiny little bit of compassion for folks
who were badly injured in a wreck … and has no clue what to do next. Somebody
has to give them the bottom-line advice they need to get moving in the right
direction. Otherwise, the insurance companies will eat them alive.

I hope this information helps.
Please don’t rely upon it solely. Find a good attorney to help you.

You’re in our prayers.