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How does the amount of damage to my vehicle affect my recovery in a personal injury case?

According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Georgia, there are more than 300,000 motor vehicle collisions in the state every year. Many of these collisions result in property damage and bodily injury to one or more people involved in the collision.

If the collision results in property damage to your vehicle, under Georgia law the at-fault driver (i.e. the driver who caused the wreck) is responsible for paying for the damage he or she caused to your vehicle. If your vehicle is damaged but not totaled, the at-fault driver must pay for your cost of repairs. If your vehicle is totaled, the at-fault driver must pay whatever the value of your vehicle was at the time the wreck took place; that is, what your vehicle could have been sold for prior to being involved in the collision.

Your vehicle’s damage is also evidence that can be used to assist in proving (or, unfortunately, disproving) any bodily injuries you are claiming resulted from the wreck. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. You can tell people that you were involved in a violent collision, but those words mean different things to different people. However, a single photo of a vehicle that is crushed like an accordion tells people more than any amount of story-telling could.

If you are involved in a collision, whether it is your fault or not, you should always take photos of the property damage to your vehicle and to any other property that was damaged (e.g. the other vehicle, roadside property that might have been hit, etc.). These photos can be invaluable evidence in your case.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a motor vehicle collision, reach out to the DeWoskin Law Firm. Let us guide you through the process and maximize your recovery. Call us at 404-987-0026.

Why You Must Have a Lawyer if You Are Charged with DUI

You’re in your car with your significant other, leaving the new trendy restaurant in Midtown, Atlanta at which you both had dinner and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine. You forget to flip on your turn signal while turning right onto North Avenue to head home. Suddenly you hear sirens and see blue lights. You pull over for the officer, gather your license and registration, and as the officer approaches the vehicle, you hear the dreaded question: “How much have you had to drink tonight?”

You agree to perform the tests the officer asks because you think, “Hey, I only had a couple of glasses of wine, right? Surely, the officer will realize I am not drunk.”

After being compliant with the officer and performing all the tests, the officer places you in handcuffs, reads out loud to you the contents of an orange card, asks if you will take a breath test, and takes you to jail.

Many Georgians have found themselves in the exact situation described above, and it can be one of the most frightening and confusing things to ever happen to a person in their life. People hire attorneys to shepherd them through the rest of this unfortunate ordeal. Others get out of jail after being arrested for DUI and think: “DUI is just a misdemeanor traffic charge. I have never been in trouble before. I am sure I can handle this on my own and save attorney’s fees.”

This article examines several reasons why you should always retain an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible after being charged with DUI.

First, you should hire an experienced DUI attorney because there are certain time-sensitive components related to being charged with DUI that will affect your case significantly. In addition to having criminal charges brought against you by the State of Georgia, the arresting officer will often file what is commonly referred to as an “ALS” which is short for “Administrative License Suspension.”

By filing an ALS, the officer is asking the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings and the Georgia Department of Driver Services to suspend your driving privileges for allegedly driving under the influence. If an officer files an ALS in your case, you have a very short time frame within which to respond. If you do not respond within the requisite time frame, your license will be automatically suspended for one year without you having ever been convicted of any crime at all. This is because the license suspension is a civil matter that is separate from the criminal DUI matter.

To avoid your license being administratively suspended after being charged with DUI, it is important to hire an experienced attorney right away that knows the law regarding ALS hearings and can assist you in maintaining your privilege to drive.

Because the law in Georgia regarding DUI constantly changes and evolves, it is important to hire an attorney who is up to date on these changes in the law. For example, the Georgia Supreme Court recently handed down a decision which holds that in a DUI case the prosecution can no longer present evidence that a Defendant refused to give the officer a sample of his or her breath. This decision by the Court is huge for Defendants in DUI cases because the prosecution is no longer allowed to argue to a jury that the reason a defendant refused to provide a breath sample is because the defendant was drinking. The lawyers at the DeWoskin Law Firm have filed motions based on this recent Supreme Court decision, and other favorable decisions, in pending DUI cases where our clients refused to provide breath samples.

Another reason you should always hire an experienced DUI attorney is that there is an absolute wealth of information that can be used pertaining to the tests an officer will ask a person suspected of driving under the influence to perform. It is imperative that your attorney know all of this information. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires that officers give very specific instructions to DUI suspects before having them perform these tests, otherwise the results of the tests can be unreliable. It is also critical that the investigating officer ask certain medical qualifying questions to a DUI suspect to ensure that the results of the tests are accurate. It is essential that the officer conducting these tests perform them correctly, or else the results of the tests can be skewed, and the DUI suspect can be wrongfully convicted of DUI.

Last but not least, you should hire an experienced DUI attorney because a conviction for DUI in the state of Georgia is almost always permanent. If you are pleading guilty to DUI in the State of Georgia, you cannot utilize Georgia’s First Offender Act. A DUI cannot be expunged from your record in the state of Georgia. The best way to avoid a conviction for DUI ending up on your record is to immediately hire an experienced attorney who knows how to get the charges dismissed or reduced, or who may be able to convince a jury to return a verdict of “not guilty.”

Call the experienced trial attorneys at the DeWoskin Law Firm if you or someone you know is charged with DUI.

What are Punitive Damages?

In Georgia, the law allows for punitive damages to be awarded by a jury “only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.”  O.C.G.A. §51-12-5.1.  These damages are not awarded as further compensation to a person who has been injured, but instead are awarded as punishment and designed to penalize and deter the defendant from acting in the same manner in the future.

These damages often come into play in cases where a DUI driver has injured somebody in a car wreck.  If there is so much as $1 in compensatory damages, the jury will get to determine if punitive damages should apply.  Juries are far less likely to award such damages on a first time DUI driver, but in the event that the driver has had many DUIs, or even many incidents that have and could prove dangerous to others that involve alcohol or drugs, the chances of getting punitive damages grow considerably.

Even when punitive damages may be applicable in a case, juries are often skeptical and reluctant to award amounts of money that will enrich the plaintiff.  For instance, juries will often ask at the punitive damages phase if they can designate that the damages will go to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or another non-profit.  They will ask the courts if they can order the defendant to enroll in rehabilitation.  The juries will get creative and try to resist awarding money that just goes to the plaintiff, but not as compensatory damages.  Again, they have already considered those damages and rendered their verdict there.  This is about exemplary damages, and the statute even references that.

Punitive damages can be a tricky issue.  The jury will consider many factors in determining how much, if any, to award for punitive damages.  The jury must consider the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s actions that give rise to such damages, including considerations as to whether the harm caused was physical or just economic, whether the conduct demonstrated an indifference to  the safety and health of other people, and whether or not it was a one time offense or just one of many occurrences.  The jury also must consider the means of the defendant in assessing these damages.  The higher the price a defendant has paid in the criminal justice setting for the same conduct may very well reduce the level of accountability that the jury is willing to impose in a civil setting.

It is not enough that a defendant was merely negligent for punitive damages to be awarded.  The exposure for punitive damages is strictly limited to those situations where the defendant needs to be punished and have his or her behavior corrected.  This makes perfect sense when, in the case of ordinary negligence, the likes of which result in so many car wrecks and injuries related to those wrecks, the jury is not considering punishment, but only putting the injured plaintiff in the same position that he or she was in before the car wreck.  This is the idea of being “made whole.”  Unfortunately, in countless situations, lives are lost to negligence or injuries are beyond being fixed 100% such that a jury must find the fair amount of monetary compensation to try to make the plaintiff whole.

Knowing when punitive damages should be considered and how to go about seeking them is a complicated decision and process.  However, with proper experience and application, these damages can greatly enhance the chances of getting a just recovery from a fair and impartial jury.  These damages should not be taken lightly and should only be pleaded for in the appropriate circumstances.

How do my doctor’s orders affect my personal injury case?

If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence – whether it was a car wreck, a slip and fall, or some other unfortunate incident – getting the medical treatment you need is of the utmost importance. You may need to be treated by a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, and any number of other specialists. As you are treated by these medical providers, they will advise you regarding what steps you should take for your health to improve. That advice could include the types of medications you should take, what follow-up treatments you should pursue, what exercises you should do on your own, and many other instructions.

It is, of course, important for your health and recovery that you follow the doctor’s orders. But it is also critical to your personal injury case that you follow the doctor’s instructions. If you fail to show up for an appointment or otherwise fail to follow your doctor’s instructions, you are giving the opposing party in your case ammunition to undermine your case. The opposing party will argue that you would have less pain and suffering *if* you had followed doctor’s orders. You would have healed faster *if* you had followed doctor’s orders.

There is logic to those arguments – and other similar ones – even if they don’t necessarily speak the truth in your specific case. If you follow your doctor’s orders perfectly, your opponent cannot make that argument and your case is that much tighter. So, for your health, recovery, and for the sake of your personal injury case, be sure to follow doctor’s orders.

If you or someone you know is injured due to another person’s negligence, call the DeWoskin Law Firm at 404-987-0026.

What Can I Recover If I am in a Car Wreck and It is Not My Fault?

Most people know if they are involved an automobile collision caused by another driver and suffer some kind of loss as a result, they can sue the person who caused the collision. However, when I talk to people day to day, I find that many people are actually surprised to learn what they can recover. Under Georgia law, there are three kinds of “damages” you can recover for if you are involved in an automobile collision caused by another person which are called “special damages,” “general damages,” and “punitive damages.”

Special Damages, in the context of an automobile collision case, are monetary losses that are easily quantifiable. Special damages can include, but are not limited to, the cost of repairs for your vehicle (or the total value of your vehicle if it was a total loss), your medical bills, and any wages you lost as a result of the wreck.

General Damages are non-economic damages, or what you most commonly hear referred to as “pain and suffering.” A plaintiff in an automobile collision case can recover money for things such as the pain of broken bones, lacerations, bruising, and burns that are a direct result of the wreck. A plaintiff can also recover for future pain and suffering if there is proof that the injuries he or she sustained in the wreck will cause pain and discomfort in the future. Emotional stress, anxiety, depression, and loss of consortium that was a direct result of the automobile collision are also considered damages. Under Georgia law, there is no limit on the amount a jury can award a plaintiff for pain and suffering.

In certain cases, a plaintiff may be able to recover punitive damages as well. Punitive damages are money awarded to a plaintiff to punish the bad actions of a defendant, and to deter such future misconduct. One of the most common types of car accident cases in which punitive damages are awarded is when a drunk driver causes the collision.

Get sound, reliable advice and fully understand all of your options before trying to speak with insurance companies, bill collectors, and others. If you or someone you know has been involved in a car wreck, do not wait to reach out for help. Get medical attention immediately and call an experienced attorney at the DeWoskin Law Firm.

“Is This a Scam?:” How to Respond to That Unknown Debt Collection Caller

We often get calls from folks who have been contacted by phone about “their account,” or perhaps “the balance that they owe,” or attempts to deliver a certified document or summons that implies that if no return call is made in 48 hours, they will be in legal trouble. These calls may be for something that is completely bogus, an account they never had, a service they never applied for, an amount that was due, but is not collectible since 25 years have passed, or a host of other things that should cause them to be very suspicious. It could even be that family members are being called seeking information about your “so called” account.

The first and best step toward protecting against being scammed is to approach every single one of these phone calls as if it is a scam.  For instance, this kind of jaded perspective can be very helpful.  I am not suggesting that people immediately hang up on such callers (although I am not against such actions, either).  What I am suggesting is that people who get these calls insist upon getting the first and last name of the caller, the company from which the person is calling, a good callback number, an account number, and an address.  There is virtually no chance the caller will provide all this information.

Instead, expect the caller to deflect these questions and say something like, “Well, I need to get the last four of your social security number so I know I am talking to the right person.”  When you hear this, tell them to only communicate in writing and hang up.  I mean that.  Hang up after that.  Do not give them your address. If they say they need to confirm your address, or confirm anything at all, hang up the phone.

We hear routinely about how the caller already had so much information.  This is precisely the problem.  The caller has the person on the other end of the phone at a complete disadvantage.  Essentially, a stranger has called, has some information on some alleged delinquent account, and is demanding more information from the person they are contacting.  This is crazy.  DO NOT give out information over the phone.  Insist on written communications.  This way, any information or account numbers can be verified.

Very little good comes from speaking with debt collectors on the phone.  They record calls, which may include admissions to things at a time when the information available to the person calls is unavailable or perhaps even unobtainable.  If it isn’t in writing, it did not happen and it is not worth discussing.  This is generally a good rule of thumb when dealing with debt collection calls.

Surprisingly, we get collection calls on behalf of our clients that often begin with the caller demanding we confirm the last four digits of our client’s social security number.  Bear in mind, these are not calls from lawyers on the other side, but debt collectors.  Thus, we usually respond with, “Hey, buddy, you’re the one calling me.”  We do not spend much time with these calls.

Many of these calls are, in fact, scams.  These collectors often prey on the elderly and they are well aware that there are very, very limited resources for the government, state or federal, to take any action against them.  Far too many people will grant them access to their bank information, including account numbers, along with other personal information, to address a claim for a delinquent account.  I use the term claim because nobody is comfortable with the idea of owing someone else money.  Just the allegation makes many people feel either ashamed or guilty, even if just long enough to stay on the phone, when they should have hung up from the first minute.

Remember, there is no law that says you must speak to a debt collector.  There is no law against refusing to tell them your name or confirming your name.  The best practice is to demand that they send you whatever they want to say in writing.  Then hang up.  If they don’t have your address, that’s a problem, but only for the caller.

 

What should I do immediately after a wreck?

You were driving down the road. Or perhaps you were sitting still in traffic. And suddenly, through no fault of your own, another vehicle barrels into yours. What should you do in the immediate aftermath?

The first obvious piece of advice is that you should do whatever is best for your health, whether that is to stay still, seek help, or go to a hospital.

That said, there are a number of steps you can take immediately following a collision that could preserve or strengthen your legal claim against the driver who hit you. If you cannot do these things yourself due to injury, ask a family member or friend to do them for you, if possible.

  1. Call the police. If the wreck is bad enough that you will need to bring a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance, then you should call the police if for no other reason than to have corroboration that the wreck actually took place.
  2. Identify the at-fault driver. Not only should you ask the driver for his or her name and contact information, you should take a picture of the license plate. If the at-fault driver drives away (a hit-and-run scenario), having the license plate will help police identify the suspect.
  3. Identify witnesses. If you see other people watching you as you emerge from the wreckage, get their names and contact information. It is common for drivers in a two-vehicle collision to blame each other for the wreck. Witnesses to the collision and its immediate aftermath can be the difference between having a strong case against the at-fault driver and having no case at all.
  4. Take photos of the scene. You should take photos of the damage to your vehicle, to the at-fault vehicle, and to any other vehicles involved in the collision. Photos of the property damage will help illustrate how violent the collision was. If any property at the scene other than vehicles was damaged, take photos of that as well. Take photos from various distances to help illustrate the full scope of the wreck.
  5. Take photos of injuries. Take close-up photos and photos from several feet away of any scrapes, bruises, blood, or other injuries on your body and on anyone else that is willing to be photographed. It is one thing to *tell* a jury that you were bleeding. It is another for the jury to *see* a photo of the actual blood on your body. Continue to take photos over the next few days and weeks as the injuries develop (e.g. bruises) and heal.
  6. Do not post anything about the collision on social media. In today’s society, many people feel compelled to post all of their major life events on social media. However, in posting on social media, you are making statements and posting images that could be used in a trial. There is no benefit to you from posting your evidence online, but it could hurt you.
  7. Do not talk to the at-fault driver’s insurance company about how the wreck took place or your bodily injuries. Within 48 hours of the collision, it is likely that you will receive a call from the insurance company representing the at-fault driver. In Georgia, it is lawful for them (or anyone for that matter) to not only record their conversation with you, but to do so without your permission. It is fine for you to discuss the damage to your vehicle. You will need to have that conversation with them in order to receive compensation for your vehicle’s damage. However, you should not discuss how the wreck took place or your bodily injuries.

Following these simple steps can go a long way toward helping you receive the financial compensation you deserve for a wreck that wasn’t your fault. If you or someone you know has been injured in an automobile collision, call the DeWoskin Law Firm at 404-987-0026.

To Nolo, or Not to Nolo?

Some of you might have heard the expression “pleading nolo” in the context of a traffic or criminal case. Some of you might have never hear of such an expression. In the legal context, “nolo” is short for “nolo contendere” which is Latin for “no contest”.  Simply put, it means someone charged with a crime or traffic offense is telling the Court that that person is NOT admitting guilt but will accept the punishment as if that person was in fact guilty.

Why plead “Nolo?” Pleading “nolo” can be helpful in several situations. In Georgia, being found guilty of any number of traffic offenses can put “points” on your license. Different traffic offenses carry different amounts of “points”, depending on the severity of the offense. Depending on the age of the driver, a certain amount of “points” on a Georgia driver’s license within a certain period of time will result in that individuals’ driver’s license being suspended. Additionally, any traffic offense that adds “points” to your license can be discovered by your car insurance company, which can result in your insurance rates increasing. However, by pleading “nolo” to these offenses, you will avoid points being assessed to your license, thus preventing insurance rates from increasing in most circumstances.

Being found guilty of certain offenses can also result in your license being suspended. For example, if someone is charged with driving on a suspended license, a guilty plea to that charge will often result in a further suspension of that individual’s license. By pleading “nolo” a person charged with driving on a suspended license can avoid further suspension.

When should I plead “Nolo?” The answer to the question “when should I plead nolo?” depends on a variety of factors and you should discuss that with an experienced attorney. Under Georgia law, one can only use a nolo plea once every five years. Also, a nolo plea is discretionary, meaning that a judge does not have to accept the nolo plea. Finally, your lawyer may be able to get your charges dismissed, or amended to a different charge that would not require you to spend your nolo plea.

What should I do when a loved one is killed in an automobile collision?

Some of the most difficult conversations we have with clients occur very soon after a horrible event has taken place.  There are no words that can be said after the loss of a loved one that can replace what has been taken away.  The void is often everlasting, even though time does help to heal some of the pain.

For us, the difficulty is in having these tough conversations at very sensitive times.  We have an obligation to our clients to preserve evidence and ensure that the loss of a loved one in a car wreck is not made worse by a compromised investigation.  In order for us to get a full understanding of what has been taken, it is vital for us to meet with the family and learn as much about everyone involved early on.  From there, we continue to listen and learn so that when the time comes and we have all the information we need, we can advocate for the full measure of compensation for our clients.

When these clients come to us, their worlds have been turned upside down.  In the very midst of their grieving, they are often not only making funeral arrangements, but scrambling to figure out how they will pay bills, continue to maintain a household for the kids and return to work, and respond to letters from insurance companies and others that fill their mailboxes.

Our job is relieve as much of this burden as we can.  We access several different resources to provide knowledgeable counseling for our clients.  We reach out to insurance companies and advise them that our clients are represented and work to coordinate all points of contact so that the letters and paperwork do not pile up and overwhelm grieving families.  Although calling a lawyer immediately after losing a husband, wife, or partner can feel like it does not properly honor the loss, it helps to allow a period of quiet mourning while having the peace of mind that someone is, in fact, making sure that everything that needs to be done is getting done.

If you or someone you know has lost a loved one in a car wreck, do not wait to reach out for help.  It is always best to have a clear mind and know all of your options before trying to speak with insurance companies, bill collectors, and others in the midst of a crisis.  Having an experienced attorney can make dealing with a loss easier in the most difficult of times.

How can I get rid of my Georgia criminal record?

It’s easy to get a criminal record in Georgia.  Unfortunately, it is far easier than most of us would like to think.  Many people are charged with a variety of offenses, from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies, and, due to decisions to delay hiring qualified counsel or perhaps even due to poor representation, they make choices to enter pleas that have lasting and often permanent consequences.

Although none of us would like to think that any innocent person would ever enter a guilty plea, this happens extremely frequently.  It may be because the cost of fighting a charge is too expensive in either money or time, or perhaps because the risk of what could happen in a loss at trial is too great.  However, in Georgia, with few exceptions under the law, a conviction is permanent.  This means that potential employers and other interested parties can easily access this information in a background check and cause problems long after the incident has been “resolved” as far as the courts are concerned.

It is far more difficult to get rid of a criminal record than it is to get one in the first place.  Georgia law has provisions for record restriction, which at one time was referred to as expungement.  Many people still believe that expungement is the correct term, but as of July 1, 2013, record restriction is not only the more legally accurate term, but the more factually accurate term.  Criminal records are never completely destroyed or made to disappear.  Instead, they are restricted as to who can access them and how.

When a record is properly restricted, criminal history printouts, commonly known as a GCIC report, will not display an arrest and certain negative entries can only be viewed by law enforcement.  Thus, a background check for a job would not reveal the charge or arrest.  Once again, the fact that a conviction took place 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or 40 years ago does not mean that the record can be restricted.  We are often contacted by people who cannot recall the details of the charge or disposition due to the amount of time that has passed since the case was closed, and thus the first step in every situation with respect to record restriction is for the client to actually get a copy of his or her criminal history (GCIC).  From there, we can pull records from the court as needed and provide all the necessary information to determine if a record can be restricted.

It is only natural for people to want to put what can be an embarrassing or difficult situation behind them quickly.  For this reason, people will enter pleas in court to shoplifting charges, domestic violence charges, DUIs, or a host of other offenses without fully taking into consideration all of the ramifications of such a decision.  Even when the rights they are waiving are expressed to them in court, in the absence of a discussion with a qualified attorney, the pressure on people can make it difficult for them to feel comfortable enough asking questions.  Of course, the courts cannot give legal advice of any sort even if a defendant asks questions during a plea.  However, such questions can alert the court that more time may be necessary for the defendant to communicate and/or hire counsel.

When someone is charged with a criminal offense, even minor offenses, it is always best to immediately contact a lawyer, or several lawyers, so that he or she can be properly advised of what the process will look like, what decisions will have to be made and when, what rights he or she has throughout, and what defenses are available to him or her.  Do not find yourself asking about record restriction or expungement only at the time of applying for your dream job.  You owe it to yourself to prevent causing permanent damage whenever it can be avoided.

Practice Areas

Consumer Debt Lawsuit Defense

It’s your money. Know your rights. If you have been served with a debt collection lawsuit or are being harassed by debt collectors, we can help.

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Criminal Defense

You are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Do not fight the charges alone. The State has vast resources. You should too.

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Serious Personal Injury and Wrongful Death

Your life or the life of a loved one has been tragically altered. We fight to ensure that you are fairly compensated.

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