Winter Driving in Snow

Winter is here.  Like it or not, the next several months require driving in snow if we want to drive anywhere.  Whether this is your first winter driving in snow, or you are an old hat at winter driving, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on a few winter driving tips.

Tips for Driving in Snow

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends the following:

  • When approaching a hill, get some forward movement going. While on the hill, do not stop if at all avoidable. 
  • Do not apply extra gas on a hill. Slow and steady will get you to the top.
  • Once at the top of a hill, reduce your speed.
  • Drive down hills as slowly as possible.
  • Understand the challenge of starting a vehicle from a full stop, rather than accelerating a car that is still moving. Don’t stop if you can avoid it safely.
  • Stop your vehicle by keeping the heel of your foot on the floor. Use the ball of your foot to brake.  Apply steady, firm pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Put eight to ten seconds between yourself and the car in front of you. This will provide you a longer distance for stopping.
  • Remember, nothing happens as quickly on snow covered roads. Plan on needing more time to stop, accelerate, and turn your car in snow.
  • Applying the gas slowly is best for avoiding skidding out.
  • Use your headlights to make your vehicle more visible.
  • Consider staying home. If you don’t need to go out, stay put.  Just because you are familiar with driving in snow doesn’t mean your fellow travelers are similarly skilled.

Areas of Additional Concern

There are certain portions of the roadways that may be more dangerous than others.  Be advised, for example, that bridge decks freeze first.  Even if the snow is melting elsewhere on the roadway, bridge decks should be approached with caution.  They may be icy.

Exit ramps and entrance ramps may be more icy than the main roadway.  Be aware of this when entering and exiting the freeways.

There is also vehicle specific information you should be aware of.  Sports Utility Vehicles, 4 x 4 vehicles, and trucks weigh more than other passenger vehicles.  This means they need more time and space to stop.  If you are driving one of these vehicles, give yourself more time.  If you are passing one of these vehicles, give them wide berth.  Avoid cutting in front of larger vehicles.

Plows require special attention.  Give them plenty of room.  Do not pass plows on the right.  Stay at least 200 feet behind plows.

Let someone know where you are going.  Provide them with your expected route.  Also, get the Buffalo, New York traffic and road conditions.

Stay Safe this Winter

As the winter season progresses, we at The O’Brien Firm wish you safe travels.  If you or a loved one does get hurt in a car crash, we are happy to come to you to discuss the facts in your case.  You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  At The O’Brien Firm, we have over 35 years of experience representing clients in car crash cases.  There is no cost to you unless we win your case.  Contact us at (716) 907-7777.

Holiday Decoration Safety

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a list of holiday decoration safety tips, designed to keep you and your family safe.  Please consider these tips as you and yours celebrate the holidays this year.

General Holiday Safety Tips

Fires can be a devastating event.  To prevent fires, some general tips include:

  • Keep fire starting materials, such as matches and lighters, out of the reach of children.
  • If you smoke, be mindful of flammable decorations, as well as fresh cut Christmas trees.
  • Avoid loose or flowing clothing near open flames, including the fireplace, stove, and near burning candles.
  • Understand evergreens and pine can be hazardous when burned in a fireplace. When dry, evergreens and pine can quickly burn out of control.  In particular, evergreens can flare out of control, sending sparks into the room.
  • Have an emergency plan in case of fire. Practice the plan.  Make sure every family member understands their role, identify more than one escape route, and decide on an agreed upon meeting place.

Candles

Keep burning candles away from wrapping paper.  Do not mix candles with evergreens.  Be mindful of where candles are placed.  If a candle can be knocked down or blown over, consider moving it to a safer location.  Use candle holders that are non-flammable.

Tree Maintenance

If you choose to keep a real tree in your home over the holidays, be advised dry evergreen trees are a significant fire hazard.  There are, however, steps you can take to minimize the hazard.  First, place your tree in a location away from heat sources, including but not limited to radiators, space heaters, and fireplaces.  Rooms with direct sources of heat contribute to trees drying out quickly.   Make sure your tree is not in a common traffic area.  Instead, place the tree in a corner.  Use guide wires to secure the tree to the ceiling or walls if the tree is large.  Cut two inches off the base of a live tree trunk.  This provides for better absorption of water.  Make sure the stand is filled with water during the time the tree is in the house.

If you are not sure if your tree is fresh or not, check the following:

  • Fresh trees are green in color;
  • Fresh tree needles are difficult to pull from branches;
  • Bent needles, when fresh, do not break;
  • Fresh trees have tree stumps that are sticky with resin; and finally,
  • If you bounce a tree stump on the ground, and a shower of needles falls, the tree is too dry.

Lights

Before installing any lights, either inside or outside, check them for safety.  Examine all strands of light for broken or cracked sockets.  Look for wires that are frayed or bare.  Check for loose connections.  If lights are damaged in any way, do not use them.

Outside lights need secure fastening.  Fasten the lights to the house, fence, trees, or other supports to protect them from wind damage.  If you use extension cords, do not use more than three standard sets of lights per cord.  When you go to bed or leave the house, turn off the lights.  Turn off other decorations as well.  Lights may start a fire if they short out.

Electric lights should not be used on a metallic tree.

Fires in the Fireplace

Before starting a fire in the fireplace, take the time to clear the area.  All greens, boughs, wrapping paper, artificial snow, and other decorations should be removed.  Make sure the flue is open before starting a fire.  When in use, keep a screen in front of the fireplace.  A word of caution about “fire salts:” they contain heavy metals.  Fire salts produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires.  However, this makes them an attractive nuisance to children.  They can cause severe intestinal distress and vomiting if eaten.  Keep them out of children’s reach.

Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.  Wrapping paper can ignite suddenly.   It also burns intensely.  Wrapping paper should be disposed of properly.

Happy Holidays

From all of us at The O’Brien Firm, we wish you a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season.

Is Avvo a Good Way to Find a Lawyer?

There are many ways to find a lawyer.  Some say the best way to find a lawyer is word of mouth.  However, many people don’t know anyone who has needed the services of a personal injury attorney.  In that case, people may not know where to turn.  Of course, there are lots of online attorney review web sites.  However, not all online attorney review web sites are equal.  Some ranking sites allow attorneys complete control of their rankings.  Others, like  Avvo, rank attorneys based on a number of factors, including some the lawyers have no control over, and is a good place to start.

Avvo Ranking

Avvo ranks their attorneys based on several different factors.  First, Avvo considers whether an attorney has had disciplinary action by the bar association.  Second, Avvo considers an attorney’s experience.  Finally, Avvo considers industry recognition.  This includes things like publications, speaking engagements and the like.

Additionally, Avvo has two ratings features.  The first rating feature allows other lawyers to rate each other.  Lawyers are not required to rate each other.   Consequently, a lawyer recommendation has some value.

The second rating feature allows past or current clients to rate the lawyer.  Lawyers have no control over this feature.  They can respond, but they cannot get a negative comment removed from the site.  While you should expect some disappointed clients to grumble, client reviews should show a pattern.  When you see a series of positive reviews, take this as a good sign.

Interviewing an Attorney

Avvo is a good starting place for determining whether an attorney might be a good fit for a given situation.   However, there is no substitute for an in-person meeting.  As an injured party, you are looking for a lawyer who knows what they are doing.  But you also want a lawyer who you can work with.  The American Bar Association (ABA) states, “the first qualification is that you must feel comfortable enough to tell him or her, honestly and completely, all the facts necessary to resolve your problem.”

The only way to know whether you feel comfortable with an attorney is to meet with them in person.  Attorneys understand you are looking for the attorney that best fits your needs.  You can treat your first meeting as a job interview.  You are encouraged to take some time to think about what is most important to you.  Some things many people find important when hiring a personal injury attorney include the following:

  • Someone who makes house calls;
  • Someone who is available on weekends;
  • A lawyer with support staff to assist in the case;
  • An attorney who has ties to the community;
  • An attorney recognized by their peers;
  • Significant past experience;
  • A history of settlements and trials on behalf of other injured people;
  • Someone who treats them like a person, not a number;
  • Someone who is easy to talk to; and
  • A person they can trust.

Consider The O’Brien Firm

If you have been injured, please consider The O’Brien Firm.  We are happy to come to you – at your home or at the hospital – to talk to you about your case.  We also want to talk with you about your particular situation, including your family, your immediate needs, and your long-term concerns.  At The O’Brien Firm, we understand each case is different, and every client is special.  We value your business.  We never charge a fee unless we win your case.

Winter Is Coming: How Drivers Can Prepare

The National Safety Council encourages drivers to plan ahead! Winter is coming whether we like it or not. Winter driving is different. In Buffalo in the winter time, blizzards can come out of nowhere. Icy conditions happen as often as not. While newer model cars have more and more safety features, there are still steps all drivers should take to minimize danger and maximize safety.

Create a Winter Safety Kit
Don’t wait for the first snow fall to create a winter safety kit for your car. As a starting point, make it a goal to always have a full or almost full tank of gas. Never let the gas tank get below half full in the winter time. Also, make sure your car has fresh antifreeze and plenty of wind shield fluid. Finally, take a moment to ensure your spare tire is properly inflated, you have a wheel wrench, and a working tripod jack.
Your emergency safety kit within your car should also include the following items:
• A shovel for digging out of snow;
• Jumper cables;
• A tow line;
• Bag of salt to melt snow;
•Kitty litter for increased tire traction;
• Blankets;
• Mittens;
• Hats;
• Warm socks;
• Boots, if the driver doesn’t wear boots in the car as a matter of course;
• Tool kit;
• Nonperishable foods like nuts, dried fruits, and granola bars;
• Flashlight, along with fresh batteries;
• Scissors and twine;
• Reflective triangles;
• Wood matches in a waterproof container;
• Flares;
• Ice scraper;
• First aid kit;
• Portable phone charger (make sure it is fully charged!);
• Snow brush; and
• Compass.

Give Your Car a Winter Weather Check
It is a good idea to have a qualified mechanic review your vehicle systems before winter arrives. They should check the ignition, brakes, spark plugs, hoses, and fan belts. They should also check wiring, the battery, the distributor, air filters, fuel filters, and emission filters. Finally, they should check the PCV valve, the battery, air pressure in the tires, tire wear patterns, and the antifreeze level. A few dollars of preventative maintenance can go a long way this winter when the temperature drops.

Before You Leave. . .
Any time the weather gets really cold, it’s natural to want to warm up the car before taking a trip. While warming up a car ahead of time is fine, never warm up the car in an enclosed area. Even if the garage door is open, it is not safe to leave a car running in an attached garage. Rather, let the car warm up out in the open, in the drive way or in front of the house.
When the weather appears dangerous or unpredictable, consider waiting out the storm. If that is not possible, make sure you inform a family member or friend of your planned route. Call them when you arrive safely. In the unlikely event your car goes off the road or is involved in a crash, knowing your route can shave valuable minutes off rescue efforts.
If you find yourself stranded in an unfamiliar area, the National Safety Council recommends you don’t leave your car. Instead, remove the flares from your winter tool kit and light them. Place the flares in front of and behind your car. Take a moment to make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow, garbage, mud, or other objects.

If You Get Hurt in a Crash
In winter driving, crashes are inevitable. While we hope you never need us, The O’Brien Firm is here for you if you do. If you have been hurt in a crash, we will come to you to meet with you and discuss your case. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Why Do So Many Cases Settle?

At The O’Brien Firm, over 98% of our cases settle before trial.  Many of our multimillion dollar cases have settled without a client ever appearing in a courtroom.  When people think about trials, they often view the opening statements, direct and cross examination, and closing arguments, as “litigation.”  This is part of litigation, however, this does not provide a complete picture of what constitutes litigation in a given case.  Below is a simplified version of how attorneys handle personal injury cases.

How Attorneys Evaluate Cases

When someone is injured in a crash, the first step is talking with an attorney experienced in personal injury cases.  When you meet with an attorney, they ask questions designed to determine how you were injured, when you were injured, why you were injured, what consequences you dealt with or continue to face, and who was responsible.  Next, your attorney will seek to gather information which may further inform them of the facts and circumstances of your case.

When an attorney determines there is a legal cause of action, they can file a complaint against the wrongdoer.  That party then answers the complaint.   Next, the parties engage in something called “discovery.”  In its simplest sense, discovery is the opportunity for the attorneys to obtain documentation in support of their claim.  This can include medical records, police reports, videos which may have recorded the accident, statements from witnesses, and other information that either supports the injured party’s claim, or detracts from the strength of their claim.

Once discovery is complete, the attorneys evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases.  Then the negotiation begins.  Attorneys consider past medical expenses, and past lost income, which are easy to calculate.  They also consider future medical expenses, which are not always as easy to calculate.  Depending on the nature of your injuries, attorneys consider other costs, such as loss of future income, and pain and suffering, both past and future.  In evaluating what a case might be worth, of course, attorneys must honestly evaluate any possible defenses asserted by the other side.

Case Negotiations

Once an attorney feels they have adequate information and have evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of the case, they will engage the other side in negotiations.  It is not uncommon for the attorneys to have several discussions over days or weeks, seeking to come up with a dollar amount that is satisfactory to both sides.

In New York, settlement conferences are mandatory in many personal injury cases.  During settlement conferences, the court requires the appearance of attorneys fully familiar with the action.  These attorneys must also have authorization to resolve the case.  This results in meaningful discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case, which often results in resolution.

Why Settle?

There are any number of different reasons parties settle personal injury cases.  In some cases, due to the facts at hand, the insurance company makes an offer at the limits of the policy.  In other words, there may be no advantage to taking the case to trial because no additional recovery can occur from the insurance company.

Even in cases where a larger award is possible at trial, the opposite is also true.  Whenever you leave the question of the amount of the award to the jury, you run the risk the jury will award less than the amount offered.  The jury even has the option of coming back with no award at all.

Another reason cases often settle is the value of time.  Trial preparation and trials take time.  The parties attend the entire trial.  Additionally, they must work with their lawyer to prepare.  The parties testify and opposing counsel cross-examines the witness.  For the inexperienced, this can be quite stressful.  On balance, settling may be the better choice considering the following:

  • The amount offered;
  • The added time commitment required for trial prep and trial;
  • Stress;
  • The potential for a slightly higher award; and
  • The risk of no award.

Finally, settlements are agreements between the parties.  Jury awards, however, are not agreements.  Either side can file an appeal.  Appeals can challenge the decision of the jury.  Alternatively, appeals can challenge the rulings of the judge during or pre-trial.  Appeals can drag on for months or years.  Settling the case provides finality and certainty.

Injured?  Contact The O’Brien Firm

If you have been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.  At The O’Brien Firm, we have a proven track record of successful litigation from pre-suit discovery through trial.  Contact us to discuss your case.