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What You Should Know About Texting and Driving

Distracted driving is something that many of us have found ourselves guilty of at one point in time. There are numerous sources of distraction that can take our attention away from the road, such as talking on the phone, texting, adjusting the radio, using a GPS, applying makeup, eating, dealing with unruly kids in the backseat, etc. Regardless of the type of distraction, anything that takes our focus away from driving increases our chances of being involved in an accident. This article will take a look at the effects of distracted driving and analyze Louisiana’s laws regarding cell phone use.

The latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows there were 3,477 people killed and an estimated additional 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015.[1] This means that 10% of all fatal crashes in 2015 were related to distracted driving. Additionally, 15% of crashes resulted in injuries and 14% of all crashes reported to police involved distracted drivers. And 9% of drivers, ages 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of a fatal crash.

The subset of distracted driving that has received the most attention in recent years is cell phone usage; as a result, you’ll find many ad campaigns trying to bring awareness to fatal accidents caused by someone in the middle of sending a text message. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers texting the most dangerous distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds; at 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.[2]  More than one-third of people surveyed admit to reading a text or email while driving in the past 30 days, and more than one-quarter admit to sending a text or email.[3]

Although texting while driving has been getting the most attention recently, studies show that people talking on a cell phone are involved in more crashes than those texting. In 2010, an estimated minimum of 160,000 crashes involved texting or emailing, compared to 1.1 million crashes involving talking on cell phones.[4]  

One study indicated crash risk was two to six times greater when drivers were using a cell phone compared to when they were not distracted.[5] The NHTSA estimates that at any point during the day, 9% of drivers are using cell phones.[6] In 2016, the National Occupant Protection Use Survey found that handheld cell phone use continued to be higher among female drivers than male drivers; it also found that handheld cell phone use continued to be highest among 16- to 24-year-old drivers, and lowest among drivers 70 and older.[7] However, one study showed a bit of good news, a sign that awareness campaigns about cell phone use may be working: the percentage of passenger vehicle driver handheld cell phone use decreased from 3.8 percent in 2015 to 3.3 percent in 2016.[8]

Now that you know the extent of the danger involving cell phone usage while driving, here are the laws the state of Louisiana has enacted to combat this distraction:

  1. Anyone with a learner’s permit may not talk on the phone at any time unless its use is for emergency purposes.[9]  
  2. For all other drivers, you may legally talk on your cell phone even if you are not using a hands-free device unless you are in a school zone.[10]  If you are driving in a school zone, you may not engage in a call.
  3. It is illegal for any driver in Louisiana to write, read, or send a text message while driving; it is also illegal to access, read, or post to a social networking site.[11]  Under this statute, you will not be found in violation if you are reading, selecting, or entering a phone number or name in your phone; it is also not a violation if you are navigating using a GPS.
  4. In addition to being considered a moving violation, the penalties for texting/using social media or using a phone while in a school zone are the following:
    1. Up to $500 for a first offense
    2. Up to $1,000 for each subsequent offense
    3. If involved in a crash at the time, double the standard offense

In today’s world, distractions are all too common while driving. However, no matter how good of a driver or multitasker you think you are, it’s smart to minimize distractions as much as possible and devote your attention to the road so that you (or someone else) don’t become one of these statistics.

 


[1] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812381

[2] https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

[3] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[4] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[5] https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/distracted-driving/qanda

[6] https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/DistractedDrivingDocuments/Cognitive-Distraction-White-Paper.pdf?ver=2018-03-09-130423-967

[7] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812426

[8] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812426

[9] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=630882

[10] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=918939

[11] http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?d=630881


Steps You Should Take if You’re Involved in an Uber Accident

Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services have become widely used in recent years. As a cheaper and more user-friendly alternative to taxi cabs, Uber has become the go-to service for a trip to the airport or a ride home when you’ve had a few drinks. The vast majority of Uber rides will result in arriving at your destination without incident. But what happens if your Uber driver gets into a wreck and you suffer an injury?

Uber and Lyft provide its drivers with third-party liability coverage up to at least $1 million per accident.¹ This means that if your Uber/Lyft driver is at fault, this insurance will cover liability for any damages to a third party such as the passenger. Uber also provides uninsured or underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage to its drivers. This covers any passenger in the vehicle when another driver is at fault, but that driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance coverage for your injuries. This coverage also applies to hit-and-runs where the at-fault driver is never identified.

So, if you are injured during an accident where your driver is at fault in Louisiana, both Uber and Lyft have a policy through the James River Insurance Company that covers your injuries for up to $1 million.² It is important that you contact a lawyer to ensure the proper party is sued.³ You don’t necessarily sue just the at-fault driver. Your lawyer would also send a letter to Uber and your driver instructing them to preserve evidence, requiring them to save all data or information related to your ride.

When another driver is at fault, you would first determine if the other driver’s insurance policy can cover your damages. If your injuries are serious and the other driver’s policy cannot cover the medical costs, then Uber and Lyft both have policies through the James River Insurance Company that could cover you up to $1 million.

If you get into a wreck while in an Uber, here are some recommended steps to follow that will assist your injury claims:

  •     Call 911 and take pictures of the wreck, including the license plates of all vehicles involved.
  •     Take down the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of any potential witnesses to the              crash.
  •     Write down the name of your Uber driver and the other driver.
  •     Take screenshots on your phone of the Uber ride and receipt.
  •     Finally, if you are injured or incur any medical bills, hire an attorney to handle your personal injury        claims.

We understand it might be intimidating to take legal action against a large corporate entity like Uber, but you are not alone. With the help of legal assistance, people hurt by negligent drivers have been successful in recovering damages from Uber and other rideshare companies.

 


[1]https://www.uber.com/drive/insurance/ https://help.lyft.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013080548-Insurance-Policy

[2]https://www.uber.com/newsroom/an-update-on-insurance/

[3]http://time.com/money/4851877/my-uber-got-into-a-wreck-can-i-sue/


LOUISIANA’S 2017 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PACKAGE

Louisiana holds the unfortunate title of having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.¹  Being the number one incarcerator takes a toll on the state’s resources; Louisiana spent $625 million on adult corrections in 2017.²  With the hope of shedding that ranking and its associated costs, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law.  The amended criminal laws aim to decrease our prison population and government spending, primarily by:

  • Reducing sentences and probationary periods for certain crimes
  • Easing eligibility requirements for drug court, reentry programs, probation, or suspension of sentence
  • Reducing sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
  • Changing the calculation of “good time” credit for prisoners

Sentencing Guidelines

The justice reform package changed the sentencing guidelines for many non-violent felonies.³  Several of the maximum sentences were reduced and some mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated.  A few examples:

  • The mandatory minimum sentence for “Felon in possession of a firearm” was reduced from 10 years to 5 years.
  • “Money laundering” more than $100,000 was reduced from a 5 – 99 year sentence to 2 – 50 years.
  • The maximum sentence for “Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” was reduced from 10 years to 2 years.
  • Simple arson no longer has a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, with a new sentencing range of 0 – 15 years.

Louisiana’s “Theft” statute bases the severity of punishment on the value of the property stolen. The new law adjusted the dollar value ranges, making some of the penalties more lenient.⁸  For example, a theft under $750 formerly resulted in a zero to six month sentence (misdemeanor) and anything more than that amount was a felony.  Now, the misdemeanor/theft threshold has been raised to $1,000.  Other similar statutes that use this dollar amount threshold followed the same pattern: issuing worthless checks, residential contractor fraud10, access device fraud11, and organized retail theft12, to name a few.

Probation, “Good Time,” and Parole

The changes to the criminal code expanded the ability of judges to suspend a sentence for certain crimes, placing the defendant on probation rather than in prison.13  Defendants charged with drug-related crimes are now eligible for substance abuse probation programs.  Also, entry into the drug division probation program was expanded to permit defendants charged with a crime of violence, as long as the crime was not against a family member or dating partner and does not carry a maximum sentence over 10 years.

Inmates will now earn “good time” more easily, which is a way for them to earn credit toward an earlier release from prison.  For non-violent and non-sex offenses, the new changes increase “good time” to a rate of 13 days for every 7 served, or an extra 130 days annually shaved off their sentence.  Certain inmates can reduce their prison time by participating in educational programs, drug programs, and work programs.

The new law changes the time the defendant must serve prior to becoming eligible for parole. Now, for non-violent crimes and non-sex offense crimes, defendants are parole eligible once 25 percent of their sentence has been served, including those sentenced as a non violent habitual offender.  Upon a first conviction for a crime of violence, a defendant with no prior sex crime convictions will be eligible for parole once 65 percent of the sentence is served.

Sentencing Enhancements for Habitual Offenders

Due to Louisiana’s habitual offender statute, a defendant convicted of a felony can receive a significantly enhanced sentence if they have a prior felony conviction.  Those enhancements are no longer quite as harsh.14  The mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced.  Also, for certain felonies, the “cleansing period” has been shortened from 10 years to 5 years.  The “cleansing period” means that after a certain amount of time has passed, prosecutors can no longer use a defendant’s previous convictions against him.

Conclusion

This article is merely a brief overview of what Louisiana’s criminal justice reform package entails.  The changes made to our criminal statutes were vast, but also highly specific depending on the crime. The date when certain aspects begin to take effect and to whom they apply will also vary person to person.  If you believe these changes may affect the charges you or a loved one face, or if they may affect your sentence or probation, do not hesitate to contact the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.  As former federal prosecutors, these experienced attorneys understand the nuances of the changes to our criminal law and will provide you with a tailored analysis of your situation.

 


[1] http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/louisiana_incarceration_rate.html

[2] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/16/louisiana-has-the-highest-incarceration-rate-in-th/

[3] Act 281/S.B. 220, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051860

[4] (La. R.S. 14:95.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78740

[5] (La. R.S. 14:230) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78382

[6] (La. R.S. 14:68.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78631

[7] (La. R.S. 14:52) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78556

[8] (La. R.S. 14:67) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78605

[9]  (La. R.S. 14:71) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78645

[10] (La. R.S. 14:202.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=508538

[11] (La. R.S. 14:70.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78642

[12] (La. R.S. 14:67.25) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=451833

[13] Act 280/S.B. 139, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051859

[14] Act 282/S.B. 221, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051861

 


Alexa and Uber Take the Stand: Your Data as a Witness

Silicon Valley’s amazing technology has made our lives easier. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can tell us the weather, play our favorite music on command, and add grocery items to our shopping lists. With the tap of a button, we can catch a ride using the Uber app. Countless other products offer similar conveniences and provide greater simplicity to our lives. However, this added convenience comes with strings attached.

By using these products, we generate vast amounts of data. These giant tech companies store that information to improve their products (and their targeted advertising). This data is increasingly entering the crosshairs of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes. By putting enough pieces of your digital footprint together, law enforcement can generate a pretty complete picture of a person’s life.

Law enforcement is relying more and more on digital evidence because of how enlightening (or incriminating) this information can be. Warrants for a cell phone search are commonplace in today’s world, but as Silicon Valley develops newer products, law enforcement sees additional opportunities to gather evidence.

Recently, police in Arkansas turned their sights on an Amazon Echo smart speaker found in a murder suspect’s home. The Amazon Echo has a built-in microphone that is always listening, waiting for the user to issue a command. According to Amazon, the speaker only starts recording once it hears “Alexa.” Amazon stores the recorded commands or questions that follow in a database to improve its voice-recognition accuracy.

Police issued Amazon a search warrant for any data the speaker may have recorded on the night of the murder. Since a judge signed off on the warrant, Amazon became the last line of defense against turning over the data. Amazon refused to grant the request, citing the privacy concerns of its customers.

The murder suspect ultimately granted Amazon his consent to provide the data, moving the resolution of this legal showdown to another day. While Amazon was likely more concerned about future customer’s fear of losing their privacy, the takeaway is that this data may be easily obtainable if the company possessing it complies with the request.

The focus of this case was past data already recorded and stored, but something to consider is the possibility of tapping into the Amazon Echo’s microphone in real time. Law enforcement can obtain judicial authorization for a wiretap of a suspect’s electronic communications. Any internet-connected smart device with a microphone can theoretically be remotely activated without the user knowing, creating a bugging device. On a scarier note, hackers have demonstrated the ability to do this with ease. The average citizen probably has nothing to worry about, but public figures, politicians, journalists, etc. may want to weigh whether the convenience of these devices is worth the privacy risks they pose.

Another recent target of law enforcement has been data generated by Uber riders and drivers. Just as in the Amazon case, a judge approved the subpoena for these records. The likely trend will be that judges grant these requests with regularity. One can imagine these records being requested in a divorce or custody proceeding, revealing a spouse’s habitual Uber rides from the bar or to his or her paramour’s house.

Technology will continue to progress and tech companies will continue to vacuum up more and more data about our daily lives. It’s possible we may never be able to delete that data, or only with varying degrees of difficulty. When enjoying the conveniences of Silicon Valley technology, it must always be assumed a detailed trail will be left behind.


Cazayoux Ewing Represents Case Against the Federal Government


Original post: Louisiana Record on March 10, 2017 by Michael Abella

LAFAYETTE – A Lafayette Parish resident alleges she was injured in a motor vehicle accident with a federal employee.

Crystal Gerard filed a complaint on March 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division against the United States of America alleging that the government entity failed to perform its obligations.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that on Jan. 29, 2015, she filed a Federal Tort Claim Act claim against defendant due to an injury she allegedly sustained in a vehicular accident caused by Robert Bannon, an employee of defendant’s Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. As a result of the accident, she alleges she has suffered physical and mental pain, lost wages and medical expenses.

The plaintiff holds United States of America responsible because on Sept. 26, 2016, the Office of the General Counsel for the Department of Agriculture allegedly denied to pay her claim.

The plaintiff requests a trial by jury and seeks judgment against defendant in an amount which is just and reasonable in the premises, plus interest, all costs of these proceedings and all other relief that may be just and equitable. She is represented by Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. and J. Lane Ewing Jr. of Cazayoux Ewing LLC in Baton Rouge and Yul D. Lorio and Kevin P. Tauzin of Tauzin & Lorio, Attorney at Law in Lafayette.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lafayette Division Case number 6:17-cv-00348


Flood Damage Help is Available. How to Apply without Flood Insurance

Recent storms in Louisiana have led to severe flooding and widespread devastation. The area has been named a federal disaster area, as thousands of homeowners are stranded in the waters with nowhere to go. However, residents of East Baton Rouge, Tangipahoa, Livingston, and St. Helena parishes may be able to acquire temporary housing and other benefits from FEMA.

There are currently no Disaster Recovery Centers open, as efforts are focusing on search and rescue operations, but you can apply for the numerous forms of federal assistance available at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/. You may also call FEMA directly at (800) 621-3362.


Don Cazayoux weighs in on Attorney General’s visit to Baton Rouge

Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with Justice Department officials in Baton Rouge last week. The meeting was possibly to discuss ways for police and the communities they serve, according to former U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux, of the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.

Cazayoux says that the Attorney General may be trying to understand the way communities are policed in light of Baton Rouge’s recent police tragedies. On July 5th, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police officers while numerous bystanders filmed the incident. Days later, on the 17th, three Baton Rouge police officers were killed by a shooter. With similar events in St. Paul and Dallas, July has been a tense month for the relationship between police and minority communities.

Cazayoux believes that these issues were a primary topic of discussion during the AG’s visit. Learn more about Mr. Cazayoux’s input here.


DOJ Issues Corporate Accountability Guidelines

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates sent out a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys last September issuing guidelines for how to investigate cases against corporate entities. Corporations oftentimes are able to evade being held accountable for crimes because it can be challenging to find an individual to try.

However, the contents of the memo might encourage corporations to behave in a more guarded manner during investigations. This is because it requires attorneys to build cases against individuals in corporations as soon as an investigation is opened rather than after a great deal of information has been gathered. The idea is that lower-level employees should provide the government with information about higher ups who make decisions to violate laws. This means a corporation’s internal investigation might be compromised, as people will be less likely to bring up wrongdoing for fear of being blamed or prosecuted. It can also create issues of infighting within corporate employees.

In an article posted on businessreport.com, the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm‘s own Don Cazayoux explains how this shift in policy may make it more challenging to receive cooperation from corporations who are facing criminal charges. He says that defining “full cooperation” in these investigations can already be difficult. Generally, corporations want to provide just enough information to say they’ve cooperated with an investigation, but they are likely to hold back more damaging facts about their actions.

Ideally, these guidelines will help deter corporate wrongdoing. However, their effect remains to be seen.


Cazayoux on Engster

Don Cazayoux, former U.S. Attorney, congressman and state representative, gives his insight on the end of the session and how this will affect Governor Jindal and his attempt for the presidency. Listen here


Hit-and-run crash involving school bus on Weller Avenue sends two students to hospital Monday morning

The Advocate
Ben Wallace
BWALLACE@THEADVOCATE.COM

A hit-and-run crash Monday morning involving a school bus in north Baton Rouge sent two students aboard the bus to a hospital, authorities said.

The crash occurred SHORTLY before 6:30 a.m. in the 2700 block of Weller Avenue near its intersection with Alliquippa Street, said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman.

A Geo Prizm rear-ended the school bus, Coppola said, and the Geo’s driver fled the scene following the crash. Police are looking for the CAR’S driver and the crash remains under investigation.

Two of the nine students aboard the school bus were taken to a hospital with minor injuries, said Mike Chustz, a spokesman for East Baton Rouge Parish’s Emergency Medical Services.

It wasn’t immediately clear which school the students were going to when the crash occurred.

If you or someone who you know was injured in an automobile accident that was not their fault, call Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm for help.  225-650-7400

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