The Legal Insider
In this issue:
Learning How to Drive, the Laws for Teenage Drivers
It's interesting reflecting back on our teenage years, when beginning to drive a car was a nerve‐wracking experience. Flash forward a decade and beyond, and adults are putting hot sauce on tacos, applying mascara, and reading the newspaper while driving 80 mph with one knee. Gone are the days of receiving a permit for a certain amount of months before the big day of walking out of the DMV with a license and no other restrictions.
Currently, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that are intended to reduce the risk of teen car crashes. These laws gradually develop a young driver's experience by limiting nighttime driving, putting restrictions on teenage passengers, and ensuring teens receive more supervised practice. As the teen matures and develops driving skills, the likelihood of his or her being involved in a traffic accident declines.
On average, graduated licensing laws have reduced teen car accidents by 10‐30 percent. GDL consists of three stages: the Learner Stage, Intermediate Stage, and Unrestricted Stage. Age, holding periods, supervision, passenger, and nighttime restrictions vary with each state. States with the toughest GDL laws are seeing the biggest reduction in teen driver deaths than in states with weaker laws.
It is estimated that 11 teens die everyday as a result of texting and driving; in states that require adult supervision for a longer of period of time, it stands to reason that this number may be reduced. Wearing a seat belt is another habit that, over time, develops with maturity and repetition. Teens who live in states with strict GDL laws may have a higher rate of consistency with safe‐driving habits and behaviors.
Not only do cell phones distract teen drivers, but so do their friends. Some states do not allow more than one passenger to be present in the car of a young driver during the intermediate stage. Other states, such as Colorado and Connecticut, place restrictions such as no passengers in the first 6 months, and states such as California and Oregon, no passengers younger than 20. The longer a teen goes with restriction, the more favorable the outcome. The crash rate per mile traveled for a new driver is three times higher than the crash rate of 18 to 19 year old drivers.
Statistics that show a three fold reduction in crashes within a short period of time are worthy of notice. Restrictions help in keeping our youth (and the rest of us on the road) safe. Just think, if adults who finish their morning routine of shaving and mixing protein drinks on the road would pay a hair more attention, we would all have a better chance of returning home in one piece.
How to Deal with Your Neighbor's Tree
In a perfect world, our trees and their mess would stay on our side of the fence, and our neighbor's foliage would stay on theirs. Of course, nature laughs at that notion and issues may develop that could turn a warm, neighborly relationship into a chilly one. If you've had a dead branch fall on your car or you're up to your neck in crispy maple leaves, you may be wondering what your options are in approaching your neighbor and their problematic tree.
Property owners have a reasonable standard of care when it comes to property upkeep, and this includes regular tree trimming and pruning. It is important to take care of trees on your property, as falling branches can seriously injure you and your neighbors. In the event someone is injured, courts look at premise liability and whether the individual took reasonable steps to prevent harm to others. If this person hasn't trimmed her trees in three years, she may be faced with an expensive lawsuit and medical bills from her neighbor.
Generally, if your neighbor's tree or one of its branches falls into your yard or onto your home, your homeowners insurance should cover some or all of the cost. The same goes for damage to your car. Be sure to review your homeowners insurance policy to ensure you have the coverage you need. Comprehensive auto insurance may also cover the cost of damage. If a tornado comes ripping through the neighborhood, and your neighbor's tree lands in your kitchen, it's not their fault. Acts of God, such as hurricanes and earthquakes will not hold water in court if you're looking to sue your neighbor.
Unfortunately, if you happen to be downwind of your neighbor's tree, any dead leaves on your property are also your responsibility. Alternatively, any leaves of yours that land next door are their responsibility, so think of it as a tradeoff. However, if the tree is uprooting your fence, your neighbor may be required to remove it. If the tree's branches are encroaching, you should warn your neighbor before taking out your hacksaw.
Property owners have found themselves in hot water for removing trees they thought were on their property line, but were in fact on their neighbor's property. In Pacific Palisades, California, a property owner took out a row of ten trees, and later learned they weren't his to remove. The cost to replace them was $10,000 for each tree. Since the owner didn't have a survey done under Civil Code Section 3346, he exposed himself to a $300,000 claim.
The takeaway, is to keep your side of the street clean. Trim your trees, and if your neighbor neglects to do the same, they may be held liable for damages. Typically, your homeowners insurance will cover damages, but if your neighbor failed in their duty of care, you may have a case. On the other hand, you also have to keep in mind that you are living next to this person, and lawsuits have a way of turning friendly relationships sour. If possible, voice your concerns with your neighbor, and if necessary, call an attorney for advice.
Handling Child Custody When Your Kids Go Back to School
Back‐to‐school time is often a joyous one, not only for children (even though they may not admit it), but also for parents. Returning to a “regular” schedule and having the kids away at school may seem like a breath of fresh air, but if you are dealing with child custody issues when the kids start riding the yellow bus, it can be a headache.
Below are a few steps you can take to calm the waters of child custody conflicts, that will ultimately make this time a little easier on all of you:
- Simplicity and Consistency: In the instance of divorce, a parenting agreement should have been worked out that details who will have the kids on school nights and weekends. If nothing much has changed since the last school year, such as schools, activities, or bus routes, it may be a good idea to not rearrange the standing schedule. If there are changes, try to create a schedule that is simple and consistent.
- Visitation Flexibility: When there isn't much going on except for a summer camp here or there, visitation schedules are a breeze. However, when school is in session, dance recitals, band practice, and sports schedules can throw a kink in standard visitation times. If possible, plan for these events ahead of time, and when the unexpected comes up, be flexible and allow substituted visits, and in case of conflicts, virtual visitation. Some former couples opt for “birds nest” custody, which means the parents alternate time of living in the same house as the kids. Find what works best for you, and if needed, contact a family law attorney for further advice.
- Plan Ahead: Along with the school year comes holidays, parent‐teacher conferences, and other off‐days that can be planned well in advance. Working these out beforehand will spare you, your ex‐spouse, and your children the chaos that can ensue when parents don't agree on custody issues. It is also a good idea to figure out which parent will go to school events that require a parent to be present, or if you are both okay with attending these events together.
Handling child custody issues isn't easy, but it can be less‐stressful with a little preparation. The court will always rule in favor of what is best for the child, and when both parents can agree ahead of time, it makes the whole situation less contentious. The more stable a child's home life, the more favorable outcome for all involved.
How to Prepare Your Home for the Change of Season
Before the weather hits the proverbial fan, no time like the present is best for preparing your home for the changing of the seasons. We could all use a little risk management, and preparation for a turn of the weather certainly falls under that umbrella. The following are tips on what you can do to make your home safe and comfortable for the fall and winter seasons:
- Tree Trimming: You don’t want to be held responsible for a branch of your majestic elm that dutifully flattened your neighbor’s Fiat. Make sure you take care of your trees and get rid of dead branches that could cause serious problems when the weather turns.
- Gutter Cleaning: Avoid the pain of clogged gutters by inspecting your roof and gutter system. Clear out your gutters, and if possible, install a mesh guard to prevent excess build-up.
- Fix Leaky Sprinklers and Check Water Drainage: If someone slips and falls on your sidewalk due to frozen water from your leaky sprinkler, you may be paying their future medical bills. Also check rainwater downspouts, and make sure they are clear of obstructions and directing water away from driveways and walkways.
- Inspect the Roof: Check for loose or missing shingles, and make necessary repairs. Temperature changes, rain, ice, wind, and snow can cause serious damage to your roof, and a little preparation may save you from having buckets in your living room to catch the leaks.
- Test and Change Smoke Detector and Carbon Detector Batteries: When the temperature drops, our thermostats go up. Keep your home safe by changing and testing both your smoke detector and carbon detector batteries.
- Seal Your Doors and Windows: You may not need to turn up the heat as much as in previous years. Seal the cracks around your doors and windows, as breaks in caulk and gaps in weather-stripping can account for 10% of your heating bill.
- Inspect Your Furnace: Hire an HVAC professional to test for leaks. He or she can also change the filter, check for heating efficiency, and check for carbon monoxide.
You may also want to double-check your homeowners insurance policy to ensure it meets your current needs. It should cover most damage to your home or injuries that may occur on your property. Now that pumpkin lattes, fuzzy boots, and warm sweaters are right around the corner, take care of your home now so you won’t be left out in the cold later.