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Binghamton Law Blog: Covering Topics from Personal Injury to Estate Planning Law

Contesting wills without legal help a risky prospect

It is not uncommon for people to feel they were unfairly treated in a loved one's will. Although New York state laws allow people to contest wills, it is a complicated legal process that requires much more than not liking the terms of a will. Proving a will to be invalid could be a costly and time-consuming process, typically not tackled without legal counsel. While state laws differ, four fundamental reasons could lead to a will being declared invalid.

Failing to comply with state laws during the signing of the will is one of the most frequent challenges against the validity of the document. State laws determine whose signatures must accompany that of the testator, and who must be present at the signing. Another reason, even more challenging, is proving that the testator lacked the testamentary capacity to sign the will. To prove this it must be shown that the testator did not understand the value and nature of his or her assets and the legal effects of signing the will. Without a medical adjudication to show incapacity, the chances of this argument being successful are not strong.

40 car accidents reported in major winter weather event

Major weather events in Broome County and throughout New York threaten the lives of everyone out on the roads, regardless of how experienced the drivers are. For that reason, safety authorities remind drivers each year of the hazards posed by rain, snow and black ice on the roadways. These conditions led to almost 40 car accidents in in the county on a recent Friday morning during the extreme adverse weather.

According to the Broome County Emergency Services Director, 911 received about 300 emergency calls during the morning rush hour on that day. Many drivers were caught unawares by ice on the roads, and multiple motorists found themselves stranded. When drivers fail to maintain control of their vehicles, the lives of others in the vicinity are at risk.

Premises liability: Helicopter rescue leads to negligence claim

Cities in the state of New York and across the country could face civil lawsuits if they are accused of negligence. Premises liability claims typically involve pedestrians injured in slip-and-fall accidents due to damaged sidewalks and pavements, most frequently during the winter, when snow and ice pose hazards. From time to time, cities are held responsible for unusual occurrences, such as the case of an insane June helicopter rescue in another state.

Reportedly, a 74-year-old woman suffered injuries when she fell during a mountain hike. Her husband called the nearest fire department because he was unable to help his wife down the mountain. Rescuers arrived with a helicopter, and she was promptly loaded into a basket attached to the helicopter. This was when something went wrong, and the basket started spinning. It was reported that the basket spun at about 150 revolutions per minute.

Don't lose sight of digital assets when drafting wills and trusts

Everything related to computers and the internet play essential roles in the lives of people nationwide, including New York. For that reason, it is crucial not to lose sight of digital assets when drafting estate plans to deal with wills and trusts. Surviving loved ones will need access to essential documents and information related to digital assets.

Computers and related hardware like flash drives, external hard drives, digital music players, smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, e-readers and other devices form a part of digital assets. Then there is the electronically stored data and information that could be on a physical device, online, or in the cloud. Upon death, someone must have access to online accounts like social media, email, shopping, video gaming, video sharing, blogs, websites and storage accounts.

Young Binghamton driver might face wrongful death claim

A 70-year-old man recently lost his life in a motor vehicle accident. When looking at the circumstances of the crash, it seems clear that it was a preventable incident. According to authorities, a 22-year-old Binghamton driver who allegedly disregarded a stop sign caused the crash, which could result in this driver facing a wrongful death lawsuit in the future.

In a preliminary crash report, investigators allege the driver entered the intersection at a high rate of speed. He smashed into the car that was driven by the 70-year-old man. It is unclear whether that driver died at the crash scene or succumbed to his injuries later. It was reported that the impact of the crash sent the second vehicle onto the porch of a nearby residence.

Lawsuit alleges medical malpractice led to journalist's death

Statutes of limitations for wrongful death vary from state to state, and while New York state laws allow two years for such claims to be filed, other states could allow less or more time. As with most laws, exceptions exist. On Feb. 15, 2014, Angelo Henderson, an award-winning journalist, died from venous thromboembolism. A wrongful death lawsuit, alleging medical malpractice, was recently filed in another state on behalf of his family. The defendants include the medical facility and the surgeon who was involved in his treatment.

According to court documents, Henderson underwent knee surgery approximately three weeks before his death. The complaint states that a blood clot formed in a vein, and pulmonary embolism occurred when the clot broke free and traveled to his lungs. The claim alleges that the medical staff who treated Henderson ignored multiple risk factors.

Wills and powers of attorney may need review when relocating

Relocating to another state might affect the validity of some estate planning documents. People who move to or from New York might be caught unawares when a loved one is hospitalized or becomes incapacitated, and they do not have the power to make financial or medical decisions. In some jurisdictions, powers of attorney that were established along with wills in other states are not recognized.

This happened to one family after their father passed away. Their mother had a stroke, and she was hospitalized. However, because the powers of attorney were created years before their move to another state and never updated, the children could not make medical or financial decisions on their mother's behalf. Fortunately, their mother recovered and was able to make the necessary changes to avoid a similar problem in the future.

Premises liability claim follows injury at music festival

Planning to attend a music and arts festival in New York? Beware of potential safety hazards, such as those that sent a 24-year-old woman to a hospital earlier this year. When she went to a music and arts festival in another state, she surely didn't expect to suffer a fractured skull and traumatic brain injuries before the night was over. Being the plaintiff in a premises liability lawsuit would likely also never had crossed her mind.

Sadly, her fun outing ended with her needing brain surgery, and the psychological trauma was severe enough to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, and make her miss a semester at the law school where she was enrolled. According to court documents related to her claim, the plaintiff was inside the concert tent, which had light fixtures hanging from the roof as part of the decorations. One of these fixtures allegedly became detached, fell and struck the woman and several other guests.

Wrongful death claims often need accident reconstruction

When fatalities occur in car accidents in New York state, accident reconstruction teams typically have the job to figure out what happened and who was at fault. The routine investigations usually include a hospital screen during which blood is generally drawn. These samples can be used later for toxicology testing if, for example, a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is filed in civil court, or criminal charges are brought against a driver.

Accident reconstructionists will also note the direction of travel, speed and other details of the time before the crash and the actual impact. Weather conditions will also be considered. All this will likely form part of an investigation into the death of two people in the early hours of a recent Sunday morning at an intersection in Buffalo.

Avoiding car accidents on New York roads this winter

According to road safety authorities in New York, most storm-related deaths and injuries across the state are caused by automobile accidents. They urge people to drive only when necessary, and to adjust their driving to match the weather and road conditions. Car accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, often with devastating consequences. Drivers should allow extra travel time, take care around snowplows, and remember that surfaces like bridges can be covered with invisible black ice.

Preparing the car for the winter is a good idea, and a thorough checkup before a long trip is also smart. Knowing that the battery, ignition, brake and exhaust systems work perfectly and that wipers, thermostat, heater, defroster, lights and other essential parts are properly functioning is a good idea. Check the tread on the tires, and it might be wise to load a set of tire chains, a scraper for the windshield, and other ice removal equipment.

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