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

Car accidents: Diners injured when car crashes into restaurant

People will not expect to be struck by a car while they are sharing a meal with family or friends in a restaurant. However, car accidents can happen in strange places. One such a crash occurred in a New York suburb on a recent Sunday evening.

According to the mayor of Mamaroneck, a village in Westchester County, a car crashed into a restaurant at approximately 8 p.m. Reportedly, multiple guests were dining in the restaurant at the time. Several of them suffered injuries, and although they were transported to a hospital, no information was available about the severity of their injuries or the condition of the driver.

Requirements for legally binding wills

When it comes to estate planning and the documents included, state laws vary. For that reason, New York residents must comply with specific requirements when signing wills. If the required formalities and legalities are not followed, the court might disregard the validity of a will and subject the estate to intestacy laws. Having a valid will is important to ensure one's final wishes are met.

Some general requirements for valid wills include the need for the person drafting the document to be older than 18 years or emancipated by a court. Marriage or joining the military can also move a person under the age of 18 beyond the control of the parents. He or she must have testamentary capacity, which means he or she requires a sound mind and a full understanding of the terms included in the will and the relationships with the beneficiaries.

Medical malpractice suit can follow breach of confidentiality

Relationships between doctors and patients often involve sensitive and personal information, and for that reason, there are laws in New York and other states to enforce doctor-patient confidentiality. A doctor could be sued for medical malpractice if he or she breaches that confidentiality. The confidential relationship starts when a doctor takes on a patient, and it lasts forever -- even after the patient's death. However, exceptions exist.

A doctor may not divulge to a third party anything that the patient revealed or any conversations that they had. Also protected are conclusions or opinions the physician formed after a medical examination or assessment. Furthermore, medical history, laboratory reports, X-rays, pre-existing conditions and other medical history information will be confidential. The confidentiality extends to members of the doctor's medical staff.

Wills and other estate plan changes required in divorce

Anyone in New York who is in the throes of divorce might be so overwhelmed by all the matters that need consideration and the many decisions that need to be made, that some crucial issues might be forgotten. However, reviewing estate plans must not be overlooked. The laws related to wills and divorce differ from state to state, but even if a spouse is automatically removed after a divorce, what happens if death should occur in the time leading up to the final divorce settlement? The surviving spouse will have legal rights to the estate if this should happen.

The wills of married couples usually designate the role of executor to the surviving spouse, and he or she is typically also the estate's primary beneficiary. However, when a couple separates, the intent and desires of each spouse will likely change because the circumstances under which the original estate planning was created have changed. A will might have a spouse's children from a previous marriage as beneficiaries, and if a new document is not drafted, those provisions will stay in place.

Hard-handed blessing sees pastor facing premises liability suit

If visitors to any public facility suffer injuries while on the premises, the property owners or tenants might be held responsible. Although it might be unheard of in New York, even a church can be named as a defendant in a premises liability lawsuit. Such a claim was recently filed in another state after a pastor allegedly injured a church-goer who has been a member of the congregation for 15 years.

According to the complaint, a female member of the congregation's choir arrived at the church in March last year. She says the time came during the service for the pastor to bless each congregant, typically involving him lightly touching each person's forehead. However, the plaintiff alleges that the pastor used such force when it was her turn that his touch pushed her backward, causing her to fall and strike her head against the floor.

Car accidents: Cross-over crash kills 1 driver, injures another

An investigation was launched by the Accident Investigation Unit of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office after a recent fatal crash. Drivers in New York State are all-too-aware of the risks of fatalities in car accidents that involve trucks. One such a collision caused the death of one driver and serious injuries to another.

Deputies in the Town of Lockport reported that the accident happened shortly after 1 p.m. on a recent Thursday. Apparently, the accident involved a box truck that was eastbound on a local roadway. The accident report indicates that this driver allegedly failed to remain on the right side of the road, and crossed over the center line.

Wills, trusts and other essential estate planning documents

Estate planning is an exercise that reminds many people in New York of their mortality. That causes many to procrastinate, deciding that wills  and other estate planning  measures can be put off for another day down the line. However, having an up-to-date estate plan can provide peace of mind, particularly since no one knows when an accident or other tragedy may disrupt their lives.

A properly crafted estate plan can ensure that property will go to those to whom it was intended, while the absence of a will means that the deceased's property will be distributed according to the state's laws of intestacy.  Apart from a will, some people decide to set up a revocable trust. This planning device serves a purpose similar to a will, but is a way to avoid probate, costly court proceedings and emotional stress for surviving loved ones and heirs. Furthermore, it preserves estate privacy.

What is wrongful death and who can file such a claim?

Anyone in New York who has lost a loved one as the result of another party's negligence might have questions about the recovery of financial and emotional damages. This is where the civil justice system comes in. While criminal charges might be filed against the party believed responsible, a wrongful death claim for financial relief could be filed in a civil court.

A criminal conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt while a preponderance of the evidence is the standard of proof necessary to establish liability in a civil claim. For that reason, a civil lawsuit could be successful even if a defendant was not convicted of criminal charges. A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the deceased victim's surviving family. A spouse and children are typically allowed to file, but some states also allow domestic partners and stepchildren to pursue recovery.

Medical malpractice: Doctor secretly used own sperm, not donor's

Couples in New York who are having trouble conceiving might consider a consultation with a fertility specialist. However, a medical malpractice lawsuit that was recently filed in another state might make them reconsider. A woman in her thirties recently discovered that the doctor who cared for her mother during her pregnancy was her father rather than the man she had known as her father for all these years.

According to court documents, the woman sent a DNA sample to a genealogy website and received a reply that named a man whom she did not know as her father. She mentioned this to her mother who immediately recognized the name of the obstetrician-gynecologist who had diagnosed her husband with a low sperm count all those years ago. The doctor suggested the couple use donated sperm from a donor of their choice. The doctor soon informed them a donor matching their requirements had been found and the procedure was done; a positive pregnancy test followed soon after.

Trusts: What is the purpose of a special needs trust?

Families in New York with disabled loved ones may consider available options to ensure their proper care. Special needs trusts can be set up to augment government assistance for a person with disabilities. Benefits provided by the state and the federal government typically cover no more than the individual's most basic and essential needs.

When a special needs trust is set up, any interested or concerned parties, family members and friends can make contributions to the trust for the benefit of the disabled person. It will not affect the means-tested benefits provided by governments such as Security Supplemental Income (SSI) and Medicaid. To qualify for these programs, limits are placed on his or her income, and the beneficiary's total assets must not exceed $2,000.

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