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You’ve been in an accident – now what?

Dealing with an insurance company after a car accident can be a time-consuming hassle. While you are worried about mounting medical debt and getting back to work, insurance adjusters are difficult to get on the phone, and when you do talk to them, they make time-sensitive, burdensome demands. We understand the difficulties and confusion in the insurance claims process. These are answers to frequently asked questions to help:

What should I do first?
Your first concern is your health. Seek the advice of a medical professional who can help you heal and record your injuries.

Should I take photographs?
Yes, it is important to document injuries and property damage. You will need photos to prove your claims. Take pictures even though your insurance adjuster has probably done the same.

The insurance company wants me to provide medical records, a recorded statement, or a release? What should I do?
Do not sign any papers until you consult an attorney – attorney consultations are usually free. Once you sign a release of claims, your case is over. Be wary of an insurance company that wants to settle before you have seen a doctor or while you are receiving treatment. Be careful – anything you say to an insurance adjuster can be used against you in valuing a claim.

What is an accident report?
This report is prepared by an officer at the scene of the accident. It is used to officially document the circumstances of the accident and can be used in settling your claim. Be sure to read the accident report, as it can answer many questions.

North Carolina is an at-fault state. What is an “at-fault” driver?
The at-fault driver is the one who caused the accident. The at-fault driver’s insurance company must pay for the damage to your car and for your personal injuries. If the at-fault driver has no insurance, then you should have coverages on your insurance policy to pay your claim.

What is contributory negligence?
Currently, only three States in the United States follow the doctrine of “Contributory Negligence,” and North Carolina is one of them.

What this doctrine says is that if an injured or wrongfully deceased person is found to be even as little as 1% at fault for his or her injuries or death, then the plaintiff gets nothing from the defendant, despite the fact that the defendant was still 99% at fault for the subject injuries or death.

After a car wreck, an insurance adjuster may ask for a recorded statement or for you otherwise to discuss how the accident occurred. What you say may be used to argue or suggest that you were in some degree at-fault, and the insurance company might use this as a way to try to deny your claim.

How do I pay my medical bills?
Use your health insurance to pay your medical bills. Unpaid bills affect your credit and reduce the amount of money you receive at final settlement. If you do not have health insurance, call us… We can help by reviewing your options for other ways to pay for medical treatment.

How do I pay for vehicle repairs or replacement?
If you were not at-fault in the accident, then the at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay for your car repairs and a rental car while your car is in the shop. If your car is totaled (the repair costs are 75% or greater than the car’s value), you will be paid the total current retail value of your car. If you have collision coverage on your auto insurance policy, it may also help cover the costs of auto repairs regardless of which driver was at fault.

How is the value of my case determined?
If you were not at-fault in the accident, then, you are entitled to receive money from the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your injuries including medical bills, lost wages and expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and resulting disabilities and scars. Compensation will also include costs to repair or replace damaged property.

When will I receive compensation?
You will receive compensation for your claims when your case is resolved either through a settlement or after obtaining a judgment in Court. We can talk to you in helping to determine when the time is right either to settle your case or go to Court, and we can provide our experience to maximize your compensation for your injuries.

How long does the adjuster have to respond to my demand?
After submitting a demand package with all of your medical records and bills, within 30 days, the insurance company must pay the claim as submitted, offer an alternative amount as a settlement, deny the claim, or advise you in writing that your claim is still under investigation. When a claim has been settled, loss and claim payments should be delivered within ten business days. There are very important deadlines what have to be met when making insurance claims and a personal injury lawyer can help you meet the deadlines to receive the protections you deserve.

If my claim is denied, do they have to tell me why?
Insurance companies are required to provide you with written explanation as to why your claim was denied. This explanation should cite any law(s) or policy provisions that may be applicable to the company’s denial of your claim.

What is UM/UIM coverage?
Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage is insurance under your auto policy that provides compensation for injuries inflicted upon your or a family member as a result of an uninsured driver’s negligence. An uninsured driver is someone who did not have insurance, or whose insurance company denied their claim or was not financially able to pay it. A hit and run driver also can count as an uninsured driver as it relates to bodily injury.

Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage is insurance under your auto policy that provides compensation for injuries inflicted upon your or a family member where the at-fault driver has insurance limits that are too low to cover your expenses. Underinsured drivers usually purchase only the minimum coverage required by law, which in North Carolina is $30,000 per person and $60,000 per incident of bodily injury liability coverage.

North Carolina does require Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage, which is usually bundled with liability coverage, which is also required by law, so you do not usually need to purchase this separately.

North Carolina does not require Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, but it can be purchased at your election, and is an important source of compensation in serious accidents.

Is my new car covered under my old insurance policy?
No, your new car is not automatically covered under an existing policy. For coverage on your new vehicle, you must provide your insurer with proper notification for coverage to be applied.

What is MedPay coverage?
MedPay coverage is designed to pay the medical bills of all passengers in your vehicle if they are injured as a result a car accident, regardless of who was at fault. MedPay may also provide coverage for blood relatives who reside in the same household and any vehicles driven by them. MedPay coverage is typically sold in amounts ranging between $1,000 and $10,000. There are some MedPay policies for as much as $50,000 to $100,000.

Sarah JohnsonYou’ve been in an accident – now what?
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Business Interruption Insurance & COVID-19

In North Carolina, bars, restaurants, and most retail businesses are suffering large financial losses due to COVID-19.  Many will seek insurance coverage under the business interruption provisions of their commercial property policies, and their claims will be denied.

Last week, four insurance conglomerates –American Property Casualty Insurance Association, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, and Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers – issued an official statement that “[b]usiness interruption policies do not, and were not designed to, provide coverage against communicable diseases such as COVID-19.”

Many insurance companies have issued bulletins stating that COVID-19 business interruption claims are not to be paid in most circumstances.

Famous restaurateurs in Louisiana and California have already filed lawsuits against their insurance carriers for denying their COVID-19 business interruption claims.

More lawsuits are certain to follow.  Indeed, if insurers were required to pay such losses, it would significantly diminish their profit margins.

Can the insurance industry get away with not paying these claims?

Most commercial insurance policies cover lost revenue resulting from:

  • damage to the policyholder’s own property (traditional business interruption coverage);
  • damage to the property of a customer or supplier, or someone further out in the supply-chain (contingent business interruption coverage); and
  • government orders flowing from property damage within an authority’s jurisdiction (civil authority coverage).

Traditionally, for any of these coverages to be triggered, the legal analysis of most such policies required physical damage to property, somewhere.

Under this legal construct, the relevant inquiry is whether COVID-19, legally, causes physical damage to property.

At least some of our local officials believe it does. In line with other municipalities and counties, Durham’s Stay-At-Home Order states that “existing conditions [from the virus] have caused or will cause, widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property.”

Governor Cooper’s State-Wide Stay-At-Home Order references the risk of property loss at least four times, although it is not explicit in saying that the virus can or does cause property damage.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 can be contracted “by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it.”

The New York Times has also reported that COVID-19 remains on metal, glass and plastic for several days.

These, and other scientific facts, lend support to the notion that virus-particles on bars, restaurant tables, desks, merchandise, and office equipment results in physical damage to property.

Although there are no known North Carolina appellate decisions on-point, cases from other jurisdictions are instructive on whether COVID-19 causes physical damage to property.

In Gregory Packing, Inc. v. Travelers, a federal court in New Jersey held that covered property had been physically damaged, sufficient to trigger business interruption coverage, when ammonia was released into a facility, making the building unsafe for habitation. The Court stated “property can sustain physical damage without experiencing structural alteration.” The presence of the molecules of ammonia upon the covered property was enough to count as physical damage to the property and trigger business interruption coverage.

Likewise, in Motorists Mutual Insurance Co. v. Hardinger, a published opinion by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, E. Coli in a residential water-well, which made the inhabitants sick, counted as physical damage to the property, triggering the applicable homeowners coverage. The Court wrote that what mattered was “whether the functionality of the property was nearly eliminated or destroyed, or whether the property was made useless or uninhabitable” by the presence of the bacteria.

In North Carolina, when a provision of an insurance policy is vague, it is to be interpreted in favor of coverage for the policyholder.  (See e.g. Williams v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 269 N.C. 235, 152 S.E.2d 102).  Courts in other States have found the meaning of “physical damage” in insurance policies to be ambiguous, and they have therefore expanded the definition in favor of covering losses.  (See e.g. Wakefern Food Corp. v. Liberty Mutual, 976 A. 2d 385). Such could be the case with COVID-19 and business losses in North Carolina.

What does this mean for my business interruption claim?

Strong legal arguments can be made that COVID-19 causes physical damage to property. In our view, the presence of the virus upon property should be sufficient to trigger business interruption coverages under many commercial insurance policies.

If COVID-19 is present upon covered property (i.e. an infected person comes into a restaurant and coughs on a table), and a resulting financial loss occurs (i.e. the restaurant must shut-down), traditional business interruption coverage should be triggered.

If COVID-19 is present on the property of someone in a business’ supply line, and a resulting financial loss occurs (i.e. an airline shuts-down due to virus exposure, and goods or people cannot move in the stream of commerce), contingent business interruption coverage should be triggered.

With respect to civil authority coverage, policies commonly provide this coverage for business losses when “an order of civil authority limits, restricts or prohibits partial or total access to an insured location provided such order is the direct result of physical damage at the insured location or within [a specified distance of the insured location].” For example, this coverage should apply to many of the restaurants and bars that have been shut-down in this State due to COVID-19 being present upon property elsewhere in the State, and therefore constituting “physical damage.”

Caveats

Insurance policies are different. The language and coverages in insurance policies are not identical. There may be exclusions in your specific policy that prevent you from making the arguments outlined above; however, do not let the language of your policy stop you from speaking with a lawyer.

For example, there are commonly exclusions in commercial insurance policies for physical damage caused by “contamination” or “pollution.” Viruses, specifically COVID-19, may or may not fall under the meaning and definition of these words. Remember, if there is any ambiguity in your policy language, it is to be construed in favor of coverage.

Also of note, in response to large losses from the SARS outbreak in the 2000’s, insurance companies began adding “pandemic” exclusions to commercial policies, in an attempt to void coverages for business interruption losses. If your policy does, or purports to, incorporate such an exclusion, there are still arguments to be made, among others, that the business interruption is not being caused by the pandemic but by the government action taken to prevent its further spread.

In Conclusion

If you have a business interruption claim that has been denied by your insurance carrier, you are not alone. Don’t give up. There are strong arguments to be made in favor of coverage and payment.

We’re here to help. Contact me (Robby Jessup) with any questions at (919) 821-7700 or [email protected] Remember, you should not wait to call a lawyer, as there are important time limitations on asserting your legal claims.

Robby JessupBusiness Interruption Insurance & COVID-19
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Vietnam Veteran Files Lawsuit Alleging Police Brutality

Rocky Mount Telegram
By William F. West
March 27, 2020

A Rocky Mount man who is a Vietnam War veteran has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court
claiming a police officer assaulted and wrongly arrested him approximately a year-and-a-half
ago outside his home in the Holly Street area of the city.

Harold Cox, in papers fled on Tuesday, claims officer Michael Lamm body-slammed him to the
ground on Sept. 7, 2018, and shattered his hip after he requested assistance from Emergency
911 to diffuse an altercation between two young women in his front yard.

The suit names as defendants Lamm, the city of Rocky Mount, ex-Chief James Moore, ex-interim
Chief Willie Williams and current Chief George Robinson.

The suit calls for a jury trial in U.S. District Court and for an awarding of an unspecified amount
of money.

One of Cox’s attorneys, Robby Jessup, of Raleigh, told the Telegram in a prepared statement on
Thursday that Cox is a Vietnam veteran, a retiree, a pillar in his community and a lifelong law-abiding
citizen.

“Mr. Cox did not deserve the serious and life-changing injuries that were inflicted upon him,”
Jessup said.

“This lawsuit was fled not only to seek justice for Mr. Cox but also with a hope to improve how
law enforcement departments train offcers, treat people of color and respond to citizens who
have called for help,” Jessup said. “Our lawsuit speaks for itself and we look forward to helping
our client see this matter through.”

READ FULL ARTICLE

Sarah JohnsonVietnam Veteran Files Lawsuit Alleging Police Brutality
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Three Cheers!

Three years ago, we launched RDU INJURY LAW (a division of Howard, Stallings, From, Atkins, Angell & Davis, P.A.) as a way to brand our personal injury practice and highlight the efforts of our partners who litigate serious injury and wrongful death claims. It was a bit of an experiment, and we did not know how people would react, but look at us now! Within a year, we were recognized by the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and within two years our partners, Robby Jessup and Joan Davis, were awarded lifetime memberships in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Several cases we are litigating have made local news, and one case grabbed headlines across the nation and the world, including The Washington Post, and The Times in London. Just last week, we were named among the “Best Personal Injury Attorneys in Raleigh for 2020” by Expertise.com, and “Top Lawyers 2020 for the Raleigh Area” by Respected Lawyers.com.*

Of course, the success of RDU INJURY LAW is no surprise to people who know our law firm. Our firm is built on the shoulders of giants. Cader Howard, Joe Stallings and Allan From are each well-known in their respective fields of business law, civil litigation, and estate planning. Over the last thirty-seven years, we have assembled an impressive group of litigators, known for their integrity, knowledge, and professionalism. They are completely undaunted by hard work, and their success is evident. RDU INJURY LAW’s results have been featured in Large Verdict and Settlement articles five times in the last two years in Lawyers Weekly and Trial Briefs.

Way to go team!

*Disclaimer: It is important to note that each case is different and must be evaluated separately. While we are very proud of the results we have achieved for many of our clients, similar results are obviously not guaranteed. Also, the awards and accolades mentioned above are determined by third parties based upon their own objective criteria. To learn more about such awards, please visit these websites: https://www.expertise.com/about; https://milliondollaradvocates.com/Membership-Application-&-Qualification-Procedure, and https://www.respectedlawyers.com/information-for-lawyers/.

RDU AdminThree Cheers!
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ABC Report on Public School Sex Abuse Case

ABC 11 recently reported as follows on one of our cases (the accompanying video can be viewed here):

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) — Most of the allegations laid out in the civil lawsuit against Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are disturbingly cringe-worthy.

One particular quote from the woman who blew the whistle on the case stands out: “I was shocked and dismayed that so many people in an administrative position knew about the abuse and did little to respond.”

It begins in 2012 at Estes Hill Elementary School in Chapel Hill. Talya Mazor had just been hired as the school’s new clinical social worker when she soon took notice of the aggressive and agitated behavior of at least three of the boys in her high-needs program.

To Mazor, it was more than bad behavior. In her affidavit, she said, “Many of them displayed what appeared to be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Suspecting the boys were being sexually abused Mazor built trust. And by spring 2013 she says, “One boy confided in me that he had been assaulted. He detailed ongoing sexual abuse by two older students at the school.”

The allegations are laid out in a 14-page civil lawsuit filed against the school district and three former staffers at Estes Hill, including a former principal.

The boys told the therapist that starting in first grade they had been sexually assaulted multiple times at school by two older students. They described inappropriate genital touching in the school cafeteria, bathrooms, hallways, the playground and the school bus as well.

When Mazor asked questions she says it went nowhere. Writing, “the boy’s previous teacher told the social worker that the allegations ‘had been handled'” But Mazor says she “searched their thick files and found no indication or documentation.”
She says higher-ups in the district office assured her that the boys’ claims had been investigated, that they had received individual counseling, and their parents had been notified.

But when Mazor went to the families, she said: “the boys’ grandmother and guardian… were both surprised and upset upon hearing the reports of abuse, as it was their first time hearing of it.”

The plaintiffs, in this case, are identified only as “Mother Doe” and “John Doe”.

In statement, the family’s attorney Robby Jessup told ABC11, “We look forward to helping our clients understand what happened. Our lawsuit and the sworn affidavit speak for themselves. We have no further comment at this time.”

There may be three victims in this case. Jessup says he represents at least two of them.

A spokesperson for Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools declined to comment on open litigation.

But the district did confirm all three staffers named in the suit are no longer with the district. Two have retired and one accepted a new position at the state Department of Instruction.

RDU AdminABC Report on Public School Sex Abuse Case
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IndyWeek Report On Camp Child Abuse Cases

IndyWeek recently published the following cover story on a series of child neglect cases where our firm represents the Plaintiffs.  You can read the entire report here.

Every July for nearly forty years, Duke University offered children and teenagers with chronic illnesses—cancer, asthma, lupus, heart disease—a chance to do a normal-kid thing that, for them, had seemed out of reach.

They could go to summer camp.

Most sleep-away camps couldn’t accommodate them. Counselors didn’t have the right training. Facilities didn’t have the right equipment. So they were forced to miss out on formative experiences that their peers took for granted.

In 1979, three Duke employees—a physician, social worker, and play therapist—set out to change that. The university rented a Girl Scouts campground overlooking Kerr Lake in Henderson, about an hour’s drive northeast of Durham. Kids between the ages of seven and sixteen who were being treated at Duke University Children’s Hospital could spend a week there free of charge, their stays funded by donations. Camp Kaleidoscope lasted three weeks, each week dedicated to a different age group. Duke residents, students, social workers, child life specialists, and other employees served as counselors and staff.

More than a thousand children attended Camp K, as it was known, over the next thirty-eight years, many of them repeat campers. For some, it was their first time away from home. They played sports and learned to swim, did arts and crafts and were entertained by magicians. By all accounts, Camp K was beloved.

And then, suddenly, it closed.

On July 20, 2017, Duke Medicine Department of Pediatrics chairwoman Ann M. Reed and camp director Judy Panella disclosed the decision in an email to “Camp Kaleidoscope Families.”

“This very difficult decision,” they wrote, “was made following an encounter among several campers last week that required us to take a close look at our operations to ensure that we have appropriate policies and procedures in place that our families expect when they entrust their children to our care. … We look forward to returning next year and hope you will join us to again experience the transformative joy of Camp Kaleidoscope.”

But Camp K didn’t return in 2018. And, according to internet and database searches, Duke never publicly announced the camp’s closure, much less explained the “encounter” that prompted it to shutter or how its “policies and procedures” might have failed the children in its care.

Three lawsuits filed in Durham County against Duke University and several of its entities, as well as Reed and Panella—two in 2017 that have previously gone unreported and a third on Friday—aim to shine an unsettling light on that mystery.

According to the lawsuits, in the summer of 2017, five boys between the ages of seven and ten who were attending Camp Kaleidoscope were left alone in a cabin for at least an hour on multiple nights. One of them, the eight-year-old son of a Duke respiratory therapist, allegedly “repeatedly sexually assaulted” some of the others and led his bunkmates to perform sex acts on each other.

Duke, the lawsuits charge, “colluded and conspired to conceal what took place at Camp Kaleidoscope” and engaged in a “conspiracy to hide child sexual abuse that took place as a result of their negligence.”

In a statement on behalf of the university, Reed, and Panella, Duke Health spokesman Douglas Stokke declined to comment, citing Duke’s commitment “to protecting the privacy of minors and their families.”

But in their responses to the first two lawsuits, Duke’s lawyers rejected allegations that the university tried to hide anything. They also denied the sexual assault claims and maintained that the defendants “exercised reasonable care and diligence in their respective roles at the camp.”

The evidence is clear, however, that something disturbing happened at Camp K that summer.

Records included in court filings show that, on July 13, 2017, the five boys were “left unsupervised for an unknown amount of time in a cabin.” Four of them were then transported from the camp to Duke University Children’s Hospital’s emergency department for an evaluation. There, one of them told a psychiatry fellow they had been “sucking on each other [sic] penises.”

Then, a week later, Duke pulled the plug on the camp.

Something happened.

What that something was—whether it was sexual assault or something else, whether Duke tried to sweep a scandal caused by its own negligence under the rug or simply wanted to shield vulnerable children from psychological harm—will likely be the subject of a complex, confounding court battle that is only just beginning.


The lawyer representing the families of the three boys suing Duke, Robert Jessup, declined to comment or make his clients available for interviews. Their version of events is laid out in the three lawsuits, the most recent of which is the most detailed.

The boy at the center of that case is identified as John Doe, then a nine-year-old with brain cancer. His two bunkmates whose families sued Duke in 2017 are identified in their respective lawsuits as M.M., then seven, who has sickle cell anemia; and A.E., then eight, who has visual impairments and unspecified physical disabilities. Court documents indicate that another child who is not part of a lawsuit, referred to here as Boy 4, also engaged in sexual activity.

According to John Doe’s lawsuit, one of these children was HIV positive, and another had oral herpes, though the lawsuit doesn’t specify who had what.

The lawsuits identify the fifth bunkmate, who was then about a week shy of his ninth birthday, as “The Instigator,” and accuse him of sexually abusing the other boys. According to the Doe lawsuit, he did not have a medical condition. Instead, he was attending the camp because his father, the respiratory therapist, was a camp counselor that week.

Court records suggest the boy may have had a tumultuous home life.

The Doe lawsuit references a court case in Wake County involving the boy’s parents. In a court filing—attached to the Doe lawsuit—his mother describes his father as “aggressive,” says he has “serious mental instability that has required hospitalization on at least three occasions,” and claims that he’s “threatened suicide on multiple occasions.”

In 2013, according to court documents, the parents separated, and the father sought custody of their three boys, of whom “The Instigator” is the youngest. The parents reconciled, but the mother then sought a domestic violence protection order against the father, only to drop it a few days later. In December 2015, the father sued the mother’s alleged lover in Wake County under North Carolina’s alienation of affection statute. Finally, in February 2017—five months before the incident at Camp K—they divorced. (The INDY is not identifying the parents to protect the identity of the child.)

According to the Doe lawsuit, these five boys were supervised by two camp counselors—a Duke psychiatric resident and a child life specialist. Each night, the lawsuit says, the counselors left the boys “alone and unattended for an hour or more. These counselors were leaving these young children alone in the cabin, without any adult supervision, while they attended meetings in the staff house at the direction” of the camp’s leaders. (The counselors are not defendants in any of the cases.)

While state law makes it a misdemeanor to leave a child under eight “locked or otherwise confined” in a building without an adult “so as to expose the child to danger by fire,” there isn’t a statute specifying “a presumptive age at which a child may be left unattended,” according to the UNC School of Government.

On July 13, 2017, the last night of the camp week, the lawsuit says one counselor returned from that staff meeting and found “John Doe’s bunkmates performing oral sex upon one another.”

The most complete account of this event comes from an email, included in court files, that Boy 4’s mother sent to Panella and another Duke employee on July 16, 2017. The mother tacitly acknowledges that young children aren’t always reliable narrators, but says, “I’m a good read of [her son], and I’m really confident he’s telling me the truth.”

According to the mother’s email, the counselor reported that she walked in and saw all five boys with their pants down. However, Boy 4 told his mother she was mistaken. The boys had scattered when she entered their cabin, and John Doe—who the lawsuit says was present but not participating—was wearing shorts that were two sizes too big, so they might have fallen down. At the time, Boy 4 told his mother, John Doe was present and holding the flashlight while the other boys “engaged in activities involving mouth-penis, penis-anus, hand-penis contact.”

This had also happened the previous night, she wrote. Her son told her that he’d “hung out with them both night [sic] because they had been up playing games previously and ‘what they were doing [with their pants down] was boring, and I was just wanting them to stop so we could start playing games again like before.’”

According to the Doe lawsuit and the mother’s email, the idea for all of this originated with “The Instigator.”

But Panella offered a different explanation to Lindsay Terrell, a pediatrician working at Duke’s children’s hospital the night of July 13, 2017. Four of the boys—all except John Doe—were taken there after the counselor discovered them.

According to a note—included in court records—that a Duke child abuse specialist later sent to Reed, Panella told Terrell that the words “suck my dick” had been written on the cabin’s wall “where children could read it and allegedly ‘got the idea.’”

Panella called M.M.’s parents that night and A.E.’s guardians the next morning to tell them their children had been sexually assaulted and potentially exposed to HIV, according to their lawsuits. In its responses, Duke admitted that she called but denied that she said they’d been assaulted or told them about the potential HIV exposure.

M.M., his family’s lawsuit says, began “undergoing a rigid prophylactic treatment for HIV/AIDS.”

But no one informed John Doe’s parents or guardians what had happened, his family’s lawsuit says, or that his bunkmates “had sexually communicable diseases and that there may be a potential risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS and herpes.”

Instead, it argues, Duke “conspired to conceal” what took place and “hoped that John Doe would not tell his parents what he had witnessed. To date, [Duke has] refused to offer any compensation whatsoever or in any way offer to make right what happened to John Doe at Camp Kaleidoscope.”


The claim of a cover-up appears to rest primarily on one sentence from the email Panella and Reed sent to “Camp Kaleidoscope Families” on July 20, 2017, and how you interpret it: “To respect our legal and ethical requirements to safeguard patient privacy, we ask that you refrain from posting any information about the Camp on social media or in communications to parents and other individuals or groups.”

In the Doe lawsuit, this line is presented as an indication that Duke had something to hide. Reed is said to have “cryptically requested that the parents of campers, camp counselors, and staff of Camp Kaleidoscope not post about or otherwise communicate about the above described events … in an effort to conceal the occurrence of the same. This email was in furtherance of [Duke’s] conspiracy to hide child sexual abuse.”

Duke dismisses that argument. In its responses to the first two lawsuits, the university says the email was intended for the camp’s staff, not campers’ parents, despite it being addressed to “Camp Kaleidoscope Families.” (The email also says that news of the camp’s closure “will be communicated to families shortly,” which seems to support that claim.)

And that supposedly damning line, Duke’s lawyers argue, doesn’t show an intent to conceal anything.

Indeed, it would make sense that Duke wouldn’t want staffers or even campers’ family members gossiping about what happened—not merely to protect the university’s reputation, but to protect the children involved, who the lawsuits allege had already suffered psychological distress.

As Duke’s lawyers put it: “The email speaks for itself.”

Exactly what transpired inside that cabin may never be known, at least with any certainty. The only witnesses, after all, are the children themselves.

But what is known, based on court documents, is unnerving: “Medically complex children” as young as seven were “left unsupervised for an unknown amount of time,” as Panella admitted when the kids were taken to the hospital. During that time, some of them had sexual contact with each other—what the lawsuits describe as sexual assault.

Something went wrong at a place that had done so much good for so long.

As Panella and Reed wrote in that email: “We are proud that Camp Kaleidoscope has been serving children with chronic medical conditions since 1979. In that time, we have safely and successfully cared for hundreds of children. The reevaluation of our policies and procedures will lead to an even better experience for all who attend Camp K in the future.”

But only if there is a Camp K in the future. And that’s not clear either.

After multiple inquiries about the camp’s status, Stokke, the Duke Health spokesman, responded Tuesday morning, “We don’t have anything further to provide.”

Robby JessupIndyWeek Report On Camp Child Abuse Cases
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Successful Jury Verdict in High-Profile Shooting Case

WRAL recently covered one of our Jury Trials in a mini-series, Presumption of Fear.  Below is their story from the day after the verdict.  You can also watch video of closing arguments here.

A Harnett County jury Wednesday found that an Angier pastor is responsible for the wrongful death of his son-in-law, who he shot and killed in 2013.

The Rev. Pat Chisenhall has said 23-year-old Christian Griggs was threatening him and breaking into his home when Chisenhall shot him six times with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Griggs was struck once in the stomach, once in the shoulder and four times in the back. The pastor was never criminally charged in the shooting, and said he was fearful for his and his daughter’s lives.

The Griggs’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Chisenhall in 2015, disputing his version of events. They say their son was at the Chisenhall homestead to pick up his then 4-year-old daughter for scheduled visitation.

The case was the subject of an investigative series published and aired by WRAL News in November.

It took the 12-member jury about an hour and a half to return a unanimous verdict that Chisenhall is civilly liable for the wrongful death of Christian Griggs and was not protected by arguments of self defense, defense of his daughter’s life or defense of his home. They awarded $250,000 in damage to Griggs’ estate, money that will go to his 10-year-daughter Jaden.

Dolly Griggs, the plaintiff in the suit and the mother of Christian Griggs, said after the verdict that the citizens of Harnett County “saw the truth in the courtroom today.” She also called on elected officials to act.

“The truth is out there, and now I challenge DA Stewart, Sheriff Coats, Governor Cooper, Josh Stein to look into this case, because Harnett County needs help,” Dolly Griggs said. “Please help us here.”

Speaking for Chisenhall, who left the courtroom shortly after the verdict, attorney Robert Levin said his client was disappointed in the decision, but did not plan to appeal.

Neither Harnett County Sheriff Wayne Coats, whose office investigated the case, nor District Attorney Vernon Stewart, who ultimately decided not to press criminal charges, were available for comment Wednesday afternoon following the verdict.

At the center of the civil case was North Carolina’s Castle Doctrine, which protects those who injure or kill in defense of their lives or their property while in their homes, workplaces or vehicles.

Testimony recounted Griggs’ final moments

The jury heard five full days of testimony in the case, which saw evidence from the medical examiner who performed Griggs’ autopsy, detectives who investigated the case, Griggs’ father and Chisenhall himself, who said on the stand he had trouble remembering many of the details of the shooting.

The pastor of the Abundant Life Worship Center in Angier said on the stand that Griggs had arrived at his home in Angier on the morning of Oct. 12, 2013 hostile and demanding to see his estranged wife, Katie, and their then 4-year-old daughter Jaden.

Chisenhall said Griggs became enraged when he was informed his wife had taken out a restraining order against him for an incident the night before. There was no such restraining order, but Katie Griggs had taken out misdemeanor warrants against her husband the night before for breaking and entering, property damage and domestic criminal trespass.

Chisenhall and his daughter both called 911, the jury heard, and retreated into Chisenhall’s home on NC Highway 210 in Angier. He said he struggled to get the door closed with his son-in-law on the other side, and moments later heard the glass in the front window shatter. But following a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Chisenhall said he couldn’t remember anything after that glass broke.

That left him unable to remember interviews he gave to Harnett County sheriff’s deputies in the days after the shooting, when he said he shot Griggs from behind a sofa 10 to 12 feet away from a partially busted in window as his son-in-law was attempting to crawl in. Chisenhall told investigators at the time that Griggs at threatened to kill him and his daughter, and that they were both terrified of what would happen if he got into the house.

On the stand, Associate Chief Medical Examiner Lauren Scott said her autopsy on Griggs in 2013 showed that he had been shot six times. Four of those shots were in the back, with upward trajectories that suggested Griggs was either bent parallel to the ground or lying down when he was hit by the Winchester rifle.

Scott also testified that two of the four shots in the back would have been fatal wounds for Griggs, regardless of any medical intervention.

Chisenhall described his son-in-law as a great, but troubled man who he loved and was close with throughout a tumultuous, on- and off-again relationship with his daughter. He presided over their marriage when they were just out of high school at 18 years old, new parents of a two-month old daughter. Griggs wrote the pastor letters while he was deployed as an enlisted soldier, and considered him at one point to be his spiritual adviser.

Chisenhall even baptized Griggs in his backyard swimming pool three weeks before the shooting.

But he said Griggs had a darker side that emerged on Oct. 12, 2013, when he said he saw his son-in-law launched into a “monstrous rage” that terrified him and his daughter. His lawyer argued he had no choice but to take Griggs’ life in self-defense.

Attorneys for Griggs’ family countered that the shots in Griggs’ back demonstrated that he was no longer a threat, and that arguments of self-defense and defense of habitation did not apply.

 

Robby JessupSuccessful Jury Verdict in High-Profile Shooting Case
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One Million Dollar Recovery Reported in Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)

Trial Briefs Magazine reported as follows on one of our recent cases:

In February of 2019, Robby Jessup [of RDU Injury Law] in Raleigh settled a Wake County wrongful death case for the policy limit of $1 million. Plaintiff’s Decedent was a 75-year-old man who was hit in a marked crosswalk at Rex Hospital. Despite heroic efforts to save him, he ultimately died from his injuries.

Liability was disputed, but the main issue in the case was how to determine life expectancy and economic loss. These obstacles were overcome by a complete medical history summary and an economist’s opinion of the value of the home health care services the Decedent had been providing to his wheelchair-using wife. Gary Albrecht, PhD was utilized as Plaintiff’s expert.

Robby JessupOne Million Dollar Recovery Reported in Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)
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Hurricane Insurance Claims 101

Expanding in size, Hurricane Florence is continuing on a beeline toward Eastern North Carolina as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm.

Catastrophic flooding and destructive winds are becoming very likely everywhere from the Triangle to the Coast.

Meteorologists are reporting that this storm may be comparable to Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s.

Nearly one in four homeowners and business owners in Eastern North Carolina can expect some level of property damage from Hurricane Florence.

In light of these odds, we have prepared the below tips for preparing for and making inevitable hurricane related insurance claims:

  1. Photograph the condition of your property before the storm.

Oftentimes, insurance companies will raise questions as to whether damage was storm related or pre-existing. If you have damage from a hurricane, you will want to be able to show your insurance company proof of your property’s condition immediately before the storm. This includes both real and personal property. Take your I-Phone and photograph the condition of the interior and exterior of your home or business. This includes furniture, fences, sheds, garages, attics, basements, trees and landscaping.

  1. Have copies of your insurance policies and/or declaration pages.

It is important to know what insurance coverages you have before a storm hits. Of equal importance, you need to review these documents to know how to quickly make an insurance claim if and when you sustain damage.  This should include but not be limited to any and all policies of car insurance, homeowners insurance, flood insurance, and business insurance that you have.

  1. If you have storm damage, make an insurance claim as soon as possible.

In catastrophes, insurance companies generally handle claims on a first come, first serve basis. If you call your insurance company immediately after the storm, you may experience long wait times, but be patient. It will pay-off in the speed at which your claim is adjusted. Likewise, don’t let someone put you or claim on the backburner. Be persistent in your communications. (As an aside, many companies now have apps or websites where you can make your insurance claims online, which may save you time on the phone.)

  1. Write down your claim number and keep it handy.

When you make an insurance claim, it is easy to overlook writing down your claim number. However, writing this number down and keeping it handy can save you a lot of time down the road. If you keep this number, insurance company representatives will be able to immediately find your claim each and every time you call.

  1. Keep Notes.

Take notes documenting every contact with your insurer, noting the person with whom you spoke, his or her contact information, the date that you spoke, and what you spoke about. After catastrophes, insurance companies are overwhelmed, and you should take the initiative in making sure your calls and correspondence make it to the right person and also that adjusters do what they promise. Additionally, if things go haywire with your insurance claim, it is important for your lawyer to get these notes down the road.

  1. Keep Receipts.

If you sustain storm damage, you have a duty to mitigate further damage to your home or business. This means you must make any and all reasonable temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your property. However, keep receipts for any expenses related to immediate repairs you had to make, as your insurer will generally be required to reimburse you for these expenses.

Likewise, keep receipts for any living expenses you incur (i.e. lodging & meals) if you could not return to your home in the wake of the storm. With wind claims, you should generally get reimbursed for such additional living expenses. If your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses might not be covered.

If you are a business owner, quickly develop a short-term plan for your business (i.e., open in temporary location, shut down etc.), and keep receipts/records for all purchases and services from the date of your loss until your claim is satisfactorily resolved.

  1. Photograph the condition of your property after the storm.

If you have storm damage, it is important that you photograph it, and that you photograph it before any temporary or permanent repairs are made to your home or business. Do not rely on the insurance company to document the damage to your property. Take the initiative and do it yourself. This instruction is not limited to real property and structures. If you have personal property that was damages in the storm, photograph that damage too.

  1. Know who you are dealing with.

When the insurance company sends out an adjuster, ask if he/she is an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster (I.A.). In catastrophes, insurance companies will oftentimes contract claims out to third-party companies. If you encounter an I.A., ask if they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company and ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster to whom the I.A. will be sending your information. If you have problems or issues with the I.A., having the contact information for the in-house company adjuster can be of great assistance.

  1. Flood versus Wind Damage

If you think you only have flood damage to your home or business, and you don’t have flood insurance, call your insurers anyway. Some homeowners and business policies that exclude damage related to flooding may cover damage from water and wind.

  1. Your vehicles should be covered.

Damage to your vehicles from downed trees and flooding should be covered by the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance. If your vehicle is damaged, promptly make a claim with your car insurance company and photograph its condition.

*Ask for help if you need it!

Most insurance claims are resolved on friendly and fair terms, but sometimes they are not. If you run into an adjuster who is making your life more difficult than it should be, arguing about what is or is not covered, or arguing with you or a contractor about the extent of damage to your home or business, call a lawyer immediately.

For a free consultation, you can reach me at [email protected] or (919) 821-7700.

Stay safe in the storm,

Robby Jessup

Robby JessupHurricane Insurance Claims 101
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Two Million Dollar Recovery Reported In Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)

NCAJ’s Trial Briefs Magazine recently featured the following story on one of our cases:

In April of 2018, Robby Jessup and Joan Davis [of RDU Injury Law] obtained a Two Million Dollar settlement for the wrongful death of a motorcyclist.

Phil Sabino, a 45-year-old father, was killed in August of 2015 when a Honda Accord crossed under the median cable on I-540 and entered his lane of travel.  The driver of the Honda Accord was an inexperienced driver, who became confused and panicked in the merging traffic lanes of the I-540/I-40 interchange.

The insurance company for the Honda Accord tendered its liability policy limits of $100,000 within weeks of the crash.  Sabino had UIM coverage on his motorcycle of $250,000, and the attorneys discovered another automobile policy with $250,000 of UIM that was stacked for a $500,000 recovery.  A limited release and waiver of subrogation for the liability and UIM policy limits was negotiated.

Thereafter, upon completing an accident reconstruction, witness interviews, and evaluation of thousands of records from the NCDOT, numerous problems with the cable median barrier were discovered.

A tort claim was filed in the Industrial Commission against the NCDOT, and after a year of litigation, a separate lawsuit was filed against the NCDOT contractor charged with maintenance and repair of the cable medians.

After 23 depositions, including eyewitnesses, state officials, maintenance crews and company representatives, as well as local accident reconstruction engineers and national cable median experts on both sides, the cases against the NCDOT and contractor were settled post-mediation, two weeks before trial, for an additional $1.5 Million.  An aggregate settlement of Two Million Dollars was recovered for the Sabino family.

Robby JessupTwo Million Dollar Recovery Reported In Trial Briefs Magazine (Wrongful Death Case)
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