2012-07-20 / Columnists

Sullivan’s Court

I would like to begin this month’s column with a legal update that offers some very good news for consumers.

A few months ago, a writer asked about seeking compensation for his wife who was badly injured when struck by a car that had little to no insurance. I explained that under every car insurance policy there is a little know clause, UM/SUM coverage, that protects the person who buys the policy and anyone who lives in their home, even if the insured car was not involved in the accident. The reason it is a relatively unknown clause by the consumer is because it is a portion of the policy where by law insurers can charge only nominal amounts for providing very substantial coverage to you and your loved ones. Typically, when you buy car insurance you are protecting the people you may hit with your car. For that protection, carriers make a lot of money off of you. What they do not tell you is that the UM/SUM clause, an acronym for Uninsured Motorist/Supplemental Underinsured Motorist coverage, protects you when the negligent car has a small policy or no policy at all. This clause kicks in to protect you and anyone who lives in your house (including kids away at college) even when your insured car is not involved in the accident.

Well, now I am pleased to announce that through the help of the NYS Trial Lawyer’s —a legal advocacy group of which Sullivan & Galleshaw are proud members— the UM/SUM clause will no longer remain an obscure, unknown clause on your policy. It is expected that the Governor will sign into law a bill that mandates that insurance companies have a detailed discussion with a driver seeking coverage and fully inform them of the benefits of the clause and allow them to raise the minimal coverage from $25,000 to match the amount of coverage they purchase for other people who may be struck by their car. Right now, many consumers have policies that offer strangers upwards of $300,000 in coverage, but only have a UM/SUM coverage for them and their family of the legal minimum of $25,000. On average, for a mere $50 per year that $25,000 in coverage can be raised to $300,000.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the operation of this clause in your own policy, feel free to contact me or my law partner, James Galleshaw at our office and we will be happy to discuss it further with you. Now on to this month’s legal issue! Q. I was walking home late one night when the Police stopped me for no reason and frisked me. I live in the “downtown” part of Rockaway where there has been a spike in crime recently. The only thing the officer said when he stopped me was that I “fit the description of a robbery suspect.” Can he lawfully stop me like this? I felt violated.

What happened to you is known as a stop and frisk. A frisk or pat down is technique where a police officer feels the outer layer of your clothing in an attempt to locate a weapon or contraband.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…”

New York State and Federal Courts have consistently held that the right to stop and detain a person arises from a reasonable suspicion that a particular person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.

When the US Supreme Court deemed stop and frisk a legal practice, they set up a standard of “reasonable suspicion” under which cops “must be able to point to specific and articulable facts.” Officers cannot rely on “inchoate and unparticularized suspicions or a ‘hunch’. Wearing “inappropriate attire off-season, the showing of a visible pocket bulge having the appearance of a gun or “furtive movements” has been held to justify the stops.

Once lawfully stopped, the question turns to whether the police officer can lawfully frisk someone. The right to frisk requires that an officer reasonably suspect that he is in danger of physical injury by virtue of the detainee being armed. To meet this stan- dard in New York, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest level State Court in New York, has consistently held that in order to justify a frisk of a person following a lawful stop, the officer must reasonably suspect that he is in danger of physical harm.

In your case, as the officer informed you that you “fit the description of a robbery suspect,” assuming he was actually looking for a suspect and that you did fit the description, your stop and brief detention would be lawful as the Police Officer has a report of a nearby robbery which had recently occurred and that you fit the description of the perpetrator.

While I don’t know enough about how the alleged robbery look place, whether anyone was injured or whether any weapons were alleged to have been used in the commission of the crime, given that the police officer reasonably believed you fit the description of the alleged perpetrator, it would be reasonable for him to frisk you for safety reasons. As such, it appears the officer was justified in stopping and frisking you.

Notably, the NYPD Stop and Frisk Policy has recently come under attack by various civil right organizations complaining of racial profiling, illegal stops and individual privacy rights violations. According to the NYPD’s own records and reports related to its Stop and Frisk Policy, since 2002 over four million New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked. Of that four million, nine out of 10 were totally innocent. In 2011 alone, the NYPD stopped and frisked 685,724 people, 650,328 (88%) of them were totally innocent; 350,743 (53%) were black; 223,743 (34%) were Latino; and 61,805 (9%) were white. In the first three months of 2012, the NYPD have stopped and frisked 203,500 people. Overall, since Mayor Bloomberg took office, the stop and frisks have increased 600% more than during the Giuliani administration.

NEXT MONTH… I will address drinking on the beach and the Zadroga Act. Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP is a member of a group called Trial Lawyer’s Care, who in the immediate aftermath of September 11th assisted families pro-bono navigating through the process of seeking compensation under the 9/11 fund. We continue to refuse to handle 9/11 cases on a compensated basis, but I will be happy to provide a detailed explanation of the Act and the manner in which claimant’s can –and should- represent themselves. You do NOT need to pay a lawyer to assist you with your claim.

Keith Sullivan is a partner with Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP and an adjunct law professor at Pace University School of Law and Brooklyn Law School and a lecturer for the NYS bar exam. He can be seen frequently providing legal analysis on various national and local networks such as FOX News, CNN, HLN, NBC and MSNBC.

You can e-mail your questions for Keith to SullivansCourt@gmail.com.

Sullivan’s Court provides general legal information only, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship

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