Attorney Myers, I had a kid's playhouse strapped down inside the bed of my pickup truck. The strap broke in a wind gust while I was going about 20 mph on a major street and the house went into the street. I immediately turned around, getting back in less than two minutes. By the time I got back, due to a traffic light, two cars had collided with each other — one slammed his brakes because he apparently didn't see the playhouse. The house is 6 feet tall, so it would be like not seeing a car in front of you. The police required that I give my insurance information. But, am I really at fault?

Yes, motor vehicle operators have a duty to secure any items they are carrying. The fact that the playhouse went onto the street demonstrates failure to fully secure the cargo. It is foreseeable that a strap could break. That's why tie-downs are often sold in multiple packs. In addition, if the wind blew the item to the extent that it became a projectile at only 20 mph, this is further evidence of negligence.

I know that this is not the answer that you wanted. But, you asked.

I entered a guilty plea to a DWI charge and I know I was wrong. But, as part of the plea, because this was a second offense, I was required to go to AA. The problem is that they are always praying to God and requiring that I pray, but I do not believe in God. Isn't this a violation of the separation of church and state that I have to do this to get my license back? What can I do?

This question has actually been litigated. The issue does not violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because in AA you are free to recognize any higher power you choose. The government is acknowledging that freedom. Further, there is no violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment due to the fact that under the court referral to AA, a nonsecular group, the government is not establishing a religion. Therefore, there is no "freedom of religion" issue or "separation of church and state" problem.

At the time of sentencing there may possibly have been another, more expensive, alternative to take the place of AA. At this point, post-sentencing, to go back and petition the court to change the terms of the sentencing may not be totally impossible. But, you are facing, at the very least, a very long delay and a fair amount of legal expense. Plus, if you have to appeal now, you are looking at months, if not years.

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Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover. He is a member of the American Association for Justice and the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. Send questions to andrew@attorney-myers.com.

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