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New York Personal Injury Law Blog

Monday, December 7, 2015

What are punitive damages?

Punitive damages are a special class of damages paid by a defendant in a lawsuit.  They are not designed to compensate the injured party for any damages suffered, but instead to punish the defendant for some egregious action and to discourage others from enaging in that specific behavior.  Punitive damages are reserved for special cases where a defendant’s behavior is extraordinarily bad. 

In order for a case to be considered for punitive damages, the defendant had to have acted willfully. For example, if a company decided to take a product to market, knowing that it had a dangerous defect, it could be held accountable for punitive damages.. It does not make sense to allow punitive damages in a case where only negligent behavior is alleged because, presumably, a negligent action was an accident and there is little need for deterrence.

When a court decides on a punitive damage award, it will consider how bad the conduct in question really was, as well as the wealth of the defendant.  After all, being forced to pay $10,000.00 is a much greater punishment for a person earning $50,000 a year than someone earning $50,000,000 a year.  Even though their purpose is not to compensate a plaintiff for injuries, usually punitive damages are paid to the plaintiff, leaving him or her in a much better position than he or she was in before a lawsuit was filed. 

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that permits punitive damages.  They are also common in China, Australia, and New Zealand.  In parts of the United Kingdom, they are available in very limited circumstances.  In Japan and most of Europe, it is nearly impossible to get a punitive damage award.


Monday, November 30, 2015

How do I know if I have a slip and fall case?

A person who slips or trips on another person’s property may be entitled to damages for resultant injuries. In order for a slip and fall to be compensable, there must have been an unsafe condition on the property. Unsafe conditions include icy accumulation, wet or slippery floors, badly damaged sidewalks and debris underfoot, among many others.

In addition to the existence of unsafe conditions, in order for the injury to be compensable, the owner must have known that the dangerous condition existed and allowed it to persist.This is the most difficult element for a victim in a slip and fall case to prove. Sometimes, the owner of the property causes the dangerous condition, such as when the floors of a department store are freshly mopped and slippery. At other times, the danger is not caused by the owner, but is obviously apparent, as is the case after a snowstorm. The owner of the property is entitled to a grace period to correct dangerous conditions.  But, while the problem is being fixed, the owner should put up a notice to warn individuals of the possible danger. Yellow boards are commonly used to warn of wet floors, and orange cones are often used to warn of ongoing construction.

If the dangerous condition is obvious enough to a casual observer, it may not be compensable since an individual has a duty to use a reasonable degree of care for his or her own safety. Even if the owner is at fault, if the injury is no more severe than a bruise or a slight sprain, a lawsuit is probably not the best course of action.  Lawsuits are usually reserved for more serious injuries like broken bones or spinal damage.  Only an experienced attorney can advise the individual involved in a slip and fall incident as to whether the case is strong enough to warrant a claim. 


Monday, November 16, 2015

What Do Insurance Policy Limits Mean for My Case?

An individual who causes a injuries to another person can be held economically responsible for those injuries by a court of law. Anticipating this, the law requires that those participating in potentially dangerous activities, such as driving, carry liability insurance to cover costs in case such an injury occurs. These insurance policies are meant to cover the damages suffered by a potential victim in a personal injury case. There are limits to what these policies cover, though they vary based on how much an insured person is willing to pay as a monthly premium. 

If a person is insured for up to $100,000, that individual’s insurance company will pay out up to $100,000.00 for substantiated damages suffered by the victim. If that victim’s injuries are more substantial, that is, if a jury awards more than $100,000, the balance of the money must be paid by the individual who is at fault instead of by the insurance company. 

An individual without insurance is often referred to as “judgment proof” meaning that, even if a jury awards a verdict against that person, the judgment that results cannot be enforced against him or her. As the saying goes, “you cannot get blood from a stone.” If a plaintiff in a personal injury case attempts to enforce a judgment against a defendant who lacks insurance coverage, the defendant may avoid paying by crying poverty and filing for bankruptcy. Such action may discharge the debts depending on the nature of the injuries and the accident. Similarly, any portion of a judgment owed by an insured individual without personal funds will be nearly impossible to collect. 

As a result, regardless of how much an individual has suffered as a result of the negligence of another, the amount he or she is able to collect is limited to the size of the defendant’s insurance policy. It is impractical to push a case to settle above the policy when it is nearly impossible to collect additional money. This pushes cases in which an individual has suffered catastrophic injuries to settle for substantially less than they might be able to receive if they were to go to trial. Although this seems unfair,  a lawsuit is the only practical way to resolve these disputes when a defendant’s insurance policy limits are too small to cover the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.


Monday, November 2, 2015

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when a person suffers a sudden impact that causes the head to snap forwards, backwards, or sideways. The violent force of this jerking motion causes the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stretch or tear. Such injuries are sometimes classified as sprains or strains of the neck. Whiplash is most commonly the result of a car accident, but can also be the result of participation in contact sports like football, or from being the victim of an act of violence. Any time the neck is hyperextended or hyperflexed, a person is at risk for whiplash.

Symptoms of whiplash include muscle soreness, stiffness, and tenderness. Victims also typically suffer reduced range of motion. Other common maladies associated with whiplash include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, jaw pain, numbness and weakness in the extremities. Some people with whiplash experience ringing in their ears, blurred vision, and memory problems, though these symptoms are less common. Many people ignore whiplash symptoms which may prolong or worsen their consequences. Those who blame the soreness and stiffness of whiplash  on sleeping in an uncomfortable position and dismiss the pain as temporary often fail to seek treatment in a timely fashion. This can lead to more serious problems, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. It is important to seek medical attention and to treat whiplash symptoms as soon as possible after an accident in order to avoid complications. 

Doctors' opinions vary on the best way to treat whiplash symptoms. Different doctors may recommend icing the affected area, using painkillers or drugs to numb the pain, using a neck brace or collar to immobilize the neck, physical therapy and exercises to stretch the sore muscles, acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic manipulation. Many physicians may recommend a combination of strategies. Only a licensed medical professional is qualified to give advice on how to treat whiplash. 

An skilled attorney can handle the legal aspects of the accident to help ensure that the injured party can concentrate on the important work of physical recovery. The lawyer will obtain police reports, witness statements and other evidence to prepare a lawsuit against the individual responsible for the whiplash injury.  The lawyer will also document medical expenses, seek approval for required tests, and file a claim or a lawsuit on behalf of an injured party. The lawyer’s experience in dealing with insurance companies ensures that victims of whiplash-related injuries are reimbursed for their pain and suffering as well as for their medical expenses. 


Monday, October 26, 2015

Underinsured and At-Fault

Almost all states require some form of auto coverage insurance. This may include Bodily Injury Coverage, Personal Injury Protection, Property Damage Liability, Collision Coverage, and even Uninsured Motor Coverage. Depending on the state, the coverage level will vary greatly. For instance, you may only be required by to carry $25,000 in bodily injury coverage. While a relative residing across the country may be required to carry $50,000 in bodily injury coverage.  And while mandated requirements are often used as guides by drivers when selecting their policies, these coverage levels are not always enough to cover the cost of an accident. So what happens if you are underinsured and at fault in an accident?

The course of action will vary greatly depending on whether you are in a state with no-fault laws or traditional tort insurance laws. In states with no-fault laws, your insurance company will pay your damages while the other party’s insurance company will be responsible for theirs so if you choose to carry low levels of coverage the amount you receive after an accident will be capped by the coverage you selected. In states where traditional tort insurance laws exist, fault is established and the party at fault is responsible for the damages. If the driver at fault is underinsured in a traditional tort state, both parties may be in trouble.

Following the accident, your insurance company will seek to settle all claims as soon as possible. Even if you carry the lowest possible coverage, your insurer is responsible for your legal representation. If the opposing party has injuries exceeding your coverage level, and has Underinsured or Uninsured Motor Coverage, he or she may be able to collect the difference from this policy. However, if they don’t have this extra protection net from their own insurer or the damages exceed the policy limits, the injured party may file a lawsuit against you where your personal assets are at risk. 

In selecting an auto insurance policy, you might consider purchasing coverage above the minimum limits to protect your assets and livelihood. While a limit of $25,000 may seem high, the costs of healthcare continue to soar and just a one week stay at a hospital following an accident can easily exceed that amount.

 


Monday, October 19, 2015

Should I Sue for My Injuries?

Whether you’ve been injured as result of a car accident, fall at the local market or a bite by a neighbor’s pit bull, you may be asking yourself, “Should I Sue?” Most people think they should, and that a sizable settlement payment will be forthcoming.


In our legal system, a negligent party is expected to pay for damages you incurred because of the accident or injury, such as medical costs, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering. In certain cases, punitive damages may be awarded if a person’s conduct was malicious or intentional. Nevertheless, just because you have been injured does not necessarily mean that you should file a lawsuit, a decision which rests on multiple factors.

Such factors include the seriousness of your injury, the level of fault that rests with the negligent party, and your own liability for involvement in the accident or causing your own injury. One of the biggest considerations, however, is whether the wrongdoer has the financial means to pay any judgment that you may be awarded. If the defendant is insolvent, your judgment may prove to be worthless – but your attorney and other professionals involved in your case will expect to be paid.

Accordingly, insurance coverage is a significant consideration. Although the defendant may have few assets from which to collect a future judgment, there may be sufficient insurance coverage available to pay any eventual judgment. Note, however, that most insurance policies typically do not cover intentional torts.

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you review the various risks and benefits of pursuing a lawsuit, in light of your specific circumstances. Before deciding whether to undertake the time and expense of litigation, you must carefully weigh your involvement in any comparative or contributory negligence, what evidence will be necessary to prove your case and the amount of damages you should be awarded, and the availability of assets or insurance to secure payment of a future judgment.
 


Monday, October 5, 2015

How are Damages Calculated in Personal Injury Cases?

If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligent conduct, you may be considering a lawsuit to recover compensation. The compensation awarded to you, called “damages,” falls within two categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses sustained, and are further divided into “special damages” and “general damages.”

Special damages are those fixed amounts relating to your actual losses, such as medical expenses, lost income or costs to repair your property. General damages, on the other hand, include non-monetary losses, such as “pain and suffering”, your decreased ability to perform certain functions, or the loss of a loved one. Punitive damages, sometimes called exemplary damages, are designed to punish a defendant or deter similar conduct in the future.

The damages to which you are entitled are typically calculated based on the severity of your injuries, the underlying circumstances of the incident in question, and whether the case settles or proceeds to a trial. The following factors are typically considered:

  • Medical treatment expenses
  • Estimated costs of future medical treatment or therapy
  • Past lost wages or income
  • Future lost wages or income
  • Costs to repair or replace damaged property
  • Your out-of-pocket expenses, such as insurance deductibles or copayments
  • Rental car expenses
  • Funeral expenses, in wrongful death cases
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages, if the underlying act was particularly egregious or intentional

In the American legal system, damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff sufficiently to make him or her “whole,” i.e. restore the plaintiff to the same position he or she was in prior to the accident or injury. If you mediate your dispute or otherwise settle it out of court, the parties and lawyers will negotiate each item and come to an agreement. If your case is tried in a court, the judge or jury will calculate how much you are entitled to receive, based on the evidence presented at trial.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Role of Distracted Driving in Personal Injury Cases

Distracted driving has emerged as a disturbing trend that poses a serious threat not only to preoccupied drivers, but to other motorists on the roadways. Accidents caused by this unsafe practice have seen a major uptick in recent years due to the widespread use of smart phones to text and post to social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, while driving. Although drivers of all ages may be guilty of driving while distracted, studies have found that teenage drivers are especially tempted to use their phone to snap photos or text from the driver's seat.

Personal injury lawsuits on the basis of distracted driving are becoming more prevalent. A wrongful-death suit against taxi-alternative company Uber cites distracted driving as the cause of a collision that killed a 6-year-old girl and injured her mother and brother while they were crossing the street on New Year's Eve in California. Allegedly, the Uber driver was logged into the company's smart phone app, waiting to receive and accept a ride request, when his SUV collided with the girl and her family. Although this case doesn't involve a teenage driver, it demonstrates how (alleged) smart phone use while driving can have horrifying consequences.

More than 3,300 fatalities occur each year as a result of distracted driving, according to the Department of Transportation and Distraction.gov, the official US website dedicated to distracted driving. Drivers are twice as likely to crash if they're texting while driving than if they were paying attention.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, with cell phone use being reported in 18 percent of all distraction-related fatalities in America. These scary statistics have led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create an campaign against distracted driving aimed at young adults.

If you have teenaged children or you just happen to be up on current trends, you'll know that many young people use their cell phones to take "selfies", a nickname for self-portraits. It's come to the attention of law enforcement and safety advocates that teens are taking selfies and posting to social media while behind the wheel, some of them even use the hashtag #Ihopeidontcrash with their photos. Expressing that fear, even though it's disguised with a supposedly amusing hashtag, shows that these young drivers have an inkling as to how dangerous this practice could be.

On average, texting takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. Distraction.gov says that at 55 mph, 4.6 seconds with your eyes on your cell phone is like driving an entire football field blindfolded.

Distracted driving falls into three main categories:

  • manual: taking your hands off of the wheel
  • visual: taking your eyes on the road
  • or cognitive: not being mentally present while driving.

Distracted driving laws vary by state, but many have a law in place that bans drivers from using handheld phones. In addition, most states ban bus drivers and beginner drivers from all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free), and enforce a ban on texting for all drivers.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Just Discovering Your Injury: Do You Still Have a Claim?

A person worked with certain chemicals for many years and has just been diagnosed with cancer as a result of this exposure.  Or a person went in for surgery a long time ago and has just been alerted to the fact that someone left a surgical sponge inside them.  The point is that some injuries can remain unknown for long periods of time before they begin to have an effect or the person becomes aware of their existence.  These are called latent injuries and they are quite common.  If you have suffered a latent injury and have just discovered it, you might be worried that it is too late to make a claim.  Luckily, this is usually not the case.

A statute of limitations is the time period in which a claim can be filed.  After the statute of limitations has expired, no case can be brought as it is considered time barred.  Each type of claim has its own proscribed time limit and these vary from state to state and on the Federal level. Although most personal injury claims are subject to a statute of limitations, the law provides an exception for latent injuries

Usually, the statute of limitations begins to run at the time that the injury occurred.  This could cause a problem for someone who was unaware of his or her injury and is just discovering it now.  Some people do not become aware of their injuries until years after the statute of limitations has expired.  This is where the exception comes into play.  The law tolls or delays the start of the statute of limitations until the person knew or should have known of the injury.  This is an objective standard so the courts will consider what is reasonable under the circumstances in each case.  If reasonable, this exception allows a person who has just discovered his or her injury to make a claim even if they are well past the statute of limitations period. 

If you have been injured or suffered some type of harm and are just discovering it now, and you want to determine if you can make a claim, it is your best interest to contact a qualified personal injury attorney today.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Three Real Examples of Medical Malpractice

Daryoush Mazarei: Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for a surgeon to leave a piece of equipment inside of a patient after an operation has been completed. Even though there are procedures in place to prevent this, doctors are human, and mistakes happen on a regular basis. What makes the case of Daryoush Mazarei so notable is that after the surgery, when Mr. Mazarei returned to the hospital complaining of intense pain and attempting to show the health care professionals the end of the 10 inch retractor that was protruding from his ribs where his surgeon had left it, he was told that his pain was in his head and referred him to a psychiatrist.  Eventually the retractor was removed. Mr. Mazarei’s case was settled out of court and the hospital apologized.

Dr. Farid FataDr. Fata is currently serving a 45-year sentence in prison after improperly diagnosing more than 550 patients for profit.  He prescribed extensive rounds of radiation and chemotherapy to patients who did not need it and treated terminal cancers aggressively instead of letting his victims die peacefully in order to rake in more than $17 million from fraudulent bills.  Although Dr. Fata’s fate has been decided, his victims and their heirs are still engaged in a court battle to determine if they will be compensated for Fata’s egregious conduct.

Jesica Santillan: It is especially tragic when a young person’s life is cut short by a terminal illness.  Jesica Santillan’s parents moved to North Carolina from Mexico when they discovered that Mexican doctors could not properly treat their daughter's heart and lung disorder. A local builder heard their story and started a charity to raise money for Jesica's transplant. Just as the family was filled with hope, a careless mistake was made. No one at the hospital checked to make sure the donated organs matched Jesica’s blood type before the surgery, and as a result, her body rejected the transplant, shutting her system down and causing her death two weeks later.  Santillan’s family settled out of court with the hospital for an undisclosed amount, but they will never get their daughter back.

Bryan Mejia:  Bryan Mejia was born with one leg and no arms because West Palm Beach doctors failed to properly read ultrasounds that would have disclosed his deformity.  His parents were awarded $4.5 million by a jury as a result.

Although these cases demonstrate extreme examples of medical malpractice, not every case is so obvious.  Only an experienced attorney can properly advise you if your case rises to the level of medical malpractice. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Bringing a Claim for Injuries When the Accident Was Partly Your Fault

In order to prevail in a personal injury case, you must be able to prove that your injuries were directly caused by the negligent actions of another. If you can prove that your injuries were at least partly caused by another, you may be able to receive compensation for your medical expenses, physical and emotional pain and suffering, permanent physical impairment or disfigurement, lost income, decreased earning capacity, property damage, or other economic losses.

If you have been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to recover compensation from anyone else who partially caused the accident, even if the accident was partly your own fault. The legal theories of “contributory negligence” and “comparative negligence” apply in cases where the plaintiff in a lawsuit was partially responsible for his or her own injuries.

“Contributory negligence” means the injured person’s actions, at least to some extent caused his or her own injuries. For example, someone who ignores a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign and subsequently slips and falls may be deemed to have been careless and, thus, at fault for his or her injuries. As such, contributory negligence can prevent the injured person from recovering any compensation, even when his or her carelessness was minor as compared to the fault of the other party. In some states, accident victims are entitled to recover compensation only if they can prove that the other party’s fault was greater.

In some jurisdictions, the concept of contributory negligence has fallen out of favor and is no longer applied. Instead, it has been replaced with the concept of “comparative negligence.” Comparative negligence means that the fault for causing an accident is compared among all parties, typically broken down as a percentage of fault attributed to each party. When this occurs, the monetary recovery awarded to the injured plaintiff is reduced by his or her percentage of fault. For example, if you were injured in a car accident that was determined to be 25% your fault, your monetary recovery from the other driver’s insurance company would be limited to 75% of the amount of your damages from the accident, an amount equal to that driver’s percentage of fault for causing the accident. By applying the concept of comparative negligence, each party is held accountable only for his or her percentage of fault for causing the injuries.

You may be deemed to be partially at fault for your injuries if you have failed to act with reasonably prudent care under the circumstances of the accident, or if you voluntarily assume a portion of the risk by exposing yourself to danger, such as by failing to use the available restraints on an amusement park ride or ignoring a posted warning sign.

The total value of your claim is based on many factors, including how easily fault can be apportioned among the parties, the seriousness of your injuries, medical treatments received and insurance coverage limits. Once the claim’s total value is established and the percentages are applied, a final figure for the injured plaintiff’s compensation can be determined.


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