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New York Personal Injury Law Blog

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.


Monday, August 17, 2015

What Happens if I Lie about Being Injured?

Most of us have told a little white lie; even if we are caught, there are usually no consequences. That is not the case if you are involved in a lawsuit. Lying under oath is a crime called perjury, and it can result in jail time.

Lying or providing knowingly false or misleading information can lead to other consequences as well. You might be subject to monetary fines or lose your professional license. It could also result in your lawsuit being dismissed.

When a lie has been told, the key piece of information the court is going to be interested in is the state of mind behind the lie or misrepresentation. In order to be guilty of perjury, you must have intentionally lied. Having an honest lapse of memory, or only remembering a specific detail after something jogs your memory is not likely to get you into trouble. Telling a lie or purposely leaving out key information in order to mislead is more serious, but even that does not guarantee you are going to end up in jail.

Even if your case has not proceeded to trial, lying about your injury (or leaving out information you should have disclosed) can constitute insurance fraud. This can also lead to criminal charges. Fraudulent claims can result in loss of insurance coverage and being liable to the insurance company for any monetary awards or costs of investigation.

If you realize that you lied, or didn’t tell the whole truth, in a current or past legal action the best thing to do is to contact your lawyer. They can help you figure out what, if any, corrective action needs to be taken.

Although lying is a part of life for most people, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is the only thing you should be telling any time you are under oath or talking with your own lawyer in private.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Importance of Credible Accident Reconstruction Testimony

If you have been injured in an automobile collision, your attorney may require the assistance of an experienced accident expert to help prove who is at fault for the accident. Generally, in order to recover any compensation for your injuries or property damage, you will have to prove that the other party was somehow negligent. Accident reconstruction experts are professionals who have obtained specialized training in order to analyze the physics of the accident scene, determine vehicle speeds and movements, and effectively communicate their findings to the court or insurance company representatives.

These professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, including science education, engineering, or law enforcement who have undertaken special training. These experts can evaluate the scene of the accident, develop calculations and assessments regarding how the accident occurred or how damages were sustained, and can testify to these facts and findings before a judge or jury. They do so by offering a variety of services, including site visits to the scene of the accident, taking photos, interviewing witnesses, applying the applicable scientific principles and preparing a final report. That report often forms basis for the expert’s testimony in court. Generally, the importance of the accident reconstructionist’s testimony is directly tied to the complexity or controversial nature of the accident in question.

Expert testimony regarding how an accident occurred is key to settlement negotiations. Using illustrations, simulations, models, animations and other methods, accident reconstructionists can show exactly what happened, how it happened, and how it could have been prevented.  Even if there are photographs of crash scenes and medical records, these can usually demonstrate the severity of the accident or damages sustained rather than proving who was at fault.

Usually, both sides hire their own reconstruction experts and, not surprisingly, those reports often conflict with one another. When this happens, the experts' credibility becomes a key issue. As in every case where there is conflicting testimony, the decision-makers must make a determination regarding which expert to believe.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Defensive Medicine: Many Doctors “Over-Treat” Patients Due to Fear of Medical Malpractice Claims

The skyrocketing cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums has changed the way many physicians practice medicine, prompting some to refuse certain patients with complex medical problems or to order unnecessary tests on other patients. Such “defensive medicine” can involve unwarranted lab tests or x-rays or even more invasive procedures to help ensure “certainty” regarding a diagnosis. Even more troubling for the most vulnerable patients, defensive medicine can result in a surgeon’s refusal to perform a complex operation on a sick patient for fear of a negative outcome and eventual malpractice lawsuit.

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that many patients receive “too much” medical care and treatment. The study found that 42 percent of American primary care physicians believe that patients receive more aggressive medical care than is necessary. The study also revealed that many doctors feel they must provide “excessive care” to patients, due in large part, to concerns about being the subject of medical malpractice claims.

The study involved 627 physicians, most of whom had practiced medicine for nearly 25 years. Of the doctors surveyed, just 6 percent expressed concern that patients were receiving too little care. Most doctors reason that they could risk medical malpractice lawsuits if they fail to take every conceivable measure to cure or prevent an illness. They admitted over-treating and over-testing, in order to attain clinical performance standards, despite the small amount of time they have to actually consult with each patient.

The vast majority of physicians surveyed – 83 percent – believe they could be sued if they opted not to order every test that is indicated for a particular situation. On the other hand, just over 1 in 5 doctors believe they could be sued for ordering an unnecessary test.

Nearly half of the survey respondents reported that nurse practitioners and physician assistants provided more aggressive treatment than primary care doctors, and 61 percent indicated that subspecialists also provide more aggressive treatment. Experts believe that defensive medicine could be mitigated if doctors more effectively communicated with their patients about their illness and the pros and cons of various tests.


Friday, July 17, 2015

What Not to Do After a Car Accident

There are many potential missteps after you have been involved in an auto accident. In the minutes, hours and days following a car wreck, it can be difficult to think clearly or to take note of important factors involving liability and compensation. Even if your injuries are minor and your vehicle is not damaged, you should follow these guidelines to protect yourself and preserve your right to compensation for your injuries, vehicle damage or lost income. Often times, your damages are more serious than they appear at first glance.

Don’t Apologize
Even if you think you are clearly at fault for the accident, don’t accept blame or apologize to anyone. The police and insurance adjusters will investigate the collision and determine where the fault lies. If it lies with you, you will most certainly be notified. But affirming your guilt before all the facts are discovered can only serve to undermine your personal injury claim or a potential defense if you are on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

Don’t Compare Notes
Avoid rehashing the accident with the other involved parties. You do not want to inadvertently admit fault for the accident, or make other statements that undermine a future legal claim. Additionally, swapping stories can cause confusion in your own mind regarding what happened immediately before and during the collision. Of course, you should give your statement to the police, if applicable. But further communications regarding the accident, your injuries, damage to your vehicle, or associated expenses for medical treatment or car repairs should be limited to your attorney.

Don’t Get into a Dispute with Other Drivers or Passengers
Tempers can sometimes flare. People may be hurt, property may be damaged. Nobody is getting to their destination, and everyone may be concerned regarding various obligations and future travel arrangements. If other parties become upset, agitated or violent, you should simply walk away. By refusing to engage in emotional dialogue – or worse, a physical confrontation – you avoid turning a routine fender bender into a major altercation which can result in its own legal ramifications.

Don’t Call the Insurance Company
If you think there is any reason why the insurance company may dispute your claim, you should speak with an attorney first. The attorney can advise you regarding what to say – and what not to say – to the insurance adjuster, or can communicate with the adjuster on your behalf. Insurance companies train their adjusters to ask specific questions designed to make your case look as weak as possible. Your insurance company should help you when you’ve been involved in an accident – that’s part of what you pay for – but ultimately the bottom line is of primary importance. The insurance business is far more profitable when the insurance companies do not have to pay out claims.
 


Monday, July 6, 2015

Medical Malpractice, Standards of Care and Your Legal Rights

Despite efforts to mitigate their occurrence, medical errors by doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers result in a significant number of injuries and deaths every year.  It’s important to note that not every treatment which results in the degradation of the patient's condition(s) or in failure to restore health constitutes medical error or malpractice.  Instead, malpractice occurs when there is professional negligence by healthcare providers or facilities. 


Professional negligence by act or omission by a health care provider occurs when the treatment provided falls below the accepted standard of practice in the medical community and causes injury or death to the patient. In order to determine whether there was malpractice, the key issue is whether physicians and caretakers followed accepted standards of care.

What are standards of care?
Though medical care is highly complex, there are a finite number of issues that afflict people with any regularity. Because of this, standards have emerged that the medical community has agreed should be followed in almost any given medical situation.

Therefore, if a patient arrives at a medical facility with one or several symptoms, the attending physician should perform a series of predetermined steps to diagnose and treat the patient. These rather inflexible, predetermined steps are standard; they’re standards of care. Standards of care can vary by specific circumstances but most often involve questions and steps such as:  

  • Was an investigation conducted and did the doctor take steps that he or she would have been reasonably expected to take?
  • Was a diagnosis pursued?
  • Was treatment provided in a timely manner?
  • Was the patient informed of risks? This is known as informed consent.
  • Did the healthcare facility provide a healthcare professional who was qualified to provide to the care that was needed?
     

What Other Issues Can Arise Regarding Standards of Care?

Standards of care involve agreed-upon rules, but medical professionals can nonetheless disagree on what action should have been taken in relation to specific situations. Questions regarding the medical issue itself may affect standards of care, as well as the location of the facility in which the care was provided and the resources at the facility’s disposal. For instance, a small, rural clinic may operate on a different standard of care than a well-funded urban or university hospital. Most medical malpractice cases, therefore, rely on medical expert testimony for proof that malpractice occurred and that a deviation from standards of care was made. Only other physicians are qualified to testify regarding the competence of a doctor who may have committed medical malpractice, and only specific physicians are able to testify knowledgeably regarding the limitations and capabilities of a specific health care facility.

If you suspect that you’ve suffered injury at the hands of a doctor who didn’t follow the standard of care, contact a medical malpractice attorney who can provide effective counsel regarding the building and management of your case. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Truck Accident Personal Injury Claims: Are They Different from Car Accident Claims?

While automobile and truck accidents have many aspects in common with each other, in certain respects, they differ greatly. Due to the specialized knowledge required to successfully resolve these types of matters, it’s important that you hire an attorney who knows the ins and outs of truck accident law if you’ve suffered an injury from an accident involving a truck.

How Do Truck Accident Claims Differ from Car Accident Claims?

Truck accident claims involve many of the same basic questions that car accident claims involve. Who was negligent? How did the accident occur? And what insurance coverages apply to the claim?

Numerous circumstances can occur during truck accidents, though, that are unique to crashes involving commercial vehicles and large vehicles. For example:

  • Semi truck drivers are required to stop and rest at legally mandated intervals. Drivers’ logs, driver and expert testimony, witnesses’ testimony and other evidence can be used to prove that a truck driver was fatigued at the time of the accident.
  • Semi trucks must be regularly maintained in order to be operated safely. Maintenance records obtained via the discovery process may prove the truck was unsafe to operate.
  • Semi truck drivers are barred from operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, alcohol and certain prescription medication. If the driver was under the influence of a substance, or had a history of substance abuse that went unnoticed when he or she was hired, the driver or transportation company can be held liable for damages.
  • Transportation companies are legally required to employ safe and cautious drivers, and to competently screen drivers. If a transport company fails to determine that a new hire has a history of traffic violations, it can be held liable.
  • New trucks are often now equipped with technology similar to jumbo jets’ “black boxes”. If an accident occurs, a truck accident attorney can subpoena possible evidence of negligent driving via the black box.
  • Truck drivers, more so than car drivers in many jurisdictions, are barred from using cell phones while driving. Following a truck accident, a lawyer can subpoena the truck driver’s personal and or company cell phone records to determine whether he or she was using the device at the time of the accident.

Other complex legal issues can arise when a commercial vehicle such as a delivery truck, pickup truck or even company car is involved in a crash. The question of whether the driver was “on the clock” immediately comes into play. If a driver was returning from a sales appointment, leaving work, or running an errand that involved both work and non-work-related stops, complex questions can arise regarding whether company-purchased insurance coverage applies.

Car and truck accident claims begin at the same spot – negligence, fault, cause and coverage – but truck accident claims involve numerous additional federal regulations and state laws. When hiring a personal injury lawyer following a truck accident, make sure he or she has the necessary knowledge to help you obtain the best possible result.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Damages Allowed in Personal Injury Cases

If you have been injured in an accident, and another party is to blame, you may be able to obtain monetary damages from that person or business to compensate you for medical expenses, loss of income and pain and suffering as a result of the accident.  

There are a variety of types of damages allowed in personal injury cases. Those damages can be divided into several categories. First, there are compensatory damages and punitive damages. There are also two types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic.

Compensatory damages are damages that are intended to compensate a person for a loss or problem relating to a personal injury, including monetary losses, pain and suffering and physical impairment. Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent party for its wrongdoing, and aren’t specifically related to a loss the plaintiff suffered.

For example, if a company decided to dump toxic waste into a creek instead of disposing of it safely, and as a result a woman living next to the creek developed cancer, her compensatory damages may include amounts for her medical expenses, her lost wages, and her pain and suffering.  In addition to these damages, the jury may also decide to award punitive damages, which are strictly intended to punish the company for its wrongdoing. Punitive damages are somewhat rare – in most cases, plaintiffs only receive compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages can be further divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those damages that result in an identifiable economic loss. For example, economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, the cost of hiring a helper or nurse, and the cost of special transportation or medical equipment that’s needed as a result of the accident.

Non-economic damages are damages for harm relating to the injury sustained that are difficult to quantify using a specific dollar amount. Instead, non-economic damages are awarded to a person who has suffered a diminished quality of life as a result of the accident. Some examples of non-economic damages include emotional distress, pain and suffering, embarrassment or humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium (sexual relations) and scarring or disfigurement. Although non-economic losses can be difficult to quantify, they are an important component of a personal injury case.


Monday, June 8, 2015

5 Tire Safety Hazards

Proper maintenance of your vehicle is an important step toward ensuring your safety on the road. Tire failures at high speeds can result in vehicle rollovers, serious injuries and death. Below are five safety hazards to watch out for; the presence of any of these conditions can indicate that your tires should be repaired or replaced – before it is too late.

Tires Not Inflated to the Proper Air Pressure: Incorrect tire pressure compromises both the comfort and safety of your ride. Improper pressure affects braking, cornering, stability, mileage and tire life. Furthermore, tires that are not inflated to the proper pressure face a higher risk of catastrophic failure resulting in a serious accident. Low tire pressure causes increased friction and can overheat the tire, causing tread separation. The recommended tire pressure is always less than the maximum allowable pressure stated on the tire itself. Your vehicle’s recommended tire pressure can be found in the owner’s manual, or the label on the car’s driver’s side door, glove compartment or gas tank door.

Worn Tread: If the tread on your tires has worn down, you are at an increased risk of a blowout or hydroplaning accident.  Additionally, worn tread may indicate a more serious problem, such as improper balance, suspension or alignment. Finally, tires with worn tread are more likely to be underinflated, affecting steering, braking and mileage, and causing further safety risks due to improper air pressure.

Tire Repeatedly Loses Air Pressure: If you often notice that one of your tires seems low, despite the fact that you have inflated the tires to the proper pressure, this could indicate a leak. There may be a small puncture in the tire’s tread, perhaps caused by driving over a nail, or it may be caused by a poor seal between the tire and rim or a damaged valve. These problems can often be repaired, rather than having to replace the tire. Ignoring the problem can lead to a sudden drop in tire pressure while on the road, which can result in a blowout or loss of control.

Bulge in the Sidewall: Any budge, regardless of size, indicates that the tire’s integrity has been compromised and the tire should be replaced immediately. This could be due to an impact with a curb or pothole. When such a bulge occurs, the steel belts inside the tire have weakened and can no longer ensure safe operation of the vehicle. Care should also be taken to ensure that the impact that caused the tire bulge did not also cause damage to the wheel itself.

Old Tires/Vehicles in Storage: If your tires are old or the vehicle has been immobile for a lengthy period of time, the tires may be affected by a form of “dry rot.” Regardless of how climate-controlled the storage environment is, tires that sit for extended periods will weaken over time until they are unsafe for travel. Similarly, old tires will show signs of degradation. You can identify this problem by examining the tire for small cracks in the tire’s sidewall. If any cracks are present, the tire should be replaced.


Monday, May 25, 2015

“We Don’t Get Paid Unless We Win” – What does it all mean?

Each day, thousands of advertisements for personal injury lawyers can be found in local newspapers, on television stations and even on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Most of these ads explain that the firm doesn’t collect any fees unless they win. Of course, there’s usually a catch with this statement and it centers around what the advertising firm means by “fees” and what other costs you might be expected to pay regardless of whether or not you win your case.

Attorney fees usually involve the time and labor of the attorneys and their staff. These fees do not include the out-of-pocket case costs that are inevitable in any court proceeding. So while you may not be required to pay any attorney fees upfront or at all (unless you win), you may be required to pay all related case costs. Case costs are usually expenses charged by third parties for work on your case. These may include court filing fees, expert witness fees, cost of obtaining medical records, court reporter fees, etc. Depending on the scope of your case and the duration of these proceedings, these fees can easily be thousands of dollars.

While some firms will require you to pay case costs as they are incurred, others won’t require upfront payment (especially, if you have a very strong case) and will instead deduct these expenses from the final settlement. Combined with legal fees, these costs may add up to 50% or even more of the settlement. In selecting an attorney for your personal injury matter, it’s important that you take time to understand what expenses, in addition to attorney fees, you will incur.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Your Doctor Made a Mistake – But Do You Have a Medical Malpractice Case?

The term “medical malpractice,” sometimes called medical negligence, refers to a situation in which a health care provider fails to act in accordance with standards of accepted medical practice, causing injury or death to the patient. A physician, nurse or other health care professional is considered negligent if his or her conduct is below the “standard of care,” i.e. the degree of care and skill that the typical health care professional would provide to a patient seeking treatment for similar symptoms or under similar circumstances.

It’s not just doctors and nurses who can be sued for medical malpractice. Any licensed health care provider who is in a position of trust can be held accountable for diagnosis or treatment that causes injury or death. These can include lab technicians, radiology technicians, specialists who interpret your test results, ambulance companies and their employees, and facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies.

There are many types of mistakes which may be considered “medical malpractice,” depending on the overall circumstances of your injury or illness and the treatment you received. Common medical malpractice claims include:

  • Incorrect or missed diagnosis
  • Failure to conduct appropriate diagnostic tests
  • Failure to properly treat your medical condition
  • Failure to properly administer medications
  • Failure to properly perform a surgical procedure
  • Failure to manage a pregnancy or safely deliver a baby
  • Failure to warn you of the risks of treatment, which would enable you to give your fully informed consent to the treatment
  • Failure to anticipate a problem which should have been anticipated in accordance with the standard of care

Even if your medical treatment results in a negative outcome, the doctor’s or nurse’s conduct may not rise to the level of malpractice or negligence. Furthermore, even if the treatment you received clearly fell below the standard of care and is deemed “negligent,” you may run into difficulties bringing your claim due to the high cost of litigating a medical malpractice case. Because medical malpractice cases often hinge on the definition of the “standard of care” required for that particular situation, experts must be consulted and retained to prepare reports, give depositions and testify in court.

You should consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can help you determine whether the health care provider’s negligence was truly the result of malpractice and whether your case is worth pursuing. Your attorney will review your medical records and will likely have to retain a medical expert who can review your records to evaluate the merits of your claim. Due to the significant expense involved in performing such reviews and obtaining assistance of experts for a medical malpractice claim, the vast majority of meritorious cases settle before the case goes to trial.
 


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