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New York Personal Injury Law Blog

Monday, January 4, 2016

Does Old Man Winter Shield Property Owners from Slip and Fall Liability?

Slipping and sliding around on the snow and ice is part of dealing with winter. If you were injured during a fall caused by poor weather conditions, however, there may be someone to blame other than Old Man Winter.

Property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care when it comes to maintaining the areas of their property that are open to the public. That duty does not end when winter weather arrives. Property owners are required, often explicitly by local law, to promptly remove snow and ice from the public areas of their property in order to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.

Property owners can meet their duty by removing the snow and ice themselves or by hiring a contractor, such as a plow company, to do so for them. No matter who does the snow or ice removal, if you are injured because you slipped and fell on poorly maintained property, you may be able to seek compensation from the owner.

This does not mean that you are exempt from exercising caution when getting around in bad weather. Members of the public also have a duty to use reasonable care when walking in an area known or reasonably expected to be snowy or icy. Failing to do so may reduce your recovery in any potential lawsuit.

Slipping and falling is so common, particularly in winter, that some people are embarrassed by their injury or think asking someone else to pay for it would be wrong. However, injuries caused by slipping and falling due to snowy or icy conditions can be quite serious, and the party responsible for your injury should be held accountable.

If you have been injured after slipping and falling on snow or ice, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you seek compensation.


Monday, December 21, 2015

What is tort reform and what are some of the criticisms of it?

Tort reform is the name commonly given to a proposed solution to the rising healthcare costs in America.  Some people believe that medical malpractice lawsuits are the main reason why the United States has such high healthcare costs.  The argument is that because doctors are afraid of being sued, they have to conduct more tests than is reasonable.  Essentially, doctors complain that they are forced to be too thorough.  Also, it is believed that hospital bills are high because malpractice insurance premiums are high.  Therefore, by limiting the maximum amount that a Plaintiff could win in a lawsuit, malpractice insurance costs would be reduced, doctors would be free to practice as they see fit and prescribe fewer tests, and the savings would be passed on to the patients. 

This line of thought is not without criticism.  While doctors and insurance companies would surely benefit greatly from putting a cap on the amount of money damages awarded in medical malpractice awards, there is no cap on the amount of damage a doctor might do by making a mistake.  In the case of Colin Gourley, an OBGYN’s negligent prenatal care of Colin’s mother led to the boy being born with severe birth defects including physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems.  He was quickly diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  He will require round the clock care for his entire life.  A jury found that the hospital and the doctor should be responsible for these costs, and awarded the family $5,625,000.00 to cover the damages.  However, because of a law capping damages in such a case, their award was limited to $1.25 million, leaving a middle-income family with a bill of $4,000,000.00 that they had no means of paying.  This is only one case of many which demonstrates the real cost of putting a cap on damages.

The consequences of tort reform affect those who suffer the most as a result of medical mistakes.  Also, the amount of the cap is arbitrary and inherently unfair to those who were mistreated by the medical professionals in the first place.  The proponents of tort reform might better serve society by putting their efforts into lowering healthcare costs by coming up with a way to reduce medical error and inefficiencies. 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Common Claims in Personal Injury Cases

There are a number of issues that can come up in a personal injury case.  Every personal injury case will include a claim for compensatory damages, meant to compensate the plaintiff for any loss.  It is important to include all claims that apply in a lawsuit because, if one is omitted, there is no second chance to reopen the case.  Some of the most common types of compensatory damages include:

Property damage:  If personal or real property is damaged as a result of an action of the defendant, the plaintiff can include a claim for property damage.

Medical costs:  Any out of pocket medical bills should be reimbursed as part of a lawsuit.  If an insurance company paid medical bills, they may assert a right to be reimbursed out of the proceeds of any personal injury settlement.

Pain and suffering:  This is meant to address the physical, mental, and emotional anguish that comes with being the victim of an accident.  In many cases, the path to rehabilitation and recovery is difficult, painful, and frustrating.  A victim should be compensated, at least in part, for the interruption of their lives.

Permanent injury:  Often, despite the doctors’ best efforts, a patient is left with permanent pain or the loss of function of a body part after treatment is complete.  Even though it is impossible to assess the value of this monetarily, the courts will try their best to put a number on it and compensate plaintiffs accordingly.

Lost wages:  A claim for lost wages seeks to recover money for any work that was missed as a result of an injury.  The lost work may have occurred immediately after the accident, or may have accrued over a period of time, including any days missed to receive treatment.

Loss of consortium:  After a serious injury, many aspects of a victim’s life change.  If his or her ability to be intimate with a spouse is affected, a claim of loss of consortium may be included in the complaint.  It does not matter if the problem is a physical one or a psychological one.


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.


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