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Personal Safety

Friday, October 30, 2015

Suing for Injuries Sustained while Playing Sports

Any sports can be dangerous for participants. It does not matter what the sport is, there is always the chance of injury when engaging in physical activity. The chances of injury go up significantly when the sport being played is a contact sport, like football, but injuries are a part of every sport, including baseball, soccer, and basketball. Even golfers can suffer serious injuries.

Generally, a participant in a sport assumes the risk of normal injuries during play. If a concussion or spinal injury is suffered as a result of being tackled in a game of football, he or she will be responsible for his or her own medical bills. Similarly, a basketball player cannot sue for an injury sustained when landing awkwardly after a shot. However, if an injury is caused by a condition not within the scope of a participant’s consent, the loss from that injury can be recovered. A person who consents to play basketball, for example, can sue another participant for starting a physical fight because the person who started the fight was acting improperly. Similarly, a soccer player may be able to file a claim if the injury in question was caused by shoddy conditions on the field.

Individuals wishing to take part in organized leagues will often be asked to sign documents acknowledging their willful participation in the activity. These documents may include waivers of liability. It is important to read these documents carefully. If a waiver of liability is included, participants should make sure that the field of play is well-maintained before engaging in physical activity there. These waivers are not always enforceable. Each state has its own rules about how liability waivers are treated by the courts.

In pickup games with friends, even though there is no waiver of liability signed, there is still an understanding of consent to play the game. Any incidental contact as a result of the sport cannot give rise to a lawsuit. For this reason, it is important that players  go over the extent of acceptable contact before participating.  It is also, for the reasons noted above, important to examine the field of play for any potentially dangerous conditions.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Auto Recalls and the Dangers They Seek to Avoid

Automakers recall millions of vehicles every year. A recall seeks to reach out to consumers to return faulty products, mistakenly put in the marketplace, for repair. In 2014, more than 60 million vehicles were recalled, nearly doubling the previous record set in 2004. These automobiles all had some sort of defect. Some of the defects, while annoying, were not of serious concern, such as a faulty air conditioners, while others resulted in significant safety issues, like problems with the ignition switches, brakes, or steering. Honda issued a recall of 14 million vehicles because its airbags might shoot sharp pieces of metal into the car when deploying.

Of the 60 million cars that were recalled in 2014, less than half were actually repaired. Consumers may not be aware of the recall. Cars change hands several times, and dealers have trouble reaching out to everyone who might have the car. Several major car manufacturers have been caught purposely misleading regulators and consumers about recalls to save money. Toyota recently paid a $1.2 billion fine for this improper action. Even when everyone is aware that a recall has been issued, a consumer may not prioritize it. When consumers are able to bring their automobiles in for the recall, the part necessary for the repair may be unavailable, especially on older model cars that are no longer in production.

This leaves millions of automobiles on the road every year that may pose significant safety issues. Wiring issues can increase the risk of car fires. Vehicle components could break resulting in loss of control of the vehicle. Seat belts might be defective. Windshield wipers might not work properly. All of these problems make the roads less safe for drivers of these vehicles and everyone else on the road.

If a consumer is injured as a result of an issue caused by an automobile defect, he or she may have a substantial claim against the auto manufacturer. If the defect has caused a collision, the car company may be responsible for all injuries. A consultation with an experienced attorney is necessary to determine whether or not a claim is viable in a particular situation. 

 


Monday, September 14, 2015

Why Do I Need a Fence if I Have a Pool?

A person who has a pool, trampoline, swing set, or other similar structure in their yard is usually required, by their homeowner’s insurance, if not by law, to also have a fence. This is because these structures are seen by the law as attractive nuisances. This means that a child who sees a such structures, and who may not appreciate the danger they present, is likely to trespass on the property to play in, on, or with them and injure him or herself. The doctrine of attractive nuisance puts an obligation on a homeowner to protect these children who are incapable of protecting themselves. 

The law does not limit liability to instances where the attractive nuisance is a pool or another type of recreational device. Children’s imaginations are vivid enough to turn any sort of dangerous structure or equipment into a playground. Piles of loose lumber and abandoned cars have been found by courts to qualify as attractive nuisances. An attractive nuisance must: 

  • Be an artificial hazard in a place where children are likely to trespass
  • Create unreasonable risk of harm to children incapable of understanding that risk
  • Be a greater risk to potential victims than the utility of the hazard and the burden of its maintenance 

Determining when a child is innocent enough to qualify for protection under the attractive nuisance doctrine is also unclear. A person with diminished mental capacity may be considered a child for these purposes even if he or she is over the age of 18. The determination of who qualifies as a child is made on a case by case basis. 

Using a fence is a good way to make sure that a child passing by is not intrigued by a potentially dangerous condition. Even if the child is able to see over the fence, he or she will have trouble climbing over it, sufficiently discouraging the trespass in order to avoid liability for injuries sustained. A sign warning individuals of danger may be enough to protect a homeowner from liability, except when a child is unable to read the sign. Regularly inspecting property for potentially dangerous conditions and making sure trespassers stay away from your property are the best ways to avoid liability under the attractive nuisance doctrine.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Is Your Child's Booster Seat a Good Fit?

The seatbelts in cars are not designed with children in mind.  In a car accident or during a sudden stop, a child who does not use a booster seat is vulnerable to serious injury because the seatbelt is not positioned to properly restrain the child.  In fact, a seatbelt can actually cause additional injury to the child during an accident – for example, by cutting across the child’s stomach.

Booster seats are designed to elevate your child to a position where the seatbelt is positioned properly and will properly protect your child in case of a car accident or sudden stop.  Booster seats are not specially made for different types of vehicles, even though the seats and seatbelts are shaped and positioned differently in different models of cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans.

When shopping for a booster seat for your child, how do you tell if the booster seat is a good fit?  Highway safety research tells us that there are three important measurements to consider when purchasing a booster seat for your child:

  • The child should be able to bend his or her knees easily over the edge of the booster seat.  If the child can’t comfortably bend his or her knees over the edge of the booster seat, he or she might slouch, which might cause the lap belt to ride up onto the child’s stomach
  • The lap band of the seatbelt should lie across the child’s upper thighs and hips.  It should not lie across the child’s lower or upper stomach, or across the child’s lower thighs.
  • The shoulder band of the three-point seatbelt should cross the child’s shoulder midway between the outside edge of the child’s shoulder and the child’s neck.  The seatbelt should not cross too close to the child’s neck or too far down the child’s shoulder or arm.

What are the dangers of a booster seat that does not fit properly?  They can be very serious, and in fact some doctors refer to the following common injuries as “the seatbelt syndrome.”

  • If the shoulder belt cuts too close to the neck or too far down the shoulder or arm, it can be uncomfortable.  The child may learn to tuck the shoulder belt behind his or her head, leaving the upper torso unprotected in a car accident.  Increased forward and backward movement during a car accident increases the likelihood of brain injury, neck injury, and spinal cord injury.
  • If the lap belt is positioned across a child’s stomach instead of across his or her lap, a car accident will cause sudden tightening of the belt across the vulnerable stomach area.  Serious injuries to vital organs or the child’s spine are very common in car accidents where the child’s lap belt is positioned across the stomach.


Various consumer safety organizations rate specific models of child booster seats for how well they fit a standard 4- to 8-year old in a variety of vehicles.  The follow sites offer insight into considerations when choosing a booster seat:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Be sure to check out the safety rating of booster seats before you buy one for your child.
 


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What is soft tissue damage and how is it treated?

Soft tissue damage refers to damage done to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons throughout the body.  Often referred to as sprains, strains, contusions and tendonitis, soft tissue damage is usually caused by a traumatic event such as a slip and fall or a traffic accident.  It can result in swelling, bruising, and loss of function.   Immediately after an injury, the area affected by soft tissue damage should be protected, rested from any strenuous activity, kept cool with ice to regulate swelling, compressed and elevated.  If pain continues after 72 hours, it is likely that the injury is more than a simple sprain or strain.  When the soft tissue is inflamed for a long period of time it could result in serious, long-term damage.

When soft tissue damage exists in the back and the spinal column is compressed, it may result in what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve.  Each vertebrae is separated by a gel filled sac that acts as a cushion between the bones.  When the muscles surrounding and supporting the spine are inflamed, it pushes the bones together, squeezing the sac and causing it to bulge, called a bulging disc.  In more serious cases, the sac actually ruptures.  This is called a herniated disc.  Besides being incredibly painful, these conditions can result in weakness or numbness in the extremities, known as radiculopathy.

MRI can confirm the existence of a bulging or herniated disc.  Treatment varies depending on the severity of the case.  For some, physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation will be enough to heal the damaged area.  This is considered conservative treatment.  There is the possibility that an epidural injection to the affected area could help reduce inflammation and give the injury an opportunity to heal.  If nothing else is successful, spinal fusion or decompression may be an option to reduce pain. A doctor should be consulted before engaging in any sort of treatment.  


Monday, April 20, 2015

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.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

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.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recovering Damages for a Dog Bite: Do I have a case?

While dogs are fondly referred to as “man’s best friend”, not all are friendly and each year thousands of people across the United States are injured by dog bites. If you’ve suffered an injury as a result of a dog attack, you’ve probably wondered whether you should bring a lawsuit to collect damages. The success of your case likely depends on the following:

State Statutes
Each state has its own set of laws when it comes to dog owner liability. Some are very strict, holding the owner liable for all damages resulting from a bite or attack by the dog on another person, domestic animal or property. In others, you may only be able to bring suit if the owner knew or should have known that the dog was a danger or "had vicious propensities."

Location of the Attack
If you were attacked in a public place or on your own property, you may have a better chance of collecting damages than if you were on the owner’s property where they could reasonably argue that you were trespassing.

Was the Dog Provoked?
If the owner can prove that you provoked the dog prior to the attack, you may not be able to collect for damages. For instance, if you threatened the dog’s owner by yelling or engaging in a physical assault, or if you went to take a bone that the dog was carrying, you may not have a basis for your claim because the dog’s action could be expected as a way to protect the owner or his “property.”

Evidence
As with any injury, it’s absolutely essential that you have evidence of the bodily harm. Were there witnesses who saw the attack? Did you file a police report? Take photos and keep a copy of the medical report? All of this evidence is necessary to prove liability and help to prove why you are entitled to receive compensation.

In many cases, a dog owner’s homeowners insurance will cover some or all of the damages. In instances where insurance isn’t available and the dog’s owner does not have the means to pay for the damages, there may be a third party such as the landlord who allowed a dangerous animal to reside on their property who can be held liable. A qualified personal injury attorney can help you better understand local statutes, your rights as an injured party and protect your best interests to make sure you receive just compensation for your injury and suffering.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Choosing a Litigation Attorney

If circumstances have required you to get involved in litigation, you may find the process of selecting an attorney to be overwhelming.  There are, however, some steps you can take to make the selection process a bit easier.

First, you should consider hiring someone who specializes in your type of case. If you had an automobile accident, consider hiring an attorney who exclusively practices personal injury law and preferably one with a track record of success in car accident cases. If you were wrongfully fired, hire a litigator with experience in employment rights.

Since you and the attorney you choose will be working very closely together, it’s important to choose someone with whom you feel comfortable.   How long has the attorney been practicing law? Has the attorney ever handled a case like yours before? What was the outcome? How much are fees and how are they paid? Does the attorney seem like he or she is concerned about your case? Does the attorney seem knowledgeable about the area of law?   Does the attorney articulate himself clearly and effectively?  Does he have a credible and trustworthy demeanor?  Remember, a judge or jury may be making the same assessments down the line.   

With respect to fees, most attorneys will take a personal injury case on a contingency basis, meaning that you only pay if they succeed, typically about one-third of the judgment or settlement amount.  You may be able to negotiate the percentage, especially if your damages are significant and your case against the potential defendant strong.  In addition to contingency fee structure, you should also be aware that many attorneys will bill for “out of pocket expenses” such as $0.25 per page for photocopies, $1.00 per page for faxes and cost of hiring experts and consultants.  Again, depending on the strength of your case, you may be able to negotiate these terms.  If you’re involved in a commercial or contract dispute, most such cases are billed on an hourly basis.  If you’re a plaintiff, a hybrid fee structure whereby you would pay a lower hourly fee but provide the lawyer with a percentage of the settlement may be an interesting option.

It’s also a good idea to find out how long the attorney believes the case will take. Obviously, many factors are beyond your attorney’s control, but you should be able to determine a general timeline and what type of resources the attorney will commit to your case.   It’s also important to know how you will be kept updated throughout the proceeding. It can be very frustrating if your attorney does not keep you informed on the status of your case. Ask the attorney how he or she plans to communicate with you and how often you can expect a status report.

Choosing an attorney is a big decision. Before you decide to choose one based on the number of television commercials he or she runs, or the size of the yellow pages ad the firm maintains, it’s important to sit down with the attorney to make sure the relationship is the right fit for your case.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Expert Witnesses Can Be the Key to a Lawsuit

In civil cases, plaintiffs have the burden of proving defendants are to blame for their injuries or economic losses by a preponderance of the evidence, which essentially means, that based on the evidence, the defendants were more likely than not responsible for the injuries.  That can be a lot more complicated than it sounds  Expert witnesses can be a critical key to success in winning over the jury and winning these complex matters.

 
Take the case of Margaret Wellinghorst.  In November 2007, she was walking her dog when she tripped on the edge of a trench that had been dug in the road.  She fell and injured her left hand.   With the help of her attorney, to get compensation for her injuries, she sued the companies responsible for creating and filling in the trench and repairing the road.
 
Ms. Wellinghorst had the burden of proving that the defendants owed her a duty of care, defendants breached that duty and as a result, she suffered injuries.  The fact that she tripped over the edge of a trench created by defendants and was injured, simply wasn’t enough to win her case.  She had to prove negligence by defendants.  To do that, an expert witness was introduced to show defendants did something wrong which consequently injured the plaintiff.   
 
Expert witnesses are used to introduce evidence that’s scientific, technical or specialized in nature.  It’s the kind of evidence that the average person isn’t qualified to introduce, or to render a judgment upon, given the facts of the situation.
 
Ms. Wellinghorst’s expert witness was William Poznak, a civil engineer with over 30 years of professional experience.  He examined the roadway, took measurements, took photographs and created a report.  He observed that the section of trench under the road sunk uniformly over the years, while the rest of the road did not.  In a deposition, Mr. Poznak gave the opinion the trench was backfilled improperly, which lead to the surface sinking and Ms. Wellinghorst’s injury.  
 
Mr. Poznak’s opinion was that the defendants did their work negligently.  But all he had was his opinion and that’s not enough.  He couldn’t say why that area of road sank, thus had no facts to back up his opinion.  Defendants’ attorneys brought up two possible tests that he could’ve done to help determine what happened.  Mr. Poznak admitted he had performed neither.  
 
The expert was unable to perform the key role he was hired to do.  He couldn’t explain why the area of the trench sank into the roadway.  If he couldn’t do that, he had no factual basis for his opinion that the defendants did something wrong or did something negligently which resulted in plaintiff’s injuries. Since the plaintiff had no other experts, and Mr. Poznak’s testimony was the best the plaintiff could do, Ms. Wellinghorst’s case was dismissed.
 
A legal case is like a chain in that it is only as strong as its weakest link.  Competent attorneys will test every link to its limits.  In this case, the weak link that broke the case was the expert testimony.  In our cases, we hire the right experts who are knowledgeable and experienced, and are able to communicate effectively in a courtroom.
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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.

 


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Richard F. Silber is admitted to practice in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. From his office in Georgetown, he and his legal team assist clients throughout the Washington metropolitan area.



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| Phone: 202-338-0687

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