dog-bite-vacationRecent economic conditions have opened the door to new opportunities designed to make money for the creative entrepreneur while at the same time offering significant savings to the consumer. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are prime examples of this, as is Airbnb, which offers housing accommodations to travelers at rates far more attractive than those offered by more traditional hotels and inns. Airbnb has the added advantage of offering lodging accommodations in locations not necessarily serviced by traditional resorts, like rural areas or residential neighborhoods.

The idea of gaining a true local experience by renting a house, or even a room, from someone native to the area you are planning to visit can be enticing, especially now as people plan their summer vacations. Before booking your trip, however, understand that this new trend carries its own set of risks. What happens if you suffer an injury from a fall or a dog bite? Traditional hospitality companies are insured against unexpected accidents, which may not be the case with private individuals offering their homes or portions of their homes for rent to travelers. Consider the following story by New York Times reporter Ron Lieber, “Questions About Airbnb’s Responsibility After Attack by Dog.”

teen-distracted-drivingOne of the most nerve-wracking events for parents of teenagers is when their child first begins to drive – and with good reason. Statistics released recently by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety confirm that distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents among young drivers. Michael Green’s article, “Distractions and Teen Crashes: Even Worse than We Thought,” identifies the most common factors leading to teen driver distraction and illustrates just how serious the problem is.

New Jersey’s graduated driver license program attempts to combat this problem by limiting the hours new drivers are permitted to drive and the number of passengers permitted in their vehicles. It also bans the use of both hand-held and hands-free devices for new drivers. For more details on New Jersey’s teen license restrictions, see New Jersey Graduated Driver License Program.

pet-insurancePet ownership can be a very rewarding experience, but it carries tremendous responsibilities that extend beyond the proper care and feeding of the animal. In addition to food, vet visits, training, socialization, and grooming essentials, pet owners are liable for injuries or damage their pet may cause to another person or their property. This liability can be substantial, especially if the pet attacks someone.

When the injury or damage is severe, as can be the case with dog bites, the pet owner can be held liable and possibly sued for medical expenses and other damages that can amount hundreds of thousands of dollars. Homeowner’s insurance may cover a portion of this liability, depending on the type and amount of insurance the pet owner carries, as well as any restrictions their specific insurance company may have. To understand whether or not your insurance will cover such damages, read Chris Kissell’s article, “Will your insurance pay out for pet damage?”

car-accident-insuranceAlthough the law in New Jersey requires all motorists to carry automobile insurance, not every driver complies. In response to this, New Jersey requires Uninsured Motorist Insurance (UMI) be built into automobile insurance policies issued in the State. While UMI covers the policyholder in the event of an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, the coverage is subject to strict limits. This was evident in a recent lawsuit in which a Middlesex County jury awarded a New Jersey woman in excess of $8 million dollars, but her actual compensation was capped at less than $500,000. Read “Woman awarded $8.4 million in suit against own insurer.”

Victor Rotolo, founder of The Rotolo Law Firm, has spoken out on this issue previously, noting that being seriously injured in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver was one of the worse scenarios you could be involved in. He urges drivers to protect themselves by acquiring as much coverage as possible. To read more about his comments on this matter, see “Attorney Victor A. Rotolo Explains What to Expect if You Are in an Accident with an Uninsured New Jersey Driver.”

fatal-accidentA total of 40 vehicles, including at least two tractor trailers, were involved in a fatal accident on the New Jersey Turnpike last Monday evening. Some attribute the day’s wintry storm, which dropped snow, sleet and freezing rain on the roads, with causing the collision. Others say the crash could have been avoided had the roadway been properly treated. For more on this accident, read nj.com’s “Icy, fatal Turnpike crash ‘should never have happened,’ road’s former engineer says.”(1)

  1. http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2015/02/icy_fatal_pileup_on_nj_turnpike_should_never_have.html

fire-codesThe seven-alarm fire that destroyed a luxury Edgewater, NJ apartment complex last month, leaving 1,000 residents without homes, has led to a class action lawsuit and a call from some State and local officials for a review of New Jersey’s current building codes.

The fire broke out in the late afternoon of January 21. Investigators believe it was accidental, caused by a blowtorch used by plumbers working on repairs to a first floor unit. The blaze, which spread quickly, destroyed about 240 of the complex’s 408 units, threatened nearby residences and, because it burned for so many hours, resulted in local roads and schools being closed the following day. Fortunately no deaths or serious injuries were reported.(1)

Fire officials have reportedly pointed to several factors as possibly contributing to the intensity and speed at which the fire spread.

  • Workers reportedly contacted their supervisor before dialing 9-1-1, resulting in a 15-minute delay in emergency personnel being notified of the fire.
  • The complex was built using a lightweight wood and roof truss frame construction method which, although it meets code, is more fire-prone than some other construction methods.
  • While interiors of the apartments were equipped with sprinkler systems, there was a lack of sprinklers between walls and under the roof rafters throughout the complex.(2)

Some of these factors led to the filing on January 26 of a class action lawsuit against the complex’s developer, AvalonBay. The lawsuit claims the fire was a direct result of negligence on the part of the developer since that company, along with any of its delegates, has the responsibility for constructing and maintaining the property in a safe manner designed to avoid injury and/or damage to property. The lawsuit further claims that the developer either knew or should have known that the type of construction used at the complex increased the risk of fire.(2) Continue reading

settlementA Somerset County woman received a settlement of more than $1.6 million for injuries she suffered when hit by a falling ceiling tile while at the TGI Friday’s restaurant in the Blue Star Shopping Center in Watchung, NJ.(1)

According to reports, when a ceiling tile in the restaurant’s bar area fell, it struck the woman on the head and right shoulder resulting in injuries that required several surgeries. The incident occurred in November of 2010 and, reports stated, the woman continues to suffer from discomfort and pain as a result of her injuries. The case was settled earlier this month in a settlement conference heard in Somerset County Superior Court.(1)

Accidents resulting in injuries can happen at any given time. Determining whether you have grounds to file a personal injury claim depends largely on whether or not the accident resulted from the careless or irresponsible action of another party and if the accident could have been avoided had the other party acted appropriately.(2)

Personal injury lawsuits are civil complaints filed by an injured party against another person or entity, including a business or government agency, claiming that the accident resulted from the actions of that person or entity. Such lawsuits are usually heard in the State courts in the county where the accident occurred. Exceptions include cases where “small” damages, typically between $2,000 and $5,000, are being sought; or in cases involving parties who live in different states and damages that exceed $75,000. The former cases usually are heard in the small claims division of a state court, while the latter cases can be filed in federal district court.(2)

The majority of personal injury cases are resolved through settlements before going to a jury. In settlements, like the case cited above, both sides agree to an amount to be awarded and forgo any additional action. Whether a personal injury case goes to trial or is resolved through settlement, preparation is the same.(2) Continue reading

dog-bitesAll too often people are drawn in by the cuteness of puppies and undertake the responsibilities of pet ownership without giving adequate thought to what that actually involves. This can be especially true around the holidays. And while that little ball of fluff initially may be met squeals of delight, pet ownership is a lifetime commitment that carries both responsibilities and liabilities.

Generally speaking, people do not set out to buy or adopt vicious dogs, but all dogs have the potential to bite under the right circumstances. There are roughly four-and-a-half million dog bites reported each year in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control, which added that one in every five of those dog bites are serious enough to require medical attention. About 65% of the victims who require emergency medical attention are between the ages of five and nine.(1) The individual responsible for injuries suffered from a dog bite depends in part on where the dog lives and the circumstances surrounding the attack.

New Jersey, like many other states, operates under a strict liability statute concerning dog bites, meaning the dog’s owner is liable for those injuries regardless of whether or not the owner took adequate measures to restrain the dog or warn or protect others of a potential danger. This “strict liability” statute applies only to injuries from dog bites. If a dog were to run into the street causing a person to fall or crash their car, the statute would not apply. The injured person seeking to recover damages would have to file a claim of negligence instead.(2)

When a person is injured by a dog bite in New Jersey, he or she has two years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit. In order for a victim to seek damages, he or she does not need to prove negligence or carelessness on the part of the dog owner. Victims only need to show that they were bitten; that the person they are seeking damages from is, in fact, the owner of the dog; and that the attack took place while the victim was on public property or lawfully on private property, meaning they were on private property by invitation or in the course of carrying out official duties as allowed by law, such as delivering mail or reading utility meters.(2)

Some states with strict liability statutes allow a provocation defense which releases the dog owner of liability if it is proven that the victim provoked the dog through abuse or teasing.  New Jersey, however, does not have such a defense. Essentially, the only defense against liability for dog bite injuries is if the dog owner can prove the victim was illegally trespassing on the dog owner’s private property.(2) Continue reading

spectator-injuriesStories about professional and student athletes suffering game-related injuries are common in the news and recently have led to stricter rulings concerning practice drills to help ward against heat-related injuries and improved safety equipment to guard against concussions and other impact-related injuries. But what happens when spectators get injured at sporting events? Who is liable then?

The answer relies largely on the circumstances surrounding the injury. Different injuries can have very different outcomes, as illustrated by the following cases.

The first case involves a New Jersey woman who fell down an elevator shaft as she was exiting the stadium at Fenway Park in Boston, MA. It was reported last week that the 22-year-old filed a lawsuit on December 18 against the owners of Fenway Park and the Connecticut-based elevator company, Otis, for injuries she sustained in the fall. According to the reports, the elevator door swung inward “like a doggie door” after the woman “brushed against” it, creating a fall hazard. She then fell down the elevator shaft, sustaining injuries to her brain, spine and face, resulting in medical expenses in excess of $250,000.(1)

In a separate case, a New Jersey mother lost her appeal of a suit she brought against her local school board, claiming the board’s failure to put up a protective fence led to injuries she sustained while attending her son’s high school baseball game. While sitting in the stands watching the pre-game warm-up, the woman suffered injuries to her face after being hit with a baseball. The N.J. Appellate Court determined that a Superior Court judge was correct in his earlier ruling that the woman had failed to show that the board’s failure to build a higher fence was “palpably unreasonable” and, as a result, her claim against the school board was denied.(2) Continue reading

toy-safetyThis is the time of year when parents and other well-meaning adults rush to satisfy the holiday wish lists of children everywhere. A recent study, however, reminds shoppers of the need to balance the wants of the child with safety.

The recently released study was the first long-term look at toy-related injuries in children younger than 18 years old and covered the period between 1990 and 2011. According to this study, toy-related injuries increased by 40% over the past two decades, accounting for 195,363 emergency room visits by children in 2011, an increase over the 121,249 emergency room visits in 1990. The rate of toy-related injuries for every 10,000 children rose to 26.9 in 2011 from 18.9 in 1990.(1) These numbers, however, only represent those children treated in emergency departments and not at doctors’ offices or urgent care centers.(2)

This increase in injuries was attributed largely to foot-powered scooters. The rate of injuries related to other toys, ranging from toy food to toy weapons, essentially remained steady during that same period.(1)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which publishes annual safety reports on products including toys, however, contends that the overall rate of toy-related injuries has remained steady since 2009, but agrees that ride-on toys, particularly scooters, lead the list of dangerous toys. For 2013, the CPSC reported 52,500 scooter-related injuries among children.(1)

Since 2008, federal law has mandated that all toys designed for children age 12 or younger and sold in the United States must first be tested by a third party for safety regardless of where the toys were manufactured. Prior to 2008, this safety standard was voluntary.(3) Continue reading