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

stroller-recallThe U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) last week announced the recall of nearly 5 million baby strollers and urged parents and caregivers to take immediate action to prevent possible injury to the strollers’ young occupants. So far, 11 injuries ranging from lacerations to complete fingertip amputations caused by a defective hinge have been reported.(1)

The affected strollers, sold under the Graco and Century brand names, were manufactured between August 1, 2000 and September 25, 2014. According to the recall notice, folding hinges on these strollers can trap a baby’s finger resulting in injury. Of the injuries reported so far, there was one laceration, and four partial and six complete amputations of the children’s fingertips.(2)

A report by Daily Finance noted that this recall is very similar to a 2010 recall by Graco and one of its competitors, MacLaren, adding that the earlier recall involved far fewer strollers. Then this past summer, Graco recalled about 4 million child car seats because of an issue with the buckles that posed a hazard of children being trapped in the seats.(3)

In response to this most recent recall, Graco is offering repair kits which will include a cover for the faulty hinges. These kits are expected to be available by December 1. In the meantime, parents and caregivers are urged to be diligent if using one of the affected strollers to make certain that it is fully locked after unfolding before putting their child inside. Parents are also being warned to remove their child immediately if the stroller should begin to fold while the child is inside.(1)

Even strollers not affected by this recall require the diligent supervision of adults to prevent injuries to children. According to the Keeping Babies Safe website, the most common injury related to strollers result from falls and almost 90% of these result in head injuries. The CPSC reports at least two deaths each year from stroller-related accidents. Most deaths occur when the children are left to sleep with the stroller in a reclining position because caregivers neglect to realize that even infants as young as a couple of weeks can move in their sleep. As the babies move, they slip through the stroller’s leg holes until their heads get trapped, which could result in suffocation or strangulation.(4) Continue reading

guardrails-PI-blogIn another case of what may be safety equipment doing more harm than good, states across the country are joining in a boycott of certain guardrail end terminals manufactured by Trinity Highway Products, LLC, a business of Texas-based Trinity Industries, Inc. Last week New Jersey became the thirty-first state to join this ever-growing list when the State’s Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which also oversees the Garden State Parkway, announced they were banning the use of these products in both new construction and maintenance projects  at least until further safety tests can be conducted.(1)

The end terminals in question, part of Trinity’s ET-Plus System, have been connected to about 14 motor vehicle accidents that reportedly resulted in numerous injuries and at least 5 deaths. In theory, guardrail end terminals, when struck, are supposed to move with the vehicle and absorb at least some of the impact of the crash. According to reports, the ET-Plus end terminals have a tendency to lock rather than move when hit head-on by the front of an oncoming vehicle. This can result in the guardrail cutting through the oncoming vehicle like a spear. Numerous injuries, including amputations, have been blamed on this malfunction.(1)

These allegations from crash victims were the topic of a broadcast on “20/20,” the investigative news program produced by ABC television, last September. Then, last month, a Texas jury found the parent company, Trinity Industries, guilty of defrauding the federal government by covering up a change in the product’s design. According to reports, the company made modifications to the design of its guardrail end terminals in 2005, but failed to report those changes either to federal or state transportation officials at the time. The change in question reduced by an inch the size of a metal piece used in the guardrail end terminal. This change, it was reported, saved the company about $2 on each guardrail it produced for an estimated savings of $50,000 per year.(2)

Although the company has maintained its guardrail end terminals are safe and that the modifications had been approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) after safety questions were raised back in 2012, the Texas court ordered it to pay $175 million in damages. The company could eventually pay three times that amount under a statutory mandate.(2)

Trinity was given until October 31 to submit plans to the FHWA for further safety tests of its product. The company submitted the plans just under the deadline, avoiding a nationwide ban of its product. The FHWA did not disclose details of the company’s re-testing plan, but did say it would give the plan a careful and expeditious review.(3)

In the meantime, states across the country continue to ban the use of the end terminals in questions pending the new safety tests. According to a report published on November 6, the count was up to 39 states participating in the ban.(4) At least one state, Virginia, has talked about removing the effected products from its roadways. However, a plan for when that work would begin has not been announced and the state did say it would be abandoned if new testing showed the end terminals to be safe.(2)

  1. http://www.nj.com/traffic/index.ssf/2014/11/nj_joins_30_states_that_have_banned_guard_rail_par.html
  2. http://abcnews.go.com/US/controversial-guardrail-4x-involved-fatal-accident-study/story?id=26521833
  3. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wire-guardrail-company-avoids-nationwide-ban-crash-test/story?id=26613762
  4. http://abc7.com/traffic/football-star-dies-after-crashing-into-controversial-guardrail-system/384578/

 

400-04558858Almost 20% of the cars and trucks on the road today have been the subject of a safety recall, making this the worst year in history for U.S. car makers.(1) Recalls have been issued for more than 50 million vehicles this year, surpassing the previous record of 30 million vehicle recalls in 2004. Despite these numbers, about one-third of drivers are said to ignore the recall notices they receive, an indication that the current warning system is not as effective as federal regulators would like.(2)

The most recent recall involves defective airbags manufactured by the Japanese firm, Takata, and this recall affects about 14 million cars from 11 manufacturers worldwide.(2) In this country alone, almost 8 million vehicles from 9 manufacturers already have been recalled for this issue. Currently, recall efforts have been concentrated in the warmer, more humid regions because those climate conditions are thought to aggravate the problem; there is pressure, however, expand the recall to all affected vehicles nationwide.(4)

This latest recall has been especially troubling as it involves a major safety feature of the vehicles. The airbags, which are intended to protect passengers in the event of an accident, either are not expanding correctly upon impact or exploding. It is believed the propellant in these airbags, which is designed to burn and produce the gas that causes the airbags to inflate, is too strong. As a result, the container can rupture, flinging metal fragments into the car, injuring or killing passengers.(2)

Because of the seriousness of this defect, federal regulators have been urging vehicle owners to take immediate action. Currently, however, there are not enough parts available to repair all impacted vehicles. Some manufacturers are offering to deactivate the airbags and post a warning sign in the vehicle to remind people not to use the front passenger seat until the airbags can be repaired,(1) a solution that is impractical for many. Temporary solutions, such as this, lead to consumer frustration.

One of the reasons behind the rise in recalls may be that federal prosecutors are holding auto makers more accountable for injuries resulting from defects in their vehicles. Earlier this year, Toyota was fined $1.2 billion dollars for its shortcomings in connection with a recall of 10 million of its vehicles. Examples such as this could possibly encourage other auto manufacturers to be more forthcoming in announcing recalls.(1) Continue reading