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)



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

400-04533052A fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and released this past April revealed that pedestrians were among the few groups that experienced an increase in fatalities for the year 2012. According to the report, 4,743 pedestrians reportedly were killed that year in the U.S. amounting to an average of one pedestrian death every two hours. That number represents the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in five years and a 6% increase over 2011. Of those fatalities, 156 occurred in New Jersey, representing 26.5% of the total 589 traffic fatalities reported in the State.(1)

The fact sheet further disclosed that the almost 5,000 fatalities reported in 2012 represented 14% of all accident fatalities reported in the country. In addition, there were about 76,000 pedestrian injuries reported that same year, which averages out to one injury every seven minutes. Those pedestrian injuries represent 3% of all crash-related injuries reported.(1)

In an effort to cut down on pedestrian-related traffic accidents, HART Commuter Information Services, a nonprofit transportation management group in Hunterdon County, designates October as Pedestrian Safety Awareness Month.(2) Not without coincidence, October is also International Walk to School Month. This year, at least 12 Hunterdon County elementary and intermediate schools joined in the walk-to-school activities.(3)

A large majority of pedestrian fatalities (89%) occur under normal weather condition, according to NHTSA, and about 70% occur at nighttime. The fall represents a particularly hazardous season for pedestrians – the weather is still pleasant enough to attract people outdoors, but the shorter daylight hours pose danger. That’s one reason HART chooses October to step up its efforts to promote awareness about pedestrian safety.(1)

This year, HART selected the theme, “Be Safe: Know Your Space,” a message designed to remind pedestrians of the importance of walking against traffic. With all the distractions vying for the attention of motorists these days, it’s is crucial for pedestrians to be able to make eye contact with drivers of passing cars to make sure they are noticed.(2)

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photo of driver applying makeupDespite the efforts of law enforcement agencies throughout the State to curtail distracted driving practices, New Jersey motorists admittedly continue to engage in some risky behaviors when behind the wheel. In fact, New Jersey drivers have been ranked as some of the worst in the country in terms of impatience, rudeness and engagement in risky driving habits.(1)

Records show that during the period from 2004 through 2013, there were about 3 million motor vehicles accidents reported in the State, of which 1.4 million involved inattentive drivers. What’s more, 1,600 fatalities occurring during that same period reportedly resulted from accidents in which distracted driving was cited as a major factor.(2)

While much effort has been made to halt the use of cellphones by motorists, especially handheld cellphones and texting on those devices, there are many other activities which can be considered distractions for drivers. The State’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety listed the following activities as being among some of the behaviors that could detract drivers’ attention from the road: applying makeup, tuning a radio or CD player, eating/drinking, talking to other passengers and tending to children and/or pets in the car.(3)

Recently, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll joined forces with the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School to conduct a series of polls concerning public health issues, the first of which related to the risky behaviors of New Jersey motorists. Participants in the poll were asked to rank certain behaviors as to their level of danger from the perspective of both a passenger and a driver. Interestingly, the poll showed that even though drivers responding from the perspective of a passenger found certain behaviors to be very unsafe, they admitted to engaging in those same behaviors when they were behind the wheel.(1)

High on the list of distractions thought to be most dangerous from a passenger perspective was reading, with almost all of those polled saying being in a car with a driver reading a newspaper, book or tablet would make them feel very unsafe. Almost 90% of those responding thought reading text messages or emails was very unsafe; while 60% considered talking on a handheld phone very dangerous, although most participants admitted to being less concerned when drivers used hands-free cellphone devices. Slightly more than half of the participants ranked eating or drinking while driving as an unsafe behavior, but only 23% of those considered it very unsafe.(1) Continue reading

batter.jpgSports are a great way to keep our youth fit and active, but they do carry risks. Take for example last week’s reports on not one but two major league baseball players who were seriously injured when hit in the face by pitches.(1) Although any athlete is at risk for injury, the risks may be higher for children due do their inexperience and lack of training. In an effort to protect children from certain sports-related injuries through education and guidelines, two New Jersey lawmakers have co-sponsored a bill recently introduced in Washington.(2)

The bill is intended to offer protection for student athletes not only in New Jersey, but across the country. Titled the SAFE PLAY Act (Supporting Athletes, Families and Educators to Protect the Lives of Athletic Youth), the bill is said to be the most comprehensive of its kind in addressing both the safety and health of student athletes. It seeks to:

– increase awareness of risky cardiac conditions in children through educational resources;
– provide public schools with funds for cardiac training and equipment through grants;
– impose stricter requirements for treating and preventing concussions;
– outline safe practices for playing and practicing in hot weather;
– offer guidelines on the safe use of energy drinks; and

- seek more comprehensive emergency action plans for all school-sponsored athletic activities.(3)

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