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When you sustain a personal injury from a car accident, a faulty product or in some other way, it is a difficult and complex thing to endure.  When pursuing damages for your injury, you want to make sure the law firm you hire is the right one for you.

Interestingly, we recently found a study published in the New York University Law Review [86 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 805-886 (Oct. 2011)] that revealed a fairly alarming trend:

“Many personal injury cases today are handled by high-volume law firms that take a mechanistic approach to handling cases rather than an individual one — firms which the author, Nora Freeman Engstrom, calls “settlement mills.”

In this study, Ms. Engstrom, who is an assistant professor at Stanford Law School, reviewed evidence from eight large personal injury firms across the U.S.  From her research, she found that high-volume “settlement mills” actually dedicate very few attorney hours to each individual case.  Additionally, claims handled by these firms are often settled at a lower value than they may have been if handled by a conventional attorney.

If you or a loved one is looking to hire an attorney for a personal injury case, please review the information below, as summarized from Ms. Engstrom’s report, to ensure the firm you hire has your best interests in mind.

What is a “Settlement Mill”?

According to Ms. Engstrom, personal injury “settlement mills” provide a service that is quite different than traditional counsel.  Rather than offering individual attention to each client, settlement mills pursue large volumes of claims in a fairly formulaic or “cookie-cutter” manner.  These firms handle cases quickly and systematically, Ms. Engstrom says, which often reduces the value of a claim.  Her research also revealed that these mills rarely file law suits or expend resources to vet cases and that case managers were likely to handle cases rather than actual lawyers.

Simply put, the business model of these “settlement mills” seems to value quantity of claims versus quality of service provided.

According to the study, personal injury “settlement mills” typically:

  • Advertise more aggressively on TV, radio and billboards
  • Maintain an unusually high number of claims at a given time
  • Do not expend extensive resources to pursue a claim
  • Do not offer many, if any, face-to-face meetings between lawyers and clients
  • Emphasize settlement versus actual trial litigation

For claims that have less merit or are lower value, these “settlement mills” could, in theory, serve a purpose, Ms. Engstrom says.  However, according to her data, the trend has contributed to a decrease in value for more serious, meritorious claims.

The article concludes that insurance companies like settlement mills because they settle quickly and cheaply, even in catastrophic cases, without litigation.

Bar organizations can do little about law firms that operate in this manner because federal courts bar tough regulation of legal advertising.  Their operations operate “under the radar” because most of them almost never file their cases in courts.  They are the poison oak of the legal system, operating in a manner generally contrary to the interest of their clients and the public, and just as difficult as poison oak to limit.

Here at Marianne Howanitz PA, we go out of our way to give you personal, ethical, aggressive representation that holds the insurance companies accountable for your pain and suffering.  We never compromise and settle for less than you deserve.

 

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Thinking about going out for a ride in a charter airboat nearby?  Well, you might want to think about it a little more as two more people died in an airboat collision in Melbourne yesterday.  Here are some things you should be aware of.

In the state of Florida, you don’t need any type of special license to operate a boat.  In fact, according to the law, any person who was born prior to 1988 doesn’t have to have certification in order to drive a boat.  A person born after January 1, 1988 will have to acquire a Boating Safety Education ID card issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.  Once this card is obtained, it is valid for life.

A common type of boat used in Florida is the air boat and air boat tours are extremely popular. Even though most air boat operators have plenty of experience, there is no type of requirement for these boats to have safety devices, such as windshields, airbags or seat belts.  In fact, these boats don’t have any brakes and they are usually operated at high speeds.  Also, because of the design of the boat, they may stop short if driven over dry land.  Trust me, been there and done that!

The location of an airboat accident — whether in “non-navigable” waters or “navigable” waters—influences the outcome of a boating accident case. Much of Florida’s Everglades and waterways is made up of landlocked ponds, and as such, is considered by state and Federal standards as “non-navigable.”  If the boating accident in which you were involved occurred on non-navigable waters, then Florida state law will govern. However, a waterway that could be used to transport a boat to the ocean or between two states is considered “navigable.”  If an accident occurred on navigable waters, the Federal maritime law will govern the accident.

Why This Would Matter in Your Case.

Under Florida state law, the standard of care owed to passengers is much greater — in fact, it is equivalent with the highest degree of care that is consistent with that particular type of transportation.

So, Who Would Be Liable: The Company or the Operator?

Should an airboat operator fail to adhere to the rules outlined in the Florida Statutes, the operator can be charged with careless and reckless driving. However, the airboat company may also be responsible for the actions of it’s employee.

Here at Marianne Howanitz, P.A., we are all too familiar with the different types of Florida boating accidents and the injuries associated with them.  If you or a loved one have been injured in a boating accident, contact us today at 352-512-0444 to schedule a free initial consultation.

 

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Halloween is just around the corner and everyone’s in the mood for scary movies.  Remember the movie Christine?  Pretty scary for the time, right?  Well, this is not about that kind of phantom vehicle, sorry. This is about another scary kind of vehicle-the Phantom Vehicle. (Cue evil laugh)

A phantom vehicle is one that causes injury, death or damage either with or without making physical contact.  For example, if a vehicle runs you off the road and causes you to crash, they are considered a phantom vehicle.  The name refers to the fact that in most such cases, the driver of the phantom vehicle, much like a hit and run driver, leaves the scene, and thus in the subsequent accident investigation, the identity of the phantom vehicle is unknown. Only eye witness testimony, surveillance video or dash cam recordings may assist in identifying the phantom vehicle.  It is also critical to get the name and address of any witnesses who saw the phantom vehicle as they can help you establish your claim.

Most Uninsured Motorist insurance policies will provide coverage to customers who have been injured as a result of a negligent phantom vehicle.  However, many of those policies put restrictions on how phantom vehicle claims can be pursued.  For example, some policies require that a phantom vehicle accident be reported to the insurance company within 24 hours of the crash.  Meanwhile, other policies attempt to require that some physical impact between the vehicles occurred.

Phantom vehicle claims can be really tricky, so a wise consumer might want to consult an experienced Florida accident attorney.  I have handled many such cases and would be honored to help you, too.

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A new statute took effect on July 1st of this year that affects all of us that take a ride with Uber or Lyft.  According to the Florida Justice Association Journal in an article by C. Richard Newsome and William C. Ourand, this statute is heavily skewed to favor and serve the interests of Uber and Lyft, with very little benefit for consumers.  This is particularly true with respect to personal injury litigants.

Mainly, the new law determines that Uber, Lyft and other transportation network companies, are not “common carriers”.  Under Florida Law a common carrier owes an “elevated, non-delegable duty of care” to provide safe passage. Also, “a common carrier cannot relieve itself from its primary duty to maintain safe accommodations for its passengers and their baggage by contracting with an independent contractor to perform its functions.”  This means that under the new law Uber and Lyft drivers are considered to be independent contractors and not employees.

So, what did consumers receive in compromise for the significant legal rights taken away by the bill?  For injured consumers, the so-called protections afforded by the bill come primarily in the form of insurance “requirements.”  However, those “requirements” are, in reality, nothing more than the status quo.  Uber and Lyft have had policies affording various phases of coverage ranging between $0 and $1,000,000 since at least 2014. The different phases of coverage continue to work under the bill, as follows:

$0      When the driver is not logged into the app.  The plaintiff must instead look to the driver’s personal policy, should one exist, and no coverage exclusions apply.

$50K per injury/$100K per incident/$25K for property damage:  When the driver is logged in, but has not accepted a ride request.

$1 Million: When the driver is logged in and has accepted a ride request.

In some cases, those limits covering the driver’s negligence may prove sufficient, but in cases involving severe or catastrophic injuries, the medical bills alone can greatly exceed those figures.  In such instances, it may become necessary to pursue a claim for direct or vicarious liability against the company itself.  If Uber and Lyft were “common carriers” there would be strong theories to pursue them just a few months ago.  But now the new bill has changed all of that.  As a result, pursuing a claim against Uber or Lyft has become far more difficult.

This bill has radically altered the legal landscape with respect to pursuing claims against Uber and Lyft on behalf of injured Floridians.  However, there are still viable causes of action that can be pursued in these cases.

Should you, or someone you know, be injured while using Uber or Lyft, be sure to choose an attorney that is up to date on these cases and can help you reclaim your health and life.

YOUR #UberandLyftAttorney,

Marianne Howanitz

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 Portable Generator Safety Tips From the National Safety Council

In an emergency, portable electric generators offer lifesaving benefits when outages affect your home or business. They can safely power important electrical equipment such as portable heating units, computers, water pumps, freezers, refrigerators and lighting. However, portable generator use can also be very hazardous. If you plan on using an emergency generator, it’s essential that you take precautions for your safety and the safety of those working to restore power.

The most effective way to avoid portable generator mishaps is to make sure you fully understand the proper operating procedures. Read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines before operating or maintaining your generator – and don’t forget to use common sense.

Follow these tips for safe portable generator use:

  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions before running generator
  • Engines emit carbon monoxide. Never use a generator inside your home, garage, crawl space, or other enclosed areas. Fatal fumes can build up, that neither a fan nor open doors and windows can provide enough fresh air.
  • Only use your generator outdoors, away from open windows, vents, or doors.
  • Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in the area you’re running a generator.
  • Gasoline and its vapors are extremely flammable. Allow the generator engine to cool at least 2 minutes before refueling and always use fresh gasoline. If you do not plan to use your generator in 30 days, don’t forget to stabilize the gas with fuel stabilizer.
  • Maintain your generator according to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for peak performance and safety.
  • Never operate the generator near combustible materials.
  • If you have to use extension cords, be sure they are of the grounded type and are rated for the application. Coiled cords can get extremely hot; always uncoil cords and lay them in flat open locations.
  • Never plug your generator directly into your home outlet. If you are connecting a generator into your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a Power Transfer Switch.
  • Generators produce powerful voltage – Never operate under wet conditions. Take precautions to protect your generator from exposure to rain and snow.

The purpose of both workers’ compensation and personal injury claims is to provide compensation to injured individuals and although there are differences between the two, there are also areas of overlap. Workers’ compensation can provide monetary awards to those injured while on the job but there are some instances when injured workers may be able to also bring a personal injury claim. These include:

  • Injuries involving a defective product in which a claim may be brought against the product’s manufacturer
  • Injuries involving a toxic substance in which a toxic tort claim may be brought against the manufacturer of the toxic substance
  • Injuries occurring as a result of an employer’s intentional or egregious conduct
  • Injuries occurring in a workplace in which the employer is not required to carry workers’ compensation insurance or is required but has failed to do so
  • Injuries caused by the negligence of a third party, someone other than an employer or a co-worker.

Personal injury claims may be brought by any injured person regardless of where the injury occurred. The key is not where the injury occurred but whether or not it was due to the negligence of another person, product or substance or if it was intentional.

Although workers’ compensation provides monetary and other benefits to an injured worker, the awards can be quite low compared to those allowed in a personal injury claim.  And, workers’ compensation does not provide for compensation for pain and suffering.

Since it doesn’t cost you anything, you should contact a Personal Injury Attorney to review your case to see if you may have both a workers’ compensation claim and personal injury claim arising out of the same incident.

And, as always, I would be happy to assist you with this!

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Plenty of us dislike driving at night.  High beams shining in your eyes are an annoyance and dangerous.  Fatalities on the road occur at a rate three times greater at night than during the day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While only a quarter of all driving is done at night, more than half of all driving deaths occur at that time.

Drivers middle-aged and older are more sensitive to glare than younger drivers because their eyes take longer to adjust to changing light levels. For example, a 55 year old takes eight times longer to recover from glare than a 16 year old. As the population ages, the number of older drivers will continue to rise as will the number of complaints about glare. Lighter-colored eyes are more sensitive which means the lighter your eyes are, the more glare will bother you. Certain other conditions such as having had vision-correction surgery that affects the corneas may also increase your sensitivity to glare.

Behind the Wheel Tips

  1. Avert Your Eyes

When oncoming vehicles shine light directly into your eyes, look down and to the right. Turn your gaze to the white line on the right side of the road, or to where pavement meets shoulder, until the vehicle goes by. You can still see the vehicles around you with your peripheral vision but the glare won’t bother you as much because you are not using the most light sensitive part of your eyes.

  1. Learn to Use Your Mirror’s “Night” Setting

All cars have “day/night” interior mirrors to reduce reflected glare from vehicles directly behind you. You can change the mirror to its “night” setting by flipping the small lever at the bottom of the mirror. This changes the angle of the reflective surface and appears to dim the mirror. Lights will show up in the glass but they’re much less bright and not so bothersome.

  1. Use Your Lights Courteously

In fog, use only your low beam headlights.  High beams reduce your own ability to see and may temporarily blind other drivers. If your car has fog lamps, only use them if there is fog and in conjunction with your low beams. Avoid using your high beams when you see oncoming vehicles or when you drive in urban areas.

  1. Take Frequent Breaks

If you’re driving at night for a long time, stop often to reduce fatigue and give your eyes a chance to recover. Take a short nap, or at least a brisk walk and some caffeine to help you stay alert.

Get regular eye exams and stay safe out there friends!

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Civil wrongful death lawsuits can be filed in Florida by the family members of an individual who died as the result of someone else’s negligence. It is mandatory that the death occurred as a result of someone else’s fault.  In a wrongful death lawsuit, Florida law mandates that a cause of action must be brought within two (2) years rather than four (4) as in a personal injury case.  If a loved one has passed away due to the negligence or carelessness of another, do not delay, call now. I can help you.

Wrongful Death Cases in Florida

The state of Florida records a large number of personal injury accidents every year and a significant percentage of these are accidental deaths. Some of the most common causes of wrongful death are vehicle accidents that result in one or more fatalities. Car accidents are a leading cause of death throughout the state.

 

Driver negligence is an important element in all vehicle accidents including drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, reckless driving and even drowsy driving.

 

Other causes for wrongful death accidents in Florida include accidents that involve semi-trucks or commercial vehicles, machinery-related accidents, toxic exposure or fire deaths. Medical malpractice wrongful death is another example, including surgical errors, failure to diagnose or failure to provide the needed/adequate treatment.

 

The burden of proof (the need to show that the other driver, person or entity was negligent) falls on the Plaintiff and in Wrongful Death claims, is brought by the Personal Representative of the Estate of the deceased person.

 

Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases

The types of compensation awarded in Wrongful Death cases are monetary and include medical and burial expenses. Survivors are also entitled to compensation for non-economic damages such as loss of support, services, companionship and protection as well as mental pain and suffering.

 

Do you know someone who recently lost a family member due to wrongful death? Remember that time is of the essence and even though the family is grieving and it may be the last thing on their mind, you could help by getting in contact with us so we may begin preserving evidence and preparing their case.  The loss of a loved one is difficult and while I can’t ease their sorrow,  I can help them find justice!

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How do you feel about driving roundabouts?  I know there was a lot of initial opposition to the new roundabouts on Fort King here in Ocala a while ago, but after a bit a research on the subject, I found out a few things that I didn’t know about them and thought you might also find it interesting.

Did you know that roundabouts are a safer alternative to traffic signals and stop signs? The tight circle of a roundabout forces drivers to slow down, and makes the most severe types of intersection crashes — right-angle, left-turn and head-on collisions — unlikely. At traditional intersections with stop signs or traffic signals, these types of collisions can be severe because vehicles may be traveling through the intersection at high speeds. With roundabouts, these types of potentially serious crashes essentially are eliminated because vehicles travel in the same direction and at low speeds —generally less than 20 mph in urban areas and less than 30-35 mph in rural areas. The vehicle-to-vehicle conflicts that do occur at roundabouts generally involve a vehicle merging into the circular roadway or in the case of multi-lane roundabouts, conflicts also occur as vehicles exit.

Did you know roundabouts improve traffic flow and are better for the environment? Research shows that traffic flow improves following conversion of traditional intersections to roundabouts. Less idling reduces vehicle emissions and fuel consumption.

Did you know roundabouts generally are safer for pedestrians? Pedestrians walk on sidewalks around the perimeter and cross only one direction of traffic at a time. Crossing distances are relatively short and traffic speeds are lower than at traditional intersections.

Before you play roundabout roulette, check out this great graphic explaining how to drive in a roundabout at http://www.districtgov.org/community/Roundabout-02-08-12.pdf.

Now that I know more, I’m all for roundabouts!  Anything that helps to keep us safe out there is a good thing!

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Heading out to get in some last vacation time with the family before school starts back up?  Getting away from the homestead and staying in a hotel where someone else does the cleaning and changes the sheets is one of the top perks of traveling for me.

When you stay at a hotel, motel, resort, inn, or bed and breakfast, you are expecting to have a fun, relaxing time away from home. However, if hotel or motel property owners do not sufficiently take care of their building and the surrounding area, it could lead to serious guest injuries.

The establishment has a general duty to exercise reasonable care in operating its business and protecting its guests.  A guest is considered an “invitee” under Florida premises liability law and each guest is legally entitled to protection.  A Florida establishment must inspect the grounds and maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition free from any hazards or dangerous conditions.

Florida Duties

The premises include the establishment’s shuttle bus, the parking lot and inside the establishment itself. This includes all common areas, meeting and banquet halls, swimming pools, guest rooms, and other areas where guests are free to move about.  According to Florida Statutes, the duties it must fulfill on behalf of guests include:

  • Maintain adequate lighting
  • Keep steps dry and unobstructed
  • Repair defects and maintain furniture
  • Control insect infestation (bed bugs)
  • Maintain proper security to avoid theft and assaults on guests
  • Exercise reasonable care in hiring hotel staff
  • Train hotel pool staff to prevent injuries to guests
  • Maintain elevators
  • Maintain locks on guest rooms
  • Prevent criminal activity or theft

If you have been injured while on the premises of a hotel, motel, resort, inn or bed and breakfast and that injury could have been prevented, you may not be responsible for your medical bills, your lost wages or your pain and suffering. Give me a call to discuss what happened to you and remember, I never a charge for the consultation!