It’s almost the New Year, which means it’s time to reflect on the past and make New Year’s resolutions to make your next year all the better; this includes a review of your current auto insurance policy. That’s right – the holidays are the perfect moment to make sure you aren’t overlooking anything in the upcoming year that would protect your ass–sets from liability.

The first thing you should do is check out your policy to make sure that you have:


Do I have enough Bodily Injury coverage (BI)?

Bodily injury liability provides coverage in case you cause an auto accident in which another person (or people) is hurt. It covers the damages that you’re legally responsible for, and provides a legal defense if someone sues you for damages.  There is no legal requirement in Florida that a person have bodily injury liability coverage.

Bodily Injury liability limits are typically shown like this: $50,000/$100,000.
The first number represents the highest amount any one person could be paid arising out of one accident.  The second number represents the total amount of money it would pay out for that one accident, regardless of the number of claimants.

How much coverage do I need?  When choosing your Bodily Injury liability limits, you should consider all of your assets, including your home and future earnings. Why? Because if you don’t have enough coverage to protect all of your assets, those assets could be at risk if you’re liable for damages that exceed your coverage limit.

 Do I have Under-insured/Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM)?

 As the name suggests, an uninsured driver is someone without an auto insurance policy. But, what does it mean to be under-insured? Let’s say you’re involved in a crash in which the other driver is at fault. You find out the other driver only has $10,000 in bodily injury liability limits and it’s not nearly enough to cover your medical bills for your injuries. In this case, the other driver would be considered under-insured—meaning that they have an auto insurance policy, but it’s just not enough to cover all of your damages.

UM/UIM coverage is designed to help you pay for bills and damages associated with a crash that was caused by another person who either doesn’t have an auto insurance policy or has a policy with liability limits that are too low to cover the costs and all damages associated with a covered loss.

This is something you’ll need to think about, as the limits for uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage can range from $10,000 to over $1 million. Some people choose a limit equal to their bodily injury liability limit, but that’s not always a requirement. For help deciding, you may want to consider a number of factors, including what kind of health insurance you have and whether you have access to short- and long-term disability through your employer to ensure you don’t lose out on wages if you’re too injured to work.

What does UM/UIM Insurance typically cover? With this policy, your insurance company basically steps into the shoes of the at-fault driver, therefore, it covers the same damages as bodily injury liability insurance: past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages and, if you are permanently injured, past and future non-economic damages like pain, suffering, scarring, disfigurement and loss of the ability to enjoy life.

In addition to injuries to the driver or car owner who has UM/UIM, the bodily injury portion of uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage may also cover injuries to your passengers or family members who are driving the vehicle at the time of such a crash. UM/UIM coverage also follows the insured.  For example, if you are a passenger in your friends car and an under-insured motorist injures you when he crashes into your friends car, your policy will cover your damages not covered by the at-fault driver to the limits of your UM/UIM policy.

The Insurance Research Council estimated in 2011 that chances are about one in seven that a driver in the U.S. is uninsured. With that in mind, you should talk to an auto insurance agent today about your options to protect yourself.

Let’s start off the New Year with the great feeling that at least one of your resolutions was actually done!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The holidays are right around the corner and for those of us who will be buying toys for the children in our families; it can be tough to find the perfect toys we know they will enjoy. Maybe we should also be concerned about the safety of those toys.

Each year, more than 120,001098482_630x3540 children under the age of 14 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, with choking being the number one cause, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. Even innocent-looking toys — such as marbles and balloons — can present a choking hazard to small children. The Child Safety Protection Act, a federal toy-labeling law, requires manufacturers to place warning labels on toys that pose a choking hazard to young children.  Check out the Ten Worst Toys on the W.A.T.C.H.’s website here:

When selecting a toy for your child, the National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends you avoid the following:

  1. Toys with small, removable parts: Small parts can pose a choking hazard to children under age 3. Use a small parts tester (a plastic tube you can buy at a toy or baby specialty store) to measure the size of the toy or part. If the piece fits entirely inside the tube, then it’s considered a choking hazard.
  2. Toys with sharp points or edges: Children may unintentionally cut themselves or another person.
  3. Toys that make loud noises: Noisemaking toys, such as toy guns and high-volume portable cassette recorders, can permanently impair a child’s hearing.
  4. Propelled toy darts and other projectiles: Propelled toys can cause cuts or serious eye injuries.
  5. Toys with strings, straps, or cords longer than seven inches: Long strings and cords could wrap around a child’s neck and strangle him.
  6. Toys painted with lead-based paint: Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning, causing serious damage to a child’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system.
  7. Toy cap guns: Paper roll, strip, or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction, and can cause serious burns.

There are millions of toys out there, and hundreds of new ones come along every year. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for monitoring and regulating toys that are made in our country, and those that enter our country, mainly from China. However, even still today, they somehow fail to detect quality or safety issues prior to the sale of some toys, and they are placed on the market regardless of their dangers.

When CPSC begins receiving reports of children becoming injured or even killed by a toy, only then do they consider taking it off the market, when it’s too late for the victims. But, how would we feel if one of our own children became seriously injured as a result of playing with a dangerous toy before it was banned from shelves? Because so many toys are recalled (especially those that are imported from other countries), you would think there would be no way children in America could be harmed by a dangerous toy. Yet, it still happens.

I sincerely wish you all a safe and happy holiday this year, Marianne

For many, the winter holidays are a time of joy, celebration and tradition. Decorating your home, yard or office is a fun, festive way to celebrate the season. A little planning can help you enjoy your display all season long. Following are some tips to help keep your family and friends safe around your decorative displays.

Planning your Holiday Display

  • Plan your display according to the number and location of available outlets, and avoid overloading electrical outlets.
  • Use lights that have been tested for safety – look for a certification mark from UL, CSA, ETL or other nationally-recognized laboratories. Consider using LED lights when possible – they run cooler, use less energy and last longer than incandescent lights.
  • Never exceed the maximum number of strings or devices that may be linked together, as indicated on decoration packaging.
  • Carefully inspect all lights and decorations for cracks, damaged sockets and loose or bare wires prior to use – these defects can cause a serious fire or shock.

Decorating Safely

  • When decorating the outside of your home, keep yourself, your decorations and equipment at least 10 feet from power lines. Make sure decorations are well-ventilated, protected from weather and a safe distance away from flammable items.
  • Use wooden or fiberglass ladders when putting up electrical décor and lights outside as metal ladders conduct electricity.
  • Unplug electric lights, devices and decorations before installing or replacing bulbs, changing parts or attempting other repairs.
  • Plug all outdoor lights and decorations into ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to reduce the risk of electric shock. Portable GFCIs for outdoor use can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold.
  • Secure lights, decorations and cords to prevent wind damage. Never staple, nail through or fasten electrical wires or extensions cords in any way that might damage the wire or insulation. This could cause electrical shock or fire.

During the Holidays 

  • Turn off all lights and electrical decorations before leaving your home or office, or going to bed.
  • If possible, use battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles to avoid the hazards of an open flame. If you choose to light candles, place them away from flammable or combustible materials, including other decorations, fabrics, plastic or paper products.
  • Do not put candles in places where they might be easily knocked over, and never leave a lit candle unattended.
  • Extinguish all candles before leaving a room or going to bed.

Packing and Storage

  • Inspect and discard damaged decorations prior to packing and storing them.
  • Store decorations in a dry location that is out of the reach of children and pets, as well as heat sources and open flames.
  • Stack boxes in a corner or other stable location, and never higher than eye level to avoid injury or damage from toppling.

“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”— Sophocles, Antigone”

In an article written by Shefali Luthra on November 9, 2015 in the Washington Post, she tells the story of Charles Thompson of Greenville, S.C.

Mr. Thompson checked into the hospital one July morning in 2011, expecting a standard colonoscopy. He never anticipated how wrong things would go.

Partway through, a doctor emerged from the operating room to tell Thompson’s wife, Ann, that there had been complications: His colon may have been punctured. He needed emergency surgery.

Thompson, now 61, almost died on the operating table after experiencing cardiac distress. His right coronary artery required multiple stents. He also relies on a pacemaker.

“He’s not the same as before,” said Ann Thompson, 62. “Our whole lifestyle changed — now all we do is sit at home and go to church. And that’s because he’s scared of dying.”

When things like this happen, questions arise: Who’s responsible? If treatment makes things worse — meaning that a patient needs more care than expected — who pays?

It depends.

Despite provisions in the 2010 health law that put added emphasis on quality of care, entering the hospital still carries risk. Whether because of mistakes, infections or plain bad luck, those who go in don’t always come out better.

More than 400,000 Americans die annually in part because of avoidable medical errors, according to a 2013 estimate published in the Journal of Patient Safety. In 2008, the most recent year studied, medical errors cost the country $19.5 billion, most of which was spent on extra care and medication, according to another report.

If a problem such as Thompson’s stemmed from negligence, a malpractice lawsuit may be an option. But lawyers who collect only when there’s a settlement or a victory may not take on a case unless it’s exceptionally clear that the doctor or hospital was at fault.

That creates a Catch-22, said John Goldberg, a Professor at Harvard Law School and an expert in tort law. “We’ll never know if something has happened because of malpractice,” he said, “because it’s not financially viable to bring a lawsuit.” That leaves the patient responsible for extra costs.

Ann and Charles Thompson maintain that he experienced an avoidable error. The hospital denied wrongdoing, she said, but the physician’s notes indicated they had been advised of the risks of the procedure, including injury to the colon. The Thompsons tried pursuing a lawsuit but couldn’t find a lawyer who would take the case. The hospital and the doctor declined to comment, with the hospital citing patient privacy laws.

Because of his heart problem, which led to the loss of his specialized driver’s license, Thompson lost his truck-driving job. He lost the health insurance he had through his job, depriving him of help in paying for follow-up care. The couple paid close to $600,000 out of pocket, depleting their life savings. They struggled to pay other bills until Thompson was awarded disability benefits, his wife said.

“You would expect if [health-care providers] make the mistake, they would make you whole,” said Leah Binder, President of the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization that grades hospitals on their record of preventing errors, injuries, accidents and infections. “But that is not what happens. In health care, you pay and you pay and you pay.”

There’s no single rule for how hospitals handle the cost of care when patients have bad outcomes and fault is disputed, said Nancy Foster, Vice President of Quality and Patient Safety at the American Hospital Association.

Some hospitals have rules requiring that a patient be told right away if something happened that shouldn’t have and, to the best of the institution’s knowledge, why. Typically, those rules stipulate that if the hospital finds that it erred, the necessary follow-up care is free. Hospitals may not have an obvious financial interest in admitting guilt, though research suggests that patients are less likely to sue when hospitals are transparent about medical mishaps.

“If the [need for further] care was preventable, we’re waiving bills,” said David Mayer, Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStar Health, which operates 10 hospitals in the Baltimore/Washington area.

Virginia’s Inova Health System has a similar policy, said spokeswoman Tracy Connell.

Most hospitals don’t have such rules, said Julia Hallisy, a Patient Safety Advocate from California. That may change: A number of professional and safety groups are urging more hospitals to adopt them. Supporters include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, Leapfrog, the National Quality Forum and the Joint Commission, which accredits many health-care organizations. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is also on board.

As an accident and injury attorney, I know that the negligent acts of others can devastate victim’s lives and the lives of their families.  I see this on a daily basis.  Can you imagine a world where people took responsibility for the harm they caused another?  I, and all other personal injury attorney’s, would be out of a job, and frankly, that would be fine with me.

It is encouraging to see some medical facilities “owning up” to their mistakes and trying to do all they can to heal their patients/victims.  Unfortunately, it is often the liability insurance companies that make the decisions of whether they will take responsibility for the actions of their insureds and “do the right thing” by paying a claim.  I like to think that I give every opportunity to the insurance companies to do the right thing, often with the encouragement of their own insureds.  However, the ultimate decision to resolve a claim or not lies with the insurance companies and their defense attorneys, who make more money the longer a case is drawn out.  What’s the solution?  While I am encouraged at the “do the right thing” movement, unfortunately for a lot of my clients, they have to go through the time and expense of litigation to achieve justice.

Stay safe out there!

YOUR accident and injury attorney,

Marianne Howanitz





The good news is tomorrow is National Love Your Lawyer Day!! The first Friday of every November is a day to show love, appreciation and thanks to lawyers and judges everywhere.  It’s a day to shower your favorite legal eagle with sincere affection, a phone call or card.  The bad news is that also means no lawyer jokes and no lawyer bashing on that day!!

National Love Your Lawyer Day started out as National I Love My Lawyer Day in 2001. Attorney and marketer Nader Anise founded the American Lawyers Public Image Association in 2000, to create the “day” and to further four goals:

  1. Get the public used to hearing the words “Love” and “Lawyer” together;
  2. Get lawyers to give back to the public through pro bono work and charity;
  3. Raise awareness that not all lawyer jokes are funny; and
  4. Get media to cover why lawyers should be celebrated.

The other good news is this is Thursday, so we’re going to publish our “Friday Funny Lawyer” joke today!

A group of terrorists burst into the conference room at the Hilton Hotel where the American Bar Association was holding its Annual Convention. More than a hundred lawyers were taken as hostages.

The terrorist leader announced that, unless their demands were met, they would release one lawyer every hour.

OK, now that was funny and I’m a lawyer!


Halloween is a magical time when you are a child.  Getting to stay outside after dark, dressing up, the prospect of candy and scary (but not too scary) trick-or-treaters you might run into, all make for some high excitement.  Children aren’t very safety aware at the best of times, on Halloween they are even more distracted.  Protect the many little ghosts and goblins coming to your house, and yourself from potential lawsuits, with these easy safety tips tomorrow.

  • Replace burned out lights to welcome trick-or-treaters with your porch lights and any exterior lights on.
  • Tidy up your yard. Make sure you remove things trick-or-treaters could trip over such as garden hoses, bikes and lawn decorations. Clear the sidewalks to avoid slip and falls or trip and falls.
  • Most likely, the number of people in costumes will frighten your pet(s). Keep your pets away from the door and take no chances they might bite a child.
  • If you are driving on Halloween, be sure to observe the streets for foot traffic. Be on the alert for excited youngsters, whose vision may be obscured by masks, darting out into traffic. Pedestrian accidents are always traumatic for all involved, not just the pedestrian.  Hitting a child is certainly one of the worst nightmares of drivers.

Remember to be safe out there!

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than one fifth of the people killed on the world’s roads each year are not travelling in a car, on a motorcycle or even on a bicycle – they are pedestrians. Pedestrian deaths and injuries are often preventable, and proven interventions1413390724112_Image_galleryImage_Music_Album_Abbey_Road_by exist, yet in many locations pedestrian safety does not attract the attention it merits

Florida comes in at the 3rd highest rate for pedestrian fatalities in the US with Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.46. Total pedestrian fatalities were 476 (3rd highest) and total traffic fatalities: 2,424 (3rd highest).  Pedestrian fatalities fell by 4.3% between 2011 and 2012 to 2.46 deaths per 100,000 residents, one of only two states on this list where the death rate declined over that period. This improvement may be due to Florida’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which provides resources to improve local infrastructures. With one of the highest shares of the population in the country commuting more than 30 minutes per day — most of which will travel by car — Florida has a lot to gain from ensuring pedestrian safety. Florida’s high pedestrian death rate may be due in part to its large elderly population, which accounts for 18.2% of the state’s total residents and is the highest proportion in the country. According to one recent study by 24/7 Wall St., residents over 65 years old account for a relatively large proportion of pedestrian deaths, and are more likely than other groups to be involved in accidents.

Everyone is a pedestrian* at some time, and most know to keep their distance from moving traffic. Despite that, pedestrians were among the few categories of road users where deaths rose, accounting for 14% of total traffic fatalities in 2011, up 3% from 2010. If the proportions remain the same, we can expect that one pedestrian will be injured every 8 minutes and one will die every 2 hours in a traffic crash this year.

Nearly 3 out of 4 pedestrian deaths occur in urban environments (73%), at non-intersections (70%), during the nighttime (70%), and many involve alcohol. More than a third (37%) of the pedestrians killed, and 1 in 8 (13%) of the drivers in pedestrian fatalities, had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 g/dL or higher in 2011, the illegal limit in every State. Either the driver or pedestrian, or both, had some alcohol in 47% of all fatal pedestrian crashes.

What we know is that pedestrians and drivers do not obey laws and signals consistently and many often use cell phones and music players while walking or driving. Only 60% of pedestrians said they expected drivers to stop when they were in crosswalks, even though they have the right-of-way (Review of Studies on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety, 1991-2007).

*NHTSA defines a pedestrian as any person on foot, walking, running, jogging, hiking, in a wheelchair, sitting, or lying down. Crashes that occurred exclusively on private> property, including parking lots and driveways, are not included in NHTSA’s FARS and GES databases but are gathered in NHTSA’s Not-In-Traffic Surveillance System (, and


Have you ever slipped and fallen before…I mean really busted your bum.  It’s EMBARASSING right?  All you want to do is get up and make sure that no one saw you.  However, you can get seriously injured if you slip and fall or trip and fall…and if it’s due to someone else’s negligence, you have a legal right to be compensated from the person or business that caused that dangerous condition.

Keep in mind, after the mess has been cleared, these cases are extremely hard to prove.  First, any evidence that the business owner repaired the dangerous condition is generally NOT admissible in court to prove that it existed.  This is because the public policy for promoting people to correct dangerous conditions outweighs an injured party’s right to use that fact against the owner.

Second, when considering liability exposure for a premises owner, the general rule in Florida, as related to invitees (i.e., people present for the benefit of themselves and the owner), is that a property owner owes two duties:

(1) the duty to use reasonable care in maintaining the property in a reasonably safe condition (i.e., free of hazards); and

(2) the duty to warn of latent or concealed dangers which are or should be known to the owner and which are unknown to the invitee, and cannot be discovered through the exercise of due care.

However, changes in Florida law now places the burden of proof completely upon the injured party, improving the defense’s ability to get the case dismissed before ever going before a jury.  The statute requires that the plaintiff must “prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it.”

Generally, actual notice is difficult for plaintiffs to prove in most slip and fall matters. Therefore, proof of constructive knowledge is generally argued by plaintiffs to prove their cases. However, this, too, was contemplated by Florida Statue § 768.0755, which explains that constructive knowledge may be proven by circumstantial evidence showing that:

(1) The dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that, in the exercise of ordinary care, the business establishment should have known of the condition; or

(2) The condition occurred with regularity and was, therefore, foreseeable.

The law is even more difficult to overcome by an injured business patron if they slip on a “foreign transitory substance”, i.e. the grape on the floor, the water leaking from the freezer.  But that’s a topic for another blog.

It is often helpful to a plaintiff’s case to investigate the “mode of operation” of the business or the knowledge of former employees of the business to shed light on exactly how long this dangerous condition existed and how long they knew about it.

The single most important thing to remember if you slip and fall or  trip and fall at a place of business is to IMMEDIATELY TAKE PICTURES OF THE DANGEROUS CONDITION…the water on the floor, the uneven flooring or misplaced rugs, rotten wood, exposed nails…..with those pictures your case goes from a FIGHT to MAKING IT RIGHT. 

So please let your loved ones know that if they fall, remember to STOP, DROP AND SHOOT (photos, that is)!

Stay safe out there! YOUR accident and injury attorney, Marianne Howanitz

sheeps clothing
sheeps clothing

Yesterday on the way to work, while sitting at a red light, you were rear-ended by a car that didn’t stop, or even slow down. The next day the adjuster for the insurance company of the person who hit you calls on the telephone. All he needs before he can pay you (he says) is a brief recorded statement to understand exactly what happened. He’s very nice and you have nothing to hide, do you? So what could be wrong with answering his questions on tape? It turns out, a lot!

You should never give a recorded statement to the insurance company of the person who hit you. It will only be used against you. And you have the right to say NO to this adjuster unless they get a court order (which is extremely rare).

As a general rule, you should not give a recorded statement concerning a motor vehicle accident to anyone without the advice of an attorney. You shouldn’t give an oral statement either. To reduce claims paid, the insurance company must deny claims made. To do this, company employees will look for reasons to deny your claim. They may use your recorded statement for this purpose. How?

Insurance company employees will compare the statement you gave them with other statements you have made including statements you gave an investigating police officer or statements you made during your deposition in a lawsuit arising from the accident. Where they find inconsistencies in your multiple statements, and this is not unusual when someone tells the story of his accident more than once, sometimes weeks or months apart, the company will claim you lied. The company may deny your claim as a result.

In a lawsuit, defense counsel can use your recorded statement to cross-examine you at trial or during your deposition. You may not remember exactly what you said in your statement. As a result, you may contradict yourself in some way. Although you think the discrepancy is inconsequential, the defendant’s lawyer will stress the importance of your misstatement to a jury and use it to convince the jury that your testimony is not believable.

The bottom line is that you should never give a recorded statement to an insurance company representative without the advice and guidance of an attorney. When you turn down the representative’s request, be courteous but firm. No matter how garrulous and personable they may be when they’re talking to you, always keep in mind that they are employees of the insurance company and represent only its interests – not yours.

Questions about your rights?  Give me a call at 352-512-0444.

YOUR accident and injury attorney,

Marianne Howanitz

Posted Under: news


Kudos to the Marion County School Board for proactively making school buses safer for our kids!  The School Board has recognized the dangerous effects that Sleep Apnea has on their school bus drivers by instituting screening and treatment for their at risk drivers.

Sleep Apnea is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour. According to the National Institute for Health untreated sleep apnea can:

  • Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
  • Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
  • Make arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, more likely
  • Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents

Raw data suggest that sleep apnea raises the risk that a person will be involved in a motor vehicle accident. New data not only confirm this finding, but show that sleep apnea patients are at very high risk of serious, life-threatening car wrecks.

Alan Mulgrew, MD, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, compared the claims and accident records of 800 patients with confirmed sleep apnea with those of 800 people who did not have sleep apnea. Over the three years before their diagnosis, the sleep apnea patients were nearly five times more likely to have serious car crashes than were other drivers. Serious car crashes were defined as those with injury or head-on crashes. New evidence adds to the already compelling case that driving a car while not properly rested produces similar risks as driving drunk. The recent study was published in the journal Sleep and found people with obstructive sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in an accident than people without the sleep disorder.

Insufficient sleep has been officially classified as a public health epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as nearly 40 percent of people report unintentionally falling asleep at least once in the past month. On their own, the dangers of sleep deprivation include a suppressed immune system and moderate cognitive impairment. But the risks increase even further when those setbacks are applied to a complex activity, like driving a car. In 2010, a study found 20 to 25 hours of sleep loss resulted in the same levels of depleted brainpower as a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10.

Schools buses are commercial motor vehicles. Fatigued driving has been and remains the #1 safety hazard in the commercial motor vehicle driving statistics for decades. Understanding of the importance of recognition of sleepiness as a risk factor for safe driving and to encourage interventions to reduce risk involved in drowsy driving Congress unanimously approved a bill two years ago that required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish rules that require drivers in the transportation industry to be screened for sleep apnea.

So, once again, hats off to the School Board of Marion County for working hard to keep our students safer!

Remember-be safe out there!!

Your accident and injury attorney, Marianne


Posted Under: news