Truck Accidents Can Result in Serious Injuries

Posted in Injury Law, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Trucking Accidents

Truck accidents often can result in serious or even fatal injuries. An example of such an accident is one that many people read about last summer: the accident where a Wal-Mart truck and a limo van collided. The accident severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and two other occupants and killed fellow comedian James McNair.

Another example of a serious truck accident occurred recently involving a grain truck and a car. In that accident, a 32-year old woman was driving her car through an intersection when a farm truck driver, who was hauling grain for his employer, pulled out from a stop sign and into the woman’s path. Her car struck the side of the truck, resulting in serious orthopedic injuries. The woman suffered fractures to her right ankle and her femur at the knee. She underwent multiple ankle surgeries, including a fusion and surgery to repair the fracture to the femur. Her past medical expenses totaled $276,000. Her lost earnings totaled about $69,000. Since the accident, the fused ankle has made it difficult for her to participate in activities requiring prolonged standing or walking.

The injured woman sued the truck driver and the small farm that employed the truck driver. The plaintiff alleged that the truck driver failed to yield the right-of-way. She alleged that the farm was liable for the truck driver’s negligence. The truck driver argued that the plaintiff had failed to keep a proper lookout.

After depositions were conducted in the case, the parties settled the lawsuit for $900,000, which was paid by the farm’s insurance company.

These two accidents illustrate just how seriously someone can be injured or harmed when a truck collides with another vehicle. Accidents happen, and so you must always be careful when you are on the road, whether as a pedestrian, bicyclist, or driver. Truckers have important jobs and the vast majority of them are safe, conscientious drivers. However, sometimes they cause collisions, and when that happens, the consequences are serious.

At Stark & Stark, we have represented many people who have been injured in truck accidents. We have the skills, resources, and experience to understand and address the unique challenges that injured people face when going up against a trucking company in a personal injury claim. If you or someone you know has been injured in a truck accident, car accident or some other type of accident as a result of some else’s negligence, it is recommended that you consult with experienced legal counsel immediately.

What Should You Do If You’ve Been Injured At a Grocery Store?

Posted in Injury Law, Legal Updates

Grocery stores and other large retailers generally have plans, policies and procedures designed to keep their customers safe. Unfortunately, far too often store employees either do not know or do not follow corporate safety policies. This is why thousands and thousands of people are injured in grocery stores here in New Jersey every year.

Many people feel an intense loyalty to “their” grocery store and spend large portions of the family budget on groceries. Stores like ShopRite expect to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from each of their customers over the course of a lifetime. Is it too much to ask for customers to actually be kept safe while they shop? Sadly, for many grocery stores and other large retailers, the answer is yes. In my experience, corporate profit is frequently more important than customer safety.

Grocery store owners know there are “problem areas” in every grocery store. These include the produce department, floral department, frozen food aisles, checkout areas, entrances and exits, to name a few. These are high traffic areas where there is often water or slippery produce on the floor.

Grocery store owners and operators have a legal obligation to exercise reasonable care for the safety of their customers. Store owners must take steps to correct or give warning of dangerous conditions (like water on the ground), so long as the owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition. Furthermore, the grocery store owner must make inspections of the store to try to find dangerous conditions. Store employees are typically required to conduct “floor sweeps” to check for dangerous conditions, like spills or tripping hazards. This is where most grocery stores fail their customers because employees do not perform regular “floor sweeps” or follow any inspection schedule. This means that dangerous conditions frequently go unnoticed, and that is why thousands of people are injured in grocery stores each year. Of course, this is not the only area where grocery stores fail to keep their customers safe from harm. Other causes of customer injuries will be explored in some of my upcoming posts.

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Stark & Stark Attorney, Bruce H. Stern, Announced as Treasurer for the American Association for Justice

Posted in Stark News

Bruce H. Stern, Shareholder attorney at Stark & Stark, was recently sworn in as the Treasurer of the American Association for Justice (AAJ). Bruce has been a member of the AAJ since 2004, and continues to serve on several of their committees, including the AAJ Executive Committee, National Board of Governors, National Finance Council and Public Affairs Committee.

The AAJ was organized in August of 1946 with the goal of promoting justice and fairness and protecting all facets of trial advocacy. The AAJ is a national organization, and recognized as the world’s largest trial bar.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the AAJ and our clients,” said Mr. Stern. “My previous work with the AAJ has enabled me to understand the best ways to continue to grow and develop the organization.”

Bruce Stern is a Shareholder of Stark & Stark, and is a member of the Accident & Personal Injury Group. He concentrates his practice in the area of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries and wrongful death. He has previously co-authored a book, Litigating Brain Injuries, and also co-authored a chapter in the AAJ’s Litigation Tort Case Series, entitled “Brain Injuries.” In addition to his position as Treasurer at the AAJ, Bruce is also the Treasurer for the International Brain Injury Association (IBIA), as well as the Treasurer for the Brain Injury Society. He also maintains a Traumatic Brain Injury Blog, which can be found here.

Bruce is admitted to practice in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and resides in Pennington, New Jersey.

For more information about Mr. Stern’s work at Stark & Stark or with the American Association for Justice, call 609-895-7272, or email Jim Jarrell, jjarrell@stark-stark.com.

Exposure to Lead is a Work Hazard for New Jersey Police and Corrections Officers

Posted in Workers' Compensation

The Seattle Times recently published a five-part series entitled “Loaded with Lead” regarding the dangers of lead poisoning from shooting ranges. The series was researched over a one year period of time and studied private shooting ranges in nearly all 50 states. In the study, only 1 private range in NJ was inspected, but out of 17 violations, 14 of them were lead related. While the study was with regard to private ranges, the concerns are the same for New Jersey’s police and corrections officers.

New Jersey police and corrections officers spend many hours at shooting ranges to hone the skills necessary to serve and protect our communities. Exposure to lead can occur when they fire guns with lead-based ammunition spreading lead vapor and dust which are inhaled and stored in the body. In order to protect officers from becoming ill, the range must be properly ventilated or the concentration of lead can become very dangerous. In addition, exposure occurs when dust accumulates on surfaces. These surfaces should be regularly cleaned to eliminate the risk of exposure. NJ Public Employee Occupational Safety and Health is responsible for enforcing the standards at indoor firing ranges for public employees like police and correction officers. The New Jersey Department of Health also takes this issue seriously and has provided warnings for shooters.

The health risks for adults from exposure to lead include: high blood pressure, abdominal pain, constipation, joint pains, muscle pain, declines in mental functioning, pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities, headache, memory loss, and mood disorders, reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm, miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women and even death. Most of these symptoms do not occur until the levels of lead are already very high. If you believe you are at risk for lead poisoning, you should seek medical attention. A simple blood test is all that is necessary to make a diagnosis. Treatment can be as simple as removing all sources of contamination. In more serve cases, treatment includes drug therapy.

At Stark & Stark, PC we have experience in representing New Jersey’s public employee workforce and the issues specific to them including occupational illnesses due to exposure to toxins at work. Please call us today for your free, no obligation consultation.

Dangers that Lurk Around the Corner for Social Guests

Posted in Injury Law

With the summer in full swing, many people will see their social calendars filling up with fun events such as parties, gatherings, events, and the like. While summer is a time for fun, we need to remember that regardless of whether we are hosts or guests, safety is always an important factor that all of us need to consider. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are in a new or unfamiliar place. In a recent case, a college student was attending an event at an off-campus house. While on the fourth floor of the house, she sat on a piece of flex board covering a raised skylight opening. The board gave way, and the student fell nearly 20 feet through the house before eventually sliding down the stairs and landing on her head. She suffered a T12-L1 spinal dislocation with transaction of the cord and a C4-5 disk herniation, resulting in paraplegia. She underwent spinal surgery and incurred $1.2 million. She now uses a wheelchair and requires assistance with many activities of daily living. Her projected future medical expenses and life-care costs are estimated at about $6.2 million. She sued the property owners, alleging they were negligent and reckless in allowing the skylight opening to be covered with a thin piece of flex board. She also alleged that they were negligent in failing to repair the condition or warn visitors of the hazard and prevent visitors from accessing that area.

The plaintiff also sued the tenants of the property, alleging that, under the terms of the lease, they were required to notify the landlords of any conditions that were dangerous or in need of repair. The tenants acknowledged this was a dangerous condition, that it existed for a full year before the incident, and that they never told the landlords about it. The owners of the home argued that the skylight opening was nailed shut with a 3/4-inch plywood board during building renovations in the 1980 and they were unaware that the original plywood board had been removed. They also maintained that the tenants failed to warn them of the hazardous condition and argued that the lease specified that the tenants had a duty to warn them if an issue existed. The homeowners also argued that the tenants were in exclusive control and possession of the building and were therefore solely responsible. They alleged that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time of the fall, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.26%, and that she had marijuana in her system. The parties settled the case during pretrial mediation for $11.6 million, paid by various insurers for the homeowners and the tenants.

This case is a clear example of the dangers that lurk for the unwary social guest. Hidden defects, sunken living rooms, broken exterior concrete steps, and doors that conceal basement steps are all common examples of hazards for guests. If you are a homeowner, make sure your house and property are in good condition and do not pose any safety hazards for people coming onto your property. If you are a guest at someone’s home or property, always look before you sit in an area or walk into an area. If you have been injured on someone else’s property as a result of their negligence, you should contact legal counsel right away to discuss your situation.

Have you Been Denied Veterans Disability Benefits?

Posted in Veterans Disability Benefits

As an attorney accredited to prosecute claims for veterans’ benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs, I want to make you aware that you have the absolute right to retain an attorney to represent you before the Department of Veterans Affairs. A Veteran can be represented by an attorney once he or she receives an official denial of benefits, but not before that time. An attorney cannot charge a fee for assistance in the preparation of the Veteran’s application for compensation.

It is important to remember that you must prove three things to be successful in obtaining a service connected disability award and receive compensation.

First, you must prove that you had an event that caused your disability while you were in service. Of course, you must be a veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, so it is best to have your DD214 form for your attorney to review. You are also entitled to compensation if an event that happened in the service aggravated a pre-existing condition. Remember that while most medical conditions become apparent right after the event happens, some medical conditions may not appear to be disabling until many years after military service. You can still file a claim for these late occurring conditions.

The second requirement is that you must have a current disability when you apply for your VA disability benefits. If you do not have a current disability, you will not be eligible to receive benefits. This means that you must have a medical professional diagnose you with a current medical condition, related to your military service, at the time you actually apply for the benefits. If you had a medical condition while you were in the service, and you recovered from it totally before you apply for benefits, you will not be eligible.

Finally, there must be a link between the current medical condition and the event that occurred while you were in the service. The best way to prove that you have a service related disability is by showing that you had medical treatment for a condition while you were in the military, and that you still suffer from the condition when you apply for VA disability benefits. Disabilities can be mental and/or physical. There are some conditions where you may not have had any actual treatment when you were in the military, and the disability occurred later after discharge. This is acceptable as long as you have a medical professional who can document that your activities in the military caused your current medical or physical disability. An example of this type of disability is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which often occurs at a later time.

There are certain conditions that are presumed to be from military service and do not have to be proven as service related. One example would include cases where the Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam or Korean wars. Another would include certain medical conditions related to service in the Persian Gulf War.

If you have additional questions about your right to Veterans’ Disability Benefits, feel free to give us a call to discuss your options.

New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Benefits Unraveled

Posted in Workers' Compensation

New Jersey workers’ compensation benefits are governed under N.J.S.A. 34:15 et seq. There are three benefits you are entitled to when you get hurt at work in New Jersey: payment of medical bills, payment of temporary disability benefits or wage replacement and payment of an award of permanent disability. I will address each of these in a series of blogs.

This is the first in a series of three blogs. With regard to the payment of medical bills, the statute requires the employer to provide medical treatment that is reasonable, necessary and related to your accident and that is designed to cure your condition. You are NOT permitted to seek treatment with your primary care doctor or specialist without the prior consent and approval of your employer and their workers’ compensation carrier. Your employer is also obligated to pay 100% of the bills. There are no deductibles, co-pays, or out of pocket expenses, including prescription medications and any other medical devices prescribed by the authorized doctor. Absent any obvious broken bones or other critical medical conditions, your treatment will generally begin with conservative treatment which might include rest and prescription medications. If your symptoms do not improve, you may be referred for diagnostic tests to help the physician arrive at a diagnosis. You may also be referred for physical therapy to help alleviate your symptoms. If that fails, you may then be referred to a specialist. This process could take weeks or months.

At some point in the process the authorized doctors will indicate that your condition is as good as it is going to get or maximum medical improvement. When this happens, the carrier’s obligation to you ends, even if you are not back to normal. You are not entitled to additional treatment that is not designed to cure your condition, even if that treatment might make you feel better. However, there are some limited circumstances under which you may be eligible for ongoing medical care and you should seek legal advice to determine if you fall within those exceptions. If you are still having complaints and problems, you will then be entitled to additional benefits which will be address in this blog series. At Stark & Stark, our experienced attorneys and legal staff can help you understand your rights. Please call us to schedule your free, no obligation consultation.

How Do I Appeal the Denial of Military Service Connected Disability Benefits and Do I Need an Attorney?

Posted in Injury Law, Legal Updates, Veterans Disability Benefits

Veterans service-connected disability benefits are often denied or awarded at the incorrect rating or date of disability. If you find yourself in this position, you have the right to an appeal and you increase your chances of winning if you are represented by an attorney.

You can find a list of VA accredited attorneys here. An accredited attorney has been screened by the VA for character and fitness, has been trained to represent disabled veterans, and is required to engage in additional training to maintain accreditation every two years. Because appeals can take 3 ½ to 4 ½ years to process, attorneys fees are based upon benefits they obtain on your behalf and paid out of your past due benefits.

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Injuries Caused by Trampolines Due to Negligence

Posted in Injury Law, Legal Updates

Now that summer is almost here, it is time to remind everyone of an important topic: trampoline accidents. Although they can be fun, trampolines also can be very dangerous, especially if multiple people are using one at the same time. Trampoline accidents have resulted in life-changing injuries to adults and children alike. Such accidents can cause spinal cord injuries, fractures, and in some cases even death.

In one recent case, a 10-year old child sustained serious injuries while playing on a backyard trampoline with a friend. The girls were playing a game called “popcorn” in which the victim sat on the trampoline and her friend jumped on it, propelling the victim into the air. During the game, the victim landed awkwardly on her left leg, fracturing it. She was diagnosed with a fracture to the growth plate of the left distal femur and underwent surgical external fixation with a pin. Approximately three years later, when she experienced a growth spurt, the growth plate in the left leg failed to grow. This resulted in the knee being bowed and the left leg being about two inches shorter than the right leg. Unfortunately, additional surgeries to lengthen her left leg and stop the growth in her right leg did not resolve the issue. Her medical expenses were approximately $60,000, and she may undergo a second procedure to lengthen her leg, at a cost of about $90,300. Future costs for pain management, counseling, and physical and occupational therapy are estimated at nearly $225,000.

The injured girl’s mother sued the homeowner who owned the trampoline, alleging that he was negligent in failing to supervise the girls. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant homeowner lost track of the girls after they entered his home and that he later saw them on the trampoline but failed to tell them to stop using it. The girls testified that the defendant saw them on the trampoline but said nothing. The defendant argued that he did not know the girls were on the trampoline. He failed a cross-complaint against the girls’ mothers, alleging that they were negligent for failing to supervise them. The parties settled before trial for $750,000, which was paid by the defendant homeowner’s insurance policy.

At Stark & Stark, we have represented people who have been injured in accidents on trampolines, amusement parks, roller skating rinks, and in other recreational activities. If you or someone you know has been hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence in one of these types of activities, contact legal counsel immediately to determine your rights.

James Creegan, Esq. Selected as New Leader of the Bar

Posted in Stark News, Workers' Compensation

Stark & Stark would like to congratulate Shareholder James Creegan, member of the firm’s Workers’ Compensation Group, for being selected as one of the New Jersey Law Journal’s “2015 New Leaders of the Bar,” a list of the top 50 lawyers who “represent a new wave of leadership in the New Jersey legal profession.”

After being selected James said, “It’s always nice to be recognized for the effort you put towards clients and community. I’m very fortunate to work at a firm with a strong culture of mentoring and fostering the growth of its attorneys.”

Nominations were submitted to the Law Journal by the New Jersey legal community and all nominations were reviewed and selected by a “seven-member judging panel composed of evaluators from all corners of the legal profession and around the state of New Jersey.”

To see the full list of attorneys, please click here.