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.

Products That Could Protect You When Riding at Night

Posted in Bicycle Injuries, Motorcycle Injury

Nighttime riding is so much more dangerous than daylight trips due to the obvious difficulty of being seen by drivers of other vehicles. Add in factors such as glare from headlights, wet roads, inexperienced drivers, distracted drivers, drivers tired after a long day at work and congested roadways and the danger multiplies. If you ride after dark, you know you should wear reflective clothing, helmets and equipment. Unfortunately, most of us prefer not to do this.

Just recently, I came across a reflective spray product called Albedo100. While I have not yet tried it, it seems like a great product that I thought was worth sharing. Albedo100 is a series of four different sprays for different uses. One spray is said to be a “permanent light-reflective spray, suitable for applying to metal, wood, concrete and plastic.” A second spray is colorless and invisible. It reflects light and is suitable for applying to clothing. It is non-permanent and disappears when washed. You can spray it on your gear and it’s invisible by daylight but reflective at night. A third spray has a pale gray color and is light reflective and used on sneakers or such. It also disappears when washed. The fourth product is a “semi-transparent light reflective spray for applying to fur.” It may be invisible on some animals and also disappears when washed. Volvo automobiles has a short video of a product that they call “Lifepaint”. It is a safety ad filmed in London, England and focuses on bicyclists riding on very busy roads at night. The ad is selling safety and uses the Albedo100 product to do so.

Many of my clients were innocently riding, complying with all laws and wearing proper approved safety gear, but have been struck by careless drivers who didn’t see them. Recently, a client of mine was riding his bike to the store and proceeded through a green light when another driver turned left at the intersection striking him on his leg. His leg was shattered, and while it is is healing now, it will permanently be one inch shorter than his other leg. My client was fully compliant with the law but the other driver, for unknown reasons, didn’t see him. This is a perfect example of why riders need to go above and beyond to make themselves visible.

I am not sure these products are available in the US at this time. I checked Amazon and the product is listed but is currently “unavailable.” It does seem to be something we all should look into. I also have not found information on the safety of these products and recommend you research before using, but, anything that saves a life, which could be your own, is worth investigating.

Effective Legal Counsel Can Protect Family Interests in Bus Accident Litigation

Posted in Legal Updates, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Trucking Accidents

Tractor-trailer bus collisions are among the worst that occur on busy American highways.  Because of the relative size of the two vehicles in such a collision, the injuries are catastrophic, often with deadly consequences.

It is essential for anyone injured in such a devastating collision to seek competent legal counsel immediately to protect his or her rights and the rights of their entire family.   Too often, people wait to retain counsel, believing that the owners of the bus and tractor-trailer companies will do the right thing.  But in many cases, the transportation companies and their insurance carriers are at the scene looking for any loophole to escape responsibility.  This is why it is essential that victims of these horrific crashes hire the most experienced crash/collision personal injury lawyers to handle their case, attorneys with proven records of accomplishment.

At Stark & Stark, many of our partners have dedicated their lives to representing victims of injury, including bus and tractor-trailer crashes.  Most recently, my Stark & Stark colleague Michael Donahue and I co-counseled with New York personal injury attorneys Shana De Caro and Michael Kaplen, and in collaboration represented an Indian family in the United States for a summer vacation when their tour bus was involved in a violent crash on its way to Niagara Falls. The bus left the roadway, rolled over and proceeded into the woods.  When the tour bus came to a stop, one member of the family was dead and two were seriously injured.

In this instance, we quickly filed suit and brought our combined knowledge and experience in this area of litigation to bear in hiring the leading experts in the field of bus and tractor-trailer crashes.  Even though these clients lived thousands of miles from the site of the crash and the location of the lawsuit, they were informed at all stages of the legal battle fought on their behalf in the American Courts.  Almost two years from the date of this tragic collision, justice was achieved for the Indian family in the form of a multi-million dollar settlement. The perseverance of the attorneys at Stark & Stark and De Caro & Kaplen, LLP combined as a matchless legal team.

Recent events involving tour bus crashes emphasize the need to retain competent legal counsel without delay.  Bus accident victims and their families have a right to seek personal injury and wrongful death damages against errant bus drivers and their companies. Any such lawsuit may well involve more than one state’s law or court system, and numerous complex choices and decisions may have to be made to effective navigate the litigation process and help maximize the recovery. Don’t wait until it’s too late.



Stark & Stark Obtains $1.6 Million Verdict for New Jersey Car Crash Victim

Posted in Stark News

On May 21, 2015, Stark & Stark attorney, Bryan M. Roberts, obtained a $1.6 Million verdict from a Somerset County jury for the victim of a rear-end motor vehicle crash. As a result of the November 15, 2010 crash, the plaintiff, then 31 years old, sustained permanent spinal injuries and continues to receive medical care. In addition to leaving him in constant pain, these injuries have had a negative impact on his activities with his family and his ability to perform his work duties.

Bryan M. Roberts concentrates his practice in the areas of fatal and catastrophic injuries arising out of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles, construction sites, and defective products. Mr. Roberts is a commercially-licensed driver and began publishing the Truck and Bus Accident Lawyers Blog (www.truckandbusaccidentlawyers.com) as a way to share his knowledge in the field of commercial motor vehicle crashes. He serves the community as a Board Member for One Simple Wish and he resides in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.

The Difference Between Being Injured On the Job and After Hours Isn’t Always Clear

Posted in Workers' Compensation

This is an interesting case that highlights the distinction between being in the course of employment and pursing purely personal interests at the time of an accident. The petitioner in the case below was a teaching assistant and a graduate student and his research overlapped to some extent. However, the Court found that his accident occurred while he was on a research trip strictly in furtherance of his graduate studies alone.

High Point Insurance Co. v. Drexel University, App. Div. (per curiam) Petitioner High Point Insurance Company, as subrogor of Kevin Smith, appealed from an order entered by the workers’ compensation court. The order dismissed with prejudice petitioner’s claim because it failed to sustain its burden of proof demonstrating employment at the time of the accident. Smith was a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant at respondent Drexel University. On Sept. 2, 2011, he drove a Drexel vehicle to a site in the Pine Barrens to conduct research for his graduate dissertation. When Smith was driving the vehicle back to Drexel, he was involved in a car accident and injured. Smith never filed a claim petition but instead filed an application for personal injury protection for benefits through High Point, the automobile insurance carrier for his parents. After paying the PIP benefits, High Point filed a workers’ compensation petition, as subrogor of Smith, seeking reimbursement of the benefits paid on the theory that Smith was in the course of his employment when the accident occurred. The judge of compensation found that Smith’s accident did not arise out of or occur in the course of his employment because his teaching assistantship was incidental to his education. Petitioner argued that Drexel “entwined” Smith’s personal graduate studies and teaching assignments to such an extent that traveling for his research fell into the category of him performing his prescribed job duty and, therefore, he should be eligible for workers’ compensation. The appellate panel found there was sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the compensation judge’s findings that Smith’s injuries did not arise out of or in the course of his employment. Smith’s Ph.D. program did not require that he work as a teaching assistant. He chose to accept that position to offset the cost of the Ph.D. program. Smith used Drexel’s vehicle to reach the Pine Barrens for his personal research, not to engage in work as a teaching assistant. Moreover, Smith had no teaching responsibilities the week of the accident because classes were not in session.

If you are involved in an accident and you aren’t sure if it would be covered by Workers’ Compensation, please contact one of our Workers’ Comp attorneys for a free consultation.