August 2011

Liability coverage is a portion of your automobile insurance policy, which covers you in the event that you are the one who causes a motor vehicle accident. So, if you cause an accident, which leads to the other person sustaining injuries and they file a claim against you, this is the portion of your coverage that will assist in paying for the damages and injuries caused. 

The question is: would your liability coverage adequately cover you in such a case? Maybe…but then again, maybe not. 

What if you have $35,000 liability coverage, and the accident you caused leads to life-altering injuries? Clearly, $35,000 will not cover all of the costs. So what happens in that event? Can the injured party come after your personal assets? The short answer is: YES, and in most cases, you have to assume they will. 

That is why it is so important to be prepared and to spend the extra few dollars (liability insurance is relatively inexpensive) and get additional coverage. If you have questions regarding what coverage you do and don’t have, or should and shouldn’t have in your insurance policy, please call me. I’d be happy to meet with you, free of charge here in my firm’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office, to review your policy with you in order to ensure that you and your loved ones are covered in the event of an accident. 

One of the issues I am most frequently asked questions about related to the Workers’ Compensation claims I deal with on a daily basis, are right to know law issues. New Jersey’s Worker and Community Right to Know Act protects public employees by requiring their employers to label hazardous substances and maintain files of hazardous substances kept in the workplace.

A public employee under this Act has the right to work with labeled containers that identify the chemical contents. Additionally, a public employee has the right to obtain a copy of a survey of hazardous substances for their workplace, which the employee is required to keep on file on site. The public employee under this law also has the right to get Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets about chemicals they may be exposed to or potentially exposed to from their employer.

All public employers are required to make surveys of their hazardous substances and send them to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and are required to label all chemicals and maintain the Material Safety Data Sheets.

If the public employer refuses to comply with the requests for information under this Act, the public employee then has the right to file a complaint against the employer for not complying with the Act. This complaint can be filed with the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and the name of the person who files the complaint will be kept confidential. Furthermore, if an employer has not provided information they requested in writing within five working days, an employee has the right to refuse to work with the substance. This law also bars an employer from taking out any reprisals against anyone exercising their rights under this law. 

These are important rights to exercise because exposure to hazardous substances has been linked to health effects including cancer, birth defects, heart, lung and kidney diseases. These health effects may develop years after the exposure, and therefore, being aware of hazardous substances that public employees are working with can help with proper diagnosis and treatment down the road. A public employee who knows what he is being exposed to can better protect himself now and in the future. If any public employee encounters problems, they can contact the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services directly at (609) 984-2202, and you can also call me here in my Lawrenceville, New Jersey office for a free consultation if you have questions regarding your rights as a public employee.

Research scientists affiliated with the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) have reportedly found that “Toyota vehicles with potentiometer type accelerator pedal position sensors have a propensity to grow tin whiskers that can and do cause shorts in a highly sensitive engine management area”. These results are consistent with other findings reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA’s Engineering Safety Center’s investigation into reports of Toyota vehicles exhibiting unintended acceleration.

The researchers conducted a physical analysis of an engine control system from a 2005 Camry XLE, V-6 and a defunct 2002 Camry. CALCE’s report is consistent with that of NASA scientists who found tin whiskers growing in the accelerator pedal unit of every potentiometer they examine.

Chances are that you probably don’t know what type and what amount of automobile insurance you have. That’s usually the case for most people, that is, until you’re involved in a car accident and need your insurance. It’s imperative that you know what type of coverage you have BEFORE you get into an accident, because, once you are in an accident, you are bound by the coverage you have.

You have to remember a few basic things when it comes to auto insurance:

  • First, carrying auto insurance is MANDATORY in New Jersey. If you own a car registered in this state, it has to be insured…period!
  • Next, get what you can afford… but make sure your adequately covered. Everyone has bills, debts and everyday expenses that need to be met, but insurance is one of the expenses worth paying more for. No one wants to be saddled with extra costs for medical bills, missed work, property damage, etc., for an accident they didn’t cause. So, if you can afford better coverage, get it!
  • Finally, although policies can be similar, each automobile insurance policy is different and certainly worth the time to discuss. Be sure to ask questions when you purchase your policy, and make sure you understand exactly what you are paying for.

For a lot of people, knowing what is and what is not included in an insurance policy can be difficult to understand. Feel free to contact us to schedule a free appointment with me here in our Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. I’d be happy to help you and your family get the protection you need.

A few questions everyone should ask themselves before they’re involved in a motor vehicle accident:

  • Do I have enough automobile insurance in the event I, or someone driving my car, causes an accident and injures someone?
  • If I am injured during a car accident – who will pay my medical bills?
  • What happens if an uninsured driver hits me, and causes injuries to me or my family?
  • Are there limitations on my ability to be compensated for injuries and my pain and suffering in the event of a car accident?
  • What happens if the injuries I suffer during a car accident cause me to be out of work?

 

Are you able to answer ANY of the above questions with any degree of confidence? For most people, the answer is no. Even if your insurance agent explained these scenarios to you, chances are you said, “just give me the least expensive policy.” Many people do, including myself, before I became a personal injury attorney.

One of the hardest things for me to tell a client who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident is that there isn’t enough coverage for their medical bills, injuries, and their losses. When someone hits you and leaves the scene of the accident, chances are they didn’t have insurance. What’s worse is, in most cases, the injured party’s insurance policy doesn’t include additional coverage for this type of situation.

That’s why it is so important to not wait until you are in an accident to review your insurance policy. Look at what coverage you have now and be sure you understand what it is you have and what you pay for. The cost for additional coverage is usually minimal and could save you thousands of dollars in the event of an accident. Knowing that you have covered yourself and your loved ones in the event of an accident is priceless.

Sometimes understanding what is and what is not included in an insurance policy can be confusing. Feel free to contact us to schedule a free appointment with me here in our Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. I’d be happy to help you and your family get the protection you need.

Although many states, and their Workers’ Compensation Courts, do not recognize the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fortunately for the residents of New Jersey, there is hope, and help.

According to a recent New York Times article Post-Traumatic Stress Still Haunts, at least 10,000 firefighters, police officers and civilians were affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The shockwaves from this one single event have had a long and widespread emotional impact on so many people who had no physical contact with the day’s events.

In the medical world, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) really only came into recognition over the last 30 years – beginning with soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. For the people who developed PTSD as a result of the events of September 11th, only treatment assistance, not compensation for their injuries, is available. Fortunately, the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Courts recognize PTSD and its disabling effects.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) “PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event. When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.”

The NIMH lists 3 categories for the symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Re-Experiencing Symptoms – include flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts and can cause problems in a person’s everyday life;
  2. Avoidance Symptoms – include staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience, feeling emotionally numb, feeling strong guilt, depression or anexity, losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past and having trouble remembering the triggering event
  3. Hyperarousal Symptoms – include being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge” and having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts. Hyperarousal symptoms are more constant and are not brought on by events or outside stimuli.

To receive workers compensation benefits, the incident needs to occur while you are working. The problem is, PTSD claims are the type that insurance carriers are extremely likely to deny. The symptoms of PTSD can take years to manifest themselves and are difficult to properly diagnose. It’s very easy for an insurance carrier to claim your psychiatric problems have nothing to do with a work incident. Insurance carriers will basically take a ‘prove it’ stance and point to any other factors.

This is why you should consult an attorney if you have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of something that occurred to you while working. At Stark & Stark, we have years of experiencing representing workers with PTSD and can help you obtain treatment and benefits. Feel free to contact me in the firm’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office for a free consultation to discuss the options available to you.

Michael G. Donahue, Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Accident & Personal Injury Group, will present a seminar entitled, Litigating Product Liability Cases in New Jersey, in conjunction with the New Jersey Law Journal as part of their Autumn CLE Package. 

The seminar will take place Wednesday October 5, 2011 from 4:00 – 6:00 PM at the Sheraton Edison Hotel Raritan Center in Edison, New Jersey and on Thursday October 27, 2011 from 4:00 – 6:00 PM at the Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. 

Mr. Donnahue will focus his presentation on:

  • Is it a case? Using the law and common sense in evaluation and initial investigations
  • Selecting the key players: retaining and working with expert witnesses 
  • Capitalizing on discovery: using traditional and non-traditional techniques to maximize success
  • Preparing for trial: witness preparation, demonstrative evidence and focus groups
  • Presenting the case: coir dire to verdict

For additional information, or to register for the seminar, please visit the New Jersey Law Journal’s website

While a jury requires solid proof of fault on the part of the wrongdoer, as well as credible evidence of damages, letting the jury know that you are an honest and good person will also go far in maximizing any money award.                  

First, credibility is key. Since to be human is to err and be imperfect, there will always be issues that can cloud the waters of an otherwise clear case. Rather than letting potentially damaging evidence come out for the first time during the defense attorney’s cross-examination, handle the issue up front during direct examination. For a jury, as it is for any of us, an honest person (albeit a person with life issues) can be forgiven. A liar cannot.

Second, altruism will be rewarded. Testimony that, prior to the disabling accident, you volunteered time and donated money to good causes, particularly those that supply aid to the needy, shows the jury that you are truly selfless. This is an earmark of a good person. Further, testimony that, despite the disabling accident, you continue to help others shows the jury genuine altruism. For a jury, as it is for any of us, it is much easier to reward a person who, despite adversity, has the courage to continue to be a good person.

Finally, defense attorneys will do their homework to find evidence against your credibility. Thus, your actions should not belie your trial testimony and trial should not be the first time anyone learns of your honesty and good deeds. In the end, “what goes around comes around.”

There is a common misconception among motorcycle riders that if they are injured in a motorcycle accident, their car insurance or the insurance of the car that is responsible for the accident will be responsible to pay their medical bills.  That is not the case.  In New Jersey, as in many other states, car insurance companies are required by law to include minimum coverage for medical expenses associated with an auto accident in every policy they sell (this insurance is known as Personal Injury Protection or PIP).  Insurance companies are not required to provide the same coverage for medical expenses on motorcycle policies.  

What does that mean?  If you are injured as a passenger or driver of a motorcycle and you have standard motorcycle insurance, you will have no medical coverage unless your private health insurance carrier pays your bills.  

It may not make sense that medical expenses associated with a motorcycle accident are not covered by motorcycle insurance, since injuries suffered in motorcycle accidents are often much greater than those suffered in auto accidents.  However, riding a motorcycle is considered a “voluntary risk”.  Therefore, even though medical bills can be catastrophic, laws are not written to protect riders the same way they are written to protect drivers or passengers in cars.  Riders choose to accept the risk of injury for the love of riding.  However, that choice is often based on the general misconception that motorcycle coverage is similar to automobile coverage and as long as insurance is in place, injury to the rider is “covered”.  

Most riders are not aware that most motorcycle policies expose riders to various risks over and above the risk of injury.  An injured rider who paid for motorcycle insurance can end up without appropriate medical care and with enormous debt.  In addition, medical bills from a motorcycle collision often eat into and can easily exceed the other driver’s insurance limits, leaving minimal or no compensation for a rider even for injuries caused by someone else’s wrong doing.  

Some insurance companies offer optional Medical Payments Coverage for motorcycle policies, which is additional coverage that provides some minimal medical coverage to injured riders.  Riders should also check the amount of coverage available to them for collisions involving drivers without insurance or without enough insurance (known as Under Insured Motorist/ Uninsured Motorist or UIM/UM coverage).  In some instances, UIM/UM coverage can mean the difference between an accident and a tragedy.

Without the right protection, on top of physical impairment a motorcycle accident could result in enormous financial hardship.  Riders should manage that risk, by protecting themselves and making informed choices about insurance, before an injury occurs.  Feel free to call for a free insurance review now, before you need it.
                                                                                                                                    
Don’t let someone else’s mistake become your nightmare.

Summertime often brings work outings, company picnics and firm softball games. Usually, these outings are a source of entertainment and team building, however, accidents can happen. The question then becomes: is this a work related accident because it was at a work event or is it not work related because it wasn’t during the normal course of employment.

In general, recreational or social activities are considered to be within the course of employment when:

  1. They occur on the premises during a lunch or recreational period as a regular incident of the employment; or The employer, by expressly or impliedly requiring participation, or by making the activity part of the services of an employee, brings the activity within the orbit of the employment; or
  2. The employer derives substantial benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee health and morale that is common to all kinds of recreation and social life.

In New Jersey, it has been held compensable when participation was expected by the employer by threatening that you will be hurt (either docking of pay or the employee’s chances of advancement within the company). Also in New Jersey, if volunteers (fire or police) are injured during the course of a fund-raising event, even if they are working for someone else at the time, then the injury is considered compensable.

This can be a complicated issue. If you are injured during a company outing, please call us for a free consultation. We have experienced trial attorneys able to handle the complex legal issues that can arise in a workers’ compensation case.