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You’re meeting friends for dinner and without a second thought pull up your ridesharing app (such as Uber or Lyft). To save a few dollars, you opt for the company’s shared ride service. The company offers this cost-saving option to allow multiple passengers – who do not know each other – to share rides.

The car pulls up as scheduled and you get in. The other passenger looks at you intently and ignores your attempt at conversation. Then, at a stop light, he pulls out a gun and robs you. When you resist, he pistol whips you repeatedly. Now you’re dazed and bleeding, your cell phone and wallet are gone and you’re left wondering what to do.

Sound farfetched?

Continue Reading Should You Share Your Rideshare?

Your car breaks down. You call a tow truck and a ridesharing service. The car pulls up and you get in. The driver seems a bit disheveled but you brush it off because you are in a hurry to get to a meeting. After you’re on your way, the smell of alcohol is unmistakable and suspecting the driver is drunk, you tell him to pull over. Before he can do so, he rear-ends the car in front of you, opens the door, and takes off running. Now, you’ve got a gash above your eye and you’re stranded. To make matters worse, when you get out of the car to call the police, someone steals your laptop from the backseat.

Continue Reading Do You Know Who Your Uber Driver Is?

Your plane just landed in Newark and you open your ridesharing app to arrange for a ride. A few minutes later, the driver texts you that he has arrived. You have his photo, license plate number, and description of the car and you spot him as soon as you step outside. All is well. You get into the car and suddenly a van rear-ends the ridesharing car. You’re injured. Now what? Who will pay your medical bills?

New Jersey legislators recently addressed that question. Under the newly enacted Transportation Network Company Safety and Regulatory Act, drivers and the ridesharing companies that employ them must meet certain insurance coverage standards.

The new law provides for $1.5 million in coverage under certain conditions as explained below.

Continue Reading What Happens if my Uber or Lyft Driver Has an Accident?

Diving into a pool or lake during summer activities may land you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life; over 800 people per year suffer a spinal cord injury from diving in head first. These injuries are preventable—just remember to always go in feet first when entering pools, ponds, lakes, and the ocean.

Perhaps you didn’t see a sign warning you of danger. Maybe you didn’t know that the “No Diving” sign meant the water was too shallow. Or you thought the water was deep enough because it had been the last time you dove in. But 1000 other people thought that too and ended up with broken necks, paralysis, or even worse, didn’t make it through the injury.

Continue Reading Just Don’t Dive! Go in Feet First to Avoid Spinal Cord Injuries.

Paralysis is a life changing condition that can be caused by medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, but in many cases results from a traumatic accident or injury that leaves the person with a spinal cord, head, and/or brain injury. Repairing nerve and muscle damage or a break in the connection between the brain and the rest of the body is extraordinarily difficult and sometimes considered impossible. But new research and advances in technology are bringing hope to people who have been partially or fully paralyzed.

Depending on the type of injury, different surgical methods can be used to repair injured areas of the body. Peripheral Nerve Surgery is used to sew severed nerves back together or to apply a nerve graft to reconnect sensation and movement to an area. Another method is a muscle transplant to replace damaged muscle with working muscle from another area of the body, e.g., the thigh for the bicep. In cases where the brain has lost control of a part of the body due to spinal cord injury, new advanced research is being done with computers and implants to stimulate the brain function and restore movement. One such method is called functional electrical stimulation (FES) which uses electrical pulses to restore muscle function.

Continue Reading Groundbreaking Treatments for Patients with Partial or Full Paralysis

A Texas Jury found that a highway guardrail manufacturer, Trinity Industries, deliberately withheld information and defrauded the government and awarded damages in the amount of $175 million dollars, which, under federal law, will triple to $525 million dollars. The dispute centered around a design change Trinity made in 2005. During the discovery phase of the litigation, an internal document was uncovered which showed that a Trinity official estimated that making a modification to the guardrail which reduced a piece of metal from 5 inches to 4 inches would save the company $2 per guardrail. However, experts found that this modification made the guardrails more dangerous to motorists. The guardrail system works by collapsing when hit head-on, absorbing the impact of a vehicle and guiding the railing out of its path. The rail head or end terminal, which is often marked with yellow and black stripes, is supposed to slide along the guardrail itself, pushing it to the side. This modification was to the end terminal, and when struck from the front end, rather than absorb the car’s impact, it would spear straight through the car and its occupants. Even though Trinity was supposed to advise the government that this modification was made, these changes were not disclosed for 7 years. At least 14 other lawsuits blame the guardrails for five deaths and more injuries. Some states have gone so far as to ban further purchase of these guardrails, citing safety concerns.

Unfortunately, this case is an example of the dangers of when companies place profits over safety. If you, or someone you know, has suffered injuries from a defective product, or would simply like more information about product liability, please contact us. Stark & Stark has many experienced attorneys who specialize in products liability matters.

I’ve previously shared stories about insurance companies that engage in unfair claims settlement practices in order to avoid paying out on legitimate claims. The bottom line for insurance companies is money. The more claims the insurance company denies, the greater the profit. This is why several insurance companies have developed a reputation for systematically denying claims. Incredibly, some of these companies are proud of their reputation.

Recently, there was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer which brought to light the egregious conduct of an insurance company in a battle which lasted 20 years. The accident occurred on September 4, 1996, when the Plaintiff, Sherri Berg, who was driving a brand new jeep, was struck by a large Suburban. While the Plaintiff was fortunately not injured, her jeep sustained very significant damage. She reported the accident to her insurance company, Nationwide, and took the vehicle to a body shop for a repair estimate. Although she did not know it at the time, the body shop declared the vehicle a total loss. Additionally, the frame was severely bent, which meant it was not safe to put back on the road. Nationwide balked at paying out the full value of the vehicle, and instead got a “second opinion” which called for the jeep to be repaired instead of being replaced. A mechanic from the shop was so disgusted by the insurance companies actions, and worried that the jeep was not safe to drive, that he felt compelled to contact the Bergs to let them know what was going on.

The Bergs filed a lawsuit in 1998 against Nationwide. Instead of Nationwide honoring the property damage claim, which was valued at approximately $25,000.00, Nationwide spent more than $3 million defending itself in the 16-year legal fight with the Bergs. During the lawsuit, the Plaintiff’s attorneys found internal documents which showed that Nationwide had a practice of fighting smaller claims tenaciously – even though such a strategy had been denounced by Pennsylvania courts as “unethical and unprofessional.” This is because they figured that most consumers would not spend the money to litigate these smaller cases, which would ultimately equate to more profit for the insurance company. The judge was so disgusted with Nationwide’s behavior, which included hiding photos of the vehicle, that he awarded $18 million in punitive damages in order to punish the insurance company.

Has an insurance company unfairly denied a claim that you recently filed? If so, please contact the experienced attorneys at Stark & Stark to discuss your situation.

Link to article: http://articles.philly.com/2014-07-14/news/51435798_1_crash-photos-jeep-nationwide-insurance

The American Bar Association has determined that it is ethical for lawyers to search the internet for publicly available information on citizens called for jury duty — and even jurors in deliberations.

The ABA issued its report in April of this year which states that unless limited by law or court order, a lawyer may review a juror or potential juror “Internet presence” which could even include postings by the juror during a trial. The ABA did state that attorneys are not allowed to communicate directly with the jurors, such as asking to “friend” them on Facebook.

The ABA noted that there was a strong public interest in identifying jurors who may be tainted by improper bias or prejudice. Further, lawyers need to know the where the line is drawn as to what constitutes an impermissible communication to a juror.

One of the examples given was an attorney who was investigating a juror’s LinkedIn page. The juror received a notification that the lawyer had looked at his page. Did this act constitute an impermissible communication to a juror? The ABA opinion analogized it to a situation where a lawyer was driving down the street where the prospective juror lives in order to investigate him, and a neighbor recognized the lawyer’s vehicle and told the juror. In this case, the lawyer would not be considered to have “communicated” with the juror. Similarly, since it was the LinkedIn service which alerted the juror, it did not mean that the lawyers engaged in a communication with the juror.

The full opinion can be found here.

It is well known that driving under the influence of alcohol impairs perception, judgment, motor skills and memory, all of which are critical skills needed for safe driving. Too many innocent victims are killed on our highways by drunk drivers, and society has acknowledged that the need to deter this dangerous behavior is great. Legal sanctions, including punitive damages, are central to the deterrence of impaired driving. Even though the enormity of this problem has been addressed by both the New Jersey State Legislature and our courts, New Jersey law still protects these dangerous drivers and, conversely, limits the rights of innocent victims who are injured by drunk drivers.

Historically, New Jersey courts have refrained from holding drunk drivers strictly responsible for the happening of a motor vehicle accident and the resulting damages, as the mere fact that the driver of an automobile was intoxicated is not in and of itself negligence. In Roether v. Pearson, 36 N.J. Super. 465 (1955), the plaintiff contended that since the defendant pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of drunken driving, he should have been held solely responsible for the happening of the collision. At trial, the jury returned a verdict of “no cause of action” in favor of the drunk driver, and the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the verdict as against the weight of the evidence. The trial judge denied the motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed and recognized that the jury could conclude that the defendant’s intoxication was not a proximate cause of the accident, and therefore there was no civil responsibility.

Since New Jersey courts have declined a strict liability approach, a plaintiff is required to show that the defendant’s intoxication affected his ability to drive, and was a proximate cause of the motor vehicle accident. While this approach does make sense in light of the rationale expressed in the Roether case, its unfortunate result is that most competent defense attorneys will strategically decide to stipulate to liability in an attempt to keep evidence of intoxication away from the jury. In this situation, where liability is now admitted, the fact that the defendant was intoxicated does not become relevant to what injuries, if any, the plaintiff sustained in the subject motor vehicle accident. By hiding the defendant’s intoxication from the jury, the deterrence effect of holding drivers accountable for their bad decisions becomes limited.

Therefore, in order to introduce evidence of a defendant’s intoxication to a jury in a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff typically needs to seek punitive damages against the defendant. Punitive damages are not only intended to punish a wrongdoer, but also to serve to deter both the wrongdoer and others from similar intolerable behavior. It has been said that the purpose of punitive damages is to serve an expression of society’s disapproval of this outrageous conduct. See Fischer v. Johns-Manville Corp., 103 N.J. 643, 657 (1986).

Punitive damages are typically seen in dram-shop and social-host liability claims, and since evidence of intoxication is a necessary proof in these cases, juries are able to hear testimony on this subject. But what if the drunk driver became intoxicated at his own home, and then caused a rear-end collision? In this type of situation, where the only defendant is the drunk driver, a claim for punitive damages is frequently the only way a jury will be told the truth about the happening of the accident. The defense will almost always automatically admit liability in such a case, and therefore it is absolutely necessary to have a punitive-damage claim in order to explore the issue of intoxication before a jury.

Generally, a defendant’s conduct must be particularly egregious to support an award of punitive damages. To warrant a punitive-damage award, the defendant’s conduct must have been wantonly reckless or malicious. There must be an intentional wrongdoing in the sense of an “evil minded act” or an act accompanied by a wanton and willful disregard of the rights of another. See Nappe v. Anschelewitz, Barr, Ansell, & Bonello, 97 N.J. 37, 49 (1984) (citing DiGiovanni v. Pessel, 55 N.J. 188, 191 (1970). Prior to 1986, there were no reported opinions in New Jersey as to whether punitive damages were available in an automobile accident where the defendant driver was intoxicated.

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Newspapers and social media sites have been buzzing about a lawsuit which was recently filed in New Jersey which is drawing comparison to the “Hot Coffee” case of 1994. In the case which was just filed in New Jersey state court, the Plaintiff, Jennifer Fragoso, is claiming that Dunkin’ Donuts served a product which was too hot for consumption, and as she was parked in the parking lot, the lid to her hot cider came loose, causing the hot cider to spill on her, resulting in second and third degree burns.

Unfortunately, judging by a lot of the comments this story has generated, many people have already made up their minds that this is a “frivolous” case. This is most likely because insurance companies have embarked on a campaign to use the “Hot Coffee” case as a reason as to why we need Tort Reform. However, they have distorted the facts in order to advance their agenda, so here are the real facts that you may not have known about the “Hot Coffee” case.

  • Stella Liebeck (79 years old) was a passenger, in a car parked, when she placed the coffee between her legs.
  • When Stella first contacted McDonalds, it wasn’t about the money- she just wanted her medical bills (over $10,000) paid. McDonalds refused.
  • McDonalds served its coffee 10 degrees hotter than it should have- even though it knew it was too hot and was burning people! (FYI McDonalds continued to serve its coffee excessively hot until after the trial)
  • McDonalds had ignored 700 earlier complaints about excessively hot drinks!
  • Stella Liebeck was in the hospital for a week while doctors treated her third-degree burns and they feared she would not survive. (The photos are so graphic, that I don’t want to link to them, but you can easily find them by doing a Google Search).
  • The jury awarded Stella $200,000 in compensatory damages in the trial against McDonalds
  • The jury was so offended that McDonalds knew they were selling a product which was too hot, and therefore too dangerous, and wanted to send a message so they awarded $2.7 in punitive damages (which represented only 2 days of sales of McDonalds’ coffee nationwide at the time)
  • The judge reduced the total award (compensatory and punitive) to $640,000, as he found it excessive.
  • The parties settled out of court for less than $500,000. 

So, whenever someone mentions “Hot Coffee” and “Tort Reform” in the same sentence, you should ask them… have you seen the photos of Stella Liebeck?