This winter has been one of the coldest in recent memory, at least for those of us in the Northeast.  It seems like every day is a new record low for daytime temperatures.  If you have grown tired of driving in icy and snowy conditions on your morning commute you’re not alone.  The good news: in less than a month, spring will be upon us.  The bad news: there’s still plenty of time for Mother Nature to throw some more winter weather at us.  This means that we must be extra careful when driving and even when we are just walking to and from our cars.  Be especially careful when walking to or from your car in the early morning or evening hours.  It’s only natural to sometimes be in a rush when walking from the workplace to your car in the parking lot, especially when the temperature if below freezing and arctic wind is hitting you.  But this is when you have to be especially careful.  Snow and ice that melted in the sunshine easily can refreeze and turn into ice when the sun goes down.  Many times ice will look like water on the ground.  This is especially prevalent near snow banks where snow runs off from the bank or the pile and then collects in areas many feet away from the snow back.  Walk slowly and carefully in these areas, especially at night and in the morning.  Sometimes snow accumulates in parking lots in the areas between cars.  This can cause people to slip and fall after they step out of their cars or as they are stepping into their cars.  Always look at the ground before you step in or out of your car.  Make sure to wear proper footwear with good traction for ice and snow.  Although it’s a good idea to have snow brushes and ice scrapers at home, be sure to keep a snow brush and ice scraper in your car so that you can clean your car if there is a snowstorm while you are away from home.

Now that I have given you some general safety tips for the winter, here are some tips for driving in the snow:

  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
  • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer where you want to go.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could   cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And     take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to         maneuver by driving slowly.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased  to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry   you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill  as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road.  Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to            be, watch the snow from indoors.

In addition, some other safety tips worth mentioning are:

  • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Be sure that your tires are properly inflated.
  • Never mix radial tires with other tire types.

At Stark & Stark, we care about your safety and hope these tips help you cope with this tough winter weather we’ve all been experiencing.  We represent people throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania who have been hurt in car accidents, slips and falls, and other unfortunate incidents.  We hope that you will not need our assistance, but if you do, or if you know someone who does, we are here to help.  Call me right away if you have been hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence.

Today, Friday, June 20, 2014 Stark & Stark Attorneys and staff are “dressing down” in support of Anchor House and their 36th Annual “Ride for Runaways”. On Saturday, July 12, 2014 cyclist will ride over 500 miles to raise money for the homeless, abused, neglected and traumatized children. Last year the “Ride” raised over $400,000.

For more information on this event, please click here.

A new study released by the New England Journal of Medicine, and publicized on CNN Health,  has revealed that about 1 in every 25 patients seeking treatment at hospitals acquired an infection there in 2011. As shocking as that news might be to you, this information actually shows progress from past estimates, while the grim reality remains that far too many people become infected while seeking medical treatment in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The study included 183 hospitals and 11,282 patients surveyed between May and September 2011, and it found that patients acquired 721,800 infections at hospitals that year. 75,000 of these patients died, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, although the study did not determine whether an infection actually caused or contributed to each of these deaths. It is estimated that there were 1.7 million healthcare associated infections and 155,668 infected patient deaths in 2002, with 98,987 of those deaths involving infection as either a cause or contributing factor to the death.

The most common types of infections were pneumonia and surgical-site infections. Each of these accounted for 22% of all infections, almost half the total. Other infections accounting for significant portion of the overall total include gastrointestinal infections such as C difficile, urinary tract infections and infections of the bloodstream. Despite their presence near the top of the list, bloodstream infections from central lines (lines inserted in the chest into a vein) actually dropped 44% between 2008 and 2012, according to the study. C difficile infections have become more severe and prevalent in the past decade, and more bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant infections account for at least 23,000 deaths each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Dr. Peter Pronovost, the director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins, recommends patients research their local hospital’s infection rates on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hospital comparison website ahead of time, whenever possible. “These ICU bloodstream infections are often a ‘canary in the coal mine’measure,” says Dr. Pronovost. “In other words, if a hospital gets its act together to focus on safety and get these down, it’s a good marker that they’re working collaboratively, even if you’re not in the ICU.” Dr. Provost also noted that there are still pockets of hospitals that have rates of infection that her several times the national average. He believes that there needs to be accountability for a hospital that has very high infection rates, although there is currently no such accountability.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or death as a result of a hospital – related infection, or if you believe you have been the victim of medical negligence, contact Stark & Stark at 1-800-535-3425 or starkinjurygroup.com

An important study conducted by the Health Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has found that teens who have been in cars with impaired drivers may be more likely themselves to get behind the wheel drunk or drugged. The study also reveals that the more frequently the teen is exposed to this risky behavior, the more risky their own driving habits become.  It also revealed some other troubling statistics.

The study found that about 30% of the teens surveyed – a group consisting of 2,500 U.S. students between 10th and 12th grades, who were surveyed over time, and not just at one point – admitted that they either drove while intoxicated or rode with an intoxicated driver within the last three years. Between 12% and 14% reported impaired driving in the past month, and 23% to 38% reported riding in cars with drunk or drugged drivers within the last year, according to the researchers. 

Bruce Simons- Morton, one of the researchers who published this study in “Pediatrics”, reported that teens who admitted riding with drunk or drugged drivers during one of the surveys were 10 times more likely to drive drunk or drugged than a teen who never reported riding in cars with impaired drivers. That risk grew to 34 times greater when they reported riding in cars with impaired drivers on two surveys, and 127 times greater if they were ported riding in cars with drunk or drugged drivers on all three surveys.”The magnitude of the association kind of gets one’s attention,” said Simons-Morton, who noted that “When you ride with an intoxicated driver, it sort of normalizes the idea of drinking and driving.” Parents and peers need to be persistent, Simons- Morton says, in planting the important message in your teen’s head that they should not drive or ride with intoxicated driver.

Stark & Stark is proud of its efforts on behalf of the victims of drunk or drug intoxicated driving. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury or death as a result of an impaired driver, contact Stark & Stark at 1-800-535-3425 or starkinjurygroup.com.

A new program titled Pledge to Share the Road is underway through the Motorcycle Safety Coalition. Our attorneys at Stark & Stark support this program and its goal to increase driver awareness of motorcycles and to encourage safe driving practices for everyone’s benefit. Through this program it is hoped we can encourage all motorists to share the road. The site has numerous safety tips, information and tools for drivers of all ages. Here are a few tips:

Respect Riders: they have the same rights and privileges as all other vehicles

Don’t Drive Distracted: Texting is illegal and extremely dangerous to everyone

Don’t Assume: Be aware that motorcyclists may have to maneuver to avoid a road condition you don’t worry about in a car or truck; give the cycle extra space 

Use Turn Signals: warn others well before you change lanes or make a turn

Check Blind Spots: motorcycles are smaller than cars and may not be readily seen

Don’t Tailgate: motorcycles may have to brake suddenly or swerve to avoid a pothole; if the vehicle in front of a motorcycle suddenly stops a tailgating vehicle would pose an extreme danger to the rider

We all should know these rules of the road but far too many drivers have forgotten them or fail to follow them. Please remind your fellow drivers of these simple rules of the road and join the Motorcycle Safety Coalition and Pledge to Share the Road.

If you would like to take the pledge to share the road, Click here and Pledge to win up to $50 in gas cards.

When do you have to report a work related injury in New Jersey?   No matter what anyone tells you, you have 90 days to report a specific accident and be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey.   Internal employer policies can be different, but this does not mean you can’t receive workers’ compensation benefits.   This means your employer can create its own policies and discipline you for failing to report an injury within its own internal deadlines.   

Basically, your worker’s compensation rights include medical treatment, temporary benefits and potentially a permanent disability award for the extent of your permanent impairment.   These are benefits paid by your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier.   Discipline for failing to follow an employer policy is a separate labor issue.   

As I indicated above, the workers’ compensation statute allows for 90 days to report an accident, but the language of the statute encourages injured workers’ to report an injury as soon as possible.   

N.J.S.A. 34:15-17 Notification of employer
Unless the employer shall have actual knowledge of the occurrence of the injury, or unless the employee, or someone on his behalf, or some of the dependents, or someone on their behalf, shall give notice thereof to the employer within 14 days of the occurrence of the injury, then no compensation shall be due until such notice is given or knowledge obtained.   If the notice is given, or knowledge obtained, within 30 days from the occurrence of the injury, no want failure or inaccuracy of a notice shall be a bar to obtaining compensation, unless the employer shall show that he was prejudiced by such want, defect and inaccuracy, and then only to the extent of such prejudice.  If the notice is given, or the knowledge obtained within 90 days , and if the employee, or other beneficiary shall show that his failure to give prior notice was due to his mistake, inadvertence, ignorance of fact or law, or inability, or to the fraud, misrepresentation or deceit of another person, or to any other reasonable cause or excuse, then the compensation may be allowed, unless, and then to the extent only that the employer shall show that he was prejudiced by failure to receive such notice.   Unless knowledge be obtained, or notice given, within 90 days after the occurrence of the injury, no compensation shall be allowed.

The key thing to take away from the worker’s compensation statute is that if you do not report an injury within 90 days, you cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits.   There is really no way around this.   It creates three deadlines for reporting injuries: 14 days, 30 days, and finally 90 days.   What this means, is the earlier you report an injury, the better.    

How do you protect yourself?   The best course of action is to report all accidents and injuries when they happen whether or not you need immediate medical assistance.   You will be better off reporting an injury when it happens and advising your supervisor that you’d like to wait and see how it feels over the next couple of days.  When in doubt, report it and see how you feel over the next few days.    

In another blog post, I discuss the difference between the worker’s compensation statute and the accident reporting requirements of individual employers. 

James Creegan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office concentrating his practice in Workers’ Compensation law. For questions, or to schedule a free consultaiton with Mr. Creegan, please contact him here.

Below is an article written by Ken Connor, an amazing lawyer and good personal friend, who handles Nursing Home cases throughout the country. Ken’s article shows us that no matter which way we lean (Republican or Democrat) this is something we all should agree on.

The GOP’s Selective Constitutionalism
By Ken Connor

“[The right to trial by jury is] the most transcendent privilege which any subject can enjoy, or wish for, that he cannot be affected either in his property, his liberty, or his person, but by the unanimous consent of twelve of his neighbors and equals.”  Sir William Blackstone, from Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765).

For many years now, America’s civil justice system has been on the losing side of the public relations battle.  From demonizing lawyers to ridiculing jurors, special interest groups (which include insurance conglomerates, drug companies, and big business cartels) have relentlessly pressured state and federal legislators to enact laws which carry out their agenda.  These efforts have led to a myriad of proposed legislative “fixes” that are, ostensibly, aimed at increasing the fairness of our judicial process and lowering the cost of health care.  The “solutions” proposed by legislators doing the bidding of these special interest groups include artificial caps on damages, draconian limits on liability, and dramatically shortened periods of time in which suits must be filed.  Far from making the system more just and fair, these measures are aimed at insulating wrongdoers from full accountability for their actions while preventing injured parties from obtaining complete redress for the harms they have suffered.  

Ironically it is the Republican Party (of which this writer is  presently an embarrased member) that is often found leading the charge for “civil justice reform.”  These self-proclaimed “defenders of the Constitution” have no use for the Seventh Amendment, which protects the right to trial by jury in civil cases.  And they pay only lip service to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which are aimed at protecting the rights of the people and the states to make policy decisions for themselves without unauthorized interference from the Feds.  The most recent example of constitutional hypocrisy being put forward by the party of Lincoln comes from Reps. Phil Gingrey and Lamar Smith in the form of H.R. 5, or the HEALTH Act.  Their bill is an affront to the Bill of Rights and would result in the imposition of a federally imposed, top-down, one-size-fits-all, special-interest driven emasculation of fundamental constitutional rights, turning victims of medical malpractice and dangerous drugs into constitutional eunuchs.

This is not the first time we’ve been down this road.  As it happens, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Health Care (HEALTH) Act of 2011 is actually the same exact bill that was passed by the House of Representatives in 2005.  While these measures may seem like good ideas on paper and make excellent soundbytes (Punish greedy trial lawyers!!  Put an end to “defensive medicine!!”), there is little evidence that they will save money, create jobs, or reduce medical errors, as their proponents claim.  What is certain is that such legislation will have devastating consequences for individuals and their families whose lives have been literally torn apart by medical negligence, defective drugs, and elder abuse in nursing homes – to name just a few of the acts protected by the proposed legislation.

Among the many troubling provisions of this legislation – including it’s sweeping scope, it’s flagrant preemption of state law, and it’s dramatic reduction of the statute of limitations – is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.  Non-economic damages exist to compensate individuals who have suffered actual harm in the form of bodily injury, pain and suffering and/or disability as a result of preventable, reckless, and sometimes malicious treatment by wrongdoers.  Injuries such as the loss of a spouse or child, the loss of a limb or sight, the loss of mobility, the loss of fertility, excruciating pain and/or permanent and severe disfigurement are not mere inconveniences, they are tragic, life-altering damages that can never be undone.  Our Constitution dictates that in such cases it is to be a jury – not politicians acting at the behest of special interest lobbyists – who decides what constitutes fair compensation.  Setting an artificial (not to mention arbitrary) cap on such damages which does not take into account the evidence in a particular case punishes the victims of malpractice, dangerous drugs or medical devices and rewards the wrongdoers perpetrating the harm, for whom $250,000 is a mere rounding error on their balance sheets.  What’s touted as a cost-saving reform, then, is actually an incentive for unscrupulous doctors, drug and insurance companies, and nursing homes to conduct business as usual with no fear of reprisal.

But what’s new about politicians doing the bidding of special interests who line their campaign coffers with cash?  Could this be the reason congressional approval ratings consistently rank lower than any other branch of government?  Rather than applying a common sense, compassionate constitutionalism to the crafting of legislation, special interests drive the policy train.  Imagine how the face of American justice will change if our courts begin operating in the same corrupt fashion as our state and federal legislatures.  If the special interests have their way, that’s just what will happen:  The civil justice system will soon begin to look more and more like the Congressional system, where the outcome is determined in advance and the process is just “eye wash” for the public.

Politicians who tilt the civil justice system in favor of the rich and powerful at the expense of justice would do well to heed the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…” (Isa. 10:1-2, NIV).

Congress should clean up its own act before enacting “reforms” that damage the civil justice system and undermine the constitutional rights of American citizens.  Perhaps they should begin by re-reading the Constitution, since it didn’t seem to make much of an impression the first time around.