Photo of Stephen M. Di Stefano

Many residents in New Jersey have heard people from out of state remark how we pay more for auto insurance than they do. There is an element of truth to that perception. Some people get “sticker shock” when they buy a new car, only to find out that now their insurance rates have increased substantially. Others often face much higher auto insurance premiums when a teenager in their household gets his or her driver’s license.

Sometimes people respond to the increase in rates by decreasing the amounts of their coverage in an attempt to lower their premium. This is not a wise decision.


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Now that the holiday season is upon us, traffic and congestion on roadways big and small is at a peak. Trucks and tractor trailers remain a common site on interstate highways and local roads. Recent data suggests that truckers are finding it harder to obtain liability insurance to cover their fleets. Some insurance companies have left the market in response to several large personal injury truck accident settlements that have been made over the past few years.

The Department of Transportation has reported that although the number of people killed in accidents with large trucks declined 20% over the past decade, the number actually increased last year. Furthermore, there has been an increase over the past few years in the number of large verdicts where juries award tens of millions of dollars or more to families of truck accident victims.


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Red light cameras have become a hot topic in many states. Some people view them as a safety measure, whereas others view them as only a moneymaker for municipalities. Even still, others view them as unwanted governmental intrusion into citizens’ private lives. As a result of the criticisms raised over the cameras, some states have opted to turn them off.

As some states have started to turn off the cameras, new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that turning off red light traffic signal cameras actually costs lives. The Institute’s research shows that red light programs in 79 large U.S. cities saved nearly 1,300 lives through 2014.


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In decades ahead, driverless cars may be the new norm in America. Recently, Tesla Motors discloses the first-known death caused by a self-driving car. In that accident, the driver put his car into Tesla’s autopilot mode. The autopilot mode is able to control the car during highway driving. The car’s sensors apparently failed to distinguish a large, white 18-wheel tractor-trailer crossing the highway. The car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, and the bottom of the trailer impacted the windshield of the car.

A police report stated the top of the vehicle was torn off by the force of the collision. However, the truck’s driver was not injured. Tesla noted that this was the company’s first known autopilot death in approximately 130 million miles driven by its customers. Tesla further noted that within the US, among all vehicles driven, there is a fatality every 94 million miles.


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Many people have heard about the McDonald’s “hot coffee” spill lawsuit from 1994. That was one of the first cases to highlight the significant, life-threatening scalding injuries that can occur when hot beverages are spilled or consumed. Unfortunately, a recent case further illustrates the very real dangers and the often horrific injuries associated with the negligent service of hot beverages in restaurants.

A 6-year-old boy was having lunch with family members at a Chinese restaurant. During the meal, a server placed a pot of hot tea on the table’s lazy Susan. When the lazy Susan turned, the pot tipped over and spilled scalding tea onto the child, causing second degree and third degree burns to many different parts of his body. The child had to be transferred to a burn center where he underwent skin-graft procedures in which skin was harvested from uninjured parts of his body and grafted onto the burned areas. Unfortunately, the locations on his body used for skin donations failed to heal, and he required a second procedure that harvested skin from a different part of his body to cover the wound created by the first skin-graft. The damage caused by the skin-grafts nearly doubled the total body surface area that was damaged and injured in the spill incident at the restaurant.


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Everyone knows that a drunk driver is liable for injuries he causes while behind the wheel. But what about the person or place that served the driver alcoholic beverages before he started driving? Is that person or place liable for injuries the person causes later on when driving while intoxicated? A recent case delves into this issue.

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In a prior blog post, I discussed what to do after a truck accident occurs. In this blog post, I will focus on a specific example of a dangerous truck accident. A graduate student was driving in moderate stop-and-go traffic on the interstate. While he was stopped in a line of cars, a tanker truck driver that was traveling at about 25 mph rear ended a vehicle that was 2 cars behind the student’s vehicle. As a result, a chain-reaction impact occurred. The car behind the graduate student’s car rear ended his car, causing his seat to break. His car was then forced into the car in front of him.

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In a previous blog post I discussed the dangers of slips and falls in indoor places and how to use caution to avoid them. However, what happens if you are one of the unlucky ones who are hurt in a bad fall? What should you do? It should go without saying, but if you need medical attention you should seek it immediately, without any delay.

If you fell at a store or some other place of business, you should report the incident to the management or ownership or the location where you fell after you are permitted by your doctors to travel again. This may involve completing an incident report with your version of what happened.

Keep in mind that in New Jersey, the management or ownership of the property where you fell does not have any obligation to provide you with a copy of the incident report, even if you filled it out and signed it. So, before handing in the incident report to an employee of the property where you fell, you should make a copy of the incident report for your records. This can be accomplished by taking a clear photograph of all pages of the incident report with any smart phone or electronic tablet or similar device. In filling out the report, you should clearly explain what happened. You are not under any obligation to complete an incident report, but it can sometimes be helpful later on if you decide to pursue a legal claim for any injuries you suffered as a result of the incident.\


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With the cold wintry weather now upon us, it is time to talk about the dangers of slips and falls. Although it is not a fun topic to discuss, it is not something to be ignored. When you go outside in the morning, be sure to stay alert for black ice. Any source of water, from a leaking hose to rainwater dripping from a downspout to a gutter, can quickly freeze and become a slip and fall hazard to anyone in the area.

Always use proper footwear with good tread when you are outside in wintry conditions. If you walk or run outside at night or early in the morning, be sure to wear reflective clothing and use a good source of light. This will help drivers to see you, and the light also will help you to keep a good lookout for ice on the ground. When around your house, make sure there is no water leaking or dripping inside or outside your home. Any outside leaks can freeze overnight and be a hazard to you and others who come onto your property.

For example, I can recall a situation where the fire department had been called to address a water leak that was coming from the garage door on a vacant house. When the fire department arrived, the water had been leaking onto the driveway for some time. The outside temperature was below freezing. The water that had accumulated in the driveway looked like a puddle. As one of the fireman got out of the truck and began walking on the driveway to try to determine the source of the leak, his foot touched the black ice, and he slipped and fell onto the concrete, suffering significant injuries. This accident occurred in the middle of broad daylight. Although the water on the driveway looked like a puddle, it really was dangerous black ice and the fireman was severely injured from the fall.


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Now that the temperatures outside have started to dip and the winter driving season is upon us, it is time to remind you of New Jersey’s ice and snow removal law. Remember to remove all ice and snow from your vehicle before driving, especially from the hood, windows, and roof. Motorists who fail to obey this law face fines of $25 to $75 for each offense, regardless of whether the ice and snow is dislodged from the vehicle. If flying ice or snow causes property damage or injury to others, motorists face fines of $200 to $1,000 for each offense.
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