Articles Posted in General Injury

I recently attended a Continuing Legal Education seminar in which a speaker presented a very insightful and interesting perspective on juries and what motivates them. The speaker’s essential point was that fairness and empathy are the overriding emotions guiding a given juror in a civil case, as opposed to fear, as some have theorized.  Research on the subject has shown that a “sense of justice” separates humans and apes from the rest of the animal kingdom, and it also shows that this “sense of fairness” or the “justice principle” is innate.  Even babies and very young children show preferences for the “good” guy or the moral actor. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/science/toddlers-have-sense-of-justice-puppet-study-shows.html?_r=0  In listening to this speaker, I began to reflect on our jury system, my respect for jurors and my core belief in the goodness of human nature in general.

The 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution preserves the right to jury trial.  The framers recognized the fundamental importance of the civil jury trial to our justice system; But, why?  If you ask any number of seasoned trial lawyers, they will likely tell you, that the vast majority of juries in cases they have tried get it right.  More importantly, though, I believe that the jury civil trial is the one remaining institution in which there is no bureaucracy, no red tape, and where an individual can compete on a level playing field with the most powerful corporation.  In this way, juries are the great equalizers in our society.  They are feared by the rich and powerful alike.  Having represented insurance companies for many years, I know first-hand how this fear motivates insurance companies to do right by their insureds in cases of liability.  It’s amazing, magical even, how quickly an insurance company will work to analyze their exposure when a trial date has been set.  Jurors may not be motivated by fear, but insurance companies and corporate defendants absolutely are!

Although the right to a jury trial is guaranteed by our constitution, it is under threat.  Jury verdicts can be overturned and indeed the Alabama Supreme Court has in recent years usurped the decisions of “a jury of our peers” to our detriment, and to the detriment of our communities.  One study found that in the last 10 years, the Supreme Court of Alabama, when writing an opinion in civil cases where the verdict involved money for the plaintiffs, overturned Alabama juries 72 percent of the time.  Some examples of jury verdicts overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court in recent years include the following:

When beginning to evaluate a potential automotive product liability case, a good place to start is with the applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are regulations published by the United States Government for motor vehicles related to design, construction and performance. The purpose of these standards is to insure “that the public is protected against unreasonable risk of crashes occurring as a result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles and is also protected against unreasonable risk of death or injury in the event crashes do occur. “ The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency of the federal government that is responsible for enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

During the 1960s Congress held public hearings regarding highway safety. Out of these hearings came legislation that eventually created NHTSA. The FMVSS, which had already begun to be written and published, beginning with a requirement for the installation of seat belts, fell under the preview of NHTSA. In addition to enforcing the FMFSS, NHTSA has also, from time to time, conducted investigations into safety related issues with motor vehicles, including the ford explorer rollover problem and the Toyota sticky accelerator problem.

The federal safety standards are minimum safety performance requirements. These can form the basis for a thorough investigation and evaluation of a potential crashworthiness case. The regulations themselves are found at 49 C. F. R. 571. These safety regulations address crash avoidance (the 100 series), crashworthiness (200-series), and post-crash survivability (300-series).

It happens much more often than most people think.  According to recent census data, every year 9.5 million vehicles are involved in automobile accidents injuring 2.2 million people and claiming the lives of over 33,000 people.  Over 800 people die every year from car wrecks in Alabama alone.  Car wrecks can range from the minor inconvenience of a banged up car to complete devastation for a family who lost a loved one.

The most important advice about accidents involves avoiding them and protecting yourself and your family.  Drive defensively, always looking out for other drivers not paying attention or acting recklessly, and buckle up (and make sure everyone in the car is buckled up before starting).

If tragedy does strike and a loved one is involved in an accident, here are a couple of reminders to protect their rights and make sure they or their family are compensated for their injuries.

Structured settlements are a series of periodic payments that can have numerous benefits for persons affected by wrongful death or personal injuries.  Structured settlements may be negotiated pre-trial and can facilitate settlement.  Structures may also be tailored to an individual claimants’ needs and may be set up to provide payments over a certain number of years, the lifetime of the claimant or even the joint lifetime of the claimant and his or her spouse.

Another benefit to utilizing structured settlements is that they can provide a stream of payments to claimants that are tax-free at both the federal and state level. A structured settlement may be only one component of a viable settlement solution. It some cases, it may be preferable to negotiate a lump sum payment in addition to a structure. In any case, the recommended size of the structured settlement may depend on a realistic assessment of how much the claimant will require to meet monthly expenses throughout his or her lifetime.

Be wary of “reverse” structures or companies that offer to “buy” your settlement. As stated, payments received in a structured settlement are generally tax-free and by selling your structure in return for a lump sum you will likely lose any tax benefit, thus reducing the settlement’s value. Additionally, the companies that buy settlements tend to be predatory and make money by underpaying you for the actual value of your settlement.

Products are not supposed to hurt people. When products injure people, lawyers are often asked to look into whether a recovery can be made against the manufacturer and seller of the product. In Alabama, products liability law is governed by the Alabama Extended Manufacturers’ Liability Doctrine (AEMLD).

To be able to pursue a product liability claim in Alabama, you’ve got to show generally that you were injured and that the product was dangerous. The first part, being injured, may seem obvious, but people often call lawyers when a product destroys itself or it proves to be dangerous and almost hurts them. These are times to count your blessings that you were not hurt.

The second part, proving that product was dangerous, involves several things.

First, you have to show that you were using the product either as it was intended to be used or in a way that was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used. People have different ideas for how to use products than the original idea of the manufacturer, and sometimes pieces go missing from products after use and people use them with pieces missing – that is just life, and manufacturers know this, and the law places a duty on them to try to protect people in ways they could foresee the product being used. However, there is also a concept in Alabama called contributory negligence which means that if you were doing something you knew was dangerous with the product, then you will not be able to recover.

A product is defective and unreasonably dangerous if it creates an unforeseen hazardous condition when put to its normal or foreseeable use. There are several ways this can happen and that lawyers prove these cases.

The first is a design defect. This simply means there is something about the design of the product that is defective and makes it dangerous. You can think of a saw that was designed without a guard or a guard that can easily break and fall off. This would be a dangerous condition because the saw can obviously hurt someone if it comes into contact with them. There are product defects in all types of consumer products – lead in toys, ladders that are not made strong enough or with certain fall protections, smoke detectors that don’t go off or warn when the battery is out, ATVs that roll over, electronic appliances that can catch fire. These are a few examples.

The next way to prove a product is defective is a manufacturing defect. The product could have been designed safely, but it was not put together correctly. A faulty weld, missing screws or missing pieces of a product can turn an otherwise safe product into one that can cause serious injury or death.

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You cannot drive down the interstate anymore without seeing a billboard for a lawyer’s office. Lawyer advertising is not new, but it has come a long way in recent years from just being on the back of the phone book.

There is an ongoing debate in the legal community about whether legal advertising is positive or negative for the profession. The one underlying question that rarely gets asked is: Why is there so much lawyer advertising? The obvious answer is simple enough: it works. The next question then has to be: Why does lawyer advertising work?

The answer to this question may surprise people. Many people simply do not know a lawyer. This can be easy to forget if you go to church with a lawyer or have a cousin who is a lawyer. Much of the population simply does not know a lawyer to call when they need one, and so they call the lawyers that advertise.

A view of the Alabama legal landscape can shed some light on this. There are roughly 17,000 Alabama licensed attorneys. This seems like a lot. However, there are only about 900 lawyer members of the Alabama Association for Justice, the interest group for lawyers representing injured people. With a population of over 4.8 million people, that’s under two trial lawyers per 10,000 people. Uneven distribution of lawyers throughout the state makes it even less likely that some people will know a trial lawyer. Simply put, there are large portions of the population that do not come into contact with lawyers on a regular basis, especially ones that represent people in personal injury and wrongful death cases. So, lawyers advertise for these cases, and people who do not know a lawyer call the lawyers who advertise.

Our firm’s approach to client engagement is different. Instead of billboard advertising, our firm focuses its energy on client satisfaction, community involvement and consumer education. We strive to provide exceptional service for our clients, and most of our new clients come as referrals from satisfied previous clients and from lawyers who know the work we do and refer clients to us. Continue reading

In emergency medical situations, time is everything. With a catastrophic injury, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between recovery and permanent injury, or even between life and death.

The same principle is often true in investigating an accident involving a catastrophic injury or death to protect yourself and your right to recovery. Critical evidence can become lost or damaged if not preserved in the days immediately following an accident. Having an experienced catastrophic injury attorney begin the investigation immediately is like emergency medical assistance – it can mean the chance at preserving all the evidence and your chance for a complete recovery. Our firm has years of experience and a team of experts on hand to begin investigating virtually any catastrophic injury or fatality. Here is a brief summary of our firm’s approach to auto accident investigation, why we do what we do, and why it is important to begin this process immediately.  The same principle is true for how we investigate fire and product defect cases as well.

We receive a call about a terrible automobile accident the day before. Our client’s family member is in ICU with a traumatic brain injury. Our first meeting is one of prayer and compassion with the family and to tell them to focus all their attention on caring for their loved one while we take care of investigating the accident. Our firm handles all the expense and manpower needed to investigate the accident while allowing the family to focus 100% on their loved one’s recovery.

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Labor Day weekend this year is full of promise in the South. It is the opening weekend of college football, and it is an extended holiday weekend to spend extra time with family and friends.

It is also a weekend to be mindful of personal safety. Labor Day weekend is unfortunately one of the deadliest weekends for travel. On average, 450 people will die in automobile accidents each Labor Day weekend. Roughly 34 million people will be on the road this Labor Day weekend. Given the mixture of holiday traffic, holiday partying, and opening weekend for football partying, it is helpful to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Be on alert for impaired or distracted drivers. Half of Labor Day weekend traffic deaths are alcohol related. If you must drive later in the day or evening, be on the lookout for drivers showing signs of impairment – swerving, failing to dim headlights, erratic behavior, and missing traffic control signals. With the increase in traffic, there are also more distracted drivers on the road and more cars for them to run into. Signs of distracted driving are similar to those of impaired driving.
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