Sunday, February 28, 2010
Right now, the roads around Charlottesville, Virginia, are littered with roadkill. Are there just too many deer or are we drivers not paying attention? Keeping a lookout for deer can help avoid such accidents. If you a deer does dart out in front of you, the experts suggest that you not swerve. Rather, you should apply the brakes and try to stop in your lane. If you hit the deer, do not approach it if you are not sure that it is dead. Then, contact your local game official or the VDOT for carcass removal. What if you hit a deer and your car is damaged and you also have a personal injury. Do you have a claim? The deer probably did not have insurance and its estate is likely worthless, just a hide and some bones. So what should you do? The first order of business is to locate your insurance policy? Most likely, your property damage is covered. You may even have applicable medical payments coverage. Unfortunately, insurance coverage often does not cover a personal injury resulting from a collision with a deer. For a policy review, we offer a free consultation. Don't wait until you hit a deer. Check your policy today.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, the local Toyota dealership is staying open longer and adding staff to handle the recall of many late model Toyota and Lexus brand cars. Mr Toyoda, the grandson of the car company's founder, has appeared before Congress to explain, and apologize for, the unexplained acceleration defects which have caused accidents, injuries, and several deaths. All of this leaves the owners and drivers of Toyotas in a quandry. Should you continue to drive your Toyota? To be on the safe side, you should have your vehicle serviced immediately. But will the recall service solve the problem? Several experts have stated that they do not believe that the proposed fix is the right one. They believe that we still do not know the cause of the problem, only the result. Such uncertainty is maddening and frustrating. But, only time will tell if one side or the other is right. Let us all hope that no one is injured in the future. The only possible benefit for Toyota drivers that I can think of is that if you are stopped for speeding, you might have a good defense.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The Supreme Court unanimously held that a corporation's principal place of business is where its executives reside, not where it does a significant amount of business. The underlying facts of the case concerned a class action against Hertz by employees asserting an overtime wage claim. The case was filed in state court, but Hertz removed the case to federal court asserting diversity jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed with Hertz and sent the case back to federal court. Why does this decision matter? It makes it harder for plaintiffs to choose where their case against a large corporation will be heard. Most plaintiffs prefer state courts and avoid federal courts because of a number of factors. Corporations now have a greater ability to shift the forum to federal court because a corporation usually has its headquarters in a different state, even if it does a lot of business in the state where the plaintiff lives. Interestingly, this decision does not affect claims made by railroad employees who are injured on the job as they enjoy the protection of the Federal Employer's Liability Act. Thew FELA gives a railroad employee plaintiff the ability to choose to proceed in state or federal court and the claim cannot be removed by the employer, even if it is headquartered in a different state. For instance, Norfolk Southern employees who live in West Virginia can file their suit in state court and keep it there, even though Norfolk Southern has its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. But for most other plaintiffs, a new set of rules is now in effect.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Virginia newspapers reports this morning reveal that the top 400 tax filings reported average earnings of $345 million each, an increase of nearly one third over the previous year. Amazingly, this same group of high earners only paid taxes at an average rate of 16.6%, the lowest amount since 1992. I don't think the average citizen had wage growth of 33% and taxes of only 16%. I guess it pays to be super rich, even in a recession. On the bright side, if you receive an injury settlement as a result of an accident, the monies you put in your pocket are generally tax free. There are some exceptions to this rule so it is a good idea to have your personal injury lawyer advise you on this issue.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Several recent articles have suggested that fewer civil cases are being tried before a jury. One article asserts that the costs of trying a personal injury case are prohibitive and so plaintiffs are settling rather than risk trial. Another article suggests that the reason for the demise of the jury trial is the rise of mandatory mediation. Yet another article argues that juries are not as generous as they used to be and so lawyers do not want to risk their personal injury cases by going to trial. As a veteran personal injury, I think all of these factors have combined to reduce the number of jury trials. In fact, a lot of lawyers who work for large personal injury firms may end up going to court only very rarely as the economic rewards of settlement outweigh the time expenditure of a jury trial. I also think that mediation is a significant and salutary factor in the statistics. As much as I enjoy trying a case before a jury, it is often in the client's interest to resolve the matter on terms that are agreeable and through a process which involves the client. And, the costs do not approach those of a jury trial. As to the perception that juries are not as generous as in the past, it may be an accurate perception for those cases where there is little property damage and very minor injuries. My personal experience is to the contrary for those more significant cases. So where does that leave us? I think we acknowledge the drop in jury trials but conclude that it is not necessarily a bad trend. Mediation is a the future for most lawyers and it is a good one. Unfortunately, the mind shift from jury trial to mediation as the preferred resolution mechanism is not happening rapidly enough. Mediation is not yet mandatory in Virginia. It needs to be. Some localities require it but there needs to be a statewide rule. It is the future and we need it in Virginia now.
Friday, February 12, 2010
School Board budgets across the state of Virginia are under pressure. Revenue shortfalls are causing massive cuts in school budgets at every level, including public universities. The University of Virginia is reporting that the state's contribution to its flagship institution is now less than the amount of the students' contribution by way of tuition. Every report tells us that more cuts are coming and we can expect larger classroom sizes, fewer programs and cutbacks in extracurricular activities. The long term effects of these cuts will result in more students getting a subpar education and a workforce that is poorly educated, not an attractive picture. It is, in fact, a disaster in the making. We all need to take action and make our concerns heard by our representatives at every level. The health of our economy and the health of our schools are connected. We cannot afford to let them both fail. So what does this rant have to do with personal injury law? Well, the health of our judicial system depends on a well educated populace. Do any of us really want a bunch of idiots serving as jurors, jurors who will judge your case and make decisions that will affect your life. Of course we don't. So pick up the phone and support education in Virginia.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Washington Post reports that Delegate William Howell is leading the charge in trying to pass a bill that would shield one Virginia Fortune 500 firm, Crown Cork, from liability for asbestos personal injury claims. Apparently, Howell has lobbied fellow republicans and replaced democrats on the committee that passed the bill. The Post notes that Crown has donated over $100,000 to legislators and has spent equally large amounts on lobbyists trying to get the bill passed. The money and Howell's efforts worked. The bill passed in the full House by just one vote. This shocking example of the political process at work should be a call to action for all of us. I suppose you could say that Virginia is just living up to its reputation as the most business friendly state in the nation. But, I hate to see the rights of the individual sacrificed in that mission, particularly when that individual has asbestos disease such as mesothelioma. Unfortunately, I think things are going to get worse under the new administration, all in the name of job creation. Anyway, do we really want those minimum wage jobs if they have price tags like this bill attached to them?
Monday, February 8, 2010
Recently, I read a couple of articles on the subject of choosing a personal injury lawyer. Some talk about 5 key factors, some list 10 important considerations and some just ramble on about not using the yellow pages. Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, as is also true in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas, several personal injury lawyers advertise on television. All the articles agree that picking your lawyer based on a thirty second tv ad is just plain crazy. Most of the ads are placed by larger personal injury firms and their financial success is based on a large volume of injury clients. So they have a large staff that works like a factory asssembly line in processing claims. Cases are handled by case managers who shift the case to a staff lawyer if it can't be settled quickly. The process can be very anonymous. All the articles agree that the one of the key factors in choosing a personal injury lawyer is to meet him and see if he has time to work on your case and to do a good job. in other words, will the lawyer give your case his personal attention. It seems to me that this factor is crucial becauseyou want to know if the lawyer will know who you are and to make sure he will be available when you need help. How else can a lawyer get the maximum value for your case?
Saturday, February 6, 2010
This past week, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down its state's medical tort reform act's malpractice cap (from 2005) on the basis that it violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Unlike Virginia's medical malpractice cap, the Illinois statute did not limit economic damages, it only capped damages for pain and suffering. In Virginia, the unlucky patient who is a victim of medical malpractice and who has medical bills that exceed the cap (currently $2,000,000), is out of luck for a second time when he visits a lawyer seeking redress for his injuries. He or she will be informed that the cap has been determined to be constitutional and so damages will be limited, even if they choose to move to Illinois. Will this decision of the Illinois Supreme Court cause doctors to flee the land of Lincoln and seek safe haven in Virginia? Probably not. In reality, an excessive jury award is usually limited or set aside by the trial judge or an appellate court. What's more, caps have been shown not to affect malpractice premiums for doctors. Insurance companies are the main beneficiaries of caps, not doctors and certainly not patients. We need tort reform that protects and helps both doctors and patients.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
In Charlottesville, Virginia, the Daily Progress reports that a pickup truck ran a red light at a busy intersection and collided with another pickup truck. Sadly, the passenger of the struck vehicle died. Clearly, the death was unnecessary and it will probably be shown that either driver inattention or excessive speed were the reasons for the wreck. It is unfortunate that too many people forget the tremendous power of our cars and trucks and their capacity for death and destruction. I am about to begin teaching my second daughter how to drive and I know that she will be very focused and cautious as we start to drive. But, after a few years or even less, we all begin to relax and to feel comfortable driving, even while using a cell phone. Our confidence is misplaced and whenever we are driving, we should all be watching out for the other driver, the one wh is speeding or who is distracted for whatever reason. I don't think any of the personal injury clients I have represented would have chosen to be in a car wreck. No amount of money is going to take away the pain of an injury or make a permanent disability get better. So please be careful and watch out for the other driver, particularly with more bad weather on the way.
Monday, February 1, 2010
A newspaper report informs me that the Pontiac Silverdome has sold for $600,000. The original cost in 1975 was over $50 million. Is it a bargain? Is any real estate in the depressed Detroit/Pontiac area a bargain? Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Albemarle County high schools are trying to raise about $150,000 each to complete fundraising for artificial turf fields. Maybe they should get together and buy the Silverdome. I know it is a silly thought but the price differential is not that great. It is the geographical distance that is the problem. Maybe the lesson is that you really need to have a long term perspective when you invest substantial sums. In the personal injury law world, it also pays to have a long term perspective. If you treat your clients well and do a good job, there is a future benefit. At Wilson & Hajek, our goal is to provide personal attention to each client and to do a good job for everyone. We might not all get to own a major league stadium, but we can do our part for our communities and our fellow citizens. Maybe then we will build value and not have to have fire sales like the one in Pontiac.