Between our auto accident inquiries and my criminal law partner, Richard James, inquiries for moving violations and other vehicle related crimes/tickets, we sometimes get accident scenarios where the client looks at fault or clients seriously injured in car accidents but were given a citation or even arrested for reckless driving.  When this happens, and it has happened quite a bit recently, we always separate the parts of the case and attack them individually.  Then we see what happens.  Sometimes, as with the cases below, we can turn lemons into lemonades.


Rich signed up a client who was charged with misdemeanor reckless driving and multiple moving citations following a very serious auto accident on Route 95 near Westerly.  He was very badly injured in the accident including an airlift by rescue with multiple fractures and a collapsed lung.  The police completed an accident reconstruction but in so doing jumped to conclusions and used junk science to show our client was speeding and driving recklessly.  We retained our expert witness, an accident deconstructionist, who was able to prove that the science the police used during their reconstruction was completely false.  With his help we were also able to show that while our client was driving too fast, the accident was caused because the other vehicle changed lanes, sideswiping our client and causing him to lose control of his vehicle.  Even though the police report was completely against our client we were successful in reducing the charges against him and able to obtain a personal injury settlement against the driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash.

Medical malpractice cases frequently stem from the delivery room.  Improper delivery of a baby can result in long term permanent injury to the newborn and catastrophic damages to the family.  For example, cerebral palsy is quite often a result of medical negligence.  This week, however, another story came out from Alabama.  The Court has upheld a $16 million dollar jury award to a woman for her traumatic birth experience.  What makes this case a bit unique is that the damages were exclusively to the mother, the baby was ultimately fine, and includes considerable compensation for the psychological stresses she endured during a horrible delivery.

In this case, the woman was expecting her fourth child.  A pro at child birth, she and her husband decided they wanted to do things a little differently and attempt a more “natural” child birth experience at a clinic in Alabama specializing in such deliveries.  Natural birth clinics lure mothers to be with promises of cushy suites, a personalized birth plan, autonomy, etc.  A nice picture compared to the usual epidural, feet in stirrups and army of nurses at the bedside.  Or so she thought.  Instead, this poor woman endured a hellish delivery which included being held to the bed against her will and nurses forcing the baby to stay inside her womb for over six minutes while they waited for the doctor to finally arrive and deliver the child.  She suffered trauma to her sexual organs and along with these physically injuries has been emotionally traumatized.  She experiences frequent panic attacks and has lost her sex life with her husband.  The entire family has suffered.  There was evidence of medical malpractice not just in the awful delivery and attempt to hold the baby inside her for several minutes, but the jury also recognized the “bait and switch” in that the woman was promised a peaceful and positive birth experience and was instead physically assaulted and abused.

This case was framed around an emerging concept of “obstetric violence”.  This term includes anything from a condescending tone from doctors to being forced into unwanted medical procedures such as cesarean sections or episiotomy.  It will be very interesting to follow cases like this in the near future as doctors will have to weigh the considerations of the mother and her body much more carefully before making medical decision.  Certainly, I believe the courts will always side with a doctor if the mother or child are in danger during pregnancy and they decide to have a C-section, but will the Courts side with doctors when there is not such a medical emergency and they make a quick decision to operate? Will more cases come up charging doctors and nurses with verbal or physical trauma if they are not attentive enough to the mothers needs or otherwise physically aggressive.

In a somewhat surprising study released this week from Johns Hopkins University, it has been revealed that medical error has resulted in the death of approximately 250,000 people per year placing it third as the leading cause of death behind heart disease (611k) and cancer (585k).

The study does go on to state that not all of these instances are linked to individual error, nor is every such instance actionable in court.  Instead, quite a large number of these cases are systemic in nature such as, poor coordination of care, insurance gaps and lack of necessary protocols.  In other words, failure in the system from affording care, to receiving different care from different doctors may be as much to blame as individual medical error.  Improving and streamlining procedures as well as opening dialogue about where and when mistakes are happening are seen as two critical areas in need of improvement.  Of course, systemic problems are nearly impossible to litigate as it is a fundamental health care problem in this country.

A good percentage of those 250k deaths are directly linked to medical negligence.  Errors in treatment either by a single doctor or a team of doctors, however, may be actionable in a medical malpractice claim.  A doctors negligence can have profound, permanent, life changing effects on the victim and in those cases it is worth speaking to an experienced medical malpractice attorney.  While this article speaks to deaths caused by medical malpractice, the victim does not need to die in order for the estate to have a claim.  Any life changing medical error may be the basis for a lawsuit.

Many people may be unaware of a very helpful statute in RI which requires insurance companies to submit to arbitration before a lawsuit is filed.  According to RIGL 27-10.3-1, any insurance policy written in the State of Rhode Island must include a provision for arbitration if the case is valued under $50,000.

This statute is incredibly helpful for difficult personal injury cases that don’t have a particularly high value.  In Rhode Island, it can literally take years before a lawsuit is reached for trial and if you go the whole distance the costs can skyrocket into the thousands or tens of thousands.  For that reason, it doesn’t always make sense to file a lawsuit, particularly on cases that are worth 15-25k.  For these types of cases, this arbitration provision can be a lifesaver.  If the insurance company is disputing liability or just making a low-ball offer, then filing statutory arbitration may be the best bet.

Our office uses this tool a great deal.  When insurance companies like Allstate, Progressive and Liberty Mutual (these 3 in particular) want to make ridiculous low-ball offers by cutting the lost wage claim, cutting the medical bills and reducing the pain and suffering, my office often moves right to arbitration.

There is no single question that I receive more often than… “What is my case worth?”  Often, that is very tricky to answer, especially early on.  The fact is that only a verdict from a jury after trial is a final and true determination of value.  But so few cases actually go all the way to trial that your attorney must rely on his experience and skill to obtain as much for you as possible.  There are a number of factors that go into determining the value of your case.  Foremost, the severity of the injury and the extent of the treatment required.  Additionally, the value of your medical bills and lost wages (if any).  Also, are you willing to file a lawsuit and wait for more money or would you prefer to settle quickly for less.

So you see.. “What is my case worth” is a rather loaded question.

It may come as a surprise to many readers but another important factor in determining the value of your case is… which insurance company is involved?  Especially early on during initial settlement talks, the insurance company on the other side makes a big difference.  One company can value a case at 25k while another offers 12k.  How can that be you ask? If my case is worth 25k it is worth 25k.  Well, it is not so easy as that.  Several insurance companies will “low ball” your initial offer.  They want to see if your attorney is willing to file arbitration or file a lawsuit or rather just encourage you to settle for a quick payout.  In most cases, the attorney accepts these low settlement offers and insurance companies continue to get away with paying less than they should.  In Rhode Island, you have to be particularly careful of Progressive Insurance, Allstate Insurance and Liberty Mutual.  These three companies (at least in my experience) are notorious for making low, sometimes insulting, offers of settlement.  They justify this by cutting down your medical bills (claiming that treatment received was too expensive or unnecessary) and they will cut down your lost wages (suggesting you could have gone back to work earlier than you did) and they will offer you relatively little in pain and suffering.  In the end, you get an offer way below your own valuation of your injuries.

A cranston school bus veered off the road yesterday in a single vehicle accident.  Approximately 13 children were on board the bus when the accident occurred and while they did not initially complain of injury, many students went to urgent care facilities or hospitals in the evening with complaints of pain.  Apparently the police or bus driver did not feel it necessary to call any ambulance to the scene.  I find this very surprising.  Even if the accident was not terribly bad and no child immediately complained of pain, isn’t precaution the better option here?  A child can’t be expected to make important health decisions at the scene.

The cause of this school bus accident is still unknown.  This particular bus was not a city bus but rather a school bus outsourced to First Student, a private corporation. has reported that the driver was wearing a blue tooth head set in her ears which is absolutely prohibited.  The driver claims to have hit a patch of sand which caused her to veer but a witness directly behind the bus indicated that the bus made no evasive maneuvers or attempts to avoid the accident.  I am certain that the police will be taking a close look at this drivers cell phone records to see if it was in use at the time of the incident.

School bus accidents can be particularly dangerous to children because they are not buckled and they do not have the added protection of airbags.  Often children are standing or turned around in their seats which can cause dangerous and uncertain falls when a school bus collides with another object or runs off road.  Luckily, in this instance, it appears none of the injuries are serious.

An outbreak of norovirus at the RI landmark restaurant, Wrights Farm, has shocked many and injured as many as 30 people.  The RI Dept of Health has confirmed that the recent outbreak is linked to Wrights Farm in Burrillville and has caused a number of illnesses.  So many members of the Bryant College lacrosse team were made ill that a game had to be rescheduled.  There is no word yet where the outbreak came from or how it occurred but the restaurant has placed a self-imposed closure until March 24th while it effectuates a thorough clean-up and investigation.

Norovirus is a common food borne illness and can range in severity from cramps to severe dehydration and pain that might even require hospitalization.  Vomiting and nausea are the most common symptoms.

My office has represented many victims of food poisoning including some of the most recent high profile outbreaks including, Uncle Sushi Restaurant, DeFusco’s Bakery and most recently the Chipotle outbreak. If you required a hospital visit and were diagnosed with norovirus after eating at Wrights Farm Restaurant, contact our office for a free consultation.

Ive long discussed the difficulties and complications following a diagnosis of concussion after an auto accident.  Minor traumatic brain injuries can occur in many serious car accidents.  It is not necessary that you black out following an accident or strike your head with serious force to sustain a concussion.  The diagnosis will likely be determined at the emergency room based on either diagnostic testing or a review of the objective and subjective symptoms.  Some diagnosed with a concussion may never exhibit symptoms while others will experience intense post-concussion syndrome.  Headaches, tiredness, forgetfulness, dizziness, nausea, emotional swings are all just a few of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.

While obviously not a doctor myself, I always suggest to my clients who have been diagnosed with a concussion or are exhibiting signs of post-concussion syndrome to follow up with their primary care physician or a neurologist.  Too often I feel that diagnoses of concussion are taken too lightly and inadequately investigated.  The long term implications are serious.  For one, any sufferer of a minor traumatic brain injury is at an increased risk to have another concussion.  In other words, the more concussions you have sustained the easier it is to sustain a concussion.  Today, I came across an article articulating another long term risk of concussion.  The report revealed that while it has been long established that serious head injuries increase the likelihood of suicide and suicidal thoughts, so too may a minor brain injury, or simple concussion, increase the risk of suicide over time.

The test looked at hundreds of thousands of patients who had sustained a concussion in the past twenty years and found that 667 had committed suicide.  This number is roughly three times higher than the suicide rate in the general population. Worse, the study also supported that those with multiple concussions had yet an even higher suicide rate.  The lead physician of the study stated that mild concussions “although invisible at the time of the incident, could be dangerous later on.”

An outbreaking of food poisoning of epic proportions has struck my alma mater and old stomping grounds in a big way.  The Cleveland Circle Chipotle has been linked with at least 80 claims of food poisoning hitting boston college students particularly bad.  The situation has gotten so out of hand that the Boston College Basketball team might need to cancel a game.

The Chipotle food poisoning crisis that started out on the west coast has moved East and struck with some force.  The situation was so bad that the news now reports that the store will be permanent closed.  It is believed that E.Coli from vegetables on the Chipotle menu are to blame for the outbreak.

Food poisoning of this type can range from relatively mild symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting to very serious symptoms requiring hospitalization.  Victims of food poisoning are entitled to damages for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.  The timing of this outbreak could be extremely difficult for the students of Boston College effected because they are facing final exams for the semester.  Should their illness effect their final grades it creates a very unique set of damages difficult to assess, but nonetheless valid.  A drop in grades due to accident or illness is a loss.  It could effect future earnings, position, job or internship opportunities.

Personal injury attorneys are well skilled at discussing cases people find reprehensible.  If I had a dime for ever time someone mentioned the McDonald’s Coffee Case to me, I could probably stop practicing law and retire.  That case, like many others, was far more interesting and complex than the headline of “Woman sues McDonalds over hot coffee”.  If you are interested in what I am saying, I suggest you watch the fantastic documentary Hot Coffee.

There are other cases that people like to bring up, including some that are just fictional creations of the tort reform lobby.  And my purpose for this post is not to launch an argument against tort reform… rather I want to talk about the “new Coffee case”.  Namely, the awful Connecticut woman who sued her 12 year old nephew for hugging her!!!  My Facebook feed has been littered with friends mocking and insulting this woman with real vitriol!  I can already hear you saying, “Joe, you’re not possibly going to defend this woman or her lawsuit?!?”  Yeah, I am.  And, I’ll explain the reasoning behind it.

Of course the headline of this case is reprehensible.  What kind of awful person could sue someone who loves them for an act of love??  The answer might be that she had no choice.  The simple reality is that the civil justice system is designed to shift costs.  We can not take away injuries once they occur.  We can not hit a rewind button seconds before serious injury is caused in an accident.  Nor, can we put a price on a broken bone to make it go away.  All that we can do is compensate the injured person financially to assist with the disability, the lost wages and medical bills.  In the end, that is all our personal injury system is designed to do.  The person who rear-ended you likely is not an awful person who meant you harm, rather he or she made a mistake.  Their mistake, however, cost you in medical bills and pain and suffering.  So while they did not mean to harm you, their insurance will compensate you financially because that is the best that we can do.  And in this case, the 12 year old boy is not an awful person who meant harm.  But nevertheless, he hurt his Aunt breaking her arm racking up a hefty medical bill.