Rhode Island Injury Lawyer Blog

It appears that Rhode Island law enforcement organizations love rhyming, yet juvenile, slogans for their campaigns. In the wake of “Click it or ticket” an effort to remind people to buckle up or face a citation, comes the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office with “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks!”. This witty little ditty is meant to bring to everyone’s attention the very real and very serious dangers of texting while driving. Clearly I’m having a little fun with the nature of these awareness campaigns, but I am fully supportive of their intent.

Texting while driving, as demonstrated in earlier posts on this blog, is as dangerous and potentially more dangerous than drunk driving. Texting increases both the likelihood and seriousness of being injured in a car accident. We say “texting” but in effect any use of your smartphone that takes your attention away from the road can lead to a car crash. Checking Facebook, Twitter, email or anything else that your smartphone might be capable of takes your attention from the road. Even though you feel that you are only glancing at the phone for a second or so, your attention is greatly distracted and an accident may be inevitable.

Here are some of the statistics that I have discussed in previous posts: Roughly 20% of all injury causing auto accidents are caused by distracted drivers and Smart phone users are more than four times likely to be in a car accident. Similarly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association has reported that distracted driving is the Number ONE cause of teenage deaths in America!

It’s been a while since I last posted but I was pre-occupied with a trial and I return to my office to find welcome news in the mail. Today I found a recent report from the Cato Institute, a right wing conservative think tank, that has confirmed what this blog has long held, namely, that caps on medical malpractice (or other tort claim) awards is a mistake! It is unusual to hear this coming from a right wing think tank since it is generally the province of Republicans and right-wingers to fight for tort reform. Nevertheless, their report has indicated that “caps unfairly shift the costs of malpractice injuries from negligent providers to their victims.” The study further states that “reducing physician liability for negligent care by capping court awards, all else equal, will reduce the resources allocated to medical professional liability underwriting and oversight and make many patients worse off”.

This last sentence is critical. The accountability that medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits provide is the one last defense that many consumers have from being unfairly harmed through the negligence of others. Capping damages not only invites increased negligence it denies adequate resources to those severely injured through the negligence of others.

Consider that the FDA has a long record of failing to keep unsafe food out of the distribution change and unsafe drugs from the pharmacy counters. They simply lack the resources and the personnel to ensure the safety of all of the consumer products under their protective umbrella. If tort reform were to interfere with the ability to bring lawsuits against negligent companies, then we are not far from welcoming products such as chinese dry wall, toxic food, and dangerous drugs into the market without proper oversight.

The study found that while “supporters of capping court awards for medical malpractice argue that caps will make health care more affordable” that the actual case “may not be that simple. First, caps on awards may result in some patients not receiving adequate compensation for injuries they suffer as a result of physician negligence. Second, because caps limit physician liability, they can also mute incentives for physicians to reduce the risk of negligent injuries . . . .”

It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work in the future!

Many years ago, I worked as an adjuster for a major insurance company and since then I have been explaining on this blog and my website the many ways in which insurance companies attempt to devalue your personal injury claim and poke holes in your liability claim to make you appear at fault. I have used this personal experience to the benefit of my clients resulting in fantastic and quick personal injury settlements. Despite my previous writings, I was surprised to see an article about the “secrets of insurance adjusters” on a major website such as MSN.com. Nevertheless, there it was… This is a very interesting article covering many of the insurance industries tactics and tricks to ensure you do not receive what you are entitled to for your personal injury claim.

Although they are contractually obligated to protect their insured and pay for all reasonable damages, it is essential to note as this article points out that insurance companies did not become multi-billion dollars businesses by giving away their money!

Devalue the Case!!!

This is insurance adjusting 101. As soon as the accident is reported to the company an adjuster is on the phone talking to you. He or she may try a number of tactics to ensure that you do not get full value for your case:

1) The adjuster will tell you that you do not need an attorney because they value cases the same way with or without an attorney and that the attorney will just take your money. Ask my recent client about this strategy. She attempted to work with the insurance company directly until they offered her an insulting amount of money (less than $20,000). Just a few months after hiring me we settled the case for the at-fault drivers policy limits – $100,000. After hearing this you should understand why insurance adjusters want you to stay away from auto accident lawyers.

2) They will try to convince you to settle quickly. Releases are binding contracts and the insurance companies know that if they throw a few thousand dollars at you early on before you know the full extent of your injuries they can receive a binding Release which will prevent you from seeking any further damages in the future. Never settle early and without first speaking to a Rhode Island personal injury lawyer.

3) They will try to steer you to “preferred” auto body shops. Do not get me wrong, many “preferred” auto body shops do a wonderful job repairing your vehicle, but they do not press the insurance companies for certain repairs that other body shops might. This is because they receive a good amount of business referrals from the insurance companies. Go to the shop you want to go to and if it happens to be a “preferred” body shop then that is fine you can still be confident that they will do a great job!

4) They will look to take a recorded statement from you. Remember that you are under no obligation to give any kind of statement to the other driver’s insurance company. They are taking the statement, in part, to confirm the facts of the accident, but also in hopes that you might trip up and say something damaging to your own case. If you make a statement against your own interest, they know have it on tape and will use it against you to offer you less than 100%. In Rhode Island, as I have discussed in the past, the insurance company can withhold any percentage of money that they feel you contributed to the accident. If they believe you were speeding do not be surprised to find out they are reducing your payout by 10-20%. Do not give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company without first speaking to a car accident lawyer.

Do not confuse this with your own insurance company who you are contractually obligated to cooperate with.

5) Devalue your injury. The insurance adjuster will attempt to settle your case early, even if you are still seeking medical treatment. They will try to convince you that the injury is not very serious and that their offer is fair. They may even tell you that this is all the money you would receive even if an attorney were involved or if the case went to trial. If you think the offer is too low, it probably is.

As you can see the insurance companies set out early with a plan to cut costs and devalue your case. If you do not hire an experienced personal injury attorney they will use one or all of these tactics to ensure that you do not receive all the money you are entitled to. Don’t fall into any of these traps… even MSN money wants to make sure you do not make bad financial decisions following an accident or injury, this is no longer just my office speaking. Call my office today for a free initial consultation. There is no fee unless we obtain money for you!

From time to time, I like to take this forum to share great results and this week has seen another personal injury victory for attorney Joseph Lamy. In this case, my client was T-boned by a drunk driver in downtown Providence suffering a fractured ankle. She did not immediately hire a car accident attorney and chose to work directly with the insurance company. After several months to a year of recovery and working directly with the insurance company, they extended an insultingly low offer that barely covered her medical bills. Of course, personal injury attorneys such as myself are not at all surprised by such tactics. Unfortunately, too many people accept these offers in the belief that it is all their case is worth. Particularly after the insurance company tells the victim that they will receive less money if they hire an attorney, etc.

Fortunately, my client understood that the offer was far too low and contacted my office. We filed suit and quickly went to work proving my client’s case. After depositions, expert testimony and aggressive discovery, the defense attorney has offered the policy limits in this case to the tune of $100,000.00. Not only is this offer more than FIVE TIMES what my client was initially offered but the offer was made only six months after my taking the case!

This is a fantastic result, particularly given the speed with which the offer was made. Litigation too often takes several years to end in a good result. Results like this, however, remind us that if an offer seems too low it probably is. Litigation while time consuming and at times, stress-inducing, is sometimes the only way to ensure that you are fairly compensated for your serious bodily injury.

If you have been seriously injured in an auto accident or other type of personal injury and are considering which attorney to hire for your representation, remember that most lawyers can settle a case, but only a few know how to win your case! Contact my office right away for a free consultation.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld the contentious “One Bite” law that Rhode Island still adheres to regarding dog bites. Although the majority of other States have switched to strict liability regarding dog bites (i.e. the owner always must take responsibility for the actions of his dog) Rhode Island still continues to allow owners one “chance” before they are necessarily responsible to a dog bite victim. Dog bites often cause serious injury and under Rhode Island law, determining fault can be quite difficult so it is important to discuss your case with an experienced dog bite attorney.

In the opinion, Chief Justice Suttell explains the current law well:

If injuries are suffered within an owner’s enclosed area, the strict-liability statute does not apply, but rather the common law continues to apply and dictates that the plaintiff first must prove that the defendant knew about the dog’s vicious propensities, a … requirement commonly known as the ‘one-bite rule’….

In Rhode Island, a dog owner is always responsible for biting a victim IF AND ONLY IF the dog is outside of the home or his “enclosure”. In those cases, the owner of the animal will be responsible for your medical bills, lost wages and pain suffering including the scar, if any. If, however, the accident happens inside the home or the animals “enclosure” then the common law applies. Rhode Island State law defines an “enclosure” as “a fence, physical obstruction or any other condition that gives reasonable notice to third parties that the area is private.” This means that in order to collect damages you must be able to show that the dog owner KNEW the animal was dangerous and was negligent in allowing the dog around people it could potentially attack. Under Rhode Island law, the owner of the dog knows it is dangerous if it has ever bitten someone in the past (hence the name of the “One Bite” rule), or if it is of a particularly dangerous breed such as a pit bull or akita.

In this case, a State inspector went to the backyard of the homeowner to look at a pigeon coop. While in the backyard the homeowners dog attacked the inspector seriously injuring him. The defense moved to have the case dismissed citing that the dog had never previously attacked anyone. The defense motion was granted and the Supreme Court has upheld the decision pointing to the Rhode Island “One Bite” law. Justice Suttell pointed out that Rhode Island’s dog bite laws are well settled and that any changes to the law should come from the State assembly rather than the Courts. (I always feel that when Judges include that language in their opinions that they believe the law might be wrong and are secretly nudging the State Assembly to make changes.)

Interestingly, Justice Robinson, who dissented from Justice Suttell’s opinion, pointed out that the dog in question was almost three feet tall and that the jury could conclude the owner should have known that such a large dog was inherently dangerous by his size alone. In so doing, Judge Robinson was not trying to change Rhode Island law but instead offered that even under current law, the case could go to a jury. Instead, the case was thrown out because the dog in question, who has since been euthanized, had never previously attacked anyone.

Continue Reading

According to a report from Allstate Insurance (I am willing to cite their reports under the assumption that they are accurate even though they are the worst insurance company in America) Providence, Rhode Island is the fifth most auto accident prone city in the country. According to the report, the 170,000 residents of Providence get into a car crash approximately once every six years on average. While Providence fell behind Washington DC which won the award for the most accident prone city in the Country, our residents are still 66% more likely than the average driver to be in an automobile accident. In case you were interested, Fort Collins, Colorado was the safest city to drive in.

If you were involved in a car accident in Providence you are entitled to financial compensation including past and future medical bills, lost wages and/or loss of earning capacity, and pain and suffering. Contact Joseph Lamy, your Rhode Island auto accident attorney right away for a free consultation.

I recently published a post regarding spinal and nerve injuries following an auto accident which in addition to demonstrating the need for an experienced Rhode Island personal injury attorney, highlighted the severity and risk of spinal injury in a serious car accident. Several cases have come into my office recently with nerve damage to other parts of the body, in particular, the ulnar nerve which runs the entire length of the arm.

The ulnar nerve originates at the C8-T1 vertebrae (the neck and upper shoulder region) and travels the entire length of the shoulder to the fingers. The nerve supplies sensation to the forearm, wrist, and the 4th and 5th digit of the hand. It is the largest unprotected, meaning not protected by muscle or bone, nerve in the body making it especially susceptible to injury. An ulnar nerve injury can be sustained in a car accident, motorcycle or bike accident, or slip and fall, especially if there is direct contact between your arm (in particular the elbow) and some other object such as a fall to the floor or being thrown into the dashboard in a car accident. Trauma can cause the nerve to be directly damaged, or entrapped by muscle. The most common form of ulnar nerve entrapment is cubital tunnel syndrome which often requires surgical intervention.

If you have been injured in any kind of accident and experience a loss of sensation, a tingling sensation, or pain in your arm you must seek medical attention. A referral to a neurologist will likely be necessary to confirm the diagnosis of nerve damage. An EMG will most likely be conducted to evaluate the injury. Physical therapy and pain medication may be sufficient to remedy the injury, but serious nerve damage is likely to require surgical intervention. Even following surgery, it is possible to still experience pain and numbness in the affected arm.

These are very serious and often permanent injuries. It can be particularly damaging if the injury is to your dominant hand. As they are want to do, insurance companies often challenge the causal relationship between a fall or car crash and the ulnar nerve injury. It is imperative that you hire an attorney experienced with these types of injury and who is ready to take the case to trial, if necessary to prove your case. If you were involved in some form of accident or injury and have been experiencing arm pain as described in this post discuss your symptoms with your doctor and ask if he or she feels that there is possible nerve damage. In addition, contact my office so that we can discuss your case to see if you have a right to be compensated for your ulnar nerve injury.

Continue Reading

Hit and run auto accidents are not uncommon in Rhode Island and I am often asked by clients what are their rights following a hit and run accident. These are complex situations that require you to sit down with a Rhode Island car accident attorney right away to sort out the facts and conduct an investigation.

Generally, if you are involved in a hit and run accident it means that you were not at fault for the collision. People tend not to run when they did nothing wrong. On the other hand, people flee an accident scene for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • They are drunk;
  • Their license is suspended;
  • There is an outstanding warrant from an unrelated matter;
  • They do not have auto insurance;
  • The car belongs to someone else;
  • There are drugs or stolen goods in the car;
  • They know they are at fault and panic.

If you were injured in an accident caused by another person who then fled the scene, you must call the police immediately and offer them as much information as you can regarding the vehicle’s description, license plate, etc. Also, if and only if, you are physically able – try to take pictures of the accident scene and your vehicle. Also, attempt to locate witnesses who can corroborate your story and who might be able to give additional details to the police to identify the culprit. Finally, follow-up with a Rhode Island auto accident lawyer. There are two likely scenarios following a hit and run accident:

1) The at-fault driver is later identified and caught

In the best case scenario, the police will be able to identify and locate the other driver even if it is a couple of days after the accident. In this scenario you will proceed as if this was an ordinary auto accident. You and your attorney will notify the at-fault driver’s insurance company and proceed with claims for personal injury and property damage. If it turns out that the at-fault driver fled the scene because he or she did not have insurance, then you can proceed through your uninsured motorist coverage.

2) The at-fault driver is never located

This scenario is a little more complicated. You will be able to present a personal injury claim for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering against your own carrier if you have uninsured motorist. If you do not carry uninsured motorist and the other driver is never identified, then unfortunately, there is little that can be done. Also, your Rhode Island auto insurance policy must include collision coverage for repairs to your vehicle. Uninsured property damage coverage does not cover for a hit and run. The reason is that your auto insurance policy requires that it be confirmed that the other driver did NOT have insurance. If the other driver flees the accident never to be seen again then your insurance company cannot confirm that he or she did not have auto insurance. Therefore, you will only be able to repair your vehicle through your collision coverage.

If you proceed through uninsured motorist coverage, then your insurance company steps in the shoes of the at-fault driver’s insurance company and will have to pay the damages for your personal injury claim. As you can see, hit and run auto accidents can become quite complex and it is imperative that you speak to an experienced Rhode Island attorney right away to make sure that you preserve your rights.

Continue Reading

If you are involved in a serious personal injury claim that is on its way to trial in Rhode Island it is important to understand that Rhode Island is the only State in the Country that allows evidence of subsequent remedial measures to suggest negligence on the part of another. My non-attorney readers are probably lost, but I promise to explain why it is important. As a Rhode Island personal injury trial attorney, this rule of evidence gives us a tremendous tool that most of our sister States do not have.

First, the obvious question – what are subsequent remedial measures. These are steps taken by a person to remedy or fix a situation that previously led to injury. For example, if you slip and fall down a flight of stairs in your apartment building because of a broken step and the landowner repairs the step that night – he or she has taken subsequent remedial measures to insure that no one else is injured. The very fact, however, that the landowner needed to do a repair suggests that something was wrong that needed to be fixed. In Rhode Island, according to Rule of Evidence 407, you can use the evidence of the repair to impress upon the jury that something must have been wrong if the person took steps to correct the problem.

When, after an event, measures are taken which, if taken previously, would have made the event less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is admissible.

The Federal Rules of Evidence and the other 49 States do not allow this evidence to be used against a person to demonstrate negligence. Why? Every one else believes that it is better public policy that a person remedy a potentially harmful situation rather than leave it unchanged because he or she is afraid of the repair being used as evidence of negligence at trial. In other words, if a person knows that he may be admitting fault by making necessary repairs, he is less likely to do so and this leaves the possibility that more people may be injured. Therefore, in the Federal Courts and the other 49 States you can only use evidence of subsequent remedial measures to demonstrate ownership of the property and not as evidence of negligence.

This scenario comes up most frequently in Rhode Island slip and fall cases, i.e. a crack in the sidewalk, or a loose stair, or broken rail that causes one to fall and sustain personal injury. If you are aware that the owner took steps to fix the situation, try to obtain pictures of the changes because at your trial in Rhode Island it is admissible evidence.

Continue Reading

This morning in Taunton District Court, Massachusetts and Rhode Island criminal defense attorney Joseph Lamy secured the dismissal of misdemeanor charges for operating to endanger. In Massachusetts, negligent operation of a motor vehicle or driving to endanger, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, Section 24(1)(h)(2)(a), carries very serious penalties. My client was facing not only the suspension of his license but jail time ranging from a couple of weeks to two years! It may be surprising to know that a traffic violation can result in a criminal record with such serious penalties, but it is true in Massachusetts if you are charged with driving to endanger.

The language of the statute is somewhat ambiguous but you may be charged with this criminal vehicle violation if the police believe your driving was extremely reckless or so dangerous that you put the lives of others at risk. Some examples of this behavior include: racing vehicles, speeds in excess of 20mph over the limit, frequent and rapid lane changes, utter disregard for the safety of others, etc. Some police officers, as in this case with my client, are too quick to turn minor traffic violations into criminal offenses and for this reason, these charges should always be fought aggressively in Court by an attorney.

My client had not committed any of the violations that would make him subject to this charge and we were able to prove this to the district attorney resulting in a dismissal of all charges (including the speeding ticket!). This case arose out of an auto accident. My client was operating with the right of way when another driver took a left turn in front of my client, failing to yield the right of way. The impact was significant and substantial damage was caused to both vehicles. Based on the physical damages alone, and on some other questionable evidence, the officer charged my client with driving to endanger. The officer did not witness the accident. No accident reconstruction was completed and no engineer was brought to the scene to examine the vehicles. Despite the absence of any tangible evidence, the officer charged my client criminally with driving in excess of 20mph over the speed limit.

I was able to successfully convince the Taunton District Attorney that they could never reach their required standard of proof, namely, that my client was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We showed that the case was built on questionable evidence and located and interviewed independent witnesses who confirmed that my client was driving approximately 40-45 mph (the speed limit was 40). Finally, this morning we gained the judge’s approval to dismiss all charges.

My office also represents this client for personal injuries sustained in this car accident. Not only did we successfully dismiss all of the criminal charges that my client is facing but we have convinced the other woman’s insurance company to accept responsibility and pay for all of my client’s damages.

Continue Reading