Rhode Island Injury Lawyer Blog

On the back of my recent post about a man who was conned into taking an early and low settlement from the insurance company, I thought that one point in particular deserved further discussion. The claimant in that New York case was unaware of the extent and nature of his injuries until after he signed the Release. Some people may find this hard to believe, but it is, in fact, quite common to be unaware of the extent and nature of your injury.

There are two common problems with an early settlement:

You Didn’t Know You Were Injured At All

When the injury is soft tissue in nature (i.e. neck and back muscle pain) you may not experience any symptoms until two or three days later, sometimes longer. That is because the pain is most severe when the injury has set-in and the body begins to repair. Those of you who have worked with weights at a gym will recognize that your body feels much worse the next day than it did at the gym. This is the same principle at work.

Therefore, a lot of accident victims do not complain of any pain at the accident scene because they are still symptom free. He or she may even give a recorded statement to an insurance company attesting to the fact that they are not injured. A day or two later, however, and the symptoms become increasingly severe and persistent.

It is OK if you told the police you were not injured. It is OK if you told the insurance company that you were not injured. You are not giving away your rights to a personal injury claim because you were unaware that you were actually injured in the car accident. You are, however, bound, if you agree to sign a Release (as the New York claimant above) mistakenly did. Even if you previously indicated that you were not injured, but then began to experience symptoms of pain, contact an auto accident lawyer right away.

You Didn’t Know How Seriously You Were Injured

People will sign a Release for a lot of reasons:

  • They need the money
  • Their attorney told them it was a good settlement
  • Their doctor told them they are not going to get any better

Sometimes the Release is signed before you know how serious the injury is. I always tell clients to seek ALL medical attention and obtain second and third doctor opinions, if necessary, because a Release is final. If you discover that you herniated a disc the day after signing a Release, you will NOT receive the compensation you deserve.

I have a close family friend (I did not represent her because I was not yet an attorney) who settled her case years ago for less than it was worth. She was told by doctors that her back was fine and by her attorney that the settlement offered was a fair one. To this day, she still has ongoing back pain.

Before you settle any personal injury claim make sure that you know the full extent of your injury and do not settle any case with the insurance company within a few days of the accident because the pain and symptoms may not have set in.

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I want to wish all my past, current, and future clients a Happy Thanksgiving weekend. Be careful on this busy and dangerous travel weekend and get to your family safely.

I read today about a case in New York in which the New York State Supreme Court sided with the insurance company and upheld a Release for $200.00. Yup, $200. The claimant was not at fault for the car accident and did not immediately realize the extent of his injuries. Shortly after the accident, the claimant accepted the $200 check not realizing that by so doing he was giving up any and all rights to pursue further damages against the driver that injured him.

The claimant’s attorneys argued that the Release was obtained by fraud and mutual mistake. They argued that the claimant was unaware of the nature of his injuries and lacked any time to seek adequate treatment before the insurance company asked him to sign the Release for $200. The New York State Supreme Court disagreed and despite being injured through the recklessness and negligence of someone else, the claimant will be left with no more than the hefty sum of $200.

Insurance adjusters often seek to close a case with a quick and inexpensive settlement without informing you of the real value of your case. You should speak with a personal injury attorney before signing any form of Release with an insurance company.

Also, keep in mind that the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations maintains certain requirements when an insurance company attempts to negotiate settlements with unrepresented parties.

From Insurance Regulation 73:

E. No Insurer shall commence or continue negotiations for settlement of a claim directly with a Claimant who is not legally represented, unless or until the Insurer has given the Claimant written notice of the applicable statute of limitations. In addition to said initial notice, written notice of said statute of limitations shall be given to First Party Claimants at least thirty (30) Days and to Third Party Claimants at least sixty (60) Days before the date on which any such statute of limitations may expire.

F. No Insurer shall represent to a Third Party Claimant that his or her rights may be impaired if he or she does not execute any form or release within a given period of time; provided however, nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to prohibit the Insurer from notifying the Third Party Claimant of any applicable statute of limitations.

As this New York case reminds us, once you have signed a Release, it is almost always too late for an attorney to help you. In very rare instances, can a Release be voided. For that reason, if you have been injured in a car accident, it is imperative that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent your interests. And always, speak to an attorney before singing any major contract, including a personal injury Release.

As a former insurance adjuster, I know that the insurance companies use aggressive tactics to keep you form hiring a personal injury attorney and then try to force you into a quick and cheap settlement for far less than your claim is worth. Do not fall victim to these tactics!

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The Rhode Island Health Department has disclosed today that two serious medical errors occurred last summer at Women & infant’s Hospital in Providence. In both instances, medical and surgical equipment was left inside the patient after the procedure was completed. People often wonder how does such obvious medical malpractice occur? Yet time after time we hear about surgical material left inside patients, wrong site surgeries, and more. This story also shows that obvious medical malpractice can even occur at hospitals with very good reputations and records.

The first incident occurred on July 24 when surgical gauze was left inside a patient following childbirth. The second incident occurred in August when a piece of thread from surgical gauze seperated and was left in the patient’s abdomen. From the Department of Health website:

HEALTH conducted an investigation and determined that during the July incident, the obstetrical team did not follow the hospital’s policy about communication of patient information when the staff changed shifts resulting in the gauze roll being left in the patient’s vagina. During the August incident, HEALTH determined that the hospital’s surgical count policy was not followed. At the conclusion of the procedure, a surgical staff member noticed that the marker thread had separated from a gauze pad used during surgery. A piece of x-ray sensitive thread was found and removed before the patient left the operating room, but an x-ray was not done to confirm that the entire piece of thread was removed.

Doctors are well educated people with good intentions, but mistakes can and do occur, even extremely obvious ones. If a doctor failed to treat a patient within the recognized standard of care, it may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is criticizing Massachusetts for not doing enough to curb “hardcore” drunk drivers. The term “hardcore” drunk driver is reserved for those who operate a car with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher, or for those who have previous drunk driving arrests. So called hardcore drunk drivers are to blame for the overwhelming majority of alcohol related auto fatalities. In fact, of the 10,839 people killed in alcohol related car accidents last year, 7,607 fatalities were caused by hardcore drunk drivers.

The NTSB has outlined suggestions for States to adopt in an effort to curb drunk driving. Massachusetts, along with a few other States, has adopted only a few of these suggested plans. Among the NTSB suggestions to curb drunk driving are:

  • Frequent and statewide sobriety checkpoints;
  • Impose tougher penalties for drunk drivers with a BAC over .15;
  • License revocation;
  • Prohibit diversion programs (i.e., force judges to impose the most severe penalties);
  • Require prior DWI convicts to maintain a zero BAC;
  • Install ignition interlock devices.

It is not uncommon for our States to be on the wrong end of NTSB opinion. Just a few years ago, the NTSB also came out and criticized Rhode Island for not doing enough against drunk driving. It is a serious problem in every State that causes far too much injury.

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This summer, Governor Carcieri singed the “Colin Foote Act” into effect which creates a repeat offender statute for traffic violations. The Act was proposed following the death of Colin Foote, a young man who was killed while riding his motorcycle. The woman who struck and killed Mr. Foote, had nineteen (19!) prior moving violations (all within a matter of years) and was cited again at the scene where she killed Mr. Foote. This was obviously a terrible tragedy for the family and they have used their pain to try and enact positive change in RI. There is even a billboard on Route 95 and a blog maintained by the family in rememberance of Colin.

Many people with questionable driving records, unaware of the new Colin Foote Act, may be surprised to show up at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and find out that they are in danger of losing their license for up to one year! This is, in fact, true. The prosecution was not trying to scare or bluff you.

Under the new statute, the Traffic Tribunal may suspend or revoke a license for up to one year for any person guilty of four (4) moving violations within an 18 month period. This punishment is in addition to the ordinary penalties and fees associated with the moving violation. The moving violations subject to this statute are:

  • (1) 31-13-4. Obedience to devices.
  • (2) 31-14-1. Reasonable and prudent speeds.
  • (3) 31-14-2. Prima facie limits.
  • (4) 31-14-3. Conditions requiring reduced speeds.
  • (5) 31-15-5. Overtaking on the right.
  • (6) 31-15-11. Laned roadways.
  • (7) 31-15-12. Interval between vehicles.
  • (8) 31-15-16. Use of emergency break-down lane for travel.
  • (9) 31-17-4. Vehicle entering stop or yield intersection.
  • (10) 31-20- 9. Obedience to stop signs.
  • (11) 31-27.1- 3. “Aggressive driving” defined.

Generally, moving violations are not serious matters and may or may not require the assistance of a lawyer. If, however, you are subject to the punishment of the new repeat offender statute, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced attorney to assist your defense. The loss of your driving license is a very serious punishment that may cause you to lose your job or add hours to your day relying on public transportation. It also seriously impacts your family, as well as your personal and social life.

Most of all – be conscious of how you are driving. Keep speeds reasonable and avoid aggressive driving. This new statute should not be seen merely as a new punishment from the State, but as a reminder that driving is very dangerous and we must act appropriately behind the wheel to avoid unnecessary tragedy.

I want to send a heart felt thanks from my entire office and family to all of the veterans in this Country who have sacrificed so much!

The following story was relayed to me by a colleague who also practices in personal injury and did not occur at my office. It is, however, an incredible story that everyone should be aware of.

A client came to my colleague’s office about a year ago upset that his personal injury attorney wanted him to settle his case for $7,500. He believed that his case was worth much more money. My colleague agreed that the case deserved more money and offered to take over the case. A few weeks ago the case settled for $300,000. This is not an exaggeration. Not only had the previous attorney wildly undervalue the claim but he also failed to identify all available insurance policies.

On a much lesser scale, I recently settled a case for $54,000 after a client came to my office upset because her attorney was pushing her to settle for $12,000. This can happen. Sometimes a good attorney makes a mistake, and sometimes, quite frankly, it happens because you do not have a very good attorney. If you have been seriously injured and your attorney is pushing you to accept a settlement that you think is far too low, it is worth obtaining a second opinion. The new attorney will be unlikely to take the case if the offer is fair, but if the offer is too low then you can fire your old attorney and ask someone else to take over.

Remember that the decision to settle a case is always your decision. Do not be pressured into a low settlement if you disagree.

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Just want to remind everybody today to take ten minutes and go to their local polling place to cast their vote. One of the greatest influences to our Rhode Island law is the people that we elect to put into office. Don’t let your opportunity to be heard pass.

A Tennessee father has settled a case against Crocs on behalf of his four-year old daughter. Crocs, the soft-rubber soled shoes and favorite of Mario Batali, have become wildly popular over the last few years. The soft rubber sole, however, is potentially very dangerous and lawsuits have been springing up across the Country.

In this case, the four year old girl was riding on the elevator with her foot close to the edge. The soft rubber eventually became entwined in the teeth of the escalator and the four year old girl was trapped. She suffered permanent and serious injuries as her foot was mutilated by the escalator. Warnings are now placed on Crocs and similar soft rubber shoes highlighting the risk of riding on escalators, but millions of pairs were sold without such warning and much of the general public may be unaware that Crocs post such a danger.

The product liability attorney trying the case cited several studies which demonstrate the inherent risk of Crocs:

Studies, including one conducted by a Japanese consumer safety testing firm, showed the Crocs and their imitators that “appear to be prone to entrapment when pressed against the (side) skirt guard or step riser while standing on the yellow line of an escalator.”

Children were at particular risk because Crocs for kids were smaller, thinner and more elastic, the Japanese study stated.

A successful product liability lawsuit must show that the product:

  1. Was manufactured improperly and was therefore defective; or
  2. Was designed improperly and was therefore defective; or
  3. Lacked adequate or sufficient warning of dangers that the product might present.

In this case, an experienced product liability attorney could make a case for point 2 and point 3 above. The design was such that the soft rubber sole could easily become caught in an escalator which is a device used everyday by millions of people. Therefore, the danger of using such a product on an escalator should have been foreseeable. However, the easier argument is point 3. For years, tens of millions of Crocs were sold without adequate warning to tell people they needed to be careful on escalators else their feet may become trapped in the belt. Hundreds of accidents, with injuries ranging from cuts to severed toes, were reported over the years and it was not until 2009 that Crocs were finally sold with a warning regarding escalators.

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