Rhode Island Injury Lawyer Blog

A brain injury, whether mild or severe, is one of the most serious injuries that can occur in a car accident. Each year, roughly one million people are seen in emergency rooms for head injuries, many of which occur in auto or motorcycle accidents. Many of those people will suffer permanent and prolonged effects.

It is a mistake to believe that a head injury can only occur from a very serious accident such as being thrown from the vehicle or falling through the windshield. A head injury can occur in even a relatively mild car accident. You do not need to hit your head on an object, such as the windshield, airbag, or visor, nor do you have to be travelling at a high rate of speed. If you are traveling along the road at 40 mph when struck by another vehicle, your brain slows from 40 mph to zero in an instant. The soft tissue of the brain is forced forward, sideways, or backwards into the hard bone of the skull causing injury. This impact results in traumatic brain injury.

A brain injury is almost always serious. Nevertheless, the less serious brain injury results in a concussion. While a more serious brain injury can result in bleeding on the brain or hemorrhaging. Because the skull is a solid enclosed space, bleeding from a head injury can result in swelling and excess pressure because the fluid has no where to go. This is an extremely serious and life threatening injury. Brain injuries can occur on a microscopic level, so even diagnostic testing such as MRI’s or CT scans, do not always reveal the injury.

Long term effects of brain injuries can include:

  • loss of memory
  • psychiatric disorders
  • mood swings
  • post-concussion syndrome
  • increased likelihood of sustaining subsequent brain injuries with more severe consequences

If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious auto accident and sustained a head injury whether mild or severe, it is imperative that you contact a Rhode Island auto accident attorney experienced in dealing with brain injuries. These are extremely serious cases that require a great deal of attention.

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Slip and fall accidents can be notoriously difficult to prove liability, especially if there are no eyewitnesses to the fall. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts all residential and commercial insurance policies will cover personal injury damages for a person hurt in a slip and fall, if the owner of the house or commercial property is responsible for the fall. There are three common ways to prove that the owner of a property is liable for your injury:

  • That the owner of the house or commercial property, or an employee of the owner, caused the spill or other defect that caused the fall;
  • That the owner or an employee of the owner, knew or should have known of the defect and did nothing to treat the problem;
  • That the owner should have known of the defect because a reasonable inspection of the property would have identified the problem.

Following a fall your first concern should be to obtain necessary medical care. If, and only if, you are able to look for witnesses, try to find someone who may have seen the fall and obtain a name and phone number. If you are in a place of business, try to find a manager and see that an incident report is made. Also, if you are carrying a digital camera or smartphone able to take pictures, take as many pictures of the scene as possible and, in particular, the defect that led to the slip and fall.

Also, it is important to remember that in Rhode Island, a fall which occurs on city and State property must be reported within sixty days or you will be barred from bringing the lawsuit. The notice must include specific information and be submitted in an exact fashion so it is imperative that you speak to a Rhode Island personal injury attorney for such cases.

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Massachusetts has joined a growing number of states, including Rhode Island, in addressing the danger of cell phones in cars. Today, September 30, the Massachusetts Safe Driving Act goes into effect. I wrote a similar post when Rhode Island officially banned text messaging while driving and I pointed out the immense dangers of texting while driving. In fact the distraction caused by using a cell phone is potentially more dangerous than drunk driving. US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood poignantly described the danger of text messaging while driving:

If you’re looking down at your texting device for four or five seconds, you drive the length of a football field in a 4,000 pound unguided missile

Among the numerous provisions of the statute, most important is that teenage drivers, aged 16 and 17, can not use a cell phone at all while driving in Massachusetts. Teenage drivers are notoriously the worst drivers on the road and frequently in auto accidents. The combined inexperience on the road and distraction of cell phones while driving is a recipe for disaster.

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Drivers over the age of 17 can still use a cell phone while driving but can not use the phone to send text messages. Of course, police will have a tough time determining whether a vehicle operator was dialing a phone number or writing a text message. Therefore, enforcement of this new Massachusetts law will be difficult.

Under the new Massachusetts law, a first texting offense for adults comes with a $100 fine. For drivers under 18 years old, the first offense for using a cell phone comes with a 60-day license suspension and $100 fine, plus required attendance at an “attitudinal retraining” course. The second-offense penalty is a $250 fine and a 180-day license suspension.

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Any witness testimony that is secured either by payment from the State or because the district attorney gave the witness a favorable deal in their own criminal case, is always highly suspect. Is the witness telling the prosecution what they want to hear or what actually happened?

Today the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that prosecutors can have no involvement in a process that gives financial reward to witnesses. The case stems from a New Bedford murder involving defendant Wayne Miranda. The City’s Chamber of Commerce offered any witness $3000 for information relevant to the investigation and an additional $2000 if their information led to a conviction. The prosecution, it should be noted, did not endorse or pay for this information. All monies strictly were paid by the City of New Bedford. Nevertheless, the prosecution wrote a letter on the witnesses behalf after the trial to confirm that the witnesses’ testimony led to a conviction so that they could receive the additional $2000.

The Massachusetts SJC has ruled that this practice needs to stop to prevent even a hint of impropriety.

We recognize that, to prove the crime charged, prosecutors often need to procure the cooperation and truthful information or testimony of reluctant witnesses. The interests of justice, however, are not well served when a witness’s reward is contingent on the conviction of a defendant rather than the provision of truthful information or testimony…

The murder judgment against Mr. Miranda was upheld on other grounds. The opinion regarding the letters for payment was not critical to the decision, but was ruled upon by the Court’s authority to ensure that all such activity cease.

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I have to thank a colleague for bringing this information to my attention. Rhode Island currently has seven nursing homes with outstanding citations and violations for substandard care. Those homes are Charlesgate, Woodpecker Hill, Harris Health Center, Summit Commons, Cortland Place, and Steere House. If you have a loved one at any nursing home, including those listed above, it is imperative that you keep in constant contact with your loved one to make sure that they are receiving proper care.

Nursing homes are notoriously under staffed and poor and negligent treatment can become quite common particularly for patients who do not have actively involved family members. Some of the common injuries and problems that can occur due to nursing home negligence include: Bed sores, neglected injuries or illnesses, improper and incorrect medication, verbal and emotional abuse, falls due to improper care and monitoring, etc.

The elderly and sick of this Country are vulnerable to nursing home abuse and neglect and the best defense is to keep active in your family members life so that the facility is aware of your involvement.

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There was a fascinating story in the New York Times which talks about how innocent people can be coerced and pressured into confessing to crimes that they did not commit. At criminal jury trials, confessions carry a great deal of weight because jurors believe that no reasonable person would confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. But in fact, it can and does, happen.

The story follows Eddie Lowery who spent ten years in prison for a rape that he did not commit. There was absolutely no physical evidence linking Lowery to the crime, but he was convicted on his confession alone. DNA evidence would eventually prove that another man committed the rape but not until Lowery had spent ten years of his life in prison for a crime he never committed.

We know of at least 40 people who confessed to a crime that they did not commit only to be proven innocent years later by DNA evidence. Experts suggest that those who are mentally ill, possess below average intelligence, or are easily pressured and swayed, are the most likely to confess to crimes not committed.

It is also possible that investigating detectives wore down the defendant by using questionable tactics such as endless interrogation (sometimes lasting days), depriving him or her of water and/or food, uncomfortable chairs and heat, etc. They push a suspect to the point that they would rather confess and end the torment than continue to profess their innocence.

If the police are desperate to obtain a confession it means, quite possibly, that they do not have enough evidence to convict you absent a confession. If you have been arrested or simply brought in for questioning do not speak to the police. Even if you do not “confess” to the crime your statements can be used against you such as contradicting an alibi. Tell the police that you want to speak to your attorney and end the interrogation immediately.

There is no greater injustice than for an innocent person to spend years in jail for a crime they did not commit. False confessions are real and they do happen.

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I have discussed in previous posts how the statute preventing tractor trailers from crossing the Pawtucket River Bridge on Interestate 95 is a money making juggernaut for the State of Rhode Island so they are unlikely to repair the bridge or remove the law preventing commercial trucks from passing any time soon.

Many commercial transportation companies from out of State are shocked to find themselves hit with a $3000 bill just for crossing a bridge. I have appeared on behalf of many companies and saved my clients thousands of dollars at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. I may be able to have your citation dismissed as I have done for some previous clients. Even if I am unable to have the ticket thrown out of Court, I will be able to reduce the fine considerably saving you and your company a great deal of money.

If you or your company has been handed a hefty $3000 ticket in Rhode Island, contact my office right away so that I can begin to assist you.

The trial of Andrew Gallo is beginning this week in California. Gallo, 23, is the man who caused the accident which killed Angels pitcher, Nick Adenhart, along with two other people. Along with the obvious DUI charges, the California prosecutor has charged Gallo with three counts of second degree murder. It is uncommon for a drunk driver to be charged with murder rather than vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter, or other lesser offenses. The reason it is uncommon is because murder is an “intent” crime meaning that the death of the other person was not accidental but was instead an intended result. Drunk drivers, rarely if ever, intend to kill even though they are aware that it is a danger if they drive drunk.

But prosecutors are playing it tough with Gallo. Their stance may be due to the publicity of the case because Gallo killed a major league baseball player, but prosecutors also point to the fact that at the time of the accident Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Also, Gallo is not a first time offender. Gallo was arrested for DUI in 2006 and signed papers indicating that he was aware that he could kill someone if he drives drunk.

Prosecutors in Orange County have been actively pursuing murder charges in cases like this rather than manslaughter. As the crackdown on drunk driving continues across the Country it is important to watch decisions like this. A jury is never sympathetic to a drunk driver and most of the public, even though not based on legal grounds, believe that a drunk driver who kills should in fact be charged with murder.

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Three years ago, a 22 year old Cape Cod woman, Laura Hope Smith, died following an abortion procedure. The estate of Ms. Smith is represented by a Boston medical malpractice attorney and there will surely be a civil lawsuit for her wrongful death. What makes this case interesting is that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is charging the obstetrician, Dr. Rapin Osathanondh, with manslaughter.

Medical malpractice, generally, is a civil action between the injured party and the doctor who failed to treat the patient with the necessary care. If the plaintiff can prove that the doctor was negligent, he or she may collect personal injury damages. In this case, the care offered to Ms. Smith was so far below the necessary standard of care that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts believe it was criminal behavior and have charged the doctor with felony manslaughter. The prosecutors allege that Dr. Osathanondh’s negligence was “willful, wanton, and reckless.”

The board (of medicine) said Osathanondh did not have any means of monitoring Smith’s heart, and did not have oxygen or a functioning blood pressure cuff in the room during Smith’s abortion. The board also alleged that he “failed to adhere to basic cardiac life support protocol” and did not call 911 in a timely manner.

Osathanondh was also accused of deceiving staff members by claiming he gave Smith oxygen during the procedure and by saying that Smith was monitored by a pulse oximeter during her procedure. Neither step was taken, the board said.

Dr. Osathanondh, or his insurance company, will most likely pay the Estate of Ms. Smith for her unfortunate loss. It is quite uncommon for doctors to be charged with criminal cases in addition to the civil lawsuit by the family, so this will be very interesting to follow. To add another twist to this case, the defense must be careful to select jurors who will listen to the facts of the case and not find Dr. Osathanondh guilty of manslaughter because he performs abortions.

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It is quite common for my clients to complain that there are a lot of mistakes in the police report from a car accident and that the report is in error. Minor mistakes in accident reports are quite common and usually do not warrant concern. If the report has minor typographical errors or has your wrong birth date or license plate, etc., it is not a problem worth concerning yourself. Personal injury attorneys and insurance companies are both accustomed to dealing with inaccurate police reports.

scpst1_t300.jpgIf, however, you feel that the accident description does not accurately reflect the facts of the crash, or if the report fails to acknowledge passengers in your vehicle, it may be worth contacting the responding officer to fix the mistakes. Police officers will rarely make assumptions about how an accident occurred unless they were an eyewitness to the crash. Rather, they will talk to both drivers and and summarize their statements in the report. It is for this reason that police often do not give out citations after an accident. Unless the officer actually witnessed a driver speeding, he or she is unlikely to cite the driver for speeding even if the damage suggests excessive speed.

In general, police reports are only a starting point for investigating an auto accident and are most useful to identify all the involved parties and insurance companies. The statements are, essentially, inadmissible at trial, and are less important than detailed statements or depositions.

Therefore, to make a long story short, do not let an inaccurate police report cause you too much unrest. Only if there is a fatal or damaging flaw in the report should you take the effort to contact the reporting officer. He or she will not change the initial report anyway and will only add your subsequent statement as an attachment to the original report.

Of course, all cases are unique and you should raise any question or concern with your car accident lawyer right away.

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