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.

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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.

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Normally an argument over medical bills with an insurance adjuster is something that your car accident attorney will handle, but if you are trying to resolve the case on your own, you may have recently been told that your medical bills are unnecessary or unreasonable. Of course, you are simply following doctor’s orders and obtaining the treatment he or she recommends for you to get better. You may ask, how on Earth are my bills unnecessary or unreasonable?

The first thing you should understand about insurance adjusters is that they believe everyone should be healed within 6 weeks of the accident. Whether you broke a leg or suffered a whiplash injury, it is expected that you stop treating quickly. When doctor ordered treatment goes on for a lengthy period of time (because you are still in pain and the doctor is advising you to seek additional treatment) the adjuster may begin to argue that the bills are unnecessary or unreasonable.

In a Rhode Island personal injury lawsuit, you are entitled to medically necessary and reasonable medical bills. This is why, in an effort to cut costs and the value of your case, the insurance company will attempt to argue that your bills are too high. In order to obtain all of your medical bills for any given case, we must prove that your treatment was medically necessary (i.e. doctor’s orders) and that the treatment is causally related to the auto accident, slip and fall, or other accident. Causal relation is extremely important and it is often the subject matter of a personal injury lawsuit. Defense attorneys love to argue that your back pain stems not from the auto accident but from some pre-existing injury such as your days playing college football or a different auto accident ten years ago. It is on your Rhode Island car accident attorney to show that the treatment was medically necessary and causally related to the accident at hand.

A somewhat humorous Farmers Insurance commercial with spokesperson J.K. Simmons (who will always be Dr. Emil Skoda in my mind) demonstrates the dangers and hazards of distracted driving. The commercial warns against not only drunk driving, but driving while texting, talking on a cell, talking with passengers, putting on make-up, reading directions or a magazine, or listening to loud music. The list of stupid things we have all done while driving a vehicle would be longer than this blog post.

The fact, however, is that distracted driving, in particular distraction from a cell phone, plays a massive part in the number and severity of auto accidents on the road today. According to a study reported by the Hartford Courant:

  • Smart-phone users are four times more likely to be involved in a serious auto accident;
  • 5474 people were killed on the roads in accidents linked to distracted driving;
  • 20 percent of all injury related accidents involved distracted driving;
  • Using a cell phone while driving can have a similar or worse impact than driving while intoxicated.

If you are involved in an auto accident and you believe that the other driver was distracted by a cell phone or other reason, it is important to report this to the police, your insurance company, and your personal injury attorney. If liability (fault) is disputed or in question, proving that the other side was distracted while driving may swing the liability decision your way. In the meantime, recognize and appreciate the danger that cell phones can present in the car because they can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

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With the 4th of July approaching, a number of doctors have expressed their concern over the potential for injury this Holiday. Dangers exist not only from the illegally obtained fireworks from neighboring States, or the complex and large-scale displays put on across Rhode Island, but additional dangers exist now that the State of Rhode Island has legalized certain fireworks. So called “sparkler” fireworks, or non-explosive fireworks have been legalized in Rhode Island and are readily available. These fireworks, while they do not contain explosive elements and are not projectile, still raise the risk of burn injuries, eye injuries, and other serious injuries. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission cautioned that children should never be allowed to play with sparklers because these fireworks can reach tempatures of nearly 2000!!! degrees fahrenheit. Children are at the highest risk of firework related injury. Last Year nearly four thousand children under the age of 15 were injured by fireworks. The injuries ranged from minor to fatal.

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Fireworks obtained from New Hampshire which will be shot at thousands of houses across Rhode Island this weekend, continue to possess the greatest danger. These devices contain explosive elements which can fail and explode too lose to ground level near onlookers, instead of in the sky as intended. Also, an inexperienced user of fireworks may “set off” the firework improperly causing it to project towards people instead of in to the sky, or explode early.

Injuries resulting from fireworks can be extremely serious and do not need to be outlined in this article. If you or someone you know was injured while viewing a firework display, properly licensed or not, it is imperative that you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney right away.

Tomorrow morning I will be at Providence Superior Court for a hearing on a so-called “friendly lawsuit”. It occurred to me as I prepare for the hearing that many people may have heard of a friendly lawsuit, or been told that they will be part of a friendly suit, and may not know what it is all about.

Even though it sounds like an oxymoron, a friendly lawsuit occurs when the parties have agreed to terms but want Court approval of the Agreement. In the area of personal injury, in which I practice, and where friendly suits are not uncommon, they are filed because the plaintiff is a minor and the settlement is over $10,000. Under Rhode Island law, a settlement over ten thousand dollars for a minor child must be approved by a Judge after the Guardian Ad Litem has drafted a report and confirmed that the settlement is in the best interest of the child.

The purpose of this extra step is so that an impartial third party will look at the interests of the child to ensure that the settlement is fair for the plaintiff who is unable to make his or her own decision. Since a minor can not enter into a contract legally, a friendly suit, will also make the signed Release binding on the minor. Otherwise, a minor plaintiff can bring a personal injury lawsuit after his or her 18th birthday.

If your child was seriously injured in any kind of personal injury action and negotiations have begun for settlement, you may begin to discuss the need to file a friendly lawsuit. If you are working without the help of a personal injury lawyer, I would advise contacting one to help you through this tricky additional step.

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Portable pools, ranging from small plastic wading pools to relatively large constructions that hold 3-4 feet of water are increasing in popularity because they are easy to assemble and are a cheap alternative to formal pool systems. A new study, however, suggests that these portable pools may be very dangerous to young children. According to the study, in the last several years there has been 244 serious incidents involving portable pools, with 209 of those cases resulting in death by drowning. 94% of the victims were children under the age of 5, and most injuries occurred at the child’s home.

The reason for this high risk of danger is unclear but there may be many factors:

  • Portable or temporary pools do not have the same protective and/or safety equipment that formal pools have;
  • parents are less likely to be in the pool with the child when and if a problem occurs;
  • some parents may wrongfully assume that the pool is too small to pose a risk;

Drowning can occur in a flash and so suddenly that even monitored children are at risk. It is imperative to constantly monitor children in a pool and if the child is particularly small, to always be within arm reach so that you can save the child immediately.

All pools, above ground, in-ground, or portable are a serious danger to children and parents and supervising adults must act with extreme caution to prevent catastrophe.

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A new bill is being considered that would make it illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to use a cell phone AT ALL while operating a motor vehicle. Recently, Rhode Island joined several other States including Massachusetts in banning texting while driving, but this bill would prohibit any use of a cell phone for those under 21. Currently, any driver under the age of 18 is prohibited from using a cell phone while driving.

The sponsor of the bill, Frank Lombardo III, suggested that he would like to see all cell phone use banned at any age, but recognizes that this is a practical first step. Ample evidence suggests that cell phone use can be as dangerous as drunk driving and is a leading cause of car accidents.

Young drivers, particularly those under 21, have a much higher propensity for accidents without additional distractions. According to the CDC, “per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.” Motor vehicle accidents are also the leading cause of death for this age group. These statistics support the Senator’s contention that further restrictions on cell phone use may save lives.

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In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the boating and water sport season is upon us and it is important for you to understand your rights if you were injured on board a boat or other watercraft. Accidents or injuries on board cruise ships, private boats, ferries, or even water skis, are injuries in which you may be able to collect personal injury damages including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

The Center for Disease Control reports that in 2009 there were 4,730 boating accidents resulting in 3,358 injuries and 736 deaths. Among the fatalities, it was discovered that 84% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.

The most common types of boating accidents are:

The injuries following a boating accident can be quite serious including fractures, burns, head injuries, or at worst, drowning. Similar to auto accidents, most boating accidents are caused by operator inattention or recklessness, operator inexperience, and operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 5 boating fatalities are related to alcohol use.

Most watercraft are insured, but boat accident litigation can become quite complex so it is important to speak with an attorney who has experience in representing those injured while a passenger on a boat.

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Truck accidents are becoming increasingly common as more and more rigs are on the roads delivering goods. With the growing number of tractor trailer and big rig accidents, more attorneys are offering to assist clients in this area. TV commercials and the Yellow Pages are full of so-called national truck accident firms looking to help the people of Rhode Island or Massachusetts. There is no need to hire a national firm that will most likely refer the case to another attorney that you do not know. If you have been injured in a tractor trailer accident, contact our office. We have the experience and strategy to handle truck accident cases.

Because tractor trailers and other commercial trucks are so much heavier than personal vehicles, the severity of the accident and injuries are usually very high. Injuries can often include broken bones, scars, head injuries, burns, and even death. The combination of large insurance policies and severe injuries makes truck accident cases very complex. Commercial truck accident cases require an attentive and aggressive attorney who is prepared to litigate the case to ensure full value for your injuries.

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