Supreme Court of Florida to make waves in workers compensation?

Workers compensation lawyers and legal practitioners are sitting on the edge of their seats awaiting the ruling of the Supreme Court in the high profile case of Castellanos v. Next Door Company.

To the average Miami resident this case may seem unimportant. But it has significant impact on the rights of injured workers throughout the State of Florida.

This case involves a gentleman by the name of Marvin Castellanos who was injured during the course of his employment in 2009. As the claim progressed the employer/carrier denied Mr. Castellanos' claim for additional medical treatment which included three physical therapy visits for two weeks.

He then hired an attorney who litigated and prevailed on this issue, assisting his client in obtaining these medical benefits in at a cost of $822.70.Florida's statutory attorney fee schedule afforded Castellanos' attorney a fee of $164.54 for 107 hours of work. The equivalent of approximately $1.53 per hour. This is well below Florida's minimum hourly wage which is $7.93 per hour.

The attorney representing Castellanos has argued to the Supreme Court that the current statutory attorney fee schedule is unconstitutional . This argument is based on the inability of an injured workers to gain access to courts due to prohibitively low attorney fees and difficulty obtaining representation.

The counter arguments seems to suggest that this statute solely impacts the attorneys and not the benefits received by the worker. As pointed out by several of the Justices, however, the reality is that restriction on fees for the claimant , directly impacts the worker. The workers compensation laws are complex and not similar to small claims, as the defense attorney attempted to argue.

In addition, the employer and its insurance carrier have no statutory restriction what so ever on the amount of fees they may pay their counsel for representation in defense of the same claims.

So what does this mean?

Like so many things in life,we will have to wait to see

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Florida's Texting and Driving Laws: Will They Prevent Accidents?

A 2009 motor vehicle accident statistics report by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that 5,474 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents due to texting while driving, and another 448,000 were injured. In response to these statistics like these, Florida state officials signed anew texting while driving ban into legislation, which took effect in October 2013. This ban isn't surprising, being that every state in the nation, besides Arizona, Montana and South Carolina have illegalized texting while driving. But, unlike many states, such as California, Florida's laws aren't nearly as tough.

How the New Texting While Driving Ban Works

When You Can Be Pulled Over

The new law only partially bans driver cell phone use. Under the new law, drivers are allowed to check maps on their cell phones, use voice commands, read texts that contain addresses, text and email while at a stopped light or while stopped in traffic, and talk on their cell phones without restrictions. Texting and emailing while driving, however, is not allowed.

Even though texting or emailing while driving is not allowed, doing so isn't necessary enough to allow an officer to pull a person over. Drivers can only be pulled over for breaking the new ban as a secondary offense. What this means is that the person has to be breaking another driving law - such as speeding - before they can be pulled over for texting while driving.

The Punishment
The fine for texting while driving is pretty minor. For a first offense, the result is a $30 fine plus court fees and for a second offense, the fine goes up to $60 plus court fees.

If a driver gets into an auto accident while texting and driving, and a death or serious injury results, an officer can legally confiscate his or her phone. Law enforcement and court officials can then look at the confiscated phone for evidence that the driver was texting or emailing at the time of the accident. If it is found that the driver was indeed texting or emailing at the time of the auto accident, the courts will likely find them guilty and liable for causing the accident.

How Enforceable Is This New Ban?

Between all of the allowed uses of a cell phone while driving and the secondary offense rule, police officers and the courts may have some trouble enforcing the new law. First, police are going to have to prove that they did pull the driver over as a secondary offense. If it is found that the driver was not breaking another driving law when pulled over for texting while driving, then the case is not valid and should be thrown out of court. In addition, the officer will also need to prove that the driver was illegally texting (for example, talking to a friend) as opposed to legally texting (for example, checking directions or looking at an address). If no accident resulting in death or serious injury results, the police cannot legally confiscate the phone and use it as evidence. Without evidence, the officer cannot prove the texting activity was illegal.

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Are Trucks More Dangerous than Cars?

Automobiles today are the safest and easiest to drive they have ever been, with traffic fatalities in the U.S. dropping every year. This is great news, but trucks are still being found to be less safe than cars.

Trucks (including SUVs) are bigger and heavier than cars. They also sit higher up than cars, and are usually more powerful. These aspects of trucks make their drivers feel more confident and secure while driving, but they also make them much more dangerous than smaller vehicles, and the results can be devastating when they are involved in an accident.

Each year, about 4,000 people are killed in large truck crashes, with 100,000 injured. Most of these are occupants in other cars in 2011, 72% of deaths from large truck accidents were people riding in other vehicles. 11% were non-occupants of vehicles, while 17% were occupants of trucks. The estimated yearly cost of all accidents involving commercial vehicles, most of which are trucks, is over $83 billion.

Trucks represent an immense amount of power when in motion. Regulations require that tractor-trailers need to be able to stop in 310 feet when moving at 60 mph. This is quite a long distance (more than a football field), and in most cases it takes even longer because the driver has to see a reason to stop and react to it. It's easy to see why these vehicles become so destructive when they get out of control.

Truck accidents, particularly with commercial trucks, are different than car accidents when it comes to the law, and a truck accident attorney is usually needed. Truck companies are responsible for the competence of their drivers as well as the safety of any trucks they have on the road. Driving records and logs as well as inspection reports all need to be examined.

Many truck accidents are the fault of the driver or company and can be prevented. Speeding is a particularly dangerous habit, and can be checked in court via the 'black box' recording device included in tractor-trailers.

Truck drivers often end up driving for many hours at a time, and fatigue is common. Log books are supposed to show how many hours a driver spent driving, how long they spent resting, etc. Trucks also carry heavy loads, and it is important to load trailers properly. Trailers with uneven loads can make the vehicle more difficult to handle and can increase the risk of tipping over.

Truck accidents are complex and different than car crashes and they need to be handled with care, by a professional truck accident lawyer.

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Pedestrian accidents caused by texting - food for thought

We live in a technological era. There is simply no turning back. And with the use and overuse of cell phones, tablets and other portable communication devices, comes also the reactionary restriction by lawmakers.

In Florida a new bill will address a ban on text messaging while driving in an effort to improve road safety. This is to the relief of many.

What has not gained as much attention is the issue of text messaging as a pedestrian. Miami is a city of drivers. Certain areas of the City are almost pedestrian free. There are other areas, however, that pedestrians, in particular out of town tourists, roam the streets to enjoy our great weather and feel the"heat" of the City.

The Seattle Times has brought this issue to light in a recent article. It discusses studies that revealed that more than one thousand people were seriously injured in accidents in which they were walking and using a mobile device. This statistic is more than likely very conservative as many persons are unlikely to admit the use of cell phones and its relation to an accident or injury.

What is even greater concern is the fact that mobile technology use tends to be greatest in the younger population and even small children.

What is the answer?

Education regarding the risks associated with the use of mobile communication devices, not just while driving, needs to come to the forefront. Especailly in schools and through paid advertising. Time is of the essence as technology becomes more and more integrated into our everyday lives.

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Seatbelt use in motor vehicles saves lives

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) has confirmed what we have all believed to be true; that is the fact that seatbelt use in all motor vehicles saves lives.

By carefully analyzing motor vehicles accidents and fatality rates, the NHTSA has recently reported that the use of seat belts in passenger vehicles saved approximately 12,546 lives in 2010 alone. For the five year period between 2006 to 2010 this number is reported at over 69,000 lives across the nation.

The National Highway Safety Administration reports that in 2010 in Florida an estimated Florida 769 lives were saved by seat belt use , 151 lives saved by frontal airbags and 111 lives saved by the use of motorcycle helmets.

Given the rising statistics in auto accidents due to technology and other new distractions on the road , it is refreshing to learn that advancements have been made in improving safety statistics.Miami auto accident lawyer urges and reminds everyone to remember to buckle up always. Insist that all passengers in your car do the same.

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Car accident caused by text messages...who is really at fault?

Car accident lawyers around the country are carefully watching the environment changes as technology brings about new ways in how the laws apply in cases. Specifically the increased use of cell phones while driving and the implications for the person on the other end of the phone.

In Miami, and throughout South Florida, it is still legal to use a cell phone for text messaging while driving. While driving here, one can't help but notice the glancing heads towards the laps or the cell pones being held at eye level while driving. Clearly we all agree this is a dangerous habit.

A judge in New Jersey recently had to address an interesting issue with respect to an accident caused by text messaging. In that case a couple had sent several text messages back and forth. One party was actually driving while the text messages were being sent and eventually caused an accident causing serious harm to a couple on a motorcycle. While the driver admitted guilt and was clearly liable for the accident and injuries, the question was whether his girlfriend who had engaged the series of messages with him was also liable. After all she knew he was operating a motor vehicle and understood, or should have known of, the dangerous condition her messages were causing.

The lawyer for the victims in this case argued that the girlfriend knew or should have known that text messaging while driving was illegal in New Jersey and therefore she aided and abetted her boyfriend in engaging in this crime. Although the driver made the choice to focus his attention away from the road and safe operation of the vehicle, that it was her messages that set the events in motion. The victims' attorney believed that her actions were contributory to the losses and therefore she too should be held liable in addition to her boyfriend.

The judge in this action eventually agreed with the girlfriend. However, the fact that this argument was made presents an interesting perspective for all personal injury attorneys and lawyers in the country.

Miami attorney Ruth E. Johnson urges all drivers to avoid cell phone use while driving. The risks are so monumental that it is worth a second thought each and every time one is tempted to check a message, read an email or dial a number.

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SUV rollover accident - an anylisis by a Miami Lawyer

As a car accident lawyer and also the owner of a new SUV , I cannot help but question the safety factors involved in rollover accidents involving SUVs and the resulting injuries.

There is no doubt that SUVs have become increasing popular due to their sheer functionality. In an era where fuel consumption has become an ever growing concern, manufacturers of SUVs have worked hard to come up with competitively fuel efficient versions of their vehicles. This adds to their attraction in the marketplace and popularity on the road.

In investigating I discovered that it is a fact that SUV's have a higher rollover accident rate, over other vehicle models. This has been confirmed by several auto safety agencies throughout the country, including The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

It appears that it all boils down to design, first and foremost. These style of vehicles often have a heavier weight distribution on the top.

So what can be done to prevent or reduce the rollover risks that are clearly associated with these very popular models of motor vehicles?

The answer is overall safe operation and maintenance of the vehicle. This includes driving at speeds within the safety limits and avoiding fast driving where the road conditions dictate. With an SUV, careful maneuvering of turns and road hazards is even more important.

When towing heavy items, sic as boats and trailers, one needs to be even more cautious. It is also very important to be careful when transporting other heavy items, especially if considering placing them on top of an already top heavy vehicle. This should be avoided as it is unsafer.

Of course follow the manufacturer guide for ongoing maintenance of the vehicle, including, but not limited to , tire maintenance and inspection , along with ongoing care with a professional.

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South Miami metro accident hits close to home

For this car accident lawyer, this one hits very close to home as fellow West indian, Kirk Camacho, and his family have suffered an unbearable loss due to the beyond negligent actions of a fellow Miami driver. My heart breaks for the loss that this family is dealing with.

The accident happened just a few miles south of our office at Southwest 184th Street and the busway that runs adjacent to South Dixie Highway in the southern Miami metro area. Mr. Camacho was travelling with his two daughters eastbound on SW 184th Street early Friday morning. When crossing the intersection with the busway, the mini-van that the Camachos were in was practically cut in half by a Range Rover Sport that was heading southbound illegally in the busway and without the right of way at the light.

The youngest daughter, Kaely, was sitting in the rear passenger seat and was airlifted to Ryder Traum Center, where she died. Her father and sister also suffered injuries but were released from the hospital. The driver of the Range Rover, 38-year-old Sandor Guillen, actually attempted to flee the scene of the accident. Law enforcement officers created a perimeter around the area and were able to apprehend the at fault driver.

NBC reports that Guillen has been charged with several criminal charges, including DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of a crash involving a death. Investigators also report that speed was clearly another factor in this case based on the damage to the vehicles.

Again my sincere condolences go out to the Camacho family as they go through this most difficult time.

In addition to the criminal charges, Guillen will face claims for damages due to the losses this family has suffered as a result of this accident. There are several potential claims which the Camacho family may pursue, including wrongful death.

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Florida Governor approves major claim bills

Florida Governor, Rick Scott, made a significant move recently by signing three claim bills that have monumental consequences to those involved. These are three bills relating to negligence claims that required the at fault parties to compensate the victims.

One of the bills , named HB 965, forces the Lee County Hospital to pay Aaron Edwards almost $15 million for permanent injuries. Edwards suffered permanent injuries to his brain during his birth in 1997 at the facility. Significant hospital errors during his delivery have left him confined to a wheelchair and without speech.

Yet another bill approved by Scott requires payment to Eric Brody. Brody also suffered severe brain damage after an auto accident with a Broward County Sheriff Officer who was at fault. Brody is to receive almost 11 million dollars.

The third bill relates to the notorious Rachel Hoffman case. Hoffman, a 23 year old student at Florida State University, agreed to act as an informant for the Tallahassee police. In what appears to be a drug sting gone array, the young lady was murdered. Her parents then filed a wrongful death claim against the city, payment for which was approved by the Governor.

Our Florida Governor did, however veto a separate bill awarding $1.4 million to an amputee. Don Brown lost his leg in an auto accident with a Sumter school bus. The Governor, believed the award to be excessive.

As a Personal injury lawyer I would like to remind the readers of this article that these damages that have been awarded are minor reflections of the true loss suffered by the injury victims. It is because, as an attorney, I understand this, that I fight for maximum money and benefits for each and every client.

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Female Teen drivers more distracted than males

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers ; an in car video study of the habits of teenage drivers. As previously reported in this blog, auto accidents is the leading killer among teenagers. Therefore, research was conducted in order to pinpoint exactly what activities these drivers engage in that puts them at risk.

AAA found that distracting activities are significant among all teenage drivers. These activities include use of cellular telephones, text messaging, makeup application and other grooming habits. Another distracting habit among the drivers was reaching for items in and about the vehicle.

The study found that the greatest distraction for all teenage drivers was the use of electronic devices. An alarming 70% of the drivers used an electronic device while driving. This was even greater among older teenage drivers.

Gender was also a huge factor as this study revealed that females in their teens use electronic devices, including cell phones, double the amount of time than their male counter parts. Female teen drivers also engaged in other distracted behaviors, including reaching for items and eating and drinking, significantly more than male teenage drivers.

What was particularly interesting was the finding that when parents or adults were in the vehicle, distracting behavior among the teens decreased.While the opposite was true when passengers were teenagers. With other teens in the vehicle distracting activities actually increased.

As a Miami personal injury lawyer, this study is not surprising as the number of accidents due to distracted driving is on the rise. Our office applauds the efforts of educators and law makers alike who have made efforts to decrease distracted driving habits on the streets of South Florida. However, more needs to be done to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

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Automotive technology increase accidents?

Auto accidents are on the rise and lawmakers around the country are making efforts to increase driver safety by reducing distracted driving habits among drivers. and can certainly understand the call from Washington and state governments to eliminate distracted driving as much as possible. These efforts include bans on cell phone use while driving and, in certain parts of the nation, even eating.

In addition to cell phones, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other safety groups have endorsed bans on the use of hands-free devices for phone calls while driving as well.

In addition to cell phone technology, the NHTSA is also making efforts toward the banning of the moving map feature of GPS navigation devices. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and uses satellite technology to locate and direct drivers to their destination. These devices integrate a moving icon that shows drivers their exact location as they move on the roads. These devices update continuously so the driver can see where they are in relation to local streets and their destination.

The NHTSA is recommending changes to GPS devices and navigation systems that it believes will reduce the ongoing distraction of the moving icon on the map. Whether these recommendations will work is still debatable as they include a more static map system and the elimination of moving text.

As a Miami car accident lawyer I believe that distracted driving is a serious problem that needs to be addressed from all angles. Most of us only think of cell phone use as the problem and fail to realize the other life threatening distractions that we engage in on a daily basis, including eating, drinking, loud conversation, radio adjustments and others.

Personal Injury Protection laws in Florida undergo changes

Most, if not all, Florida drivers are familiar with this State's requirement that each vehicle owner carry $10,000.00 of personal injury protection coverage (PIP). Essentially this is $10,000.00 of medical and loss wage insurance. This form of insurance coverage applies no matter who is at fault in the accident and may cover others within the drivers household, children, and passengers in the vehicle who do not own a vehicle and have no PIP coverage. PIP insurance benefits are available if you are involved in an accident in another person's vehicle, as a pedestrian, or on a bicycle.

Also known as Florida's Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law , PIP insurance requirements are imposed on all owner/registrants of a motor vehicle with 4 wheels. In order to maintain legal licensing and registration, these vehicle owners must carry $10,000.00 policy limits of this coverage.

Florida law makers have recently approved a bill reforming the current law. The new version of the PIP law continues to require $10,000 in minimum coverage, but this can only be used by those who are seriously injured in a motor accident. The legislature has limited coverage in what it defines as moderate or "soft-tissue" damages to $2,500.

The new law allows victims up to fourteen days after the accident to seek medical treatment in order to receive PIP benefits. It also allows insurance companies to examine accident victims under oath. The law limits treatment with chiropractic care by only allowing coverage for treatment if referred. Although the change still permits chiropractic care, it does not cover acupuncture or massage therapy.

This personal injury lawyer in Miami believes these changes will cause greater harm than good for the drivers in Florida. By limiting benefits, it only causes greater losses to those injured in an auto accident. With the significant costs of medical care, the limits imposed by this change will leave many unprotected and without the ability to receive needed care and medical attention to their injuries. Simple diagnostic testing, including x-rays and cat scans will surely "eat away" at the available coverage for many. This will. leave very little or no coverage available for actual care of the injuries. By excluding various forms of therapy, this new act also leaves the injured party without access to forms of medical care that, in our office's experience, have proven beneficial for injuries. The exact benefit of this reform to the injured remains unclear.

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Miami Dade colleger student dies in truck accident

Miami Dade college student Eric Steven Gonzalez suffered fatal injuries when his car met in an accident with a Waste Management truck. Investigators reveal his death occured on impact.

The Miami Herald reports that the 20 year old's deceased body remained in the vehicle for hours before Miami Dade rescuers could remove him. The impact with the truck was so very severe.

This accident hits too close to home for The Law Office of Ruth E. Johnson as Gonzalez' aunt works within our office building. Our most sincere condolences go out to all of the family.

Injuries from truck accidents are often severe. Our office has handled cases for victims of injuries from commercial truck accidents. Commercial trucks are not only large, but very heavy in weight. It takes great skill and attention to operate these vehicles in a careful manner. The slightest mishap can have deadly results.

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Efforts for road safety for older drivers

Miami and the surrounding South Florida area have traditionally been a great destination for "snowbirds" and retired vacationers alike. It comes as now surprise, then, that Florida was ranked second, only to California, for the numbers of drivers over the age of 65. This is according to The Road Information Program also known as TRIP.

TRIP also reports that our state is number one in motor vehilce fatalities involving drivers 65 years and older. In 2011 it was reported that 503 auto accident deaths in Florida involved at least one driver over 65. This number, according to TRIP's policy and research director, Frank Moretti, would have more than likely been higher had it not been for the Florida Department of Transportation's efforts to improve road safety with older drivers in mind.The Florida DOT has taken steps towards improving road and lanes sizes and visibility of traffic signs.

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Miami bicycle accident raises awareness of safety throughout South Florida

As a Miami resident and wife of an avid cyclist, the news of the recent tragedy on Key Biscayne was devastating.

There was an awesome turnout yesterday morning where cyclists met for a group ride in honor of 37 year old Aaron Cohen, the fatal victim of a hit and run accident last week. The riders went along the William Powell Bridge where Aaron and Enda Walsh were hit by a female automobile driver who fled the scene and later turned herself in.

As an accident lawyer in Miami it is truly amazing to see the support and respect that these riders have displayed not only for the injured, but for the sport on a whole. The facebook pages of local bicycle team have been filled with deep rooted thoughts and prayers for all involved. What is more surprising are the posts that show the great respect that these riders have for their beloved sport. Not deterred by fear, there is a momentum to keep riding.

It is this momentum that riders will hope to promote knowledge, awareness and safety of all who share the roadways of South Florida. It seems that this has already begun bicycle safety initiative. As my husband puts on his team JAMA jersey three mornings every week, I for one am excited about the prospect of safer roadways for cyclists!!