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Archive for the ‘Personal Injury’ Category

The Victims Fair Treatment Act – NC Senate Bill 477

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Dear Client,

I’m writing with an important update about North Carolina law. For decades, North Carolinians who are victims of accidents or even deliberate acts have been unable to hold perpetrators accountable. And it’s because of a provision in state law called Contributory Negligence that is so outdated that 45 states have already fixed it.

A bill in the North Carolina Senate – The Victims Fair Treatment Act (SB477) – levels the playing field for North Carolinians by providing them a fair opportunity to recover damages when they are injured by a guilty party. If you are an existing client, the Victims Fair Treatment Act will directly benefit your claim! If you are one of our former clients, your efforts will benefit victims of negligence so that they will have a better outcome.

In personal injury matters, Contributory Negligence holds the injured party (Plaintiff) accountable for any percentage of liability, which results in NO compensation. If the jury finds that the Plaintiff was even a little at fault for causing their injury, the Plaintiff receives NO compensation.

For example, imagine you stopped short to avoid a bicycle or child who ran into the road and you were then rear-ended. The driver that hit you could claim that you shared fault for the collision because you stopped short, even though you responsibly avoided a catastrophe.

Or the small business owner who lost a month of revenue when their computer was hacked because they didn’t realize there was a software update. The hacker is actually better protected than the business owner.

We see Contributory Negligence argued in cases involving construction hazards and crane collapses, product liability claims, slip and falls, trip and falls, and motor vehicle collisions. Even in the most obvious fault scenarios, defense tactics may include a claim of Contributory Negligence.

Contributory negligence is a harsh, outdated legal doctrine that favors people who are clearly guilty and at fault rather than supporting the victims.

We must bring contributory negligence to an end in North Carolina, and we need your help to end this unfairness!

Please call, email, or speak with your legislators and ask them for their support for the Victims Fair Treatment Act.

Please go to Facebook and like the Victims Fair Treatment Act Facebook Page or you can also click here for more information and details of the bill.

If you have any questions, please give our office a call. We are happy to discuss the Act with you. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Daniel L. Deuterman

 

Please contact the bill supporters—

Jim Perry – Call: 919.733.5621 Email: [email protected]

Danny Britt – Call: 919.733.5651 Email: [email protected]

Amy Galey – Call: 919.301.1446 Email: [email protected]

Vickie Sawyer – Call: 919.715.3038 Email: [email protected]

Or contact others in Senate leadership positions —

Brent Jackson – Call 919.733.5705 Email: [email protected]

Kathy Harrington-Call: 919.733.5734 Email: [email protected]

Tom McInnis – Call: 919.733.5953 Email: [email protected]

Ralph Hise – Call: 919.733.3460 Email: [email protected]

Todd Johnson – Call: 919.733.7659 Email: [email protected]

Bill Rabon – Call: 919.733.5963 Email: [email protected]

Norman Sanderson – Call: 919.733.5706 Email: [email protected]

Carl Ford – Call: 919.733.5665 Email: [email protected]

Help us continue to help you get all of the benefits you deserve!

Nursing Homes, COVID-19 and Health Care Liability Protection

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In early May, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed a pair of COVID-19 relief bills into law. One of those bills, Senate Bill 704, includes a section titled, Health Care Liability Protection for Emergency or Disaster Treatment Act.

The new law is intended to protect hard working doctors, nurses and hospital staff from frivolous lawsuits during the coronavirus pandemic. These protections are retroactive to March 10, 2020, and will continue until the COVID-19 related State of Emergency (Executive Order 116) is lifted.

This new law protects almost every health care provider and health care corporation from legal liability for all negligent acts or omissions if the following conditions are met:

  1. The provider must be providing medical services;
  2. The services provided are somehow impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  3. The healthcare provider is acting in good faith.
  4. The healthcare provider is not grossly negligent.

This law is written in very broad terms and provides a great deal of protection to health care providers while the state of emergency is still in effect.

One of the most important aspects of the new law is that it protects all health care providers, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities from liability for COVID-19 related claims. This means that if you or a loved one contracts COVID-19 while in a home or facility or if the home or facility is negligent in the treatment of COVID-19, there is no right to pursue a legal claim against the facility, its employees, or the corporation that owns the facility.

Furthermore, the new law also protects homes and facilities from claims NOT directly related to COVID-19 if they can show the pandemic or a pandemic-related emergency order somehow affected the services provided by the facility.

This means that claims related to ordinary neglect or negligence, such as drops, falls, medication administration, wound care, and pressure sores, are not permitted if the pandemic has somehow affected the operation of the facility. Considering the widespread impact of the pandemic, many, if not all facilities have somehow been affected and, therefore, can claim protection under the law.

There are some limitations. Providers are only protected if they act in good faith and are not grossly negligent. Good faith is defined as honesty, fairness and lawfulness of purpose.

The opposite of good faith is bad faith, which is defined as the intent to deceive. An example of bad faith would be a home or facility that lies about the presence of COVID-19 inside the facility and this deception somehow leads to harm.

Gross negligence is defined as a conscious and voluntary disregard to use reasonable care that is likely to result in injury or harm. An example of gross negligence would be a home or facility knowingly allowing an infected person into the facility and the infected person passing the disease onto others.

Intentional acts of abuse are not given protection under this law and can still be brought against the wrongdoer.

If you suspect you or a loved one have suffered because of nursing home neglect, whether COVID-19 related or not, please contact the Deuterman Law Group so we can determine if you have a valid legal claim.

Military Vets Who Used Defective Ear Plugs May be Able to Sue 3M for Hearing Loss

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Thousands of military veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 may have suffered hearing loss because they used defective combat earplugs made by 3M.

Affected military veterans may be entitled to bring a lawsuit related to the hearing loss or tinnitus they suffered as a result.

If you or a family member served in the military between 2003 and 2015 and used 3M’s Aearo Technology Combat Arms earplugs, please reach out to one of our VA attorneys to discuss your legal options. Veterans, current soldiers and military contractors may be eligible for compensation from 3M.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with hearing loss, you may have a claim. Symptoms of hearing loss may include difficulty understanding people when they are speaking, trouble hearing on the phone, ringing in the ears, the sense that other people are mumbling. Many people with hearing loss may also avoid social situations because they can’t make out conversation in noisy environments.

The earplugs, manufactured by 3M and sold to the Defense Logistics Agency, were known to be defective. But they were still provided to combat troops.

The earplugs didn’t maintain a tight seal and allowed dangerously loud sounds to slip through without the wearer knowing, according to Military Times newspaper. As a result, thousands of combat troops who used 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs are now suffering from hearing loss, tinnitus, loss of balance and other medical conditions.

3M previously agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement as part of a False Claims Act case brought by the U.S. Justice Department. In that action, 3M was alleged to have knowingly sold its earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency without disclosing defects that decreased the hearing protection.

Recently, a first round of civil lawsuits have been filed by military veterans against 3M in Texas. More lawsuits are expected to be filed by other affected military veterans. These cases could eventually turn into a class action against 3M. The company could be found liable and ordered to pay not only for veterans’ medical treatments but also for punitive damages because of its gross negligence in providing defective equipment to U.S. troops.

According to the initial lawsuits, “Since late 2003, 3M touted its Combat Arms earplugs as capable of allowing users to hear commands from friendly soldiers and approaching enemy combatants, unimpaired, in the same way as if they had nothing in their ears.” However, 3M employees knew as early as 2000 that the ear plugs were defective.

3M discontinued the earplugs in 2015, but by that point, it had sold 6.75 million pairs to the U.S. military. A staggering number of U.S. troops may have been injured as a result.

Please contact us if you are a current soldier, military veteran or military contractor who served between 2003 and 2015. You may be entitled to compensation if you have experienced any of the following:

  • Partial or total hearing loss
  • tinnitus, frequency or ringing in the ears
  • Headaches, dizziness or loss of balance
  • Chronic tinnitus
  • Other symptoms of hearing loss

Filing a claim against 3M will not affect your VA Disability benefits. Our experienced VA and personal injury attorneys will work hard on your behalf to ensure you receive the medical treatment, benefits and other compensation you are entitled.

Catastrophic Brain Injuries on the Rise in High School Football

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Updated January 2019.

Professional football players and athletes aren’t the only ones at risk for degenerative brain damage from concussions, hard hits and other game injuries.

Four wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against the NCAA for failing to protect college football players from head injuries, according to news reports.

There could potentially be thousands more such lawsuits, as former college and high school football players begin to experience symptoms and cognitive changes from injuries they suffered on the field.

A Boston University study of former football players brains donated to the Brain Bank found degenerative brain disease, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is associated with concussions and other head trauma, in 91 percent of the former college players’ brains.

“I think we’re only seeing the beginnings of this,” said Chris Nowinski, who leads the Concussion Legacy Foundation and is the author of “Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis.” “I think it’s likely that there are more college football players suffering from CTE than there are former NFL players in terms of gross numbers.”

In June, the NCAA settled a lawsuit with the family of a former University of Texas football player who suffered brain injuries as a player, which later led to dementia, physical and mental decline and his death at age 66. A jury in 2017 found that the NCAA was legally responsible for Greg Ploetz’s injuries and death decades after his playing career.

In 2014, as part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit about concussions, the NCAA set up a $70 million fund to test former and current college athletes for brain injuries.

College athletes who played any sport at an NCAA member school are entitled to free medical testing and monitoring, up to two times, over the next 50 years. Athletes do not need to have been diagnosed with a concussion to be eligible for this medical monitoring. You can learn more here.

According to numerous research studies, these types of injuries are on the rise among young players, not just the pros, and they could cause long-term health problems. In fact, one study found that high school players face three times the risk of suffering a catastrophic head injury than college players.

Every day, we are learning more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in football players, military veterans, boxers, hockey players and other athletes in contact sports.

The progressive, degenerative disease affects people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute. With CTE, the brain gradually deteriorates and loses mass over time. Some areas of the brain may atrophy over time, while other areas may become enlarged.

Patients may experience memory loss, difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia.

CTE is similar to Alzheimer’s disease, and it has been found in more than 85 percent of tackle football players studied in the last decade, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The disease has been found in people as young as 17, but symptoms generally don’t occur until years or decades later.

If you or someone you love has CTE, or you suspect it, it’s important to seek treatment and support. The Concussion Legacy Foundation has lots of great educational information and resources for patients and their families. You may also have legal options if you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury, CTE, concussion or other head injuries. Contact our offices for help.

CTE also has been linked to the suicides of several high-profile professional athletes and at least one murder-suicide by a pro wrestler. A new ESPN documentary, “Seau,” examines the life of legendary San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who died in 2012 by suicide related to CTE.

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a new study suggests that athletes who play contact sports athletes may also be at increased risk for Lewy Body Disease, or LBD, which can cause Parkinson’s disease.

“We found the number of years an individual was exposed to contact sports, including football, ice hockey, and boxing, was associated with the development of neocortical LBD, and LBD, in turn, was associated with parkinsonism and dementia,” said study author Thor Stein, MD, PhD, neuropathologist at VA Boston Healthcare System and assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at BUSM.

Until recently, CTE only could be definitely diagnosed after death through a scan of brain tissue. Diagnosis in living patients was further complicated by the fact that symptoms of CTE — headaches, depression, memory loss, anger and impulse control issues, anxiety, sleeplessness and suicidal tendencies – can mimic other conditions.

In 2017, researchers from a Chicago area hospital reported that they had found a way to identify the disease in living patients, according to news reports. Boston University researchers have also identified a biomarker – elevated levels of a certain protein in the brain – that likely indicates CTE.

 

Check Out Your Doctor’s Discipline and Malpractice Record

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Have you ever wondered if your doctor has been disciplined by the state medical board or been sued for malpractice?

There are several online tools, databases and websites you can use to check out a doctor’s record and read reviews from other patients. Taking the time to do this can help ensure that you get the best treatment and care possible for your injuries. It can may also protect you from medical errors, botched surgery and malpractice.

Before choosing a doctor, it’s a good idea to conduct a background search to confirm the physician’s credentials and competency. You want to make sure there aren’t any red flags in the doctor’s past, including medical malpractice judgments and settlements, criminal convictions or professional disciplinary actions.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, if you’ve been hurt on the job, or if you’ve suffered another personal injury, it’s important to make sure that the physicians who are treating you are qualified to do so. Depending on your particular and circumstances, you may be referred to multiple specialists, hospitals and clinics, and it’s important to check them all out to protect your overall health.

In some workers’ compensation cases, you may be required to get treatment from a doctor chosen by the insurance company, rather than your family physician or another doctor you choose. It’s always a good idea to check the credentials and disciplinary record of any physician and physician assistant the insurance company assigns you.

Unfortunately, there’s no single clearinghouse for information about physicians, their records and their competency. But with a little online research, you can find out a lot about the person who is overseeing your medical care.

Even if you like your doctor, you owe it to yourself to look up the provider’s medical license and confirm he or she is still in good standing with the state licensing board. Even the nicest provider with the best bedside manner may have black marks on his record. Anytime you are referred to a new physician or physician’s assistant, take the time to check that person’s record.

Start out by searching the North Carolina Medical Board. Here, you can find records of any disciplinary actions taken against a physician or physician’s assistant. You’ll also find records of any criminal convictions and any medical malpractice they’ve settled or lost since May 2008.

If you doctor practiced in other states before moving to North Carolina, it’s a good idea to check the medical boards in those states for any disciplinary actions. You can search the Federation of State Medical Boards or access each state’s medical board directly through this online directory. Even if you don’t think your doctor has practiced elsewhere, it’s a good idea to run a national check through DocInfo.org to see if he or she has been sanctioned by any medical board in the United States.

You can view Drug Enforcement Administration cases against doctors here. Records are current through 2017.

Don’t forget to Google your doctor’s name. You can find out a lot of information about a person with a simple web search. Some patients and patient advocacy groups will post about their medical experiences on web sites, forums, blogs and social media.

You may also find reviews of a physician or health care practice on the provider’s web site, Facebook page or other social media accounts. Certain review sites, like Yelp, may also have ratings and reviews, submitted by patients, about doctors.

Consumer Reports recommends the following resources to check out your doctor:

Castle Connolly. Ratings of “top doctors” based on peer nominations, research, screening, and other factors. Search by name, location, hospital, specialty, or insurance.

Healthgrades.com. Comprehensive, easy-to-use site that allows searches by name, procedure, specialty, or condition. Includes info on education, affiliated hospitals (and ratings on the hospital itself), sanctions, malpractice claims and board actions, office locations, and insurance plans. Ratings on topics such as patient satisfaction and wait time are based on patient feedback, which can be limited.

National Committee for Quality Assurance. Reliable information on doctors who meet important standards in measures such as being a patient-centered medical home, care for heart disease, diabetes, and back pain. NCQA verifies a doctor’s licensing, but other data is self-reported.

Physician Compare. Information from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for people looking for health care providers who accept Medicare. Provides information on board certification, education, and group and hospital affiliations.

RateMDs.com. Search for doctors by name, ZIP code, state, and specialty. Includes information on training as well as patient ratings on staff, punctuality, helpfulness, and knowledge. It has links to medical board records where you can get information on disciplinary actions. Patients can post questions and answers about doctors. Ratings are based on patient reviews.

Vitals.com. Find doctors by specialty, condition, insurance, name, and more. You’ll get the lowdown on a doctor’s awards, expertise, hospital affiliations, and insurance as well as patient ratings on measures such as bedside manner, follow-up, promptness, accuracy of diagnosis, and average wait time.

In addition to checking out your doctor, you may want to check out any hospital where you will be receiving care or having surgery.

Use Hospital Compare to get quality of care info about 4,000 Medicare-certified hospitals and 130 VA Medical Centers.

Check out hospitals, including children’s hospitals, at U.S. News & World Report. The magazine’s records include scorecards for a variety of procedures and see how the hospital ranks and performs in various specialties.

How to Talk to Your Doctor

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You’ve been injured, and you’re in pain so you go to the doctor. But once you’re there, you feel like the doctor isn’t saying or doing much. Or the doctor is using words or terminology you don’t understand.

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re not being heard or that you don’t understand what your diagnosis or treatment is. Some patients might not feel comfortable asking questions or questioning their doctor. But the ability to effectively talk with your doctor means he or she will be better able to help you.

Effective communication is a two-way street. There’s a lot of information about how doctors can better communicate with their patients. Some of that information discusses how doctors don’t have as much time to spend with each patient as they like. One study showed doctors spend on average about 15 minutes with each patient. When you think about it, that’s not a lot of time for the doctor to learn everything about your symptoms, your history, physically examine you, make a diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.

So how can you make the most of that 15 minutes? Start by being prepared with a list of your symptoms and your medications, and even your questions. Having your list with you will help you remember everything rather than you trying to rely on your memory when you’re in pain. When you’ve been injured in a car wreck, you probably hurt all over. However, that might not be detailed enough information for the doctor.

Describe in detail how your injury occurred

If you were in a wreck, tell the doctor how it happened. Was it a T-bone wreck or head on? How fast were you going when you were hit? Did your car spin after impact? Did the airbags deploy?

If you fell off a dock at work and now have elbow pain, show the doctor how you landed and use your hands to show how high up the dock is.

Describe your symptoms

Because doctors can’t “see” pain, they only know what you’re telling them about your pain. Try to be descriptive about what’s happening.

For example, is your lower back pain sharp or dull? Is it worse in the morning or at night or with certain activities such as bending over to tie your shoes or sitting at a desk all day? Does the back pain seem to go down your leg?

If you have shoulder pain, does it hurt when you try to put on a jacket? Does it hurt in the front, back or top of your shoulder? Be sure to point to the specific areas that hurt. For instance if you say your lower back hurts, but you’re pointing to your hip, the doctor knows to look there.

Describe how the injury has affected you

Your doctor may or may not know what you were physically capable of doing prior to your injury, so try to share examples. For instance, if prior to your injury, you picked up extra shifts as a CNA, but now you can’t because your legs give out when trying to lift a patient, that’s important information to give your doctor.

Or perhaps you had no trouble working on spreadsheets on a computer all day, but now you’re having trouble concentrating and are making mistakes. Even describing common tasks that you can no longer do such as getting a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator or vacuuming or mowing the yard will be helpful information to your doctor.

Ask questions

If you injured your back lifting heavy equipment at work and the doctor mentions spondylosis or medial branch blocks, you may not know what he or she is referring to. Don’t be afraid to ask. Many doctors may even show you on a chart or a model of a spine what they are suggesting.

Most importantly, don’t wait for the doctor to ask you questions. Most doctors will ask lots of questions, but don’t mistakenly assume that because your doctor didn’t ask, there’s no need to volunteer the information or it must not be important. You best know your body, your job and your home life, so be sure to share the information you have so that the doctor can do the best job to help you recover.

Visit this link for more tips on how to talk to your doctor and how to understand your doctor.

What you need to know about ride sharing services and the law

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When the transportation app Uber was officially launched in 2011, it was both praised for providing consumers with easier and less expensive transportation options and criticized as unfair competition and dangerous.

Fans of the service, and the similar app Lyft, immediately liked the cheaper fares and the ease of using their smartphone to arrange pick-ups. Some praised it for allowing individuals to make extra money using their cars.

Uber has since grown into a $40-billion company. It didn’t take long after the launch for some cracks to appear in this transportation revolution. Several media outlets and consumer safety groups started questioning the business practices of Uber, such as the screening process and qualifications for drivers. Questions also arose about whether those drivers are employees of Uber or independent contractors.

This new type of transportation arrangement also presented legal issues regarding who is responsible when something goes wrong.

These types of companies are referred to by lawmakers as Transportation Network Companies (TNC).

Taxicab companies are often highly regulated by state laws requiring training of drivers and proof of liability insurance. But Uber contended that it was only providing a platform in the new “sharing economy.” In other words, Uber was only providing a way for people who need a service to connect with people who provide a service, and therefore Uber couldn’t be held responsible or legally liable for the actions of the individuals using the platform.

Uber argued they were exempt from many of the regulations imposed by the states where they conducted business. In response, Uber faced heavy opposition and was even banned in some states and cities. State lawmakers struggled with the tension between innovation demanded by consumers and regulation of commercial activity that protects those same consumers. Uber then actively lobbied for laws more favorable to them.

These transportation companies also found themselves at odds with insurers, who have been quite clear that “personal automobile insurance is not intended to cover people who use their vehicles for commercial purposes,” according to an article in Insurance Journal.

A highly publicized fatal wreck involving an Uber driver and a 6-year old pedestrian in California brought into focus the issue of who caries liability insurance in a sharing economy.

At the time of the wreck, the Uber driver didn’t have a passenger but he was logged into the Uber app between rides. Uber had a liability policy providing up to $1 million in coverage but said they were not liable since the driver didn’t have a passenger.

That would mean the driver’s policy, which likely carried much less coverage, was the only policy from which the family of the little girl could recover. However, standard personal automobile insurance policies exclude coverage for people who use their vehicles for commercial purposes, meaning there would be no policy from which the family could recover.

Responding to negative publicity after the accident, Uber eventually backpedaled on its policy and said it would cover drivers with the app activated but not yet carrying a passenger.

The girls’ family settled a lawsuit against Uber in 2015. Terms were not disclosed.

North Carolina lawmakers addressed this issue in 2015 when they passed legislation requiring drivers transporting individuals via a Transportation Network Company, such as Uber and Lyft, to carry $1.5 million per accident in bodily injury coverage.

If the TNC driver is logged in to the app but not providing service, there must be $50,000 per person, $100,000 per accident coverage. The law further stated that the coverage could be maintained by the TNC driver, the TNC or any combination of the driver and company. The new law also says that “a TNC driver is an independent contractor and not an employee,” which would impact a drivers’ ability to make a workers’ compensation claim.

In a future blog post, one of my colleagues will talk about how workers’ compensation laws apply to Uber and Lyft drivers.

As our economy changes and new technology and services emerge, new legal issues arise.

Do you  traditional taxicabs be replaced by Uber and other ride-sharing services? As the sharing economy grows and changes, what other novel legal issues will lawmakers be called upon to address? We’d love to know your thoughts.

 

Your social media posts may impact your workers’ comp or injury case

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“Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

If you’ve watched any cop shows or movies, you’re probably familiar with those words. While Miranda rights only apply in criminal cases, those words are true even in civil cases.

What you say to the insurance adjuster, to your friends, coworkers and family members and even online on social media, can effect the outcome of your personal injury case or workers’ compensation claim. This applies to statements that seem to have little to do with your auto accident or injury.

The insurance company is looking for ways to discredit you and for reasons to deny your claim. Often, plaintiffs unwittingly give them the legal ammunition to do so with things they say off the cuff or online or without an attorney present.

Our advice is always that our clients should not talk to an insurance adjuster without an attorney present. Also, be careful about what you share online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and other social networks, and also with whom you share that information.

A recent ruling by the North Carolina Court of Appeals sets a relatively low bar for authenticating information posted on social media.

The case in question, State v. Ford, was a criminal case, but what it says about social media evidence could also impact civil court cases, including workers’ compensation and auto accident claims.

The case involved a pit bull that attacked and killed a man living next door to the dog and its owner. Evidence was admitted in his criminal trial of a MySpace account that contained photos of the defendant and of the dog. Also admitted at trial were posts about the aggressive nature of the dog.

The defendant, who was the owner of the dog, was convicted, but appealed arguing the state had failed to prove he actually posted the photos and captions himself. His attorneys argued that the court should have provided additional evidence, such as the IP address where the photos and captions were posted. But the appeals court ruled the evidence presented was sufficient.

If you read the case, there was substantial other evidence conclusively linking the dog to the owner and the mauling, and the social media accounts were only one part of the prosecution’s case. But the gist of the ruling about social media is clear: The burden to authenticate social media is really low and can be based on purely circumstantial evidence.

So, anything posted on your account could be used against you.

We always warn our clients to be careful about postings on social media, and this ruling brings it home that a social media account can be incredibly harmful to your case.

In legal proceedings, information is power. If you start essentially giving that away by over sharing or publishing too many details of your life on social media, you are giving away the power you have in the case, to some degree.

Some things you should keep in mind if you have an ongoing workers’ comp or personal injury case:

  • When you talk to other people about your injury, they can be called to testify. Hearsay rules do not apply to statements made by plaintiffs in civil cases.
  • The only person who cannot be called to testify is your spouse. Coworkers, friends, neighbors, the guy at the convenience store and anyone else you talk to can be called to testify.
  • Quite often, coworkers are called to testify in workers’ compensation cases, and they will be asked not only about the accident but also about things you said the accident and your injury.

The Social Media Trap

Now let’s talk specifically about social media.

We live in a world where we’re constantly connected, and lots of people share many details of their lives on social media.

If you’re injured at work or in an accident that is someone else’s fault, you don’t have to unplug from social media. But you do need to be aware of how your posts, tweets and Instagram snapshots might be used in court against you. Even the hashtags you use or the places you check in via apps like Foursquare might come into play in your case.

I’ve seen it happen with my own clients.

One client, who had an injury claim, went out to a bar with friends one night and posted about it on social media. The other side tried to use that status as evidence that his injury wasn’t as serious as he claimed and didn’t affect his daily quality of life. The rationale was that if he could enjoy a night out with friends, then he must not really be hurt.

All because of a Facebook status.

We recommend that our clients use the highest privacy setting available on social media so the things you post are only viewable by close friends and family members. Even so, you need to remember that there’s no real privacy online.

It’s very likely the insurance company and their attorneys will see what you have posted, whether they find it on their own, someone shares it with them or we’re required by the court to provide it to them.

While we don’t expect you to stop using social media, be wise about it. If you have posted something you think could be misinterpreted or used against you in your case, let us know so we can make a plan for how to deal with it.

Don’t delete those posts. Even if they disappear from your Facebook wall or your Twitter feed, they haven’t really been erased. Plus, the N.C. Bar Association has issued some specific rules about deleting social media posts. Hitting delete may cause even more problems.

The lesson here is be careful what you say – and in many cases, it may be best not to say anything at all. The more information you put out in the world, the more likely it’s going to be used against you. #truth

“Hot Coffee” filmmaker coming to Greensboro for free screening

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Have you heard the one about the lady who spilled hot coffee in her lap and sued McDonald’s for millions?

Chances are you have, but like most people, you probably don’t know the real story of what happened to 79-year-old Stella Liebeck.

Instead of receiving the sympathy and compassion her severe injuries merited, Liebeck became a national punch line. She became emblematic of the so-called “frivolous lawsuit,” and the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit became a rallying cry for tort reform.

The documentary “Hot Coffee” by director Susan Saladoff tells the real story of what happened to Stella Liebeck. It also examines the great injustice that has been done to the American civil justice system over the last 25 years at the hands of big business interests.

The Deuterman Law Group is happy to bring this important film to Greensboro. We are sponsoring a free public viewing of the documentary at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Carolina Theatre, followed by a discussion about the movie with the filmmaker Saladoff. Admission is free, and the first will receive a free tote bag and other goodies and knowledge they can take to the polls on Nov. 6.

Thanks to a long-running and well-funded public relations campaign, financed by the tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, many Americans believe our civil justice system is broken and that so-called “tort reform” is the only thing that can fix it.

They have convinced the public “we have out-of-control juries, too many frivolous lawsuits and a civil justice system that needs reforming,” according to the filmmakers. “They have used anecdotes, half-truths and sometimes out-and-out lies in their efforts, for one purpose – to put limits on people’s access to the court system, the one and only place where an average citizen can go toe to toe with those with money and power and still have a shot at justice.

“Because of the success of the public relations campaigns…our civil justice system is not impartial. Jurors have been led to believe that a large verdict will affect their pocketbooks. Voters believe that we have a court system out of control that needs reforming. Although there are consumer advocacy groups who have attempted to set the story straight, there has yet to be enough money to launch the kind of public relations campaign for consumers that can even begin to combat and challenge the public relations campaigns of pro-business and tort reform groups.”

Documentaries and independent films, like “Hot Coffee” are helping to set the record straight.

“Hot Coffee” uses Liebeck’s story and three others to educate viewers about the realities of tort reform. The film also addresses the issues of caps on medical damages and mandatory arbitration in civil lawsuits.

It is truly eye opening. We want people in our community to have the opportunity to have all the facts so they can make up their own minds about these important issues.

We invite you to be our guest at the movies on Oct. 9.

If you’re not able to make it to the public screening, consider hosting a “Hot Coffee” viewing party at home. You can find more information at www.hotcoffeethemovie.com, under the Take Action tab.

Want to go?
What: Free public screening of the documentary, “Hot Coffee: Is Justice Being Served?”
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 9
Where: Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., Greensboro
Admission: Free; the first 500 people also receive a free tote bag and other goodies

What Really Happened to Stella Liebeck
The documentary goes into specific detail, but here are the facts, in brief, of Stella Lieback’s injuries and the court case.

• In February 1992, the 79-year-old woman was sitting in the passenger seat of her grandson’s car after purchasing a cup of McDonald’s coffee. After the car stopped, she tried to hold the cup securely between her knees while removing the lid. However, the cup tipped over, pouring scalding hot coffee onto her lap.
• Liebeck received third-degree burns over 16 percent of her body, requiring an eight-day hospitalization, whirlpool treatment for debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, scarring and disability for more than two years.
• Despite these extensive injuries, Liebeck offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20,000. However, McDonald’s refused to settle for this small amount and, in fact, never offered more than $800.
• The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages — reduced to $160,000 because the jury found her 20 percent at fault — and $2.7 million in punitive damages for McDonald’s callous conduct. The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, but did state that McDonald’s had engaged in “willful, wanton, and reckless” behavior.
• Liebeck and McDonald’s eventually settled for a confidential amount.
• By corporate specifications, McDonald’s sells its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns in two to seven seconds.
• McDonald’s admitted it had known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years. The risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and lawsuits. In fact, from 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s coffee burned more than 700 people.
• McDonald’s admitted it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk of burns.
• Liebeck’s treating physician testified her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen.

Source: “Hot Coffee,” the Center for Justice & Democracy and Liebeck’s attorney.

“Hot Coffee” documentary, premiering Monday on HBO, tells true story behind the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit

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You may not know the name Stella Liebeck, but I’d bet $2.9 million you know her story.

Liebeck is New Mexico woman who sued McDonald’s after she was burned by a cup of coffee. Yep, she’s the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit lady.

You’ve probably cracked jokes about what happened to Liebeck — David Letterman did. And if you’re like most Americans, you believe hers was a frivolous lawsuit, an example of what one commentator termed “jackpot justice.”

Well, you don’t know the real story. There was nothing frivolous about Liebeck’s lawsuit, and the injuries and pain she suffered as a result of McDonald’s negligence were real and serious. Life-threatening, in fact. Doctors didn’t expect her to live; that’s how severe her burns were.

The documentary “Hot Coffee,” which premieres Monday on HBO explains how cases like Lieback’s have been distorted in the media to create the perception that so-called frivolous lawsuits are rampant. The real injustice is to people like Lieback, and the others featured in the HBO documentary by Susan Saladoff.

Despite the fact that federal legislation has never been successful, big business interests have won in the hearts and minds of average people. They launched a public relations campaign starting in the mid-80’s and continuing over the last two decades to convince the public that we have out of control juries, too many frivolous lawsuits and a civil justice system that needs reforming. They have used anecdotes, half-truths and sometimes out and out lies in their efforts, for one purpose – to put limits on people’s access to the court system, the one and only place where an average citizen can go toe to toe with those with money and power and still have a shot at justice.

Because of the success of the public relations campaigns, paid for by tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, to name a few, our civil justice system is not impartial. Jurors have been led to believe that a large verdict will affect their pocketbooks. Voters believe that we have a court system out of control that needs reforming. Although there are consumer advocacy groups who have attempted to set the story straight, there has yet to be enough money to launch the kind of public relations campaign for consumers that can even begin to combat and challenge the public relations campaigns of pro-business and tort reform groups. Over the last few years, however, documentary films and independent film festivals have become a vehicle for alternative ideas to get a public forum.

 

The documentary goes into specific detail, but here are the facts, in brief, of Lieback’s case, courtesy of her attorney and the Center for Justice & Democracy:

  • By corporate specifications, McDonald’s sells its coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Coffee at that temperature, if spilled, causes third-degree burns in two to seven seconds
  • Third-degree burns do not heal without skin grafting, debridement and whirlpool treatments that cost tens of thousands of dollars and result in permanent disfigurement, extreme pain and disability of the victim for many months, and in some cases, years.
  • McDonald’s admitted that it has known about the risk of serious burns from its scalding hot coffee for more than 10 years — the risk was brought to its attention through numerous other claims and suits. in fact, from 1982 to 1992, McDonald’s coffee burned more than 700 people.
  • McDonald’s admitted that it did not warn customers of the nature and extent of this risk of burns.
  • Liebeck’s treating physician testified that her injury was one of the worst scald burns he had ever seen

I encourage you to watch this documentary. You may learn something, and you’re likely to change your mind about “frivolous” lawsuits.

Treating Injured Workers: Beware of returning to work too soon

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Today’s tip for healthcare professionals treating injured workers deals with the problems that can arise when an injured person returns to work too soon.

In the haste to get back to work and to a steady paycheck, people can cause irreversible physical damage, and they may also jeopardize their ability to collect on a workers’ compensation claim.

  • Some injured workers will want to return to work before they are medically able to do so. While injured workers are justified in their fear of reprisal for missing work because of an injury, strongly discourage them from returning to a job for which they are physically unprepared. Candidly explain the risk of re-injury. And while it’s true that some people are fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim – even though the law forbids such retaliation – being fired is preferable to derailing recovery or creating a worse medical problem by returning to work too soon. Let your patients know that there is legal recourse if they are fired. Patients can file a wrongful termination claim themselves with the Industrial Commission, but many will find it helpful to have an attorney advocate on their behalf.

You can find my entire series of tips here, and stay tuned throughout the week for more advice on helping injured workers under your medical care.

Treating an Injured Worker: Workers’ comp may cover home and vehicle modifications

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I hope you’re finding my series of tips about worker’s compensation and benefits available to injured and disabled workers law helpful.

I’ve been sharing information about things that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers can do to help injured patients as they navigate the complicated workers’ comp system in North Carolina. There are quite a few unique benefits available to injured workers, but without a doctor’s recommendation patients may not be able to receive these benefits.

My aim is to arm health care professionals with the information they need so they can attend to the unique needs of injured workers while providing them with medical treatment.

Did you know, for instance, that:

  • Injured workers may be entitled to additional benefits beyond compensation for lost wages and traditional medical care. The standard in North Carolina is whether or not the recommended treatment is reasonably likely to effect a cure, give relief from symptoms (including pain relief) or lessen the period of disability. Under this standard, in cases of catastrophic injury, North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law allows for things like home and vehicle modifications, medical devices in the home such as hospital beds, in-home attendant care, motorized wheelchairs, etc. So long as these devices/modifications meet the standard recited above and are prescribed by a treating physician, they should be covered by the Workers’ Compensation insurance company.