May 26, 2020
Covid-19 and the Courts
Like every other aspect of society, our nation’s court system has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the National Center for State Courts, 34 states and the District of Columbia have completely suspended in-person court activities. In other states, local courts have been given the option of suspending in-person court hearings. Still, the essential work of the court system continues. Criminal arraignments, bond hearings, juvenile delinquency detention hearings, involuntary commitment hearings are examples of time-sensitive matters, involving significant rights, that must proceed despite the pandemic. Courts are expanding their ability to use technology to conduct court hearings virtually. “State courts are the heart of the American system of justice,” said Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, President of the Conference of Chief Justices. “Collectively, we are working together to protect public health while also finding innovative ways to keep the courts open for business.”
Although court business has not stopped, court activity has significantly declined during the pandemic. Process servers report that business has declined sharply. Most states have imposed a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in response to the pandemic. The moratoriums are an effort to provide financial relief to homeowners and renters during this difficult time. In New York, divorces and marriages were briefly put on hold.
Nationwide quarantines will likely result in a decline in certain types of legal cases. The steep decline in highway traffic and retail shopping will undoubtedly result in a reduction of personal injury lawsuits. Most jurisdictions have reported a significant decline in criminal activity and arrests during the pandemic.
Covid-19 is expected to lead to an increase in other legal cases. Once the moratorium on foreclosures and eviction is lifted, there will likely be an increase in foreclosures and evictions due to the increase in unemployment. Bankruptcies are also expected to increase.
There will also be lawsuits related to Covid-19. Although Congress is considering bills that would provide liability from Covid-19 related lawsuits, lawsuits have already been filed against nursing homes, cruise lines, fitness chains, and prisons.
Jury trials have been suspended across the country since mid-March, resulting in a backlog of cases and concerns about when jury trials will be able to resume. Jury trials are required by both the federal and state constitutions yet court administrators across the country are uncertain about when it will be safe to resume jury service. Jury service typically involves assembling a large group of potential jurors and then choosing a smaller group to serve together for the duration of a trial. If a juror were to test positive for the coronavirus during a trial, it could result in a mistrial and require the litigants and the court to re-start the trial with a new jury. In Florida, Chief Justice Charles Canady has formed a workgroup to develop a pilot program for civil jury trials to be held using remote technology. The idea of virtual jury trials presents daunting technological and legal challenges, however. One issue is making sure that jurors have access to reliable internet connections. Some legal experts believe that virtual jury trials in criminal cases would compromise a criminal defendant’s right to confront witnesses, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
May 20, 2020
Covid-19 and the impact on roadway safety
It should come as no surprise that traffic accidents have declined in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic began. There are several near-term impacts of having fewer cars on the road.
How are the accidents that still occur being handled? In what ways will insurance companies respond? How will driver behavior change? Let’s explore each of these areas.
A change in accident response
With fewer cars on the road and more help needed on the front lines of the pandemic, responding officers may be handling accidents differently. In some areas of the country, responses are limited to emergency situations only.
If police don’t respond to the scene of an accident, the drivers involved in the crash will need to take photos and exchange information. If you are involved in a crash and the other driver admits responsibility for the accident, we recommend that you politely ask the other driver if they will provide a short description of the crash that you can record on your smartphone. It is also important to obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses.
Speeding, distracted driving, and anxious drivers on low-traffic roads
Those who are still on the road might adopt new driving behaviors that result in accidents. While fewer cars are on the road, certain areas have seen spikes in car accident cases due to speeding, distracted driving, and anxious drivers. Many law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in speeding tickets issued to drivers speeding at more than 100 mph.
Auto insurers give money back to policyholders
Since COVID-19 is keeping cars off the road, some auto insurers are dealing with fewer claims by providing customers with refunds—whether voluntarily or through state orders. Drivers are receiving refunds ranging from 15-20% from major auto insurers in large part due to the decline in accidents.
If economic difficulties persist, we can expect to see an increase in the number of uninsured drivers.
Post-pandemic commuting could drive an increase in cars on the road in some areas and a decrease in others
The post-COVID-19 era has many unknowns, but a Bloomberg Opinion columnist recently predicted that we could have more traffic jams than before as commuters who normally relied on public transit opt to drive themselves to work. In Wuhan, automobile sales have risen since the peak of the crisis as many consumers view personal vehicle commutes as safer than using public transportation. This is likely to be more of an issue in metropolitan areas where more people rely on public transportation and is not likely to be a significant issue in our part of Florida.
We expect that there will an increase in the number of people who work from home and the number of students who home-school, even after things return to normal. We may also see that some forms of social distancing will continue for an extended period of time. For these reasons, we predict that we may see a long-term reduction in vehicle traffic.
May 15, 2020
How do you know if a dog is about to bite?
A bite from a dog can lead to serious injury and severe scarring that can be physical and/or psychological. Fortunately, you may be able to avoid an attack if you can recognize the signs that a dog is about to bite.
Dogs use body language to convey warning signals that they feel distressed and may be getting ready to bite. Unfortunately, not all human beings read the signs correctly. Petful describes some of the common signs that a dog bite is imminent. Look for these signs and take them seriously if you observe them.
- Getaway attempts
Like many animals, a frightened dog has a fight-or-flight instinct. Dogs often try to flee a situation that they find threatening. However, if there is no escape, they may defend themselves the only way they know how, by biting. If a dog is trying to get away from you, it is best to allow it to go.
- Bared teeth
Showing teeth is usually a sign of aggression in a dog. This is true whether the dog bares all its teeth or lifts its lip to show only a few at a time. The dog may also growl while baring its teeth.
Look to see if the dog’s body is tense and stiff. Tension may be present alone or in combination with other warning signs. Some signs of an imminent dog bite may seem similar to playful behaviors, but tension of the dog’s body indicates that it is not playing.
It is best to try not to make eye contact with a strange dog because staring can indicate a challenge. Be wary of a dog giving you a hard stare with its body tense. Also, check the dog’s eyes to see if you can see the whites around the irises. This is another common warning sign.
May 13, 2020
How can I show a driver was distracted?
We’ve all seen crazy behaviors on the road. From drivers eating full meals to people applying makeup while traveling at a high rate of speed, it’s a wonder how any of us ever make it to the end of the day.
It’s one thing to witness a distracted driver. Proving it is something else entirely. However, there are steps you can take to gather evidence of distracted driving to help strengthen your injury claim.
Distracted driving accidents are an ongoing problem
Although Florida has taken steps to limit distracted driving behaviors, it is still an ongoing problem. For personal injury purposes, the action doesn’t have to be illegal to hold a driver liable for negligence. Any behavior which takes a driver’s attention away from the road, resulting in an accident and injury, is negligent. Some common examples of distracted driving include:
- Using an electronic device
- Eating or drinking
- Talking to other passengers
- Playing with the car stereo
Hopefully, the driver will stop engaging in these behaviors once the accident has occurred, although stranger things have happened. Proving the driver was distracted becomes a challenge. However, there are ways to do so.
If there are any eyewitnesses to the accident, it’s important to gather their contact information. Your claim is stronger with witness testimony. If a cellphone caused the distraction, electronic records could help prove the driver was using the phone at the time of the accident. In some cases, expert testimony can help strengthen your claim.
Holding negligent drivers accountable
All drivers owe one another a duty of care. Distracted driving is unreasonably dangerous. Holding reckless drivers accountable for their actions is important. You should discuss your options with a skilled professional.
April 24, 2020
Understanding collisions between a bicycle and a motor vehicle
Some surveys suggest that commuting by bicycle is less popular now than it was in 2014. While a few cities and states have worked to improve conditions for cycling, the truth is that many riders still feel unsafe. Cyclist deaths have risen in recent years, even as other types of vehicle fatalities have fallen. The rise in cycling deaths is troubling. So what is causing all these deadly accidents?
Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Crashes
Bicycle safety is important. But even a perfectly safe cyclist is in danger on Florida roads. Careless drivers, distracted drivers, drunk drivers and aggressive drivers are a tremendous threat to someone on a bike. One of the most common types of fatal accident between a car and a bicycle involves vehicles striking bicycles from behind. Cyclists can’t force the drivers around them to pay attention or give them appropriate space. Even the best helmet in the world, perfectly fitted for the rider, has little chance of saving a rider run over by an SUV.
The fact is that someone in a car has little to fear from these collisions. Drivers aren’t injured when they strike bicycles. It is the cyclists who take on all the risk when drivers pay more attention to their cell phones than the road. When accidents happen, cyclists suffer serious injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, or even death. Drivers might be emotionally upset, but the impact on them pales in comparison to the impact on the cyclist.
Negligence And Accountability
While it would be smart for cities to pay more attention to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, the fact of the matter is that drivers need to do better. Cyclists have the same rights to use the roads as people driving. Drivers must pay attention to their surroundings and drive responsibly. When a driver fails to do that, and it results in an injury or death, that driver must be held accountable for the failure.
March 26, 2020
Florida House Passes Pedestrian Safety Bill
Responding to a tragic, December 22, 2019 accident in Satellite Beach that took the life of a 12-yr-old girl, the Florida House passed the Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act by an 118-1 vote on March 9, 2020. Sophia was killed when she was struck by an automobile while crossing State Road A1A in a crosswalk that was outfitted with flashing yellow lights. Before entering the crosswalk, Sophia pushed a button, activating the flashing yellow lights. An 83-year-old motorist ran through the crosswalk, disregarding the lights.
The flashing yellow lights, known in the transportation industry as “rectangular rapid flashing beacons” have been popping up in areas with high pedestrian traffic in municipalities throughout Florida. The yellow beacons are typically used in mid-block locations where people tend to cross the street illegally, even though an intersection is nearby. The beacons are activated when the pedestrian pushes a button at the crosswalk. Unlike a red light at an intersection crosswalk that requires a motorist to remain stopped until the light changes, the flashing yellow lights only require a motorist to stop while the pedestrian is in the crosswalk. In this way, the yellow lights are designed to protect pedestrians while not being overly disruptive to flow of vehicle traffic.
Unfortunately, the yellow lights provide a false sense of security to pedestrians and are a source of confusion to motorists, occasionally with tragic results. Florida law has long required motorists to come to a stop when approaching a crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing. However, some motorists interpret the yellow flashing lights as an indication that they do not need to stop. A survey in Pinellas County showed that 85 to 90 percent of motorists complied with the yellow flashing lights and came to a stop when pedestrians were present. Pinellas County officials touted this as proof of success of the lights which can cost $10,000 apiece to install. In our opinion, the 10 to 15% non-compliance rate represents an unreasonable and unacceptable danger.
The legislation passed by the House would only allow flashing yellow lights at pedestrian crosswalks on two-lane roads with speed limits up to 35 mph. For larger intersections, like the four-lane, 45 mph section of SR A1A where Sophia was killed, The Florida Department of Transportation would be required to request authorization from the federal government to replace the yellow lights with red lights. The legislation would require all flashing yellow lights at these intersections to be removed within 4 years. The bill will now be considered by the Florida Senate and, if passed by the Senate, will go to Governor DeSantis for his approval.
The bill is a good step but, in our opinion, it doesn’t go far enough. These flashing yellow lights are confusing to motorists and, as a result, dangerous to pedestrians at all intersections. The 10 to 15% non-compliance rate in the Pinellas survey is alarming. For the sake of pedestrian safety and to avoid additional tragedies, we urge the State to ban flashing yellow signals at all crosswalks.
February 26, 2020
Who is responsible for a dog bite injury in Florida?
If a dog attacks you or your child, you may face serious injuries, extensive medical care and even time away of work. The financial fallout of this type of incident can be significant. In Florida, the dog’s owner holds legal responsibility for these injuries.
Learn more about pursuing financial damages after a dog bite in Florida.
Florida maintains a strict liability standard when it comes to dog bites. While some states hold the animal’s owner responsible only when the dog has attacked before, Florida dog owners have financial liability anytime the dog bites someone who is lawfully in a private or public place. The plaintiff in this case has no obligation to show the court that the dog owner acted without reasonable care.
However, these standards do not necessarily apply to injuries other than a bite, such as if you broke your arm after a dog knocked you down. In this case, you must prove that the owner acted without reasonable care. For example, he or she may have failed to leash an excitable pet.
If the dog owner can prove that you share some of the blame for your injury, the court may limit your financial damages. With this concept, comparative negligence, the judge will assign a fault percentage and reduce your monetary award by that amount. For example, if your injuries and time off work cost $10,000 but you were 20% responsible for your injury because you tripped over the dog, you would receive $8,000.
A person who was trespassing on private property when a dog bite occurred is not eligible for financial compensation. The court will not consider someone delivering mail or otherwise carrying out legal duties as a trespasser.
For a successful case, you must file your dog bite claim within four years of the incident. The state court will dismiss personal injury lawsuits filed after the statute of limitations.
January 13, 2020
First aid for a skull fracture
The skull is a bony structure that provides support and protection for the brain. While the structure of the skull allows it to withstand a lot, a sufficiently strong impact can cause the bone to break, resulting in a skull fracture.
Skull fractures may result from trauma, such as may occur in a car accident or because of a slip and fall. Because a skull fracture may contribute to a traumatic brain injury, it is vitally important to provide appropriate first aid. First, call 911. Then, while you are waiting for help to arrive, take the following steps.
Except when it is absolutely necessary, you should never move someone who has had a head injury because there could also be an injury to the spinal cord.
A person with a head injury could begin vomiting, which could pose a choking hazard. You should carefully turn the patient onto his or her side while using your hands to stabilize the head and neck, preventing any movement.
Check airways to be sure that they are clear, and also check circulation and breathing. If the person is not breathing and/or there is no pulse, perform CPR.
A skull injury may bleed profusely, and it is important to try to control the blood flow. Using a clean cloth, firmly but carefully apply pressure to the wound. Do not remove the cloth if the blood soaks through. Instead, keep applying clean cloths.
Sometimes you can tell that the person has a skull fracture just by looking because there is a dent or deformity of the bone. However, such visual symptoms may not always be present. It is appropriate to gently check the injury site, but do not use a foreign object to probe it.
When providing first aid for a possible skull fracture, it is important that you act to avoid any further injury.
December 12, 2019
What may I do if my dog attacks someone?
The dog bite laws of Florida are one of the strictest in the United States. A dog owner is liable if a dog attacks and injures another person. The state has strict liability statutes that hold the dog owner responsible, meaning that if you own a dog and it attacks someone, they may sue you for the damages that your dog causes. You will, therefore, end up paying for costs such as any lost wages, medical bills, and emotional trauma. Unlike many other states, the injured party does not have to prove that there was a lack of reasonable care for the dog bite to happen.
However, the statute only covers injuries that come about due to a dog bite. If the victim gets injured in another way, they will require to prove that your negligence and failure to use reasonable care led to the injury.
There are two ways as well that you may defend yourself from a dog claim. You may claim that the injured party was trespassing, or you may claim comparative negligence. When someone trespasses on your property unlawfully, they cannot claim any damages if your dog bites them.
Under comparative negligence, if the victim of a dog bite was partly responsible in leading to the injury, the amount of damage that you get to pay due to the injury will be reduced by the percent of the victim’s negligence. Therefore, if your friend accidentally steps on your dog’s tail leading to the dog biting them, they have partial responsibility to the injury. If the jury finds them to be 30 percent negligent, the amount of damage you have to pay will reduce by 30 percent.
This information is only for educational use. It is not legal advice.
November 19, 2019
Can I sue the owner of an autonomous vehicle?
Florida’s governor approved a bill regulating the operation of autonomous vehicles, and the companies that own the trucks and technology owe a duty to ensure residents’ safety. If a self-driving vehicle injures you or causes damage to your property, you have the right to pursue a legal action against its owner. Under the bill, autonomous vehicle owners must carry an insurance policy, much as the requirements hold for human motor vehicle operators.
According to Forbes magazine, the Sunshine State anticipates a surge in unmanned autonomous trucks over the next two years. Testing of driverless trucks for commercial purposes is already underway on stretches of the Florida Turnpike. While transportation companies continue with studies to prove that technology-driven trucks are safer than human drivers, the future real-world implications may still be uncertain.
Autonomous vehicles require experienced human operators to control them remotely. Generally, former truck drivers trained to operate commercial trucks sit inside of a remote location and navigate a tractor-trailer through a control panel. They may direct a truck to backup, switch lanes and park with the assistance of vehicle sensors and AI technology. Some autonomous vehicles may also have a human driver sitting in the cab who only intervenes when a problem arises.
Human motorists and pedestrians, however, may not have a full enough understanding of how to effectively avoid catastrophic accidents with autonomous vehicles. Programmed algorithms may alert a remote operator that there is an issue with an autonomous vehicle, but a human driving a personal vehicle may not be able to respond as quickly to prevent a collision. Driverless commercial trucks may allow companies to reduce their shipping fees, but it will not absolve them of liability for injuries, death and damages.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and not intended as legal advice.