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Can Victims of a Mass Shooting Sue the Government?

The best answer is, it's unlikely. True, litigants sue the government every day, over alleged civil rights violations, controversial laws, run-of-the-mill personal injury claims against government agencies and employees, and more. The real question is usually less about whether you can you sue the government, and more about the likelihood of success. Suing the Government Is an American Tradition Overall it's fairly common to sue the government. Special needs students may challenge a school district's educational offerings. People deprived of their rights by government policies may challenge those policies in court. Even ordinary claims for money damages -- arising out of personal injury, death, or property damage -- can be litigated before an administrative agency or judge. What's less certain is what happens in exceptional cases. Most (successful) lawsuits against the government rely on recognizable claims, alleging violations of well-accepted rights or duties, seeking relief for identifiable injuries or losses. Suing the postal service after a mail carrier crashes their mail truck into your house, for example, is pretty routine. But lawsuits based on novel legal theories, expanded notions of rights, or for damages that are difficult to ascertain are a different matter. They're not impossible. Some of the most celebrated cases in legal history were filed on a prayer. Mass shooting lawsuits fall into that bucket. What About Mass Shootings? The obvious person(s) to sue is the person(s) responsible for resulting injuries. The reality is that they're often judgment proof. And it's unusual for courts to find someone else -- even governments -- legally liable for their crimes. Maintaining safe premises in schools or office buildings is one thing. Responsibility for someone else's intentional, criminal acts enters into a different realm. Related Resources Find a Civil Rights Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Can A School Be Sued for a Shooting? (FindLaw's Injured) Injury Claims Against the Government (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Kids Around the World are Suing Their Governments for Ruining the Planet (Quartz)
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Amtrak Liability for Train Accident Deaths

Your legal rights don't expire when you die. Wrongful death lawsuits allow surviving family members to sue train operators for these damages and to hold them accountable. So what's Amtrak's liability for train accident deaths? Well, it's clear but complicated. Trains Are Common Carriers Trains, planes, and automobiles are what lawyers call common carriers. A common carrier is anything that transports people or goods for a fee owes passengers a higher duty of care in ensuring their safety. Common carrier liability is an old but sensible legal concept. A driver of a car is responsible for his accidents; anyone hauling many people should be even more careful. It's common for wrongful death lawsuits against train operators to cite common carrier liability (among other grounds) when suing. Amtrak's Liability It's common for train accident related deaths to rack up huge medical bills, lost income to family and dependents, funeral costs, possible property damage, and more. These costs can be prohibitive for family members and don't go away. Amtrak, despite receiving government funds, is liable for its torts like most government entities. However, there's a catch. Congress has capped Amtrak's liability at $295 million. That may sound like a lot, but when you're talking about over eighty people's hospital costs, lost income from missing work, continuing health needs and rehab bills, and more -- it adds up pretty fast. Amtrak Train Accident Lawsuits Amtrak's issues have made recent news, including a derailment in Washington State in December 2017. Two survivors of that crash have already sued for personal injuries sustained in the crash, the first of what's expected to be many similar lawsuits. Related Resources Find a personal injury attorney near you (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Laws Govern The Amtrak Crash? (FindLaw's Injured) Common Carrier Liability in Light of Amtrak Crash in PA (FindLaw's Injured)
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Model Can Seek $1.5M for HIV Ad Featuring Her Image

Those that ascribe to the "any PR is good PR" mantra might be tempted to tell a model that any use of her image would be a good use. But what about a use that implies she is HIV positive? That happened to model Avril Nolan after New York's Division of Human Rights ran a full-color, quarter-page ad featuring her face, beside the words "I am positive (+)" and "I have rights," all without her permission. Nolan sued, claiming the ad was defamatory and that the DHR violated state civil rights laws. And a state appeals court agreed, with the defamation part at least. Per Se Bad Publicity The court's ruling is a bit dicey, politically speaking. Nolan is claiming that the unauthorized association of her image with HIV is a particular kind of defamation per se. Normally, in order to succeed in a defamation lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that the false assertion caused some tangible damage to her reputation. But some false statements are considered so damaging that they are deemed defamatory on their face, and don't require the same proof of damages. One category of defamation per se is an indication that a person has a "loathsome," contagious, or infectious disease. The state tried to argue that an association with HIV wasn't inherently damaging, highlighting recent cases where courts ruled that merely calling someone gay was not slanderous, and even pointing to celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Magic Johnson who remain popular despite publicly affirming their HIV-positive status. But the Supreme Court of New York's Appellate Division wasn't on board: Further, claimant, in countering the State's anecdotal evidence regarding public figures with HIV, cites several sociological studies establishing that HIV continues to be a significant stigma. For example, she cites to academic studies from 2014 and 2015 that conclude that people fear getting tested for HIV because of the perceived social repercussions of a positive result. Since it can still be said that ostracism is a likely effect of a diagnosis of HIV, we hold that the defamatory material here falls under the traditional "loathsome disease" category and is defamatory per se. So while the intent of the ad campaign might've been to reduce the stigma surrounding an HIV diagnosis, enough of that stigma still exists to make a false association regarding such a diagnosis defamatory. Rejected Civil Rights Claims Nolan also alleged the DHR's unapproved use of her photo violated state civil rights laws that prohibit the nonconsensual use of a person's image for commercial purposes. The appeals court was less sympathetic to this claim, finding "DHR was engaged in a decidedly noncommercial campaign designed to advance its mission of promoting civil rights." Still, Nolan may recover up to $1.5 million in damages for the emotional distress she says she suffered after publication of the ad. Related Resources: Find Defamation Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Injured) What's the Difference Between Libel and Slander? (FindLaw's Injured) Invasion of Privacy: False Light (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) What Is Invasion of Privacy? (FindLaw's Injured)
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Los Angeles Settles Cyclist’s Pothole Injury Lawsuit for $6.5M

Peter Godefroy was riding his bicycle on Valley Vista Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California two years ago when struck a pothole, crashed his bike, and suffered "severe traumatic brain injury and numerous broken or fractured bones throughout his body." Godefroy sued the City of Los Angeles, claiming poor lighting and even worse maintenance led to a simple pothole becoming a "concealed trap for bicyclists." The L.A. City Council settled that lawsuit last week, voting 11-0 to approve granting Godefroy $6.5 million in damages. It's the second such settlement this year, after the council also awarded $4.5 million to the family of a man killed after he was thrown from his bike when he hit uneven pavement in the city. Bike Suits Bicycle accidents are sadly more common than you would hope. And if you don't have cycling insurance (yes, those policies do exist), you may be wondering about your legal options. In a crash scenario, hopefully the other party -- whether it be a driver in their car, a business-owned vehicle, another cyclist, or even a pedestrian -- will be insured and that will cover your injuries. If not, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to recoup medical bills and lost wages. Most cycling accidents can be treated just like car accidents: exchange insurance information with the other party or parties, document the accident and any injuries as thoroughly as possible, and consider contacting the police if there are serious injuries or property damage. And the work doesn't stop the day after an accident -- make sure to track initial ambulance or hospital bills, additional or ongoing medical expenses, and lost work or wages as well as future income. City Liability It may sound daunting, but you can sue city hall. You may have to file a claim of injury with the city before filing a civil lawsuit to give the city a chance to compensate you or respond to the claim, and you'll have to do so within specific statutes of limitation. If the city fails to respond or denies your claim, you can move on to a full-blown lawsuit. As a general rule, municipalities are responsible for maintaining roadways (including bike lanes and sidewalks) so that they're safe for cyclists, and can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on public roadways. If a city or municipal entity fails to exercise reasonable care in keeping the roadways in good repair, they can be found liable for injuries that occur. However, in order to prove a city was negligent in repairing the road, you would also need to prove the city had or should have had notice of the dangerous condition and failed to fix it. If you're considering a bike injury lawsuit against a city, talk to an experienced attorney first. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Severely Injured Cyclist Settles Broken Sidewalk 'Launch Ramp' Case for $4.84M (FindLaw's Injured) San Diego Cyclist Injured by Pothole Gets $235K Settlement From City (FindLaw's Injured) NYPD Accused of 'Hit and Lie' on Cyclist (FindLaw's Injured)
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Judge to Allow Jury to Decide If ‘Brain Dead’ Teen Is Alive

Jahi McMath was thirteen years old when a routine tonsillectomy went wrong and left the teen brain dead. After the surgery in 2013, she was pronounced dead, and the county coroner even signed a death certificate a month later. However, Jahi was never taken off life support. Her parents insist that she is still alive, based upon their Christian faith, regardless of the fact that she has been declared brain dead. While Jahi has been kept on life support, her parents have pursued a medical malpractice claim against the hospital as a result of the surgery. But, unlike typical medical malpractice claims where the plaintiff is either alive and injured, or dead, the court is sending that issue to the jury to decide. What's Life Anyway? Jahi's mother believes that it is her duty to keep fighting for her daughter. Despite knowing that her daughter has a severe and irreparable brain injury, she sees her daughters fingers twitch, and sees her react to unpleasant smells, and this clearly give her hope for the future. In short, whether Jahi is deemed to be alive or dead by the jury will impact the size of the potential jury verdict. If Jahi is found to still be alive, her parents will be able to seek damages for future medical care, and other damages that they would not be entitled to seek on behalf of a deceased child.State of Life California doctors were able to secure an order from the court to withdraw life support, however, before that could happen, Jahi was moved to New Jersey. The state of New Jersey is the only state where religious beliefs that do not accept brain death as actual death will prevail over medical opinion. Jahi's current doctor testified that not only has her body not started deteriorating, but that she has started puberty and even began menstruation. He testified that she is in a "minimally responsive state." Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Jahi McMath Case: What Is Brain Death? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman's Husband Sues Hospital (FindLaw's Injured) Brain-Dead Pregnant Woman Taken Off Life Support (FindLaw's Injured)
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Knott’s Berry Farm Faces Second Log Ride Injury Lawsuit

Five-year-old Charles Miller was sitting in his father's lap on the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm in California when the ride came to a screeching halt after the last drop. According to a lawsuit filed against the theme park by his father, Miller flew forward, forcing his head to be "sandwiched between his father and the back of the seat causing an orbital blowout." Miller suffered a fractured eye socket, and the lawsuit claims Knott's Farm negligently maintained the ride. It turns out this is not the first problem with the log ride or the first lawsuit filed against the park: the family of a 6-year-old girl settled with Knott's Berry after she broke a bone above her right eye hitting her head on the ride, and the Miller suit cites ten other examples where guests were injured in similar incidents. Improper Water The problems for the log ride allegedly occur on the final descent into a large pool of water. According to the lawsuit: [T]he water sensing system for the Timber Mountain Log Ride was not properly monitoring the water level on the ride, especially at the bottom of the last drop, where there was improper water for proper braking, which increased the deceleration experienced by the guests in the log and contributed to their being injured by being thrown against the log's interior components. The suit also claims the California Division of Occupational Safety had previously inspected the ride, made Knott's Berry Farm aware the water sensing system was not working properly, and that the ride was operating out of compliance for almost two years. Contemptible Conduct "The conduct of the Defendants was so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched and loathsome," the lawsuit claims, "that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people." Along with compensatory damages for the child's injuries, the suit is also asking for punitive damages against Knott's Berry Farm as well as attorneys' fees. Related Resources: Child Battered by Knott's Berry Farm Log Ride, Family Says (Courthouse News) Who's Liable for Waterpark Injuries? (FindLaw's Injured) When to Sue for Theme Park Injuries (FindLaw's Injured) Disneyland Sued in 140 Injury Cases in 5 Years (FindLaw's Injured)
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$417M Judgment Against Johnson & Johnson in Latest Talc-Cancer Verdict

At this point, there have been so many lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson over its talc and baby powder products, and judgments against the company based on cancer caused by those products, it's becoming hard to keep track of them all. Luckily, Bloomberg did the work for us: J&J is facing "5,500 claims in U.S. courts, [and] has lost four previous jury verdicts in St. Louis for a total of $300 million." And you can add another verdict to that list, this one coming in California. A Los Angeles jury awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million after finding J&J liable for not warning about the cancer risk in its baby powder products. Problem All Over the Country "J&J needs to see they not only have verdicts against them in St. Louis, they now also have them in Los Angeles," Echeverria's attorney Mark Robinson said. "There's a problem all over the country with women using talcum powder on daily basis for 10, 20, 30, 40 years." The 62-year-old woman began using the talcum powder products when she was 11 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007. Of the total award, the jury charged Johnson & Johnson with $347 million in punitive damages. While J&J has and continues to defend the safety of its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc-based products, various lawsuits have cited studies linking talc to ovarian cancer and accused the company of failing to adequately warn customers of the risk. Denying the Obvious Most damning of the allegations against J&J revolve around what the company knew and when. According to one lawsuit, the Cancer Prevention Coalition notified Johnson & Johnson's CEO in 1994 that studies showed using talcum powder in the genital area posed "a serious risk of ovarian cancer." And the AP has reported on an internal memo in 1997 from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant said "anybody who denies" the risk of using hygienic talc and ovarian cancer is "denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary." The latest judgment against J&J may be the latest and one of the largest, but it's far from the first and likely far from the last as well. Related Resources: Find Personal Injury Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Talcum Powder Lawsuit: When to Sue J&J for Wrongful Death (FindLaw's Injured) Can Using Talcum and Baby Powder Really Cause Cancer? (FindLaw's Injured) Talcum Powder May Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk in African American Women (FindLaw's Injured)
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How Long Do You Have to File a Police Report for Domestic Violence?

A victim of domestic violence should generally try to involve law enforcement at the earliest possible time after an incident, assuming police didn't arrive during the incident. The sooner a victim can file a police report, the higher the likelihood that police will investigate, which increases the chances of a city, or state, district attorney prosecuting the matter criminally. Most states provide that criminal offenses of varying severity can only be prosecuted within a certain window of time, known as a statute of limitations. Although, in some states, certain serious offenses like rape or muder will not be subject to a statute of limitations. In New York, for example, a domestic violence case could have a statute of limitations ranging from one to three years (depending on the severity of the charges). What Does It Mean to "Press Charges"? While individuals often mimic television and the big screen and insist on "pressing charges," this is a misnomer. Individuals do not file or press charges. Only the state, or government, that is prosecuting the case has the authority to file, or press, criminal charges against a person. However, in the domestic violence context, and when filing a police report against an individual, officers will sometimes ask a victim if they want to "press charges." While it may sound like the victim holds the power, the actual decision to bring a criminal case is not held by the victim. Officers tend to ask this question in order to find out if the victim will be cooperative with a district attorney. In many situations, even if a victim asks the prosecutor to drop the charges, or even recants their statement, it may not impact a prosecutor's decision to proceed. Civil Remedies Are Available In contrast to criminal charges, which a person cannot control whether or not those get filed beyond filing a report with law enforcement, an individual holds the decision on whether to bring a civil suit against an abuser. Domestic violence victims can sue their abusers for monetary damages, as well as seek out civil restraining orders to keep their abusers away from them. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What If the Police Won't Investigate my Case? (FindLaw's Blotter) Can You Sue for Injury Without a Police Report? (FindLaw's Injured) 5 Things a Domestic Violence Lawyer Can Do (That You Probably Can't) (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Domestic Violence Trials: 5 Tips for Victims (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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When Can You Sue for PTSD for Auto Accident Injuries?

When a person is injured in an auto accident, they may be entitled to recover monetary damages for their injuries. In some circumstances, an injury victim can be entitled to recover after suffering an emotional, or mental health, injury, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as a result of a car accident. Unless the mental health injury rendered a person incapacitated, they will need to file a lawsuit within the normal time period allowed by their state to file. While uncommon, in severe auto accidents, particularly when there is a loss of life, severe injuries, or maybe just a whole lot of property damage, it is easily foreseeable that an individual could suffer from PTSD. However, to establish a personal injury case based upon a PTSD diagnosis can be rather challenging. Unlike broken bones, cuts, bumps, and bruises, a mental health injury may not visible on the surface. Problems of Proof When suing for a PTSD injury related to a car accident, a plaintiff will need to prove that a qualified doctor made an accurate PTSD diagnosis and that the diagnosis is attributable, at least in part, to the accident. To accomplish this, it is highly likely that expert medical witness testimony will be required. However, despite what a medical expert states, other problems could arise if the accident was only a minor accident, or there are other tragic incidents, particularly recently, in the plaintiff’s past, or a prior diagnosis for PTSD. However, even if a diagnosis may not be attributable to an accident, a flare up of PTSD symptoms may still be relevant. In other words, it can be claimed that a car accident made an individual’s PTSD worse. One Bite of the Settlement Apple A significant problem with PTSD auto accident claims is the timing of a settlement. Frequently, injury victims will settle their cases within 6 month or a year after their injury without ever filing a lawsuit. Just as frequently, PTSD can go undiagnosed for months, or longer if a victim does not have a solid support network. Unfortunately, in nearly every state, once a person settles a personal injury claim, they cannot reopen the case unless there are extraordinary circumstances, such as a fraud in the inducement to sign. Typically, an undiscovered injury will not qualify to reopen a settled case. Related Resources: Injured in a car accident? Get your claim reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) Can You Sue Over Mental Stress, Trauma? (FindLaw’s Injured) Can You Get Workers’ Comp for PTSD? (FindLaw’s Injured) 5 Ways to Prove Emotional Distress (FindLaw’s Injured)
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Study: Payouts Are up in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Insurance companies might be seeing fewer medical malpractice claims, but they seem to be awarding more money to the injured patients that do make them. A new study found that paid medical malpractice claims declined almost 56 percent between 1992 and 2014, but the average payout for a successful malpractice claim jumped over 23 percent, reaching $353,000 for the 2009-2014 time period. So what accounts for the decline in claims and rise in payouts? And what does it mean for future medical malpractice plaintiffs? Fewer Claims = More Money The research comes from physicians at Brigham and Women's Hospital, who analyzed numbers from a centralized database of paid malpractice claims: Researchers report that the overall rate of claims paid on behalf of all physicians dropped by 55.7 percent. Pediatricians had the largest decline, at 75.8 percent, and cardiologists had the smallest, at 13.5 percent. After adjusting for inflation, researchers found that the amount of the payment increased by 23.3 percent and was also dependent on specialty. Neurosurgery had the highest mean payment, and dermatology had the lowest. The percentage of payments exceeding $1 million also increased during the same time period. Dr. Adam Schaffer, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study, speculated that recent tort reform, which places statutory limits on medical malpractice damages, could be responsible for the decline in paid claims. "Fewer attorneys could be interested in taking claims if there's going to be a smaller potential payout, given that most attorneys are paid on a contingency basis," he explained. Schaffer also pointed to claim screening panels and additional procedural hurdles to explain the decline in claims, but this could also account for the rise in payouts -- if only the most ironclad malpractice claims are being made and meeting the procedural requirements, the average payout per claim would be expected to rise. What Does It All Mean? The study could mean that lawyers are more skittish about taking on medical malpractice cases, but those that they do accept might be in for a bigger payday at the end. Medical malpractice claims are complicated, and even just dealing with a physician's insurance company can be difficult. If you've suffered an injury in a medical context, contact and experienced attorney near you. Related Resources: Think you have a medical malpractice claim? Get your claim reviewed by an attorney for free. (Consumer Injury) Fewer Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Succeed, but Payouts Are Up (CBS News) Getting Paid: Collecting on a Judgment or Jury Award (FindLaw's Injured) How Much Is Your Personal Injury Case Worth? (FindLaw's Injured)
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