crushed-vehicle-1-300x207Even when an insurance company is willing to pay fair market value on a wrecked or damaged vehicle, it sometimes makes more sense to repair rather than have it declared a total loss. This can be the case when it is not practical to purchase another vehicle with the amount of money payable under the total loss calculation.

Florida motor vehicle insurance policies cover for vehicle loss and repair through Property Damage Liability and Collision provisions. PD Liability, which is third party coverage because it insures for loss suffered by persons other than the insured, is mandatory in Florida. Collision, which is first party coverage because it covers the insured, is not.

Section 319.30, Florida Statutes (2016) allows registered owners of wrecked or damaged vehicles covered under 1st or 3rd party coverage to insist on repair over fair market replacement value. Subsection (3)(a)2. provides as follows:

P1010046-1-300x225Our firm represented a gentleman who sustained life-threatening injuries after being struck by an SUV while standing next to his incapacitated truck on the side of Interstate 95 in Broward County, Florida. (See blog photo.) The accident happened in broad daylight during rush hour traffic.

Following a tire blowout, our client had pulled his semi-tractor trailer rig into the highway gore, a paved section of roadway which separated northbound I-95 thru-lanes from two exit lanes, to await the arrival of roadside assistance summoned by his employer to replace the tire. The roadside assistance vehicle that arrived on the scene was owned and operated by an independent contractor. Essentially, it was a beat up old jalopy — see photo — that was not equipped with any warning lights of the type highway drivers have come to expect, and its small factory hazard lights were partly obscured by a rear metal door  lowered to access the truck bed. It pulled up directly behind the trailer, blocking the trailer’s warning lights and hazard strips.

As our client was standing next to the service technician, who was in the process of changing the tire on the left side of the trailer, both he and the technician were struck by a northbound vehicle whose driver had failed to timely recognize that the vehicles were stopped rather than moving with the regular flow of traffic. At the last split second this driver recognized the situation and swerved sharply to avoid striking the service vehicle. His vehicle clipped the left rear of the vehicle before striking the two gentlemen. His vehicle was totaled and each of the three individuals were transported to the hospital with severe injuries.

We sued the driver and the roadside assistance company. Our allegations against the company included the failure to employ adequate safety warning devices on its vehicle. Through research in this and other cases, we knew that daylight crashes involving disabled vehicles are commonplace. Among the explanations for the phenomenon are the theories known as “follow-the-leader” and “looming distance.” They rely on human perception and reaction to various roadway situations. (In 2013, we were involved in obtaining a $2.7 million jury verdict, in Orlando, Florida, in reliance on the “looming distance” theory. In broad daylight under clear weather conditions, our client drove a Disney bus into the back of a large motor coach stopped on the highway for mechanical reasons. The motor coach’s hazard lights were on and it had been stopped long enough for the operator to exit and inspect the vehicle, then walk to the side of the road to make a phone call. Our client, who was not distracted and did not have any visual impairments, had a 1/4 mile unobstructed view as he approached on a straightaway. Because of “looming distance” factors, he was not able to realize until the accident was unavoidable that the motor coach was stopped rather than moving.)

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Countless times we have prepared witnesses to give sworn testimony. At the very outset we go over the basic rules: 1. Listen carefully to each question and make it is fully understood before answering; 2. Only answer the question asked. If that can be done with a simple yes or no, answer accordingly. If an explanation is required, be short and sweet with it. Do not jump onto a soapbox and give a speech; 3. Do not be a wise guy or hostile to the questioner. If, for whatever reason, the question is inappropriate the witness’ lawyer will make an objection, and, if necessary, instruct the witness not to answer (e.g., where attorney/client communications are involved); 4. BE TRUTHFUL!!!

On June 13, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee25 Times Jeff Sessions Had a Convenient Memory Lapse While Testifying. In our considered opinion, AG Sessions violated all of the above rules, especially #4.

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ny-worker-268x300Workers hurt on the job do not have an unlimited period of time in which to institute legal proceedings against employers and their insurance companies, herein collectively referred to as the “E/C,” to resolve disputes. Rights can be lost if not exercised timely.

Florida statute 440.19 allows for the filing of a petition for benefits — which is how legal proceedings are instituted under Florida’s workers’ compensation system — up to the greater of two 2 years after the date on which the employee knew or should have known that the injury or death arose out of work performed in the course and scope of employment or one year from the payment of any indemnity benefit or the furnishing of remedial care.

Under certain circumstances these SOL deadlines can be extended. For example, where the E/C, intentionally or otherwise, misleads the claimant as to his rights or the availability of workers’ compensation benefits with the result that the claimant fails to timely file his claim, the E/C will be estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense. Boyd v. Florida Memorial College, 475 So.2d 990 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985); Foster Wheeler Energy Group v. Fairhurst, 405 So.2d 438 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981); Catalano v. Hillsborough County Board of Public Instruction, 249 So.2d 24 (Fla. 1971); Jenkins v. M.H. Harrison Construction Company, 228 So.2d 911 (Fla. 1969); Engle v. Deerborne School, 226 So.2d 681 (Fla. 1969); Howanitz v. Biscayne Electric, Inc., 139 So.2d 678 (Fla. 1962); Baptist Village v. Newton, IRC 2-3551 (1978), cert. denied, 368 So.2d 1362 (Fla. 1979).

The above examples are obvious. Other situations can be more subtle.

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Department-Brochure-WC-1-242x300Florida’s workers’ compensation statute of limitations is outlined in section 440.19, Florida Statues (2017). The statute is particular with regard to the requirements workers’ compensation insurance carriers must satisfy to prevail on the SOL defense. This blog points out an approach not addressed in the statute which is used by carriers to bar claims through the SOL defense.

Section 440.19 appears to condition its application on compliance with section 440.185, Florida Statutes. Section 440.185 subsection (3) provides as follows:

Within 3 days after the employer or the employee informs the carrier of an injury the carrier shall mail to the injured worker an informational brochure (italics added) approved by the department which sets forth in clear and understandable language an explanation of the rights, benefits, procedures for obtaining benefits and assistance, criminal penalties, and obligations of injured workers and their employers under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law.

One could conclude from reading sections 440.19 and 440.185, that a carrier’s failure to mail the informational brochure would absolutely prevent the SOL defense. Such is not the case. (Here is a link to the approved brochure: Florida Department of Insurance. Page one addresses the workers’ compensation statute of limitations.)

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worker2-300x223Section 440.13(5)(e), Florida Statutes (2016) limits who may give medical opinions in Florida workers’ compensation cases.

(e) No medical opinion other than the opinion of a medical advisor appointed by the judge of compensation claims or the department, an independent medical examiner, or an authorized treating provider is admissible in proceedings before the judges of compensation claims.

The limitation tends to impair injured workers more than it does employers and their workers’ compensation insurance companies (collectively referred to as E/C). The reasons have to do with doctor selection and money.

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scales-of-justice-300x203Forty plus years of misleading Big Business propaganda has left the American public with the false impression that bringing a personal injury lawsuit comes without risk to the plaintiff. People have come to believe, sometimes with righteous indignation, that most lawsuits are frivolous and result in the recovery of undeserved compensation without any negative consequences for falling short of the mark.

The truth tells a different story.

From defense attorneys to trial judges to deeply cynical juries to courts of appeal and rules and statutes, Plaintiffs seeking their day in court with the simple aim of being made whole for being wronged face a host of hazards and hurdles enough to challenge the courage, strength, and fortitude of the toughest among us.

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cemetery1-300x200Liability insurance policies issued in Florida that provide coverage for personal injuries contain a per person/per occurrence provision. The provision declares the limits of coverage available under the policy.

The Florida Wrongful Death Act outlines who may be compensated for the wrongful death of a person caused by the intentional act or negligence of a third party. The Act refers to these individuals as “Survivors.” Section 768.18(1) Florida Statutes (2016). (Link to this page to see a “Survivors” chart.)

As the chart shows, there can be multiple Survivors in a single case. How does the per person/per incident provision apply to the situation involving more than one survivor?

In Jones v. Zagrodnik, Dean Jones was killed in a collision with a negligent Roger Zagrodnik. Zagrodnik was insured by Home Insurance under a $100,000 per person/$300,000 per occurrence policy. There were three “Survivors.” The Fifth District Court of Appeal limited their recovery to a total of $100,000, reasoning that their claims were derivative from the deceased and fell under the per person limit of the policy.

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scales-of-justice-300x203There is great strength in numbers. You realize that as an advocate for injured workers and a strong defender of civil justice in our state. This is the primary reason why the Florida Workers’ Advocates and the Florida Justice Association have joined forces to stand up for working people at the State Capitol and throughout Florida in a unified manner.

Whether the focus is on the manner in which rates are established or the denial of medical treatment and related benefits for injured workers, the overwhelming theme is that the workers’ compensation system has been skewed in favor of big business and the insurance industry for far too long. We have all represented individuals who have been harmed by this fractured system.

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fox-292x300NCCI is the only entity that proposes rate increases/decreases to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). It is a private company that does not owe a fiduciary responsibility to the state’s residents. NCCI does not divulge its methodology or source information, calling it “proprietary.”

In 2016, the workers’ compensation insurance industry sent marching orders to NCCI to make the case for a dramatic increase in premiums charged to business owners. The case was presented to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and resulted in a 14.5% rate hike.

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