Archive for April, 2009

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Jacksonville, Florida Boat Accident Still Being Investigated

April 30, 2009

Investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) continue to examine critical evidence to determine the cause of a Palm Valley Intracoastal Florida boat accident that left five people dead, and injured nine others.  Although the use of alcoholic beverages was previously suspected as a possible contributing factor to the accident, it has been ruled out as the primary cause of the accident.  A spokesperson for the FWC has said that the presumed driver of the boat had a blood alcohol level (BAC) below the legal limit of .08.

Many people have speculated that the number of people on the boat contributed to the accident.  The boat involved, a 21 foot Crownline, is not a large enough boat to safely accommodate 14 adults, according to Crownline’s website which says a similar boat is rated for 9 people and/or 1400 pounds.  Depending on the weight of the passengers, the boat in the accident could have been overloaded by as much as another 1000 pounds.  This would affect the handling and performance of the boat severely.

Florida Boat Accident Attorney Joseph M. Maus says a combination of factors could have led to the accident.  “For starters, loading down a 21 foot boat with 14 people is asking for trouble” Maus says.  Maus has 30 years experience operating boats ranging in size from 12 feet to 46 feet throughout South Florida, the Keys and Bahamas.  He specializes in bringing claims on behalf of people injured in Florida boating accidents from his Pompano Beach office.

Maus also says operator inexperience could have been a factor.  In fact, statistics have shown that operator inexperience is one of the major causes of Florida boat accidents.  One study showed that over 80% of all boating deaths occur on boats where the driver has not completed a boating safety education course.  In addition to operator inexperience, failing to wear a personal flotation device (PFD), also known as a life preserver, is one of the leading causes of boating deaths in Florida.  In Florida boat accident drowning deaths, more than 80% occurred when a person was not wearing a PFD.

“People think that because they can drive a car, they will have no problem operating a boat” Maus says.  “But the operating characteristics of a boat are so different; the navigational laws are different; the winds, tides, and other boat traffic all contribute to how and where a boat can be safely operated” according to Maus.

The activities associated with boating in Florida can also increase the likelihood of accidents. Boating activities range from cruising, water sports, diving, fishing, sailing, power boating such as Poker Runs, and many others.  All of these activities carry with them various safety regulations which can be easily overlooked when rushing to start the day’s events.  Depending on where the accident occurred, the activity that was taking place, and how the accident occurred, it can also be confusing as to where a claim can be brought for Florida boat accident injuries and deaths.

If you know someone that has been injured in a boating accident it is best to contact an experienced Florida boat accident lawyer to evaluate whether a claim exists.  Attorney Joseph M. Maus is a Florida native specializing in serious injury claims since 1993.  He is available for a free consultation at (866) 556-5529 or log on to http://www.jmmlawyers.com.

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Driver Distraction Causes Florida Car Accidents

April 24, 2009

The proliferation of the automobile has revolutionized the way Americans live, work, and play.  Every summer, millions of parents and kids eagerly drive off into the sun on a four wheeled adventure to an exciting vacation destination. From the fantastical wonderland of Disney World to the beautiful, sunny beaches of Miami, Florida  offers countless delights to roaming road trippers.

However, with convenience and freedom comes great responsibility. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety, there are more than 250,000 Florida car accidents annually. In 2007, over 3,200 Florida drivers lost their lives in traffic fatalities. More than 212,000 people were injured.

According to an article in the New York Times, there is surprisingly little data on the actual causes of car accidents.  Beyond the obvious causes such as speeding, running red lights, and drunk driving, it is difficult to determine what causes auto crashes. One of the few available studies, conducted by Virginia Tech, found that nearly 80 percent of crashes are caused by distractions that cause the driver to look away for less than 3 seconds. Driver drowsiness accounts for 20 percent of accidents.

If you are concerned about the health and safety of your family, you should take preventive measures to mitigate the risk of harm:

  1. Ensure every passenger is wearing a securely fastened seatbelt
  2. Keep both hands on the steering wheel
  3. Take your car in for regular maintenance, including brake check ups
  4. Check your blind spots before changing lanes
  5. Always scan the road ahead
  6. Leave plenty of space between your car and the car in front of you
  7. Don’t text or use a cell phone while driving

Despite the best preventive habits, even a skillful driver may have a car accident. Depending on the severity of the accident, the consequences may be life changing.

According to Joseph M. Maus, an AV – Rated South Florida lawyer specializing in Florida car accidents,  car accidents can result in serious injury or death, large medical bills, lost wages, and personal/marital stress.  The emotional stress and financial burdens caused by car accidents in Florida can be overwhelming and tragic especially in this economy.

If you or your loved ones suffer personal injury or damage to your property, a Florida car accidents lawyer can help ensure that your rights are respected and your interests are protected. In the case of an injury, an attorney can help you recover your damages against anyone who might be responsible for your injuries. If you have lost wages or incurred large medical expenses, this might be a great financial relief. An lawyer can also help negotiate with insurance companies, when professional representation can prevent you from being taken advantage of.

For more information about Florida car accidents, contact the Florida auto accident lawyers at Joseph M. Maus, P.A.at 1-866-556-5529 or email them today.

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Florida Car Accidents: Insurance Question

April 21, 2009

The following is an expert answer given by Florida Auto Accidents Lawyer, Joseph M. Maus, and taken from AllExperts.com, a free Q & A service on the internet:

Subject: Insurance Claim

Question: My friend and I were in a car accident. I was driving. My insurance contacted her and led her to believe that $25,000 was the max my policy covered when $50,000 is the max. They offered to pay her medical bills (except the air lift bill) and some compensation. In a panic, she signed the papers. Is there a period of time in this type of contract were she can change her decision? Should they cover the airlift (helicopter) charges?

Answer: I am in Florida, so I can only speak to how your friend signing the papers would affect her rights in regarding Florida car accidents.  I am assuming what she signed was a release which released the insurance company from any further claims by your friend against her own insurance company.  In Florida, in order for a release to be binding, there has to be a knowing and voluntary release of a known right.  If the insurance company misrepresented the policy limits to your friend, and she signed the release based upon the insurance company’s misrepresentation, she most likely has not knowingly and voluntarily given up known rights, i.e. she didn’t even know what the actual policy limits were, so there is no way for her to give up a right she doesn’t know about.    Additionally, an intentional misrepresentation made by a party (the insurance company) which is relied upon by another party (your friend) and which causes damages (giving up the right to collect another $25,000) can be considered fraud in Florida.  Fraud is another basis to invalidate a release signed between parties.   If she signed a release, a release is a contract between your friend and the insurance company. Contracts in Florida can be contested for 5 years after the contract is signed.  This is known as the Statute of Limitations.  Also, medical bills arising out of Florida car accidents are covered by Personal Injury Insurance Coverage (PIP) which is a mandatory insurance coverage for anybody that owns a car in Florida.  This type of coverage is separate from coverage for bodily injury.  It carries separate policy limits, usually $10,000.  The insurance company should pay for the air lift bill unless the PIP benefits were exhausted.  Air lift bills are usually very expensive though, so the PIP may have been exhausted.  My advice to your friend is to speak with an attorney that specializes in Florida car accidents as soon as possible.  There are certain insurance companies that will actually show up at the scene of an accident and have a driver sign a release before ever knowing what the true extent of their injuries and damages are.  In some of these cases, the release has been invalidated.  You and or your friend should contact an lawyer in your area that specializes in  car accident claims, and do it soon.  Most Florida car accidents lawyers handle the claims on a contingent basis, i.e. their attorney fees are a percentage of any money they recover for you.  If they don’t recover anything for you, you don’t owe anything. Most Florida car accidents lawyers also offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss whether you have a viable case.  If there is another $25,000 in coverage available, you and your friend probably have a case to pursue.  If you are in Florida, I would be happy to speak with you or your friend about your rights.  

For more information about Florida car accidents, contact the Florida auto accident lawyers at Joseph M. Maus, P.A.at 1-866-556-5529 or email them today.

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Florida Car Accidents: School Bus Injury Question

April 16, 2009

The following is an expert answer given by Florida Auto Accident Lawyer, Joseph M. Maus, and taken from AllExperts.com, a free Q & A service on the internet:

Question: My six year old son was injured in a school bus accident last year.  The driver did not slow down when turning and he was thrown in his seat, splitting his head open on the metal frame of the bus, requiring several staples to close.  The driver refused to stop and get medical attention for my son, stating to the kids on the bus that he had a schedule he needed to keep.    The driver was ultimately terminated as this was his 3rd incident in 36 months, and the bus company has admitted that he violated all protocols.  I have not obtained legal counsel at this time, and the third party administrator has said they are going to make us a settlement offer.  What do you think we can expect?  I want to make certain we are not being taken advantage of in our naivete for not hiring an attorney.  If the offer is way off-base, we would definitely hire a personal injury attorney.

Answer: Your email doesn’t say where you are from. Laws vary from state to state. I am in Florida and work with Florida car accidents, so I will try to give you a general perspective, but check with somebody in your area to get specific information about the laws in your state. The offer you may get from the insurance company depends on many factors.  Generally, an insurance company will pay settlement money for injuries caused by the negligence of its insured.  Your email doesn’t give any details about how fast the bus was going, or what caused your son to hit his head, but I’ll assume the driver was driving too fast for normal conditions, causing your son to be thrown into the metal frame.  Proving the driver was not operating the bus in a safe manner is the first threshold you’ll have to pass in order for an insurance company to be motivated to settle a claim.  The fact that the bus company fired the driver for this being the third incident definitely helps. Where were the staples placed?  Is there a scar?  Did your son have a shaved spot on his head where the staples were placed?  Does he have any residual problems from the injury such as headaches, emotional problems, etc, did he miss time from school?  It is difficult to estimate the settlement value of your claim without more information. Settlement values are affected by the issues raised above, the jurisdiction the claim is in, the insurance company you are dealing with, and the amount of medical bills incurred and/or whether there is a health insurance lien.  I have represented many people that thought they could settle their claim with the insurance company themselves, only to find out the insurance company only wanted to offer them nuisance value for their claim.  Keep in mind, insurance companies are multi-billion dollar, sophisticated enterprises that specialize in minimizing risk.  They know that they can settle claims of unrepresented persons for less than when an attorney is involved, and because of that will offer you far less if you are not represented.    You should speak with an attorney specializing in car accident cases in your area to maximize any settlement offer.  One of the first things you want to do is verify the type and amount of insurance coverage.  Most likely, a bus company transporting children is going to carry "medical payments" coverage which will allow up front money to pay for your out of pocket medical expenses. This money is separate from damages for pain and suffering, and to cover the injury itself.  Also, an experienced car accident lawyer is going to know the laws in your area and how best to proceed, and what damages are recoverable. Florida car accidents lawyers handle cases on a contingent basis which means if the lawyer does not recover any money for your claim, there is no charge for costs or attorney’s fees.  Most personal injury lawyers around the country also handle claims on a contingent basis.  If you are in the South Florida area, please give me a call at (866) 556-5529.  I have been specializing in personal injury claims including Florida car accidents for 16 years. If you’re in an area other than South Florida, I can probably still refer you to an experienced car accident attorney in your area.  Good Luck.

For more information about Florida car accidents, contact the Florida auto accident lawyers at Joseph M. Maus, P.A.at 1-866-556-5529 or email them today.

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Watch Out For Those “Dry Land” Cruise Ship Accidents!

April 15, 2009

Every year hundreds of thousands of passengers all over the world take to the seas for their vacation adventures. Usually cruises are leisurely events designed to help you relax and unwind from the stresses of job and home. You can do as much or as little as you want to do on a cruise. So, what could go wrong?

For starters, people are injured each year just getting onto the ship. Those walkways leading up the ship can be treacherous and people who are excitedly snapping pictures of loved ones embarking on their vacation can trip and fall or, worst case, go overboard before the ship has even left the dock (just ask the mother of the toddler who slid under the walkway railing and right off the gangway into the water below.) Cruise ship accidents can easily happen when passengers stumble or trip and fall in the hallways during the cruise, or when they pass by the wet pool areas. It has been reported that the Carnival Destiny left port on October 2, 2008 with an empty pool.  A passenger complaint indicates that there were no signs posted alerting passengers of the empty pool, and that only a flimsy net covered the pool.  One man reportedly dove into the pool unaware of the danger, landing on the cement bottom of the pool, and becoming seriously injured.

Cruise ship accidents also can happen when the ship leaves port and goes from calm waters to the choppier waters of the ocean or when the ship runs into storms along the way. The Carnival lines Splendor encountered 40 knot winds and rough seas on a November, 2008 voyage that had passengers rolling out of bed during the night.

It turns out that you aren’t even safe on dry land. Passengers can be injured while disembarking the ship to go on a tour in an exotic port, or when they are embarking onto a launch or tour bus, or even while walking around a tour site. Many examples can be found if you take time to read about cruises. The following are just some of the reports of cruise ship accidents taken from CruiseJunkie.com:

  • In March, 2008, a 44 year old woman from the cruise ship Norwegian Spirit, fell 65 feet to her death while on a cruise-sponsored zip line tour through the jungle in Roatan. At the time of the writing of the article, the cause had not been fully determined: either the harness holding her broke or the cabled zip line snapped.
  • On September 24, 2008, a 52-year-old woman drowned while on a cave tubing excursion in Belize. Strong currents pulled her to a cave wall and dragged her beneath the water.
  • On February 23, 2009, 16 passengers from the celebrity Cruise Lines, Summit, were injured on an excursion from the ship when their tour bus lost control and drove into a ditch.
  • On February 20, 2008, a 65 year old man died while on a snorkeling expedition off Cozumel, Mexico.
  • 5 passengers were killed and 4 were injured when a flightseeing aircraft went down in the waters off Ketchikan, Alaska, in August, 2007. The passengers were from the Holland American ship, Zuiderdam.

For people who are involved in cruise ship accidents, it may not be as easy to resolve the case by just filing a claim with a cruise line and wait for the claim to be paid. You should know that if you are injured while on a cruise, the laws that govern your claim are different than the laws that apply on dry land. You should definitely not try to handle the claim yourself – you should hire a competent attorney about any cruise ship accidents. Joseph Maus, a Florida cruise ship accident lawyer says, "depending on when and where your accident occurs, your claim may be controlled by Florida law, Federal Maritime law, or a law from a foreign port. Accidents and injuries which occur on Cruise Ships can be won and lost on requirements which apply only to Cruise Ships. Take a look at your Cruise Ticket for some of these "special" requirements".

  • For example, Maus says:
    "Cruise lines often insert special provisions into their passenger tickets that shorten the time in which a passenger may file a law suit against the cruise line to one year. (The normal statute of limitations for admiralty and maritime matters is three years; for a typical car accident claim it is four years!)".
  • These same provisions generally require you to give notice of a claim for injury or death due to negligence against the cruise line within 6 months!
  • Maus also says: "Cruise lines also designate within their passenger tickets the only location where they can be sued. (Take a look at the tiny print on the back of your ticket). Most of the major cruise lines are based in Miami, Florida and designate Miami, Florida as the location where they must be sued." This means that if you live in Maine and vacation on a cruise, you may have to litigate in Miami at considerable cost and time to you.

Enjoy your cruise vacation and have a great time. But, be aware that if you are injured while on your vacation, you need to talk to an experienced cruise ship accident lawyer as soon as you get back to dry land so you can protect your rights.

For more information about cruise ship accidents and advice about accident claim, contact cruise ship accident lawyer Joseph M. Maus at 1-866-556-5529 or email him today.

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Tragic St. Johns, Florida, Boating Accidents Highlights Dangers Of Boating

April 14, 2009

A tragic accident on the St. Johns River near Jacksonville, Fl occurred late afternoon on April 12, 2009, killing 5 people and injuring 9 others onboard the boat.  The accident happened when a 22 foot Crownline crashed into the rear starboard of a 25 foot “push tug” tied to a pier approximately one mile north of the Palm Valley Bridge, an area known as the “Ditch”.  Both the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) are investigating the cause of the crash.

This tragic accident highlights the dangers involved in boating.  Florida leads the Nation in boating fatalities according to statistics compiled by the FWC.  The leading causes of boating accidents in Florida are: 

1.  Operator inattention;
2.  No proper look-out;
3.  Excessive speed;
4.  Operator inexperience;
5.  Careless/reckless operation;
6.  Machinery failure; and
7.  Alcohol use.

Initial reports confirm that operator inattention, no proper look-out, and operator inexperience may possibly have played a part in the St. John’s accident.  Jacksonville News.com has reported witnesses as saying the owner of the boat was not operating it at the time of the accident.  The accident occurred on a straight stretch of the Intracoastal waterway, and is believed to have occurred prior to sunset.  Investigators are also trying to determine whether alcohol consumption may have contributed to the accident as the boaters had previously been at a St. Augustine bar earlier in the day.

Additionally, the number of passengers in the boat may have played a part in the accident.  It is reported that the boat was carrying 14 people, which is more than Crownline’s website has the boat rated.  Florida Boating Accidents Lawyer, Joseph M. Maus, says a 22 foot boat carrying 14 people, would be difficult to control even for an experienced operator, especially when the boat is on a plane (traveling at speed).   Maus has owned and operated boats in Florida ranging from 12 to 45 feet over the last 30 years.  “A 22 foot inboard/outboard, loaded down with 14 people, is going to perform significantly different than it would normally perform with a lighter load.  The boat will be more difficult to steer, balance, and slow down.  Something as simple as a shift to one side of the boat by several of the passengers could contribute to loss of control of the boat.”  Maus specializes in representing persons seriously injured in Florida boating accidents, and has published articles on the dangers of boating in Florida.

Standard power for the Crownline 22 is the MerCruiser 5.0L engine with an Alpha outdrive rated at 220 hp.  With this powerplant, the boat planes in 3.9 seconds and tops out at 51 to 54 mph at 5000 rpm.  More information and specifications on the boat can be found at http://www.buildaboat.crownline.com/whatsnew/magazines/lakelandboating/216ls.php.

Maus says that a combination of factors could have contributed to the cause of the accident, beginning with the number of people, and the weight of the people,  in the boat.  “NTSB and FWC will conduct a comprehensive investigation of the accident to determine the factors which contributed to causing the accident”, Maus says.  Because of the number of boats on Florida’s waterways, Florida boating accidents are inevitably going to happen.  However, simple steps can be taken to minimize the likelihood of serious injury and death in Florida boating accidents:

1.  Always wear a PFD (personal flotation device);
2.  Take a boater safe operation course before getting behind the helm of a boat;
3.  Don’t overload a boat with passengers or gear;
4.  Familiarize yourself with navigational markers, and channels, for safe navigation;
5.  Never operate a boat under the influence of alcoholic beverages.

For more information about boating accidents in Florida, contact Florida boating accident lawyer Joseph M. Maus at 1-866-556-5529, log on to http://www.jmmlawyers.com, or email him today.

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Calculating Your Florida Impairment Rating

April 9, 2009

Florida’s workers compensation laws are sometimes difficult to understand.   “Workers Comp” allows a worker injured on the job to treat with doctors until the doctor decides that the injured worker has received all the care they need to return them to the workforce.  This is referred to as reaching MMI, short for maximum medical improvement.  When an worker injured in Florida is placed at MMI, they will be given an “impairment rating”.  Calculating a Florida impairment rating, and understanding what a Florida impairment rating means, can be confusing.

Florida Statute 440.15 sets forth the criteria for when and how to go through calculating a Florida impairment rating.  A treating doctor shall evaluate the condition of the injured worker after the worker has been placed at MMI, or 6 weeks prior to the expiration of temporary wage benefits (usually 104 weeks from the date of accident).  The doctor is required to establish an overall MMI date, and assign a permanent impairment rating.  The doctor can assign anywhere from 0% to over 20%.  The higher percentage rating given corresponds to how serious an injury the worker suffered.    The doctor will place a statement on the medical record which says “the injured worker has sustained a 5% (or whatever the percentage rating is) whole person impairment rating”.  A rating of 20% or higher may mean the injured worker is permanently and totally disabled from returning to work.

Florida Statute 440.15(3) also states that the impairment rating should be made by a licensed medical, osteopathic, chiropractic or podiatric doctor, and should be based upon the Florida Uniform Permanent Impairment Rating Guidelines.  The rating guidelines use numerous criteria to assess the severity of a person’s injury.  The guidelines allow for the assessment of an impairment rating for things like restricted range of motion, broken bones, surgically treated injuries, psychiatric or psychological injuries, aggravation of pre-existing injuries, and many other injuries and restrictions a person can suffer on the job.  The actual guidelines are over 100 pages so assigning calculating a Florida impairment rating can be difficult.

An impairment rating is used for two purposes.  The first reason an impairment rating is assigned is it entitles the injured worker to more money.  Florida Statute 440.15(3)(g) states the impairment benefits are to be paid out as follows:

1. Two weeks of benefits are to be paid to the employee for each percentage point of impairment from 1 percent up to and including 10 percent.
2. For each percentage point of impairment from 11 percent up to and including 15 percent, 3 weeks of benefits are to be paid.
3. For each percentage point of impairment from 16 percent up to and including 20 percent, 4 weeks of benefits are to be paid.
4. For each percentage point of impairment from 21 percent and higher, 6 weeks of benefits are to be paid.

The benefit, or amount of money, to be paid is calculated at 75% of your normal compensation rate.

As indicated above, if your rating is 20% or higher, you are presumed to be permanently and totally disabled from working, and should be entitled to receive workers compensation wage benefits up to the age of 65.

Calculating a Florida impairment rating is an important part of the workers compensation process.  Receiving an impairment rating means that you most likely have been returned to work by your doctor, and it means you are entitled to more money.  It is also the time when most insurance companies become motivated to settle your workers compensation claim.

If you need help calculating a Florida impairment rating, contact experienced Florida work accident compensation attorney Joseph M. Maus at 1-866-556-5529 for a free, no-obligation consultation, email him today, or log on to http://www.jmmlawyers.com for more information. Mr. Maus has been representing injured workers in Florida for close to 17 years.

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