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The Social Security Administration issued a final program uniformity rule that, among other things, will now require that the claimant inform Social Security or submit all relevant medical evidence to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review at least five (5) business days prior to the administrative law hearing for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income cases. The new rule also extends the notice that Social Security is required to give claimants for their hearing date from twenty (20) days to seventy five (75) days prior to the hearing. This rule became effective on January 16, 2017 and will be enforced starting May 1, 2017.

The rule was revised to create nationally uniform hearing and Appeals Council procedures and improve accuracy and efficiency in the administrative review process. Social Security anticipates that this new rule will positively impact their ability to manage workloads and lead to better public service. The requirement to notify or submit all evidence five (5) business days prior to the hearing has been in effect in the Boston region since 2006.

The rule on its face makes sense. You give claimants more advanced notice of their hearing and they should be able to have all the evidence identified or submitted to the Administrative Law Judge within the timeframe of the rule. This will allow the Administrative Law Judge the opportunity to make a decision faster and effectively help work through the backlog of people waiting for hearings. As it currently stands, most people have to wait roughly 15-20 months from the date they request a hearing before actually getting a hearing date. But will it be that easy to comply with the rule and will this rule help reduce the backlog and create more efficiency?

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red-traffic-light-1420601In 2009, the City of Memphis joined several other Tennessee cities in its use of red light cameras. These cameras can capture images that are used to fine drivers who run red lights at some of the City’s busiest intersections. The cameras work by taking by taking multiple high resolution photographs of a vehicle as it enters the intersection under a red light.

Red light cameras are also used in many other states and cities. When functioning properly, they use a motion sensor detector that is activated when a car passes the stop bar at an intersection after the traffic signal has turned red. Once the car passes the stop bar, multiple images of the vehicle are taken. The first picture is of the vehicle immediately prior to entering the intersection. It shows the vehicle before the intersection along with the red traffic signal. A second image is of the car in the middle of the intersection with the signal still red. In addition to these still photographs, the cameras can record video of the intersection.

The evidence from the cameras is reviewed by a private company that a municipality has contracted with to operate the cameras. Evidence is also reviewed by the police department in order to determine if a violation has occurred. Once this determination has been made, the registered owner of the vehicle is mailed a Notice of Violation along with a civil fine. Civil fines based on evidence obtained from red light cameras have been upheld by Tennessee Courts.

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old-house-3-1204887According to the most recent study by the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to over 1,345,500 fires in 2015 across the United States.  As a result of these fires, there were a total of 15,700 civilian injuries and 3,280 civilian deaths.  Additionally, fires in 2015 resulted in over $14.3 billion in direct property loss.  Of the 3,280 civilian deaths, 78% of these deaths occurred in the home.  Across the nation, a civilian died in a home fire every three hours and 25 minutes in 2015.  Of the 15,700 fire injuries reported, 71% of these injuries occurred in the home resulting in a fire related injury every 47 minutes across the U.S.

Unfortunately fires happen.  Tennessee currently ranks sixth in the nation for fire mortality rates.  In the most recent report by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office, 60 fatal fires were recorded in 2015 that resulted in 72 deaths.  While the cause of most of the fires is unknown, it is believed that smoking, electrical work, heating units, and cooking led to the most structure fires in 2015.

Whether these fires were intentional, “acts of God,” or caused by the negligence of the property owner, everyone should know what avenues of recovery are available to them. Survivors of a fire may experience permanent burns and disfigurement, such as third degree burns.  If you are injured in a structure fire, you may have a claim against the homeowner’s insurance liability coverage on the property.  It is important to note that the cause of the fire is a very important factor when deciding whether a homeowner’s liability coverage will cover an injured party’s injuries.  Intentional acts by the owner and acts of God generally will not be covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy.  However, if the owner acted negligently and a fire resulted, then you may have a valid claim against the owner’s policy.

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Who can imagine anything more nightmarish than having a family member or loved one killed, not by some unknown rogue assailant, but by the very people hired to protect the public? Many businesses that welcome customers hire private security companies to protect their property and customers from theft or attack. Although the vast majority of private security guards provide excellent protection and ensure an extra layer of safety to the public, situations can sometimes turn deadly when danger arises or guards are not being adequately trained and supervised. These situations are commonly referred to as inadequate or negligent security.

A night of holiday partying and merriment recently turned deadly at the O’Cielo Mexican Bar & Grill in Memphis, Tennessee, when shots rang out at the restaurant on December 14, 2016. News reports revealed that party attendees were shooting toward the bar when a private security guard, David Alexander, returned fire and hit two victims who were not the initial shooters. One of the victims, a 43-year-old man, died at the scene, and the other victim was critically injured. The security guard has since been arrested and charged with reckless homicide, aggravated assault, and acting as a guard without a license. The criminal case is currently pending before the Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee.

When sudden catastrophic events arise, few people, amidst all of the grief and heartache, consider the full breadth of legal options for justice – justice that may extend beyond the criminal court realm. In civil court, loved ones of a deceased victim may have claims against the shooter or company that hired him under theories of agency, negligent hiring, or negligent training. Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one killed so tragically, many times the individual shooter does not possess sufficient assets to satisfy a wrongful death verdict in court. Thus, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation into the conduct of the business owner and/or private security company to gauge whether their conduct led to the loved one’s death.

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Gone are the days of smoke-filled restaurants and most smoke-filled public places. In part because of the well-known surgeon general warning labels on cigarette packages, TV commercials warning about emphysema and lung cancer, and large judgments against the tobacco industry, an increasing number of cigarette smokers have turned to electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”) as an alternative to smoking tobacco. Many consumers likely expected the e-cigarette to be a harmless, or at least safer, option. Surprisingly however, some e-cigarettes have proven to be extremely dangerous and have caused severe and permanent injuries. This has caused an increase in product liability litigation across the country.

A recent Associated Press article reported that there has been a steep increase in e-cigarette explosions in the last few years. The article reports that the explosions have likely been caused by the batteries which were manufactured in China. One of the injured victims sustained severe third-degree burns to her leg. Another victim was a boy who suffered from partial loss of sight. The article also discusses a victim who sustained permanent burns after an e-cigarette explosion in 2015 won a verdict of $2 million from a California court.

Another recent article reported that a group of four injured victims have filed suit in New Jersey against the sellers of e-cigarettes that exploded “like a rocket.” One person who was injured by an e-cigarette explosion suffered third degree burns, has been unable to work for several months, and needs surgery to implement skin grafts. These instances and others have caused major liability problems for the companies producing and selling the e-cigarettes. While the lawsuit names the manufacturers as defendants, the plaintiffs realize the difficulty of a successful claim against the manufacturers as they are located in China.

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Distracted drivers account for an alarming number of car crashes each year. The National Safety Council estimates that one particular distraction, cell phone usage, causes more than 1.6 million automobile accidents each year alone. In fact, one out of every four auto accidents in the United States is caused by texting while driving. New drivers, such as teenagers, are even more likely to text and drive, and 11 teens die each day as a result of texting while driving. It is well known that distracted driving accidents can be fatal.

With smartphone usage on the rise, many teens not only text and drive but also browse the internet, sign into their social media accounts like Facebook, and take photos while driving. Snapchat is one such social media application in which users create snaps, which are videos or photos (usually selfies), which can be edited with filters, captions, and the like. One such filter, the speed filter, has been under fire recently due to allegations that it encourages distracted drivers to not only use their phones to take photos or videos while driving, but to do so at dangerously high speeds. This speed filter basically allows users to share how fast they are traveling while they drive and take selfies to send to their friends.

While the Snapchat filter contains a general warning to not snap and drive, many drivers, particularly teens and young adults, disregard the warning. One such teen struck another vehicle while traveling at 113 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone because she was “just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.” Her negligence caused the driver of the other vehicle to suffer a traumatic brain injury which will require extensive treatment and high medical bills.

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An event for teens in ended tragically in the death of two young men, ages 18 and 14, when shots rang out, just as parents were picking up their children from the event. A wrongful death lawsuit has since been filed, alleging claims ranging from negligence to inadequate security.

The shooting occurred outside of a business known Club Blu in Fort Myers, Florida. The club, which did not serve alcohol, was promoting and hosting events for teens. On the night in question, two young men died of gunshot wounds and sixteen others were injured, including children as young as 12 years old. Police have since arrested three suspects believed to be involved in the shooting.

Understandably, many of the victims and their families are now represented by attorneys and seeking compensation for their injuries. The men believed to have committed the crime, however, are not the only ones that may have legal responsibility for what happened that night.

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girl-with-smart-phone-1616794Apple likely expected to profit at the expense of their rival Samsung’s recent misfortunes with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, yet they recently found themselves to be the target of a lawsuit due to an allegedly overheated iPhone 6. Stacie Reasonover, a woman from Nashville, Tennessee, has sued Apple due to burns and scarring she suffered when she fell asleep with an iPhone 6-Plus on her chest and the phone overheated. According to the Complaint, the woman suffered permanent scars, including a scar on her right breast, as a result of this incident. The product liability complaint against Apple, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleges (1) strict liability for defective design and (2) negligent design and/or maintenance.

Given how inseparable people and their phones have become, it is not surprising that some people would fall asleep with a phone on top of them. Furthermore, it is not unusual for a person talking on a phone for a long period of time to feel the phone warming up, just as people with laptop computers in their laps for prolonged periods may feel the computer heat up. That a cell phone, especially while not in use, would overheat to the extent of causing burning and scarring, however, is much more serious and can cause highly visible and permanent injuries, including scarring.

When projecting the outcome of a product liability lawsuit like this, it would be helpful to know additional facts such as (1) how long the plaintiff had been using the phone before falling asleep, (2) how long she was asleep with the phone on her chest, (3) if she had experienced any problems with her phone overheating prior to this instance, and (4) how severe and/or permanent her injuries actually were.

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Generally speaking, four essential elements of negligence and hence most personal injury claims are:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty of care
  3. Causation of injury
  4. Damages

Damages may include medical bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, out of pocket expenses, and lost wages. In many car accident or personal injury claims, providing evidence of damages proves to be the most difficult element to satisfy, as physical and emotional damages may be difficult to measure and quantify into a dollar amount. However, economic or financial damages, such as lost wages, may be easier to calculate and document.
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Unfortunately, tens of millions of vehicles of numerous makes and models have been recalled due to the defective manufacture of airbags by Takata Corporation. These defective airbags are highly dangerous and can be deadly when deployed. They may rupture upon impact, spraying pieces of metal and shrapnel into drivers and passengers. While it is easy to see how traumatic injuries have been sustained in heavy T-bone and rollover car or truck accidents, these airbags can be just as dangerous in low impact wrecks and fender benders.

The airbag recall has affected vehicles manufactured by Acura, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Infiniti, among others. In May 2016, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expanded and accelerated the recall of the Takata air bag inflators when investigators confirmed the root cause behind the rupture of these airbags that has been linked to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellants in the inflators.  To date, nearly 70 million Takata airbag inflators are or will be under recall by 2019, making this the largest auto safety recall in the history of the United States.

On October 20, 2016, the NHTSA confirmed another crash fatality linked to the rupture of the recalled Takata airbag inflator, this time involving a 2001 Honda Civic.  The victim, 50 years old, died after sustaining serious injuries in a September auto accident. According to the NHTSA, certain Honda and Acura brand vehicles have been included in a higher risk category of Takata airbags, which means they are categorized as having a “substantially higher risk” of exploding after being deployed.  These vehicles’ airbags include a specific manufacturing defect which greatly increases the chance for a dangerous rupture.  Many people across the United States have sustained traumatic and life altering injuries, including permanent disfigurement, as a result of these airbags.

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