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April 2010 Archives

April 30 - No Phone Zone Day

Tomorrow is Oprah's national no phone zone day. Oprah continues to promote her campaign aimed at curtailing the use of cell phones while driving.Tomorrow she will do interviews and listen to stories from those who have compelling stories of how cell phones use while driving has caused serious injury and family tradgedy. We beleive that this awarenss program continues the long needed attention aimed  at convincing the public about the dangers of this activity. I have blogged on this topic before and posted details on the Oprah Pledge on our Facebook page. If you have not already done so please take the Oprah Pledge and make your promise to avoid or limit the use of your cell phone while behind the wheel. Oprah Pledge Dennis F Feeley

Hospital Infection Rates Rise

A recent story in the Express Times , once again, brought to light the problem hospitals are having with their infection rates. A recent government study found that  'very little progress' has occurred in reducing the incidents of hospital infections. This has been an ongoing problem for over a decade. Most infections are avoidable. Nothing can be worse then when someone goes to a hospital for medical care and gets sicker because of an avoidable infection.  As the article pointed out, under the new heath care plan hospitals could be penalized through lower medicare reimbursements  if these problems persist. According to the report:

Why is John Karoly still practicing law?

Many people who know that I have been practicing law for as long as John Karoly has, have asked me in disbelief, how he could still be practicing law this long after his conviction. (In July 2009 Karoly pled guilty to tax evasion and defrauding a church out of $500,000.) His sentencing was not scheduled until later this month. The question is how can a convicted felon still be allowed to practice law  -- not to mention why it is taking so long to sentence him? Most people I talk to assume that Karoly is so well-connected that he will never do jail time. There have been many incredulous lettes sent to the newspapers and to the Chief of the Pa. Disciplinary Board speculating on how and why this has happened. In fact, my long-time partner and friend Martye Cohen, wrote one of those letters and received a response from the Disciplinary Chief himself agreeing that this should not be happening and that changes were being considered. Accordingly a rule change has been proposed that would prevent this from happening in the future. Let's examine the current Rule 214 of the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement. These rules set forth the penalties and act as the enforcement provisions for violations of the Rules of Conduct.

Motorcycle Diaries Part 2

One the vagaries of motorcycle insurance which often comes back to haunt bikers   regards uninsured/underinsured coverage. As I indicated in my last Motorcycle Diary blog, motorcycle insurance is in many ways different then your auto insurance. I know getting injured is the last thing you want to think about, but lets face it the statistics are against us, and usually it's not our fault. So when you get hurt you need to know that you are protected.     Uninsured/underinsured coverage is coverage that you buy to protect yourself  if the other guy doesn't have insurance or not enough insurance. This coverage also protects you if the other guy doesn't stop and flees the accident. This happens a lot, in fact it happened the other day with one of my clients. He was sideswiped as the car pulled out from the stop sign and made , yes a left turn, in front of him (see my previous blog on these stats). The car never stopped. Fortunately there was a video camera at the convenience store on the corner that captured the contact , but did not video enough of the car to get a plate number. My client, lets call him Joe, was seriously injured. His serious injury required surgery and he lost a lot of work. Good new, bad news for Joe. He had uninsured coverage but not enough to adequately compensate him for all his losses. Now here's the other important part. You can get additional coverage through your auto policy coverage if it has UM/UIM coverage too. But, to use this coverage (called stacking) you must be very careful. Most of the time your auto policy coverage will exclude stacking if the car and bike are not insured with the same company. In Joe's case they were not. Advice: Always select uninsured and underinsured coverage;  Always select the stacking option on your car policy, and even though you may save a few $$ by going with different companies -  don't. Finally, always ask the agent whether you have these stacking options available or call me for advice. Be safe, have fun and watch out for that left turn. Dennis F Feeley

Doctors continue to cry wolf!

How much longer do we have to hear the medical society cry that lawsuits are killing them, driving them out of the state and responsible for higher insurance rates?  No more. This morings Morning Call, Malpractice Suits Drop  , debunks this myth. There were 43% fewer lawsuites filed in 2009 then in 2003 as reported by the adminstrator for the courts in Pa.  Both Lehigh County and Nothampton County court administrators reported to the Call that filings are down in Med Mal cases. My partner Martye Cohen is quoted in the article as saying that there is no merit to the claims being made by the medical society. Also, even in those cases which have gone to trial, there are far fewer awards. In 2009, only 2 cases  out of 10 were won by the injured party in Lehigh and 0 were recorded in Northampton. I would like to leave you with some facts. Between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year (and 300,000 are injured) due to medical errors in hospitals alone. 8 times as many who are injured ever file a claim and 16 times as many suffer injuries as receive compensation.  Most doctors are skilled, decent, diligent and rarely, if ever, have contact with the legal system. Only a small percentage are responsible for all of the errors.  But the truth is that mistakes are made and just like everyone else, when they do, they should be held responsible. Dennis F Feeley

Bethlehem Public Safety Committee To Consider Cell Phone law

Just like the city of  Allentown our fair city of Bethlehem is considering a cell phone ban which will prohibit cell phone use while driving.  All of the specifics have not been released yet but the fine if you are caught would start at $50.  City Council refered it to the Safety Committee for further consideration. Texting or talking while driving can be as distracting as though a person has had several drinks. We have been encouraging everyone we know to take the Oprah Pledge (see previous post) promising that you will not use your cell at all or limit it to hands free devices. How many of you have had close calls with cell phone users or have almost caused an accident yourself ? I just had a call from a client, lets call her Ms. X., who told me she had just pulled off the road to talk with me because she was on her cell. Honest, I had nothing to do with it. Thanks Ms. X for giving us all a break and inspiring this post. Dennis F Feeley

Al Franken questions AG Eric Holder on NBC / Comcast merger

A lot has been said lately about this governments continued intrusion into matters best left to the balances of nature. Universal health care is akin to socialism and government regulation of wall street will be our downfall - at least some say. One thing for certain, the fewer choices we have as consumers, the more at risk we become. Al Franken put some tough questions to Eric Holder about the proposed merger of  NBC and Comcast. The third largest internet provider and one of the big three television networks want to partner-up.   Could that be good for the consumer? Maybe, but I have to wonder. We have been down this road many times before. Disney/ABC,  XM/Serius,  Merdoch/Fox,  AOL/Time Werner. I could go on. Have these mergers worked out. For the  most part no. My concern is that it, once again, puts us at the mercy of big board room decisions. I doubt that the merger would give us less choices,  but it could. Choices are what its all about. What if all you could get was vanilla and chocolate? Great if you are the guy that makes those flavors. Not so good for a guy like me that likes coconut.  Al Franken who worked for NBC for years and has given us shows like SNL is a comedic genius. He made his living working for NBC,  so if he is concerned then maybe we should be.  No joke - thanks Senator  for asking the tough questions.

Structured Settlements

A recent article in The Morning Call on predatory companies that prey on individuals who have been parties in legal proceedings is yet another example of the little guy being victimized.  When lawyers settle a case for a client that involves substantial amounts of money, their job is not over.  The next step is to protect the client's recovery by helping provide for the future through proper investment of those settlement proceeds. This type of financial planning is referred to as a Structured Settlement. Through careful planning and properly insured annuities a client's future medical needs and living expenses can be secured. Oftentimes clients are minors or infirmed or simply not capable of making these financial decisions. This type of planning leverages their money into the future with modest but very secure returns. It is important to note that the lawyers do not get paid anything more to provide this service, but it is their duty to assure that the proceeds they helped obtain are protected and invested wisely. This service is complex and requires much time and research. Frequently the court is required to approve the terms of these agreements. Oftentimes these Structures extend over the lifetime of an injured party. Historically, these types of Structured Settlements were untouchable and could not be accelerated, not even by the client. However, creative financial Wall-Street types have found ways to get around these non-acceleration provisions. Long after the lawyer is out of the picture they solicit these people through direct mailings and highly produced television advertisements that entice these people to sell them their Structured Settlements. They offer to buy them back from the companies the lawyer worked with to create some financial security. On its surface these "buy-backs" wouldn't necessarily be bad, if those companies were paying a fair price for them. Unfortunately, they do not as the article wisely pointed out. The immediacy of receiving a lump-sum cash payment is often too tempting for many people and they end up becoming victimized again. Frequently, when they sell out to these mercenary companies they give up what could make the difference between some financial security and certain hardship. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania, we have a statute that requires that the court approve these "buyouts." The trouble is that the court often doesn't have all the facts and appreciation of the person's situation or a full understanding of the consequences of the loss of that future certainty. The reported cases set forth in Mr. Yates article are perfect examples of how these companies work. Vinnie the loan shark would give them a better deal than these companies. They pay pennies on the dollar. Judge Zito was right on the money (literally) when he cited these companies as unconscionable and their practices usurious. When lawyers are contacted before these transactions take place we do everything within our power to discourage them, but sometimes the client has already become intoxicated with the gratification that the cash in hand will bring. As the article also points out, most of the time the money is not going to be used for a life necessity but for some consumer product such as a car. These practices should be regulated by State or Federal statutes setting limits on how much profit these companies can take out of the accounts of these victims. We need more judges like Judge Zito to set the tempo. Dennis F Feeley [email protected] Visit us on Facebook and become a fan

Motorcyclist Beware: Avoid Accidents

As a motorcycle rider and a lawyer with 30 years experience representing motorcycle riders, it is my obligation to remind everyone that the early days of spring can be the most dangerous on our roadways.  What experienced motorcycle rider hasn't experienced loss of traction, and yes, even an occasional loss of control when encountering all those loose stones and general all-around "crap" which are the reminders of the winter we just experienced.  It'll take a few rainstorms over several weeks for all of that debris to be washed away and the potholes to be repaired, so in the mean time be careful on those curves and pullouts.

The Center For Justice And Democracy

As the primary purpose of our posts are to keep our readers and clients apprised of consumer related issues taking place through our civil justice system  we would like to point all who are interested to the web site for the  Center For Justice and Democracy. Timely reporting on issues that are relevant to all Americans appear regularly. Whatever your point of view,  staying informed makes us all better Americans. We encourage dialoge and your comments. Dennis F Feeley

the dangers and pitfalls of social networking

"Social networking" refers to using online resources, such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others, to communicate with friends, colleagues, and strangers. Since you are reading this, you have at least one account with one or more of these sites where you have shared personal information. Social networking has many benefits: it allows you to connect with people outside of your geographic region, it allows you to reconnect with people with whom you have lost touch over the years, it allows you to spread your opinions, messages, etc. instantly across the internet, and it allows you the ability to communicate in a way no other outlet (letters, newspapers, even e-mail) offers. The social networking story is not always one of success or positive results though. One thing that people sometimes fail to appreciate is the vast number of people, most of whom are probably strangers to them, they are sharing their thoughts, opinions, and activities with when they post something on these sites. I often ask people these questions: Would you take out an advertisement in a newspaper or put up a billboard that discussed your personal feelings about someone else? Would you put a poster of you in some humiliating situation up at the mall or in a magazine for everyone to see? Chances are you would not. What everyone using social networking needs to recognize and understand is that when pictures, thoughts, opinions, and feelings are posted on these various sites, they are no longer your private thoughts and musing and they then become who you are to the world and how some people may define you as a person. Remember that one of the unique aspects of social networking, and one of the characteristics that makes social networking appealing, is that you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a great number of strangers who you otherwise would never meet. This means, however, that who you appear to be online is who you are to them, for better or worse. When we interact with people face to face, we use things like body language and voice inflection to convey the meaning behind our statements. Typing a comment in a blog or in a 'tweet' makes it much harder for you to add your own tone. Ok, you can use an emoticon ( ☺, ☹, etc.) but we can all agree this isn't the same. For this reason, you should think carefully about what you are going to post. Make sure the intention of your comment would be clear even to someone who doesn't know you or your sense of humor. Current employers, prospective employers, clients, customers, insurance companies, attorneys, and others could access your postings. At Cohen & Feeley, where we protect the rights of seriously injured individuals, our injured clients are routinely the subject of surveillance by an insurance company fighting their claims. One of the first places an investigator will search for information is the internet. Also, legally, statements you yourself make can be used against you in any potential legal proceeding. Before you post something online, think twice about how you would appear to someone else if someone you didn't intend to see your post read or saw it. You may have heard someone's horror story and thought to yourself that it couldn't happen to you. I bet the person who the horror story is about thought the same thing. Your first response to this suggestion might be to say, 'well, my profile or site is private so only the people I allow access can view it.' That may be partly true but can your private "friends" then share your pictures or comments with others, with people who are strangers to you? Of course they can. Additionally, you may inadvertently allow someone access to your page or information without being sure who they are. "Set to private" doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does. Further, if your goal in social networking is networking and building your connections, many of your posts are intended for public consumption. If this is the case, you should not post comments hastily. I understand that spelling errors on your Twitter post might not turn off a prospective client or customer. However, a post made in the heat of the moment or when you are in an emotional state might fail to accurately convey your true opinion or thought. My purpose in writing is not to bash social networking. On the contrary, I know that social networking is a wonderful opportunity to reach more people than anyone could reach in person. I am active on various networking sites and have benefited from my participation. I am extremely diligent, however, about where and what I post. I simply ask that you enjoy the benefits of social networking but please remain cautious about what you share with the world. Johnathan B. Acklen

WATCH OUT FOR JOE MAHER

The new ban on the use of cell phones in the City of Allentown is being challenged by a lawyer, yes a lawyer, but not one of my kind. Joseph Maher, Esq. has announced today that he will fight this new law which makes it illegal to text or use a non hands free cell device while driving. Joe thinks it is a bad law and has professed that he will drive up and down Hamilton street using his phone and flaunting its use to any policeman he sees. He also says he will represent, for free, anyone who is charged under this law. Way to go Joe. As a lawyer who has spent his life trying to make life a little safer for our kids I truly applaud Joe's ignorance. He obviously does not know the overwhelming statistics which are clear and convincing regarding the connection between texting and cell phone use and car accidents. True, we all love to multitask, but let's face it, the more things you try to do at the same time the more likely you will make a mistake at one of them. A child on a bicycle or elderly person crossing the street doesn't stand a chance if you are distracted for even a moment. Joe, Please give our kids a break. The Allentown City Council got it right this time and they should be given kudos for their bold action. Good job. If you see Joe in his car please beep since he is probably texting or checking his e-mail.
Dennis F Feeley Cohen & Feeley
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