Articles Posted in General Legal

Over the last year, we have read many news stories and seen various advertisements related to California’s medical malpractice cap. A ballot initiative, Prop. 46, aimed to raise the current cap to $1.1 million and to allow for inflation adjustments. However, California residents “overwhelmingly voted down Proposition 46,” according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to voting against the medicameical-malpracticel malpractice cap increase, Californians also voted down an initiative that would have “required routine drug and alcohol testing for hospital doctors,” thereby reducing the number of preventable injuries in hospitals.

Background of the Medical Malpractice Cap Initiative

file481287608833 (3)Sky-High Ambulance Costs Deter Injury Victims

When you have sustained an injury in a severe accident, it is important to seek immediate medical care.  Only a trained healthcare professional can assess the severity of your injuries, and this assessment can be essential to winning a personal injury lawsuit in Southern California.  Yet the high price of an ambulance ride can deter injury victims from seeking immediate treatment after an accident.  Should ambulance bills really cost such a high price?  And why are they not covered by all health insurance plans?

An article in the New York Times reported that a swim instructor in La Jolla, California sustained an injury in the pool where she worked, and another person at the facility called 911 for an ambulance.  The victim, Kira Milas, 23, had “swum into the side of the pool, breaking three teeth.”  The ambulance arrived, and it took Milas to Scripps Memorial Hospital.  Paramedics applied a neck brace as a precautionary measure.  While Milas is one of the lucky accident victims who did not necessarily require an ambulance trip to the hospital, her story about the massive ambulance bill is all too common in Southern California and, indeed, across the country.

What should you look for when deciding on a California drug rehabilitation facility?  In many cases, consumers believe the higher the price of the facility, the better the care.  However, many high-end drug rehabilitation facilities in Southern California have victimized patients, and a number of them sustained serious and fatal personal injuries.  Should you look, instead, to see whether a facility has been accredited?  How about facilities that have been licensed and/or certified by the state?

Needles & Therapy
A lot of terms exist to suggest that a facility provides high quality care.  Yet it’s important to remember that neither the price tag associated with a facility, nor its accreditation or certification status, can promise a safe environment for a loved one battling addiction.

Drug Rehab Facility Safety in California

When we hear about high-end drug rehabilitation facilities, many of us assume that paying high prices for treatment means a higher quality of care.  However, even the most expensive, high-end facilities can pose dangers for our loved ones when they’re in need of proper treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.  To be sure, abuse and preventable injuries occur with surprising frequency at high-end drug rehab centers.

Pills

Rehab Facilities with a History of Abuse

Are high-end drug rehabilitation facilities really places where patient safety is a serious issue?  Unfortunately, abuse can occur anywhere, and patient injuries and deaths can result.  In some cases, employees at these kinds of facilities commit sexual abuse and violence against patients.  In other cases, there’s just a poor quality of care, and preventable injuries happen.

Under certain circumstances, federal statutes limit a plaintiff’s damages in some way. Of course, first it is important to understand the different types of damages

Types of Damages

Compensatory damages are intended to make up for an injury sustained by a victim. There are two basic types of compensatory damages: actual and general. Actual damages compensate the victim for any money they paid out of pocket for medical treatments, lost wages, property replacement, and rehabilitation as a result of their injury. General damages include mental anguish, disfigurement, future medical expenses, future lost wages, long-term pain and suffering, loss of consortium and loss of opportunity.

Premises liability holds the owner or occupant of a piece of property legally responsible for any accidents or injuries that occur on the property. One recurring premises liability situation occurs when members of the public are injured on or by governmental property. A large number of properties, which many people will not consider, are government-owned, including public parks, government office buildings, public sidewalks, and bridges. Injuries on government property may also result from defects on a public sidewalk, faulty traffic signal, improperly cleared ice, or a cut from broken playground equipment. caution.png

“Sovereign immunity” previously protected governments from lawsuits. Now, the federal government and many state governments, including California, have tort claims acts that allow the government to be sued and found liable in a limited number of circumstances. Determining which tort claims statute applies will depend upon whether the injury resulted on or by federal government property, state government property, or local government property.

Under the California Tort Claims Act, the victim is required to file a claim against the state or local government entity within six months of the injury. If the victim misses the deadline, a claim may still be allowed but only in very limited circumstances. After the claim is filed, the government has 45 days to respond. If the government fails to respond to the claim, it is treated as rejected and the victim has six months to file a lawsuit. If the governmental entity fails to notify the victim of a decision within 45 days, then the victim has 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. Under the California Tort Claims Act, the victim cannot recover punitive damages and the governmental entity can elect to make installment payments if it does not have commercial insurance.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent U.S. government agency tasked with regulating the sale and manufacture of more than 15,000 different consumer products, compiled information based upon medial reports regarding child drownings in pools and spas during the summer of 2012. One-hundred thirty-seven children under the age of fifteen years drowned in a pool or spa during the traditional summer swimming seas from Memorial Day to Labor Day during 2012.

In addition, one-hundred sixty-eight children, aged fifteen or younger, required emergency responses for near-fatal incidents in pools or spas during the same period. Specifically, during the summer of 2012, California had ten children under the age of fifteen drown in a pool or spa. While these figures cover only the summer of 2012, it is important to remember that with many indoor community pools, hotel pools and outdoor pools in warm-weather areas like southern California, the danger has does not necessarily end with summer. Typically, there are 390 pool or spa-related drownings that occur each year for children younger than fifiteen, based on statistics from the last few years. About 5,200 pool or spa-related emergency department treated submersion injuries occur each year for children younger than fifteen.

The Consumer Product Safety Commissions statistics indicate that fifty-four of the child drownings occurred soon after the children left an adult who was in their immediate vicinity. In addition, thirty-one children drowned despite the presence of others at the pool.

A California torts lawyer and a devastated family’s dogged pursuit of an unprecedented legal claim ended in a $2.37 million settlement after more than five years. The LA Times reports that In 2006,18-year-old Nicole Catsouras took her father’s Porsche out for a high-speed joy ride. She lost control of the vehicle when she clipped another car and crashed into a tollbooth. The teenager was killed on impact. The crash was so severe, and the damage to Nicole’s body so gruesome, that authorities did not allow the grieving parents to view her body after the accident. Unfortunately, the death of their daughter was only the beginning of a long and horrific nightmare for the Catsouras family.

At the scene of the crash, officers from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) took photographs of Nicole’s mangled body, presumably for some kind of investigative purposes. The pictures show that the accident nearly took her head off and left her covered in blood. Those photographs were never supposed to have been seen by anyone outside the department. However, for reasons that are not clear, two officers subsequently leaked them on the internet. In the aftermath of the leak, the Catsouras family had to endure knowing that the pictures of their once-beautiful daughter were available for the world to see and comment on. They also received anonymous letters in the mail. The letters maligned their parenting abilities, criticized their daughter, and made cruel comments about the grisly pictures.

The Catsouras family spent a great deal of time, money, and effort trying to get the pictures taken down. Sometimes, they were successful in getting websites to remove the pictures, only to have them pop up on other sites a few days later. Finally, feeling that their efforts were futile, the family filed a suit against CHP. The California invasion of privacy lawsuit was originally dismissed by an Orange County Superior Court judge on the grounds that the CHP had not breached any legal duty owed to the family. Our San Diego injury lawyer knows that at that time, California tort law did not allow an invasion of privacy claim for survivors. However, Nicole’s parents refused to give up, and in 2010, an appeals court reversed the dismissal of the claim and officially recognized the right for surviving family members to sue for invasion of privacy in cases involving photographs of their deceased loved ones.

The number one question most personal injury lawyers get from clients is “what is my case worth?” It’s a delicate question that requires a delicate answer. No honest attorney can answer that questions with absolute accuracy, and the truth is that ten juries might give an injured plaintiff ten different verdicts.

The difficulty in valuing personal injury cases usually because general damages are so difficult to value. General damages are commonly referred to as “pain and suffering” damages, but are really much more than just the pain and suffering someone has endured due to a personal injury accident. Indeed, the California jury instructions describes those damages to include shock, anxiety, worry, embarrassment, disfigurement, grief, fear, the loss of enjoyment of life, in addition to pain and suffering. There is no set value on general damages and these damages are determined on a case by case basis.

An ongoing case here in San Diego illustrates the difficulty in valuing pain and suffering damages in injury and death cases. In 2008, a Navy jet malfunctioned and crashed into a suburban San Diego neighborhood. The crash was tragic, and claimed the lives of four people, the wife, mother-in-law, and two infant children of Don Yoon, who was not in the home at the time. As a result of the crash, Yoon sued the Navy, who has admitted its liability for the accident. The trial that began this week is simply about the value of the case.

sewage.jpgIn early September of this year, a power outage occurred at a San Diego sewage treatment center. The outage caused a malfunction in the sewage treatment plant’s operations, which resulted in sewage leaking out into several San Diego area water bodies. As a result, miles of beaches had to be closed to the public because of the risk of water contamination leading to disease. When the leak initially occurred, the city of San Diego alerted the public, but they failed to provide accurate information as to the severity of the leak and how much sewage had actually escaped.

According to NBC San Diego, the city has now released an updated estimate of how much sewage leaked from the plant. Overall, the city is now reporting that approximately 3.5 million gallons of sewage leaked into various area bodies of water, including the Sweet Water River and the San Diego Bay. This number is 60% higher than what was originally reported.

In situations like this, it is hard to determine whether the initial reports were intentionally misleading or were just the result of miscalculations or mistakes. However, regardless of why the initial numbers were wrong, the fact remains that the spill was very hazardous to human health and life. Certainly, a big question going forward is how the city can change its plant’s operations in order to ensure that a mere power outage does not cause such a dangerous situation in the future. But for any victims who fell ill as a result of the San Diego sewage leak, the more pressing questions are why this happened and who was responsible.

Raw sewage contains a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause a number of different diseases and, in some cases, even death. This is precisely why the job that sewage treatment plants are supposed to perform is so important. Without being treated, the bacteria and viruses in raw sewage would live on and eventually contaminate water supplies and make a lot of people very sick. The types of illnesses and injuries that can result from exposure to water that is contaminated with sewage vary. Some of the symptoms associated with the more common diseases like Tetanus, Hepatitis A, and Leptospirosis include fever, chills, stomach cramps, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The victims who were affected by this recent sewage leak should see a doctor immediately, especially if they have suffered any of these symptoms. Some of the illnesses caused by sewage leaks can continue to affect the victims for many years afterwards, so it is important for victims to identify whether or not they are still infected, even if their symptoms have lessened or gone away.

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