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Archive for May, 2012

Unsafe Idea: Legislator Proposes Raising PA Turnpike Speed Limit to 70 mph

A proposal to raise the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from 65 mph to 70 mph has been introduced by a legislator who argues that it makes sense because cars and roads today are safer than ever.

The problem is that’s ridiculous, based on all of the statistics that are available about vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities when it comes to higher vehicle speeds.

The bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by Rep. Joe Preston, D-Allegheny County, according to a story in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. The measure was passed by the House transportation committee by an 18-4 vote and it is now being reviewed by House Republican leaders, according to the paper.

Preston told the Patriot-News that the higher speed limit is warranted because road improvements on the Turnpike have made the highway safer over the years. “When you spend 15,000 to 18,000 miles a year on the turnpike, you notice the difference,” he told the paper. “All I’m trying to do is give them the [leeway] to make it 70 mph if they so choose in different spots. It doesn’t change it. It just gives them the opportunity to change it.”

The speed limit on most of the Turnpike is 65 mph since the limit was raised back in 1995-96. Some sections around urban areas and toll plazas have a 55 mph speed limit.

And while Preston’s belief that a higher speed limit is supported by better roads and safer vehicle design, critics say that’s hogwash.

A tractor-trailer enters Pennsylvania in this stock photo. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/benkrut

“The fact is pretty clear – if you raise speed limits on an urban or rural highway, more people will die,” said John Ulczycki, a vice president with the Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council.  ”That’s not my opinion. It’s a fact that is so every time we raise speed limits.”

Overall, there has been a significant decrease in traffic deaths in the U.S. over last decade in many categories such as teen crashes, DUI crashes and truck crashes, but one area where fatalities have not decreased is in speed-related deaths, Ulczycki said.  ”Speed continues to be factor in one-third of traffic fatalities. Even with cars and roads getting better, those numbers are not going down. The legislator [who sponsored the bill] can talk about better roads and better vehicles. Yes, that’s all true and that’s having a real effect on safety, but it’s not affecting road deaths.”

A wealth of data points to a correlation between higher road speeds and increased fatalities, said Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the Arlington, Va.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Because we’ve had this long experience of speed limits over time there have been many opportunities to study what happens when speed limits go down and up,” he said. “The research is clear that when you raise speed limits deaths go up and when you lower them deaths go down.”

If approved by the Legislature and governor, a higher speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will result in more crash deaths, Rader said. “A change like this will definitely allow people to get to their destinations faster, but the tradeoff is a road that is less safe.”

And while today’s motor vehicles are in fact safer than older vehicles due to advances in air bags, passive restraints, electronic stability controls and more, today’s vehicle crash safety ratings refer to vehicles that are tested at 35 to 40 mph, not at the 65 mph being driven on today’s highways, he said.

“When you get up to these very high speeds you’re overwhelming all of the crash-worthy structures and safety equipment that is built into modern vehicles,” Rader said. “At ever higher speeds, you are increasing the likelihood of a crash and the severity when one happens.”

In addition, many vehicles on our roads are older and don’t have all the latest safety devices.

Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that deaths on rural interstates increased 25-30 percent when states began increasing speed limits from 55 to 65 mph in 1987. In 1989, about two-thirds of this increase — 19 percent, or 400 deaths — was attributed to increased speed, the rest to increased travel, according to the group.

“A 1999 Institute study of the effects of the 1995 repeal of the national maximum speed limit indicated this trend had continued,” the IIHS reports. “Researchers compared the numbers of motor vehicle occupant deaths in 24 states that raised speed limits during late 1995 and 1996 with corresponding fatality counts in the 6 years before the speed limits were changed, as well as fatality counts from 7 states that did not change speed limits. The Institute estimated a 15 percent increase in fatalities on interstates and freeways.”

A later study, conducted in 2009, found that the 1995 repeal of the 55 mph national speed limit  resulted in a 3 percent increase in road fatalities attributable to higher speed limits on all road types, with the highest increase of 9 percent on rural interstates. “The authors estimated that 12,545 deaths were attributed to increases in speed limits across the US between 1995 and 2005,” the report stated.

A similar effort to increase the speed limit was successful in neighboring Ohio last year, according to the Patriot-News story, when the Ohio Turnpike raised its speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on the 241-mile span across northern Ohio. “The number of crashes during the first year of the higher speed limit rose by 5.6 percent from the year before, according to an April 29 story in The [Cleveland] Plain-Dealer,” the paper reported.

So what does this all mean?

On its face, the proposal to increase the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a bad idea because it doesn’t provide any true benefits for anyone.

Already, many motorists are exceeding the 65 mph speed limit, which essentially means that drivers are illegally operating their vehicles at 70 to 80 mph or more. Bumping the limit up by 5 mph is only going to encourage more speeding while not resulting in any true gains for residents.

Lower speeds mean greater safety and increased fuel economy, so raising the speed limit even more is counter to safety and efficiency.

It would be better for our legislators to be at work on bills aimed at helping our Commonwealth’s economy, school districts, local communities and residents, rather than on isolated side issues like the speed limit on the Turnpike.

If you or a loved one is seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident, the skilled and compassionate attorneys and staff here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you. Call us anytime with your questions and concerns about any legal issues.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

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Court Radio Alert this Sunday 7 A.M: Memorial Day Weekend Holiday Safety Tips for Your Family

The Memorial Day holiday weekend is symbolically the official start of the summer season as Americans take time to honor our nation’s heroes of wars past and take time to relax with family and friends.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer wish you a wonderful weekend, but we also want to remind you to be careful as you travel and enjoy your time off.

On “Court Radio” at 7 a.m. on Sunday, MyPhillyLawyer managing partner Dean Weitzman and his co-host David Rapoport will talk about summer safety, including swimming pool safety, as the holiday weekend gets into full swing.

Court Radio is broadcast live at 7 a.m. every Sunday morning on Philadelphia’s WRNB 100.3 FM, with a simulcast on Magic 95.9 FM in Baltimore. You can also listen live on the Internet at WRNB 100.3 or on Magic 95.9 via streaming audio.

One of the first things to remember is not to drink and drive as holiday weekends like this usually see a spike in drunk driving accidents, injuries and deaths. In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 158 people lost their lives in drunk driving crashes across the nation, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/sdominick

A sobriety checkpoint sign marks a special police program aimed at stopping motorists who drink and drive. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/sdominick

MADD offers five tips for safe driving over the holiday weekend and year-round:

  1. Plan a safe way home. Arrange a sober ride home, or offer to be the sober designated driver.
  2. Wear a seat belt. Seat belt usage is one of the best ways to stay safe on our roadways.
  3. Don’t call or text. Any form of impaired driving poses a serious threat to those on the road.
  4. Slow down. Respect all posted speed limits.
  5. Be aware. Pay attention to other drivers on the road and avoid those driving erratically.

The highest number of drunk driving accidents and injuries actually occurs in the U.S. over the July 4th holiday weekend annually, according to statistics.

Consuming alcoholic beverages and then driving over the holiday is a poor decision. You are literally putting yourself and others in danger if you drive while intoxicated and creating huge liability risks for yourself and your family if you hurt someone else when you are drinking and driving.

But drinking and driving and other highway dangers aren’t the only risks this holiday weekend. There are dangers and personal liability issues surrounding a wide variety of activities this weekend that you at least should keep in mind.

Cookout safety:

Even barbecue grills can cause injuries if they are used improperly or mixed with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Improper equipment, poor safety rules, carelessness and other factors can cause injuries to adults and children who come near hot grills and outdoor cooking areas.

To prevent injuries and potential legal liability, be sure to follow these grilling safety tips from the Hearst Burn Center of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City:

*If you’re using a propane gas grill, inspect your propane tank and hoses for leaks, dents, cracks or corrosion.

*Always light the match before turning on the propane gas.

*Never use your grill indoors or under any structures that may catch fire, such as patio covers.

*Never smoke cigarettes or use matches or lighters near the grill.

*If you’re using a charcoal grill, use water to make sure that coals are extinguished and be careful never to dispose of briquettes that are still hot.

*Avoid loose clothing while grilling, especially long sleeves.

*Parental supervision is essential—keep all children away from the grill.

And don’t forget about the potential dangers of food poisoning when dining outdoors in the heat of summer. Be extra careful to make sure that foods made with mayonnaise, including coleslaw and potato salad, are kept chilled and out of direct sunlight so they don’t spoil and cause illnesses to guests, and don’t leave uncooked meats out in the summer heat for long periods of time before that are cooked. Many a holiday has been ruined at private parties, restaurants and other facilities due to food that has spoiled and caused serious illnesses for guests, while raising serious legal claims that you certainly want to avoid.

*Swimming pool safety:

We here at MyPhillyLawyer have been writing here on this blog a lot lately about swimming pool safety and your rights and responsibilities as a pool owner or guest. Recently, we published a blog post about pool safety which is a great guide to ensuring that your family and pool guests are safe while swimming on your property.

Here are five key swimming pool safety tips for you to remember this holiday weekend:

*Completely Fence The Perimeter Around Your Pool – by closing off the pool to children who could wander into your yard, you can prevent accidental drownings and protect yourself from liability.

*Be Sure That All Young Children Playing Near Pools Are Wearing Life Vests – if a child should accidentally fall into a pool, they will be better protected by wearing an approved life vest.

*Never, Ever Leave Children Unsupervised Near A Pool – that means NEVER. If children are to be around or in a pool, they MUST be properly and adequately supervised by an adult who can swim and is trained in rescue techniques.

*Keep Rescue Equipment By The Pool At All Times – including a life ring and rope, a first aid kit and flotation devices.

*Parents Must Be Encouraged to Learn CPR – by knowing how to save a life in the event of an emergency, homeowners can protect their guests and themselves before rescue workers ever arrive.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drownings are the second leading cause of death among young children.

An average of 385 children under 15 years of age died annually in the U.S. due to pool or spa drownings from 2005 through 2007, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its Pool Safely safety campaign. Of those, 78%, or 299, were under the age of five.

As a homeowner, you must be vigilant, pro-active and firm about setting safety rules and enforcing them so that guests and family members aren’t accidentally injured or worse.

*Have Fun and Be Safe:

Remember this holiday weekend to enjoy yourself with friends and family, but also use caution to prevent tragedies and legal liability from accidents and injuries that can occur in a wide variety of ways.

So be sure to tune in for Court Radio at 7 a.m. Sunday to hear the topical discussion about holiday safety and swimming pool safety with co-hosts Dean Weitzman and David Rapoport. And remember to call in with your own questions and comments.

From all of us here at MyPhillyLawyer, we send you our best wishes for a safe and happy holiday.

When Winning Matters Most, call us to discuss any legal matters that arise. If you need us, we will be there to help you with compassionate, professional and highly-skilled legal services.

About Court Radio

Listeners can call in with their legal questions to 800-539-1479 or they can email their questions to AskDean@CourtRadio.com. Participants are asked to only ask or submit ONE question each time so that all callers have a chance to discuss the legal topics that are on their minds.

Court Radio is the place to ask your legal questions and get real answers from lawyers with a deep background in the law, from personal injury to contracts and estates, insurance and much more.

Most weeks, Dean brings in a special guest to answer your legal questions and provide information on a dizzying array of legal topics, all with humor, good advice and at no charge to callers. You can even listen to past shows and their featured guests by downloading or listening to stored podcasts.

A production of WRNB-FM radio in Philadelphia, Court Radio is brought to you each week by the law offices of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., which is known throughout the Philadelphia area as MyPhillyLawyer.

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Elderly Connecticut Woman Sues Hospital for Falling Off Operating Table Following Surgery

Hospitals aren’t just places where patients receive life-saving care.

They’re also places where ill patients can receive additional injuries that can cause further complications for people who are already suffering from health crises.

That’s just what happened to an 81-year-old Connecticut woman who received serious injuries when she fell from an operating table after having surgery when she was a patient in Yale-New Haven Hospital in February of 2010, according to a story by the Associated Press (AP).

A team of doctors and nurses perform surgery on a patient in this stock photo. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/uchar

The woman, Florence Fiedler of New Canaan, fell off the operating table after having a pacemaker implanted, according to the story, and suffered hip and collarbone fractures as well as a traumatic head injury that caused bleeding under her skull.

“The lawsuit says the hospital didn’t implement policies and procedures to prevent Fiedler from falling and failed to recognize that Fiedler was not completely recovered from the surgical medications, which put her at increased risk for falling,” according to the story. “The lawsuit also alleges the hospital improperly left Fiedler unattended and said employees didn’t put the operating table in the lowest position before allowing Fiedler to reposition herself.”

Since the incident, the hospital apologized to the woman and implemented policy changes, the story reported.

A spokesman for the hospital told the AP that the hospital “promptly reported the incident to the state Department of Public Health Yale-New Haven Hospital and implemented a corrective action plan.”

The woman underwent months of physical therapy after she was injured but “now must face daily pain for the rest of her life,” her attorney told The Connecticut Post. “She had to relearn how to walk and was transformed from an independent, spry, energetic woman enjoying her golden years to someone dependent on others who is now a shut-in,” the attorney told the paper.

The incident is an example of how things can go awry inside hospitals where patients are being treated for a wide range of medical procedures.

In 2010, a 61-year-old Minnesota man died in St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul after he fell from an operating table and struck his head, according to a story on CBS TV Channel 4 WCCO. “The suit alleges that the hospital didn’t adequately secure Max Devries to the table,” according to the report. The patient was scheduled for routine surgery following a stroke and weighed more than 300 pounds, the story said.

A report on the Web site, Ergonomics Today, said the family’s lawsuit against the hospital “contends that the hospital lacked ‘appropriate facilities and equipment, including wide enough tables and adequate restraints to perform an operation.’”

The incident “clearly shows the importance of safe patient handling” and should provide lessons that others should learn from, the story said. “The challenge in safe patient handling will always remain how to eliminate human error in the decision making process.  Even after safe patient handling culture is established and all of the processes to support SPH are in place, it still comes down to the decision making process and judgment of the caregivers involved with the patient, to decide what equipment to use and to use it correctly.”

These kinds of accidents shouldn’t happen and hospitals and their personnel need to do more to prevent patients from being injured further while they are being treated.

Better ergonomic procedures would help prevent such injuries as would better training and equipment that would help hospital staff members meet any patient needs that arise, especially following surgeries.

No one should leave a medical facility having suffered further injury while inside the institution. That’s just outrageous.

We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you if you are seriously injured in an accident or other emergency and we also are here to serve you if you would be injured further inside a hospital while receiving treatment.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

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Remember Swimming Pool Safety for Summer Fun

As summer weather and the glorious summer holidays approach, it’s a great time to review swimming pool safety at home, in public pools or on vacations so that you and your family stay safe.

The Memorial Day holiday weekend is fast approaching and will kick-off the unofficial start of the summer season, making it a great time to review swimming pool safety at home, in public pools and on vacations so that you and your family stay safe.

If your home has a swimming pool, it’s also important for you to know basic pool safety so that you can also protect your legal rights and liability in connection with swimming injuries.

No matter where the pool is located, at home, a public pool or a pool that operates through a business, hotel or any other establishment, one of the most critical rules is that you must always watch children at all times to be sure they are safe, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its Pool Safely safety campaign.

Smiling children play in a pool with floats and other swimming equipment in this stock photo. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/skynesher

An average of 385 children under 15 years of age died annually in the U.S. due to pool or spa drownings from 2005 through 2007, according to the CPSC.

As a homeowner, you must be vigilant, pro-active and firm about setting safety rules and enforcing them so that guests and family members aren’t accidentally injured or worse.

An important tradition at your pool should always be that you and your guests know the safety rules that must be followed. The group, Safe Kids USA, has some excellent guidelines for your guests and your family to follow:

*Actively supervise your children around water at all times, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.

*Be sure that your pool has four-sided fencing at least four-feet-tall all the way around it. as well as a self-closing, self-latching gate. This protects a child from being able to access your pool and enter it when no one is around. It also protects you from legal action by shutting your pool off to non-authorized users. Be sure to also cover and lock your hot tub when it’s not being used to protect others and to protect yourself legally.

*Safe Kids USA also recommends installing a door alarm, a window alarm or both to alert you if a child wanders into the pool area unsupervised.

*Teach your children and any young visitors that they should never, ever go near the water if an adult is not nearby and directly watching them.

*Enroll your child in swimming lessons after age 4, the group also recommends. Be sure that they know how to tread water, float and stay by the pool wall.

*Know CPR and know how to respond properly and quickly to any type of water emergency in your pool, spa or hot tub on your property.

*Don’t allow the use of bottles or glass dishware near the pool to prevent injuries.

*Don’t allow anyone to run or play near the edge of the pool. Accidents can and do happen.

*Don’t allow consumption of alcohol or drugs around the pool, especially for any adults who are there in a supervisory role with children.

*Use non-slip materials on the surfaces around the pool to prevent accidental falls into the pool.

*Use a properly-sized pool cover when the pool is unoccupied as another layer of protection from accidental drownings.

*Be sure that anyone who gets into the pool knows how to swim and understands you safety rules.

*Check local pool safety requirements in your town and be sure that you adhere to them to limit your legal liability.

*Equip your pool with proper handrails and ladders at each end for safe entry and exit from the pool.

*If you have a diving board, be sure that the pool is sufficiently deep to protect from serious diving injuries.

*Mark water depths on the sides of the pool so visitors understand how deep it is and can stay within their comfort levels.

*Constantly check for damaged fasteners, protruding bolts and other safety issues that could cause injuries to protect your legal interests.

*Have needed safety equipment on hand by the pool, including life preservers, rescue ropes and a first aid kit, and be sure you are trained in using them all.

Not all accidents and incidents happen at home, however. If you are visiting a pool that is maintained by another individual or a business, you need to understand your legal rights if you are injured due to improper maintenance, facilities or other problems.

In addition, portable above-ground pools offer their own hazards, according to the CPSC. “Portable pools are affordable, transportable, but can be just as dangerous as any other pool,” the agency reported in a blog post. “CPSC has received an average of 35 reports of deaths of children under the age of 5 in portable pools each year. These pools account for 11 percent of all pool drownings for children that age. You can prevent these deaths.”

“If a portable pool, either large or small, is in your plans or already in your yard, put Pool Safely’s simple steps into play,” the agency said. “Whether the pool is a small blow-up pool or a thousands-of-gallons type with rigid sides, portable pools are often left full of water and unsupervised. Just like in-ground pools, portables need barriers and fencing that keep unsupervised children out. Empty and store small portable pools when you are not using them. Cover larger ones.”

Meanwhile, there are other dangers in swimming pools, including entrapments – where a person is trapped by the powerful suction of an underwater pool drain that prevents them from surfacing and getting air.

According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2009, there were 94 reports of pool, spa or whirlpool entrapment incidents that left 12 people dead and injured another 79. About 75% of those victims were under 15 years of age and 50% of the cases involved swimming pools. The victims died or were injured due to broken or missing outlet covers on the drains, which allowed them to be held against the drain underwater due to the pressure of the draining water from which they could not escape.

Such tragedies led in 2007 to the passage of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act), named for a little girl who died in such an accident in 2002 in a hot tub. Virginia Graeme Baker was the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III. The law, which went into effect in December of 2008, mandated new requirements for pool and spa safety and led to the national promotion of pool safety efforts.

It’s also a great idea to check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Web site each season to learn if any of your pool toys or accessories have been recalled due to safety issues.

This month, the CPSC issued a recall for about 21,000 inflatable Banzai brand in-ground pool slides that were sold in Wal-Mart and Toys R Us stores, according to a press release from the agency.  At least one person died due to the slides, the agency reported, when a 29-year-old Colorado woman fractured her neck and hit her head as she went down a slide that had been placed over the concrete edge of a pool. The bottom of the slide had partially deflated, which allowed the woman’s head to hit her head in the pool, the report said. “The slide is also unstable and can topple over in both still and windy conditions and carries inadequate warnings and instructions,” according to the press release.

At least two other adults were also injured on the slides.

“The recalled slides, which were manufactured in China by Manley Toys, Ltd, were sold at Wal-Mart and Toys R Us nationwide from January 2005 through June 2009 for about $250,” the release said. “The recalled slides have the barcode number 2675315734 and model number 15734. Both the barcode and model number appear on the original packaging but are not on the actual slide.”

The products should no longer be used and should be returned to the nearest Wal-Mart or Toys R Us store for a full refund, according to the agency. Call Wal-Mart for more information on the recall at (800) 925-6278 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s website at www.walmartstores.com. For additional information from Toys R Us, call (800) 869-7787 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday and between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, or visit the firm’s website at www.toysrus.com.

The summer swimming season is supposed to be a time of fun and joy as family and friends gather for relaxing times together. Making sure that pool safety rules are always followed will help prevent injuries and accidents and minimize pool dangers.

Of course, if you or someone in your family is injured in a swimming pool accident or incident, the skilled and compassionate personal injury attorneys here at MyPhillyLawyer are available to help you and discuss your case and legal options.

From all of us at MyPhillyLawyer, we wish you and your family a safe and enjoyable summer.

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Chrysler Bankruptcy Harms Injured Plaintiffs Who Want to Sue for Deserved Punitive Damages

Imagine being in a car or SUV accident in an older Chrysler vehicle in which a manufacturing defect contributed to your serious injuries, but you learn that you can’t sue the company for punitive damages because such damages are not possible since Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and reorganized in 2009?

That’s the situation being discovered by many potential plaintiffs, according to stories in The Wall Street Journal.  You can still file for compensatory damages – money to repay you for actual losses – but damages over and above that to punish the company for egregious behavior is not allowed under the bankruptcy.

And now General Motors (GM) is also apparently attempting to pressure potential plaintiffs from filing lawsuits for punitive damages relating to defects in its older vehicles built before that company’s 2009 government rescue – even though similar language barring such suits doesn’t exist in the GM court documents, according to The Wall Street Journal stories.

Plaintiffs injured in serious vehicle crashes are banned from seeking punitive damages from Chrysler under the company's 2009 bankruptcy agreement. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Svenler

For anyone injured in vehicle accidents where defects from cars, SUVs and trucks contributed to the crashes, it is bad news, and it’s not fair to injured parties.

The Chrysler bailout included the stipulation so that the company wouldn’t have to be responsible for damages from vehicles built by the “old Chrysler” that existed before the bankruptcy. That way, the company would be able to reorganize, rebuild, get back on its feet and survive. It made sense for the company, but only at the expense of customers who bought and drove vehicles that sometimes have manufacturing defects that can cause serious injuries.

“Chrysler is immune from new punitive-damage claims from any alleged manufacturing defects in vehicles sold before the auto maker’s 2009 government-brokered restructuring,” the Journal reported. “Chrysler’s legal exemption, approved by a bankruptcy judge, is the product of rules embedded in the federal bankruptcy law. These rules allow sick companies at times to abandon product liability or other risks, overruling state laws that give consumers the right to seek damages. Specifically, the company’s immunity—which no other car maker has—stems from a clause Chrysler crafted in its 2009 bankruptcy sale to Italy’s Fiat SpA. The exemption applies to more than 28 million cars and trucks.”

One University of Virginia law professor and punitive damages expert, Douglas Laycock, told the paper that “the legal protection afforded Chrysler, now profitable for the first time in six years, allows the Auburn Hills, Mich., company to ‘essentially get a free pass on some of their most egregious past mistakes.’”

That’s unfortunate for plaintiffs because punitive damages are “intended to punish corporations and others for reckless or intentional wrongdoing, such as selling products despite knowledge of their dangerous defects,” according to the Journal story. “These damages are assessed as monetary penalties against a company, with the proceeds going to plaintiffs. They sometimes exceed actual losses and aim to deter future wrongdoing by the defendant or others in a position to engage in similar conduct.”

In another story this week, the Journal reported that a GM attorney recently told the widow of a vehicle crash victim that she couldn’t seek punitive damages from the new GM for an older vehicle, even though GM’s bailout didn’t include such a provision.

Once the letter was received, her attorney dropped plans to seek punitive damages because the company’s stance would cause legal headaches, the story reported.

“Around 71 million vehicles sold before GM’s bankruptcy proceedings remain on the road, according to Experian Automotive, more than twice the number of comparable Chrysler cars and trucks,” the Journal reported. “Owners of those vehicles can still sue GM for compensatory, or actual, damages in lawsuits arising from those vehicles, and the auto maker’s new cars and trucks aren’t affected.”

So what do you do if you are seriously injured due to a manufacturing defect in an older Chrysler or GM built before the bailouts?

Obviously, you need to talk with an experienced, knowledgeable and compassionate plaintiff’s attorney who can investigate your case and help you get every dollar that you deserve to compensate you for your injuries and pain and suffering.

The automakers are not making it easy for you to get what you deserve so you have to have the best legal advocates on your side. We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you, answer your questions and represent you every step of the way to pursue your case and help you receive the compensation you require for your injuries.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

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Insurance Company Claims Delays Hurt Policy Holders: How a Burned-out Lancaster County Bowling Alley is Being Harmed by a Slow-Pay Insurer

The owners of a Lancaster County bowling alley paid their property insurance premiums and successfully ran their business in their community for years, even giving special discounted rates for local groups that wanted to put on special event s and fundraisers.

But since a huge fire burned The Garden Spot Bowl in Strasburg to the ground a year ago this month,   their insurance company apparently hasn’t been in a big rush to help the business get back on its feet.

After the fire, the owners vowed to rebuild and come back stronger than ever.

As of this week, though, their insurance company, North Pointe Insurance, still hasn’t paid a full settlement to allow the business to rebuild, according to a story in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era newspaper.

The bowling alley’s sign out front was all that remained after the blaze, but instead of reading “Reopening Soon,” the sign reads, “DELAY BY INSURANCE,” according to the paper.

The burned out Garden Spot Bowl in Lancaster County wants to get its insurance settlement and be able to rebuild as soon as possible, but its insurance company is apparently delaying that process.  Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/adventtr

The burned out Garden Spot Bowl in Lancaster County wants to get its insurance settlement and be able to rebuild as soon as possible, but its insurance company is apparently delaying that process. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/adventtr

That’s got its owners Don and Cheryl Kercher upset, since they expected to be rebuilding by now.

The insurance company hasn’t avoided paying all of the business’ claims, however, according to the story. “The insurer provided four checks, each for $32,500, to cover operating losses for May, June, July and August,” the paper reported. “In September, it sent $400,000 and notified the owners that it would be the last money until the claim was settled.” That payment went to the bank and is being held in escrow for the mortgage.

Now the business owners and the insurance company are in a stalemate over how much money it will take to rebuild the bowling alley. Originally, the insurance company asked the owners what it would take to rebuild, but they rejected that figure, according to the paper. The insurers later rejected a lower figure and asked the business owners to give an exact accounting of all the equipment in the destroyed building at the time of the fire. That was difficult, of course, because all the records and receipts were burned up in the blaze.

That put the owners behind in their schedule to reopen because they thought the insurance company was working with them to come up with a settlement figure so they had not yet begun creating such a detailed list of property, the story reported.

North Pointe’s parent company, QBE, declined to comment to the newspaper about the case, citing privacy for the business owners.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Even after the owners submitted lists of what was destroyed, the insurance company continued to ask for receipts to prove that the items had been in the building. Those were the same receipts that were burned in the fire. It was a bowling alley “Catch-22” if there ever was one.

And that’s where things apparently still stand, the owners say.

“We don’t know where to turn,” Don Kercher told the paper. “We really don’t.”

The whole scenario is just not fair, and it’s a tactic used all too frequently by insurance companies in all kinds of cases, from property claims to auto accidents to personal injury cases, says Saul Langsam, a partner with MyPhillyLawyer.

Once fire marshals have investigated a fire and ruled out such factors as arson, insurers should move in to pay claims swiftly so that property owners can get their lives and businesses back together as quickly as possible, Langsam said. “Once arson has been taken out of the equation then there’s absolutely no reason that there should be any delay in the processing of a claim.”

What can happen, though, is that the little guy is basically defenseless and insurance companies often try to hold on to their money as long as possible so that it earns interest and dividends for the companies and their shareholders, Langsam said.

“It almost borders on ‘bad faith’” by insurance companies, when they don’t fulfill their obligations to their policyholders, he said. “Insurance companies have to be mindful of being sued for bad faith, especially if their intention is to drag their feet to avoid paying a claim.”

It’s not a new practice, Langsam said. “That’s just the way of the insurance industry. It’s sad but true. They do what they do best, which is drag their feet. If your payment to them is late, they penalize you, but if they delay they don’t worry about you.”

To fight this, you need to bring in competent and experienced legal help to protect your rights.

“Your lawyer will investigate to determine whether the insurance company has properly completed its own investigation and if there are any alleged delays, can determine whether they are legitimate or of the insurance company’s own doing,” Langsam said. If the delays are unfounded, your lawyer can then send a demand letter by certified mail which makes a demand for the insurance proceeds. Usually that includes a payment deadline or timetable, or else the attorney will proceed with litigation in the courts. That will mean additional interest, costs, and legal fees for the defendant insurance company in pursuing a collection that you never should have been forced to file.”

We hope that The Garden Spot Bowl will soon receive their insurance payouts and finally be able to get their rebuilding project on track.

If you or a loved one is ever involved with an insurance company that is slow to pay your legitimate claims, be sure to talk to a lawyer to move your case forward.

When Winning Matters Most, Call MyPhillyLawyer.

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Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers at Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., represent clients in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the surrounding Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County, and cities such as Media, Doylestown, and Norristown. We are also proud to serve South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, in Camden County, New Jersey.

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