Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wheelchair lawsuits bedevil UWS merchants

Wave of similarly worded suits against locales that aren't deemed accessible to disabled customers spurs talk of banding together to fight lawyers demanding "legal fees" of up to $30,000 per mom-and-pop.

About once a week, a customer in a wheelchair will ring the bell at Gotham Food, a deli on Columbus Avenue. Owner Nicholas Parliaros will answer the door and pull out his temporary, foldable ramp. But his makeshift system for serving disabled customers makes him an easy mark for aggressive attorneys looking to sue businesses that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Parliaros said he was slammed with a lawsuit and is now facing $30,000 in legal fees. "I may put my business up for sale," he said. "I don't know, but I can't afford to pay that."

Upper West Side merchants
Mr. Parliaros is one of numerous Upper West Side merchants targeted by Ben-Zion Bradley Weitz, a Florida-based attorney raking in hefty fees by scouring New York City streets for non-ADA complaint storefronts. The plaintiffs in the cases make about $500 per suit. The real cost to merchants are the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees the lawyers demand from noncompliant business owners.

Mr. Weitz works streets across the city. Since October 2009, he has sued almost 200 businesses in the state, the majority of which are in Manhattan, according to The New York Times.

But along Columbus Avenue, business owners are attempting to fight back. Indeed, merchants are collaborating to mount a unified defense against the attorneys they are accusing of extorting them.

"The best idea is that they band together and try to get before one judge," said Barbara Adler, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, which organized a meeting Tuesday morning for businesses to speak with attorneys who could help.

One judge could review the lawsuits and see that they are all copied from the same form, Ms. Adler said, suggesting that Mr. Weitz does nothing more than change the names and addresses on his court documents.

"These lawyers find someone to be a plaintiff and go down the streets looking for low-hanging fruit," said labor and employment attorney Peter Panken, who spoke Tuesday morning to the concerned business owners.

Installing a temporary ramp costs in the range of $120, Mr. Panken said. The problem is in the legal fees. "You will hear fees like $10,000 or $20,000," Mr. Panken said. "And what has the lawyer done? He has a standard form complaint and he has taken two paragraphs to describe the particular store involved. It's an hour of work."

In a survey of the neighborhood, Ms. Adler said her group found 75 blatant violations within a 15-block radius. "These businesses are sitting ducks and they will get sued," she said.

Many of the businesses along the commercial stretch of Columbus Avenue, between West 65th and West 87th streets, have already been saddled with lawsuits. To make matters more complicated, many proprietors said answering to ADA rules and the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission can be a catch-22.

Merchant Thomas Khateeb, who owns the neighborhood stalwart Thomas Drugs on Columbus Avenue and West 68th Street, said he installed a mobile ramp and a bell at his store in 2004 after receiving a complaint. But he still got sued. "It's a landmark building, and they're saying I can't have a permanent ramp," he said at the meeting. A large number of storefronts on the Upper West Side are historic, 19th century buildings.

Even advocates for the disabled were on hand Tuesday to encourage business owners to fight back against the lawsuits. The fees were "extortive behavior by this attorney," said James Weisman, general counsel for United Spinal Association. "They're completely undermining what we're doing as a disability group. If you don't band together, you're going to get picked off one by one."

By Annie Karni

Source: The Crain's New York Business

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jackson Meteor also crashed Friday

We often speak in terms of someone having a "meteoric rise," but as events in Russia and Washington, D.C., clearly demonstrated Friday, "meteoric fall" would be much more appropriate.

The crashing and burning of the political careers of former Congressman Jesse Jackson and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, may not have been as sudden as we associate with a meteor. In fact, it’s been downright slow motion painful these past few months.

Jesse Jackson and his family
But the explosion on impact was certainly no less spectacular.

The accusations to which the congressman's lawyers say he plans to plead guilty are far worse than I had imagined, with misspent campaign funds to the tune of $750,000. You should have seen 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale's eyebrows shoot up when I quoted him that number Friday at Hyde Park Academy before President Barack Obama's speech.

Even a Chicago alderman knows that's not chump change.

But Beale, who is running for Jackson's congressional seat, would only say that he is praying for the couple, which is thoughtful of him but indicative of the deeper problem.

Some of Jackson's campaign money went toward extravagant purchases including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch for himself, $5,150 in fur capes and parkas that his wife ordered for herself and $9,587 in furniture for their children.

Then there were bizarre purchases including $26,700 in Michael Jackson memorabilia, $10,105 in Bruce Lee memorabilia, and $11,130 on Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia.

And that's just the stuff federal prosecutors itemized to outline their case and to stake claim to stuff they plan to try to recover through forfeiture. They still haven't told us how the Jacksons managed to blow through most of the money, although I think we can deduce that it all falls under the category of Living Beyond Your Means.

 Coming soon to a U.S. Marshal's Service auction: The Jesse Jackson Collection, including a "Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen guitar" -- quite likely the one Van Halen used for the classic guitar solo in Jackson's "Beat It."

By the way, Jackson bought all the memorabilia from Antiquities of Nevada in Las Vegas. Too bad he never got to appear in an episode of Pawn Stars.

 Does anyone still think Jackson was just faking the mental illness diagnosis to put off his day of reckoning?

If so, please take note that impulsive spending sprees can be a symptom of bipolar disorder, which I don't mention by way of excusing his behavior, only to explain it.

 You don't get to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to this type of crime, which is why Jackson could end up spending the next four to five years in prison.

I spent quite a bit of time before the holidays combing through all of Jackson's campaign finance disclosure reports to try to figure out what he'd done wrong -- and came away frustrated because he hadn't left a lot of clues.

 The reason reporters couldn't find much amiss in the campaign reports is now clear. Jackson just flat-out falsified the reports on how he'd spent the money, with the assistance of an aide in Washington who prepared them -- and got to keep a little for herself in exchange for her participation in the scheme.

 One thing that was very noticeable to everybody about Jackson's campaign reports, however, were large totals of expenditures that he had been running through his American Express card.

 Jackson clearly operated under the company's motto: Don't Leave Home Without It.

 Prosecutors now say the Jacksons used campaign funds to improperly pay for $582,772 in personal expenses charged to the American Express Card.

 We may never know all the other personal expenses that the Jacksons disguised.

I spoke to one man Jackson had listed as being paid for doing some repair work on a campaign office.

When I asked him what services he performed for the congressman, he told me he was Jackson's "massage therapist" at the Russian baths on Division Street. He said he didn't know anything about any repair work.

"I'm a massage therapist. That's what I do," he said.

Following Obama's speech Friday, I took a quick drive over to the triangular-shaped building at 71st and Exchange where the Jacksons shared offices until their downfall.

The offices are closed, but the couple's pictures, superimposed on a spectacular backdrop of the Chicago skyline, are still smiling out from storefront windows onto the decaying South Shore neighborhood -- the community that these two talented politicians were supposed to help save.

The scene put me in mind of a title for a disaster movie. Call it the Jackson Meteor.

By Mark Brown

Source: The Chicago Sun-Times

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Supporters of state's "early offer" option for settling malpractice claims

Supporters of state's "early offer" option for settling malpractice claims say it's much too soon to throw it out, but admit some tinkering may be needed.

The House Judiciary Committee listened to arguments for and against the new system at a hearing Thursday. Under the early offer legislation, someone who claims to have been injured by the malpractice of a medical provider can send notice of this claim, along with medical documentation to the provider.
Medical malpractice

The provider hands it off to a malpractice insurer, which then has 90 days to make a settlement offer.

A patient who rejects the offer and sues would be responsible for some of the provider's medical bills if the court case results in an award of less than 125 percent of the early settlement offer.

The law took effect Jan. 1, but one of the biggest medical malpractice insurance companies in the state hasn't used it yet, and has no intention of using it in its current form.

"We will opt out of every case submitted under this law," said Mary Elizabeth Knox, vice president for claims at Medical Mutual Insurance of Maine, which insures many of the state's doctors and other medical providers.

Knox said the biggest problems with the law lies in what it doesn't do.

It has no provision for paying off insurance companies that want to recoup disability payments made to victims of malpractice. And an insurance company that settles a malpractice claim can't go after other health care providers whose conduct may have contributed to the patient's injury.

"It is very unlikely that only one provider will be involved in a claim because of how care is managed," Knox told the hearing Thursday. "We may have an obligation to pay (for contribution suits) long after the claim is resolved - it provides no resolution to the physician."

The law was defended by a doctors, representatives of hospitals and others, but supporters of the law said the concept is sound, claiming it lets people recover for malpractice injuries who might otherwise be left out.

"It serves an absolute need that must be met," said Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst. "Malpractice lawsuits are unbelievably expensive."

Medical malpractice
Supporters of the law say malpractice attorneys often won't touch a case unless they believe it is worth at least $250,000, because of the thousands of dollars it costs to get expert testimony that courts require to prove a malpractice claim.

Supporters also said the law means doctors face closure, rather than the uncertainty that comes with being sued.

Dr. David Stang, an emergency room physician in the Lakes Region, said he has never been sued for malpractice. But Stang said he sees the impact, both on doctors who are sued and on doctors who worry about being sued.

"I have several colleagues who have been sued and I have seen the debilitating effects of being sued that can hang over a physician for years," Stang said. "Many providers leave the practice of medicine because of a brutal system, many suffer from depression because of suits."

Other supporters of early decision echoed the theme that getting sued by people who claim to have been injured by malpractice makes doctors sad.

"The number one area of concern for physicians is tort reform for the emotional toll and the lengthy time it takes to resolve claims under the traditional system," said Scott Colby, representing the New Hampshire Medical Society.

Lawyers who represent injured people are continuing to battle against the bill after failing to stop it from being enacted last year.

Attorney William Woodbury of Laconia, speaking on behalf of the New Hampshire Association for Justice, formerly called the state trial lawyers association, said early offer provides little to injured patients.

"It is not only exceedingly complex, but also exceedingly one-sided in favor of providers," Woodbury said. "A person suffering an emotional toll can never be compensated under this, but that is the underlying goal of the early offer system."

Manchester attorney Kevin Dugan said it is unfair to make an injured person responsible for part of the other side's legal bills if they don't both win the case and get an award 25 percent higher than the early offer.

"There is no reciprocal duty if the patient goes through trial and gets in excess of that," Dugan said.

The original sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said it is too soon to repeal the bill, but admitted some parts may need to be revised.

"To take a look at some provisions, that is a very acceptable way of proceeding," Bradley said. "As opposed to outright repeal of a bill that has yet to be proven."

By Bill Smith, New Hampshire Union Leader

Source: The New Hampshire Union Leader

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Calif. seeks to adopt nation's toughest gun laws

Weeks after New York enacted the nation's toughest gun laws, California lawmakers said Thursday they want their state to do even more in response to recent mass shootings, particularly the Connecticut school massacre.

Democrats who control the state Legislature revealed 10 proposals that they said would make California the most restrictive state for possessing firearms.

Gun laws
They were joined at a Capitol news conference by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with several police chiefs.

"California has always been a leader on the issue of gun safety," Villaraigosa said. "New York has stepped up and stepped forward. California needs to answer the call."

Among the measures is one that would outlaw the future sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines. The restriction would prevent quick reloading by requiring bullets to be loaded one at a time.

Lawmakers also want to make some prohibitions apply to current gun owners, not just to people who buy weapons in the future.

Like New York, California also would require background checks for buying ammunition and would add to the list of prohibited weapons.

Those buying ammunition would have to pay a fee and undergo an initial background check by the state Department of Justice, similar to what is required now before buyers can purchase a weapon. Subsequent background checks would be done instantly by an ammunition seller checking the Justice Department's records.

The legislation also would ban possession of magazines holding more than 10 bullets, even by those who now own them legally. All weapons would have to be registered.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, promised that gun proponents will fight the measures in court if they become law.

"It strikes me as if these folks are playing some sort of game of one-upsmanship with New York at the expense of law-abiding citizens, and that's just unconscionable," he said about lawmakers.

Gun controlThree bills have been introduced, with others to come before this month's deadline for submitting legislation.

The measures are the most stringent to date among numerous proposals introduced this year to strengthen California's firearm regulations.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he is confident Democrats can use their majorities in the Assembly and Senate to send the measures to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown this year.

Brown has declined to comment on weapons legislation before it reaches him.

Steinberg said the measures are designed to close numerous loopholes that gun manufacturers have exploited to get around California's existing restrictions.

Those measures had been the strongest in the nation until Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York's new law last month.

Other proposed measures in California would ban so-called "bullet buttons" that can be used to quickly detach and reload magazines in semi-automatic rifles, and update the legal definition of shotguns to prohibit a new version that can rapidly fire shotgun shells and .45-caliber ammunition.

The state also would restrict the lending of guns to keep weapons from felons, mentally ill people and others who are prohibited from ownership.

By The Associated Press

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Monday, February 4, 2013

Junior Seau’s family sues the NFL for head injuries

The family of deceased football player Junior Seau is filing a lawsuit against the NFL for wrongful death over head injuries the former San Diego Charger suffered during his career. The linebacker became an iconic figure in the 11 seasons he spent with the Chargers, later playing for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Seau was 43 when he committed suicide last summer, leaving behind no note or explanation.
Dave Sizer
Dave Sizer

Researchers who studied Seau's brain found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that has been found in a number of other athletes who have passed away. The disease is caused by concussions and other repeated head traumas and causes symptoms like memory loss, mood disorders, depression and early-onset dementia.

The lawsuit alleges that the NFL did not do enough to protect the star linebacker from head injuries, saying the league exacerbated "the health risk to players by promoting the game's violence and lauding players for returning to play despite being rendered unconscious and/or disoriented due to their exposure to sub-concussion and concussive forces."

The suit also names a helmet manufacturer for negligence in design and testing.

"We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE," Seau's family said in a statement. "While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon."

Rash of suicides

Seau is just one of a number of former gridiron stars who have taken their own lives in recent years, including Chicago Bear Dave Duerson, Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters and Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling. While Seau's suit is filed individually in California for the time being, the NFL is facing an avalanche of some 190 other lawsuits consolidated in Philadelphia, naming 4,000 former players, living and dead, claiming that the league knew of the dangers of concussions but failed to warn players or act to protect them.
Thomas C. Doehrman
Thomas C. Doehrman

As knowledge of the consequences of head trauma becomes more widespread, even more alarming than the injuries suffered by adults are the ramifications for children. Some teenagers have even died from football-related concussions, and showed signs of already having developed CTE. President Obama in an interview this week wondered if the sport would need to change and become less violent. "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football," the president said.

Fans are confronted with the knowledge that their heroes might be playing themselves into an early demise. "NFL football is the most popular sport and we all enjoy the vicarious thrill of watching these guys do almost superhuman things," says Thomas C. Doehrman, a personal injury attorney with the Law Offices of Doehrman Chamberlain, who specializes in traumatic brain injuries. "Now we're starting to realize that football is such a violent sport that a lot of people like Junior Seau have lifelong, almost terrible consequences from playing."

No regrets

"What the president is saying is right on," Doehrman says.  "Guys in the NFL are adults and they're making a lot of money. They make a decision and there's at least more of a balance between the risk and benefit. High school, college, grade school? They learn how to play on a team spot, but there's no inherent benefit to playing a violent sport."

The wave of lawsuits filed against the NFL is forcing the league to confront head injuries, but it's the grim fate of players like Seau that brings the risks more directly into the public eye. "I think society's eventually going to have to wrestle with that issue, lawsuit or no lawsuit," the attorney says. "If you're a parent, do you want your child to have a potentially permanent injury from playing on the sixth grade football team?"

Other current NFL players, for the most part, have echoed the sentiment that they are free to make their own choice to participate in a violent sport. Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, who is playing in the Super Bowl this weekend, said of his former colleague Seau, "He signed up for it."

"Junior gave everything he had to football," Reed said. "I'm sure he's looking down and has no regrets."

By Aaron Kase

Source: The Lawyers Com

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Law enforcement, NFL urge designating drivers for Super Bowl weekend

Once again, thousands of Oregonians join millions across the country planning to gather and watch America’s most popular sporting event, the Super Bowl, Sunday.

Super Bowl
 Joining those who are making their plans, law enforcement and traffic safety partners are also planning and urging everyone not to let drunk driving ruin your plans.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with support from the National Football League and Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management, have joined forces with state and local highway safety and law enforcement officials to spread an important safety message about designating a sober driver on Super Bowl Sunday – Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.

Oregon State Police , Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and ODOT urge fans to join their team by not making critical mistakes that affect you and others on Oregon roads.

"Avoid the penalties by choosing a sober designated driver before the drinking starts or handing off your keys so that you and others on our road can safely arrive home," said Captain Ted Phillips, director of the OSP Patrol Services Division.

According to NHTSA, Super Bowl Sunday has become one of the nation’s most dangerous days on the road because of impaired driving. Forty-eight (48) percent of fatalities nationwide on Super Bowl Sunday involve a driver or motorcycle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. In addition in 2010, alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes was almost twice as high during the weekend (31 percent) than during weekdays (16 percent) and four times higher at night (37 percent) than during the day (9 percent).

Last year, three people died on Oregon roads during Super Bowl weekend. Over the last six years on Super Bowl weekend, 14 people have died in traffic crashes on Oregon roads.

The following statistics reflect DUII arrests by OSP troopers and traffic fatalities reported between 12:01 a.m., Saturday, through 5:59 a.m., Monday, during the previous six Super Bowl weekends:

• 2012 Super Bowl weekend: three traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 38 DUII arrests

• 2011 Super Bowl weekend: two traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 59 DUII arrests

• 2010 Super Bowl weekend: zero traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 58 DUII arrests

• 2009 Super Bowl weekend: two traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 50 DUII arrests

• 2008 Super Bowl weekend: five traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 23 DUII arrests

• 2007 Super Bowl weekend: two traffic fatalities and OSP troopers reported 42 DUII arrests

By Daily Astorian

Source: The Daily Astorian

Utah needs an attorney ethics law

As the Utah Legislature convenes for its 2013 session, and at a time when our attorney general is embroiled in allegations of misconduct, it's  time to pass an attorney ethics law. Though others can be charged with criminal perjury and contempt for lying to a judge, Utah attorneys -- not “sworn in” in court hearings -- can lie with impunity, because there are simply no laws to enforce their honesty.

Attorneys take an oath when admitted to the Utah State Bar that they will discharge their "...duties with honesty, fidelity, professionalism, and civility..."  That should equate to being "sworn in,"  but the Bar is a peer organization and very much like a referee having his own team on the playing field. Attorneys look out for other attorneys. Only a miniscule percentage of Bar's members' complaints result in strong disciplinary measures, and judges may choose to ignore an attorney's alleged lies despite the Utah Judicial Conduct Code, which mandates that they take action.

Utah Legislature
The UJCC doesn't quibble about semantics, but states, "If a normal person would be offended by such disregard of the law and such an abandonment of responsibility, the Utah Judicial Commission can and has a responsibility to act on this information." Nevertheless, the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission doesn't enforce its code, and its staff admits the commission has little disciplinary power.

Twelve other states have passed laws making attorney deceit and collusion a criminal act. The resulting misdemeanor conviction is legal basis for civil suit with  treble damages. Utah has been inept or incompetent in demanding accountability of its "officers of the court." The self-policing system simply doesn't work. An impartial and equitable court system depends on attorney honesty. Without that, the Constitutional rights of every Utahn are at risk. We have a right to expect that court decisions are not based on an attorney's lies, and that judges will take appropriate action in enforcement of the rules.

It is time for Utahns to tell their legislators they demand accountability in the legal profession and the court system.

Let's insist on a law that creates real consequences for dishonest officers of the court.

Here's are some of the basic rules the Lawyer Integrity Bill of 2013 should include:

A lawyer shall:

1)  not make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.

2)  shall not fail to disclose a material fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client.

3)  shall not offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.

4)  If a lawyer has offered material evidence and comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures.

5)  False Evidence  --  When evidence that a lawyer knows to be false is provided by a person who is not the client, the lawyer must refuse to offer it regardless of the client's wishes.

6)  an advocate must disclose the existence of the client's deception to the court or to the other party.

7)  an advocate must disclose the existence of perjury with respect to a material fact, even that of a client.

8)  a lawyer has authority to refuse to offer testimony or other proof that the lawyer believes is untrustworthy.

9)  a lawyer has a special obligation to protect a tribunal against criminal or fraudulent conduct.

Any officer of the court, including all private or government attorneys and judges who have taken the Attorney Oath shall be bound by law to the commitments thereby sworn.

Any such officer of the court found guilty of such dishonesty shall be in violation of the aforementioned rules, shall be deemed in violation of the laws of the State of Utah and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by fine, jail time, or both,  and such a conviction shall be basis for a civil suit with treble damages.

By Michael Robinson, Standard-Examiner Contributed

Source: The StandardNet