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March 14, 2013

North Carolina Legislators Taking Away Workers' Rights

workers-rights.jpgYesterday, two state Senators filed a new legislative bill that is designed to take away some very important rights to the working citizens of North Carolina. The new bill adversely changes the existing worker's compensation laws. Worker's compensation is the body of law that sets out the rules that apply when someone is injured on the job.

Worker's compensation benefits only cover lost wages and medical bills. The injured worker is not compensated for pain and suffering, mental or emotional anguish and other damages. In other words, the worker's right to recover is quite limited under worker's compensation. When someone is hurt on the job, worker's compensation is usually the worker's only remedy under the law. You cannot sue your employer even if your employer recklessly caused you to get hurt.

In some instances, when someone is injured on the job, there is a third person or entity that actually caused the on-the-job injury. For example, if a construction worker is hauling a load of lumber from a lumber company to a job site, and some third person runs a red light, crashes into him, and injures him, then the worker would receive worker's compensation benefits because he was injured on-the-job, but the third person (the at-fault driver) would also be liable to the injured worker.

In situations where the injury was caused by a third person, the employer's worker's compensation insurance company would have a "lien" (right to be paid back) against the worker's recovery from the third person's insurance company. The current law says that the employer's worker's compensation insurance company has a right to be paid back all (100%) of its lien, but that a Superior Court Judge can reduce that lien to an amount that the judge feels is fair so that justice is served to everyone involved.

In most situations, cases against third parties are settled or compromised for various reasons. Once a third party claim is settled, then the attorney for the injured worker and the attorney for the employer's worker's compensation insurance company usually work out a deal with regard to the employer's lien. If a deal cannot be reached about how much of the lien should be paid back, then the parties ask a Superior Court judge to decide what is fair.

CapitalBuilding.jpgThe new bill would chip-away at that last step, and instead give the employer the right to say whether a lien can be reduced more than 50%. In our experience, employers are usually aligned with their worker's compensation insurance company and oppose any reduction in the lien amount.

The BOTTOM LINE is that injured workers are about to see their right to recover fair compensation for their injuries further reduced so that insurance companies can continue to post ever increasing profits. "Pro-Business" and "Pro-Insurance Company" are the new mantras of our legislature.

If you are concerned about this, you can contact the legislators in your district and let them know that you do not want this bill passed into law. Here is a link to our state senators: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/members/reports/room-phone.pl?Chamber=senate&viewType=normal.

Here is a link to our state house representatives: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/members/memberList.pl?sChamber=House.

October 11, 2012

Teen Drivers Can Create Serious Liability For Parents

teen driver 1.jpgEvery so often, we have to do things that we would rather not do, if we had the option. For me, going to the dentist every six months to get my teeth cleaned falls into this category. During my dental visit yesterday, my hygienist told me about her son who just turned sixteen. "He now has his driver's license, and we bought him a Jeep," she told me with some anxiety in her voice. Having younger children myself, this peeked my curiosity.

She went on to tell me that they had titled the Jeep in her and her husband's name and added the son to their car insurance policy. At this point, the lawyer in me came alive. "Do you understand that if he gets into a wreck and hurts someone, you could get sued," I asked? She looked surprised, and said, "you've got to be kidding? How?"

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October 6, 2010

Mandy Kirkconnell - A Tragic Loss For The Asheville Community

manie kirkconnell.jpgLast Saturday morning, shortly before 3a.m., an intoxicated Jennifer N. Kessler, of Arden, drove her vehicle the wrong way on Interstate 240 in Asheville. As Kessler neared the Brevard Road exit, her vehicle collided head-on into a vehicle operated by Mandie Kirkconnell, 29, of Asheville. Kessler suffered serious injuries, but Ms. Kirkconnell died at the scene. This is the second wrong way collision in Asheville this year.

As a result, authorities have charged Kessler with felony death by vehicle, driving while impaired and reckless driving to endanger. She faces prison time for what she did.

Kirkconnell was a remarkable woman who positively touched every person with whom she came in contact. A devout Christian and a talented musician with an incredible voice, Ms. Kirkconnell was very active in her church at King of Glory Christian Church in Swannanoa as well as at many other churches in the Asheville area, including Relate Church and the Melchizadek House of Prayer.

Kirkconnell's friends say that in light of her strong faith and belief in the healing power of the love of Christ, she would want everyone to forgive Kessler for her horrible mistake in judgment. A tall order for even those with a strong faith. Those who knew her were clearly blessed if but for the short time she was here.

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September 26, 2010

Former Crew Chief Kohuth Cops Plea Deal

Nascar crew chief.jpgFormer Nascar Ultra Motorsports pit crew chief, Timothy Kohuth, 49, pleaded guilty to 2nd Degree Murder last week in Iredell County Superior Court. As a result, he will spend at least the next 9 years in jail. The maximum he could serve is 12 years. The plea deal arises out of the fatal crash Kohuth caused in 2008.

On July 31, 2008, Kohuth drank to the point he was severely intoxicated and then drove a rollback wrecker on Brawley School Road, crossed the center line, and then collided with a vehicle driven by Wesley Worden. The head-on impact killed Mr. Worden instantly and severely injured his wife, Gail.

At the plea deal hearing in court, District Attorney Sarah Kirkman said, "Witnesses said he got out of the truck and a 24-ounce beer fell out of his lap." After the crash, EMS took Kohuth to the hospital, but he refused to take either a breath or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol in his blood. State Troopers sought and obtained a search warrant and forced Kohuth to submit to a blood test. Approximately six hours after the fatal crash and after receiving a substantial amount of IV fluids, the test showed Kohuth's blood alcohol level to be .08, the legal limit in North Carolina.

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July 26, 2010

Truck Strikes Motorcycle Near Rockingham, North Carolina on US 220

motorcycle crash near rockingham.jpgOn Saturday afternoon, a pick-up truck driver failed to see an oncoming motorcycle before making a left hand turn and caused a severe collision. The pick-up truck driver, Doris Collins, 70, of Nicole Lane, in Rockingham, North Carolina was headed southbound on U.S. Highway 220 in Richmond County just before the crash.

A motorcycle driven by Doug Franklin, 35, of Greenfield Road, in Hamlet, North Carolina was headed northbound on U.S. 220. Also on the motorcycle was a young juvenile passenger.


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The northbound motorcycle had the right of way, but the southbound truck crossed into the oncoming lane and struck the motorcycle.

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May 18, 2010

I-40 Tractor-Trailer Accident: Truck Runs Over Car

Statesville Truck Wreck.JPGA serious crash closed Interstate 40 for over an hour Monday evening when a westbound Lincoln Town Car crossed the median and went under the rear wheels of an eastbound tractor-trailer. The collision happened just east of the Radio Road bridge that crosses I-40 near Mile Marker 150. Emergency workers and the North Carolina Highway Patrol shut down all 4 lanes of Interstate 40 while they attempted to rescue the occupants of the car.

Statesville Truck - SHP Qns.JPGTrooper Marty Liles of the State Highway Patrol (SHP) investigated the crash and reported that the car, driven by Rashad Whitner, 32 of Hickory, originally went off of the right side of the westbound lanes, re-entered and crossed the westbound lanes, entered the median and went under the median cables, and then entered the eastbound lanes at which time the car went under the rear of the tractor-trailer and was run over by the trailer's rear axles.

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March 28, 2010

Big Verdict Against DuPont Could Impact Asheville CTS Site

DuPont Logo.jpgLast Friday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld most of a $381 Million verdict entered against DuPont by a West Virginia state court jury. DuPont, Co., the world's third largest chemical company, was found liable for damages caused by a waste pile DuPont created at a zinc-smelting plant in Spelter, West Virginia.

The Harrison County jury found that DuPont negligently created a 60-acre pile that contained arsenic, cadmium and lead. As a result of the verdict, DuPont had to pay $55.5 million to remove potentially hazardous soil and dust from surrounding homes and businesses, approximately $130 million for medical monitoring of those living near the plant, and $192.2 million in punitive damages. The jury found that DuPont actively tried to conceal the harm they had caused.

I have previously posted about the TCE contamination at the CTS Asheville Mills Gap Facility. One wonders why none of the residents who live near the CTS contamination site in Asheville, NC have taken legal action against CTS. The toxic chemical contamination surrounding the Mills Gap site has caused residents living nearby to have various health problems, and most of them have had to stop using their well water. So far, there has been no clean up of the contamination. One also wonders why the City of Asheville has not called for CTS to clean-up of the area.

The answer as to why no one has sued CTS may be because those harmed by the contamination simply waited too long to act. In North Carolina, there is a 3 year statute of limitations for most tort actions, including negligence claims. This means that someone who has suffered an injury as a result of an individual's or a corporation's negligence has 3 years in which to file a lawsuit. Failing to file a lawsuit before the 3rd anniversary of the injury may be fatal to the claim, and the injured person may be forever barred from recovering for their harms and losses. In some instances, the statute of limitations can be tolled, or put on hold, such as where the injured person first learns of the harm after the statute of limitations has already ran. Either way, CTS should at least pay for the clean up of the Mills Gap site.

If you have been seriously injured or harmed as a result of another's negligence or recklessness, you should speak with an experienced trial attorney as soon as possible. Hiring an attorney early enables your attorney to protect your legal rights from the beginning.

Many people take the "wait and see" approach, hoping that they can negotiate a settlement with the adverse party's insurance company. This is optimistic at best, and naive at worst. Insurance companies have the upper hand in this situation because they know how the system works. They know that individuals do not know the law, and they know that the longer they can string an injured person along, all the while delaying the hiring of an attorney, the more difficult it will be for the injured person to prove their case if they do end up filing a lawsuit. Very often, important evidence disappears with the passage of time. Witnesses' memories fade.

Taking the "wait and see" approach will adversely affect your ability to recover full damages for your harms and losses.

March 17, 2010

Why Everyone in North Carolina Needs More Than The Minimum Limits of Car Insurance

head on collision.jpgIf you have less than $100,000 in car insurance on your vehicle, you are rolling the dice and risking financial ruin every time you drive your car. In North Carolina, the minimum amount of insurance coverage required by law is $30,000. But what most insurance agents fail to tell you is that unless you purchase more than the minimum limits of coverage, you are really not protecting yourself or your family from irresponsible drivers, particularly younger drivers. Here's why.

Last week, one of our new clients was on her way home from work, and the traffic in front of her slowed to a stop because a car had stopped to make a left hand turn. She also slowed down and stopped. Ten seconds later, she looked up just in time to see a large SUV barreling down on her. She recalls starting to yell, but the next thing she remembers is waking up in a hospital bed 3 days later. After 2 weeks in the trauma unit and 3 surgeries later, she is trying to figure out how to pay for her hospital bills. Unfortunately, the young girl who did not see her because she was texting and driving has the minimum limits of insurance coverage - this means that the most the young girl's insurance company will ever pay is $30,000. The client's medical bills are over $100,000 already, and she still has months of rehab to complete before she can return to work. There is a way to protect yourself from this very real risk.

You should tell your insurance agent that you want to have at least $100,000 in Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Under-Insured Motorist (UIM) coverage. The increase in your premium should be less than $50 every six months. If you are able, you should ideally purchase a $1 Million umbrella policy that also provides you with UM and UIM coverage. This is the best way to make sure that, if you or a loved one is seriously injured in a car accident, you have the insurance coverage to compensate you for your losses, such as medical bills and lost wages.

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March 12, 2010

Asheville Music Minister Pleads Guilty to Producing Child Porn

darkness to light.gifThe former music minister at St. Eugene's Catholic Church pleaded guilty yesterday to coercing a 13 year old girl to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a child porn video. Paul Lawrence Berrell, 29, faces between 15 and 30 years in prison. Hopefully, the Federal District Court Judge who sentences him will give him the maximum prison term.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse of children happens much more often than most people think, and the statistics of child sex abuse are shocking!

According to the advocacy group Darkness to Light, 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they reach age 18. Thirty to forty percent of children are abused by a family member. Another 50% are abused by someone outside of the family that they know and trust. Approximately 40% are abused by an older or larger child whom they know. That leaves only 10% to be abused by a stranger.

Child sexual abuse is the least known epidemic in our society. The biggest thing that you can do to protect your children and prevent this from happening to a child that you know is to get actively involved in the prevention effort. Darkness to Light is a national non-profit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. If you want to stop child sex abuse, go to their website and get involved.

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March 11, 2010

Police Charge Asheville Wrong Way Driver

Wrong way car.jpgNorth Carolina State Troopers have charged a Brevard man for driving the wrong way on Interstate 26 between Asheville and Hendersonville. The wrong way driver, James Mint Barton, age 65, apparently traveled at least 15 miles in the wrong lanes before he was apprehended by State Troopers. He told Troopers that he was on his way to the Asheville Airport.

Not surprisingly, Troopers charged Barton with Driving While Impaired. Trooper RE Baker stated that Barton was also charged with reckless driving and driving the wrong way on a dual lane highway. Barton ran several cars off the Interstate during his extreme drunk driving, but fortunately no accidents occurred and no one was injured.

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March 8, 2010

North Carolina Firefighters May Seek Damages for Hearing Loss

Asheville fire truck.jpgA recent verdict in Pennsylvania may open the way for firefighters in North Carolina and across the country to recover damages for hearing loss caused by defective sirens. Most cases filed against the manufacturers of firetruck sirens have been dismissed by various courts around the country, but that may be changing.

In the first case to go to trial in Philadelphia, a state court jury found that Federal Signal Corporation negligently designed the Q-Sirens it sold the the City of Philadelphia, and that those sirens were a cause of firefighter Edward Smyl's hearing loss. The lawsuit alleged that the sirens were defective because they emitted such an intense noise that it caused permanent hearing damage to the firefighter. The jury's verdict found that the firefighter was entitled to $100,000.00 in damages. This is a huge victory for firefighters in North Carolina and across the nation.

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March 4, 2010

North Carolina Legislature Should Ban BPA In Children's Products

BPA products for kids.jpegWisconsin's governor signed a bill into law yesterday that bans the dangerous chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in all cups sold in Wisconsin for children three years and younger. The ban will cover baby bottles, sippy cups and other similar products used by young children. Many studies have found that BPA is an endocrine-disrupter in animals, including early sexual maturation, altered development of the mammary gland and decreased sperm production in offspring.

A recent FDA announcement indicated "some concern" about how BPA may affect babies and children. The federal agency has now put $30 million aside for additional research studies over the next 2 years. Last year, a Harvard study found that participants who drank for one week from the popular polycarbonate (hard plastic) bottles, commonly used as water and baby bottles, had a 66% increase of BPA in their urine. The study concluded that BPA is leached from the container into the blood stream in sufficient quantities to show up in the urine.

The dangerous chemical has already been banned in Minnesota, Connecticut, the city of Chicago, and three counties in New York. Legislation to ban BPA in childrens' products is currently pending in Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Canada was the first country to pass a nationwide ban of BPA. The North Carolina Legislature should take steps to protect all North Carolina children from BPA because children do not get to chose the type of container from which they drink.

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January 31, 2010

Toyota Recalls

Toyota logo.jpgThe world's largest automaker, Toyota, has announced the largest vehicle recall in history, recalling an estimated 2.3 million vehicles. The following Toyota vehicles have been recalled:

* 2005-2010 Avalon
* 2009-2010 RAV4
* 2007-2010 Camry
* 2008-2010 Sequoia
* 2009-2010 Corolla
* 2005-2010 Tacoma
* 2008-2010 Highlander
* 2007-2010 Tundra
* 2009-2010 Matrix
* 2009-2010 VENZA
* 2004-2009 Prius

The sudden acceleration sticking problem is responsible for at least 16 deaths and more than 200 injuries. Several wrongful death actions have been settled by Toyota and several more are still pending.

Toyota announced the recall only after ABC News told the Jananese automaker that it planned to air an expose on Toyota's sudden acceleration hazards. If you own one of the vehicles on the list, then you should watch for any problems with the accelerator feeling like it's not working as smoothly as is should. Toyota claims the problem is a "wear" issue, and that it does not happen overnight.

At the first sign of a sticking problem, Toyota says you should contact a local dealership and schedule the repair. But, if you are like me and do not believe that Toyota has your best interest at heart, then you should schedule the repair next week. Call Toyota's customer service hot line at 800-331-4331.

November 11, 2009

Asheville - Wrong-way Driver Looked Sick Before Fiery Crash

Wrong way car wreck.jpgA recently released police report indicates that the woman who caused a fiery crash on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant, NY looked ill on at least two occasions shortly before the wreck.

Police say that Diane Shuler was severely intoxicated and high on marijuana at the time of the crash that killed eight people, including herself. Toxicology reports show that Shuler's blood acohol content (BAC) measured .19 and that she had ingested marijuana during the hour prior to the wreck. The crash occurred as Shuler drove her minivan down the wrong-way of a scenic four-lane parkway.

Shortly before the crash, witnesses observed Shuler sitting on a guardrail beside her red minivan with her head down, looking sick. Another group of motorists described seeing Shuler driving down the middle of two lanes, staring straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, with a look of sheer panic on her face.

Tragically, Shuler's 2 year old daugher, her 8 and 7 year old nieces, and a 5 year old little girl were in the vehicle with Shuler and died in the crash. Three other adults were also killed as a result of the wreck. Shuler's son was the only survivor in the minivan.

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