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Blackwell Law Firm - Car Accident & Injury LawyersVenue and forum selection. I started to write on this issue months ago. At that point, the Alabama Supreme Court had issued several recent (and very debatable) decisions on the topic. I know – venue sounds like a pretty boring topic for non-lawyers. So, I chose other topics. Now I’ve come full circle back to venue after the Alabama Supreme Court again ruled against another personal injury victim on this issue.

In simple terms, venue is the county (or counties) in Alabama where a case can be filed. Specific rules govern the proper counties for filing a personal injury (or any other) case. Often, venue can be proper in more than one county. That brings a choice. And, it leads to a question raised by the recent spate of venue decisions. Why is our Supreme Court so quick to interfere with the properly chosen venue of an injury victim?

Even when a case has been filed in a proper venue, a specific Alabama statute gives courts the power to transfer the case for “the interest of justice” or the “convenience of parties and witnesses.” It’s called “forum non conveniens.” Convenience? Interest of justice? Those are some pretty subjective terms. Should the court be quick to force transfers when the issue may be gray?

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Alabama Personal Injury Specialists - Blackwell Law FirmThrough the years, I’ve represented a number of personal injury victims who suffered Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This condition is also known as reflex sympathy dystrophy (RSD). You may have never even heard of it. Yet, CRPS is a devastating condition for patients. So, when I recently read the account of a person suffering from CRPS it sounded familiar. It sounded like the stories of pain my past clients have tearfully related. How does the patient’s story begin? How does the patient describe her pain?

It’s 4 a.m., and once again I’m unable to sleep.

.  .  .

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Blackwell Law Firm - Alabama Personal Injury LawyersThis month’s TRIAL Magazine discusses a tragic eighteen wheeler crash. What happened in that crash? Around 1:30 am, a large commercial truck slammed into the rear of a pickup truck on a rural stretch of western Interstate. The crash killed a young mother and one of her children. Another child was left severely injured. The evidence at trial in that case revealed the commercial truck never slowed or took any evasive action before slamming into the pickup truck.

That case raised significant questions involving issues of independent contractors as drivers, control over drivers and company safety programs. If you need a lawyer in a trucking injury case, you should find one who understands these issues. Why were these issues in that case? The company (a worldwide distribution company) hired drivers it called “contractors” or “independent contractors.” Yet, the company did not treat these drivers as independent contractors. Instead, the company controlled every detail of driver operations down to the details of how to park the truck. As many lawyers know, it’s not what the company calls its people, but rather, the realities of control. While the company controlled all aspects of driver operations, it had NO driver safety training requirements or programs. That’s a classic case of profits over people. If you put drivers on the highway and control their actions for your profit, you should also exercise some safety responsibility for them.

We drive alongside big trucks everyday on our highways. Many trucking companies and truckers care deeply about safety. But, not all of them do. Next time you see a company name or logo on the side of a large truck, ask yourself:  Does that company have a REAL safety program to prevent needless injury?

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Commercial Truck

Truck Side Underride Crashes Are Deadly For Drivers, Cyclists And Pedestrians

Many of you have experienced it. You are driving down the Interstate. Suddenly, you are side-by-side with a large commercial truck. The vehicles are just feet from each other. You look over. Those trucks look really big when you are right next to them. If you are driving a passenger car, it could almost fit underneath that big truck. Almost. What happens when a car actually crashes into (or under) the side of a large commercial truck? Underride crashes with commercial trucks present some of the most devastating physical injuries. An NBC news report says it all:

Side Underride Crashes Kill 200 People A Year. Will Congress Act?

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highway-1666635_1920-300x200Truck crash cases are very different than car accident cases. This is true for several reasons. Commercial trucks can cause much more physical damage.  Commercial trucks also operate and maneuver differently than cars. Face it — that truck is much heavier and bigger than your car.

The differences don’t stop with weight, size and maneuverability. Commercial truck drivers often feel pressure to drive long miles for long hours to make deliveries. Truck driver fatigue is a major safety issue. So is truck driver health. I’ve written previously about both of these serious safety issues affecting highway safety.

Don’t forget, trucking companies and their drivers are also subject to specific safety regulations. We could discuss these differences over many blog posts. Here, I want to discuss briefly just one. That is — The Rapid Response Team!

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meeting-room-10270_1920-300x225I started to title this post Four Reasons Why Personal Injury Mediations Fail (And One Reason Why They Should Fail). That title is too long. So, I’ll primarily address four reasons why personal injury mediations do NOT succeed. Then, I’ll end with some commentary about an occasion when mediations should fail.

Our law firm philosophy is clear. We prepare all cases for trial. We believe preparation leads to better long-term results both at trial and settlement. When we survey all the lawyers mass-advertising on billboards, television and radio, it is clear many attorneys view matters differently. Those mass-advertising lawyers are usually about quantity rather than quality. That’s a sad commentary on our profession.

Let me return to my discussion of personal injury mediations. What are some reasons why a personal injury mediation may fail? Here are four:

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billboard-3220111_1920-300x164“Do you have a billboard?” I was sitting with a group of parents at a recent school event when one mother innocently asked me the question. “I thought I saw your name on a billboard.”

“No,” I politely answered. What I really felt like saying — “Never. I know a lot of lawyers and would personally never hire one who is on a billboard.” For our firm, it is a matter of professionalism. At their core, all legal matters are personal. Sometimes, these very personal matters require detailed preparation and special study. What do you typically get with a billboard lawyer? You get the false bravado of a lawyer with a manufactured smile or stare telling you some catch phrase to get your business. Catch phrases like:

  • “We got this”
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Blackwell Law Firm - Representing Injured Workers Across AlabamaProductivity versus safety. The two should work together. Yet, some companies value only immediate productivity. On many construction sites, immediate productivity trumps safety every single day. Who pays the price when safety is neglected? Workers and their families pay the ultimate price of serious injuries and deaths.

A survey of construction workers showed the majority believed safety took a back seat to immediate productivity. Yet, it should not. The majority of workers also believed their companies did the bare MINIMUM required amount for safety. That is, their companies met the minimum needed to avoid a citation but not the level needed to create a culture of safety. These working men and women understand first-hand the safety issues on construction sites.

Do some companies neglect real safety? Most serious injury and death cases I’ve investigated on construction sites happened because management failed to institute basic safety processes. This is why safety standards established by agencies like OSHA are so important. Without minimum standards, some companies would do nothing at all.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Serious personal injury lawyersA recent article in an insurance industry periodical asks why hospitals charge auto insurers more than health insurers. The article then concludes hospitals use their market power against commercial insurers. Hospital charges are unfair. Hospitals regularly take advantage of people following automobile accidents. However, the insurance article asks the wrong question and reaches the wrong conclusion.

What is the correct question? The article should ask “why do patients with auto insurance claims pay more.” The real focus should be on the actual patients. After all, the patients ultimately bear the real cost of health care. And, patients seeking treatment following an automobile accident often pay more. The injured patient loses in two different ways. First, the patient probably paid health insurance premiums with the expectation of health coverage. Yet, their health insurance goes unused following a car accident or other personal injury. Second, the inflated medical charges not covered by your health insurance — These inflated charges were ultimately paid from the settlement money you needed to cover all your damages.

What is the correct conclusion? The article WRONGLY concludes the higher charges are the result of hospital market power. The article ends by quoting a professor at Johns Hopkins — “If market forces fail to generate a reasonable price for these patients, policymakers should step in to address this market failure.” I’m sure hospitals do use their market power to extract the highest reimbursement possible. However, we are NOT in this predicament solely because of true economic market power. At least not in Alabama. No, we are largely in this position because hospitals have already worked our actual policymakers to pass a law allowing them to place liens on medical care rather than simply bill health insurance. Policymakers have enacted special legislation giving hospitals the authority to interject themselves into liability cases for maximum payment. Let this special use of government legislative power sink in for a moment. Hospitals enjoy a lien privilege not held by others. It’s not called market forces or market failure when you use the political system to gain an unfair advantage. I call it an abuse of government that further harms people.

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sky-78113_1280-300x200Many employers fail to report workplace injuries. The reason is often very simple — These employers do not want to provide workers’ compensation benefits to their injured employees. Sometimes these non-reporting employers simply choose not to complete an accident report. If the injury later turns serious, the lack of a written report can make the injured worker’s claim difficult to prove. I’ve faced these reporting disputes countless times over the years. Although you may have told your supervisor, he or she may conveniently “forget” the conversation in the absence of a written report.

Sometimes these non-reporting employers use their plant first aid department to avoid accident reporting. How? For one Alabama poultry plant, the plant nurse typically labels complaints as some sort of arthritic / degenerative problem rather than a work-related injury. At a local manufacturing plant near Huntsville, the company first aid department often claims the problem is due to a lack of conditioning and does not report the condition as an accident. Since the facility primarily employs workers through a local temp agency, the company can easily let the worker go. I frequently deal with reporting / notice issues in my Alabama workers’ compensation cases.

When it comes to Alabama workers’ compensation claims, I believe accidents are far under-reported. Let’s look outside of the reporting requirement of workers’ compensation. What about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)? OSHA does not record and document all workplace accidents and injuries. Employers are only required to report fatalities and certain very serious injuries to OSHA. Under OSHA, employers must report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours of an incident, and in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of any eye, within 24 hours. Do employers properly report serious events to OSHA? No, they do not. I’ve handled a number of workplace fatality cases where the employer did not report the event to OSHA. I recently represented the family of a worker who collapsed and died after several days of heat stroke symptoms at a plant in northeast Alabama. The facility had no air conditioning and summer temperatures inside the plant often soared over 100 degrees. Despite several days of reports to the plant nurse prior to the death, the facility did not report the event to OSHA.