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Holiday Safety Tips

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time for decorating, celebrating, and spending time with loved ones. Whatever holiday you celebrate this season, it’s especially important to be mindful of safety this time of year. For many of us, it’s a holiday tradition to decorate the house, whether it be with a Christmas tree, a Menorah, or outdoor lights strung on trees or the house. When thinking about where to put your tree, be sure to place it far away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, radiators, holiday candles, etc. And for those of you that enjoy a real tree, always keep it well hydrated. Not only does a dry tree look bad, but it’s a real fire hazard. If your holiday tradition includes lighting the candles on the Menorah, or for those of you who simply enjoy burning holiday candles, be sure to never go to bed with candles still burning. Unfortunately, thousands of fire related injuries occur every year as a result of candles. To ensure this does not happen in your home, remember to never leave a candle burning unattended, keep candles on flat surfaces, and most importantly, keep candles out of reach of children.

When putting up holiday lights, take the time to check for any damaged bulbs and ensure that the bulbs you purchase have been lab tested and are safe for both indoor and outdoor use. Just as important as making sure your bulbs are in working order, is being cautious when actually hanging them, particularly on the outdoor perimeter of your home. You will likely be using a ladder, and when doing so, always make sure to wear the proper footwear to avoid slipping or falling and that the ladder is firmly on the ground before climbing up. You should never try to hang your lights, or use a ladder, during inclement weather and of course, make sure your ladder is in good working condition and is not worn or damaged. And, just like holiday candles, please turn off all your holiday lights before going to bed.

The holidays are also a time of travel for many of us. Whether it’s traveling to visit family out of state or simply driving to holiday parties, it’s important to be extra careful on the roads this time of year. When driving long distances, make sure you have performed the necessary maintenance on your vehicle to ensure it’s functioning properly. Always keep an emergency kit in your car in the event you do experience vehicle trouble or are involved in an accident. Depending on where you live, you’re likely to be driving on snow and ice covered roads so exercise caution and adjust your speed accordingly. In celebrating the festivities this season, many of us will enjoy an alcoholic drink (or several). If so, make sure you have a designated driver and never drive impaired. With the abundance of Uber and Lyft drivers available, it’s easy to make the right decision.

Happy Holidays!

While negligence will likely be the principal cause of action for most cases arising out of a motor vehicle collision, it may be necessary to plead other associated causes of action. For example, the Federal Tort Claims Act provides the cause of action based on the negligence of a federal governmental employee. A claim involving the negligence of a state, county, city or political subdivision employee is brought under Colorado’s Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) to the extent that act waives sovereign immunity pursuant to C.R.S. §24-10-106(1). If you are bringing a claim under the CGIA, it is important that you file a written notice pursuant to C.R.S. §24-10-109 within 182 days after the date of the discovery of the injury. This must be done regardless of whether you knew then all of the elements of the claim or cause of action. Failure to file a written notice within the 182 day time frame will bar any action you may have had.

Usually claims involving the negligence of a public employee under the CGIA are brought against the employee’s governmental employer under a vicarious liability theory. However, the CGIA also allows claims to be brought individually against the employee when the employee acts willfully and wantonly in causing the injury. But, think twice before alleging as part of a cause of action that a public employee acted willfully and wantonly, since if proved the employee’s governmental employer is not itself liable for or obligated to pay on behalf of its employee a settlement involving the employee or judgment against the employee. Furthermore, if a plaintiff does not substantially prevail on a punitive damage claim against a public employee, the court shall award attorneys’ fees
against the plaintiff and/or the plaintiff’s attorney.

A claim for wrongful death is a cause of action that is made in conjunction with the negligence or other cause of action regarding the cause of death. This cause of action includes claims for the survivors’ economic losses and certain non-economic losses. A punitive damage claim can also be made in lieu of having to prove non-economic damages, a cause of action for solatium can be pled that entitles the plaintiff to non-economic damages in a fixed amount. During the first year following death, only the spouse may make a wrongful death claim, unless the spouse elects to allow the decedent’s heirs to join in the claim or to pursue the claim without the spouse. A survival cause of action also should be pled to recover the loss of earnings and expenses, such as medical expenses, the decedent incurred prior to death.

Causes of action for injuries resulting from motor vehicle collisions include claims based on: a tortfeasor’s (the responsible party) individual liability for the tortfeasor’s own acts and omissions; vicarious liability; contract; an injury to another (i.e. derivative claims); based on wanton and wanton conduct; and the right of subrogation. Negligence is the most often pled cause of action based on a tortfeasor’s own acts or omissions that give rise to a personal injury claim arising out of a motor vehicle collision.

What is important to recognize, however, is that not only the other driver that collided with your car or the driver of the car you were a passenger in might have been at-fault, but the negligence of others who were nowhere near the accident when it occurred may give rise to a cause of action against them. Other persons or entities may also be vicariously liable for the negligence of the at fault driver, meaning they are liable simply because of the type of relationship they had with the at fault driver or because of a contract insuring you. Derivative claims are claims made by persons not based on injuries they suffered in the collision, but are based on their relationship to someone who was injured or killed in the accident and the damages sustained as a result of the effect of the accident on that relationship. A cause of action based upon the willful and wanton conduct of a tortfeasor is one for punitive damages, intended to deter and punish.

Claims made by or against a minor may be brought by or against the minor through a next friend, usually a parent or guardian. In cases where it appears that your damages may exceed the insurance policy limits of the at fault driver, it is suggested that you bring a claim against as many parties as can be named consistent with the facts, rules of ethics and the economic practicalities of the case.

You may ask why do this in cases where an insurance policy will cover both the at-fault driver and, for example, another party brought in under a theory of vicarious liability, but yet will provide the same amount of coverage regardless of whether just the at-fault driver was sued, or both the at-fault driver and the vicariously liable party were both sued. One reason is that the vicariously liable party,such as an employer or parent, may have assets to satisfy all or part of an excess judgment that the at-fault driver does not have. A second reason is that any party at risk of losing personal assets will have an incentive – that a judgment proof at-fault driver would not have – to put pressure individually or through excess counsel on the insurer to settle within policy limits by making telephone calls, writing letters and showing up at a settlement conference. This increases the chances of the case settling, with the insurer paying a higher amount. Also, in cases that do not settle under such circumstances, the insurer may be willing to provide its insureds with a protection letter providing coverage without limit in order to avoid a bad faith claim being asserted against it for not settling within policy limits.

While this is a lot of information, the main takeaway is that if you’ve been injured, there may be parties that are responsible for your injuries that you were not aware of and should be held accountable. The personal injury lawyers at Kidneigh & Kaufman know this and are here to help you receive the compensation you deserve.

Like most football fans, I have been following the coverage of the Saints bounty program very closely.  For those who don’t follow the NFL as closely as I do, the New Orleans Saints allegedly had a bounty program in which defensive players were to be paid for big hits that knocked opposing players out of the game.  Jonathan Vilma is alleged to have participated in the bounty program and have also contributed $10,000 of his own money to the program.  For his involvement in the bounty scheme, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Mr. Vilma for one full year.  In response, Jonathan Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell and the NFL based on their statements regarding his involvement in the bounty scandal.  I can’t remember any other time when a player of a major sport sued the commissioner of that sport.  It will certainly be a tough road for Mr. Vilma as he will have to prove that Roger Goodell knew his statements were false, acted with malice, and caused damages and personal injuries to Jonathan Vilma.  If Jonathan Vilma is successful, it could totally change the relationship between the players and the commissioners office.  Stay tuned to see what happens. 

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