Shrapnel from Airbags Linked to At Least 4 Deaths

October 28, 2014, by

By Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law

Takata might not be a company as popular as Sony, Apple, or Google, but today it should be. Earlier this year, this manufacturer of automotive safety components recalled all vehicles equipped with a certain airbag. This recall was sourly oxymoronic; Takata's supposedly life-saving airbag could spray shrapnel at the human it was designed to protect.

mlllwaW.jpg

These dangerous airbags have been linked to at least four deaths. The cuts from the flying shrapnel are so deep and violent, that responding paramedics and police officers of an Orange-Osceola County, Florida, accident thought the victim, Hien Tran, was attacked before fleeing in a vehicle. An examination by the county's chief medical examiner quickly revealed that it was an exploding airbag and not a criminal that caused the slashes.

Earlier last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expanded the number of vehicles affected by the Takata recall. The message from the Deputy Administrator of the NHTSA, David Friedman, was clear and direct: "Responding to these recalls, whether old or new, is essential to personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation into Takata airbags and what appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures."

The expansion of the recall increased the numbers of vehicles covered by roughly 28%. Right now, NHTSA states that over 7.8 million US vehicles are equipped with the dangerous Takata airbag. Those owners of Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors vehicles are urged by the NHTSA to see if their specific model is included in this recall. To see a list of the vehicles affected by the recall or to search by VIN number, please follow these links to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and SafeCar.gov

Here at Rubenstein Law, P.A., we urge all those affected by this recall to take every possible action to protect themselves and their loved ones. If your car is listed in the recall, please follow the instructions of your local dealership to replace the defective airbag. If you are unsure, please contact the manufacturer of your vehicle or visit your local dealer for more information. For those injured by the defective airbag, please call us immediately at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.

Contributory Negligence - The General Motors Ignition Problem

October 8, 2014, by

By Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law

October 24, 2006 was supposed to be a typical Tuesday for Natasha Weigel, Amy Rademaker, and Megan Ungar-Kerns as they returned from their local Wal-Mart. Their evening took a turn for the worst when their 2005 Chevy Cobalt suddenly became airborne and ultimately crashed into a telephone pole and some trees. Both Weigel and Rademaker passed away, Ungar-Kerns survived with severe brain damage.

The surviving family members were all plagued with the same questions: how did this accident happen or what caused it? They were left without a clue until the investigators found that the Chevy's ignition was set to "Accessory" and not "Run". The meaning of this was unclear at first but then General Motors recalled their 2005 Chevy Cobalt a couple of months later. The reason for the recall was for faulty ignition switches.

The families of Weigel, Rademaker, and Ungar-Kerns were not alone; other families lost their loved ones in vehicles equipped with the same or similar ignition switch of the 2005 Chevy Cobalt. Around mid-September, GM estimated at least 13 deaths were caused by vehicles equipped with those switches. In an apparent effort to avoid litigation, GM established a voluntary program to offer a possible settlement to those families.

The GM Final Protocol, dated June 30, 2014, lays out the requirements of admission to the program. The one peculiar requirement is found on page 4, under section II, sub-section E. It states, in pertinent part,

"No claim shall be eligible unless, after reviewing all of the information submitted as required herein, the [Claims Resolution Facility] determines, in its sole discretion, that the Ignition Switch Defect in an Eligible Vehicle was the proximate cause of the death or physical injury. The Facility will not take into account any contributory negligence of the claimant in making this determination."

(Emphasis supplied).

The elements that make up this requirement will be briefly discussed. It is of great importance to those that are about to participate in this program that they at least understand the terms used in these two sentences.

Although this program is not a lawsuit, the "proximate cause" term used is the one used in civil lawsuits involving injuries caused by faulty products. A plaintiff, the person or entity starting the lawsuit, will have to prove several elements to win its case. For example, the plaintiff will have to show that the faulty product was the proximate cause of the death or the injury. In situations where it is clear what caused the injuries, the plaintiff can use the "but for" test. This test is simple: if but for the faulty product, the injury or death would have never happened, then the Defendant should be found at fault. However, in situations where there might be concurrent causes, the courts in Florida, for example, have allowed the "substantial factor" test. This test is designed for situations where other factors might have caused the injuries. This test is much more difficult to apply because the plaintiff will have to show that the faulty product was a material and substantial factor in causing the injury. The program seems to use this "substantial factor" instead of the "but for" test.

If one thing is clear, it is that the proximate cause question can be highly subjective. Except in very unique situations, the question of whether the faulty product was the proximate cause of an injury is left up to the jury to decide. By participating in this program, there will be no jury because the Claims Resolution Facility itself will make that determination in its sole discretion. Although the Claims Resolution Facility is apparently independent of GM, one fact remains clear: the Claims Resolution Facility was created by Kenneth R. Feinberg upon request by GM.

The term "contributory negligence" refers to a defense that prevents the plaintiff from recovering if the defendant shows the plaintiff to be even 1% negligent. This is a harsh defense and those participating in the program should be happy that the Facility will not take into account any contributory negligence of the claimant when determining whether their injury is eligible under the program. A good example of contributory negligence is perhaps not wearing a seatbelt or driving while under the influence.

The above discussion was but a small fraction of the requirements needed and elements described in the program. Although the program does not require an attorney, anyone trying to participate in the program can greatly benefit from the professional help of a competent attorney. Here at Rubenstein Law, we have many years of experience with cases involving product defects and motor vehicle accidents. If you or your loved one has been injured as a result of GM's faulty ignition switch, please call us immediately at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.

Lawsuit Brought Against Porsche by Widow

May 19, 2014, by


By Alan Lani of Rubenstein Law

The lawsuit brought against Porsche by Roger W. Rodas' widow has of course captured a great deal of attention because it involves the death of a celebrity (Paul Walker) and an ultra-rare, ultra-exotic sports car, the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. But the law involved in automobile defect claims is at its core very simple.

2005 Porsche Carrera GT

The common law has long recognized a cause of action for breach of warranty. Specifically, when a product is manufactured for sale, the manufacturer and/or seller warrant that it is reasonably safe for its intended purposes, and that it is free of defects which would render it unsafe for general use. Additional warranties apply when a buyer relies on the seller to provide a specific product for a specific intended purpose; namely, that the product will be safe and appropriate for the particular purpose for which it was purchased.

In this case, Rodas' widow has alleged that the car was traveling 55 mph when the suspension failed, causing the crash which took the two men's lives. As to this count and these details, the lawsuit is no different from any other claim against a manufacturer whose product fails and thereby causes injury to its user(s). The law places strict liability upon a manufacturer for injuries caused by a hidden defect, which means the manufacturer is liable for injuries even though it may not have been negligent in any way. Generally speaking, a certain number of manufactured products will fail no matter how careful and thorough the manufacturer is and no matter how good their quality control. The law recognized this phenomenon in the 1940s, and strict liability was implemented to compensate those injured by such defective products.

However, the lawsuit goes on to allege that the car lacked full racing-style safety features such as a crash cage and racing fuel cell. This count is essentially one of warranty of fitness for a particular purpose in that it alleges that because the car was designed and produced to be a high performance Le Mans-type racing car, it should have had equivalent safety features appropriate for that type of racing.

What comes of this second count is an interesting question because according to the complaint itself, the car was not being used for racing when the crash occurred. It was being driven at 55 mph, which is an ordinary highway speed. So far, there is no legal precedent to say that a car's performance level should dictate its safety features when driven on the street at ordinary speeds. While it is likely that any resolution in this case will take several years, legal scholars and those in the auto industry are sure to keep an eye on any new legal precedent to come from this high profile case.

Summer Deck Safety

April 2, 2014, by


By Marianne Bartko of Rubenstein Law

Deck on a Summer Day

As the weather gets warmer, more people take to the outdoors to congregate on patios and decks and not surprisingly more decks fail in the summer months than the rest of the seasons combined. The tragedy with deck collapses is they usually occur during a joyous occasion when friends and family are gathered to celebrate. Deck collapses are attributed to poor craftsmanship and can lead to serious injuries and even deaths. Two million decks are built and replaced every year in the United States and are increasingly popular for new homes. However, inspection experts estimate only 40 percent of all decks are safe.

There are no statistics compiled on the percentage of deck collapses each year in the United States or the reasons why these decks fail. The common reason is the structure being incorrectly secured to the side of a house or establishment. In many cases, these decks are constructed with nails that have smooth sides, and over time with the weight of the deck, can pull out from the building. Wood expands and contracts with temperature and nails that originally secured the structure can become dislodged.

Make sure you consult with a licensed contractor if you're planning to add a deck to your house. An easy DIY project can turn into a tragedy if appropriate precautions are not taken. Whether your attaching a deck to a structure or building a dock over the water the safest connection is a lag bolt. A lag bolt, which looks like a giant screw, has nine times the resistance than nails. Homeowners are also encouraged to inspect existing decks annually for any signs of decay, rotting wood, or loose railings or steps.

The offices of Rubenstein Law understand Florida law and how to protect your rights. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, please contact your local office today at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Serving Broward, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach and all of South Florida.

(i) http://www.nachi.org/blog/2009/07/deck-inspections-illustrated-how-to-inspect-a-deck/

Driving Drowsy Similar to Drunk Driving

March 3, 2014, by

By Marianne Bartko of Rubenstein Law

7618816454.jpg

While we are well aware of the dangers that face drunk drivers, studies show that drowsy driving may be just as harmful and an all too frequent occurrence. Driving while drowsy is very similar to distracted and drunk driving. It slows your reaction time, impairs your vision and affects your ability to make decisions. Cognitive impairment after approximately 17 hours of being awake was equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%, after 24 hours impairment is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10%.

According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. (NHTAS). Despite these high numbers drowsy driving remains underreported and estimates are conservative.

While there are no laws in place in Florida regulating drowsy driving, Florida has passed the" Ronshay Dugans Act." The Act designates the first week of September as "Drowsy Driving Prevention Week." During this week the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles works with the Department of Transportation to educate law enforcement and the public about the dangers of operating a vehicle while fatigued. (2010 Fla. Laws ch 223)

If you feel drowsy, don't fight to stay awake; rather pull over somewhere safe to take a nap, park your car and call a cab, and take scheduled breaks if going on a long trip. Signs that you should stop include heavy eyelids or difficulty focusing, trouble keeping your head up, feeling restless, yawning, drifting from your lane, and trouble remembering the last few miles driven.

Is Uber to Blame for a Little Girls Death?

February 17, 2014, by

By Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law

photo (4).jpg
New Year's Eve is usually a beautiful day full of hope and anticipation for the upcoming year. For a family of three, however, this day was like no other. Around 8:00PM on New Year's Eve, the family was hit by a vehicle as they crossed the street in San Francisco. The car accident left a young girl dead and injured her mother and brother. The driver was arrested and accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. In seeking relief for the wrongful death of the young girl and the hospital bills, the family is not only looking to sue the driver but also the company of a mobile application found on his cell phone.

The driver in this car accident was using the mobile application (commonly abbreviated as "app") called Uber on his phone. Put simply, Uber allows anyone with a car to be a taxi. Unlike a normal taxi company, Uber allows common people to use their own private cars to pick up riders that use the app to ask for a pickup. The driver that hit the young girl was said to be waiting for a call from a potential rider using the app. So far, it is easier to see the guilt of the driver because, after all, the driver was the one that hit the family. Deciding whether Uber should also be responsible, however, is not so easy.

Much like baking a cake, any successful lawsuit has necessary ingredients. One of the necessary ingredients is found if the family can answer "yes" to the following question: Is Uber responsible for the negligent actions of its user drivers? Uber, through its business model, answers this question in a loud "no". They claim that Uber is not a transportation provider, it does not employ any of the drivers using the app, and, more to the point, it does not accept liability for their actions.

The family will definitely try and use the fact that Uber requires so many manual interactions as a way to show that Uber should be responsible for the injuries of others. A recent investigative report by ValleyWag.com shows just how much manual interaction is needed to use the Uber app during a normal cab ride. The Uber driver needs to press certain on-screen buttons, like "Arriving Now", depending on the action she is currently doing. ValleyWag poses an interesting, albeit obvious question: "[D]oes Uber expect its drivers to approach a potential customer, pull over, tap 'Arriving Now,' and then pull back onto the road, every single time?" If they do not or if they reasonably expect to know that its users will not, then Uber is encouraging people to break the laws of using cell phones while driving. This will be a huge problem for Uber.

The family would have a much easier time answering the previous question if Uber was in fact the thing that it is not -- a traditional taxi company. For example, a traditional taxi company would be responsible for the negligence of the drivers if the negligence occurred within the scope of the driver's employment with the company. This is made easier if the company also owned the vehicle that was involved in the car accident.

Although the family is presented with a unique question, they are not alone in challenging Uber's position. A woman previously challenged Uber's stance after she was injured by a flying fire hydrant that resulted from a car crash where one of the drivers used Uber's app. It will be a matter of time before this question is answered by the courts.

It is important to know that one of the most important ingredients in a successful lawsuit is having a great attorney beside you. If you, or your family, have been injured in any type of car accident, please call Rubenstein Law at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.


Patrick Hoge, Family of Dead Girl Wants Uber to Pay, San Francisco Business Times, (January 6, 2014, 6:48 PM PST), http://m.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/2014/01/family-of-dead-girl-wants-uber-to-pay.html?page=all&r=full.
Id.
Sam Biddle, Uber Is Basically Training Drivers to Violate California State Law, VALLEYWAG, (February 6, 2014, 10:00AM), http://valleywag.gawker.com/uber-is-basically-training-drivers-to-violate-californi-1515942938?utm_campaign=socialflow_gawker_twitter&utm_source=gawker_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow.
Id.

Technology Addresses Top Highway Safety Threats

December 4, 2013, by

By Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law

Our society suffers from the many car accidents that occur every year. In an effort to protect its citizens, the government has begun to speed up research on technologies that would prevent many of these accidents. Joan Lowy, of the Associated Press, reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently researching the following three (3) technologies: collision avoidance, seat belt interlocks, and driver alcohol detection systems. David Strickland, the administrator of the NHTSA, argued that these technologies address the "top three highway safety threats" and that they "have the potential to significantly decrease those deaths."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for NHTSA how to prevent car accidents.jpg

The seat belt interlocks is a type of technology that would prevent vehicles from being driven when a passenger or driver is not properly buckled in. The issue that has come up is whether automakers could use the new interlocks systems to satisfy the current safety regulations. The NHTSA is currently debating this issue.

The Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety and the NHTSA, have teamed up to research the in-vehicle technology that would prevent alcohol-impaired driving. This newly researched technology differs from some of the old detection systems because the driver does not need to take an additional step. In other words, the newly researched technology detects the blood alcohol level of the driver by a simple touch of the steering wheel, start button, or through a small air sample.

The collision avoidance system is currently being researched by the NHTSA. This system is part of a broader research program conducted by the NHTSA called Crash Avoidance Research Areas. Among the collision avoidance system, the NHTSA conducts research on vehicle rollovers, stability control, visibility, braking, and tire technologies.

Even though the government is currently hard at work developing and implementing these technologies, car accidents are still unfortunately very common. If you have been injured in a car accident, please call Rubenstein Law at 1-800-FL-LEGAL. Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.


Auto Safety Gets a Shake Up

November 14, 2013, by

brakelights.jpgAuto Accident prevention is taken very seriously at Rubenstein Law. That's why we took notice when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently "de-throned" some kings of car safety. Among them...the Toyota Camry, which has been a favorite with Consumer Reports for many years.

Why the change? A new crash test, conducted by the IIHS, is considered an overlap test and it's designed to replicate what happens when only the front corner of a vehicle strikes an object. The tests found some vehicles are much better than others at protecting occupants in these "front quarter" types of collisions. The Camry and Audi A4 dropped in safety ratings as a result of the new tests. For that, Consumer Reports dropped their recommendations of those vehicles.

As of now, the IIHS has tested more than 60 cars and SUVs, with only 11 vehicles earning a Good rating (the highest) and 15 rating Poor. Most likely, some automakers will have to take a harder look at design to pass the new safety tests.

And speaking of auto safety, the longtime king of safe minivans, the Honda Odyssey, is also taking a hit this week. Honda is recalling 381,000 of its 2007-08 minivans because a malfunctioning computer could cause heavy and unexpected braking without the driver pressing on the brake pedal and without the brake lamps lighting up.

The worldwide recall is the second one this year related to unintended braking problems. So far, Honda says it is not aware of any accidents or injuries related to the current recall, however the company recommends speedy repairs to the minivans affected by the recall. A safety agency investigation began in June after receiving 22 complaints from Honda Odyssey owners who say their vans applied the brakes automatically and without reason.

Rubenstein Law handles all types of auto injuries, including those due to defective or faulty vehicles. If you or anyone you know has been injured in a vehicle accident, please contact us within 14 days of your accident at 1-800-FL-Legal (355-3425). Our firm has offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

Florida No-Fault PIP Statute Changed?

August 22, 2013, by

By Attorney Carlos Gonzalez of Rubenstein Law

We are currently more than half way through the 2013 year and we have all heard many commercials telling us that the Florida No-Fault PIP statute has changed. The new law is long and confusing. This post will identify the major changes of this new law and also expose what rules you must follow in order to use your PIP insurance.

14-Day Rule

The rule is very simple: If you do not seek medical treatment within 14 days from the date of the motor vehicle accident, you cannot make a PIP claim. The consequences of the rule are very harsh since they can bar any potential PIP claim you have regardless of your injuries.

Consistent Care

Under the new PIP law, the treatment that you receive for your injuries within 14 days from the date of the accident is called initial services and care. Any treatment after that is cleverly referred to as follow-up services and care.

The new law requires that the initial and follow-up services and care be consistent with one another. The lesson here is clear: Make sure that you express any and all injuries, pains, and aches to the physician that sees you within the first 14 days of the accident.

Emergency Medical Condition

One of the key changes to the PIP law is that your benefits may be capped at $2,500.00 instead of $10,000.00. Even though you paid premiums for a policy with up to $10,000.00 in PIP benefits, your benefits may be limited based on whether an emergency medical condition exists, or EMC.

This new change makes it very important where you seek medical treatment since the medical providers must be aware of who can determine whether an EMC actually exists.

Examinations

An insurance company has many tools they use to investigate any PIP claims that their insureds make. One of the tools they use is the independent medical examination, or IME. An IME is a medical examination done by a physician chosen by your insurance company. Another tool is the examination under oath, or EUO. This examination requires you to answer the questions the insurance company has while under oath. This examination, like the IME, is done in person.

Although the IME and EUO are not new tools, the new PIP law makes it very important for you to attend these examinations. Failure to attend these examinations will make it very difficult for you to receive any of the PIP benefits that you may be entitled to.


Overall Lesson

The successful handling of a No-Fault PIP claim requires intricate knowledge of the PIP statute and experience in handling said claims. Here at Rubenstein Law, we have the required knowledge and experience in handling all PIP matters. If you or anyone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please contact us within 14 days of your accident at 1-800-FL-Legal (355-3425).

Florida Ban on Texting while Driving

July 18, 2013, by

By Attorney Marianne Bartko of Rubenstein Law

Rubenstein Law supports the new law banning texting while driving. The governor signed SB52 which bans texting while driving throughout the state of Florida; it is an amended version of House Bill 013 (http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2013/0013). The bill was signed on Tuesday at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in Miami and will take effect on October 1, 2013. This law prohibits the typing of anything into a wireless device while driving including text messages, emailing, and instant messages. Florida now joins a vast majority of the states that already have similar bans in place.

The new law has been criticized as being too lenient. It allows for texting at stop lights, while in park, during traffic jams, and there is no prohibition on talk-to-text programs. Additionally, texting while driving will be a secondary offense. What this means is that you can only be ticketed for texting if you have been stopped for a separate violation. The penalties are $30.00 plus court costs for a first offense and $60.00 for a second offense.

Texting while driving creates dangerous conditions for anyone on the roadways. Using a cell phone while driving, whether it's handheld or hands-free, delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent (University of Utah 2009). In the US, motor vehicle accidents are the leading causes of death especially for teen drivers. This law will be a step in the right direction towards making our roadways a safer place to drive.

Should your teen or loved one get into an auto accident, it's important to call the police and seek medical treatment. Keep in mind that the shock of being in a collision may hide any pain until hours or even days later. Our South Florida car accident lawyers have compiled a complete list of what to do after a car or auto accident. Most importantly, before you speak to the at-fault driver's insurance company about your injury, contact Rubenstein Law, to discuss your accident. We have offices in Miami, Plantation and West Palm Beach. Contact us at 1-800-FL-LEGAL (355-3425) or go to rubensteinlaw.com.


Undocumented Workers Entitled to Overtime Pay

March 20, 2013, by

By Attorney Matthew Allen of Rubenstein Law

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion this month affirming that undocumented workers are entitled to relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Lamonica, et al. v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., Case No. 11-15743 (March 6, 2013). The Eleventh Circuit also held that employees who have provided false social security numbers to their employers and had failed to report their earnings to the IRS are still entitled to relief under the FLSA.

overtime.jpgThe opinion of the Court is consistent with public policy and the FLSA because it confirms that workers are generally entitled to their overtime wages. In Lamonica, nine former employees of Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc. filed suit under the FLSA to recover unpaid overtime wages. One of the employees was an undocumented alien who had applied for work with a fake social security number. The appellants argued on appeal that he should be barred from recovery.

The Eleventh Circuit has held that undocumented aliens are entitled to recover unpaid wages under the FLSA. Patel v. Quality Inn S., 846 F.2d 700, 706 (11th Cir. 1988). However, the Supreme Court has held that undocumented workers were not entitled to recovery under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002). The Eleventh Circuit held that Hoffman was not on point because it involved an exercise of judicial discretion under the NLRA by a government agency. Instead, the Court followed Quality Inn and affirmed that undocumented employees are entitled to relief under the FLSA.

The Court also rejected the appellants' argument that the employees should be barred from recovery under the doctrine of in pari delicto. The in pari delicto doctrine says that a plaintiff who has engaged in wrongdoing may not recover damages that result from that wrongdoing. The appellants argued that employees who fail to report their earnings to the IRS or who give their employers false social security numbers should be barred from recovering their overtime damages. The Eleventh Circuit held that the employees had not cooperated with their employer to deprive themselves of overtime, and affirmed the award of damages for the employees.

Continue reading "Undocumented Workers Entitled to Overtime Pay" »

Amendment 5 ("State Courts") Bad for Floridians

October 30, 2012, by

vote_NO_no5_art.jpg
Florida middle school students know why a separation of powers is crucial to a legitimate government, but Amendment 5 apparently doesn't get it. Now, Florida voters hold that precious balance in their hands on Election Day, which could spell disaster for the future of law-making in our state. Vote NO on 5 and end this attempt to "fix" what isn't broken.

The framers of our Constitution knew a fair and just government requires a system of checks and balances between its branches (executive, judicial and legislative). Apparently, that's not good enough for some politicians who are attempting to change our state constitution and ultimately diminish those checks and balances. Opponents are calling it a power grab of conservative legislators to have more control over our courts. That's not at all what the founding fathers had in mind.

Plain and simple, the controversial Amendment 5 would give lawmakers authority to confirm Supreme Court justices selected by the governor, view complaints against justices as soon as they are filed, and more easily override court rules. What makes it so controversial is its blatant attempt to allow one branch of government make crucial decisions over another. As for overriding court rules, the purpose of judges is to determine if laws are constitutional and/or are being executed lawfully. If we give the power to override judicial decisions back to the lawmakers, that would be like handing the keys to the jail over to the inmates and trusting them to "do the right thing."

Supporters argue it would improve oversight and accountability, but democrats and republicans alike (including former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush) agree Amendment 5 is another attempt to put politics into the courts to intimidate justices who have struck down new laws as unconstitutional. Under our current system, state lawmakers can override rules with a 2/3 majority vote, which most people agree is a high enough standard to prevent the Legislature from intervening in all but extraordinary circumstances (for example death penalty cases). Rarely do lawmakers weigh in on judicial decisions, but Amendment 5 would eliminate the Court's independence.

Opponents of the bill have also raised questions about whether the Florida House speaker would use complaints to intimidate judges they dislike. Under the current system, a court panel investigates complaints internally and releases the information only if they find probable cause. Some misguided lawmakers want complaints out in the open, even if it discourages citizens from filing complaints in order to protect their own privacy. It's simply not good for Florida voters.

The Law Offices of Robert Rubenstein understands Florida law and how it protects your rights. We hope you'll VOTE NO on 5 so the Legislature and the Judiciary can continue to protect your rights in a fair and non-political way.

Florida's Highest Court is Under Political Attack

October 11, 2012, by

floridasupremecourt.jpg
Three of Florida's Supreme Court justices are up for merit retention, but out-of-state lobbyists and extreme political interests are working to oust the judges for political control of our courts. If successful, it would mean MONEY and POWER will influence our courts, rather than impartial understanding of the law. This un-American attack must be stopped!

Merit retention, or voting to retain a judge based on his or her competent performance, has been part of the Florida judicial system since 1976. It calls for voters to make a simple "yes" or "no" decision to retain a judge at the appellate level, including the Florida Supreme Court. These are routine and normally attract little attention because the court is well-respected and has operated without scandal for decades. But something new is brewing this year.

In an unprecedented political assault on our state's highest court, an extreme arm of the Republican Party of Florida (and outside extremist conservative groups) is pushing to oust three highly-respected Florida Supreme Court justices...simply because they are not happy with a few of the decisions the judges have handed down.

Spearheading this unethical grab for control of the courts is the group "Americans for Prosperity." AFP was founded by the now-infamous billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, who have already successfully influenced the courts in Texas. Persuading voters to remove the three justices on the November ballot would enable Governor Scott to appoint the replacements and stack the court. This is the most serious attempt to compromise the Supreme Court's independence since the corruption scandals of the early 1970s that resulted in the resignations of two justices and a reprimand of another.

Most importantly, this should concern ALL Florida voters, regardless of political views. The main purpose of judges in our nation's court system is to rely on impartial interpretations of the laws of the land. For that reason, it is illegal for Florida Supreme Court Justices to affiliate with any political party. That is what makes this power-grab such a threat to the legal rights of all Floridians. In fact, one of the justices, Peggy Quince, was supported by former governor, Jeb Bush, a Republican.

Floridians should refuse to be intimidated by this attempt to politicize the state's highest court, and we should retain Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. The justices are not running against each other, and they are not on the ballot because they did something wrong.

Why Do the Justices deserve to be Retained?

Chief Justice Lewis founded Justice Teaching, which has placed thousands of lawyers and judges in public schools to educate students in civic and legal issues. He has also won numerous awards for his work promoting diversity and court access to persons with disabilities.

Justice Pariente works to improve the handling of cases involving families and children, and she was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 2008.
Justice Quince was appointed to the court by both Lawton Chiles (a Democrat) and Governor-elect, Jeb Bush (a Republican), in 1998. She spent more than a decade in the State Attorney General's office, gaining extensive experience handling death penalty cases.

The reality is Republicans have been unhappy with the court because it has served as an important check on the heavy handedness by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature. Scott overstepped his authority last year by signing an executive order seizing control of the state rule-making process. Without checks and balances in all branches of government, we will hand the legal power over many to just a few. That is not what Florida or America stands for.

On the merit retention questions for Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince, vote yes and protect our civil justice system!

Your PIP Insurance Rates Are Going Up!

October 8, 2012, by

Florida Republican Governor, Rick Scott, promised to lower auto insurance rates by lowering Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. In fact, it was Scott's top legislative priorities this year. Instead, rates are rising, a new study shows.

Florida auto accidents that involve injuries often involve insurance claims. That's when Personal Injury Protection benefits, or PIP, kick in to cover medical bills up to $10,000. It was the opinion of Governor Scott that too much fraud was being committed using PIP claims, so he set out to reduce or get rid of PIP coverage. He argued the move would save Florida drivers money. It hasn't worked. Now, early returns show PIP rates have increased in at least half of the cases reviewed.

This week marked the deadline for insurers to file at least a 10 percent reduction in 2013 PIP rates under Scott's new law or make a case to regulators why they won't. Most of the 100 filings made it in under the deadline and are under review. So far, at least half of the filings approved by regulators show an increase in PIP rates up to 26.3 percent! Scott's response? "Increases would have been higher without the reforms."

The executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, Bill Nelson, sees it differently. He was quoted in a Palm Beach Post article "I'm sure the excuses from the insurance companies are very creative. Bottom line, consumers have lost benefits and many will see premium increases, not decreases."

Opponents of Florida's new PIP reduction law say the move was simply an attempt to favor insurance companies, not responsible Florida drivers. Insurers will still collect premiums for the state-mandated $10,000 PIP coverage but they will pay their customers fewer benefits. For example, if you've been injured in a car accident, you may require therapeutic massage or acupuncture as part of your treatment. That PIP coverage is gone. The new law also limits non-emergency care to $2,500. That means you'll have to go to an ER for treatment, even if it's not actually life-threatening treatment. Will these changes in PIP affect you? Here's a list of insurers who, so far, have been approved for PIP rate increases:


  • Florida Farm Bureau (8% increase)

  • MGA Insurance Co. (3.9% increase)

  • Agency Insurance Co. (26.3% increase)

The changes have not helped consumers, and in many cases have made things worse. In fact, Florida legislators have been trying to fix PIP for a decade now and it's just too broken. There is, however, a solution in the way of mandatory Bodily Injury (BI) coverage. Most states require BI coverage these days to eliminate the problems with PIP coverage. It's time Florida followed suit.

If you need free advice or help navigating your Florida auto accident claim, contact any of our offices in Miami, Plantation or West Palm Beach by calling 1-800-FL-Legal (355-3425) or visiting rubensteinlaw.com.

Broward County Men Killed While Changing a Flat

September 19, 2012, by

I-95 in Pompano Beach was the scene of a deadly accident over the weekend. Three men died and two more are critically injured from a car accident in Palm Beach County. The group of Broward roofing company workers were on their way to a job when they got a flat tire. Forced to fix the flat tire as cars raced past, three men lost their lives.
Investigators say the three men were in the northbound emergency lane when a driver seemingly lost control and slammed into them. Two other men, who were with the disabled truck, were also struck and now face critical injuries.

Florida Highway Patrol is investigating why the driver, who had a suspended license, veered across three lanes of highway traffic and into the men. Police say the driver was issued tickets for careless driving and driving without insurance, which is an excellent reason to have uninsured/under-insured motorists insurance called UM coverage. You'll need a qualified automobile accident lawyer to help you file a UM claim.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario is common on Florida highways so what can you do to avoid personal injury when your car is disabled in a dangerous area?

ASSES THE SITUATION


  • Is there a large shoulder on the road where you can safely park far from the traffic? If not, call a tow truck. It may not be worth the risk of fixing the flat yourself.

  • If you are changing a tire on the side closest to the road, turn the car so the front end points, at an angle, away from traffic and toward the shoulder to shield yourself. This is what Florida State troopers do on traffic stops.

MAKE YOU AND YOUR CAR VISIBLE


  • Turn on your hazard lights.

  • Place road flares behind the car in such a manner that traffic is directed around your car.

  • Keep a bright orange colored vest in your car similar to the ones construction workers use while working on the side of the highway.

DRIVE SLOWLY WITH YOUR SPARE

  • Most spare tires are small, thin and lack the amount of tread you need for highway driving. Most spares are not to be driven faster than 30-35 mph.

BE PREPARED


  • Practice changing a tire before you have to do it on the highway. A dress rehearsal will have you feeling more confident and able to move quickly in a real emergency.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a Florida car accident, you may need an experienced Florida personal injury attorney to help you with your insurance claim. For answers to your questions, Contact the Law Offices of Robert Rubenstein at any of our offices in Miami-Dade, Broward, and West Palm Beach at 1-800-FL-Legal (355-3425) or visit our website at rubensteinlaw.com.