Going Up: Traffic Fatalities

In May, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) published early projections of motor vehicle fatality rates for 2012. For the first time since 2005, fatality figures went up and, while reasons are not entirely clear, there are some good guesses.

According to NHTSA, a fatality is included in their data if a collision occurred that involved the death of a vehicle occupant within 30 days of the accident. For 2012, that means a 5.3 percent increase in fatalities from 2012.

Keeping yourself and your family safe from harm on any roadway is not always easy. Consider these tips:

  • Do not drive distracted and be aware of those who do. Next time you are out, take note of drivers talking on cell phones or texting (even though it is against the law). They are driving distracted and could make a fatal error at an intersection near you.
  • Impaired driving is more than just drunk driving. Like distraction, fatigue affects driving in ways similar to drinking alcohol. When you are tired, reaction time, decision making and physical coordination is impaired. Business trips and jet lag add to the problem.
  • Remember the rules of the road. Rules of the road standardize the flow of traffic. Those who drive outside those rules, like those who drive recklessly or speed, kill almost 10,000 people annually. Observe the speed limit and drive more slowly in inclement conditions. If you notice someone speeding, fall back and stay out of the way.

It seems simple — buckle up and arrive alive — but staying safe on the road is not easy. If involved in a serious motor vehicle accident, speak to an experienced New York injury lawyer.

Regulators Offer New Ways to Stay on Top of Recalled Products

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to make sure that products meet certain safety standards. Yet more than 1,000 toys, drugs, motor vehicles and household goods are recalled every year. Thankfully, the federal government is making it easier for consumers to stay informed about these dangerous products.

Most recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it would make it easier for car, truck and motorcycle owners to search for important safety recalls. Starting next year, consumers will be able to search recall information by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

The NHTSA’s website, SaferCar.gov, currently only offers general searches by vehicle make and model year. Under the new system, consumers will be able to determine if their specific vehicle (or a vehicle that they wish to purchase) has been subject to a recall and whether it has been fixed. This is good news, given that more than 2.5 million vehicles on the road and offered for sale at used car dealerships are estimated to have unresolved recalls, including seat belt failures, rollover risks, engine fires and faulty brakes.

For consumer products, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also provides recall information online. The CPSC’s database covers children’s products, including clothing and toys, household products and appliances, exercise and sports equipment, outdoor products and furniture. Consumers can search by date, product, product category and company and also sign up for e-mail alerts.

The Long Island personal injury attorneys of Michael Sepe, LLC have successfully handled a wide variety of product liability claims. If you suffered an injury caused by a defective product, we can fully investigate your claim and help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

New NY Law to Address Commercial Drivers’ Cell Phone Use

As the recent tragic train crash in Spain made clear, using a cell phone and driving a commercial vehicle can be a deadly combination. The train operator was so distracted by his cell phone conversation with co-worker that he approached a turn at nearly double the legal speed limit, killing 79 passengers.

In the United States, federal and state regulators are working hard to combat distracted driving, particularly among commercial drivers. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the risk of crashes, near-crashes or unintentional lane deviations is 23 times greater for commercial drivers who text behind the wheel and six times greater for those who dial a phone while driving.

Since 2010, commercial drivers have been prohibited from texting while driving. The DOT imposed a complete ban of hand-held devices a year later.

In New York, a new law takes effect in October that will strengthen the state’s cell phone law for commercial drivers. As outlined by the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee:

  • A motor carrier must not allow or require their drivers to use cell phones or portable electronic devices while driving.
  • A cell phone used by a person operating a commercial motor vehicle will not be considered “hands-free” if the driver dials or answers it by pressing more than a single button.
  • Commercial drivers are prohibited from making a phone call or using a portable electronic device while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device or other momentary delays.
  • A commercial driver who holds a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, his or her ear while the vehicle is temporarily stationary is presumed to be engaged in a call.
  • A commercial driver who holds a portable electronic device in a conspicuous manner while such vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays is presumed to be using the device.

If you have been seriously injured in a distracted driving crash involving a commercial vehicle, you are entitled to pursue damages from the negligent driver and, in many cases, his or her employer.  The experienced personal injury lawyers of Michael Sepe, LLC can help you obtain the compensation to which you are entitled.

New York Construction Accidents: Beware of the Fatal Four

Construction sites can be a dangerous place to work. While any number of errors and oversights can lead to serious injuries or deaths, more than half of all construction accidents are attributable to one of four causes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) refers to these construction hazards as the “Fatal Four.” They include:

  • Falls — Falls from scaffolding and other objects accounted for 259 out of 738 total deaths in construction in 2011.
  • Electrocutions — Electrical hazards, such as contact with overhead power lines, energized sources and improper use of extension and flexible cords, comprised nine percent of construction fatalities in 2011.
  • Struck by object — Fatalities involving falling objects and heavy equipment such as trucks or cranes made up 10 percent of all construction fatalities in 2011.
  • Caught-in/between — Workers getting squeezed, caught, crushed, pinched or compressed between two or more objects, including getting caught or crushed by equipment, accounted for two percent of the 2011 construction deaths.

Many of these injuries and deaths are preventable through proper safety precautions. In fact, OSHA estimates that eliminating these four construction hazards would save the lives of 419 construction workers every year.

For construction accident victims and their families, it is possible to seek compensation from anyone whose negligence or wrongdoing contribution to the accident, which may include the worker’s direct employer, contractors working on the site, equipment manufacturers, architects, site managers and building owners. In August, the parents of a construction worker killed in a New York City construction accident successfully settled their wrongful death action for $1 million.  Michael Simermeyer was crushed when a crane collapsed at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s No. 7 subway extension project last year.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a construction accident in New York, the experienced personal injury lawyers of Michael Sepe, LLC can explain your rights and your legal options.

When Is a Lump-Sum Payment the Best Resolution to Your NY Insurance Case?

During settlement negotiations, insurance companies may offer a lump-sum payment to settle your long-term disability claim. Rather than receiving monthly disability benefit payments, the insurance company would provide a one-time cash settlement, which terminates its obligations to pay you benefits.

When negotiating a disability claims settlement, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of accepting a lump-sum payment.  Some of the benefits include:

  • You can invest the proceeds as you see fit — With a lump-sum payment, you have the freedom to decide how to spend or reinvest the proceeds. Rather than use the money to cover monthly expenses, you may choose to finance a child’s education, boost your retirement savings or fund a business venture.
  • You avoid the hassle of ongoing obligations — You must generally submit ongoing medical records and other documentation to maintain long-term disability benefits. With a one-time payment, you eliminate the burden of dealing with the insurance company for many years to come.
  • You don’t have to worry about claim termination — While the insurance company may initially approve your claim, they are always looking for reasons to deny or terminate benefits. Obtaining money up front helps ensure that you have financial security.

Of course, a lump-sum payment is not the best option for everyone. Once you execute a settlement, you are responsible for managing your own medical care. Even if your situation worsens, you will have no right to seek additional care or reimbursement from the insurance company. In addition to evaluating the tax consequences, you should also explore whether the acceptance of a lump-sum payment may also affect your eligibility for other benefits, including worker’s compensation, Social Security Disability benefits, and Medicare or Medicaid.

In most cases, this is not a decision you should make alone. A knowledgeable New York disability lawyer at Michael Sepe, LLC can help you weigh the advantages and disadvantage of a lump-sum payment and negotiate the best possible resolution to your disability case.

Cigna Settles Multi-State Insurance Investigation

Cigna Inc. has reached a Regulatory Settlement Agreement (RSA) with state insurance regulators over its improper handling of long-term disability (LTD) insurance claims. Cigna agreed to make significant changes to its claims procedures, set aside $7 million for policyholders, and pay the California Department of Insurance a $500,000 penalty and $150,000 to reimburse the cost of ongoing monitoring.

The California Department of Insurance and Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania insurance regulators began examining Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) and Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in September 2009.  The following failures were found in Cigna’s claims handling processes:

  • Not giving independent physicians’ medical findings of due consideration
  • Discounting Social Security Disability decisions information
  • Not considering workers compensation records appropriately
  • Delaying claims unreasonably
  • Fraudulently denying claims for non-receipt of medical reports, late documentation, ailments not covered, and more

The RSA requires Cigna to:

  • Establish a remediation program for claims denied or adversely terminated between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2010
  • Participate in a 24-month monitoring program
  • Undergo a re-examination when the monitoring period is complete
  • Pay $1,675,000 in fines and administrative fees to the five states

Cigna must meet the following benchmarks for improving claims handling:

  • Establish procedures for weighing Social Security Disability Income benefits awards
  • Enhance processes for gathering medical information and documenting conclusions
  • Follow guidelines when utilizing independent medical examinations or Functional Capacity Evaluations and share the information with all stakeholders
  • Improve evaluation personnel selection
  • Provide medical, clinical and vocational evidence
  • Professional certification

Cigna claims that the “settlement grew out of a normal cycle of review by state regulators.” The company, which covers some 11.5 million Americans with medical plans, received Consumer Affairs’ poorest one-star rating for customer satisfaction. In 2012, Cigna’s annual revenue was more than $29 billion.

If you think your Cigna claim was mishandled, act quickly as the review time frame is limited. A qualified New York disability  insurance attorney can help you seek redress. Sepe & O’Mahony handles disability insurance claims and litigation for clients in New York, California, Arizona, Nevada, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Indiana, New Mexico, Alabama, Oklahoma, Montana, Hawaii and Missouri, and throughout the United States.