This week I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to over 400 high school seniors concerning the facts of distracted driving. I spoke as a proud member of the CTLA (Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association), and as a Volunteer Speaker for EndDD.ORG. I was given an amazing scientific and research based presentation to deliver which allowed me the chance to change attitudes and actions. It was a chance to inform not preach, and to allow for meaningful choice. Hopefully, we made a difference. I look forward to the next chance. Todd D. Haase, Esq., TDH, Law, LLC.
REACHING YOUR AUDIENCE
Words and stories are the tribal drum that we all gather around as human beings. As a trial lawyer, it’s the way that I communicate my client’s injuries to insurance adjuster, mediators, arbitrators, and if need be jurors.
Great attorneys will immerse you in their client’s story. Bad attorneys will immerse you in the facts.
Choose carefully. Todd D. Haase, Esq., TDH Law, LLC
ACCIDENTS v. CRASHES-WHEN WORDS MATTER
The key characteristic of any language are the words that epitomize it, and the baggage those words carry. One of the words that carries such baggage is the word accident. It is one of the most misused words in the English language, and is a word that is commonly used incorrectly and inappropriately to define a car crash caused by ones negligence, carelessness, or recklessness. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines accident as “an unexpected happening” that “is not due to the fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured…” The term when used inappropriately can be read by some as exonerating the person responsible. The word accident conveys a no-fault attitude. A statement that someone has been involved in an accident should never be used to define a collision caused by the inappropriate conduct of a driver ( i.e. speeding, running a stop sign or light, texting, driving while under the influence, or failing to stop for a pedestrian in a designated crosswalk) that results in the injury to another human being. Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate of speed not seen in 50 years, and those crashes are mainly due to the wrongful conduct of drivers. The fact is words matter, but when words are improperly wielded, they can be dangerous weapons. Let’s take the time to use them well.
IS IGNORANCE BLISS?
Should I educate the jury concerning all the issues involved in my client’s complex personal injury case? The correct answer is it depends. Personal injury trials often involve specialized medical issues that a vast majority of jurors simply don’t understand. However, you should only spend time teaching your jury if you need to change how the jurors understand the issues in order to win. Every juror has their own understanding of the issues involved in a case. And its also true that their understanding and assumptions may be completely wrong, oversimplified or misinformed. But for one of the parties in a trial, these misguided assumptions work in their favor and make a juror receptive to their respective case. Just remember, a lawyer is not a professor, and teaching doesn’t always help you win trials. Every second you spend time trying to educate a jury is one less second you will have to persuade the jury on the important themes and evidence in your case. The fact is lawyers do not have enough time at trial to give jurors a complete education on any topic, so they must accept the fact that jurors will always be somewhat confused and ignorant about certain issues. A successful lawyer must accept the reality that he/she cannot or should not try to educate the jury in every case.
The choices at the outset of trial are threefold: Do I want to keep or get rid of the jurors who are informed about the issues that will be present during this trial (do they have training and experience on the issues)? What will the expectations of my uninformed jurors be? And do I need to change these expectations by educating the jury, or leave these expectations alone if those assumptions pre-dispose the jurors to be receptive to my client’s case.
Clearly the best way to learn about the baseline expectations and assumptions of the uninformed jury pool is to use a focus group. However, if you cannot afford a formal focus group you can informally focus group such expectations by talking with people you know in all walks of life. This is your opportunity to learn what most of your jurors will assume about your case, and whether these assumptions are good or bad for your case. Don’t educate them ! Just ask them what they think without correction. As a lawyer, you need to know before trial whether these assumptions will be helpful or harmful, and whether you need to change their minds or overcome expectations.
It is only when you have a sense of what most people assume about the issues in your case can you decide whether or not to educate your jurors or let their expectations work for you.
THE ILLUSION OF MULTITASKING AND DISTRACTED WALKING
Multitasking (doing more than one thing at the same time) is largely an illusion. We can’t do it, at least not well. No one can perform two cognitive tasks simultaneously. Instead, what we are doing is switching our attention from one task to another. The problem is we have limited cognitive resources, and when they are being used for the purposes of switching between two tasks, they are not available to engage in the tasks themselves. A great example that multitasking does not work is the subject of distracted walking. It is not hard to find on the internet video clips of people walking into a wall, falling into a fountain, falling onto a subway track, falling off a bridge, or aimlessly walking in front of a car on a busy roadway, all while engaged with their cell phones. While these video clips have entertainment value, the problem of distracted walking is no laughing matter. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimates that pedestrian fatalities jumped by 10 percent last year, an increase that comes after a 19 percent increase from 2009 to 2014. In fact, the GHSA projected that pedestrian deaths in 2015 would account for 15 percent of all traffic fatalities.
Pedestrian injuries resulting from multitasking are senseless occurrences that easily can be prevented. The solution begins with public awareness of the potential hazards caused by the distractive and destructive use of electronic devices. That awareness should start in every home, and every school with the proper dissemination of the simple facts associated with multitasking and distracted walking. Please do your part.
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL
Falling asleep and drowsy driving is a major problem in the United States, and the risk and dangers often lead to tragic results. An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) report falling asleep at the wheel in the last 30 days, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2013 drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths. In general, who are these drivers ?: they are our neighbors who do not get enough sleep; they are commercial drivers who work long shifts operating tow trucks, tractor trailers, and buses; they are night shift workers; they are drivers with sleep disorders; and they are drivers who use medications that make them drowsy. Drowsiness alone is the cause of many tragic collisions in that: it makes drivers less able to pay attention to the road; it slows reaction time when a driver needs to suddenly brake or turn; and it affects a driver’s decision making ability.
In the State of Connecticut falling asleep at the wheel is a sufficient basis for holding a driver accountable for a collision. Because sleep does not ordinarily come upon a driver without warning, and if a driver knows or should know that they are becoming sleepy they must maintain a constant vigilance to stay awake or cease driving altogether. The Connecticut courts have also ruled that falling asleep while driving can constitute recklessness.
The solution to this problem is public awareness and common sense. Because falling asleep at the wheel does not come without warning signs such as: yawning or frequently blinking; difficulty in remembering the past few miles driven; missing your exit; drifting from your lane; or hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road. If you experience any of these warning signs please pull over to rest or change drivers. We all thank you.
PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS AND SOCIAL MEDIA- A BAD MIX
If you have made a personal injury claim, insurance companies and their representatives may be monitoring your social networking activity including you and your friends posts, blogs, photographs, and videos. Their mission is to discredit you and your claim, and minimize the amount they have to pay out. If you are making a personal injury claim assume that any posts, blogs, photographs, and videos that contradict your injuries will be used against you. However, if you are determined to stay on a social media platform (i.e. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ etc.) you should follow these rules:
1. Don’t post details about your claim, injuries, or recovery. This includes blogging, photographs, video, or responding to others’ comments about your claim or injuries;
2. Remove past posts that can be used to limit your claim (i.e. comments about a sore neck or back etc. that can be used as evidence that the incident in question wasn’t the sole cause of your present complaints);
3. Google yourself, and if there is something that concerns you contact your attorney immediately;
4. Don’t let friends post about you. You can assume such information will be assessed by insurance companies; and
5. Increase your privacy settings on social media platforms to help limit past, present, or future information that may hurt your claim.
However, the only way to insure that social media doesn’t affect your personal injury claim is to avoid it all together.
PATIENT INTIMIDATION AND BALANCE BILLING
You have gone to the doctor to receive the medical care you needed. At the time of your appointment you presented your health insurance card, which they said they accepted, and paid the required co-pay. Two weeks later, you receive a bill from the doctor’s office showing payment from your insurance company, and a claim that you now owe the balance of what the the insurance company didn’t pay. If this scenario sounds familiar, then you have experienced the intimidation and illegal act of balance billing.
Balance billing is the practice of some doctors, hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities who bill patients for the balance of what the patient’s health insurance did not pay. This practice is illegal in the State of Connecticut (See Connecticut General Statutes Section 20-7f). It is illegal for ” any health care provider” to request payment from a person who has health insurance, other than a co-payment or deductible, for medical services covered under a managed health insurance plan.
Isn’t this the reason people get health insurance in the first place? People get health insurance to have the insurance company negotiate health care costs on their behalf. Patients should not be intimated or used as pawns in a fight for money. In fact, the law requires that patients be left out of this negotiation, and that medical providers and insurance companies work all disputes out on their own.
Today more than ever, it is critical that patients know their rights.
Yesterday 9 people were killed and 1,153 people were injured in the United States as a direct result of distracted driving (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). If you have not realized it yet, people are dying and being injured at an epidemic rate because car companies and technology companies have sold you and your loved ones a never unplugged lifestyle. A lifestyle that endangers anyone who just happens to be in your path of travel. And the facts get worse, because studies show (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute & Toyota 2012) that if you are a parent and you drive distracted, your children are 2-4 times more likely to drive distracted.
So what should you do? The facts mandate that you step back and unplug. Ask yourself, what’s truly important in life? Then educate yourself, and your loved ones about the risks of distracted driving. Lastly, demand from your representatives that the traffic laws on the books be enforced, and that much needed new laws about distracted driving be introduced, passed, and implemented.
Mark Twain said that “two of the most important days of your life are the day that you were born and the day you find out why.”
He is referring to a calling, a purpose, a reason we are all here. Unfortunately, when people are permanently injured because of someone else’s negligence, carelessness, or recklessness their purpose and plans in life are frequently thwarted. When that happens, they live a life that is diminished by pain and encumbered by restrictions. For that they are entitled to compensation, and those are the people that I represent.
This is not only what I do to make a living, it is my calling. Attorney Todd D. Haase, TDH Law, LLC