What Can I Do If a Sinkhole Has Caused Damage or Injury?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Residents of Florida sometimes encounter a threat from sinkholes, which can damage property and injure or kill people. The holes occur more frequently in Florida than any other state. They occur naturally and can form without any obvious warning signs. Florida law includes protections for citizens and insurance companies, but many find these regulations complicated. Read on to learn more about sinkholes, the damages they cause and how the government classifies them, methods available to you for filing a claim, and what you should do in the aftermath of a sinkhole.

What Is a Sinkhole?

When water dissolves land forms of soil, sediment, or rock as foundation, a sink hole occurs. The ground may sink into an underground cave that forms from the water dissolution. Insurers are required to cover a catastrophic ground cover collapse when the ground collapses abruptly, a visible hole or depression appears, structures are damaged, and the government condemns the structures due to the damages.

If your home is damaged by a sinkhole but all four of those conditions are not met, and you do not have sinkhole coverage, an insurance company can deny a claim. All companies insuring homes in Florida must offer sinkhole coverage. However, if the company completes an inspection and finds sinkhole activity on the property or nearby, they may refuse coverage.

Methods for Filing Suit

When sinkholes occur, owners and those injured may file a claim for liability. These claims fall into different categories, based on the circumstances:

  1. Premises Liability

Visitors to a home or building who receive injuries because of a sinkhole may file suit against the owner claiming premises liability. Owners must make every effort to keep visitors to their property safe from harm. When an owner is aware of a potential sinkhole forming but does not take action to address the dangerous situation, the injured party can sue the owner for failing to fulfill his or her responsibilities.

  1. Real Estate Fraud

Home sellers must advise potential buyers of sinkhole threats. Although the warning signs of a sinkhole forming can be hard to spot, if a seller knows of a sinkhole and fails to inform the buyer, the seller could bear full liability for the damages.

  1. Neighborly Nuisance

Sometimes a company or entity near your home sets the stage for the sinkhole to happen, causing the damage to your home. A gas company may be doing maintenance on pipes, for example. A factory could do some work that affects an entire neighborhood. Suing a neighbor may prove the best way for a victim to seek damages.

What Should You Do

If you suspect a sinkhole may exist or be forming near your home, contact a professional service. They can fill some small holes as they form. Others require evacuation and may lead to massive damages.

In the event you suspect a nearby sinkhole caused damage, make sure you ask the local utility companies to inspect your lines. After that, call your insurance company to file your claim. You may want to call an inspector in to help you identify other damages like cracks in your foundation, walls, or ceilings.

Posted by admin at 6:13 pm

How Do Damage Caps Work?

Monday, December 11, 2017

When injured persons file a lawsuit to recover damages, they hope to receive fair financial compensation. Sometimes they will hear the amount awarded by the jury and think they will receive that amount. However, many states have passed laws limiting the payout amount, the so-called damage cap. Read on to learn more about damage caps, what types of damages face caps, and other rules that affect the amount awarded in a lawsuit.

What Are Damage Caps?

If an individual is injured because of negligence during medical care, he or she may file a medical malpractice claim. This lawsuit claims a provider did not practice standard operating procedures, failing to diagnose or treat a patient’s injuries.

A damage cap exists to limit how much a service provider will have to pay, with each state enacting its own limits. States set these caps to prevent juries from awarding excessive payout amounts. Damage awards of millions of dollars would drive up insurance costs and eventually raise doctors’ fees to deal with the upwardly spiraling costs.

Some states block lawyers from mentioning a damage cap, thus freeing the jury to award whatever they deem fair and enacting the cap after the fact. In some cases, judges have capped the payout themselves to reduce a payout to something they considered reasonable.

Caps for Different Damages

Even in situations where the law requires payout caps, the type of damage awarded determines which cap applies. Several categories of damages exist, including economic, non-economic, and punitive.

Economic and Non-Economic Damages Caps

Any concrete, measurable expenses for medical care, rehabilitation, or loss of wages falls into the economic category, with defined limits already in place. Non-economic damages cover any damages not already included in the economic category. This includes pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and mental anguish.

These damages do not follow definable expenses or future expenses based on already known data or charts. A jury must employ a subjective approach to determine non-economic damage payouts.

Most states have passed caps on these types of damages. However, states exempt cases that deal with wrongful death or grievous injuries (e.g., loss of limb, organ, etc.) from the damage caps entirely or have a higher cap in place.

Punitive Damages Caps

These damages, sometimes called exemplary damages, serve to punish willful acts of wrongdoing. These damages should deter the wrongdoer and others in a similar position from these acts in the future.

Federal guidelines set in place in 2005 place limits to prevent extremely high punitive damages payouts; however, these limits still allow large awards in certain situations. States took this a step further, placing strict limitations on punitive payouts in personal injury claims, some eliminating them altogether. A variety of caps now exist, some with multiplying factors to set caps in place.

Other Rules

States established further tort reforms. For example, a plaintiff once could receive all damages from a single defendant when multiple defendants shared the blame. Now, the obligation to pay applies to all defendants.

Another rule added by the states, collateral source, prevents defendants from mentioning any compensation a plaintiff may have already received, like payouts from the plaintiff’s own insurance. This prevented juries from potentially reducing a payout by taking into account payments already received. This rule applies to all medical malpractice lawsuits and in many personal injury claims. Some state courts later declared this rule unconstitutional.

Several resources exist to help you find out what damage caps exist in your state, as well as what exemptions or special rules apply for specific situations.

Posted by admin at 6:11 pm

What Is a “Failure to Protect” Claim?

Monday, December 4, 2017

If the police detain someone and place him or her in the car for transport but fail to secure the person’s seatbelt, thus subjecting him or her to injury when a car accident happens on the way to the police station, can that person sue the officers? This point is hotly debated. Here are some of the basics on what constitutes a failure to protect.

Failure to Protect

The most common example is when an adult fails to do something generally considered reasonable to safeguard or rescue a child from abuse or neglect. The adult in question might be a non-abusive parent or guardian who knows the abuser’s identity but does not report them to the police. This state of protection exists for anyone in a legally recognizable position of authority over others. Teachers, first-responders, doctors, police officers, and daycare workers all carry the same obligation to protect.

Civil Liability

Can a person file suit against an officer, claiming failure to protect for injury sustained because of the officer’s inaction? According to the U.S. court system, due process clauses guaranteed in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments allow a civil lawsuit under two doctrines: special relationship and state-created danger.

Special Relationship

This exists when the state takes control of a person in such a manner that a requirement to protect exists. Examples of this include a prisoner or state-committed mental patient. Any entity taking control of another person must protect that person against reasonable or foreseeable dangers.

Corrections officials face this kind of claim most often, but any police officer working in a jail or holding a person in custody could face charges of negligence or abuse. If an officer is holding a person in cuffs when they are both attacked, the officer must protect the individual because he or she cannot defend themselves. If the officer does not properly buckle the seatbelt of a detained person and that person is injured in an accident, the officer failed to protect the person from harm.

State-Created Danger

This situation occurs when a person receives injuries because an employee of the state, a police officer, for example, acted incorrectly or because the officer failed to act in an obviously dangerous situation. Failure to protect a person does not always violate the due process guaranteed in the Constitution; however, it does violate it when the state creates a dangerous situation or unnecessarily exposes a person to risk he or she would not have faced otherwise.

Put differently, if an officer intervenes, and that intervention exposes another person to danger they would not have otherwise faced, they may face liability. The same liability exists when a person is put in danger by a failure to act.

Examples

In Wood v. Ostrander, Washington state troopers impounded the car of a drunk driver they arrested, forcing the wife to walk home alone in an area noted for high levels of crime. A driver later offered help, only to rape her in a secluded area. The Court of Appeals declared that the police created the situation through their act of detaining the car and through their inaction in not providing the wife safe passage home.

In Kennedy v. Ridgefield, the Kennedy family reported their nine-year-old daughter’s molestation by their neighbor’s 13-year-old son. They also said they feared the boy because of his instability. The police promised protection, but they failed to properly inform the Kennedy’s that they had interviewed the boy. The accused boy broke into the Kennedy’s house that night and shot both parents, killing the father. The Court of Appeals stated that the failure of the police to alert the Kennedys, and provide the promised protection, placed the victims in a dangerous situation that would not have existed otherwise.

Posted by admin at 6:07 pm