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Archive for July 2012

What Chicago Pedestrians Need To Know: Safety Programs

My Chicago injury attorney colleague, Jonathan Rosenfeld and I were recently talking about the severity of injuries sustained by pedestrians in our cities. As lawyers who represent victims of these accidents we were discussing some preventative measures our respective cities can take to help make walking though our cities a little safer. Jonathan was kind enough to share some the ambitious safety plans that Chicago is implementing to reduce the number of pedestrian accidents and fatalities. In 2011, the city of Chicago put together an analysis of the pedestrian accidents that happened between 2005 and 2009 involving motor vehicles. The study is part of an ongoing initiative to improve pedestrian safety and increase awareness of the issue in the Chicago area. The crash analysis is the first part of the city’s agenda to create a “Pedestrain Plan” that will target safety measures for pedestrians and a public awareness campaign on safety.

Safety Programs to Make Getting Around Chicago a Little Safer

The city of Chicago has implemented many programs over the years to target pedestrian safety. These programs will be instrumental in the ongoing investigation into how the city can make the streets of Chicago safer for pedestrians. Several programs are in place to increase pedestrian safety.
  • The Mayor’s Pedestrain Advisory Council. This council meets four times a year to discuss pedestrian safety. The members of the council include representation from different city departments along with people from the health care, enforcement, disability rights and other community groups. The council discusses pedestrian issues pertaining to safety, public awareness, enforcement and brainstorms on ideas for pedestrian planning.
  • Safe Streets For Chicago. This initiative was started in 2006 and combined existing programs and initiatives working towards pedestrian safety. It is comprised of the Chicago Police and Transportation Departments along with the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
  • Safe Routes Ambassadors. This is Chicago’s outreach team to teach pedestrian and bicycle safety to children. The ambassadors meet with thousands of children each year through the elementary school system doing in-class presentations and on-foot training.
  • Safe Routes For Seniors. Focusing on seniors, this program conducts awareness seminars at local senior centers, residences and health fairs on walking benefits and safety.
  • Pedestrian Safety Enforcement. This encompasses continuing efforts to enforce pedestrian safety laws, especially in known high-crash areas. Off-duty undercover policeman have been posing as pedestrians to catch motorists who do not yield.
  • Countdown Timers. These timers have been installed across the city to help reduce pedestrian crashes at intersections. The timers let pedestrians know how much time they have to cross and have been proven effective in reducing accidents.
  • Refuge Islands/Curb Extensions/Signal Timing. These initiatives are being implemented by the CDOT and increase the amount of time traffic signals allow for pedestrian crossing and reduce the amount of distance they must cover to cross the street. This is especially beneficial for children and senior safety.
  • Traffic Calming. These tools help slow down traffic using speed humps and bumps, traffic circles, curb bump outs and street closures. They all focus on slowing or reducing traffic, especially in residential areas.
Pedestrian safety resources: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/traffic_calming.html http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdot/pedestrian/2011PedestrianCrashAnalysisSummaryReport.pdf#page=4
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I-75 Automobile Accidents Pileup was Avoidable

On January 29, 2012 at 3:26 am the stretch of I-75 through Paynes Prairie in Alachua County was reopened afterhours of closure.  For several hours vehicles had been rerouted to a two-lane road due to smoke and fog on the Interstate Highway.  The smoke had already caused a number of automobile accidents on nearby US-441 and was so thick that visibility was non-existent.  At around 3 am, asustained wind pushed the smoke away from the roadway for twenty minutes.  Unfortunately, a breakdown of the system led the authorities to believe this brief window of visibility on the road was enough to justify reopening the road.  We all remember what happened next; what has been described by survivors as a series of accidents and explosions that “seemed like the end of the world.”  Eleven people dead, more than twenty hospitalized, and twenty-five destroyed vehicles resulted from the worst series of vehicle accidents in Florida history.

  As it turns out, these car wrecks may have been easily avoidable.  Investigative Reporters with the Gainesville Sun have uncovered a number of recommendations and policies that weren’t followed in the buildup to this most unfortunate tragedy.  January 29th wasn’t the first time a Florida Highway had been reduced to wreckage from smoke.  Just four years earlier, a smoke and fog-covered I-4 through Polk County was the scene of destruction on an evenmore massive scale.  Seventy vehicles were destroyed in the accidents on January 8th.  Fortunately, the number of dead was limited to five during the 2008 tragedy; less than half the number killed in the 2012 Paynes Prairie pileup.  The authorities realized that policy would need to address the problem of smoke and fog on interstates and other highways.  A decision was made that the Florida Highway Patrol, the fire management department of the Florida Forest Service and the State Transportation Department would work together to address these dangerous situations as an interdepartmental task force.   On January 29th of 2012, that task force failed.  A communication breakdown and improper training in addressing smoke and fog situations led to information being lost in the late evening of January 28 2012.  Late night officers for the FHP were not notified of the Forest Service warning them of the possibility of smoke coming from the Paynes Prairie fire.  The on-duty Forest Service officer was guaranteed that the midnight officers would be told about the fire, and the possibility of smoke or fog disrupting traffic on nearby I-75.  Instead the file on the Prairie Fire was closed after an officer noticed the fire had subsided just 20 minutes later.  The midnight officers were never warned of the obvious dangers, and were forced to address the overnight problems without the necessary information.  It wasn’t until after 1:00 am that an officer realized that the smoke shrouding I-75 was coming from the Prairie itself, not neighboring Putnam County.  That same officer objected to the reopening of I-75 shortly after 3 am, an objection that wasignored by superiors.  The chaos was began and ended in the span of the next hour.   The question everyone is forced to ask next is: how did they decide to re-open the highway?  Again, the answer is simple: There is no distinct policy concerning either how to open and close roads or how to respond to issues involving the combination of smoke and fog on roadways.  Officers were not trained properly on how to address these conditions and not informed of the appropriate authority for using the required departmental checklist for road closure and re-opening.   The current policy allows anyone to open a closed roadway, is ambiguous as to who is responsible for applying the checklist, and lacks any sort of guidance as to when the road should remainclosed.  It’s basically a “just use your best judgment” policy; and one that investigators said needed to be amended after the 2008 tragedy in Polk county in which a chain event of automobile accidents occurred.   These are just some of the reasons that the Paynes Prairie tragedy occurred.  And it’s unclear as to whether following the policies and recommendations that were ignored would’ve saved lives.  But one thing is for certain, that road should not have been open to traffic in theearly morning hours of January 29th, and many people suffered because the system failed to protect them.   It’s a tough pill to swallow when government officers fail to protect the public.  And that is because our taxes pay these individuals to keep us safe.  But the blame doesn’t fall solely on the policy enforcers, but also on the policy makers.  Recommendations which should have become policy or statutory law following the 2008 tragedy remained just recommendations.  The lawmakers have been standing still, not addressing glaring issues with public safety.  In a time where texting-while-driving is one of the undisputed leading dangers of injury and death on the road, Florida is one of the few states that has failed to enact a statute banning the act.  These safety policies are just a few of the necessary changes that will make Florida drivers safe on the roads.  Until then, awareness of your surroundings is left up to you.  So remember to be aware of your surroundings, never drive distracted, and to try and inform yourself of weather conditions if traveling on interstate highways.  And if you are involved in an accident, consult an experienced accident attorney to ensure that your rights are protected.
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Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury Can Persist for Years

Physicians have long believed that if you hit your head during a car accident or while playing sports, then the concussion symptoms; dizziness, memory loss, headaches, would disappear with a little rest and relaxation. A new study conducted at the University of Oklahoma has suggested that the effects of combat-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) can persist for years without any decreasing severity.

The research study, which was revealed at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society last month, evaluated 500 veterans who battled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subjects had screened positive for TBI during deployment between June 2008 and April 2011. The veteran victims were being treated at a special traumatic brain injury department at the Oklahoma City Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

A further level of testing administered to the veterans attempted to evaluate the persistence and intensity of  head injury symptoms including depression, lack of coordination, and issues with judgment. As a whole, those symptoms are known as post-concussion syndrome.

Researchers arranged the data according to whether the veterans had sustained a TBI injury within the previous four years, or five to eight years before the screening took place.

brain injury scanThe results were discouraging. Not one of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome seemed to improve over the previous eight years. Almost half of the veterans who had endured a TBI within the past four years disclosed that they were still having mild-to-moderate headache pain. About 46% reported that they were experiencing severe headaches.

Those numbers were nearly identical for veterans who had experienced TBI five to eight years before, with roughly 45 % claiming theywere still having mild headaches and 51% saying they had severe headaches.

The same pattern appeared in the data set for five other symptom types stemming from post-concussion syndrome: dizziness, balance, coordination, decision making and depression. The majority of veterans participating in the study screened positive for all of the symptoms above,excluding depression.

“These results prove we’re not seeing recovery in veterans with these head injuries,” stated Dr. James R. Couch, a respected professor of neurology at the University of Oklahoma and the lead author of the study. “In fact, there is a tendency that things are getting just a little worse.”

Dr. Couch believes closed-head injuries could be particularly dangerous because the veterans with TBI look normal on the exterior, but on the inside are sustaining pain or cognitive problems that can entirely disrupt their normal lifestyles.

He said that the observed symptoms worsened for those veterans who had suffered more than one TBI, suggesting a cumulative impact of head injuries. Previous research has also supported this claim.

Many of the 500 veterans evaluated had received their brain injuries from explosions. However, Dr. Couch stated that the data did not seem to vary significantly with veterans who had TBI from other sources, such as automobile accidents.

The wide range of symptoms associated with TBI contributes to the complexity of treating the injury. Since some symptoms are psychiatric and others physical, numerous medications and therapies are suggested for each. Veterans with post-concussion syndrome may also require additional services to find employment or salvage marriages, Dr. Couch explained.

“We have to recognize that people who may have head injuries may look the same, but they are not going to act the same,” Dr. Couch said. “You’ve got to stabilize the patient’s interaction with family and try to create the best environment for the patient to be able to return to employment, stay with the family and return to self-respect.”

Dr. Couch also noted that the researchers considered the odds that some veterans only reported ongoing symptoms so that they could continue receiving disability compensation.

He termed the above hypothetical occurrence “compensationneurosis,” and said its existence has been debated since the 1880’s, when a German researcher found that the number of people who reported being hurt in railway accidents exponentially increased after the government began to pay out compensation for such injuries. However, Dr. Couch said that there is also sufficient evidence that people generally do not report physical injuries based on whether compensation is involved or not.

A shortcoming of the study, which was partially financed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, was that it was retrospective and did not include follow-ups with the veterans, said Dr. Couch. As a result, events after a deployment, including problems with alcohol or drugs, or even new injuries, were not taken into consideration.

Future research studies should focus on observing a group of veterans with post-concussion syndrome over many years, not only to determine which symptoms persist the longest, but also which therapy treatments are most effective.

Research studies should also observe whether veterans with head injuries develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a severe brain disease that was once primarily associated with contact sports but has recently been diagnosed in younger combat veterans.

“Early recognition and early treatment is a major issue here,” he said. “If we treat these people early, we get a much better result.”

Anyone showing signs of moderate or severe TBI should seek medical treatment immediately. Because little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage resulting from trauma, doctors try to first stabilize an individual with TBI and then focus on preventing any further injury. Major concerns include insuring sufficient oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body, maintaining blood flow, and controlling blood pressure levels. Imaging tests help in determining the diagnosis and prognosis of a TBI victim. Patients with mild to moderate injuries may receive X-rays to check for bone fractures. For more moderate to severe cases, the imaging test used is a computed tomography (CT) scan. Moderately to severely injured TBI patients also receive rehabilitation that consists of individual treatment plans in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, psychiatry, and psychology.

It is extremely important to consult with a qualified Florida traumatic brain injury attorney if you, or a loved one, have sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as the result of another’s negligence. Please contact: matt@dolmanlaw.com or call Dolman Law Group at: (727) 451-6900. The brain injury attorneys at the Dolman LawGroup are available for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
727-451-6900

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The Recent Florida Supreme Court Ruling Regarding Florida’s Drug Laws and What It Means for our Criminal Justice System

As a Clearwater drug defense Attorney, I have closely followed the recent Florida Supreme Court decision.  We have all heard about the “presumption of innocence”, a constitutional right afforded to all citizens.  However, does the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling regarding our drug laws toss that principle right out the window? [1] Consider the law detailing that the State, who brings charges against a defendant, has the burden of proof, and the defendant has no burden to prove his/her innocence.  This latest opinion muddies those waters as well.[2]

Justice Perry’s dissent opposing the Court’s opinion presents many likely scenarios where a defendant could be in “innocent possession” of a controlled substance.[3]  It is not as uncommon as the majority opinion makes it seem.  The majority believes that since Florida law contains a provision for an “affirmative defense”, an innocent person will not be convicted if they do not know of a substances illegal nature.  That is putting a lot of faith in juries and/or judges and is a hefty assumption on the part of the Court. If a defendant finds himself charged with possessing a controlled substance, he then has two choices.  He can plead guilty or go to trial.  If he did not know that the substance was present, or was unaware of the illegal nature of the drug, of course he does not want to plead guilty.  Consider the significant sentences, some mandatory under the law, if a person is found guilty and convicted under Florida’s drug laws.  Penalties can range from probation to life in prison. A client that we represented was faced with this very decision recently.  We will call the client Mr. Brooks.  The State of Florida charged Mr. Brooks with Trafficking in Illegal Drugs (Hydrocodone) because when law enforcement stopped him on his bicycle for something unrelated, he had another person’s prescription pill bottle in his jacket pocket. The minimum mandatory for that charge is 15 years in prison.  At trial, we presented evidence that Mr. Brooks had not opened the bottle, was not aware of exactly what was inside of it, and that he had picked it up from his mother’s driveway because her caretaker’s name was on the bottle.  Mr. Brooks often saw the caretaker in the neighborhood and planned to return the bottle to him when he saw him again.  The caretaker even testified at trial that it was his, and he likely dropped it during a visit to the elderly mother’s residence. The affirmative defense was that Mr. Brooks innocently possessed these narcotics that were only illegal because not prescribed to him, and he was unaware of the illicit nature of the substance because he had never actually opened or inspected the bottle.  The jury found him guilty and the judge had no choice but to sentence Mr. Brooks to 15 years in prison. In Mr. Brooks’ case, and many others like it, he went into his trial presumed guilty because the state did not have to prove knowledge of the substance or any intention on the part of the defendant.  All the state had to prove was that the substance was in Mr. Brooks’ possession and it was Hydrocodone.  The burden then shifts to Mr. Brooks and those in his position to show lack of knowledge and why this illegal conduct should not be punished.  This is no small feat, despite what the Supreme Court of Florida Justices (who wrote the majority opinion) believe, and it does not always prevent the conviction of an innocent person.[4] As Justice Perry writes in his dissent: “Section 893.13 does no punish the drug dealer who possess or delivers controlled substances.  It punishes anyone who possessed or delivers controlled substances-however inadvertently, however accidentally,however unintentionally….What distinguishes innocent possession and innocent delivery from guilty possession and guilty delivery is not merely what we possess, not merely what we deliver, but what we intend.  As to that-as to the state of mind that distinguishes non-culpable from culpable possess or delivery- §893.13 refuses to make a distinction.  The speckled flock and the clean are, for its purposes, all one.”[5] This is the second in a series of articles discussing how this ruling will affect those charged with drug offenses in Florida.  Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC. is a full-service Pinellas County criminal defense firm.  Conveniently located in Largo, our office is only minutes away for residents of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.  Our attorneys regularly handle criminal defense for residents of Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks, Kenneth City, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Beach, Treasure Island, Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. If you are in the need of assistance or for more information, please contact Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC. at 1-855-PSF-FIRM or (727) 531-2926 for a free consultation and case evaluation.    


[1] State of Florida v. Luke Jarrod Adkins, et al. No. SC11-1878 (Fla.2012)
[2] State of Florida v. Luke Jarrod Adkins, et al. No. SC11-1878 (Fla.2012)
[3] Id. At 39-47
[4] Id. at 21
[5] Id. at 42-43
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Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney Discusses the Florida Supreme Court Ruling Regarding Florida’s Drug Laws and What it Means for our Criminal Justice System

Many in the legal community and lay people as well have been waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to hand down a ruling regarding Florida’s drug laws.  The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently held that Florida’s drug statute 893.13 was unconstitutional.[1]  The decision made the news and brought about many questions from defendants, attorneys, judges, and lay citizens in our state.

The District Court concluded that Florida’s drug law is unconstitutional, violating the Due Process Clauses of the Florida and United States Constitutions, because it does not require sufficient mens rea on the part of the defendant to sustain a conviction.[2]  This means that the law does not require knowledge of the illicit nature of a controlled substance as an element of the offenses under this chapter of the law.  The State appealed that decision. On July 12, 2012 the Supreme Court of Florida issued its opinion.[3]  The Court held that the Legislature did not exceed its constitutional authority in redefining section 893.13 to not require proof that a defendant knew of this illegal nature of the controlled substance.  The Court found that it was not improper burden shifting to require the defendant to prove lack of knowledge as an affirmative defense. The opinionstates that in the “unusual circumstance where a person possesses a controlled substance inadvertently, establishing the affirmative defense available under section 893.101 will preclude the conviction of the defendant.”[4] This is the first in a series of articles discussing how this ruling will affect those charged with drug offenses in Florida.  Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC. is a full-service Clearwater criminal defense firm.  Conveniently located in Largo, our office is only minutes away for residents of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.  Our Criminal trial attorneys routinely handle criminal defense for residents of Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks, Kenneth City, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Beach, Treasure Island, Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, PalmHarbor and Tarpon Springs. If you are in the need of assistance or for more information, please contact Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC. at 1-855-PSF-FIRM or (727) 531-2926 for a free consultation and case evaluation


[1] Shelton v. Sec’y Dept. of Corr., 802 F. Supp. 2d 1289 (M.D. Fla. 2011)
[2] Id. at 1301
[3] State of Florida v. Luke Jarrod Adkins, et al. No. SC11-1878 (Fla.2012)
[4] Id. at 22
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