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Hit and Run Reminds us to be Prepared in case of an Automobile Accident

The Tampa Bay Times recently reported a story about a hit and run accident near St. Petersburg. In short, a Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy signaled for a man to pull over his vehicle. Instead of pulling over, the man ran a stop sign and collided with another vehicle. After the cars came to a halt, the man exited the vehicle and fled the scene dressed only in what was described as “multicolored” shorts.

hit and runFortunately, the victims of this driver’s recklessness were not seriously injured. If they did happen to suffer serious or catastrophic injuries, these unprepared citizens would have been bombarded with the legal issues that arise from such situations. They would have had to deal with Florida’s No Fault Insurance System and P.I.P. coverage, not to mention insurance companies looking to save as much money as possible for themselves.

As for the man who fled the scene, if found guilty of a hit and run, he is now subject to a minimum mandatory sentence of four years behind bars due to a new bill passed by Florida legislators. The driver will also lose his license for three years and be required to take a driver’s education class before having his license reinstated. Before this law was passed, if the man happened to be driving under the influence at the time of the accident, and fled the scene to only turn himself in once he was sober, he would not have received as stern a penalty as if he was caught driving under the influence. This new bill aims to punish the hit and run perpetrator as much as, if not more than, driving under the influence.

These issues are the reason why one must seek the legal assistance of an attorney in the event of an automobile accident. Clearwater and the surrounding areas, such as St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa, and New Port Richey all have very busy roads and intersections. You can be on your way to the grocery store when tragedy strikes and you’re a struck by a man running from the police.  Most of our clients are minding their own business carrying on daily living when the unexpected happens.

If you find yourselves in this type of situation, make sure to contact one the automobile accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group. They will help you navigate the proper channels and ensure that you are reimbursed by the insurance companies for the damages suffered in an automobile accident, such as medical bills, lost wages, and car repairs.  Rest assured that we will fight for your rights and protect your interests if you are the unfortunate victim of a hit and run accident.  Our diligent team of licensed Florida attorneys is ready to jump into action along with our full time accident investigator.  There are steps that must be taken immediately following the accident to preserve evidence and gather witness statements.  Choose Dolman Law Group to represent you.

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

http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/automobile-accidents/

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Whistleblowers should come Forward to Receive a Reward

You may have heard about qui tam, or false claims, cases in the news recently, which often involve prominent companies and large amounts of money, making the cases more high profile and noteworthy. However, the nuances of qui tam and what constitutes a false claim can be complicated, and it is important to understand what it means, in case you find yourself involved in a qui tam case, or have an interest in filing a false claims suit.

fraudQui tam (rhymes with “key ham”) is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase which translates to “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” The language and mention of a king makes qui tam seem strange and complex in the modern world of law, but once the idea of qui tam is understood, the meaning of its name makes much more sense. Qui tam is a writ that occurs when a private individual – a “whistleblower” – assists the prosecution, usually the government, and receives part of the penalty imposed. It is part of the False Claims Act, which according to Florida Statute 68.082, is when a person knowingly causes or assists in causing false or fraudulent payments.

The False Claims Act exists to prevent fraud. It allows for a whistleblower, also known as a relator, to file a lawsuit on behalf of the United States government. Fraud is committed knowingly when a person:

1. Has actual knowledge of the information;
2. Acts in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the information; or
3. Acts in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information.

In a case of false claims, qui tam comes into play to benefit the relator if the case is won. For suing on behalf of the government and pointing out the fraud, the relator can receive part, or sometimes all, of the money that was won from the fraudulent party. Whistleblowing can often be risky and dangerous, as the relator is usually a former employee or has some other relation to the fraudulent company, and their identity will likely become known at some point during the case. The writ of qui tam offers compensation for their actions, as the relator has done the right thing and pointed out fraud, even though it could come at a risk to them.

In 2013 the U.S. Department of Justice recovered more than $3 billion in fraud cases, with the largest portion ($2.6 billion) attributable to health care fraud. There have been many high-profile important qui tam cases involving large companies and corporations like hospitals, airlines, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and healthcare companies. Whistleblowers generally receive 15-25% of the recovered amounts and are also often applauded for coming forward against a company in a qui tam lawsuit. Their claims can prevent further fraud and even save lives, as they could be reporting unhealthy work conditions or other worksite dangers. In Florida, due to the high elderly population, qui tam cases often involve medical billing and Medicare fraud.

If you or someone you know is thinking about coming forward with information about false claims, please contact the Dolman Law Group at (727) 451-6900. We understand the nuances of qui tam cases, and are dedicated to helping our clients do the right thing in case of fraud.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 37765
727-451-6900

http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/qui-tam-litigation/

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July, the Most Dangerous Month for Boating Accidents: Fresh Look at Florida’s Laws

According to a 2013 boating accident report, compiled by the Florida Fish & Wild Conservation Commission, Florida leads the nation with the most registered vessels. In 2012, there were a total of 736 reportable boating accidents. Of the top 10 counties for boating accidents, Pinellas ranked fifth. As we enter the peak of summer, the same FWCC report noted that July traditionally sees the highest number of boating accidents and boating fatalities. The complete FWCC report can be found at http://myfwc.com/media/2804464/2013-BoatingStatistics.pdf. The FWCC website contains of list of approved courses, some of which are free. I personally have a boating safety card and occasionally refresh myself with familiarity of the navigational rules.

boating accidentsFlorida Statute §327.32 declares vessels as dangerous instrumentalities. This means that the operator of a vessel, by law is to exercise the highest degree of care in order to prevent injuries; Liability for reckless or careless operation is confined to the operator in immediate charge and NOT imposed upon the owner unless the owner is the operator or present when injury occurs. Therefore, if you rent a boat this summer and get into an accident, the livery is not automatically vicariously liable. Unlike motor vehicles where the owner can be held vicariously liable for the actions of the driver, a livery cannot is not liable unless it negligently entrusts the vessel to the renter.

The liability of liveries for personal watercraft (PWCs) such as jet-ski, regular pleasure boats, and pontoons is often the heart of a personal injury action occurring on the water. The practical reasons are financial. A single guy renting jet-skis from a dock is not as financially backed as a marina owner. Consider the case of McVicker v. Kolb, 839 So.2d 768 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) where a 14 year old was seriously injured after when her rented jet-ski collided with an anchored vessel. Kolb owned a business renting jet-skis from a dock owned by a marina; essentially the marina was the lessor. Without a doubt, Kolb was in violation of numerous Florida statutes for renting a PWCto a person under 14, failing to provide pre-ride instructions, and failing to have insurance. The theory against the marina was that it was liable because it knew or should have known that Kolb was committing crimes by violating these statutes. The appellate court disagreed reasoning that the lessor did not control the day to day operation of Kolb’s business.

However, a different outcome was seen in Meyers v. Scoot-A-Way Corp., 662 So.2d 411 (Fla. 3d DCA 1995) where the court found a lessor liable because a PWC was not seaworthy. In Meyers, a 16-year old was injured while operating a waverunner wherein the lessor removed the protective padding around the steering wheel area; the padding was originally installed by the manufacturer. The PWC was leased from Scoot-A-Way, which was owned by a hotel. The Court found that that both the lessee and lessor knowingly rented a PWC that was not seaworthy, in violation of Fla. Stat. 327.54(1)(d).

While the doctrine of unseaworthiness operates as a strict liability cause of action for injured seaman, it is not available to passengers or operators of PWCs in actions against liveries. However, Fla. Stat. 327.54 operates as a consumer protection-esque statute designed to ensure the renters are protected. Specifically provided for is that livery may not knowingly lease, hire, or rent a vessel to any person when the vessel is not seaworthy. Furthermore, a livery is required to have, in full force and effect, an insurance policy from a licensed Florida carrier with liability coverage of at least $500,000.00 per person and $1,000,000.00 per event. Proof of insurance must be available for inspection at the location where PWCs are being leased, hired, or rented; and renters shall be provided the carrier’s name and address.

The best advice is to only rent PWCs, pleasure boats, and the like from insured liveries; if you are unsure ask for proof of insurance. In the event the livery is uninsured, which is a punishable second degree misdemeanor, and an injury occurs, general maritime law will often hold the owner/lessor as not being vicariously liable absent a showing of negligent entrustment.

PWCs are statutory regulated and are required to be operated in a reasonable and prudent manner. Maneuvers which unreasonably endanger life, limb, or property constitute reckless operation of a vessel. Lessors are prohibited from renting a PWC to anyone under 14. Furthermore, it is unlawful for owners of any leased, hired, or rented PWC to permit the PWC to be operated by anyone who has not received instructions on its safe-handling. In Pinellas County, PWCs accounted for the second most common type of vessel involved in boating accidents last year; Pinellas was third in the state for the number of PWC accident. The data on PWC accidents, compiled by the FWCC, is extensive and telling.

As you take to the waterways around Tampa Bay this summer remember the following:
  • Be familiar with local waters
  • Have a proper look-out
  • Liveries are generally  not liable for injuries caused by the negligent operation of a vessel, absent negligent entrustment
  • Liveries MUST provide pre-ride instructions for vessels in excess of 10hp
  • PWCs operate differently than regular motor boats
  • Always yield the right of way to sailboats
  • Be cognizant of swimmers, divers, fixed objects, no-wake zones, manatees, and the meaning of navigational aids
Finally, if you end up finding yourself injured in a boating accident or know someone that has been, call Dolman Law Group for a free consultation regarding your rights in a maritime personal injury case.

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

http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/maritime-law/

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The Beginning of Hurricane Season and Insurance Claims

It’s that time of year again and Hurricane season is upon us. With the first named storm of the season, Hurricane Arthur, off the coast of North Florida, we must begin again to prepare for another tense season. It is always a tense time for Floridians, as we sit and sweat out the topical heat while watching a high pressure low developing off the coast of Africa. Rest assured, somewhere out there, a Hurricane is coming.

hurricaneIt is absolutely vital that you and your loved ones move to prepare sooner, rather than later, before the next storm breaks upon our shores. To learn what you need to prepare for a storm, please visit http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes. But more than preparing yourself with supplies to wait out the storm, you should arm yourselves with the power of knowledge and prepare for the legal slog that will come after the storm passes.

Due to the low elevation here in Clearwater, FL, as well as the vast majority of the State, the greatest issue facing property owners is the sudden increase in waves known as a storm surge. These rushing waters crush everything in their path and leave behind swathes of destruction miles wide. In the wake of these waters the National Guard, local search and rescue, and other emergency personnel labor tirelessly to rescue those trapped by the destruction. Their valiant efforts to save those trapped by failed evacuation plans are remarkably effective and the fatality rates from Hurricanes in the United States are remarkably low.

Unfortunately, once the rescue crews have packed up, and the television stations have moved on, residents are left waiting on the good faith of insurers to help them rebuild their lives. While most people have smooth and rapid dealings with their insurance companies, as the damages begin to pile up, and their liability increases, insurance companies drag their feet, or worse, issue you a low ball offer, adding insult to the already devastating damages you’ve already endured. In these situations it is important that you have aggressive, effective, and determined legal representation to help you get the compensation you deserve.

Home is where the heart is and there are few situations more stressful than having your family’s safe haven destroyed by a catastrophic storm.  Home owners faithfully pay their insurance premium each month in hopes that their coverage will protect them in the event of significant property damage.  The claims process can be arduous, frustrating and disheartening.  If your claim is denied, the appeals process can be overwhelming; the very insurance company that denied you claim typically will be the decision maker regarding the appeal.

Contact Dolman Law Group

The odds are stacked against the home owner when a Hurricane loss occurs.  Experienced and competent representation can make a tremendous difference in the claims fight.  If you or a loved one has had a bad faith experience with an insurance company, do not hesitate to contact your Clearwater Insurance Coverage Attorneys at Dolman Law Group.

Dolman Law Group
800 N. Belcher Rd.
Clearwater, FL 33765
727-451-6900

http://www.dolmanlaw.com/practice-area/insurance-bad-faith/

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Fireworks Safety Understanding the Dangers and Liability of Fireworks

With the annual celebration of our Nation’s Independence fast approaching, the private and public usage of fireworks will increase exponentially. These pyrotechnics are a traditional reference to the famous line from the Star-Spangled Banner, “the bombs bursting in air” and indeed, their luminous glow is frequently enough to confirm that our Flag is still there. These displays dazzle and amaze, and are a valued part of our national heritage that we should all continue to enjoy.

4th of July fireworksHowever, it is absolutely vital to remember that fireworks are indeed extremely dangerous explosive devices that must, under all circumstances, be handled with the utmost care. Each year, hospitals across the Country are flooded with thousands of injuries resulting from fireworks. While occasionally these are the result of manufacturer error, injuries most often result from negligent and reckless misuse by individuals.

A great many of these are the result of children getting ahold of fireworks and setting them off.   Children do not understand the potential dangers of using fireworks, and must never be allowed to use them without direct parental supervision. Therefore, it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to ensure that children who use fireworks are well supervised and that they do not injure themselves or others by their use of fireworks.

In addition to parents facing liability for the actions of their children using fireworks, everyone else who uses fireworks has the same responsibility to ensure that their enjoyment of the holiday does not injure those nearby. Due to the extremely dangerous instrumentality of fireworks, they place a particularly exacting standard of care upon their users and manufacturers to ensure that they are used and produced in a safe and responsible manner.

The greatest issue with damages resulting from fireworks on a holiday such as this is that it is often extremely difficult to definitively prove liability. There are many factors, such as the victim’s failure to take reasonable precaution or causing the injury themselves, to not being able to locate the proper party to sue. The sheer volume of injuries and people firing off fireworks on the Fourth of July make it very difficult for the average citizen to track down the party which caused them harm.

If you or your loved ones would like a safer alternative way to enjoy the 4th, please visit one of the many municipal displays around the Bay Area, or go to http://www.safejuly4th.org/ for more July 4th safety tips.  For a review of the laws surrounding the legality of the use of certain fireworks throughout Florida, please visit http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/floridas-fireworks-laws-whats-legal-and-whats-not/1014891

In situations like these, where you have been hurt by someone else’s irresponsibility, it is vital that you obtain experienced and effective legal representation. Please, do not hesitate to call your Clearwater Personal Injury Attorneys at Dolman Law Group.

Dolman Law Group
800 N. Belcher Rd.
Clearwater, FL 33765
727-451-6900

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