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Ride-share companies or transportation network companies, also known by their car service apps names, such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Drive, LeCab, Snapcar, and Flywheel, many of which got their start in San Francisco, are beginning to see their liability free loopholes begin to close. The recent boom in ride-share companies has come with significant backlash, much from the already highly regulated and liability insured limo and taxi drivers and their representative organizations. For years now professional drivers have been bring to light the dangers of ride shares. Much of the unfair competition claims stem from the fact that ride-share companies are seen as unregulated, underinsured, limited liability companies, that are not required to maintain their vehicles as vigilantly, or limit the hours of operation for their contracted drivers thus lessening driver fatigue, nor must they run background or criminal checks on their drivers, or require the ride-share companies to have liability insurance as costly or as inclusive as other forms of transportation require by both state and federal law. Contrary to distracted driving laws, ride-share companies also tend to utilize a GPS like interfacing system to communicate with their drivers, potentially leading to more distracted drivers on the cities roadways. Furthering frustrations, when accidents do happen these ride-share companies are quick to distance themselves from the driver and the subsequent harm caused.

While a fairly new business model, ride-shares are the online equivalent of the middleman. A “user” also known as a passenger, downloads an app, signs up for the service, linking their account to a credit card, and simply logs in to hail a cab, all in the convenience of their own home, business, or social gathering. The user/passenger would then have a picture of their driver, license plate number, and expected arrival time texted back to them on their mobile device. Uber, which is available in Philadelphia works like this; within a short amount of time the user will be greeted by either a base car, picture a black Lincoln model car, with a price tag of $7 plus total travel time, or an SUV option with a $14 base cost, plus the cost of the total travel time. Included in the cost is a tip for the driver. There is nowhere to indicate that the driver actually gets the tip and it is not just incorporated into the drivers total daily takeaway, therefore subject to be split with whatever agreed upon percentage the middleman acquires.

As a Philadelphia personal injury attorney I was particularly interested in a recent wrongful-death suit brought against the ride-share company Uber, and an Uber driver charged with vehicular manslaughter. The driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, was a driver contracted to work with Uber this past New Year’s Eve, one of the companies biggest surge pricing nights. The suit claims that Muzzafar was signed in to Uber and while not currently carrying an Uber passenger, the driver was interfacing with the Uber equipment on one of their busiest nights. While all rides vary in cost per the distance traveled in a taxi, for ride-shares companies, the cost is also contingent upon the particular time, place, or day that you happen to use your ride-share. Nearly all ride-shares use a form of price surging as a means to add incentive to drivers “to get out on the road during peak hours when riders need them the most.”

In this instance the driver Muzzafar, was working during such a peak time. He had already picked up an Uber passenger, dropped off a passenger, and was awaiting anotehr Uber call when he turned into the intersection. Muzzafar struck a group of pedestrians as they crossed the street, in a crosswalk near the Civic Center, in San Francisco. 6-year-old Sophia Liu, was fatally injured and died at the scene. Her 5-year-old brother was seriously injured and was transported to local area hospital for treatment. Their mother was also struck and injured as she walked with her children in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. The suit alleges that Uber’s business practices run afoul of California’s distracted driving laws by requiring any Uber driver to interface with a device similar to a cellphone in order to secure and confirm a new passenger or user request. The suit requests unspecified damages as they claim negligent hiring and supervision by Uber, negligence with a motor vehicle, wrongful death, and infliction of emotional distress. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court and what the rippling effects this lawsuit may have on the highly unregulated ride-share community.
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Three months ago, federal Judge Judith Fitzgerald requested post-trial briefs for a Delaware asbestos case. Pending her ruling, the case appears to still be mired in the mud of decision making.

Fitzgerald spends her time as a United States bankruptcy judge in Pennsylvania’s Western District and Delaware. Back in the second week of January she held an estimation trial that lasted a week. The trial was supposed to reduce the gap between the amount that the case’s debtors (Bondex International, RPM International and Specialty Products Holding Corp.) believe they owe any future asbestos victims who file a claim and the amount future claimants assert that the bankrupt companies should pay them.

Prior to filing for bankruptcy, the debtors were asbestos defendants in the tort system. Their bankruptcy filing stops civil litigation and forces them to establish a trust fund to compensate future claimants. From January 7 to January 11, attorneys for the debtors and those representing the Official Committee of Asbestos Personal Injury Claimants pleaded their case to Fitzgerald in her 52nd floor courtroom in a Pittsburgh commercial tower. However, the case seems to be in limbo as the concerned parties await Fitzgerald’s ruling, which is expected before she retires on May 31.

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A wrongful death claim filed by a hunter’s widow has been remanded to Bucks County Court of Common Pleas by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Baylson. The accident happened on November 29, 2010. The case was sensationalized when it was discovered that the Quakertown, PA, resident, Barry Groh, was mistaken for a deer and shot by David Manilla, a Worcester, PA, lawyer, who is also the nephew of Michael Marino, a former Montgomery County District Attorney. Because he is a convicted felon, Manilla was not supposed to be in possession of firearms whatsoever when he killed Groh on Manilla’s land on opening day of deer season. Groh had permission to hunt on Manilla’s property at the time of the shooting. Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Marino was a member of the hunting party. It is alleged that he did not act fast enough when Groh was shot and dying. No charges were filed against Marino or Manilla.

On Jan. 10, 2011, Barry Groh’s widow, Theresa Lynn Groh, filed a suit claiming wrongful death against Manilla in Bucks County. Her suit claims he acted recklessly and carelessly on the day her husband was killed. She alleges that Manilla failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the shooting, he was riding around with a loaded firearm on an ATV and he did not notify law enforcement personnel for 30 minutes after Groh was shot by Manilla.

Since then, she has also filed more civil suits in state court, including a complaint in trespass against Barbara Fletcher, who was Manilla’s lover, a complaint for declaratory judgment against Allstate Insurance Co. and a complaint in trespass against Marino, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co., as well as David and Vivian Manilla. These suits were consolidated by a Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge for pre-trial discovery. Another member of the hunting party, Robert Monestero, was also sued by Groh. Monastero’s attorney filed a motion to move the case to Philadelphia federal court. Groh had hoped to have Monestero deposed for the consolidated complaints against Manilla, Marino and Fletcher, however Monestero’s lawyer said his client wouldn’t testify until he had been made aware of the specific charge against him. When Groh finally filed a complaint against Monestero, his lawyer filed a motion to transfer the case to Philadelphia federal court.

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Eastern District U.S. Judge Cynthia Rufe granted the motion of two health insurers to remand their Avandia pharmaceutical cases to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. She ruled that the GlaxoSmithKline removal to federal court had been premature.

Rufe’s decision doesn’t prevent the lawsuits from ever being removed to a consoldated ongoing Avandia Multidistrict litigation in federal court. For now, the complaints are returning to the civil justice division in Philadelphia thanks to a technicality.

Humana Health Plan Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc., the plaintiffs in the cases, were seeking remand because the lawsuits were started with the filing of a praecipe to issue writ of summons to take pre-complaint interrogatories, which is basically a pre-litigation tactic that portends litigation. However, the writ isn’t a complaint, per se. In Rufe’s April 17 memorandum, she came down on the side of the health insurers with her decision that removal of both lawsuits to the federal courts was premature.

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A confidential settlement has been reached in a Pennsylvania injury case concerning the antipsychotic drug, Risperdal.

The antischizophrenic drug, which faces over 400 lawsuits and product liability claims, allegedly caused a male patient to develop a condition known as gynecomastia. In more simple terms: the boy developed breasts as a result of taking this drug over a six-year period, from 1999 to 2004.

The boy eventually had the breasts surgically removed – he is now an adult – but the damage done both to his body and, presumably, to his social life and emotional development was likely hard to quantify.

Johnson & Johnson reached a settlement in this lawsuit at the last minute. A trial had been set to start on Monday, and plaintiffs were preparing to interrogate Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Executive, Alex Gorsky, who had been the key exec in charge of marketing the antipsychotic when the boy suffered the gynecomastia side effect.

This sad and perplexing case illustrates how drawn-out Philadelphia personal injury battles can become, especially when they involve major accidents and/or lawsuits against large corporations for significant money. Consider that the boy first suffered abnormal breast growth back in 1999 – 13-years ago! – and he has since grown up and become an adult.

In other words, he waited more than half a lifetime for a resolution to his personal injury claim.

He managed to luckily succeed with his case. But not every plaintiff with a compelling story does success. What this tells us is that product liability and personal injury plaintiffs – and their attorneys – need stamina. You may have to push for months or even years for a positive result before you obtain victory. But the difference between a victory and a loss mean a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars for you and your family, so the battle is well worth it.

Do you need help dealing a Pennsylvania personal injury or product liability lawsuit?
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Two people were seriously hurt last week — and one woman was killed — in a Philadelphia car accident near US-1 and Street Road in Bucks County.

Officials believe that the driver of the 2000 Volvo — which crashed into a sign, flipped over multiple times and then burst to flames — had been racing another car, a white Ford Crown Victoria, on the other side of Lincoln highway. The catastrophe struck just around 10:30 pm, when the Volvo rocketed out of the Northbound Lane and smashed into a sign for a car parts and accessories store. As the car flipped, a female passenger and the male driver – later identified as Mary Logan and Aurelio Xhepaj – got ejected. A third passenger, 19-year-old Michelle Price, was trapped in the back seat. She ultimately died during the Philadelphia car accident and roll-over-sparked inferno.

Good Samaritans quickly responded to the disaster.

Seven people from a Red Roof Inn across the street rushed out to the car with fire extinguishers and other gear to try to help. One witness said that the flames reached 10 feet high at their peak. Bystanders managed to remove the driver and the ejected female passenger from the flames and wreckage.

But they could not rescue the woman pinned in the back.

Bryan Baez, an employee who responded to the disaster, told North East Philadelphia “we tried everything we could. I feel kind of hopeless. I couldn’t save [the passenger]… I tried. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the hero.”

Pennsylvania auto accidents can happen in fractions of seconds.

Like earthquakes, fights, and other violent/visceral/emotional events, car accidents often “seem longer” in memory. But even in an accident like this one – where a car rolled over multiple times and eventually burst into flames – the entire “crash event” probably took just 60 seconds or less.

The moral is that your capacity to assess what happened in your crash will be limited by the constraints on your ability to perceive fast moving events. This may seem like a subtle, almost irrelevant point. But if you want to build an effective case to collect damages from the driver who hit you, or from a responsible insurance company, you need to be very careful about how you investigate the crash and prepare your case.

You do not need to struggle through the investigative process by yourself…
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If you were recently involved in a Pennsylvania auto accident, and you’ve been struggling to collect money from an insurance company because the driver who hit you (or otherwise caused the accident) lacks insurance coverage (entirely or in part), you might find a recent decision in the case of Bole v. Erie Insurance Exchange enlightening.

The case is actually pretty heartbreaking.

It involves a man named Ronald Bole, a volunteer firefighter, who rushed to the scene of a car crash during a hurricane to help a driver who had been trapped by a collapsed bridge. While engaged in the rescue, Bole suffered injuries from the bridge, but he nevertheless managed to save the passenger, Devin Finazzo. Court reports suggests that, had Bole not intervened, Finazzo likely have been killed during the incident.

Finazzo lacked insurance. So Bole placed a UIM (underinsured motorist) claim to get compensated for his injuries. Even though the bridge collapse – not an auto accident, per se – was the proximate cause of his injuries, Bole said that he should still be able to collect UIM benefits because of something called the rescue doctrine.

Unfortunately for Bole, the court found that it was not foreseeable that the bridge would collapse – “the rescue doctrine will not make an original tortfeasor liable for injuries attributable to a superseding cause … a superseding cause must be an act which is so extraordinary as to not have been reasonably foreseeable.”

Bole’s ultimately fruitless legal path was fraught and full of ups and down.

• First, he faced an arbitration panel, which reached a divided decision about the applicability of the rescue doctrine to his situation. The panel decided that he was not entitled to UIM benefits because he hadn’t been driving.

• A trial court then examined the arbitration panel’s decision and affirmed.

• Bole then appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court, which reversed the trial court’s decision – another divided opinion – and remanded the case back to the arbitration panel.

• The panel reached another split decision – 2 to 1 – “finding that although appellant could reasonably be found to have been engaged in a rescue, the bridge collapsed because of intervening circumstances not attributable to Finazzo,”

• Then both the trial court and Superior Court affirmed, although one judge, Judge Donohue, dissented from the Superior Court’s majority opinion.

A Tangled Mess and Disappointing Outcome
What are lessons that you can learn from Bole’s ordeal, if you or someone you care about has been struggling to collect UM or UIM benefits after a Philadelphia injury accident.

1. Don’t assume that your path to victory will be easy or simple.

Even if the facts are on your side and you can compile a strong case, the law is full of nuances and wrinkles.

2. Your recovery process can be quite long and can be filled with ups and downs.

It is important to try to keep emotionally even keeled during the process: don’t get too excited by good news or too devastated by bad news.

3. The right Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer can make the world a difference.
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The parents of Zachary Hartwell have filed a Pennsylvania wrongful death lawsuit against the estate of the late Ryan Dunn, star of TV’s “Jackass” series. Hartwell and Dunn died last year, when the 34-year-old Dunn crashed his Porsche at 130 miles per hour into the forest. Reports from the tabloid suggested that Dunn had been “extremely drunk” on the night of the crash.

Hartwell’s parents are suing both Dunn’s estate and the bar that provided alcohol to Dunn on the night of the crash. They are arguing that the bar should have realized that Dunn was drunk and thus they should have stopped serving him alcohol. Hartwell had served in the Navy and had worked as a stunt driver.

The Pennsylvania probate laws that will govern this dispute are quite complicated. Certainly, many in the Philadelphia car accident law community will be watching closely, since the case involves a deceased celebrity, and since the nature of the crash was so spectacularly catastrophic.

Understanding your rights as a family member, if you’ve lost someone in a Pennsylvania accident or workplace event

Whether you lost your husband after he fell off scaffolding while working on a downtown Philadelphia skyscraper; or you lost a child in a tragic drunk driving crash in a Philadelphia college town, you undoubtedly want to see that justice is done.

But you also may still be reeling from the shock of the death — and from all the consequences for your financial, emotional, and family life. The team here at Rosenbaum & Associates understands the nuances and difficult decisions that family members have to make and how even small disagreements about money or wills or burial decisions can provoke strife and ill-will.
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If you’ve recently been in a Pennsylvania auto accident, there’s some interesting news that may have bearing on your situation…

On August 21st, a fascinating decision came down in the case Olender v. National Casualty. The case concerned an auto accident victim who had been hit by an underinsured motorist. The driver had some UIM coverage, but his contract with the insurance company was ambiguous in terms of how much liability coverage he should get: should the award be $100,000 (standard liability coverage) or a lower amount of $35,000?

A Serious Accident… and an Uncooperative Insurer

According to reports, Cecilia Olender got hurt in an auto crash on May 22, 2008; she suffered permanent and serious physical injuries. The driver who hit her did have some coverage, but not much – $15,000 worth. This money was passed along to Ms. Olender to pay for her bills and damages. But $15,000 was obviously not sufficient. So Ms. Olender turned to her insurer, National Casualty, to collect on her underinsured motorist (UIM) policy. Unfortunately, her husband — who had done the paperwork — had selected two different UIM coverage options: one for $100,000 and one for $35,000.

This ambiguity created quite a commotion.

Of course, the insurance company decided the amount should be $35,000. But the Olenders argued that this was not fair, and they took the matter to court. Eventually, the court sided with the plaintiffs, resolving the ambiguity in favor of the larger amount. The court said: “the form, taken as a whole, cannot be said to manifest a knowing and intentional desire to purchase reduced UIM coverage.”

Lessons If You’re Struggling with an Insurance Company After a Philadelphia Auto Accident

Insurance companies are companies; they are in business to make a profit. That sounds cynical. But it’s just the way of the world. So even if an insurance adjuster acts nice to you and promises to “do the right thing,” it behooves you to heed Ronald Reagan’s apocryphal advice to “trust, but verify.” After all, insurance companies use a wealth of strategies and tactics to trick recent injury victims into giving up their rights. If you’re currently operating in a vacuum against these powerful companies, odds are that your results will be sub-par.

In a sense, you are playing poker with a master poker player who can basically see your hand, and you are doing so while sick/injured and overwhelmed by other burdens. In a perfect world, insurance companies would always do the right thing. But there is too much at stake for you and your future to enter into negotiations with an insurance company blindly or overly trustingly.
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You can get injured in Philadelphia when you least expect it.

Consider the terrifying events that recently unfolded at a Harpers Crossing apartment complex in Middletown. During a thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning crackled and struck a three-storey building, setting off what ultimately blossomed into a four-alarm fire. The blaze was so bright and dramatic – with the fire and smoke billowing out of the building – that people on nearby Route 1 and I-95 stopped to take pictures. Nearly 125 local firefighters were called from all around Bucks County to respond to the apartment fire, which rendered the building uninhabitable and displaced 30 occupants. Sadly, seven firefighters were hurt while fighting the blaze. Two firefighters got treatment at the scene. But five were taken to nearby hospitals; and two remain in treatment for (non-life threatening) second and third degree burns.

No residents were hurt. That’s actually kind of miraculous, given that the building’s fire alarms did not go off. Early investigators suggested that perhaps the lightning strike short-circuited the fire alarm system. The sprinkler system, meanwhile, did help to contain the blaze, but only partially.

Picking Up the Pieces After the Chaos of a Philadelphia Injury

Whether you got hurt in a car accident or burned in an apartment fire, your life probably feels chaotic and overwhelming right now. You have so many “balls in the air” with respect to your injuries and obligations — you may not even know where to begin.

Obviously, you need good medical care. But you may not be aware of how important it could be to investigate the scene of the event, collect evidence, and begin preparing possible legal action. If you wait too long to talk to a Pennsylvania injury law firm, like Rosenbaum & Associates, you could damage or undercut your potential to bring negligent or aggressive perpetuators to justice – and to collect money for your surgical/medical bills, lost wages at work, emotional pain and trauma, etc.
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