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Consumer Corner

News on Health Care, Consumer Products, and Other Topics

Click on a topic below to explore articles relating to that particular area:

Cruise Ship Litigation

The Stormy Waters of Cruise Ship Litigation

Many of us don’t want to believe that an injury accident caused by negligence can happen anywhere, including on the cruise ship where you are seeking out relaxation and adventure. Although there are many similarities between lawsuits relating to injury that occur on land and on the water, a recent Trial Magazine article emphasizes that cruise ship litigation has its own unique complexities that an attorney and his or her client must be ready to handle.

For instance, a plaintiff is required to give notice to the cruise line, usually within six months of the accident, before filing suit. When a passenger suffers injury because of a cruise line’s failure to exercise reasonable care for safety, he or she only has one year as the statute of limitations to file a suit. Another point of interest is if the cruise itinerary did not include a U.S. port, then under the Athens Convention treaty, damagers are limited to around $70,000 a person. Making sure photos are collected as evidence, how the crew responded to the accident, gathering the details of the incident, and where the accident took place on the ship are a few more aspects that are only the beginning when pursuing compensation from negligence cruise lines.

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The Increasing Dangers of Personal Watercraft

Personal watercraft (PWC), also known as jet skis, have steadily grown more popular in the decades since they were first manufactured. Unlike other vehicles, however, PWCs have not become safer as the years have gone by. Rather, they have become more dangerous. This is largely due to their ever-increasing speeds and engine sizes. While these vessels first ran on 500cc engines, they now commonly feature 1500cc to 1800cc, pushing them to 60-70 miles per hour on the water.

These higher speeds mean more devastating crashes and a lack of control for inexperienced riders. Additionally, PWC operation may seem very foreign to new riders. These vessels have no braking power and can take up to 400 feet to completely stop. Unlike boats, they are not controlled by a rudder. A rider must turn and accelerate to avoid a collision, which is easy to forget in a moment of panic. PWCs run on jet propulsion, meaning that those that fall off the back may suffer serious orifice injuries when hit by the high pressure water jets shooting out of the vehicle.

A combination of these hazards and the often inexperienced nature of PWC riders can lead to serious and even fatal injuries for many. As such, it is vital that anyone who chooses to use a jet ski have proper training and be fully aware of what accidents can happen. Stay aware, stay alert, and operate every jet ski safely every time you go out on the water in order to prevent these incidents from happening to you or a loved one.

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Brain Injuries

Who is Liable for Sports- and Recreation-Related Concussions & Brain Injuries?

Being competitive and athletic are great qualities; however, getting back in the game too soon after suffering a concussion or other type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause further injury or death.

When child and high school athletes suffer a concussion, whether during football, soccer, cheerleading, basketball, ice hockey, or another sport, they are at a greater risk of additional trauma that can lead to permanent brain damage and even death due to the fact that their adolescent brains are still developing, more susceptible to concussions, and need a longer time to recover than adult brains. However, this doesn’t undermine the serious and very real risk that adults face.

As the dangers of second-impact syndrome and post-concussion syndrome come to the surface, more and more former NFL players are filing lawsuits claiming that the league kept the dangers of concussions from them so that they’d keep playing. If it is determined that concussion management standards were ignored or if an athlete’s life was needlessly endangered, then, depending on the circumstances, coaches and schools; physicians and athletic trainers; governing bodies of youth sports and athletic associations; and product manufacturers may be held legally responsible.

Some factors that a lawyer may want to explore to build an effective case include acquiring medical expert testimony; determining what the coaching staff or health care provider knew or should have known about the concussion or suspected concussion symptoms; and identifying what action occurred to determine the athlete’s condition before returning to play.

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Social Security

Social Security Disability Benefits and the SSA Ticket to Work Program

If you or your loved one has suffered injuries on the job and have been put out of work due the resultant inability to perform your job duties, you may receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to cover your financial needs while you are recovering. Your medical condition will undergo a periodic review to determine whether you should continue receiving benefits or not. As long as you are incapacitated and unable to work, you will retain your benefits.

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Social Security Checks

As of March 1, 2013, individuals who receive benefits under Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Labor (Black Lung), will no longer receive their payments in the form of paper checks. Instead, recipients will receive their benefits electronically through a new electronic direct deposit checking process.

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Related Article:

Social Security Disability Claims
Farah & Farah Personal Injury Lawers

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Health Care and Medical Malpractice

Resident Physician Fatigue Can Lead to Deadly Errors

As they train to become doctors, resident physicians work extremely long hours that are very intense. In the U.S., residents are permitted to work 80 hours per week, with shifts allowed to consist of up to 30 consecutive hour periods. A mere 8 hours is all that is required for the minimum rest between shifts. This limited time exists despite the fact that a panel of governmental scientists concluded it wasn’t safe for residents to work for longer than 16 hours continuously.

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Related Articles:

OSHA Petitioned to Regulate Resident Physician Work Hours
Farah & Farah Personal Injury Law Blog

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Pharmaceutical Litigation – Defective Drugs

Understanding the Risks of Testosterone Therapy

Testosterone is a crucial hormone produced by the testicles that ensures the proper development of male sexual characteristics. This hormone also helps men maintain muscle bulk, adequate red blood cell levels, bone growth and sexual function. Testosterone replacement therapy is being marketed to older men as the new way to turn back a man’s body clock and improve his sexual performance. However, several research studies point to the fact that these benefits may come at a high price. These studies state that heart problems and stroke may be just some of the serious side effects and risk factors when it comes to testosterone replacement therapy.

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Women Filing Lawsuits Against Lipitor

Lipitor is one of the most popular brand-name medications in the marketplace. Pfizer generated an estimated $125 billion in profit through sales of Lipitor even before it became available in generic form in 2011. It is a “statin” that blocks the liver from making cholesterol. While it is effective at lowering cholesterol, it also has a significant impact on blood glucose levels. Millions of people, especially women, who have taken Lipitor could be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. All women considering taking Lipitor would be well advised to discuss the potential consequences with their doctor and anyone who is suffering from side effects should get prompt medical attention.

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Dec. 30 – Ephedra ban too late; dozens died while FDA mulled decision

Statement of Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of PUblic Citizen’s Health Research Group

Today’s announcement by the FDA to ban the dietary supplement ephedra, which comes more than two years after we petitioned the agency to do so, shows the dangerous cowardice of FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who waited to act until receiving reports of more than 155 deaths of ephedra users instead of acting much earlier. All the scientific evidence and legal authority to ban ephedra was in place at the time of our petition, which we filed in September 2001. One reason major manufacturers have stopped selling ephedra is that the companies have become uninsurable because of massive losses in product liability cases. Several weeks ago, the last major manufacturer of ephedra dietary supplements – Metabolife – announced that it would no longer sell ephedra. When we filed our petition, there were reports of 81 ephedra-related deaths. Now, after that number has nearly doubled and very little ephedra is being manufactured, the FDA finally announces a ban. This is an inexcusable dereliction of responsibility by an agency that has acted more like an ephedra sales extension agency than the public health agency it is supposed to be.

-Public Citizen

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Antidepressant Serzone Lands on "Do Not Use" List

New reports of deaths and severe injuries from liver failure in patients taking the antidepressant Serzone (nefazodone) require that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) act immediately to protect U.S. patients, Public Citizen said. Public Citizen submitted a supplement containing new data to its March 2003 petition requesting the withdrawal of this uniquely dangerous drug from the market.

-Public Citizen

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Nursing Home Neglect

Hidden Corporations and Nursing Home Litigation

As recently proven by Alabama Supreme Court in a case involving nursing home abuse, many nursing homes are discreetly run by hidden organizations. What many residents and their loved ones may not know is that the company running the nursing home they are staying in is actually a shell. These companies may actually be run by a larger organization that owns many different shell companies. The company that claims it owns the nursing home may actually only carry liability coverage and in reality not own any real or personal property.

But why would a company do this?

This way, should anything wrong happen at the nursing home that is held liable in court, only the shell company is held responsible. The real organization in charge is free from judgment and can manufacture a new nursing home organization that has not been found liable by the courts. These strategies often make it difficult for plaintiffs to receive the compensation they deserve for their losses and the real organization has no motive to provide better care. If you or a loved one currently resides in a nursing home, be aware of who is truly responsible for your care. In the event of being wrongfully injured, you have the right to file a claim against those who have harmed you. With greater knowledge of who can be held liable, you can protect your rights and recover from your losses.

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Can You Spot Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect?

It’s understandable to feel as though identifying nursing home abuse or elderly neglect in Florida would be simple, but things are not always what they seem. It is important for anyone who has placed their loved one in a nursing home or other care facility to be fully aware of the different ways in which they can identify potential nursing home abuse or neglect. Even if you don’t suspect any wrongdoing, you may find that you’ve saved your loved one significant pain and suffering by taking a closer look.

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Florida Nursing Home Elder Neglect from Understaffing

It is never an easy decision to place a parent, grandparent, or other family member, into a nursing home or elderly care facility. Many families will care for their loved one for as long as they are able to before making this choice. In a handful of instances, this ends up being the best decision, providing the elderly individual with efficient around-the-clock care and medical treatment from trained professionals while helping them engage in fun activities. But what happens when a nursing home is understaffed, and even worse, deliberately chooses not to hire more staff or allow more nurses to work similar hours in order to save money?

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CBS News’ "watch list for nursing homes"

In order to properly choose a nursing home for a loved one, family members should first ask for the state inspection report for the facility and contact the long-term care ombudsman. In addition, family members should take a tour of the facility, have a "frank" discussion with the administrator of the home and consult the Consumer Reports Updated Nursing Home "Watch List." The most common deficiencies found by the Consumers Union for nursing homes have been "failure to post state survey, deficiencies on calling doctors and cleanliness."

-CBSNews.com

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Nursing home resident abuse underreported and unpunished, government finds

In January 2000, in a nursing home in Washing ton, D.C., aide Keisha Holmes left an 89-year-old blind and completely dependant resident alone in a bathtub, while she styled another resident;s hair. Another employee found the elderly resident drowned in the tub, with water running into the hallway.

It took 26 months for the consequences to catch up with Holmes: In March 2002, she was arraigned on manslaughter charges fro the drowning. In the meantime, at another nursing home, she allegedly beat a 91-year-old resident who had resisted being helped into bed. She now faces simple assault charges in that case.

D.C. advocates for the elderly say the Holmes prosecution pre resents the first time in years that criminal charges have bee field in the city over physical abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident. And it is the kind of case that has attracted the attention of Congress, other federal authorities, and plaintiff attorneys seeking to remedy this growing problem.

Last year, the House Committee on Government Reform found almost 9,000 instances of nursing home resident abuse over two yards.

In September 2000 the GAO reported that HCFA had started requiring states to investigate complaints within 10 working days but that state agencies were not doing so consistently.

-News and Trends

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Study shows nursing home suits have declined

A study performed by Wilkes& McHugh, a Tampa-based law firm "prominent in the nursing home field," has concluded that the number of law suits filed against FL nursing homes have dropped as a result of the 2001 reforms passed in the state legislature. The rim found that the number of lawsuits against nursing homes was down 17% from 2000, the year before the reforms were passed. With a new legislative session just around the corner, advocates for the elderly are arguing that the new legislation, known as SB 1202, is working and that no new reforms need to be passed. Advocates for more reform, however, argue that the study is meaningless because it only counts filed lawsuits and not notices of intent to file a lawsuit that are often settled before they get to court.

Tampa Tribune, Mike Salinero.

-aftl.org

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Tips for choosing a nursing home

If you find yourself making the decision to put a family member in a nursing home, this article contains tips from the Consumer Reports Complete Guide to Health Services for Seniors on how to pick a nursing home. Among the tips are ways to do research about homes and ways to determine whether not the home is safe.

St. Petersburg Times, Laura Coffey.

-aftl.org

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Nursing home funding frozen in Bush budget

Three years ago, state lawmakers "struck a deal to try to help (nursing homes) get insurance: if nursing homes would take better care of residents, the state would give them more money and help protect them from massive lawsuits." However, it seems this deal has unraveled. In his budget, Governor Bush plans to freeze spending on nursing homes and eliminate extra money "that was supposed to go towards hiring more nursing assistants, a key to improving care." Even though many homes throughout the state are operating with little insurance, and support some type of cap to cover the costs of running their homes." Both sides agree, however, that as the number nursing home assistants has increased, so has the quality of care.

Daytona Beach News Journal, Jim Saunders.

-aftl.org

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Nursing-Home Costs Are Climbing

The cost of staying in a nursing home is rising at nearly four times the rate of inflation.

-The Wall Street Journal

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Internet Tip: Nursing homes get new report cards

A pilot program created by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is not posting on the Internet detailed information about the quality of care delivered by 2,561 nursing home facilities in six states, including Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Ohio, Rhode, Island, and Washington. The program should be expanded to all 50 states by October. The ratings are based on an evaluation of each resident at least every 90 days, and they rate the facilities in nine"quality measures" adjusted for patient severity. These new ratings can be found at http://www.medicare.gov. Other detailed Florida nursing home information may be found on the site of the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration at:
http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/Nursing_Home_Guide/index.shtml.

-ATFL Journal

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The Best and Worse Nursing Homes

The latest in a string of studies on the subject by the U.S. General Accounting Office, released in March, found that nurse aide registries – which are supposed to include lists of aides accused of abusing or neglecting residents – are not current and provide limited information. About 1.5 million elderly and disabled people live in almost 17,000 nursing homes in the country. Under the current system, federal, state, and local agencies – including law enforcement – investigate abuse allegations. Last year the House Committee on Government Reform found almost 9,000 instances of nursing home resident abuse over two years. A 1999 GAO report noted deficient oversight of quality of care. It also found weaknesses in states’ complaint investigations, annual inspection, and enforcement actions.

(Nursing Homes: Complaint Investigation Processes Often Inadequate to Protect Residents, GAO/HEHS-99-80 [Mar. 22, 1999]).

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Auto, Truck, and Motorcycle Accident Information

Fatal Accidents Involving Commercial Vehicles

Unfortunately, it is well known that commercial vehicles, such as 18-wheelers, are often responsible for many of the fatal traffic accidents that occur in the U.S. And yet, a recent study reveals that these collisions are even more prevalent than once suspected. Even though commercial trucks make up a small fraction of the vehicles on U.S. roads at any given time (about four percent), at least 12 percent of fatal accidents involve a big rig or other commercial motor carrier. That’s more than 4,000 deaths, which is far from a negligible amount.

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Financial Requirements of Trucking Companies

The U.S. Congress deregulated the trucking industry more than three decades ago. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 was the first time that the Secretary of Transportation set minimum levels of insurance that all trucking companies must obtain. At the time, there was concern regarding the government’s ability to oversee the large number of trucking companies that operated across the country. Nevertheless, the law was successful in increasing the amount of insurance purchased by trucking companies.

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Dangers Multiply When Truckers Text While Driving

The fact that texting and driving is a problem of epidemic proportions is undisputed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and researchers nationwide have done extensive studies, which prove this fact time and time again. NHTSA describes distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger drivers, passengers and others on the roadway. Examples of distractions while driving include texting, talking on a cell phone, eating or drinking, using a navigation system or surfing the Internet.

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Black Box Technology

It is common knowledge that airplanes have “black boxes” that record information as the plane flies through the air. What may be less known is that even small passenger cars have similar black box technology. Event Data Recorders (EDRs) constantly record data, but they only save the information if the vehicle is in a crash. The data recorded by these devices can prove useful in determining the cause of a crash. In fact, if you are involved in an accident, it may be in your best interest to request an evaluation of the EDR information in your vehicle and in any other vehicle involved in the collision.

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Text Senders Can Be Held Liable If Driver Crashes

Driving while distracted is a form of negligence that contributes to thousands of injuries each year. Motorists who carelessly send and read texts while driving can be held accountable for the damages they cause. Recently, an appellate court in New Jersey determined that people who send texts to drivers could be held responsible as well, if the driver causes an accident while reading the message.

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Anti Lock Brakes for Motorcycles

Pumping your brakes can be an effective way to maintain control of your vehicle while attempting to slow down on icy or wet road conditions. It is not necessary, however, to pump your brakes if you have anti-lock brakes. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are now standard in most passenger vehicles, but they are not installed on all motorcycles. If you ride, take a moment to determine if your vehicle has ABS because it can have a significant impact on your ability to handle emergency situations.

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Pedestrians and Drivers Equally Distracted by Cell Phones

The dangers of distracted driving caused by cell phones have become a hot issue for government agencies and civilians alike in recent years. However, a different type of distraction danger has begun to come into focus in the recent past: distracted walking. More and more pedestrians are suffering injuries related to being distracted by cell phones while walking. Recently, a study revealed that approximately 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by walking while distracted by a cell phone.

The number of distracted pedestrian injuries has continued to increased during the last several years, with a rapid growth in cell phone use and the presence of games and social media now in smartphones. Frequent distracted walking accidents include walking into something, walking into traffic, and tripping. While cell phones can cause visual distraction (pedestrians looking at the phone instead of the street) and manual distraction (typing on the phone rather than a different task), the greatest threat is cognitive distraction. Being intently focused on the phone rather than where you are walking can lead to a serious accident, with 69 percent of related injuries caused by simply talking on the phone.

Research has led investigators to believe that distracted pedestrian injuries will only continue to rise in the coming years if citizens do not start changing their behavior. Whether you are driving or walking, keep your attention focused on the main task at hand and not your phone. The actions you take on the road, or the sidewalk, can not only harm you, but the lives of everyone around you.

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Investigating the Unique Risks of RV and Other Modified Vehicle Defects for Legal Action

Recreational vehicles (RVs), camping trailers, conversion vans, and even limousines, handicapped-accessible vehicles, and ambulances, are more dangerous than most people realize. As what are referred to as "incomplete, after-market, or modified vehicles," according to Trial Magazine, some of these vehicles, and especially motor homes, are "multistage vehicles," which are manufactured by at least two different manufacturers. When one or both manufacturers fail to properly test the vehicle appropriately, safety risks and incidents of injury and death may result. Although state laws relating to these vehicles vary, some manufacturers are obligated to follow uniform industry standards.

Product liability and personal injury cases involving RV and other modified vehicle defects are complicated. Issues often arise relating to the definition of a recreational vehicle in the first place, crashworthiness, structural problems, propane system issues, carbon monoxide poisoning, fire dangers, and other safety issues of concern. Moreover, a lawyer seeking compensation for an injury victim or the family of a wrongful death victim may want to inspect the end-stage manufacturing facility, discover how the vehicle was actually made, and consult with process engineering experts, to name a few. Ultimately, evaluating the design, manufacturing, and safety testing procedures is of the utmost importance for building an effective case that involves a recreational or modified vehicle.

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Revised Truck Driver Hours of Service Rules Face Criticism from Both Sides

Revised rules concerning the hours of service for truck drivers, which governs how long they can drive commercial vehicles, across the country by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) came into effect in February 2012, and while complete compliance is not required until July 1, 2013, the changes have already caused controversy. After taking effect, two lawsuits were filed concerning the changes, one stating that the changes are not enough while the other claims they are not needed. Among the alterations, truck drivers can only use their 34-hour off duty break once a week, drivers must a take a minimum 30 minute break in order to work more than eight hours, and both trucking companies and drivers are subject to heavier fines for violation of the rules.

However, despite stating that a 10-hour workday is best, the FMCSA has kept the maximum workday schedule at 11 hours, drawing the criticism of safety agencies. Additionally, opponents to the changes have stated that the previous rules, in place since 2004, were more than enough for highway safety. The FMCSA is expected to review its regulations as both lawsuits, now consolidated into one, await trial.

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Tire Service Centers Endanger Customers by Ignoring Warnings Concerning Aged Tires

Warnings by tire manufacturers have alerted tire service centers to the danger of using aged tires on vehicles, as their composition and stability wear down over time even when not in use. Many tire manufacturers have recommended not using tires and spare tires older than six years and have stated that products older than 10 years are very dangerous. However, the majority of tire service chains and dealers have chosen to ignore such warnings when servicing and replacing tires in order to maximize profits. These aged tires can suddenly fail when in use, leading to serious auto accidents that cannot be predicted by drivers. Most consumers do not know how to tell the age of a tire, making them rely on the advice and service of tire centers in order to stay safe while on the road. Through ignoring the warnings and failing to inform consumers about the guidelines for tire age, many service centers place drivers at risk every day.

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Tire Safety

Many of us don’t think twice about the condition of our tires when we step foot into our vehicles and start the engine. As consumers, we trust that tire manufacturers design and create tires and tire parts that are safe and free of any defect that could cause us harm. However, tire companies and auto makers may not properly warn of the potential dangers caused by aged tires. This is why all motorists must take it upon themselves to learn more about tire safety, tire aging, and how to determine the age of their tires.

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Tired Truckers Rule Challenged

( WASHINGTON, May 2006) A coalition of safety, consumer and labor organizations has gone to court seeking to overturn trucking rules that allow drivers to stay behind the wheel for up to 14 hours a day.

Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) and others are challenging the hours-of-service rule, issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in both 2003 and 2005. Both rulings increase the number of hours truckers can drive in one day to 11 hours, even though government data shows fatigue-related crashes steadily increase after eight hours of driving.

Under the current ruling, a driver can work as many as 14 hours a day and up to 84 hours in seven days. That represents a 40 percent increase over the old limits.

The 2005 rule also fails to require electronic on-board data recorders to track the number of hours a trucker drives. The trucking industry relies on paper logbooks to track driving records.

“This new rule is simply another example of how the agency that regulates truck safety does little or nothing until it is forced to act, and then does the bare minimum to get by,” says Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen.

The coalition’s petition filed February 27, 2006 asks the court to review the 2005 hours-of-service rule issued August 2005, and is the first step to a legal challenge.

Dealers take car buyers for a ride

A group of consumers who allege that they were ripped off by car salesmen, have filed suit against a number of dealerships stating that in nearly all of their contracts, "finance charges were manipulated, unapproved extras were slipped in and sometimes signatures were forged so the deals would sail through the banks." A former finance manager in Florida has stated that his specialty was "doctoring the credit application and making you feel good about paying 12, 14 percent interest when you could have gotten six." He added that he "got the banks to sign off on doctored applications by stuffing extras into contracts, then drawing up two different sets of paperwork."

-CBSNews.com

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Whistleblower, Public Citizen Expose Auto Scams Dealers Use to Swindle Consumers

Before becoming a whistleblower, auto dealer Duane Overholt estimates that he bilked customers out of $33 million using tricks of the trade detailed in a new report.

Working at a dealership in Florida, Overholt admits that he used manipulative sales techniques, packed contracts with unnecessary add-ons and other tricks to gain as much profit as possible for each sale.

Public Citizen and Overholt released the report at a news conference and called for law enforcement to investigate the scams. Prior to the new conference, NBC’s "Dateline" aired a hidden-camera investigation of dealership fraud.

The report shows that consumers may be defrauded at every step of the process. Dealers may boost the manufacturer’s suggested retain price (MSRP) with extras, some of which may already be included in the MSRP. Sometimes they run credit reports without a customer’s permission by using the driver’s license provided to test drive a vehicle, thereby obtaining information to manipulate the buyer later in negotiation.

Dealers have ample opportunity to defraud consumers when the dealership, and not an independent bank or lender, arranges the financing. For example, dealers who have established relationships with banks may insist that a higher interest rate is the best deal available for the buyer and the dealers make more money on the loan.

Dealers also commonly use a technique called "leg" to increase their profits. Negotiating a monthly payment with the customer that is slightly above the amount needed to actually pay for the vehicle allows dealers to "stuff" additional products into the contract to justify the higher monthly payment. Those products can include extended warranties or maintenance programs the customer is unlikely to be aware of or use.

Public Citizen has launched www.autodealerscam.org, a new Web site that gives consumers tips on buying a vehicle, legal information, examples of scams and more. Visitors may also fill out a survey on experiences with auto dealers – information that will provide a better picture of just how widespread this fraud is and with permission will be made available to law enforcement.

-Public Citizen

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Traffic Fatalities Rose Last Year, SUV Light Truck Rollovers Helped Make ’02 Death Toll Highest in Over a Decade

WASHINGTON-The number of people killed in highway-traffic accidents rose to its highest level in more than a decade last year, fueled largely by an increase in deadly rollover accidents involving sport-utility vehicles and light trucks, the government said.

The latest numbers, presented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came as a group of state attorneys general, representing 40 states, accused auto makers of running misleading ads promoting the safety of SUV’s. Both developments are likely to add new fuel to the debate over the safety of sport-utility vehicles.

Although the U.S. accident-fatality rate remained unchanged in 2002 at 1.51 for each 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the NHTSA noted that the number of deaths-42,850- was the highest since 1990. Fatalities in rollover crashes involving SUV’s and pickup trucks accounted for 53% of the increase from 2001.

-Wall Street Journal

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No Health Insurance Can Be Fatal In Case Of an Accident-Study

NEW YORK-Car accident victims without health insurance are more likely to die than people who have been hospitalized with insurance coverage, according to a new academic study.

It’s generally assumed that one’s health insurance status – at least in the emergency room – has little influence on the care received. But automobile accident victims in Wisconsin who lacked health coverage were %37 more likely to die from injuries than their insured counterparts, according to research released last week by Joseph J. Doyle Jr., an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass.

-Wall Street Journal

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Another Reason to Check Crash Test Ratings

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal vehicle-safety regulator, yesterday released new rollover risk ratings for some 2004 model-year vehicles that take into account the agency’s new track test, which for the first time measures a vehicle’s handling in an emergency maneuver. Previously, the NHTSA’s rollover rating-published on the agency’s Web site www.safecar.com – were based on a mathematical formula using the vehicle’s dimensions. Auto makers complained that those math-based "static stability" ratings were unfair since they didn’t measure how the vehicle actually handled on the road which effects its chances of rolling over.

-The Wall Street Journal

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Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners Insurance – Losses Covered

Here is a basic list of what you should know about the losses your homeowner’s insurance does and does not cover. Always check your individual policy.

Covered:

  • Fire/ Lightning
  • Windstorm or hail – It should be noted that rain damage will only be covered if the direct force of the wind creates an opening in the structure through which the rain enters
  • Explosion
  • Riot or civil commotion
  • Vehicles’ vandalism or malicious mischief – Coverage for vandalism applies even though the damage may have occurred in the course of an uncovered event such as a burglary.
  • Damage by a wild animal; however, in all likelihood it would not constitute vandalism.
  • Theft is generally covered as attempted theft and loss of property; however, theft is not covered if committed by or at the direction of the insured. Further, no theft is covered if it occurs to a dwelling under construction. A theft may include items lost in an unlawful possession, even if performed in good faith.
  • Property of a student who is uninsured is covered as long as his residence (away from home) is insured and as long as the insured owner of that new residence has been there at any time during the 45 days immediately before the loss.
  • Accidental discharge or overflow of water – Discharge of water from a plumbing, heating, air conditioning system, automatic sprinkler or household appliance is covered. The discharge must originate on the residence premises. The term “household appliance” means a device that performs a task in or around the home. It does not include items such as a waterbed. Further, a discharge or water resulting from a back-up or discharge occurring off premises is not covered. For example, sewer back-up causing damage is not a covered event.

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Not Covered:

  • Pressure or weight of water damage on a fence, pavement, swimming pool, foundation, bulkhead or dock.
  • Theft in and to a dwelling under construction, of materials and supplies used in construction.
  • Vandalism and malicious mischief – If a dwelling has been vacant for more than 30 consecutive days before a loss.
  • Constant or repeated seepage or leakage of water over a period of weeks, months or years from within a plumbing, heating or air conditioning system. Please note that the purpose of this exception is to preclude coverage for a slow leak that goes on unabated for a significant period of time.
  • Ordinary wear and tear and deterioration are not covered under the policy.
  • Settling, shrinking, bulging or expansion resulting in a crack in a pavement, foundation, walls, floors, roofs or ceilings are not covered.
  • Smog, rust or other corrosion, mold, wet or dry rot.

Birds, vermin, rodents or insects

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The Legal Minefield In Your Own Backyard, More Insurers Quit Covering The Staples of Suburbia; One Free Dog Bite Per Policy

Over the past year, homeowners insurers have gotten much stricter about who and what they will cover, as they try to turn around a business line which suddenly has become a huge money loser. That effort, which began with refusing to insure houses that had histories of water damage or multiple claims of any sort, is now spreading to a crack down on some of the staple of suburban life. Among the targets: trampolines, swimming pools (especially those with diving boards) and even the family pet.

-The Wall Street Journal

Insurance Co Bites Dog Owners

Citizens, the insurer of last resort in Florida, is excluding any claims of animal liability due in part to recent high jury verdicts for dog bite cases. Separate policy coverage must be purchased to be covered.

Dogs bite an estimated 4.7 million people in the U.S. every year, 800-thousand seriously enough to require medical attention. About 40% of victims are children.

As a result, some other insurance companies, including Allstate and Farmers Insurance Group won’t cover homes in certain states if a certain breed of dog is present.

The so-called “vicious breed” list includes such popular dogs as German shepherds, Akitas, Siberian huskies, Rottweilers, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinchers, American pit bull terrier and their cousins and Presa Canarios, the fighting breed whose California owners were convicted of manslaughter in a 2001 fatal mauling attack. More at: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB114912737443568263-Hq_KQxgB_0mJap
txnDLDtzkVjaQ_20060630.html?mod=tff_main_tff_top

Hurricane Information

Engineers Race To Fix Lake Okeechobee Dike Before Hurricane Hits

( PAHOKEE, FL, June 24, 2006) – Engineers are racing this hurricane season to restore the dike around Lake Okeechobee after a recent study finds the aging earthen wall is in imminent danger of failing.

A recent study by a panel of state-hired experts finds the compromised dike could threaten up to 60 thousand residents. After Hurricane Katrina submerged portions of New Orleans, restoring the nearly 80 year old dike has taken on a new urgency.

Shoring up the 730-square mile Herbert Hoover Dike will take the Army Corp of Engineers an estimated 25 years and cost more than $400 million. The Corp is replacing flood gates and culverts and rebuilding the dike by reinforcing walls with a cement mixture 36 feet deep and two feet thick.

VIEW STORY

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Hurricanes Brings High Insurance Premiums

(TALLAHASSEE, May 20, 2006) – Expect to see double-digit insurance premium rate hikes for homeowners insured by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., In May, Florida insurance officials approved state-backed Citizens’ two-step request to raise prices for those living east of Interstate 95 in south Florida where Citizens is the largest property insurer. The Florida Legislature ordered the company to charge high enough premiums to cover losses during a major hurricane. Increases are expected again in September.

Meanwhile in Florida, State Farm has just asked for a 70% hike in rates. It is canceling all 1,500 condominium association policies January 1 st and transferring wind coverage on 39-thousand homes in coastal areas to Citizens property Insurance Corp., the Florida insurer of last resort.

Allstate says it’s dropping about a third of its Florida policyholders. Insurers blame the rate they pay for reinsurance which has doubled following two devastating hurricane seasons.

More at: http://www.floir.com/

More on Wall Street Journal online see: http://www.realestatejournal.com/buysell/taxesandinsurance/20060509-mcqueen.html

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/sfl-insurance,0,1503989.storygallery?coll=
sfla-business-utility

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Insurance Companies Failing Following Katrina

There is a myth that as a result of last year’s Katrina insurance companies have been going out of business. The Wall Street Journal reports that insurers have a surplus of assets in the $400 billion range while having to shell out $15 to $35 million in Katrina-related payments.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal’s online publication RealEstateJournal.com reports that flooding ranks as the most common natural disaster in the U.S. even in states with no oceanfront property. Pennsylvania had more flood-insurance claims in 2004 than any state except Florida.

Despite last year’s record hurricane season, a Rand Corp research report finds 40 percent of private homes in high-risk areas in southern and western states remain uninsured against flooding.

In Florida, the Office of Insurance Regulation estimates that two-thirds of families do not have flood coverage. It’s estimated about half of single-family homes located in high-flood risk zones do not have flood insurance. Others wrongly assume their standard homeowner’s policy will cover a flood related loss.

Most private insurers don’t even offer flood insurance. Check out your options at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, the government-backed policies have their shortcomings. Coverage includes a maximum $250 thousand for a home’s structure and $100 thousand coverage for contents. Basements are generally excluded if they are in a high-risk zone. Your cost of living if displaced is also not covered.

For more on your insurance options check out: www.fema.gov.

WSJ online: http://www.realestatejournal.com/buysell/taxesandinsurance/20050909-francis.html

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Environmental Issues

Duval County Leads the State in Mercury Emissions

Our area has the dubious distinction of leading the state in power plant mercury emission. Florida ranked 11 th in the country for the highest levels of mercury emissions almost all coming from coal-turning power plants and Duval County lead the state in emissions with 21% of the state’s total power plant mercury emission, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

JEA was the largest power plant mercury emitter in the state in 2003 according to the agency.

Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that is ingested by humans through consuming fish which absorb it from polluted oceans, rivers and lakes. Consumers of seafood are recommended to eat fish from a variety of waters and not consumer the same kind of fish more than once a week. Closely following this controversy is: www.citizen.org

No other issue has generated more public comment that proposed regulations on mercury emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2004. The Clean Air Act had required mercury emissions be cut by 90-95% by 2007. However the Bush administration proposed an approach in which polluters, generally coal-burning power plants, can trade mercury pollution rights among themselves. The “cap and trade rule” allows power plants to buy and trade the right to pollute and delays even modest mercury reductions until the year 2018.

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Environmental Cleanup Begins At Home

There is something you can do to help reduce smelly green algae blooms that cover much of the St Johns River each summer and turn its beauty into a regional eyesore. The blooms come from nutrient overload from nitrogen and phosphorus. The St. Johns River cannot dilute the nutrients that deplete oxygen used by fish and threaten the health of aquatic life. The St. Johns Riverkeeper organization is suggesting you invest in “River Friendly Yards.” That includes maintaining and introducing native plants especially along the river; preventing pesticides, yard trimmings and fertilizers from entering storm drains; seek out alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the website www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org Ask if your lawn service has pesticide-free program and use mulch and repair leaking septic systems.

Product Liability

The Child Safety Seat industry unfortunately spends more resources convincing our regulators that they need meet only minimum standards than on research and design of enhanced and superior products. Continue to look for a five-point harness in rear facing infant seats and “convertible” seats that can be either rear facing or forward facing for toddlers. Be wary of child safety seats you might get from a second-hand store that rely on an outdated "shield" that restrains the child only with a lap belt.

Understanding and Recovering from Non-Fatal Drowning Incidents

Because of an extreme focus on fatal drowning incidents by studies and the media, the serious effects and common nature of non-fatal drowning incidents are often overlooked. Additionally, the confusing definitions of drowning and near-drowning incidents are confusing to many. As such, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have defined drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.” As such, there are only two types of drowning incidents: fatal and non-fatal. However, non-fatal incidents can have major repercussion for victims.

Because of oxygen deprivation, a non-fatal drowning victim may suffer severe damage to organs, brain trauma, respiratory problems, and many different permanent disabilities. According to CDC statistics, an average of 5,789 people are treated for non-fatal drowning injuries every year. The vast majority of these survivors are children and 54 percent of the incidents occur in residential pools and spas.

In seeking to hold responsible parties accountable for these incidents and find fair compensation to cope with losses, survivors and their families must remember that there are many potential people and organizations that may be responsible. Owners of the property may be held responsible for incidents involving a dangerous pool area or poor upkeep of the pool. However, manufacturers of the pool may also be responsible if a product defect was the cause of the incident. This can include a lack of safety measures like a ladder or pool cover or dangerous parts of the pool, such as a drain with too much suction. In any case, proving fault and finding fair and full compensation will aid in injury recovery and medical care for permanent disabilities.

Alcohol Related Injury

Social Host Liability allows party hosts to be sued for serving alcohol to underage persons. The test is whether the party host knows or should have known that alcohol was being served. In states that have social host liability laws, studies show underage people are less likely to drink heavily and drive according to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This is most likely due to the fact that some one-third to one half of underage drinkers obtain alcohol from adults. While Florida has yet to establish a social host rule, an adult who fails to take reasonable steps to stop alcohol consumption by minors at an open house party is liable both civilly and criminally.

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Personal Injury

Social Host Liability allows party hosts to be sued for serving alcohol to underage persons. The test is whether the party host knows or should have known that alcohol was being served. In states that have social host liability laws, studies show underage people are less likely to drink heavily and drive according to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This is most likely due to the fact that some one-third to one half of underage drinkers obtain alcohol from adults. While Florida has yet to establish a social host rule, an adult who fails to take reasonable steps to stop alcohol consumption by minors at an open house party is liable both civilly and criminally.

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Work Injury

The True Dangers Workers Face on Scaffolds

It is estimated that approximately 65 percent of all construction workers regularly use scaffolds in the course of their daily work. However, reviews by civil engineers have shown that these pieces of equipment are often compromised and do not follow proper safety guidelines.

Read More

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Workers Compensation

Calling Academy Members to Action

Most provisions of the new Worker’s Compensation Act, Chapter 2003-412, Laws of Florida, took effect October 1, 2003. The ATFL and and the Florida Workers Advocates (FWA) believe that many provisions of this new act are unconstitutional. In fact, the entire act may be unconstitutional. The AFTL and FWA have established a joint Constitutional Challenge Committee to advise and assist lawyers in preserving the constitutional issues in their cases. The Committee is Chaired by Ray Maleca.

The Committee is most interested in learning about cases where accidents occur after October 1, 2003, and involve facts similar to those in the following fact patterns:

1. A clearly comprehensible case where there is no valid dispute as to entitlement to compensation or medical benefits but those benefits are denied forcing the worker to obtain the services of an attorney who spends considerable time in obtaining what should have been provided voluntarily and can only be compensated at the statutory amount even though the employer/carrier’s attorney can be fully paid for their services in defending a claim which could have been paid without the need for counsel.

2. A Turner-type case, where the employer intentionally harms an employee by sending or directing the employee into a situation where there is substantial certainty that the employee will be killed or injured. See Turner v. PCR, Inc. 754 So.2d 683 ( Fla. 2000).

-AFTL Journal

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Worker’s Compensation and the 2003 Florida Legislative Session: As Reported By Florida’s Newspapers

Lakeland Representative Dennis Ross, Lt. Governor TOny Jennings and Senator Charlie Clary who led the way to an insurance friendly worker’s compensation law taking effect October 1, 2003. Despite every major newspaper in Florida’s warning that this new law would not reduce premiums or make coverage available for small employers, House Speaker Byrd and Senate President King caved in to Governor Bush’s demand to pass workers’ compensation legislation that dramatically decreased injured workers’ benefits and their attorney’s fees.

-AFTL Journal

Governor Bush Speaks To Home Builders

Governor Bush addressed a crowd of rallying homebuilders yesterday expressing his support for an overhaul of the workers’ compensation system. Bush said the goal was to reduce rates by 15% by limiting attorney’s fees, creating a dispute resolution system, and removing certain exemptions.

– St. Petersburg Times

House Bill May Not Provide Relief

A large amount of "pricey special-interest amendments" worked to bog down a House bill originally designed to provide workers’ compensation relief to Florida businesses. The Committee’s bill needed to provide a method to lower workers’ compensation premiums, but many believe that the bill as it stands will not do so.

– Tampa Tribune

Bush Outlines Workers’ Compensation Plan

Governor Bush has outlined the workers’ compensation plan that he wants from the legislature and it includes 15% insurance rate rollback. Critics feel this is odd because the Governor is opposed to a rate roll back for med mal insurance premiums.

– Palm Beach Post

Non-Profits Hurt By Workers’ Compensation Crisis

The Greater Daytona Beach YMCA got notice this year that its workers’ compensation coverage would be cancelled, forcing them to pick up a more expensive policy. Non-profit orgs are especially vulnerable to insurance rate increases because they rely on tax dollars and donations to apply for operations, which makes it hard for them to absorb rate increases.

– Daytona Beach News Journal

Workers’ Comp Bill an "Insult To The Injured"

HB 25A is "grotesquely one-sided," and it should not be passed because of pressure by Governor Bush, House Speaker Byrd, and Senate President King. With benefits to workers already low, the Legislature took the wrong approach in reforming WC and should revisit the issue in the next special session.

– St. Petersburg Times

Workers’ Comp Bill Should Not Be Passed

The Legislature should be "embarrassed with the reform packages they are about to vote on" and should not vote on it because it takes away the intent of the WC law. With no guarantees that reform will lower rates, EC reform remains undone."

– Orlando Sentinel

Workers’ Comp Bill "A Dog"

WC bill takes away benefits and cuts back on the rights of workers to get those benefits that remain. The bill is based on bad information "cooked up" by the insurance industry, and lawmakers know it. This leaves the fate of workers "hanging on the arrogance and ignorance of the FL House."

– Daytona Beach News Journal

Wrongful Death

Pool Drowning a Leading Cause of Accidental Child Death

Statistics released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have shown that drowning, particularly in pools and spas, is a deadly hazard for young children. On average, 390 children under the age of 15 die every year from drowning in a pool or spa and approximately 5,200 children are taken to the emergency room for submersion injuries. Out of all young victims, children younger than five years old account for almost 75 percent of yearly fatalities due to their high likelihood of being unable to swim. Additionally, African-American and Hispanic children are at a higher risk of drowning. The vast majority of both fatal and injury-causing drowning accidents occur at residential pools, most of them being in-ground pools rather than portable.

The CPSC also warned of the danger of entrapment injuries and fatalities, caused by victims being trapped underwater by circulation systems. All parents should be aware of the dangers presented by pools and teach children how to swim at an early age and take all precautionary measures to prevent children from accessing a pool while unattended.

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Slip and Fall Accidents

The Slippery Nature of Theme Park Safety

While theme parks across the nation put on a face of safety and security, the truth of the matter is far murkier. Serious injury-causing and fatal amusement park accidents occur every year throughout the United States. While the dangerous nature of roller coasters and other attractions are well known to many visitors, the safety measures and inspections behind these rides are far less well known. While amusement park safety standards are set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, there is no federal agency that has the authority to enforce these voluntary rules. Most often, the safety of a park and the quality of a ride is determined by the company’s own safety inspectors.

Each state is different when it comes to safety codes and inspections, with many having no regulations whatsoever. In Florida, any permanent facility that has at least 1,000 full-time employees is able to maintain its own safety. Additionally, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only has power over travelling amusement rides.

A report by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) found that 4.3 in 1 million people who visit a theme park are injured on a ride. However, the information gathered for this study was taken from only 144 theme parks who responded to the survey out of the total 383 that are in the United States. While many companies will attempt to avoid being held liable and paying for losses, those who are harmed on a ride due to dangerous equipment or the negligence of staff members still have rights and the chance to recover through compensation.

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The attorneys of Farah & Farah in Jacksonville, Florida have experience with personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, workers’ compensation, social security, injury and negligence lawsuits. Eddie Farah and our team of Jacksonville attorneys are proud to represent working people and families throughout the country.

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