17Jan 2020
Bike Image

In December, news media reported that Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson broke some ribs and punctured his lung after falling off his bike. In 2014, long-time television meteorologist Jim Reif died after sustaining head injuries from a bike accident.

It was an important reminder that bicycle accidents can happen to anyone. If you received a bicycle for Christmas and are looking forward to riding in the cooler weather or are hoping to cycle to meet your new year’s exercise goals, take care.

With weather conducive nearly year-round for bike use, Florida has a high number of cyclists. It also has a lot of motor vehicles and visitors who are not as familiar with area roadways, which may be why Florida has the highest number of bicycle accident deaths in the United States.

In 2018, there were 6,568 reported bicycle crashes in Florida, resulting in 148 deaths and 6,175 injuries. For the first quarter of 2019, preliminary data reported 1,695 bicycle accidents statewide with 40 fatalities and 1,588 injuries. Many bicycle accidents go unreported, so the number are likely higher.

Many bicycle accidents are caused by mistakes made by both bikers and motorists, with most fatalities caused by one or the other failing to yield the right of way. The Department of Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles notes these tips for motorists sharing the road with cyclists:

  • Drivers must give bicyclists a minimum of three feet of clearance when driving alongside or passing them. It’s the law.
  • When turning, yield to any bicyclist in the bike lane and make your turn behind them.
  • Avoid using high beam headlights when a bicyclist is approaching.
  • Before opening a car door, check for bicyclists who may be approaching from behind.

In Florida, the bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle and has all the privileges, rights and responsibilities on public roads (except for expressways) that a motor vehicle operator does. When it comes down to a 20-pound bicycle versus a 3,000-plus pound automobile, however, it’s necessary for cyclists to be vigilant about their own safety. The Department of Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suggests bicyclists should:

  • Obey all traffic controls and signals.
  • Not ride a bicycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Stay alert – do not text or wear headphones or ear buds, so you can hear everything around you.
  • Use the bike lane if you are not traveling at the speed of other traffic. If no bike lane is available, you must stay on the right-most side of the road.
  • Use the full lane when making a left turn, passing, avoiding hazards or when a lane is too narrow for you and a car to share it safely.
  • Use directional hand signals to show other drivers that you are about to turn.
  • Yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on a sidewalk or crosswalk.
  • Have a white light visible from 500 feet on the front and a reflector and red light visible from 600 feet on the rear between sunset and sunrise.
  • Wear neon or fluorescent colors and something reflective when riding, day or night.
  • Wear a helmet. Bicyclists under age 16 are required to wear helmets.

While following the above safety tips will help ensure safer cycling, there is no way to eliminate the risks involved in riding a bicycle. If you are in a bike accident with a motor vehicle or another cyclist, be sure to get medical attention. You’ll also want to make sure the accident has been reported to police so there is a record.

After the accident, it’s important to attempt to preserve your damaged bicycle and document the scene of the incident with photographs, including vehicles and any tire marks or other roadway evidence. The nature of the damage and evidence will help tell the story of who was at fault for the accident.

An insurance investigator or claims adjuster may contact you regarding your claim. Unless you have discussed your case with an attorney, do not give a written or recorded statement or sign any releases for the insurance company. The claims adjuster works for the insurance company, and it’s the adjuster’s job to settle claims for the lowest amount possible, which is often less than many claims are worth.

 

If you or someone you know has been injured in a bicycle accident due to the negligence of a motor vehicle driver, seek advice from an attorney experienced in personal injury cases. An attorney can advise you of your rights, help make sure you are receiving any required medical treatment needed and investigate your case.

17Jan 2020
Estate Planning Image

Whether you are young or old, don’t let resolutions about planning for the future get put off by thinking there’s always next year. While it’s hard to think about what happens after you are gone, not planning can put your loved ones in serious trouble and without enough assets to support them.

If you pass away or become incapacitation without a Will or Trust, the laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed, and the court will assign a guardian to your minor children. Not having a Will and/or Trust may increase your family’s tax liabilities, not to mention the legal disputes or challenges that result when there is no estate plan in place.

Making difficult Estate Planning decisions now about your Will and estate will eliminate the burden from your loved ones having to make decisions later. A Will is a necessary document to protect the interest of both you and your family. This document states how you want your property distributed among your heirs and beneficiaries and lists gifts to other family members or friends, charitable donations and other financial arrangements.

Why plan?

  • There are people who count on you
  • The unexpected does happen
  • It’s not as complicated or time consuming as you think

This story is a cautionary tale. A young man lost both his mother and stepfather.

His mother died first, followed some months later by his stepfather. His mother left a Will leaving everything to her spouse (his stepfather), and if he predeceased, to her son. At his mother’s death, since all her assets were jointly owned with her husband, all her assets passed to him (the husband).

At the death of his stepfather, since the stepfather had no Will, his estate passed by the intestate laws of Florida. In his case, he had no children, his parents were deceased, he had no brothers or sisters and no nieces or nephews. Without a Will, the estate must search for heirs and the assets of the estate will likely pass to distant relatives with whom the stepfather may have had no contact.

The stepson will likely receive nothing.

Laws and lives change, so it’s important to make sure you have the proper documents in place. You may move to another state, get divorced or remarry and have children from previous marriages you would like to provide for.

One example of how changing laws have impacted the need to plan is the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Many of us grew up in a time when a friend or relative was hospitalized, we could call the hospital to inquire about their well-being. Today with HIPAA regulations, hospitals and doctors are no longer able to give out any patient information or confirm a patient is even in the hospital. This is even true for parents whose children are away and over the age of 18! Parents have no rights to obtain medical information on legal-age children, even if the child is covered under the parent’s health insurance. A signed HIPAA authorization and Medical Power of Attorney allows parents access to their adult children’s medical information. Requirements for these documents can vary from state to state, so an attorney can make sure documents are appropriate for each situation.

Feeling smug because you have your estate plan in place? Estate planning is not a once in a lifetime event, but a lifelong process that requires revisiting. The start of a new year is a good time to review to make sure your wishes haven’t changed:

  • Are the Beneficiaries you selected in your Will and Trust still the ones you would name today? How about alternates? Are they still willing and able to assume those responsibilities? Are the Beneficiaries on your life insurance up to date?
  • For those with minor children, are the Guardians you named the persons you want to raise your children? What about pets?
  • Does your planning reflect all your assets, big and small?
  • Have you created letters of instruction with key information in the event of an emergency, including names and contact information for key professional advisors, location of original records, how to find passwords and other key online information, key medical information, insurances summaries and other general instructions?

So, while you are setting your new goals for the New Year, ensure you and your family are protected in the event you become disabled, terminally ill or pass away unexpectedly. This could be the one goal this year that has a lasting effect on you and your family’s future. An experienced attorney can help guide your estate planning experience and tailor your documents to meet your needs and wishes for the future.

20Dec 2019
Supporting Toys for Tots and Much More

Collection of toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation wrapped up this month with more than 150 toys collected to be distributed to approved local social welfare agencies, church groups and other organizations for the holidays.

It’s the 13th year the firm has been an official public collection point, but support for Toys for Tots has been happening at the firm for more than 35 years.

“I’ve been at the firm since 1984, and I do not remember a time we weren’t supporting Toys for Tots,” said Carleen Menist, a legal assistant for partner attorney Richard Purtz. “I was always involved getting folks what they needed. People would bring me items, and I would find a home. We’ve always been involved. There is always a need. Always.”

Janeé Broadway, marketing and events coordinator for the firm, said many of the toys donated this year came from members of the firm. “Our staff is incredibly generous,” she said. “The Toys for Tots boxes were overflowing before we announced the collection to the public!”

In addition to Toys for Tots, Menist says the firm has supported local sports teams with their fundraisers, the Community Cooperative Soup Kitchen, area schools with school supplies, area churches, the Shelter for Abused women, area Veterans and many more. “I don’t remember a time we weren’t giving,” she said.

Giving extends to supporting employees. Menist said she started at the firm as a temporary secretary, and the firm helped her to advance in her career, paying for her education along the way. “They are very giving,” she said. “Books and all! No doubt, giving is the best feeling in the world.”

16Dec 2019

At this time of year, it’s likely children are dreaming of toys and not sugar plums. The best toy gifts are fun and provide enjoyment. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

In 2017, the latest statistics available, there were 251,700 estimated emergency department-treated injuries associated with toys. World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (WATCH) reports one child is treated in U.S. emergency rooms every three minutes for a toy-related injury.

For 47 years, WATCH has released its nominations for the 10 Worst Toys this holiday season. Highlighted this year were projectile toys that could fire with enough force to potentially cause eye injuries and toys that encourage children to jump or ride with the potential for head injuries. See this year’s list at toysafety.org.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offer these tips to consider when gifting toys:

  • Toys are age-rated for safety, not for children’s intellect and physical ability, so be sure to choose toys in the correct age range
  • Choose toys for children under 3 that do not have small parts, which could be choking hazards
  • For children under 10, avoid toys that must be plugged into an electrical outlet
  • Be cautious about toys that have button batteries or magnets, which can be harmful or fatal if swallowed
  • When giving scooters and other riding toys, give the gift of appropriate safety gear, too; helmets should always be worn, and they should be sized to fit.

Also be sure to consider supervision. Just because a toy is labeled with age-appropriate guidelines does not mean children should not be supervised when playing with it. Children are inventive and may come up with uses other than those intended and without supervision, and injuries may occur.

In addition to poor supervision, toy-related injuries can originate from toys sold with flaws or defective parts. Possible injury from toys include:

  • Lacerations or cuts from sharp edges
  • Strangulation from cords, laces or straps
  • Choking from small pieces or parts
  • Hearing impairments from loud toys
  • Suffocation due to improper use

Toys can also be recalled, so it is important to keep up with safety recalls. With Internet shopping expected to account for 59% of holiday spending based on a holiday survey by Deloitte, shoppers need to know safety hazards to watch out for when making online purchases. E-shoppers should beware of recalled toys or toys with deadly track records, whether making retail or consumer-to-consumer purchases.

Learn more about product recalls at safekids.org/product-recalls. Safe Kids compiles product recalls specific to children and sends twice-monthly e-mail alerts for recent recalls. Information is also available at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), https://cpsc.gov/recalls or recalls.gov.

There is some good news in toy safety. According to the CPSC, many toys are being rejected at the ports before even getting to the market. In 2008, 172 toys were rejected at the port, 19 of them because of use of lead. In 2018, 18 toys were rejected, two because of lead.

A new CPSC global system to make toys safer means:

  • Toys are now tested by independent, third-party testing laboratories around the world
  • CPSC and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are at the ports, stopping toys that violate U.S. standards before they reach children’s hands.

Enjoy this season of giving and the joy that toys bring by preventing toy-related injuries. If toys have caused harm because they’re unsafe, seek advice from attorneys experienced in personal injury.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Jeffrey Rice of Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, P.A. emphasizes his practice on commercial and construction law, construction lien cases and real estate law. He has been named one of Florida’s “Super Lawyers” annually since 2006.