February Crane Malfunction Delays Four World Trade Center Construction

March 21, 2012 by Mark Siesel

1319880_crane%20sxchu.jpgA malfunctioning crane that unexpectedly dropped a load of steel beams in February will delay completion of Four World Trade Center by more than two months. The faulty crane, which was manufactured in 1976, was taken apart immediately following the incident and is no longer in service. For the time being, the building site operated by Tishman Construction will continue with only one working crane. Luckily, no one on the ground was injured in the accident.

The crane malfunction is currently under investigation by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The New York City Department of Buildings notified crane operators of other FMC / Link-Belt TG 1900 cranes that all capacity loads should be reduced by at least 25 percent as a safety precaution until the cause of the accident can be determined. A crane with the same model number is currently in use at the Three World Trade Center building site. It was also tested after the incident despite the fact that its interior machinery was previously replaced.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found no other crane deficiencies at the Four World Trade Center building site. After investigating the incident, OSHA was also purportedly satisfied with Tishman Construction’s safety program. A representative for Tishman Construction’s corporate safety division, Dwayne Carter, alleged that the company’s safety rules prevented a more serious accident. According to Carter, an access zone and alarm system is used to prevent personnel from getting too close to a crane's drop zone while in use. Without proper safety protocols, the construction accident would have likely been tragic.

Construction employees are often faced with hazardous working conditions on a daily basis. Unfortunately, building site accidents tragically hurt or kill thousands of workers each year. Despite that workplace injuries are normally subject to state workers' compensation laws, a third party may be held legally responsible under Section 240 of New York's Labor Law if a worker is injured due to defective or inadequate safety equipment including ladders and scaffolding. The manufacturer of equipment used on a construction site may be held responsible for creating a defective or dangerous product. Contractors also have a duty to warn workers about potential safety hazards and take proper safety precautions. If you were hurt while working at a building site, it is a good idea to contact a qualified personal injury attorney to explain your rights and your options for financial recovery.

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Governor Cuomo’s No-Fault Fraud Initiative Benefits Insurance Companies, Not Accident Victims

March 15, 2012 by Mark Siesel

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a state initiative in a stated effort to curb purported no-fault fraud by “getting rid of deceptive doctors” and “shutting down medical mills.” The problem that Gov. Cuomo seeks to address is that some No-Fault doctors engage in fraudulent billing procedures, according to Cuomo, which reportedly results in “hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance costs to New Yorkers.” In order to implement this initiative, Gov. Cuomo has directed the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to issue a new regulation that will permit the Dept. to “ban doctors that engage in fraudulent and deceptive practices.”

Additionally, the initiative involves audits of 135 medical providers whose billing procedures “have raised concerns”, demanding information from these providers as to their corporate structure, payment requests to insurance companies, and the physicians’ participation in the medical practice (as opposed to businessmen). The providers who treat car accident victims will receive a form with fourteen days to respond. The failure to do so may result in the provider being banned from further participation in the no-fault system.

Further, in what would seem to be a lack of due process, prior to a hearing, a list of providers that are “suspected of no-fault fraud” will be sent to the Department of Health (DOH) and the State Education Department (SED) for their review. Then, DFS will conduct hearings. In my opinion, before making allegations and referring cases to these other agencies, DFS should conduct hearings first, but that is not the manner in which the State intends to operate. There is also the implicit threat that in “appropriate cases”, the DOH and SED will revoke medical licenses and decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

One of the primary motivations for the Cuomo initiative is the allegation that New York’s auto insurance rates are the 4th highest in the nation, specifically due to fraud in the No-Fault system. Interestingly, when the New York State Trial Lawyers (NYSTLA) introduced legislation before the New York State Assembly known as the “Sunshine Act”, which would require insurance companies to open their books, show their earnings, and prove whether no-fault fraud was the real reason behind the excessive premiums or just a ruse to raise premiums, their well paid lobbyists bitterly oppose this regulation. This is an issue Governor Cuomo should be exploring as part of his effort to stamp out fraud in the No-Fault insurance industry.

What Governor Cuomo’s initiative also does not address is fraud by the insurance companies in denying medical care to injured victims of car accidents. Let me explain. Back in 1974, when the No-Fault Law was implemented, the purpose of the law was to restrict auto accident claims with the provision that the victim would have to suffer a “serious injury” to have a legal basis to sue for his or her injuries. A “serious injury” under New York’s Insurance Law includes a fracture, disfigurement, dismemberment, loss of use of a body part or system, and non-permanent injuries which lead to a “substantial limitation” of one or more parts of the body. In exchange for the restrictions imposed on auto claims, no-fault insurance was to provide up to a minimum of $50.000.00 in medical and economic (lost wages) benefits to car accident victims.

However, car insurance companies have created a mockery of the original statute. Through their lobbying efforts, and their huge impact on the Court system, hundreds of thousands of car accident victims who have suffered torn tendons, ligaments, and spinal injuries such as herniated discs, routinely have their cases dismissed before they ever get to trial through motions by insurance company defense lawyers claiming that these injuries do not meet the “no-fault threshold.” This includes those who have undergone surgery to treat those injuries!

Further, those injured in car crashes must now submit to no-fault “IME’s” (“Independent” medical examinations), which consist of five to ten minute examinations by doctors hired and paid for by the very insurance companies that “are on your side…that you are in good hands with…”, who make findings as to whether injuries meet the no-fault threshold in these cursory, biased examinations. If the “IME” doctor determines that the person does not have a “threshold injury”, in short order they will receive a letter from the insurance company informing them that all further benefits are denied! To add to the ridiculousness of calling these examinations “independent”, the insurance companies all use the same doctors for these “IME”s, the ones who will reliably find that the victim needs no further treatment, can go back to work and their normal activities, and has no “serious injury.”

In sum, Governor Cuomo, if you want to combat fraud in the insurance industry, and do this in an even handed manner, explore the auto insurance industry’s practices when it comes to “IME’s” and investigate the true reasons behind the excessive auto insurance premiums in New York, in addition to the initiative to root out "medical mills."

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NYC Taxi Passengers Suffer Facial Injuries In Unbelted Accidents

March 12, 2012 by Mark Siesel

In a story by Heidi Evans in the March 11, 2012 edition of the New York Daily News, it was reported that passengers in New York City taxicabs are suffering numerous facial injuries due to their failure to utilize rear seat belts. For some reason, many people (this writer included) seem to have a different perspective on car safety when they are in a taxi cab (ignoring seat belts) than when they drive themselves and are more vigilant about seat belt usage.

The issue is compounded by the fact that New York City cabbies frequently drive quite aggressively, make short stops, exceed the speed limit, pass on the right, and cut in and out of lanes. These dangerous maneuvers occur while the driver is attempting to avoid other traffic, bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses.

Pedestrians are suffering facial injuries after striking the glass partition, including broken noses, fractured teeth, abrasions and even brain trauma after a short stop or collision with another vehicle. The distance between the partition and the passengers can be no more than 16 to 19 inches, not much space when the taxi comes to a sudden stop. Rear passengers are routinely being treated at NYC emergency rooms after striking their faces on cup holders, sharp edged credit card machines, change cups and steel bolts.

Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, the chairman of the emergency departments at Bellevue Hospital and NYU Langone, walks to work each day rather than take taxis after observing the severe injuries suffered by taxi passengers he encounters in his daily experience. He states that the only time he noticed a reduction in injuries was at the inception of the TLC campaign airing recordings of Joe Torre, Ed Koch and other prominent New Yorkers reminding passengers to “buckle up.”

Cab drivers quoted in the article blame riders, noting that they are often oblivious, focused more on their smart phones than taking the time to put on their seat belts. Evans reports that there are 485,000 daily cab rides in New York City by 13,237 yellow taxis, with the vast majority being safe. However, a TLC survey reportedly reveals that 2 out of 3 rear seat passengers don’t use seat belts.

Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to create a uniform taxi fleet includes new taxis next month, which will be equipped with a purportedly safer partition, subject to federal crash testing for the first time. However, in addition to making partitions safer, and removing sharp objects such as credit card machines, cup holders and steel bolts, clearly there must be a renewed effort to ensure that passengers use seat belts if the hope is to improve safety in NYS taxicabs.

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Medical Malpractice Bill Approved by New York Senate Judiciary Committee

March 6, 2012 by Mark Siesel

124811_medical_series_3%20sxchu.jpgThe New York Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill which would prohibit physicians and other medical malpractice defendants from interviewing a plaintiff’s non-party, later-treating doctors in private. Senate Bill 3296-A is designed to overturn the 2007 New York Court of Appeals decision in Arons v. Jutkowitz that said a defendant in a malpractice lawsuit may interview a plaintiff’s physicians so long as federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements are met. HIPAA requires a defendant to obtain consent from a plaintiff prior to interviewing a non-party doctor. The Judiciary Committee approved the proposed law with a 21-2 vote.

According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, John Bonacic, the holding in the Arons case "usurped the legislature's authority." In 2007, Judge Eugene Pigott expressed a similar sentiment in his dissent from the majority holding in the case. Joshua Cohen, President of the New York Medical Defense Bar Association, believes the proposed law is unfair to defendants. He argues private interviews are necessary in order to determine whether a plaintiff’s purported injuries are the result of a pre-existing condition. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, has stated the legislation is fair as it protects a defendant’s right to question physicians at depositions.

The Greater New York Hospital Association strongly opposes Senate Bill 3296-A. The Association has alleged the new law would raise malpractice insurance premiums by as much as 6 percent or $96 million. In response, Senator DeFrancisco has stated it would be impossible to predict whether the bill would have any monetary impact or what that impact might be. An identical Assembly Bill 694-A was also introduced this year by Democrat Rory Lancman of Queens. The Assembly previously passed the measure on multiple occasions, including last year when the proposed law died in the state Senate.

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, surgeon, hospital, or other medical provider renders services that fall short of the local standard of care. Health care providers must exercise reasonable care in accordance with the prescribed standard of care for their profession. If a medical provider deviates from the accepted local standard of care, then he or she may be liable for any resulting injuries. Unfortunately, mistakes that could adversely affect an individual’s quality of life are sometimes made. If you were injured by a medical professional, a qualified medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate your claim and help to protect your rights.

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Fatal Elevator Accident Due To Disabled Safety Device

March 1, 2012 by Mark Siesel

After an investigation by the New York City Department of Buildings, a determination has been made that the December 14, 2011 fatal accidenthttp://www.injurylawny.com/lawyer-attorney-1052470.html at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan involving 41 year old advertising executive Suzanne Hart was caused by a disabled safety circuit. The tragic elevator accident occurred at approximately 10:00 am last December 14th, when Ms. Hart attempted to board elevator 9 at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan on her way to work at Young & Rubicam, where she was employed as a director of new business. When Ms. Hart was partially in the elevator, the car suddenly lurched upward, and her body was pinned in the elevator shaft between the first and second floors of the building.

There were two passengers on the elevator when the fatal accident occurred. They were trapped in the elevator and required rescue workers to free them from the car. Transel Elevator Inc. had been servicing the 13 elevators in the building pursuant to an agreement with the owners of the building, Young and Rubicam. On December 11, 2011, two of the Transel employees disabled a safety circuit on elevator number 9 in order to perform upgrade work on the elevator. However, in a clear safety breach, the maintenance workers forgot to enable the circuit before placing the elevator back in service.

Apparently video depicts the two Transel employees leaving the building at 9:55 am on December 14th, and Ms. Hart stepping onto the elevator one minute later. The car apparently lurched upward with its doors still open. It has been determined that the workers bypassed the door safety circuit with a jumper wire.

Robert D. LiMandri, the Commissioner of the NYC Building Department, stated: “These workers and their supervisors failed to follow the most basic safety procedures, and their carelessness cost a woman her life.” The three safety violations according to city officials were:
1. Failing to re-enable the safety circuit after completing the upgrade;
2. Failing to post a sign that the work was being performed on the elevator; and
3. Failing to contact the Buildings Department to schedule a mandatory inspection prior to placing the elevator back in service.

Transel’s license has been suspended pending a hearing, where it is possible that the license will be permanently revoked. It faces 23 violations with minimum penalties of $117,000. Transel reports on its website that it services 2,500 elevators in New York City. There are approximately 60,000 elevators in the entire city and there were 43 reported accidents in 2011. After the Hart accident, the Buildings Department performed an inspection of 658 elevators in 169 New York City buildings, 370 of which were maintained by Transel. 135 violations were issued at that time, with 71 issued to Transel.

Since the accident, the building manager replaced Transel with PS Marcato to maintain the elevators in the building. Transel previously had many high profile clients including the Graybar Building, the BMW Building, Carnegie Hall, the Hippodrome Building and the Plaza Hotel. No lawsuit has been filed by the estate of Suzanne Hart as of the date of this article, but that certainly seems likely, particularly after the damning results of the Buildings Department investigation.

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