Connecticut Criminal Law & Injury Blog

bad faith, Connecticut personal injury lawyerDrivers throughout the country are generally required to carry liability insurance that is designed to protect them in the event of an accident. While most drivers realize that insurance carriers are for-profit companies, it is reasonable to believe that an insurance company will do its best to protect their customers when an accident occurs—regardless of who was at fault for the crash. Unfortunately, however, such is not always the situation, as a recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court clearly demonstrates.

A Tragic Accident

The case began with a fatal car accident in August 2006 in which one man was killed. The at-fault driver had an auto insurance policy through GEICO with a liability limit of $100,000. According to court records, GEICO advised the driver that while there was coverage available, the claim against him would likely exceed his policy limits and that he had the right to hire an outside lawyer.

An attorney representing the deceased victim’s estate contacted GEICO asking for a statement from the at-fault driver and other documents and records. Court records indicate that the claims handler at GEICO denied the attorney’s request but did not tell their customer—the at-fault driver—about the request for two weeks. The claims handler reportedly refused to communicate with the driver and the decedent’s estate several more times. Finally, the deceased man’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, resulting in a jury verdict of $8.47 million in favor of the victim’s estate.

Bad Faith Action

Following the wrongful death verdict, the driver filed suit against GEICO alleging bad faith in the handling of the claim. The driver claimed that the claims handler’s failure to communicate and the company’s refusal to attempt to facilitate a settlement ultimately led to an excess verdict against him. At trial, the jury found in favor of the driver, but GEICO appealed. On appeal, the trial court’s decision was reversed. The appellate court held that there was insufficient evidence of bad faith and that “the insurer’s actions did not cause the excess judgment rendered against the insured.”

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling and reinstated the trial court’s decision. The court’s decision held that an insurance company has a duty to handle each claim with the same level of “care and diligence as a person of ordinary care and prudence should exercise in the management of his own business.” The court went on to explain that simply telling a policyholder that a litigation is probable and a big judgment is possible is not enough to absolve an insurer of its liability. “Rather, the critical inquiry in a bad faith [action] is whether the insurer diligently, and with this same haste and precision as if it were in the insured’s shoes, worked on the insured’s behalf to avoid an excess judgment,” the court’s ruling explained.

The court’s decision was split 4-3 and applies only to cases that involve Florida law. Legal experts believe, however, that policyholders around the country will point to this case when allegations of bad faith by their insurance companies arise.

Call Us for Help

If your insurance company has mishandled your claim regarding a car accident in which you were injured, contact an experienced Connecticut personal injury attorney. We will help you explore your options for taking action and getting the compensation you deserve. Call 860-290-8690 for a free consultation today.

 

Sources:

https://www.law.com/dailybusinessreview/2018/09/21/florida-justices-deal-blow-to-insurer-in-bad-faith-dispute/

https://coveragereporter.com/a-divided-florida-supreme-court-drastically-expands-liability-for-bad-faith-claims/

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DNA, Hartford criminal defense lawyerThanks to television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, their respective spin-offs, and similar programs, the average person tends to have an unrealistic view of criminal forensics. The limitations of television require such shows to compress months of police work and lab testing into 60 minutes—less if you are not counting commercial breaks. Additionally, the accuracy of the labs on these shows is rarely, if ever, questioned. In reality, however, certain forensic testing processes may not be as accurate as we have been led to believe, including the near-sacred area of DNA testing.

A Troubling Study

In a disturbing study, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology tested the accuracy of 108 separate crime labs, including 105 in the United States and three in Canada. To do so, the team sent the same mixture of DNA to each lab and asked the labs to compare the mixture to DNA taken from three known “suspects.”

The mixture actually contained DNA from just two of the suspects, and most of the labs correctly identified the DNA from those two. However, more than 70 of the testing facilities found that the sample included DNA from the third individual as well. The problem, obviously, is that the third person’s DNA was not part of the mixture. This means that their report would have implicated an innocent person for the crime in a real-world scenario.

No Real Change

Perhaps the most troubling part of the study is that it started in 2005 and continued in 2013 with similar results. In the meantime, prosecutors and juries have relied on DNA matches to convict untold thousands of individuals, many of whom had no relationship to the case whatsoever. As DNA testing technology continues to advance and justice advocates push certain cases, convictions have been overturned. Unfortunately, getting any court to reopen a case in which a conviction has already been handed down is next to impossible.

The Importance of Quality Representation

The sad reality is that many wrongful convictions occur because the defendant did not have the best possible representation. Public defenders provide an invaluable service, but they are often overloaded with cases. As a result, they may not be able to devote the time and attention necessary to build a solid defense.

If you have been charged with any type of crime, contact an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney at Woolf Law Firm, LLC. Our knowledgeable team understands the tricks and techniques that prosecutors will use to secure a conviction, and we will work hard to protect your rights and your freedom. Call 860-290-8690 for a free, confidential consultation today.

 

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/opinion/the-dangers-of-dna-testing.html

https://www.fsigenetics.com/article/S1872-4973(18)30248-5/fulltext

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injuries, Hartford personal injury lawyerWhen you are injured in a car crash, slip and fall accident, or any other type of accident caused by the actions or negligence of another party, you are generally entitled to collect compensation for your injuries. This means that determining the severity of your injuries is an important part of the process.

If you sustained injuries to a part of your body that has never been seriously hurt before, it is reasonable to assume that any damage was the result of the accident. If, however, you sustained injuries to a part of your body that had been hurt before, it can be difficult to know for sure what damage was caused by the accident and what damage had been done previously. Pre-existing injuries can present serious complications in your pursuit of full compensation, but it is possible to collect in spite of them.

Jury Awards $228,000 Despite Prior Injuries

Earlier this month, a Hartford Superior Court jury deliberated for just an hour before finding in favor of a 48-year-old man who had been injured in a 2016 accident in Bristol. The man was hurt when he was rear-ended by another vehicle, and he suffered injuries to his left shoulder, lower back, and neck, reports indicate. According to court records, liability for the crash was not at issue, as the driver of the second vehicle was cited for following too closely. Instead, the main concern was the victim’s injuries.

The victim had injured his left shoulder and lower back in another accident back in 2010. It was, therefore, up to the plaintiff and his attorney to prove that the injuries for which he was seeking compensation were caused—or at least exacerbated—by the 2016 crash. To do so, the claimant relied on testimony from his orthopedic surgeon.

The victim claimed about $78,000 in medical bills and projected expenses. Prior to trial, representatives for the victim said that the defense had offered a $50,000 settlement.

It took the jury only about an hour to decide that the victim’s injuries were the result of the more recent crash. The awarded verdict totaled $228,000. The defense has about two more weeks before the window to file an appeal will close.

We Can Help

If you have been injured in a car accident and pre-existing injuries are threatening your right to collect compensation, contact an experienced Connecticut personal injury attorney. Call 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today. We will review your case and help you take action in collecting the damages you deserve.

 

Sources:

https://www.law.com/ctlawtribune/2018/09/24/middlebury-attorney-overcomes-clients-pre-existing-injuries-to-win-228000-verdict/

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1x5ih6lrfe3STitrxm0DeaycnVf2zdiIW/view

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debtor, Hartford criminal defense lawyerDid you know that you could end up in jail if you cannot pay your bills? This does not even refer to court-imposed fines or court-ordered obligations like child support. You could find yourself in jail over private debts such as student loans, medical bills, and unpaid rent. Now, you may be wondering how this is possible considering that debtors’ prisons were outlawed in the United States nearly 200 years ago. The answer is that private companies have found a loophole in the laws of dozens of states that allows them to use the threat of incarceration to generate payment of outstanding debt—a practice that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says criminalizes poverty.

A Troubling Report

Technically, debtors’ prisons are illegal in the United States and have been since 1833. In recent years, however, private companies have begun “using the criminal justice system to punish debtors and terrorize them into paying, even when a debt is in dispute or when the debtor has no ability to pay,” says a new report from the ACLU. According to the report, tens of thousands of warrants are issued each year in relation to unpaid private debts, but it is impossible to determine the exact number because court records do not usually track this category of warrants.

The ACLU report indicates that the process usually works like this:

  • A person gets behind on a bill or a debt and the account is contracted or sold to a collection company;
  • The debt remains unpaid, so the collection company files a claim in small-claims court or a similar venue;
  • The debtor never learns about the lawsuit or chooses not to defend themselves;
  • The court enters a judgment in favor of the collection company. The collection company requests a hearing where the debtor must present his or her case about the ability to pay the debt;
  • In many cases, the debtor fails to appear—usually because they did not know about the hearing—so the collection company asks the court to issue a warrant for the debtor’s arrest; and
  • The debtor can then be arrested if he or she is stopped for a traffic violation or during a warrant sweep.

Technically, the arrest warrant is issued for failing to appear in court and not the unpaid debt itself, and the matter is still considered to be civil rather than criminal. “They are never charged criminally, and the warrants are still civil, but they still lose their liberty,” said Jennifer Turner, the report’s lead author and the principal human rights researchers at the ACLU. “They don’t have a criminal record, but they suffer a lot of the same collateral consequences.”

The report also documented dozens of examples of cases where debtors received letters from the court warning them that they would be put in jail if they did not pay the outstanding debt. According to the ACLU, this is tantamount to blackmail—using the threat of the loss of freedom to force payment of private debts.

Protecting Your Rights

The ACLU estimated that only about 2 percent of debtors in collection cases have legal representation. Because they are technically civil matters rather than criminal, there is no constitutional right to an attorney and public defenders have no role in the proceedings. If you are facing the prospect of going to jail for any reason, including private debt, it is important to contact an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney immediately. Call 860-290-8690 for a free consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.

 

Sources:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/debtors-prison-aclu-report-details-criminalization-private-debt-n849996

https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/mass-incarceration/criminalization-private-debt

https://www.thenation.com/article/prosecutors-and-judges-have-brought-back-debtors-prisons/

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