Interesting Legal Cases
The other day, I read a story about someone in Congress screaming that we ought to pass a law placing caps on medical malpractice lawsuits. This argument has gone on in Washington for the past 25 years. “Caps” would limit awards for pain and suffering to $250,000. From a legal liability perspective on personal injury settlements – this capped amount on pain and suffering awards often seems inappropriately small considering the amount of negligence involved.
The headline made me think of a client I represented years ago. The client was recovering in the hospital from pneumonia. During the evening hours, she felt excruciating pain in her left calf, followed by numbness. The house doctor came in and made a diagnosis of “possible arterial occlusion,” but no medical tests were done that night. When the tests were finally performed the next day, the clot was too well solidified to be broken up, and the client underwent an above-the-knee amputation.
The client was not working and, therefore, there was no wage loss. The medical bills did not have to be paid back so we could not include them in our settlement demand.
A Pennsylvania Personal Injury Settlement
The case was settled for $600,000. The client died from an unrelated disease a year after the amputation. If not, the settlement for pain and suffering would have been higher.
If personal injury “caps” had been passed, either in Washington or Harrisburg, the settlement would have been limited to $250,000. As a Pennsylvania law firm negotiating and going to trial on behalf of victims of gross personal injury negligence, we strongly feel that the pain and suffering award caps are not something to support in legislation.
I recently read a book titled, “Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.” It was written by Frederic Block, who is a judge in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of New York. The book is about Judge Block’s life as a lawyer and a United States Federal judge.
The Brooklyn, NY born Frederic L. Block graduated from Cornell Law School in 1959.
The first half of this wonderful book discusses his 30 years as a lawyer practicing in a small town in Long Island. Judge Block initially opened up a law office with no partners and no cases. How he made a living practicing law is a compelling story.
Federal Judge Career
What is even more interesting is his career as a Federal judge. Judge Block is probably the first Federal judge to write a book about the Federal court system while still being a judge. He sat on cases involving the mob, terrorists, as well as every legal issue one could imagine. In 2004 he tried a money laundering and racketeering case, resulting in an almost ten year sentence for Peter Gotti of Gambino family notoriety. Block also sat on cases involving Kitty Genovese and the Crown Heights riots.
The book should be read by every high school or college student who aspires for a career in the law. It is written in a way that brings the understanding of intricate legal cases into language both enjoyable and understood by the non-legal lay person. Judge Block’s overview of his career shows the justice as well as the injustice in the legal system, and is one man’s account in dealing with it.
There are laws, and then there are also, well other kinds of laws – one’s we often don’t quite understand! The dumb laws, the stupid laws, the crazy laws, the silly laws, the insane laws! The following ten laws are on the books in the state of Pennsylvania, you be the judge – maybe go out and make a citizen’s arrest if you ever observe any such activity:All liquor stores in Pennsylvania shall be run by the state government.
1. All liquor stores in Pennsylvania shall be run by the state government.
2. In Connellsville, Pennsylvania, you cannot wear pants that are lower than five inches below the waist.
3. In Morrisville, Pennsylvania, it is illegal for a woman to wear any kind of makeup without acquiring a special permit.
4. Pittsburgh has strict rules regarding trolley cars – it’s against the law to bring a donkey or a mule onto a trolley car.
5. If you’re in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and you misuse a shopping cart – you could be convicted of a crime.
6. Hunters beware – in Pennsylvania, it’s a crime to shoot a big game animal while it’s swimming.
7. Speaking of hunting – it’s illegal to hunt in a cemetery.
8. Let’s play fair – it’s illegal to use dynamite to catch a fish.
9. Start the wedding early – it’s illegal for a minister to perform a marriage when either the bride or groom is drunk.
10. Pennsylvania isn’t the only state to have dumb rules – in Rhode Island, it’s a misdemeanor to tell an online lie about your waistline, your age or anything else that qualifies as the “transmission of false data.” So much for online dating – we’d all go to jail.
However, as far as we know, there is no stupid or dumb law in Pennsylvania that makes it illegal to eat take-out Chinese dumplings in a row boat!
If The Neighbor’s Trees Fall On Your Property And No One Hears It – Who Has The Responsibility To Pay For The Tree Removal Costs?
All of the cases I discuss on this blog deal with my clients’ problems. This one is different. It deals with my own problem – a property insurance issue between myself and my neighbor.
When I got up in the morning after Hurricane Sandy, I noticed that my backyard looked different, much different. Five 30 foot pine trees that had once stood tall on my neighbor’s property were now lying down on my lawn. Three of the trees laid completely on my property while two were still rooted on my neighbor’s. There was no damage to my house or any other property. The only money that would be spent would be cost of tree removal. I felt bad for my neighbor as he told me that he had an estimate of $5,000 for removing the trees.
Anyway, not my problem – OR SO I THOUGHT!
Will my Neighbor’s Property Insurance Pay for the Tree Removal Service Cost?
A few days later, my neighbor came up to me and explained that he had been talking with his insurance company and other friends about who was responsible for paying for the tree removal. He told me that I was responsible as the trees were now on my property. I told him that I thought he was crazy, but that I would look into the matter. I immediately called my homeowner’s insurance company to inquire as to who was on the hook for removing the damaged trees. They told me that according to the property insurance policy – I was. Their explanation was that when an act of God causes trees to fall on a person’s house or car, your neighbor is not responsible at all. (The exception is when the trees are rotted and the neighbor has knowledge of this.)
In other words, if your neighbor’s tree falls on your deck or your house, he is not responsible to pay. However, my insurance company would pay to repair the damage and to remove the tree. If the tree did not cause any damage, but was merely laying in my backyard, my homeowner’s insurance would not pay for the tree removal.
How do the Property Damage Laws Address This?
Fortunately, I have learned over the years that insurance companies’ knowledge of the law tends to favor them and not their policy holders. I, therefore, researched the law myself and asked a lot of questions. Here’s what I found.
The law has only addressed issues regarding fallen trees where there has also been property damage. But the law is silent as to who is responsible for the payment of removing the fallen trees where there is no property damage involved. Why hasn’t the law addressed this issue? The main reason is that the cost involved in removing a fallen tree is not great enough to result in people filing lawsuits and appeals. It would cost more money to hire a lawyer than it would to actually pay for the removal of the tree.
If the law is silent on this issue, then who should pay – the tree owner or the owner of the land where the tree falls?
To muddy up the waters just a bit, let’s consider other examples -
Neighborly Settlement for Removing the Trees
So what happened next? Well, what usually happens when the law is unclear and a resolution is required is that compromise occurs. (If only Congress would abide by this principle.) My neighbor was able to get a lower estimate and agreed to split the bill with me. I agreed.
I believe that I could have prevailed in court. First, I am a lawyer so I would not have had to pay for a lawyer. Second, it would have been interesting, win or lose, to have a new law regarding fallen trees named after me.
If you have a fallen tree issue, please don’t call me to represent you. I’d rather represent people in Chester County in car accidents where I have a pretty good understanding of the actual law.