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Millions of Dollars Collected for Our Injury and Wrongful Death Clients – Car Wrecks, Nursing Home Abuse, Workers’ Comp, Med Mal and more.

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Monetary awards in personal injury cases are generally intended to compensate a victim of negligence for actual past and future compensatory losses or “special damages”—whether medical bills, lost income, future impairment of ability to earn money—as well as pain and suffering. However, where a defendant has acted with  at least recklessness or gross negligence in Kentucky, an award of punitive damages by a jury is warranted. Additionally, where intentional conduct is involved—such as an intentional assault and battery—punitive damages against the one who caused the harm are similarly warranted.

Punitive damages can be used in a wide array of circumstances, whether it is to punish an individual who drives drunk or texts while driving and injures someone else, whether it is to punish and deter a bouncer and bar for an intentional assault of a patron by the bouncer, or whether it is to punish a corporate or wealthy defendant whose conduct the jury wants to deter, such as the owner of a service station who permits an attendant to possess and use a  firearm but fails to train the employee resulting in injury, just to name a few situations. A punitive damages award can also be used to deter a particular type of conduct generally, among similarly situated defendants, such as manufacturers of similar products or hospitals that employ similar policies that are detrimental to patients.

In a car accident case which went to the Court of Appeals this year, a couple that had undergone gastric bypass surgery several years earlier were driving home when another driver turned his Nissan Altima into the wrong lane and drove towards them. An SUV driving in front of them managed to swerve away, but they crashed into the Altima. The Altima driver, who was drunk, died on the scene.

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Semi tractor-trailer accidents in Kentucky can lead to some of the most serious personal injuries or death. A semi can weigh more than 80,000 pounds; compare this to the average automobile that weighs only about 3,000 pounds. Although there are fewer semi accidents than car accidents, accidents involving semis are much more dangerous and can lead to catastrophic results.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, conducted a Truck Causation Study  to determine the top 10 common causes of tractor trailer accidents. These are: issues with brakes, traffic congestion, prescription drug use, speed, unfamiliarity with a road, road problems, required stops, over the counter medication use, inadequate sight, and driver fatigue.

Just this summer, a woman was killed in a crash photo_561_20051116with a semi near Louisa, Kentucky. She crossed over the center dividing line and collided head-on with a semi tractor-trailer. The driver claimed to have hit the brakes as soon as he saw her, but it was too late.

Because of accidents like this one, driving a semi tractor-trailer is covered by more restrictive laws than driving a car. For example, drivers of semi tractor-trailers cannot drive for more than a set number of hours before being required to stop for a rest. If you get into an accident with a semi tractor-trailer, the trucking company may have a team of lawyers already working on the case before you get a chance to consult an attorney. You may even get a tempting quick offer to settle.

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Cycles At Curb

Although less common than car accidents, motorcycle accidents remain common in Kentucky. In 2009, there were 1,915 motorcycle accidents in Kentucky, which included 89 fatalities, according to the Kentucky State Police. Getting in a motorcycle accident in Kentucky can be the result of road conditions, another driver, or a variety of other reasons. While they are less common than car accidents, the personal injuries caused to a motorcyclist can be quite severe.

If you go to trial against a potentially responsible party after a motorcycle accident, prior to the trial both sides will try to limit the subjects which can be presented to a jury by making what are called motions in limine. By the time the actual trial comes around, the judge will typically have ruled on most of these motions and you will mostly know what the other side will be allowed to argue at trial. A defendant driver, for example, might argue that you were at fault as a motorcycle driver for failing to use an appropriate signal while turning or failing to stop at a stop sign. Sometimes, however, a surprising statement or unexpected issue may still  surface at trial.

A case last year illustrates the difficulty of predicting the outcome of a motorcycle accident case. In the case, two couples who went motorcycle riding together were involved in a crash. As they rode down the hill, the second couple saw the first couple crash their motorcycle. Seconds later, the second couple’s motorcycle also crashed and struck the woman motorcyclist. She was knocked into a pickup truck and badly hurt. Several witnesses testified later that the motorcyclists lost control of their motorcycles because of a slick substance, probably diesel fuel, on the road.

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In Kentucky, car drivers are required to carry basic Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage. PIP benefits are also commonly referred to as “no-fault” benefits because they are to be paid to the person injured through use of a motor vehicle, regardless of whose fault the injury is. An injured driver or passenger can claim against the basic PIP of the vehicle in which he or she was riding. An injured pedestrian can claim against the PIP coverage for the car that struck him or her. Basic PIP gives coverage to each person in each accident a minimum of $10,000 to cover out of pocket costs, such as medical expenses or lost wages.

Unlike other states, in Kentucky, drivers are presumed to have limited rights to sue unless they file a special form rejecting no-fault limitations. If they are subject to no-fault limitations, they cannot recover medical expenses or wage loss from the at-fault party unless they have more than $1,000 worth of medical expenses, a broken bone, a permanent injury or disfigurement. A person’s estate may collect if they die.

If you are in a car accident and have any kind of significant injuries or pain, it is important to not only alert insurance carriers but consult an attorney as soon as possible, too. Last year, a Kentucky appellate court considered a car accident case in which a woman had been injured when her car was rear-ended. She received basic PIP benefits from her own carrier. About two months after the accident, the woman started to experience serious medical problems like projectile vomiting, vertigo and Raynaud’s phenomenon. Her physicians couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her for two years. Continue reading

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Motor vehicle owners in Kentucky who are also parents need to pay attention to whether or not it’s appropriate to let their children drive. Even though a parent who signs the application for a minor to obtain a driver’s license accepts liability for any damage caused by the teen, a parent who doesn’t sign the application can also be held liable for damages caused if there is negligent supervision of the teen. In addition, if an underage driver without a license gets into a car crash while driving his parent’s car, those that he hurts may have a cause of action against the parents for negligent supervision.

Negligent supervision cases are based on the idea that a parent has a duty to exercise reasonable care to make sure his or her minor child does not intentionally harm another or create an unreasonable risk of bodily harm. To prove921217_crashed_car negligent supervision in the context of a car accident, a plaintiff must show (1) the defendant has a duty, (2) breaches the duty; and (3) as a result of the breach, an actual injury occurred. More specifically, to be held responsible, a parent must know or have reason to know of his or her ability to control the minor and must know or should know that it is necessary  and possible to control the child.

Foreseeability is the issue on which a parent’s responsibility to control his or her child turns. Foreseeability usually requires that the child has committed the same or a very similar act previously. Parents are not required to be fortune-tellers about their child’s behavior. But in the case of car accidents, parents who know that their child has been drunk and driven on multiple prior occasions may be liable to anyone the child injures. Continue reading

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Varellas & Varellas AttorneysSome people find the name Varellas difficult to pronounce and spell. The name of our law firm is pronounced Va-Rel-iss (rhymes with trellis) and is sometimes misspelled as Varella, Varela, Varelas, Verallas, Varallas, Varillas, Varilla, Valera or Varallis. The misspellings are understandable since reports periodically appear in the news concerning people with names similar to ours but with various spellings.

In recent news, there was a report concerning Rosella Varela, the mother of four children who were on a school bus on April 9, 2013 that drove over an embankment in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico.  The driver of the school bus was killed and two of the Varela children were seriously injured. Derrick Varela, 9, suffered a broken hip and Rusti Dawn Varela, 16, lost several teeth and was taken to surgery to repair broken bones in her face. The other two Varela children sustained minor bruising and a chipped heel.

Monica Varillas, 21, was injured in an Anaheim, California car wreck in December 2011, when a driver made an unsafe left turn and fled the scene. Police reported that Varillas was driving a Honda Civic with her 1-year-old child when the wreck occurred. Donta J. Lewis and Heather M. Varalli, were slightly injured in August, 2012 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in a two-vehicle accident when Lewis turned left in front of Varalli’s vehicle, and he was struck by her vehicle, police said.

Victoriano Varelas and Bartolo Santos filed a lawsuit in 2009 against a truck driver and his employer, a Texas corporation, after the employee drove the truck into the rear of their vehicle. Varelas was driving his motor vehicle in Harris County, Texas with Santos as his passenger, and Brandon L. Dover was driving the truck behind them. The men alleged in their lawsuit that the trucking accident happened after Dover fell asleep, failed to control his speed, and crashed into the back of the vehicle in which the men were riding

In August, 2010, 18-year-old Anthony “Nini” Varela died in a car accident in Pleasant Grove, Texas when a drunken driver ran a red light. After he was declared brain dead, however, his parents donated his organs, bones and tissues thereby improving the lives of 114 people. One year later, the anniversary of his death was marked by a gathering at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas by family, friends and those whose lives were touched by the generous donation of Nini’s parents. Continue reading

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Georgetown, Scott County, Kentucky

The Georgetown News-Graphic reports that Anthony Scott Ryman, 30, from Cocoa, Florida, the driver of a car on U.S. 25 in Scott County, Kentucky, lost control of his car on July 14, 2013 and struck a culvert, killing his passenger. Ryman was driving northbound on U.S. 25 (known also as Cincinnati Pike), just north of Georgetown, when he apparently was unable to negotiate a curve. The c1016504_81419132ar left the road and overturned several times after hitting a light pole. The passenger in the car, identified by Scott County Coroner John Goble, was Brian D. Armstrong, 48, from Etowah, Tennessee. Armstrong was killed in the crash and pronounced dead at the scene. Ryman survived and was transported to Lexington, Kentucky, to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital with serious injuries. High speed and alcohol are believed by state police to have been contributing factors in the accident and charges are pending against the driver. Armstrong’s death raises the total traffic fatalities in Scott County to six in just four weeks.

Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

In Lexington, Kentucky on July 14, 2013, a woman working on a road crew was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the road crew was working for a private company on Sunday night restriping the road near Nicholasville Road and Reynolds Road when the victim was struck by a vehicle described as possibly a blue Toyota Camry. The worker sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Police are looking for the driver and the car which appeared to sustain damage on the left side. The driver was believed to be a man with a white beard.

Liberty, Casey County, Kentucky

Late Sunday, July 14, 2013, James L. Baugh of Liberty lost control of his vehicle while driving on U.S. 27 just south of Liberty according to a report by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Baugh was driving a 2004 Saturn and overcorrected when he tried to regain control. The vehicle overturned and Baugh was killed. Samantha Dilbeck of Liberty was Baugh’s passenger and sustained injuries in the wreck. Dilbeck was treated and released at the Casey County Hospital. Kentucky State Police report that alcohol is suspected as a contributing factor in the fatal accident.

Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky

The driver of a 1996 Chevrolet Blazer that rear ended a tractor trailer in Franklin County on July 10, 2013 had to be extricated from his vehicle by the Franklin County Fire Department. Charles Bates was driving on U.S. 127 in Franklin County when the wreck occurred. Witnesses told Franklin County Sheriff Department deputies that Bates of Frankfort, Kentucky didn’t apply his brakes and was driving erratically before crashing into the rear of the tractor trailer. The State Journal reports that the driver was taken to Frankfort Regional Medical Center and then transported to University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center where he was listed in serious condition.

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The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2011, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver. The NHTSA further reports that for drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal accidents, 11% were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash, and for 15-19 year olds who were distracted when involved in fatal crashes, 21% were distracted by using cell phones. The National Safety Council estimates that there were more than 500,000 crashes involving drivers using cell phones and texting in the first half of 2013 and that these distracted drivers cause an additional wreck every 30 seconds.

1125666_27980982Kentucky enacted laws that went into effect in 2010 that prohibits drivers from “texting while driving,” i.e., text messaging while a vehicle is in motion. KRS 189.292. In addition, any person under the age of 18, whether using an instruction permit, intermediate license or operator’s license, is prohibited from both texting and cell phone use while driving. KRS 189.294. Text messaging is more dangerous than talking on a cellphone since it requires the driver’s visual, manual and cognitive attention, the three main types of distraction.

In spite of the laws prohibiting texting while driving in Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported in May, 2013 that less than 1,000 citations had been issued state-wide during the more than two years since the new laws went into effect since police say it’s difficult to determine if someone is violating the law while driving down the road. Lexington police stated that in 2012 cell phones were a contributing factor in 26 accidents, but the number for 2013 had already climbed to 38 by May. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in January, 2013 that although accidents caused by distracted driving dropped statewide in 2012, such accidents rose to the highest level in Jefferson County in a decade.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that when a driver crashed his truck into a van carrying 10 members of a Kentucky Mennonite community in March 2012, causing one of Kentucky’s deadliest highway accidents, the driver might have been on his cellphone. Continue reading

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In Kentucky, as in other states, personal injury lawsuits may seek compensation for another person’s negligence that causes injury. However, these compensatory damages are not meant to punish the negligent person. Punitive damages may be awarded only where a party is found to have acted with “gross negligence.” It is not sufficient to show merely that someone failed to exercise reasonable care. It must also be shown that the person displayed gross negligence or reckless disregard for other peoples’ lives, safety or property.

In a recent case involving a fatal accident, the Supreme Court of Kentucky considered punitive damages in the context of a coal trucking accident. A coal truck flipped over in 2004 while it was being driven on Highway 80. From the opposite direction, a man was driving a pickup truck with a seventy-eight year old passenger. Because coal had spilled all over the highway, the man was not able to stop and crashed into the coal truck. His passenger was injured and died.

The man driving the pickup and the passenger’s estate sued the employee who had been driving the coal truck and its employer for ordinary negligence. They also sued the employer for gross negligence in failing to properly maintain the coal truck. The pickup driver settled his claims, but the estate went to trial against the employer and employee. The employer asked for a directed verdict from the trial court, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to find it had conducted itself with gross negligence. The trial court denied the motion for directed verdict. The jury awarded the estate $2,121,371.31 in compensatory damages, as well as $2 million in punitive damages against the employer for the wrongful death of the passenger.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFatalities involving motorcycle wrecks increased by more than 200 percent from 1997 to 2009 even though fatalities involving passenger cars and light trucks decreased by 27% during the same period. Concerned about this trend, Congress funded a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research project to provide insight into the factors contributing to motorcycle crashes throughout the country. The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS) will collect data through 2014 and will be supported by federal agencies, departments of transportation from the various states, local police and the motorcycle industry. The study is the most comprehensive look at the causes of motorcycle crash in more than 30 years, and the final report is expected to be completed in 2015. It is anticipated that the study report may lead to educational programs, new roadway safety measures, and policy decisions based by the data collected in the comprehensive study.

Our motorcycle accident attorneys have seen the devastating effects of motorcycle wrecks that have seriously injured our clients or caused the death of our clients’ loved ones. We encourage all motorcycle owners to take their safety and the safety of their passengers seriously so that wrecks and injuries can be avoided. Safety demonstrations, exhibits and free educational materials will be provided by the Kentucky State Police along with a cook-out and prizes during the Kentucky State Police 6th Annual Motorcycle Safety Awareness Day on Friday, July 26, 2013 at KSP Headquarters in Frankfort.

Even though motorcycle fatalities in Kentucky dropped from 80 in 2010 to 61 in 2011, the number of fatalities increased back up to 78 in 2012. So far in 2013, numerous motorcycle crashes in Kentucky have caused serious injuries or death. After the Scott County sheriff’s department worked three motorcycle crashes in a three-week period that resulted in fatalities, Sheriff Tony Hampton asked the people in Scott County to consider wearing a helmet. Although Kentucky law does not require a motorcyclist to wear a helmet, Sheriff Hampton stated he believed all three of the victims could have survived the wrecks if they had worn helmets. Continue reading

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