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When Grocery Shopping Becomes Hazardous to Your Health

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), well over 9 million disabling slip-and-fall injuries occur every year throughout the United States. Although such statistics are not necessarily itemized by way of type, location, or environment, it is presumed that a significant number of such slip-and-fall injuries occur within grocery stores, where patrons in the course of shopping may slip on a puddle of water that has accumulated from other shoppers, melting ice from the frozen food section, or possibly a leaky air-conditioner. From a public health perspective, pooling or accumulated water that goes unnoticed for a significant period of time can be hazardous to an unsuspecting patron, especially one who is focused on grocery shopping. A slip-and-fall can cause traumatic brain injury, broken bones, or other serious physical injuries that can take years to fully recover from. 

Slip-and-falls are not only hazardous and dangerous, they are also very expensive. It is estimated that “the average cost per slip/fall accident exceeds $20,000 [and] the National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with employee slip-and-fall accidents are approximately $70 billion per year [where] customer slip-and-fall incidents are potentially far more costly…” Additional data estimates that 25,000 people are victims of slip-and-fall accidents every day, costing businesses $3.5 million dollars every hour, 365 days a year. Furthermore, the average cost to defend slip-and-fall lawsuits is approximately $50,000, as reported by the National Floor Safety Institute

As with many States, West Virginia sets forth a number of legal requirements to be met in order for a party to assert a slip-and-fall claim. In West Virginia, for a grocery store to be legally responsible for the injuries suffered from slipping and falling:

  • The owner of the store or an employee must have caused the spill or have been responsible for such spill;
  • The owner of the store or an employee of the store must have actual knowledge of the dangerous surface and take no action in this regards; and
  • The store owner or an employee should have known of the dangerous surface because a "reasonable" person taking care of the property would have placed an orange cone, provided notice or warning, and would have sought to clean it up so as it would no longer pose a hazard to others. 

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a slip-and-fall that has resulted in serious harm or injury, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters and can evaluate your potential legal claims on your behalf.

Health Injuries and Fracking: Better Have Pre-Drill Water Testing

The relationship between fracking and the onset of various health issues still remains a controversial issue, and there is substantial evidence on both sides of the debate. Often times, property owners living in close proximity to fracking activities may begin to complain of various health issues such as nausea, headaches, bloody noses, respiratory, and other breathing related problems. It is believed that such adverse environmental exposure originates from contaminated ground and drinking water, from polluted air, or from the close proximity of the fracking activity to the home. Fracking is best understood as “the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.”

A recent report by the EPA has concluded that fracking has contaminated drinking water. It concluded that fracking "led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells." These conclusions by the EPA are the first real acknowledgement by the environmental agency that fracking can and does lend itself to water contamination. As a result, many property owners, when they determine that their drinking water and water wells have been contaminated, seek to assert claims for personal injury, health care claims, and medical monitoring. All of these personal injury claims are premised on the ability of the property owner to show that such health claims are causally related to the fracking activity. 

Unfortunately, what is commonly unknown to many property owners is the significance of obtaining water quality testing of drinking water and wells before fracking activity occurs. This is important for a number of reasons. Without any water quality testing, a property owner faces an uphill battle in demonstrating a baseline by which certain contaminants are present within the drinking water. One article highlights that pre-drill water quality testing “enables oil and gas operators to establish baseline water-quality conditions prior to drilling, well completion, and production activities [and] pre-drill surveys can be used to document other important information such as the condition of on-site water sources, including water-well integrity or construction.”  As such, the presence of such pre-drill water quality testing allows property owners to demonstrate contaminant levels prior to any fracking or drilling activity, and then to make such comparisons afterward, where the goal is to demonstrate that fracking significantly contributed to adversely harming the quality of the water. The strategy of the natural gas drilling companies in these type of situations is usually to deny any responsibility over tainted water by arguing that there are many contaminants that occur naturally in water. The presence of pre-drill water quality testing rebuts many of these arguments and provides very scientifically sound basis by which to assess the quality of water. 

The Risks of Texting and Driving

A nation-wide campaign is currently highlighting the various risks associated with texting and driving, in particular the risk of a serious bodily injury from a car accident and in many circumstances death. The premise of the campaign is simple, that driving while distracted is dangerous and can and does often lead to tragedy. A recent story shows how instantaneously texting while driving can actually lead to death. A teenager, while ignoring the pleas of her fellow passengers, continued to text while driving, and in so doing, ended up running a red light and killing herself, the passengers that were with her, and another man along with his 10-year-old daughter. 

Although the statistics remain uncertain, the National Safety Council estimates that there are approximately 1,600,000 accidents per year specifically related to texting and driving. In 2013 “3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involv­ing distracted drivers [and] this represents a 6.7 % decrease in the number of fatalities recorded in 2012 [where] unfortunately, approximately 424,000 people were injured, which is an increase from the 421,000 people who were injured in 2012.”  

Other noteworthy statistics that are equally significant include that “10% of drivers of all ages under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.” Additionally, “drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes.” According to the government’s own website that compiles specific distracted driving data, “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.”

It is important for drivers in West Virginia to be cognizant of the state’s distracted driving legislation, especially since, based on the above statistics, there is a strong likelihood that either you or someone you know may become involved in a car accident as a result of texting or cellphone use. Courts in many states, including West Virginia, recognize that when a particular driver violates a traffic law or engages in explicit prohibited activity, that evidence of such violations, whether through citation or otherwise, can be admissible and demonstrative of a driver’s actual liability. As such, West Virginia drivers should pay close attention to the distracted driving laws in the state, including the state’s effort to focus on “Turn it Off. Put it Down. Just Drive.”

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident as a result of distracted driving, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters and can evaluate your potential legal claims on your behalf.

When Fracking Causes your Family Bloody Noses

The environmental, scientific, and medical relationship between health issues and fracking activities by natural gas drilling companies remains a controversial and heavily debated issue. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, “is best understood as a process by which drillers pump large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals into a shale or rock formation [and] the wells can be deeper than 8,000 feet, and the process fractures the shale around the well, allowing the natural gas in the shale to flow freely.” 

Despite this, a number of significant cases have highlighted the civil liability that fracking and natural gas drilling companies may face when there are environmental and health based issues involved. For instance, a very well known story involves the Parr family in Decatur, Texas, that purchased their dream home sitting on a 40-acre ranch, 60 miles NorthWest of Dallas. Over the course of time, a number of fracking companies began to set up shop in close proximity to their home, and over time it was estimated that the natural gas drilling company had established approximately 22 gas wells in a two-mile radius to the family’s property, with the closest well being only 791 feet away. 

At some point after their 40-acre ranch had essentially become enclosed by natural gas drilling operations, the family began to notice and observe a number of health issues including nosebleeds, vision problems, nausea, rashes, and blood pressure issues. Additionally, the family experienced the daily inconvenience, anxiety, and mental stress associated with ongoing traffic, noises, dust, and other quality of life issues resulting from the immense industry that had developed around their homestead. 

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the natural gas drilling company, seeking a number of legal claims including trespass, invasion of privacy, private nuisance, and most significantly, claims of personal injury for health-related issues. After nearly a two-week jury trial, a decision was made in favor of the Parr family and they were awarded $2.9 million as a result. Although fracking and natural gas drilling operations have greatly benefited our economy, the issue becomes whether such benefits outweigh the severe risk to safety and public health that arises from such fracking-based activities. Here, the Parr family clearly suffered ongoing medical and health harms, to which the jury agreed and determined to hold the natural gas drilling company personally liable. Cases such as the one involving the Parr family are bringing more attention to the issue of fracking and long-term health conditions and the need for the industry to try and minimize such health risks. 

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today 

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with or are suffering from fracking-related health issues, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters, especially when such personal injury claims involve powerful natural gas companies. Colombo Law can fully evaluate your claims involving such very serious and adverse health conditions and provide you the legal representation you require.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma Deaths: Still a Public Health Concern

Despite the public perception that asbestos and mesothelioma-related deaths in the U.S. have been decreasing over the past few years, the reality is that asbestos-related exposure, especially among construction workers in the U.S, and the eventual onset of mesothelioma remain significant and substantive public health issues in the U.S. 

Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal cancer that strikes the mesothelium, a thin membrane lining the lungs, heart, chest cavity, gastrointestinal system, and reproductive organs. Mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestosis is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers that lodge deep in the lungs, scarring the organs or triggering the growth of excess tissue, a condition known as fibrosis. Asbestosis makes breathing excruciatingly painful and often leads to death from lung or heart failure; the victim essentially suffocates. There is no known cure for either of these conditions. Lung cancer can be caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. 

According to a recent study, asbestos still kills approximately 12,000-15,000 individuals in the U.S. every year. In fact, the same study cites information from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), which estimates that the number of individuals actually exposed to asbestos is 189,000 to 221,000 people from 1999 to 2013. The CDC also believes that such statistics are likely underreported, where health care providers often misclassify such exposure or individuals suffering from such exposure fail to report same. 

Given the well known medical and scientific literature available regarding the significant health risks associated with both asbestos and mesothelioma, there are still many industries including factories, plants, and other employers that are failing to take adequate precautions to minimize the risk and otherwise protect their employees from being exposed to asbestos. In fact, for the past decade, West Virginia has ranked one of the top five states where asbestos-related employment and personal injury claims have been filed. Given West Virginia’s significant number of coal, processing, railroads, refineries, steel mills, and other industries, workers in West Virginia are more at risk from asbestos-related exposure than workers in others states. As a result, the state of West Virginia has been making a concerted effort to hold employers liable for failing to take adequate safety measures to protect their workers. Despite this, a number of employers still place profits over the health and well-being of their workers and insist on not 

protecting them from asbestos-related exposure. 

Let our Attorneys Help You Today 

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with or are suffering from asbestos or mesothelioma-related health issues, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law can fully evaluate your claims involving such very serious and adverse health conditions and provide you the legal representation you require.

West Virginia Uninsured Drivers: How to Protect Yourself

According to recent data from the Insurance Research Council (IRC), approximately 14% of the total driving population lacks car insurance. Specifically, in West Virginia, the same report indicates that 11% of the state is uninsured, and thus, 1 in 10 drivers in West Virginia does not have sufficient car insurance. As a result, states such as West Virginia require that drivers carry both liability and uninsured motorist coverage and that the minimum uninsured motorist coverage must equal the same minimum liability coverage amounts, which are:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury, per person;
  • $50,000 for bodily injury, per accident;
  • $25,000 for property damage. 

Given the high percentage of potential uninsured motorists on their roads, West Virginia drivers may want to consider obtaining additional uninsured motorist coverage. If you do get into an accident with an uninsured motorist, it will adversely impact your ability to obtain reasonable recovery, satisfy both property and medical claims, and otherwise be able to adequately obtain the compensation you are entitled to. 

An uninsured motorist can cause particular trouble in accidents that involve a hit and run. The law in West Virginia requires that for a party to recover uninsured motorist coverage in a hit and run accident, the following must be demonstrated:

  • That the uninsured driver made physical contact with your vehicle or
  • That “but for” any immediate evasive action, direct physical contact would have inevitably occurred between the driver’s vehicle and the hit and run driver. 
  • That the evasive action element must be demonstrated by independent third party testimony such as a bystander, police officer, or some other party. 

Such uninsured motorist issues are complicated and often require the compilation of specific evidence, data, and other witness statements. Typically, uninsured motorist issues, especially involving hit and run accidents are such that a driver may or may not know the specific information required to submit a claim. Often times, uninsured motorist claims become complicated when the insurance companies automatically deny coverage without the assistance of an attorney. As such, it is extremely helpful in uninsured motorist insurance claims to promptly and quickly seek the assistance of an attorney to assist you in navigating the various and potentially complicated issues involved.

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident involving uninsured motorists, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters, especially attorneys that are well versed, experienced, and know the logistics involved in uninsured motorist issues. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters and can evaluate your potential legal claims on your behalf.

When Fracking Drillers Contaminate Your Well Water

A recent report indicates that in 2014 there were approximately 122 complaints of water contamination by property owners in West Virginia, alleging that drilling activities by fracking companies caused the contamination of their wells. In many of these cases, the drilling companies had agreed to take corrective action where the evidence clearly supported that such wells had been contaminated. Earlier this year, a separate research study from Duke University, demonstrated that fracking activities has led to significant levels of both ammonia and iodine in local waterways in West Virginia, which “can have a devastating impact on fish, ecosystems, and potentially, human health.”  

Although natural gas drilling and fracking remain controversial issues in states such as West Virginia, from the perspective of homeowners that may be adversely affected, the impact on the use and enjoyment, safety, and transferability of their property remains a very real and personal issues, especially when many individuals purchased property as a long-term investment. The likelihood of a natural gas drilling or fracking accident is generally the least of a property owner’s concern until it actually happens.

The issue for many homeowners in West Virginia is the significant health, environmental contamination, and property diminution related issues that may result from certain fracking activity. Fracking may lead to a cracked or leaking natural gas accident, leakage, fire, or other accidental drainage of fracking materials into waterways. For many West Virginia property owners, such accidents can be significant, resulting in not only environmental and health concerns, but even in the loss of use and value of one’s own property. In many cases, property owners are unable to list or even sell their now contaminated properties, even at market value. In many cases homeowners have no choice but to sell such properties at a significant market loss or to remain in contaminated properties. 

Many property owners in West Virginia are completely dependent upon well water, and when natural gas drilling or fracking activities contaminates the well water, it taints the only source of potable water for that property owner. For such people, water and well contamination as a result of a natural gas drilling or a fracking accident may take decades to fully correct, and in the interim, the property owner has effectively lost the use and enjoyment of his or her property. 

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a natural gas or fracking accident, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury and property related matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in obtaining recoveries on behalf of individuals and households involved in natural gas or fracking incidents.

Truck Accidents: Not Your Standard Accident

West Virginia is considered an important trucking hub in the United States. According to a recent report, there are approximately 34,410 jobs in the trucking industry in West Virginia, or one out of 16 in the state. Recent reports show that the trucking industry in West Virginia paid approximately $246 million in federal and state roadway taxes and fees - 37% of all taxes and fees owed by West Virginia motorists, despite trucks representing only 15% of vehicle miles traveled in the state. On average, a typical five-axle tractor semi-trailer combination paid $8,357 in state highway user fees and taxes in addition to $8,906 in federal user fees and taxes over and above the typical taxes paid by businesses in West Virginia. 

Given the extensive truck traffic in West Virginia, it is important that drivers understand the implications involved in getting in an accident involving a truck. For instance, a truck is not actually owned by the transportation company, but rather is leased through a third party truck leasing company. The truck driver may be an employee of the trucking company or an independent contractor. In West Virginia trucks are required to have special permits from the West Virginia Department of Transportation, along with trucking registration. Additionally, pursuant to U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, any company that operates a commercial vehicle transporting cargo in interstate commerce must be registered and licensed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and must have a United States Department of Transportation Number (DOT Number). In terms of insurance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also requires that trucks meet certain insurance requirements including public liability insurance that covers bodily injury, property damage, and environmental restoration.  

As a result, if a driver gets in an accident with a truck, it is important that the driver treats the accident as a something more significant than a typical car accident and obtains as much information as possible including the identification of the truck’s owner, the driver’s name, the DOT number, and DOT based insurance information. Obtaining the appropriate information when involved in an accident involving a truck can make all the difference in terms of filing a proper insurance claim, obtaining recovery, and asserting accident liability. This information is easier to obtain at the point of accident as opposed to later on.

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident involving a truck or a semi-truck, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law can fully evaluate your claims involving truck accidents and provide you the legal representation you require.

When in Doubt: Yield to Pedestrians and Bicyclists

When it comes to car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists, West Virginia ranks as one of the states with the lowest rates of fatalities. In fact, West Virginia has one of the lowest rates in the nation of bicyclist-related deaths. The law in West Virginia remains that it is the responsibility of drivers to give pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way.

A new law passed in 2014 requires West Virginia drivers to follow a number of new requirements when it comes to providing both pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way. For instance, West Virginia drivers must now give bicyclists a three-foot cushion, especially when passing a bicyclist on any roadway. Additionally, bicyclists are no longer required to use an adjacent path as opposed to the roadway when riding a bike, and therefore are considered to be lawful drivers with the same right to use roadways as drivers of cars. The new law emphasizes common driver and bicyclist protocols including always yielding to bicyclists when turning left, allowing bicyclists to clear an intersection before making a right turn, never turning across the path of a bicyclist, and always merging into bike lanes before turning right.

With respect to pedestrians, West Virginia drivers are required to follow certain traffic regulations, including always yielding to pedestrians when they are walking through a cross-walk at an intersection. Whenever a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk permitting a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle. West Virginia recognizes an overall code of conduct or “due care” provisions in its traffic laws as they relate to pedestrians where every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway. 

Overall, the statistics show that West Virginia drivers are safe and cautious when it comes to interacting with both pedestrians and bicyclists, but it is worth reiterating that West Virginia drivers have specific legal obligation and duties in this regard and that there can be significant penalties, fines, and other punishments for failing to respectfully yield to these groups that share the road.

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident involving a pedestrian or a bicyclist, you need attorneys expertise in such personal injury matters. Colombo Law is highly experienced in such matters involving pedestrians and bicyclists and provide the representation you deserve.

West Virginia Soon to Get Ice ‘Missile” Legislation?

With winter soon approaching, a concern for many drivers on the road will be the risk of being hit with falling accumulated snow or ice from other vehicles. Such issue was of significant concern among West Virginia drivers in 2010, when as a result of a number of fatalities involving drivers being hit in the windshield from falling snow and ice from other vehicles and trucks, the State Legislature sought to make into law regulations that all snow and ice be removed from vehicles before their operation on streets and highways. Known as H.B. 4526, this particular legislation also provided law enforcement authorities the discretion to stop and give a citation to individuals that failed to adhere to such removal regulations, stating that “a person who violates the provisions of this subsection may be stopped on a street or highway by a law-enforcement officer who believes the accumulated ice or snow may pose a threat to persons or property.” 

Additionally, the legislation made it an automatic misdemeanor offense for violation, including very strict fines, penalties, points, and even the suspension of one’s driving privileges. Despite such efforts, such legislation was never passed in West Virginia, mostly because of concerns that such would impede economic activity and commerce in the state, which relies heavily upon trucking-based revenue.

H.B. 4526 Revisited

Lawmakers in West Virginia are again considering the passage of 4526, again highlighting the various public safety concerns associated with the dangers of accumulated snow and ice on trucks and vehicles. A recent report suggests that the courts in West Virginia are already making judgements against drivers that cause automobile accidents as a result of failing to clear off accumulated snow and ice from their vehicles. In 99% of such cases, the courts have determined that the failure to do so constituted a “road hazard” to which the driver was deemed to have been responsible. The significance of this is that the although there are no specific laws prohibiting the driving of automobiles with accumulated snow or ice, the courts have tended to rule as a matter of law and have already determined in the majority of cases, that it constitutes a “road hazard” to which the negligent driver is responsible. As a result, although West Virginia’s ice “missile” legislations remains pending, from the perspective of civil liability, drivers need to be cognizant of the risks involved when operating a motor vehicle covered in accumulated ice and snow.  More importantly, West Virginia drivers need to seriously weigh the risks and benefits of driving under such conditions, and knowing the scope of liability involved when choosing to not take the time to clean one’s car of ice and snow.

Let Our Attorneys Help You Today

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident as a result of accumulated snow or ice on a vehicle, you need attorneys with experience in such personal injury matters.  Colombo Law understands the legal implications of such issues and is prepared to assert such claims on your behalf.