Articles Posted in injuries to minors

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Historically, the doctrine of sovereign immunity prevented litigants from asserting claims against governmental entities. Over time, however, this concept of complete immunity for the government has given way to a more limited form of sovereign immunity, under which those previously protected by the doctrine are subjected to tort liability. However, certain limitations and restrictions still apply.

It is not always clear whether and to what extent a particular entity is entitled to immunity. In such cases, it is up to the courts to make the appropriate determination.

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983691_54702040.jpgThe mother of a high school football player who died during pre-season practice last summer announced her intention to file a lawsuit against the school system. She alleges that the school and its athletic department failed to adequately protect its players against heat-related injuries. Changes to the rules governing summer practices may help prevent future incidents in Florida high school football, but heat stroke and other injuries remain a serious problem for athletes around the country.

Isaiah Laurencin played in the offensive line of Miramar High School’s football team. The 16 year-old was 6-feet-3-inches tall, weighed 286 pounds, and had reportedly drawn the attention of college scouts. He collapsed on the field during conditioning drills at about 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. Doctors pronounced him dead at the hospital the following morning. The medical examiner ruled Laurencin’s death “natural,” saying it resulted from sickle cell trait anemia, which caused cardiac arrest due to physical exertion. Sickle cell anemia can cause heightened sensitivity to heat, and therefore higher susceptibility to heat stroke. Laurencin also reportedly suffered from asthma and hypertension.

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540232_90969225.jpgA Wisconsin court dismissed a boy’s lawsuit for damages sustained while playing paintball, when a boy on the opposing team allegedly shot him in the eye during a break in play. In Houston v. Freese, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for the Third District held that state law precluded a claim for negligence because paintball is considered a “contact sport.” The law instead imposes a standard of recklessness, which the court held was not demonstrated in this case. Sports injuries occurring during game play have long presented challenges to attorneys, who must prove that an injury resulted from something other than ordinary game play.

Plaintiff Jett Houston and Defendant Alex Freese, both minors, went to a friend’s house in July 2008 to play paintball. Their hosts, Jacob Stelter and his older brother Kyle, had set up a paintball course near their home. Kyle, an experienced player, instructed the eight participants in the rules of the game, safety equipment, and safety procedures. All of the boys had protective masks, with attached goggles, to shield their faces and eyes from paint pellets. Kyle instructed the boys to wear their helmets at all times in the game area, even if they had been eliminated from play.

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1359233_53491326.jpgA bicycle accident resulted in the death of a Coral Springs teenager who had been riding on the bicycle’s handlebars and was hit by a car. Police are reportedly searching for the person operating the bicycle, who fled the scene. No charges have been filed against the driver of the automobile.

The accident occurred just before 10:00 p.m. on Friday, July 6, 2012. A 1989 Lincoln was heading east on Royal Palm Boulevard. At the same time, a bicycle with a 16 year-old passenger riding on the handlebars attempted to cross the street heading north. The bicycle’s operator reportedly stopped abruptly, causing the passenger to stumble into the Lincoln’s path. The Lincoln then struck the teen. The injured teenager was transported to a hospital, where he died from his injuries on July 12. The operator of the bicycle, who remained unidentified as of the most recent reporting on the story, fled the scene on foot, heading east. The driver of the Lincoln was not injured.

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308201_7286.jpgA federal judge in Miami has dismissed multiple claims without prejudice in a putative class action lawsuit against two football helmet manufacturers. The claim was filed by a father who purchased the defendants’ helmets for his two sons, both of whom are high school football players. Concern over injuries to youth in sports, particularly traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, has led to closer scrutiny of athletic equipment and more claims for damages when equipment malfunctions or defects cause injuries to players.

Most lawsuits rely on the legal theory of products liability, which holds the manufacturer or distributor of a faulty or defective product liable for damages caused by the product. In this case, the plaintiff pleaded breaches of contract and warranty, as well as violations of consumer protection statutes. The court found that he did not plead his claims with sufficient substance, but gave him until July 20 to amend the complaint.

Frank Enriquez filed suit against Easton-Bell Sports, Inc. (EBSI) and Riddell, Inc. in February 2012 over the line of football helmets known as Revolution Helmets. He states in his amended complaint that the defendants marketed the helmets as offering greater protection against concussions in young players, claiming a thirty-one percent reduction in the likelihood of concussion in athletes that used Revolution Helmets.

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1158220_39704248.jpgA national health care advocacy organization, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), recently released a report on injury-related deaths in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, entitled “The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report.” TFAH identified ten “key indicators” of injury prevention in state laws and regulations. The study ranked the states and D.C. based on the number of key indicators present, and it also ranked them based on the rate of deaths per 100,000 people. Florida ranked near the middle on both scales, with only six of the ten key indicators. The state’s annual rate of 66.8 injury-related deaths gives it the eighteenth-highest rate in the country.

Injuries account for over 180,000 deaths each year, according to the study. Among people between the ages of one and forty-four years, injuries are the leading cause of death. Injuries account for nearly 90,000 deaths in that age group, compared to 50,000 for non-communicable disease and less than 10,000 for communicable disease. The study divides injuries into categories, including falls, blunt force injuries, gunshot wounds, cuts or puncture wounds, burns, poisoning, vehicular injuries, and drowning or suffocation. In all, the lifetime costs of injuries, which includes not only immediately medical expenses but also the ongoing cost of care, lost income, and lost productivity, exceed $406 billion per year.

New Mexico has the highest overall injury-related death rate, according to TFAH, with 97.8 deaths per 100,000. New Jersey has the lowest rate at 36.1. Florida is just behind Colorado’s 67.8 and ahead of North Carolina’s 66. TFAH states in its report that it cannot say with certainty why one state has a lower or higher injury-related death rate than another state, but that its list of “key indicators” can offer states guidance on how to effectively prevent injuries.

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Nine months after a nine-year-old girl died crossing the street in front of her house, a driver has been arrested for causing her death. As a Pompano Beach car accident attorney, I was pleased to read about the arrest in the child’s May 4 death. According to a Feb. 18 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Daniel Pagan, 20, was arrested the day before for causing the death of Crishna Edwards of Hollywood. Pagan, of Dania Beach, was accused of speeding and illegally changing lanes in the moments before his car hit Edwards. In addition to the vehicular homicide charge, he faces charges of driving with a learner’s permit without a licensed driver in the car and driving without a license causing a death. He was released on $2,500 bail.

An article from the time of the May 4, 2010 crash said Pagan did not leave the scene and was cooperating with police, but was not originally charged. Police said Pagan was driving 50 mph in a 30-mph zone of North 23rd Avenue in Hollywood just before the crash. They also said he was traveling behind a van that had slowed because children were playing in the area, but apparently changed lanes into the oncoming traffic lane in order to avoid a slowdown. A police spokesman said that an accident reconstruction showed the crash likely wouldn’t have taken place if Pagan had been driving more carefully. They noted that he lived in the neighborhood at the time and should have known the area frequently had children playing.

As a Weston auto accident lawyer, I’m pleased that the justice system worked for this family. When child pedestrians are involved in car wrecks, insurance companies sometimes try to blame the child for running out into the street or otherwise causing the accident. There’s no doubt that some accidents truly do happen that way, but children can be victims of bad driving just like adults sometimes are. In this case, the police’s statements make it clear that they believe Pagan’s speeding and recklessness were the main contributors to the accident. And if that’s the case, he and his insurance company can be held financially responsible for the damages caused to this family.

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As a Pompano Beach boating accident attorney, I was sorry to read about an accident that left a teenager in critical condition. As the Palm Beach Post reported Feb. 8, 14-year-old Gabby Desouza was scheduled to have her leg amputated that day after it was caught in a boat’s propeller. Desouza was hurt after she and several friends ran into the surf in Juno Beach to meet a boat. The boat’s operator apparently advanced too close to the teens and hit three of them. Desouza had the only reported serious injuries and was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where she was initially reported in critical but stable condition. The Palm Beach County sheriff’s department is investigating.

According to an earlier article, Desouza and her friends were in shallow water on the afternoon of Feb. 5 when a boat approached, apparently with friends of the teens on board. Lifeguards repeatedly asked the boater to leave the swimming area, but with no effect. As the girls tried to get into the boat, a wave washed it closer to the shore. A bigger wave approached, and to keep from being grounded, the boater apparently revved the engine. Unfortunately, that pushed the boat forward into the girls, knocking them down and catching Desouza in the propeller. Her friends rushed her to shore to get medical help from lifeguards and the boat sped away. Authorities later found the boat at the Crab House in Jupiter, impounded it and detained two people believed to have been on board for questioning.

It’s not clear whether the boater in this case has broken any laws; the sheriff’s office will make that determination. But as a Miramar boating accident lawyer, I think it’s likely that the boat operator was negligent, regardless of whether he or she broke the law. Negligence is a concept in civil – not criminal – law, meaning failure in the duty to take reasonable care that we all owe one another. Not heeding the lifeguards’ repeated requests to get out of the swimming area was probably negligent. If the boat operator broke boating rules by being in the swimming area, which seems likely, that would also be negligent. Victims of negligence can recover damages when the negligence leads to serious injuries, as in this situation, but they have to sue rather than rely on prosecutors.

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As a Coral Springs child injury lawyer, I was interested to see a recent Sun-Sentinel article on penalties for a day care center whose employees’ negligence caused a toddler’s death. Two-year-old Haile Brockington died in August after employees left her strapped into the van the center used to pick up children and take them to Katie’s Kids Learning Center. The van’s driver and the director of the center are charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, and both were fired from the center. However, the owners of the center, Kathryn Muhammad and Barbara Dilthey, were fined $2,000 by the Palm Beach County Environmental Hearing Board. That fine reflects the maximum $500 fine for each of the center’s four violations of child care regulations, which were not named.

The fired employees appear to have simply forgotten about Haile Brockington on Aug. 5, the day of her death. The police and health department found that the adults had signed off for Haile on transportation, meal and attendance logs. Meanwhile, Haile was actually left in the center’s van for more than six hours, on a day when temperatures reached 91 degrees. The county health department had recommended a total fine of $1,000 for Katie’s Kids, but the Environmental Hearing Board doubled that fine because the case involved the death of a young child. In fact, one board member said he would like to have raised the fine more if there had been a way to do it. Muhammad and Dilthey are also facing a lawsuit by the Brockington family.

That doesn’t surprise me at all. Injuries to children and teens are some of the most heart-breaking injuries I see in my job as a Deerfield Beach injuries to minors attorney. Often, as in this case, the victim is too young or too incapacitated in other ways to have any control over the situation or even raise an alarm. Fortunately for this family, the fines against the day care center are not the only legal consequences for its part in the child’s death. Whether or not the county has assessed an adequate fine, the family can pursue justice through a wrongful death lawsuit. Families that have lost someone through another person’s negligence can never replace that person with money, of course, but they can win fair compensation for their emotional losses and all of the costs caused by the death, which often include very high medical and funeral costs.

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Last year, I wrote about the very sad drowning death of a two-year-old boy who wandered into an apparently unsafe backyard near his home. Isaac Dieudonne, 2, walked out the front door of his new home and into the pool area of the next-door neighbor’s home, which was vacant. At least two gates leading to the pool were reportedly open, despite laws requiring self-latching gates intended to prevent this type of accident. At the time, the case attracted my attention because of speculation that the home was vacant due to foreclosure. On Oct. 29 of this year, that speculation was confirmed by a McClatchy article about the Dieudonne family’s struggle to hold someone responsible for Isaac’s death. Because the home is in foreclosure, it isn’t clear whether the mortgage holder, mortgage servicer or maintenance company should be responsible.

According to the article, the Dieudonnes’ Miramar premises liability attorney wasn’t even sure who owned the property at first. The title had changed hands several times; some documents were fraudulent or had serious errors; and was at one point being foreclosed on in two cases at the same time. As a result, the family has named 20 defendants in the case, including owners, servicers, maintenance companies and a company that was holding the title for an owner. Some of the defendants claim they didn’t own the property at the time of Isaac’s death. All of this has already complicated the case, with an unnecessary move to federal court, and with 20 corporate defendants, more delays are likely. The Dieudonnes claim that neither the side gate to the home’s backyard nor the gate into the pool were fitted with self-closing spring locks, as required by Miramar city code — and that they’re still unsafe today.

Unfortunately, drowning in swimming pools is a well known risk for toddlers and young children, which is exactly why cities have laws about self-latching gates. Under normal circumstances, a property owner’s failure to follow those laws can expose him or her to a premises liability lawsuit like the one the Dieudonnes are pursuing. Florida law gives everyone who owns or operates a property a legal obligation to ensure that the property is safe. This includes protections against foreseeable dangers, including the danger that a small child could get into a swimming pool without supervision. In my experience as a Lauderhill premises liability lawyer, handling this in a private home is usually a matter of handling the homeowners’ insurance company. But when it’s not even clear who owns the property, the entire process gets dragged out — and the family’s suffering unfortunately gets dragged out along with it.

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