Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lancaster County Shows Rise In Elder Abuse

The Lancaster County Office of Aging has seen a rise in the incidents of elder abuse in recent years.  One such report was of a local woman draining her 95-year-old mother's bank account. The office investigates about 1,500 claims a year, up from 1,200 last year.  They report increases of several hundred reports every year for the last 4-5 years.  The reports range from abuse and neglect to financial exploitation.  The office recently outlined a four-year plan for 2012-2016, which is required from the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.  They hope to increase the amount and efficiency of their services, as outlined in their plan. 

In Lancaster County, over 20% of the population is 60 or older.  Out of these residents,over 10% requested at least one service offered via the Office of Aging.  The Office of Aging's budget is $8.6 million, most of which comes from proceeds from the Pennsylvania Lottery.  No tax dollars are spent on this office.  According to the article (hyperlinked above), "currently, the county has a waiting list of more than 300 eligible seniors who want access to some of these services, which help seniors with daily needs, such as bathing, eating and paying bills, while allowing them to continue living at home."

This office is doing a great job at meeting the needs of their area's seniors within their budgets.  Elder abuse is a rising concern within many American areas.  Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer specializing in elder abuse/neglect and motor vehicle accidents.  For more information on his law firm and legal practice, please visit his website here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Clearfield County Workers Trained To Help Elders

Local police department officers in Clearfield County recently received training on elder abuse entitled “Victimization of the Elderly: Criminal Investigation & Prosecution”,  according to a local news report. The training was overseen by a local attorney and a certified fraud examiner who are both associated with the Pennsylvania Institute on Protective Services at Temple University-Harrisburg.

The training specifically consisted of educating law enforcement personnel on issues surrounding crimes targeting older adults.  The training session also covered "legal, social and psychological issues confronted by the investigator in resolving these cases". The crimes specifically discussed included theft (and identity theft), access device fraud, forgery, abuse and neglect, homicide, and the corresponding procedural and legal issues.  Since financial crimes of the elderly are being more common, they also focused on working with banks and finding ways to efficiently review financial information.

Information sessions such as these are helpful for many types of groups dealing with elder abuse issues.  It would be very helpful if all law enforcement personnel in the state of Pennsylvania could be trained to recognize and handle elder abuse claims in this way. 

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer in Altoona, PA serving clients throughout the western and central Pennsylvania area.  For more information on his firm, please click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Social Media Changing The Way Lawyers Prosecute

According to an article by the Rockland County Times, Facebook and other social media sites are changing the ways that laws are interpreted and executed in terms of evidence and discovery. The article cited a particular example, similar to another cited in our blog earlier this week, that outlined the following:

"In another local case, a Westchester County jury dismissed a man’s personal injury case when it was discovered that he lied during his testimony regarding his injuries. During examination, the man testified that a slip and fall from a loading dock caused extensive back injuries that prevented him from engaging in many physical activities. However, when defense lawyers introduced the man’s Facebook page, a different story emerged.
The man had posted pictures of himself playing basketball, water skiing on vacation and even hauling heavy lumber used to rebuild the deck on his house, all while he claimed to be injured (and he didn’t have a permit to build the deck). It took the jury only 30 minutes to reach its verdict, denying the man’s claim in its entirety."

 In the wake of social media being used as evidence in court cases, some experts anticipate a few issues will start to creep up in national news.  One of the most pressing is publicity rights as they relate to social media.  When a person posts information and pictures, it may or may not be considered allowable for companies to use the information commercially without written consent.  This issue has not formally been decided, but will play a huge role in how internet advertisers create ads in the future.  Additionally, the concept of who actually owns a Twitter account is another hot-button issue. If a company uses a Twitter account for marketing and branding, does the employer or the employee own the account?  This becomes an issue if the employee chooses to leave the company and may request to take his/her account and followers somewhere else. 

Interestingly,  the Rockland County Times article also mentioned that National Labor Relations Board is currently trying to enact guidelines on to protect employee activities on social media sites. Last year alone, the NLRB was involved in many court cases based on employer-employee conflict regarding social media posts.

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury attorney serving western and central Pennsylvania. Please visit his website at http://www.stoehrlaw.com

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Be Careful Who You Serve: Premises Liability

When throwing a party or inviting friends over, most people are concerned with cleaning their homes, preparing the food, and making sure that there's enough to drink.  Although these things are important, it is also important to remember that, as hosts, you are responsible for what your guests ingest at your party.  Many hosts believe that, if their guests are 21 or older, they should be able to consume as much alcohol as they want without hosts having to monitor them.  This is a common misconception.  If a party attendee leaves the party drunk and causes injury or accident to themselves or another person, the hosts are partially responsible for the injuries.  This is true not only at a home-based party, but also at such public gatherings as graduation parties, wedding receptions, and other celebrations.

As a host, it is important to monitor your attendee's level of drinking and make sure that they are not over-imbibing.  If they do become intoxicated, it is your responsibility to find them a designated driver or call them a taxi. If you choose not to do this, you could face very serious legal ramifications later on if accident, injury, or police involvement occurs.  Be smart when both hosting and attending a party.

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer serving western and central Pennsylvania.  For more information on his firm, please click here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Facebook and Discovery In Legal Claims

Information from Facebook and other social media sites is becoming increasingly popular to use in the "discovery" aspect of personal injury litigation.  In recent years, several cases involving personal injury claims and social media have set the precedent for the admittance of social media into the courtroom for years to come.  One of these cases involved an employee of Weis Supermarkets suing the company because he claimed to have suffered an injury to his knee while working.  Although he did require surgery to correct his knee, he claimed that he could not participate in physical activity and never wore shorts because he was embarrassed by his surgical scar.  Discovery material provided from Facebook resulted in pictures of the employee engaging in intense physical activity, as well as wearing shorts that plainly showed his surgical scar.  Because the bulk of his case rested upon his inability to take part in the physical activities he had previously enjoyed, his case did not have much merit once the Facebook pictures were admitted as evidence.

This is just one of may cases in which social media had a negative impact on a client's personal injury claim.  If you are pursuing a personal injury claim, you should be careful about what you choose to post on social media sites.  Even if you are significantly injured, defense attorneys might try to twist what you write or update to compile a case against you. One picture, taken out of context, may cost you a significant amount of money in a personal injury case. 

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer serving western and central Pennsylvania. For more information on his firm, please click here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Facebook Important in Personal Injury Claims

In recent years, legal guidelines have not been updated to reflect the changes made in technology, such as social media sites.  Social media sites include popular websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google+.  Social media sites, in addition to being a way to keep in contact with friends and family, are also a way for lawyers to gather information about personal injury claims.

For those people who are pursuing a personal injury claim, it is becoming increasingly common for the defense to request the plaintiff's social media usernames and passwords.  Even if the plaintiff refuses, a court order might force them to turn over their log-in information.  With this knowledge, the defense can access your pictures, posts, friend activity, etc. to compile information about you that might be used in court.  This may range from social habits, physical activity, and any travel the plaintiff might have done.  Although this might not seem relevant, the information gathered may be used to argue that a person is more physically able than they let on (such as in the case of a personal injury claim) or that they might not be reliable (such as evidence of heavy drinking habits or illegal drug use).  For this reason, along with many others, it is important to monitor your Facebook profile and really think before you post anything.   Although you might have your privacy settings activated, they are not as effective as you might think and does not give you license to post anything you wish.  Additionally, if you are not really injured or not as extensively injured as you let on, you should not be pursuing a personal injury claim in that line.  A good rule of thumb is to remember that everything you post online could potentially be public information, so monitor your internet usage accordingly.

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer serving western and central Pennsylvania.  He is a SuperLawyer and a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.  For more information on his practice, please click here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Senior Maine Resident Robbed, Left Only 37 Cents

Elder financial abuse is an increasing common and incredibly harmful practice.  Recently, a woman in Maine fell victim to this type of elder abuse.   Gwendolyn Swank was in her 70s and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings until someone came along and took it all. A next door neighbor, who eventually became friendly with Swank, had quietly taken her money over a period of six years until Swank was left with only 37 cents in savings.
Recently, Swank was awarded a $1.3 million civil judgment against the neighbor (who is also serving a five-year sentence for his crimes). 

Ironically, Swank had spent most of her life working as a financial bookkeeper. Due to her depleted finances, she owes $60,000 in state and federal taxes for money she withdrew from stocks and IRAs and gave to her neighbor.  The neighbor also emotionally exploited Swank, telling her lies that kept her isolated in her home and scared of everything outside of the safety of her property.

The neighbor began taking money from Swank in small ways, then grew his schemes to become bigger and more involved.  According to the article in the Main Sun Journal, "First, he convinced her to buy into an auto repair and recovery business where Swank was to be the bookkeeper. Though she paid for everything from a welder and tools to an expensive trailer to haul cars with, Swank never saw a dime of return on her investment. In fact, now she’s not even sure the business ever existed."  After that, he scared her about drug activity in her area and he needed money to bring in special forces to rid the area of the problem.  He even attempted to keep up the hoax by "pounding on the outside of her trailer at night and staging fights outside".  He also unplugged her phone, discouraged visitors, and limited the use of her car.

Eventually, Swank reported the neighbor and the case was brought to court.  She was awarded around $874,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. It should be noted that Maine has the oldest median age in the country and elder abuse cases are not uncommon in the state.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Advocacy Group Examines Insurance Claims

A consumer advocacy group, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), recently reported findings that many major insurance companies who use computerized claims systems can be manipulated to make claim payments that are far below what consumers should receive in their insurance policies.   One computer system, called Colossus, is the most commonly used system for insurance companies, has the potential to be manipulated to provide incredibly low payments to consumers.  This results in millions of dollars of savings for the insurance companies.

CSA's report is called "Low Ball:  An Insider's Look at How Insurers Can Manipulate Computerized Systems to Broadly Underpay Injury Claims".  Within the report, the background of these software systems are given, as well as giving information on how the programs can be set up, manipulated, and adjusted over time.  According to the report, there are a few common ways that insurance companies use these systems to lowball claims.  These techniques include: encouraging adjusters to determine that their drivers are partly at-fault for accidents, ignoring or downplaying the likelihood of future medical treatment/impairment, and reducing payments at a predetermined amount for all claims (among other techniques).

In addition to providing background information on Colossus, the report also gave some legal information surrounding lawsuits involving Colosuss.  According to one lawsuit,  it was found that "Insurers could adjust Colossus to produce virtually any claims' payment reduction they wanted, whether or not it was justified.  One CSC executive told the court that Colossus could be "tuned" to potentially achieve a particular level of savings, such as 15 percent, for all claims." The computer system could also be used to save upwards of 19% for some insurer clients.

Insurance companies can often be difficult and complicated to deal with.  If you are being unfairly treated while making an insurance claim, it might be time to consult with an attorney.  Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer serving western and central Pennsylvania.  For more information on his practice, please click here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Startling Results Surrounding Elder Abuse

A recent article by Philly.com shed some light onto the occurrence of elder abuse in Pennsylvania and across the United States in general.  Unfortunately, elder abuse is on the rise. As the article stated, there were several highly publicized cases in the last few years, including one in Flagstaff, Arizona and another in Chicago, Illinois.  Although both of those cases involved abuse at the hands of family members, it is estimated that elders lose almost $3B every year due to financial fraud from strangers.  According to the article, "A 2001 Congressional Report  documented that nearly one-third of all nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been cited for elder abuse. This is a growing problem that remains poorly understood. Some studies have estimated that as much as 5 percent of elderly Americans have been victimized. Elderly people who are socially isolated and mentally impaired are at greater risk, but more research is needed to improve our understanding of this complex problem."

In Pennsylvania alone, about 18,000 cases were reported and 40% were confirmed, resulting in an alarming 7,200 confirmed cases.  If you or a loved one may be a victim of elder abuse, you can report it in Pennsylvania via this phone number: 1-800-490-8505 or the National Center on Elder Abuse at 1-800-677-1116.  Attorney Doug Stoehr also takes legal action for victims of elder abuse.  For more information on his central Pennsylvania practice, please call his office at 814-946-4100 or visit his website here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Emotions Play Role in Chronic Pain

US News and World Report via HealthDay News:

Originally written July 2, 2012:  Whether a person's injury will lead to chronic pain may depend on the level of communication between two parts of their brain, a new study finds.
 According to the report, published in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, brain regions related to emotional and motivational behavior seem to communicate more in those who develop chronic pain.
"For the first time, we can explain why people who may have the exact same initial pain either go on to recover or develop chronic pain," senior study author A. Vania Apkarian, a professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a university news release.
"The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain," Apkarian added. "It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain."
For the study, the researchers used brain scans to examine interaction between two parts of the brain -- the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens -- in 40 patients who had back pain develop recently for the first time. The patients were followed for one year.
By analyzing the scans, the investigators were able to predict whether the patients would develop chronic pain with an 85 percent level of accuracy.
The findings suggest that the brain's emotional reaction to the injury is crucial.
"It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level," Apkarian said. "Now we hope to develop new therapies for treatment based on this finding."
An estimated 30 million to 40 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain. Back pain is especially common.
"Chronic pain is one of the most expensive health care conditions in the U.S., yet there still is not a scientifically validated therapy for this condition," Apkarian said.
Although the study showed an association between levels of communication in the brain and chronic pain, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brain Pain Op-Ed

The Orange County Register recently ran an editorial column written by the executive medical director of the Hoag Hospital Neurosciences Institute.  According to the article, he claims that chronic pain is often influenced by genetics and individual experiences.

As stated in the text, " ABC News recently reported the explosion in narcotic prescriptions, with pharmacies dispensing 111 tons of medications in 2010, equaling 40 pills of Percocet and 24 pills of Vicodin for every person in the U.S."  Due this, the occurrence of addictions and lethal overdoses have also increased.  Painkillers are often very addicting and fast-acting, so the body grows to depend on them to remain at a normal functioning level.  For those patients who have multiple surgeries in a row that require painkillers, the body often builds up a tolerance to the drugs,  resulting in a higher dosage of drugs required to gain a painkilling effect.  It should be noted that seniors and teens, in particular, show a rising rate of addiction.   These addictions have a domino effect, resulting in patient crowding in hospitals and decreased level of care across the board. It also seems to be a difficult balancing act for physicians who want to help people in pain, but do not want to encourage a possible addiction.

Chronic pain, such as types arising from an injury or accident, are difficult to treat effectively.  If you feel that you have chronic pain as the result of an accident due to the fault of another, it might be time to consult with an attorney.  Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer located in central Pennsylvania.  For more on his law firm or to schedule a consultation, please click here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Alternative Treatment May Reduce Pain

When traditional medication and treatment routes don't help to ease the discomfort associated with chronic pain, some turn to other, less mainstream options.  One of these options is touch therapy.  As mentioned in a recent article by the American News Report, touch therapy is proving to be effective at relieving pain, stress and nausea associated with cancer.  Touch therapy is an alternative medicine technique, practiced for over 5,000 years,  in which trained workers use their fingertips to touch and connect over twenty points on the body known as “safety energy locks.” Enabling these body points to connect to each other is suggested to release body energy and allow the body to heal itself. It is most like acupuncture in that both treatments are based on the theory that diseases are a result of energy blockages.

Touch therapy was recently researched by the Lexington Cancer Foundation.  In their study, 159 patients were asked to rate their pain and nausea from 0-10 before and after touch therapy.  All patients experienced significant reduction in pain after their initial visit and every other visit following, with an average of 2-3 points in pain reduction per visit.  These statistics occurred regardless of age, sex, gender, and specific medical diagnosis.   It is possible that touch therapy may be useful for other pain-related disorders such as neuropathy or fibromyalgia.  More research needs to be done on this topic in order for physicians to feel comfortable using it as a treatment option.

Attorney Doug Stoehr is a personal injury lawyer located in central Pennsylvania.  For more information on his law practice, please click here.