Archive for April, 2016

Factors Contributing to the Increased Risks of Serious Injury for Motorcyclists

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

All motor vehicle accidents involve some common legal issues and potential problems, but the unique nature of motorcycles means that riders who are involved in a collision often must overcome special challenges.  When an injury victim is interviewing a motorcycle accident lawyer, they can improve the probability of a favorable outcome by retaining a lawyer who has extensive experience handling motorcycle accident lawsuits.  In short, vehicle collision claims are not all created equal.  This blog post provides an overview of the unique factors that contribute to motorcycle crashes.

The most obvious risk involving motorcycles relates to their unique physical characteristics.  Motorcycles are lighter and smaller than passenger cars, and they only have two wheels.  Motorcycles also do not have an enclosure that protects the rider within a passenger compartment and that is reinforced to protect occupants.  These features of motorcycles place riders at an increased risk of serious injuries when confronted by a careless, intoxicated, or distracted passenger car driver.  The risk of a fatal crash for motorcyclists is 35 times greater than for auto accident victims based on a per mile traveled basis.

While these physical design characteristics of a motorcycle pose a significant crash risk, there are other factors that cause many motorcycle collisions:

Limited Stability: A vehicle that only has two wheels will inherently be less stable than a four-wheeled vehicle.  If a rider must suddenly swerve or brake to avoid a crash, this lack of stability increases the risk of a traffic collision.  Depending on the motorcycle and circumstances, a bike can also experience front wheel “wobble” when traveling at high rates of speed.

No Protective Barrier: Passengers in an automobile benefit from protective equipment that includes seat belts and air bags.  This safety equipment increases the benefits of a passenger compartment to keep occupants inside the vehicle.  Vehicle ejection is one of the most significant factors in fatal car accidents, but every motorcycle crash essentially involves ejection because riders do not have the benefit of a protective enclosure.

Difficulty of Operation: Motorcycles require a much higher degree of skill and experience than a car to operate safely.  When riders attempt to handle a motorcycle that is beyond their ability, the risk of a crash increases.

Difficulty Being Seen: The small profile of a motorcycle often impairs the ability of other drivers to notice the presence of riders.  This issue is compounded by the fact that motorcycles can travel in small spaces where motorists do not expect to see a vehicle.

High-Risk Practices: Motorcycles are relatively light vehicles that can travel at high rates of speed. Sport bikes provide a temptation to engage in high-risk practices that include sudden acceleration and speeding.

Unanticipated Road Hazards: Many hazards that have no impact on a passenger car constitute potentially deadly threats to motorcyclists.  Minor potholes, small oil deposits, or a little debris often cause riders to lay their bike down.

If you or a family member was injured in a motorcycle collision, our Mississippi Motorcycle Accident Lawyers have successfully represented many motorcycle accident victims and their families.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

 

Mississippi Trucking Accidents: Negligent Selection and Hiring

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

When drivers and passengers are involved in a multi-vehicle collision, there is always a risk of severe injury or wrongful death.  If one of the vehicles weighs 25 times more than the other vehicle, the consequences can be even more serious for occupants of the smaller vehicle.  Given the high risk of catastrophic injury associated with tractor-trailer crashes, victims are well-advised to understand the theories that make companies liable for collisions caused by the negligence of truck drivers.  Companies receive legal advice from insurance carriers and attorneys regarding ways to shield themselves from liability for the injuries caused by commercial drivers.

A common strategy employed by many businesses involves classifying drivers as independent contractors.  If a truck driver causes an accident because of exhaustion after ignoring hours of service rules, the trucking company will argue that the plaintiff in a trucking accident lawsuit must seek compensation from the so-called “independent contractor.”  This can present a serious dilemma for plaintiffs because a true independent contractor, such as an “owner-operator” typically will not have nearly as much coverage as a trucking company or a company shipping products.

Given the financial incentive to maximize profits, companies often develop practices designed to move goods to their destination at the lowest cost.  Compliance with safety rules does not necessarily permit the greatest possible reduction in cost, so companies cut corners.  Truck drivers with poor driving records and/or a history of alcohol or drug abuse typically cannot command the same pay as a good driver.

Our experienced Mississippi trucking accident attorneys can help you pursue a claim even if the trucking company contends that the driver is an independent contractor.  The classification given to a driver by a company is not the final word on whether the truck driver is really an independent contractor.  If the company exercises a sufficient degree of control over the driver, the so-called independent contractor status can be exposed as a fiction.  Careful discovery and analysis of documents and testimony regarding the degree to which the company manages the driver can persuade a court to determine that an employer-employee relationship exists.  This finding is important because the liability of a careless or inattentive truck driver can be attributed to the company under the doctrine of respondeat superior, which literally translated means “let the master answer.”

Even if the negligent truck driver that causes your injuries is an independent contractor, the company with whom he contracts can still be financially responsible for his lack of care.  Generally, a company can be liable for physical injury to third parties caused by its lack of reasonable care in employing a careful and competent contractor.  This principle extends not only to a trucking company that uses independent contractors to navigate its routes but also to a retailer that hires an individual owner-operator to transport loads.  Our Mississippi trucking accident lawyers gather evidence to determine whether the company failed to adequately screen a driver before authorizing him to operate an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer.

Trucking companies sometimes hire drivers (even as an independent contractor) without an adequate background check regarding the driver’s past traffic citations, failure to comply with trucking safety regulations, alcohol or drug abuse issues, employment history, and collisions.  We are committed to holding companies accountable when they endanger public safety by cutting corners during the hiring process.

If you have been injured in a trucking accident in Jacksonville or the surrounding areas of Mississippi, our Mississippi Trucking Accidents Lawyers have successfully represented many tractor-trailer accident victims in obtaining compensation for their injuries.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

 

 

Mississippi Car Accident Attorneys: Distracted Driving Awareness Month Has Arrived

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Despite a significant public outcry, warnings by transportations safety experts, and the efforts of law enforcement authorities, distracted driving has reached epidemic proportions.  The tragic stories of drivers perishing in fatal collisions while sending a text message are becoming all too common.  In a further effort to discourage motorists from the deadly practice of multi-tasking behind the wheel, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Safety Council have designated April as “National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”

The impact of distracted driving is reflected by data published on the federal government’s official distracted driving website – distraction.gov.  Approximately 660,000 motorists are using their mobile phone or otherwise manipulating a portable electronic device while driving at any time during daylight hours.  With this many people multi-tasking with portable electronics devices, it is hardly surprising that inattentive drivers claimed the lives of 3,179 people and injured 431,000 more during the most recent year for which data is available.  While the problem is not isolated to novice teen drivers, 71 percent of teen drivers admit that they have sent a text while driving.

Distracted drivers have been around as long as motor vehicles, but the prevalence of electronic communication devices like smart phones and tablets has significantly increased the threat of serious crashes caused by inattention.  These gadgets permit drivers to keep almost the entire spectrum of human knowledge at their disposal.  Motorists have the ability to text, talk, and video chat with virtually anyone with the simple push of a button.  This convenience has proved to be a dangerous temptation.  The scope of the threat posed to public safety from use of electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle is evidenced by data from the federal government:

  • Ten percent of 15 to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal collisions when using a cell phone.
  • Although teens often are most closely associated with the practice of using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle, many adults also engage in this extremely unsafe practice.
  • Approximately 53 percent of adult motorists conceded that they have engaged in multi-tasking behind the wheel.
  • Although texting and driving is widely considered a dangerous practice, one in three drivers in a 2015 Erie Insurance study admitted to texting behind the wheel.

The number of lost lives and catastrophic injuries caused by drivers using mobile phones is likely to continue to increase.  The constant technological progress in creating new uses for portable electronic devices now provide a whole new slew of distractions.  There have been a number of accidents in recent times that involve social media activity on websites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and similar sites.  Whether a driver is reading a new post, uploading a picture or video, messaging other users, or placing a status update on his or her page, these new types of distractions threaten to increase the number of distracted drivers.

A recent lawsuit filed against the company that produced the messaging application Snapchat provides a recent example.  A personal injury lawsuit reportedly has been filed against the company by an individual who incurred a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that allegedly was partially caused by a Snapchat feature.  The seriously injured driver was allegedly using Snapchat’s “speed filter” to post a photo of herself while driving fast.  This feature of the social media application overlays a driver’s speed on an image when a driver takes a picture while operating the vehicle.  This tragedy demonstrates the diverse new ways that portable communication devices, such as cell phones are tempting drivers to take dangerous risks.

If you or your loved one is injured in a car accident in Mississippi, you are invited to contact the experienced Mississippi Car Accident Lawyers at Barrett Law to learn how we can help.  Our motor vehicle crash injury lawyers have been representing accident victims throughout Mississippi for over 75 years.  We offer personalized legal representation and zealous advocacy.  We provide a free initial case evaluation so call us today at 800-707-9577.  No Recovery No Fee!

How Will the Era of Autonomous Vehicle Impact Car Accident Lawsuits?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Although the prospect of cars that do not need drivers was once limited to science fiction movies and the Jetsons, vehicles that have the capacity to take over more tasks from motorists are already on the market.  The 2017 E-Class Sedan introduced by Mercedes-Benz at the 2016 North American International Auto Show, for example, boasts a broad range of autonomous driving features that allow the vehicle to travel significant distances without driver intervention.  Although these self-driving vehicles have been promoted as a significant leap forward in roadway safety, this new technology raises a number of questions about the future of car accident litigation.

The prospect of watching the morning news from a holographic projection on the windshield or organizing notes for your morning meeting during your commute might seem appealing.  However, autonomous vehicles have been offered first and foremost as a way to get negligent motorists out of the driver’s seat.  Since careless, intoxicated, and distracted drivers cause many accidents, self-driven vehicles could significantly reduce the number of crashes.  Motor vehicle collisions were estimated to have claimed the lives of approximately 38,300 people in 2015, which would represent nearly a fourteen percent increase over the prior year.  Further, “serious injuries” were estimated to have risen to approximately 2.3 million in 2015, which represents a thirty percent increase over the prior year.  These numbers certainly attest to the benefit of preventing negligent motorists from traveling the roadways of Mississippi.

However, traffic accidents and liability issues will not disappear even when all vehicles are driven by computer systems, even if driver negligence becomes a thing of the past.  Collisions can still be caused by poorly designed, manufactured, or installed systems.  When software glitches, hardware malfunctions, or hacked systems become the dominant cause of traffic accidents, auto accident lawsuits will focus on product liability law rather than negligence involving drivers.

Generally, product liability law provides the basis for pursuing legal remedies for injuries or fatalities caused by a defective product (or misrepresented product).  Typically, an injury victim in a product liability lawsuit will assert multiple theories of liability.  Liability for a car accident caused by a defective autonomous vehicle might be based on strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.

Strict Liability: Even if the manufacturer of a product exercises significant care to construct a safe product, the product (i.e. vehicle) can still be shipped with defects.  Under this theory, the manufacturer can be liable when the vehicle leaves the control of the manufacturer, even if the defect was not the result of negligence.  Strict liability typically is invoked in cases involving design defects, manufacturing defects, and “failure to warn.”

Negligence: Product manufacturers have a duty to exercise reasonable care in designing and manufacturing their products, so they are safe when used in ways that are reasonably foreseeable.  For example, an autonomous car might be designed where no driver intervention is needed except in highly unusual circumstances.  If the braking system of an autonomous vehicle is only designed and tested when roadways are dry, the manufacturer might be negligent when the brakes do not prevent a collision because the roadway is wet.

Failure to Warn: A manufacturer who fails to provide consumers with sufficient information and warnings about the risks associated with the use of its product can be held liable for not providing adequate instructions and warnings.  Liability can be imposed when the injury is a result of the lack of information.

If you or your loved one is injured in an auto accident in Mississippi, you are invited to contact the experienced Mississippi Auto Accident Injury Lawyers at Barrett Law to learn how we can help.  Our lawyers have been representing accident victims throughout Mississippi for over 75 years.  We offer personalized legal representation and zealous advocacy.  We provide a free initial case evaluation so call us today at 800-707-9577.  No Recovery No Fee!

History of Falls Provides a Warning Sign of an Increased Collision Risk among Elderly Drivers

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Our average age of our population is rising as Baby Boomers approach retirement age.  Because age can diminish physical and mental skills associated with safe driving, some older drivers pose a greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.  However, evidence also exists that the extra caution exercised by older drivers combined with their extensive experience dealing with driving hazards can make a certain segment of elderly drivers among the safest.  Because most states do not screen drivers based on age to distinguish the model drivers from motorists with diminished driving ability, seniors who pose a significant risk to their own safety and the well-being of others on the road continue to be issued driver’s licenses without any health screening.  While trying to distinguish these two categories of elderly drivers can be difficult, a new study that links prior falls to collision risk amongst older motorists provides some interesting information.

The new study, published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, was conducted by both the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Colorado Anshutz Medical Campus.  The study examined data involving individuals 65 and older between the years of 1998 and 2010.  Twelve million seniors will suffer a fall, and the numbers are rising annually.  The researchers found that the prevalence of falls during this period rose eight percent, which amounts to nearly a thirty percent increase.  The study concluded that senior drivers who have a history of falls are subject to a forty percent higher risk of being involved in a crash.

Since there are an increasing number of drivers that are age 80 or older, the result might not appear startling.  However, the results show the increase in falls among the elderly involve more than just changing demographics.  The study found that the two-year prevalence of falls increased an estimated 28 percent in 1998 and 36 percent in 2010.  Further, these seniors who experienced falls were forced to overcome additional limitations when driving.

The report provided a number of factors that explain the link between prior falls and an increased auto accident risk among seniors.  The researchers focused on the following factors:

  • When seniors have fallen, they might develop a fear of future falls.  This fear discourages physical activity which can adversely impact driving skills.
  • Falls that cause injury can inhibit functional ability by preventing temporary use of a limb.  This type of physical impairment might be manifested in diminished driving skills.

According to the report, the study can be used to improve traffic safety for seniors by using an older motorist’s fall history to determine if he or she is subject to an increased car accident risk.  A way to reduce accident risk among elderly drivers is to focus on health issues that contribute to falls according to the authors of the study.  The report suggests addressing factors like certain medications, slow reaction time, poor balance, vision issues, dizziness, lower body weakness to protect elderly drivers and others with whom they share the road.  Efforts to manage these types of symptoms can aid elderly drivers in improving their functional abilities, which decrease their risk for auto accidents and future falls.

If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, you might have a right to financial compensation.  Our Mississippi Car Accident Lawyers have successfully represented many injury victims in obtaining financial compensation for their injuries.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

BP Deep Horizon Disaster Continues to Inflict Enormous Financial Toll Five Years Later

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

The BP oil spill has had a devastating impact on the ecosystem and economy across the Gulf Coast.  Even five years after the worst oil spill in history sent millions of gallons of oil into Gulf waters, businesses, families, and individuals continue to experience an enormous negative impact.  In Mississippi and throughout the Gulf Coast, the lingering effects of the ecological disaster continues to financially ravage self-employed fishermen, business owners, and families.  While the full magnitude of the damage continues to be debated by BP consultants, government agencies, and economists, many businesses and individuals who submitted claims for their economic losses five years ago continue to labor under financial hardships without compensation.

The amounts paid by BP through its settlement fund have still left many businesses in dire economic shape. As of a year ago, BP has paid out approximately $10 billion in claims to people across five states in the Gulf region that includes Mississippi.  The economic losses have taken the form of diminished property value, lost profits, and forgone income.  BP has continued to drag its feet on paying many of these claims based on the contention that it has overpaid certain claimants based on a formula that overestimates future losses. This slow processing of claims has resulted in over 60,000 entities or individuals who were harmed by the oil spill being left out in the cold without payment.

BP continues to face further sanctions for the Deep Horizon disaster.  Currently, the company is potentially facing a maximum fine of $13.7 billion for Clean Water Act violations and devastating Gulf Coast economies.  If these penalties are levied, they will be piled on top of the $42 billion price tag that the company has indicated it has incurred for cleanup, fines, paid claims, and compensation of victims.

The company also is awaiting a determination from the U.S. District Court for Eastern Louisiana regarding civil penalties a subsidiary will be fined for the well blowout that resulted in 11 dead workers.  The judge ruled in September that the company’s actions constituted “gross negligence” prior to the explosion.  He determined the volume of oil that spewed into the Gulf at 3.19 million barrels.

The loss affected businesses and the self-employed individuals in the region in a multitude of ways.  Damage to the ecosystem seriously impaired the yield for fishermen who sell crabs, oysters, and shrimp.  Further, the scarcity of these forms of sea life was compounded by public fears that shellfish coming out of the Gulf were not safe to eat after the spill.  Operators of motels, hotels, and restaurants were harmed by the economic downturn in the region and lack of tourism.  Further, companies that provided supplies to the fishing industry like bait shops experienced lost profits as a trickle-down impact from the diminished harvest of seafood.  Businesses planning on expansions also had to put off their plans in the wake of reduced revenue.

Despite these financial losses, many businesses continue to wait as BP continues to drag its feet in paying claims.  If you wish to pursue a claim or you have experienced unreasonable delays in having your claim settled, our Mississippi BP Oil Spill Lawyers have successfully represented many businesses that have suffered economic losses associated with this disaster.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Extensive Worker’s Compensation Fraud by Claimants – Taking a Closer Look at Employer Fraud

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

The insurance industry, employers, and others with a vested interest in discouraging worker’s compensation claims and reducing the amount of payouts have perpetrated the widespread myth that the system is inundated with fraudulent claims.  This myth is based on isolated anecdotal incidents with little effort to identify the actual scope of the issue.  Admittedly, there are isolated cases of employees faking or exaggerating injuries, as well as other examples of illegitimate claims.  However, experts generally recognize that amount of fraud by claimants is infinitesimal.  Generally, the rate of worker’s compensation fraud involving employees is considered to be about one percent or less.  Ironically, worker’s compensation fraud committed by employers is far more extensive but almost never discussed in the media.  This blog post is intended to advise employees about the real existence of employer fraud and to provide common examples.

Many people are unaware of the existence of employer fraud because it is so rarely discussed in the media or promoted as a problem.  However, there are a number of reasons that it is far more prevalent than employee fraud.  The first factor is the difference in incentives for employers and employees to cheat the system.  The motivation to engage in fraud to receive $540 per week in benefit payments is almost non-existent compared to the millions of dollars that employers save by excluding entire classes of employees from obtaining worker’s compensation benefits.  This disparity in the gains to be obtained by cheating also affects the risk-reward analysis for the parties on both sides of the employment relationship.  When considering cheating, either party must consider the risk of detection and potential penalties compared to the reward associated with success in pursuit of the fraudulent scheme.  The massive returns that employers can obtain from screening out hundreds of thousands of employees from worker’s compensation benefits dwarf the rewards of an individual employee successfully obtaining benefits.

Some of the most common examples of employer/insurance carrier fraud include the following:

  • Misclassification of Employees: Employers frequently classify employees as 1099 independent contractors to avoid liability for worker’s compensation benefits.  Since workers classified as independent contractors do not qualify for benefits, companies frequently engage in the practices of misclassifying workers to avoid the cost of worker’s compensation insurance and liability for claims.  When companies with hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of employees engage in this type of practice, the financial gains are staggering.
  • Refusing Medical Care: Worker’s compensation claimants are entitled to free health coverage for virtually all expenses, including diagnostic testing, doctor’s appointments, specialists, medications, and other costs.  However, carriers often routinely refuse to pay for necessary drugs and medical attention.
  • Referring Employees to Biased Physicians: Employers often steer injured workers to unscrupulous doctors or industrial medical clinics where the physician denies care, prematurely returns the employee to the job, or issues unjustified low permanent impairment ratings.
  • Retaliation: Some companies terminate an employee who files a worker’s compensation claim to discourage other workers injured on the job from filing valid claims.
  • Improper Use of Health Insurance: Employees might be directed to use their own health insurance for expenses that should be covered by the worker’s compensation system.
  • Failure to Secure Coverage: Certain companies intentionally avoid purchasing worker’s compensation coverage for their workers.  This strategy shifts a significant portion of the cost of medical expenses from the employer’s worker’s compensation carrier to Medicare.

These are just a handful of the ways employers can engage in fraud schemes that result in a large number of employees receiving less in worker’s compensation benefits or none at all.  Our Mississippi Worker’s Compensation Lawyers have successfully represented many injured employees during our decades of representing clients.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

 

 

More Common Inquiries about Qui Tam Actions Involving Fraudulent Claims Against the Federal Government

Monday, April 11th, 2016

This is the second installment in this two-part blog that answers common questions about lawsuits under the False Claims Act.  While we have attempted to address a range of issues in this two-part blog, the best way to get information about your specific situation is to talk to an experienced Mississippi False Claims Act lawyer.

How long does a whistleblower have to file a claim?

Determining the date the statute of limitations runs on a qui tam lawsuit can be complicated, so it is advisable to seek prompt legal advice if you are considering filing a claim under the False Claims Act.  The lawsuit must be filed by the later of the following dates:

  • 3 years after the government knew or should have known of the unlawful conduct but within ten years of the violation; or
  • 6 years after the unlawful conduct.

Complications in how courts have interpreted these deadlines make it important to seek advice from an experienced qui tam lawyer.

What is the justification for providing compensation to whistleblowers under the False Claims Act?

The purpose of authorizing qui tam actions is to motivate whistleblowers to disclose fraudulent and illegal conduct that government authorities would not detect without outside assistance.  Because a whistleblower potentially could face negative consequences for disclosing wrongdoing, such as job termination, financial incentives are intended to neutralize the possible negative consequences of disclosure.

What types of conduct constitute a violation justifying a qui tam action under the False Claims Act?

There are many forms of misconduct that might provide a basis for pursuing a qui tam action, but some of the most common allegations include the following:

  • Conspiring with other parties to entice the government to pay a claim
  • Knowingly presenting or causing to be presented to the federal government a claim for fraudulent or false payment
  • Causing to be used or knowingly using a false statement or record to avoid, decrease, or conceal an obligation to remit property or money to the federal government

Does the frequency and scope of schemes to defraud the government warrant authorization of qui tam claims?

Fraud committed against the government is far more extensive than many people recognize.  The Department of Justice recovered over $3.5 billion in False Claim Act judgments and settlements during 2015.  Approximately eighty percent of this amount was recovered in qui tam actions.  Some studies have found that as many as sixty percent of employees indicate they have observed fraudulent and/or unlawful conduct by their employer.

What constitutes the elements of an offense under the False Claims Act?

The required elements that must be established to prove a case under the statute include the following: (1) the defendant presented or caused to be presented a false claim for approval or payment (or a document to facilitate payment) to the federal government; (2) falsity of the claim or document; and (3) knowledge that the claim was false or reckless disregard of the truth of the claim.  The establishment of these elements proves an offense even if the U.S. government neither experiences a financial loss nor makes a payment on the fraudulent claim.

Does the whistleblower or the government control the qui tam action?

While the government has the right to step in and control the qui tam action under the False Claims Act after the “relator” (whistleblower) initiates the lawsuit, the government might decline to participate.  If the government elects not to intervene in the action, the relator remains in control of pursuing the qui tam lawsuit.

If you have discovered fraudulent conduct by your employer against the federal government, we invite you to contact us to evaluate your claim.  Our Mississippi Qui Tam Lawyers have successfully represented many relators pursuing whistleblower claims under the False Claims Act.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 800-707-9577 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

Common Questions Asked by Whistleblowers about the False Claims Act

Friday, April 8th, 2016

If you have become aware that your employer is engaged in conduct designed to defraud the federal government of public funds, you can protect the public by disclosing this improper conduct.  Although there is a range of federal and state statutes that protect and compensate whistleblowers for the courageous act of coming forward, the False Claims Act constitutes one of the most powerful whistleblower protections.  The importance of the False Claims Act is reflected by the fact that lawsuits filed under the statute have led to recovery of more than $40 billion between 1986 and 2013 with a significant portion resulting from the actions of whistleblowers.  Our Mississippi qui tam lawyers recognize that employees considering blowing the whistle on an employer have concerns, so this two-part blog provides answers to some commonly asked questions.

What is a qui tam claim under the False Claims Act?

The term qui tam refers to a legal action under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. Sections 3729 through 3733) that empowers individuals and entities to sue wrongdoers engaged in fraud against the federal government.  The whistleblower who commences the action brings the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. government.  The party that brings the action has the right to receive substantial rewards based on the degree of assistance provided to the government and the monetary amount recovered.  A number of states have passed similar laws that protect the public coffers of state governments.

Where is a False Claims Act filed?

The party who brings a qui tam action under the False Claims Act files the action confidentially under seal in federal district court.  Along with filing the lawsuit, the complaint and a disclosure statement regarding the material information and relevant evidence must be served on the U.S. Attorney for the district and the U.S. Attorney General.  Unlike other lawsuits, the defendant is not served with the complaint, and the substance of the allegations and supporting evidence must remain confidential while the action remains under seal.

What protections does the False Claims Act include for employees?

The most common scenario involves private individuals bringing qua tam actions that disclose fraudulent conduct by their employer.  The statute is constructed to protect employees who disclose this information to protect the public.  An employee subjected to discrimination, harassment, termination, or demotion as a result of lawfully preceding under the statute might be entitled to a range of remedies that include:

  • Double back pay
  • Reinstatement
  • Compensation for any special damages (e.g. reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation)

Whistleblowers also should be aware that they might be able to seek additional protections from state laws pertaining to wrongful termination or related employment laws.

How are penalties assessed under the False Claims Act?

A defendant found to have committed acts of fraud will be subject to civil fines of $5,000 to $10,000 for each violation, as well as treble damages based on the amount the government was defrauded.

Our Mississippi False Claims Act Lawyers work diligently to help our clients maximize the amount of the reward that they are entitled to pursuant to their qui tam claim.  We invite you to read the second installment of this two-part blog post.  At Barrett Law, we are here to help.  Contact our firm today at 662-834-2488 to schedule your free consultation, so we can answer any questions you may have regarding filing your claim.

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Roads Might Be the Cause of Your Mississippi Car Accident

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

While most serious Mississippi car accidents are caused by inattentive or careless drivers, there are a substantial number of auto collisions that are the result of dangerous roadways.  Sometimes roads in Mississippi are not designed safely, or the roadway is inadequately maintained.  When the defective construction or maintenance of a roadway is a factor in causing a motor vehicle crash, pursuit of an auto accident claim can be especially complicated.  Public entities are usually responsible for ensuring that a roadway is safe in terms of both its initial construction and maintenance.  Government entities have the benefit of sovereign immunity and possess an enormous war chest to defend against such claims.

Dangerous roadways cause far more accidents than many people realize.  Some estimates place the number of car accidents involving defective or poorly maintained roadways as high as twenty percent.  Lawsuits that involve defective roads require attorneys experienced in handling these kinds of complex cases, as well as the resources to litigate such a case. Clients often come to us after another attorney has passed on their case because the other driver did not have insurance.  This can happen when there is no recognition that a defective roadway issue makes the case worth pursuing.

If you are involved in an accident that involves an unsafe street or interstate, it is important to document the features of the segment of road that contributed to your accident.  In the wake of a serious car accident in Mississippi, public entities often make remedial changes or remove the debris that contributed to a car accident.  Our experienced defective roadway attorneys recommend preserving such evidence in any way possible, including taking photos, pointing out the hazard to the investigating officer, and/or taking careful notes regarding the hazard.

Construction zones often constitute one of the most dangerous types of roadway hazards.  Most people that drive through a construction zone presume that the orange flags, warning signs, cement barriers, and other safety measures are there to protect construction workers. While worker safety is one reason for these safety features, the US Department of Transportation reports that the majority of those injured in construction zones are drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.  When you drive through a construction zone, you must take extra care to avoid being involved in a car accident.  It is essential to substantially lower your speed and to pay attention to potential hazards or road detours. There is a wide range of distractions to drivers moving through construction zones, so it easy to become confused.  It is imperative that drivers focus all of their attention on their driving to avoid a serious car accident in a Mississippi work zone.

There are a wide range of roadway defects that can cause an auto collision, including but not limited to the following:

  • Poor signage
  • Potholes or uneven pavement
  • Edge of the road drop offs
  • Defective road surfacing that becomes extremely slick during wet or hot weather
  • Construction machinery or other obstacles in the roadway
  • Missing or damaged guardrails
  • Roadway debris

While a public entity can be liable for a poorly constructed or inadequately maintained roadway, this type of lawsuit requires careful investigation of the accident location, as well as exhaustive review of documents and accident reports within the control of the government entity.  Liability often turns on the duration of time that the defect was present and whether the public entity reasonably should have had notice of the danger.  Personal injury claims against a public entity typically will be subject to a tort claims act, which essentially empowers members of the public to bring an injury claim against a government subdivision despite sovereign immunity.  Tort claims acts have very tight timing requirements, so it is important you contact us as soon as you are involved in an accident that may have been caused by a dangerous roadway.

If you or your loved one is injured in a Mississippi traffic collision, you are invited to contact the experienced Mississippi Car Accident Attorney at Barrett Law to learn how we can help.  Our lawyers have been representing accident victims throughout Mississippi for over 75 years.  We offer personalized legal representation and zealous advocacy.  We provide a free initial case evaluation so call us today at 800-707-9577.  No Recovery No Fee!