Social Media's Impact on Personal Injury Cases by Daniel L. Diaz-Balart

Find this article written for and published in the Daily Business Review.

Lawyers who fail to utilize social media's increased role in the legal profession, or who fail to properly anticipate how it may come up in litigation, do so at their own detriment. Specifically with regard to personal injury litigation, social media is playing an ever-expanding role, and its impact on the practice is certain to continue growing.

Historically, when an insurance company wanted to investigate somebody who made a claim, it was necessary to hire a private investigator to discreetly follow the claimant around town. If they were lucky, maybe the investigator could manage to get a photo of an unsuspecting claimant bending down without issue to put air in a tire, or carrying heavy groceries from the store. That photo would then be used to defend against the personal injury claim, perhaps countering allegations of the severity of the back injury that the person is claiming to have sustained.

photo__2358378_daniel_diaz-balart.jpgNowadays, through the advent of social media, the hypothetical claimant mentioned above might, by their own doing, investigate and incriminate themselves and their injury to the detriment of their own claim. That's because a recent Florida appellate court decision has determined that, in the context of personal injury litigation, photos posted on social media can, in some instances, be discoverable.

Naturally, people post photos of themselves on their social media accounts (some more than others, like that friend who won't stop posting selfies). Individuals are often "tagged" in other people's photos and videos, taking part in all kinds of activities. Users can "check in" to places they visit using mobile apps on their smart phones, leaving behind a virtual trail of the places they've visited.

Accordingly, defense attorneys often seek production of a personal injury plaintiff's social media accounts and their contents, which can then become the topic of litigation. Despite the growing presence of social media in the legal realm, the number of Florida appellate court decisions that have dealt with social media discovery is actually quite small, and therefore permits for creative lawyering.

The Second District Court of Appeal took up the issue of Facebook discovery in the February 2014 case of Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction. In that case, a minor child was injured when he was struck by a vehicle near a construction site. The mother of the child brought suit against the defendants on behalf of her son, and the defendants in return sought production of a wide range of content from the mother's Facebook page. The trial court allowed this expansive discovery request, which included things like counseling, psychological and mental health care obtained by the mother, any and all postings, statuses, photos, likes or videos related to her relationships with her children, other family members and boyfriends, and any posts related to alcohol use or other lawsuits filed by the mother.

The Second DCA proceeded to quash the trial court's discovery order, determining that this expansive request was the type of carte blanche fishing expedition of irrelevant materials which was prohibited by Florida Supreme Court precedent. The requests were directed toward the injured child's mother, who was not per se the injured party, and the defendants could not point to anything claimed by her to support their contention that the requested information was relevant.

The defendants in Nucci v. Target Corp., a January 2015 opinion from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, took a more focused and targeted approach with their social media discovery requests, and, as a result, fared better than their counterparts in Root. In this slip-and-fall case, the defense served narrowly tailored discovery requests limited to photos dating back two years from the date of incident, and all photos subsequent to the incident of the plaintiff herself. Notably, the requests did not seek any other Facebook content.

The Fourth DCA held that the photographs sought were "powerfully relevant to the damage issues in the lawsuit." The court further noted that the relevance of the photos was enhanced due to post-accident surveillance video of the plaintiff which already suggested her injury was suspect. The court distinguished this case from Root, finding the requests at issue to be narrower in scope and far more calculated to lead to admissible evidence. As such, discovery of these photos from Facebook was allowed.

It should be noted that the Nucci court propounded that, generally, photos posted on a social networking site are neither privileged nor protected by any right of privacy, regardless of any privacy settings that the user may have established. In other words, individuals involved in personal injury litigation should post at their own risk.

Clearly, social media is here to stay, and all lawyers should be prepared to take full advantage of all it has to offer, whether we #like it or not.

Continue reading "Social Media's Impact on Personal Injury Cases by Daniel L. Diaz-Balart" »

GoFundMe as an alternative to predatory Lawsuit Loans

ebook-graphic-2.pngWith the development over the past few years of online crowd funding, websites like GoFundMe have gained in popularity at an exponential rate. Since its inception, GoFundMe claims to have raised over $1.2 billion through its website. Quite remarkable.

As a personal injury firm established in South Florida for over 38 years, Leesfield Scolaro has seen first hand how a catastrophic event can transform an otherwise financially sound family into needing quick cash to pay next month's mortgage or pay last month's car payment that is over due.

7643873724_59cc54c54c_o.pngIn Florida, the Florida bar prohibits attorneys to loan money or advance cash to their clients. The only option to clients in the most dire situations was to contact a financial firm specialized in short-term loans based on lawsuits, more commonly called lawsuit loans. These loans are essentially an exchange of money for a promise of repayment + interest. While the idea of helping out people in temporary need until their case settles is a very noble one, abuse quickly became the norm. Today, these lawsuit loans are mainly operated by small entities who charge an exorbitant interest rate.

Let's say a father is involved in a catastrophic incident that leaves him incapacitated. He remains at the hospital for several weeks, followed by months of physical therapy. During the entire time of recovery, he is unable to work and provide for his family, his wife and two children. Because of their situation, the family is able to pay their bills for the first two months, such as the mortgage, school, car payments, and food. When the second and third months come around, the family can no longer pay their bills for lack of income. Despite having hired a personal injury attorney to work on their case, it will be months, maybe a couple of years before they could recover any money for the incident. What are they to do?

Up until five years ago or so, a lawsuit loan was the answer. Because of their time of need, the family agrees to a large loan with an outrageous interest rate, and by the time their case settles, they will have to repay the lender three, four, sometimes five times over, the value of the initial loan. In many situations, the lawsuit loan will make it even more difficult for clients to keep their head above water because the settlement money they counted on is now almost entirely swallowed up by the company who loaned them money early on. For example, out of a settlement amounting to $100,000, a client with a $25,000 loan is likely to end up with less than $10,000 to his name after fees, costs, medical bills/liens, and lender are all paid back.

wordle.pngIt has always been our firm's policy to advise every single client of Leesfield Scolaro against lawsuit loans. The risks of owing so much money to a lender are too great, especially when their case is difficult from a legal standpoint, or because of limited insurance coverage available to them in the first place.

Today however, there is an alternative to money hungry lawsuit loans: Online crowd funding. While people must do their own research and read all the terms and fine prints of the many websites who offer such online crowd funding solutions, GoFundMe's business model seems to be the perfect solution for people whose life was turned upside down due to the negligence of another person.

In just a few easy steps, users can create their own website to describe why they need to raise money. They can link the website to their existing social media pages, like facebook where they can share the progress of their fundraising campaign with their friends. Unlike lawsuit loans that accumulate interest over the life of the loan, GoFundMe generates revenue by automatically deducting an 8% fee from each donation users receive. Not only does online crowd funding, such as GoFundMe, allows people in need to survive, but their net recovery from their personal injury lawsuit will not be swallowed up by the website. In that sense, online crowd funding truly acts as a supplemental resource when people need it the most.

If you have been involved in a terribly life-changing event, look into online crowdfunding as an alternative to short term lawsuit loans. It has been our firm's experience that in the face of tragedy, a community of people, even sometimes strangers, will unite and help others who need a helping hand while they get back on their feet.


Drowning incident at Jungle Island in Miami

jungle island drowning.jpgEarlier today at Miami's Jungle Island, a 7-year-old child, who was on a field trip with his summer camp, nearly drowned on Jungle Island's beach front. According to early reports, the children were playing in the water when suddenly a lifeguard saw a child dropping under water. He quickly came to the rescue of the child and administered CPR on the beach.

Miami Department Fire Rescue Captain Ignatius Carroll did not identify the child by name, but did share that the parents had been informed of what happened. The child was emergently transported to the Pediatric Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital in cardiac arrest.

The latest report available stated that the young child was in stable condition at this time.

When asked what had happened, Capt. Carroll volunteered that the young victim was not wearing a life jacket at the time the incident occurred, while the rest of the children from his camp were. The reason as to why the child was not provided with a safety device has yet to be given by Jungle Island.

lifejacket.jpgFor parents, it is very common to send their children to summer camps. In doing so, they entrust the safety and care of their children to the camp and their employees. Common sense would dictate that a certain level of responsibility must be met by the companies who provide such services. Most if not all service providers, such as summer camps, will include field trips to entice parents to send them their children during the summer. When a tragedy occurs due to the negligence of camp employee, the parents can typically recover for the injuries sustained by their child at the hands of a negligent counselor.

In part to protect themselves against frivolous litigation, camps routinely require that parents execute a release which essentially waives their right to sue the camp should their child become injured as a result of the camp's negligence. For the longest time, Florida would allow lawsuits to be filed against such entities for their own negligence if the terms of the release were not specific and clear enough. In those cases, the releases were deemed unenforceable and the lawsuit was allowed to continue.

Last February, the Florida Supreme Court made it even more difficult for parents to go around poorly drafted releases in Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., 40 Fla. L. Weekly S79a (Fla. Feb. 12, 2015). Precisely, the Supreme Court held that exculpatory provisions contained in releases are not "ineffective simply because they do not contain express language releasing a defendant from liability for his or her own negligence or negligent acts." This recent development will make it very difficult for parents whose children became injured through no fault of their own, but solely due to the negligence of a camp employee.

Each case and each release must be looked at carefully and parents should always have their potential claim examined by a lawyer. In the incident today, Jungle Island does require parents to sign a release which is posted on their website. Recently, Leesfield Scolaro was able to render a release unenforceable in a jet ski accident case and obtained a significant recovery for our client.

If you signed a release and were involved in an incident caused by the negligence of another, you should contact an attorney immediately before the statute of limitation runs and your claim is barred forever.

Toddler drowns in pool in Pompano Beach - Florida leading cause of death of children between 1 and 4

This past weekend, a 3-year-old boy, Henrique Dias Amorim, was discovered "floating" by a family member after a family gathering organized at a waterfront home that family had borrowed for the occasion. Somehow, it is believed the child found his way out to the backyard and the pool during the gathering. The responding authorities have already declared that no charges would be brought against anyone in this case, and they qualified this to be a horrific accident. Early investigation has shown that the pool in question did not have a pool fence or barrier to prevent the child from going inside the pool. It is unclear as of yet whether the home should have been equipped with such protection.

Recently, Leesfield Scolaro filed a lawsuit in another tragic drowning case, to another little boy who was found in the pool by his grandfather, despite the pool being equipped with a pool fence. In their lawsuits, Ira Leesfield and Tom Scolaro have alleged that the pool fence manufacturer was liable and responsible for the incident due to numerous significant defects in the pool fence manufacturer's product. Thankfully, the child survived, but not before he sustained catastrophic brain damage, for which he will require medical care the rest of his life.

Poolfencing.jpgThe state of Florida has staggering statistics when it comes to fatalities of young children and pool drownings. According to Florida Health, Florida loses more children under age five to drowning than any other state. Annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their fifth birthday.

Florida overwhelmingly has the highest unintentional drowning rate in the nation for the 1-4 year old age group, with a drowning rate of 7.29 per 100,000 population. Florida also had the highest drowning number and rate in the nation for the 1-14 population in 2010 with a drowning rate of 2.67 per 100,000 population. In 2013, 63 children aged between 1 and 4 died of drowning in the State of Florida. Death by drowning remains a grave concern until a child reaches the age of 10 where drowning suddenly drops to the 5th leading cause of death, behind motor vehicle accidents, suffocation, firearm, and other means of transportation.

These numbers have remained quite the same for decades, and in 2000, a new law was passed to try to save lives. Unfortunately they have not been extremely successful to date. Florida law makes it mandatory for all outdoor swimming pools to have a 4-foot fence or other barrier around the pool. Entry through the fence and to the pool must open outward and have a self-closing and self-locking device that is beyond a child's reach.

Fatal hit and run in key biscayne caused by alcohol and cell phone use

Yesterday, we reported on the tragic accident that took the life of a bicyclist and seriously injured another in a hit and run accident that occurred in Key Biscayne in the early morning hours.

Alejandro Alvarez.jpgIn the last 24 hours, police has released additional information on what caused the accident, and the identities of the people involved. 21-year-old Alejandro Alvarez was arrested by police after he admitted to running over bicyclists Walter Reyes, and Henry Hernandez. Walter Reyes succumbed to his injuries at the scene, while Henry Hernandez was emergently taken to Mercy Hospital for serious physical injuries. Henry is said to be in stable condition at this time.

Upon admitting being at the wheels of the 2014 VW Jetta involved in the incident, Alvarez was arrested by police. He is currently behind bars and facing multiple criminal charges, including manslaughter and driving under the influence.

bikerkilled10wmm_resize.jpgAccording to Alvarez himself, the student at the University of Maryland was with friends at a Miami Beach club until 2:45 a.m. The friends left and Alvarez returned to the club by himself after driving everyone home. He told police he stayed at the club until approximately 4:30 a.m., before deciding to return home, to his parents' house in Key Biscayne. He admitted to looking away for a moment to look at his iPhone to change a song. That is when, at around 5:22 a.m., his vehicle veered to the right, entered the bike lane, and struck Walter and Henri who were riding their bicycles, training for Dolphin Cycling Challenge taking place next month. According to witnesses who arrived at the scene, both bicycles were equipped with front and rear lights, as required by law.

Alvarez did not stop after the accident, instead he continued on and arrived at his parents house. He told police he had plans, and even attempted to fake a car robbery by smashing the rear window of his car with a golf club. For some reason Alvarez did not go through his plans and he called 911 and returned to the scene of the accident he had just fled. Roughly 20 minutes after killing Walter Reyes, Alvarez returned to the scene and admitted his involvement to the responding officers already on site. While Alvarez was recounting what happened, police officers noticed a strong smell of alcohol coming from Alvarez's breath. He also had bloodshot and watery eyes, as well as slurred speech, betraying signs of intoxication.

bikerkilled09wmm_resize.jpgAlcohol and cell phone use seem to have been the compounding reasons to explain why Alvarez killed an innocent person and seriously injured another. Since October 1, 2013, it is illegal in Florida to text while driving. Ira Leesfield has championed this cause for over a decade, speaking on the absolute necessity for Florida to adopt a total ban on cell phone use. In over 38 years, Leesfield Scolaro has seen numerous accidents resulting in deaths and catastrophic injuries that were caused by distraction behind the wheel. Despite the efforts of the legal community, the Florida legislator has only enacted a very limited law that does not band any and all cell phone use on the roads of the state of Florida.

Alvarez admitted to using his iPhone at the time he crashed into the two bicyclists. By making such an admission, the investigators will subpoena Alvarez's cell phone records and will be ale to establish whether Alvarez may have been on the phone, speaking with someone at the time, or texting back and forth with someone. The findings of such investigation carries important ramifications for a future civil lawsuit for wrongful death against Alvarez, and the owner of the Jetta he was driving at the time.

While nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one, it is imperative that the victims and their families look for as many potential sources of recovery, beyond the primary insurance on the drive of the at fault vehicle. Leesfield Scolaro is a personal injury firm well-known for seeking and finding non-obvious defendants in catastrophic cases. That is how a recent case with limited coverage ($50,000) yielded a $10,500,000 settlement.

Contact Leesfield Scolaro at 305-854-4900, should you have a potential personal injury claim you would like to discuss with one of our lawyers.

Fatal hit and run of two bicyclists in Key Biscayne

Early this morning, two bicyclists were ran over by a motor vehicle in Key Biscayne. Police has advised that the driver who struck the bicyclists fled the scene, yet investigators have since indicated that the alleged driver was currently in custody.

There are very few details to date about the incident other than it occurred at around 5:30 A.M. and that the fatally struck bicyclist was in the right lane of the Rickenbacker Causeway near Crandon Park Marina. The other bicyclist, whose health condition remains unknown, was transported by ambulance to the hospital. Both families have a civil claim against the driver, and any other potential and non-obvious defendants.

Sadly fatal accidents of bicyclists in Key Biscayne is nothing new to authorities and to our law firm. In 2012, Aaron Cohen was on his bicycle on the Rickenbacker Causeway with his friend Enda Welsh, when he was also struck by a motorist, Michele Traverso. Much like today's incident, Traveso fled the scene only to surrender himself 18 hours later. By the time Traverso was in custody, police could no longer garner evidence that Traverso was intoxicated at the time of the incident, and therefore could not possibly charge him with a DUI. Traverso was ultimately sentenced for less than two years behind bar for leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

In January 2010, the same story again. Bicyclist Christophe Le Canne was killed while riding in Key Biscayne. The culprit was Carlos Bertonatti, a drunk driver who also fled the scene of his accident.

Unlike Bertonatti and Traveso however, the liable driver who fled the scene this morning will face much stronger criminal penalties for fleeing the scene of a fatal accident. In the wake of the death of Aaron Cohen, the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act was passed and came into effect on July 1, 2014.

The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act imposes a four-year, mandatory-minimum prison term for a driver convicted of leaving a fatal crash. The new law added a three-year minimum driver license revocation for those convicted of the crime.

The new law was the legislator's answer to the overwhelming support for tougher penalties from not only the local bicycling community, but the entire state's population. Last year, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) released statistics that lit a fire under the legislator to act at once. One of the telling statistics for South Florida: Almost 100 deaths in hit and run accidents.

For well-over 30 years, Leesfield Scolaro has taken on catastrophic and wrongful death cases throughout the Florida keys. In cases involving the death of an innocent person, a complete investigation must be conducted in order to find additional insurance coverage beyond the driver's car insurance. Currently, Partner Thomas Scolaro is representing the family of, Christopher Dyko, a former NFL player who was killed while riding his bicycle in the Florida Keys last month.

Leesfield Scolaro has a strong track record for finding non-obvious sources of financial recovery for its clients. In Florida, most motorists have "full insurance coverage." That common denomination is unfortunately much less than what people believe and it almost never enough to compensate victims when they sustain catastrophic injuries, or their families when the victim dies as a result of the accident.

Should you or a loved one have a claim for personal injury or wrongful death, contact Leesfield Scolaro at 305-854-4900.

A year of growth in many ways

We hope you noticed that Leesfield Scolaro, P.A. is now Leesfield Scolaro, P.A., recognizing Tom Scolaro's 15-year career at our firm which began as a law clerk and research assistant. Tom has excelled in every way recognized by the trial bar and fully earned his placement as a named partner.

During his career, Tom has tried numerous multi-million dollar verdicts, setting records throughout the state through his proactive and highly assertive litigation and trial skills. According to Founding Partner, Ira Leesfield, "Tom is a trial lawyer who consistently says 'give me the ball." He works tirelessly and never complains. His productivity demonstrates an understanding that the firm's clients need to get their cases resolved: timely, but resolved fully.

The announcement of Leesfield Scolaro has been well received with responses coming from Europe, Canada and throughout the United States, and, of course, from all points of Florida.

Just this week, Leesfield Scolaro has undertaken a platinum sponsorship, by pledging $5,000 to Legal Services of Greater Miami to assist in the important and vital legal services they provide to the community. We will be an important part of the judicial leadership awards presented to Judge Bloom and Judge Gayles on May 13, 2015 at the Sixth Annual "The Art of Giving" Celebration and Judicial Reception. "This is particularly important to me," says Founding Partner Ira Leesfield, "since I have known Judge Bloom and Judge Gayles from the inception of their legal and judicial careers." Leesfield serves on the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission which recommended both of these judges to President Obama.

scholarships.jpgThe firm's community involvement continues with the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers (FAWL) awarding scholarships to Nejla Calvo (left), a third-year law student at the University of Miami School of Law, and Janelle Vega (right), a second-year law student at St. Thomas University School of Law at the Mandarin Hotel, in Miami, FL. Leesfield Scolaro was honored for their 18 years of scholarship participation, marking the longest commitment of any law firm to the FAWL Scholarship program.

Last year, FAWL recognized Ira Leesfield as "Philanthropist of the Year," and the Leesfield Family Foundation, Judge Ellen Leesfield and Leesfield Scolaro continued to show their commitment to FAWL and its significant work in the legal community.

2014 was an exceptional year for the firm resolving cases at trial and mediation from all over the state of Florida, with an ongoing 35-year presence in Monroe County and Key West. The firm's office building in Key West, originally built in 1878, has been refurbished on a number of occasions, with another restoration in 2014. "Key West co-counsel and the Monroe County Bar Association have been most supportive of our firm's efforts," according to Tom Scolaro, "and we were so proud to be part of the investiture of the new Circuit Court Judge Tim Koenig, the ceremony and celebration."

In the meantime, the firm showed its appreciation to New York lawyers with the mailing of "Apples & Oranges", highlighting the close ties between Leesfield Scolaro and New York lawyers. Both Tom and Ira were born and raised in New York. Tom attended college there and Ira has been an active member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association since 2003.

The firm's diversity continues with significant recoveries in maritime and passenger cruise cases, wrongful death and personal injury cases throughout the State of Florida, and medical negligence and products liability successes throughout the year. The Orlando office, joining Bounds Law Group, has made a significant impact in Central Florida in the I-4 corridor. Cases are now pending in every Central Florida county, the southwest coast of Florida, the I-4 corridor and most recently, several matters were resolved in the Florida Panhandle, as well as Jacksonville.

Leesfield Scolaro's growth this year, includes the addition of Daniel Diaz-Balart, who left a stellar career at the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's office after four years. "Danny hit the ground running," says colleague, Justin Shapiro, who had a number of significant and noteworthy successes during the year, including a record-setting result in Monroe County/Plantation Key.

Carol Finklehoffe continues her presence as Chair of the Maritime Law Association Cruise Line Passenger Ship Committee, and recently completed a number of cases with clients from California and Virginia.

2014 was a rewarding year for the firm because it was a successful year for our clients. A number of new challenging and important cases are ready to be filed in 2015. We are always here to help and appreciate all of your support.

At the Clinton Foundation celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, Senior Partner Ira Leesfield was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Clinton Foundation Haitian Initiative to assist in providing vital services to the people of Haiti.

Leesfield continues his involvement in the Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative and the Presidential Library.

Leesfield & Partners is now Leesfield Scolaro!

Tom Scolaro's entire legal career from law clerk to named partner has spanned 16 years with the firm. Starting as a research clerk while in law school, Tom, at age 41, has now rocketed to one of the leading trial lawyers statewide in Florida. He has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements throughout he state and has brought about significant safety changes in the areas of carbon monoxide injury prevention. In 2004, Ira Leesfield and Tom Scolaro tried the matter of Kemp v. American Medical Response Management, Inc. in Key West with a $2.1 million dollar verdict. "From that point forward, Tom has pulled together a string of accomplishments unparalleled by any lawyer of his generation," says Managing Partner, Ira Leesfield.

002-LS-Logo w-o rules.jpgIn other news, Ira Leesfield has again been selected for the 2015 Best Lawyers as stated in the Wall Street Journal and Miami Herald. This is Leesfield's fifth consecutive year of selection. Within the last decade Ira Leesfield's lifetime commitment to the profession and his clients has been recognized with numerous awards, such as the Anti-Defamation League's "Jurisprudence Award," "Melvin Belli Award," the American Jewish Committee "Judge Learned Hand Award," and the Florida Justice Association's "Al J. Cone Lifetime Achievement Award" and the "Crystal Eagle Award." He was the first Florida recipient of the American Ort "Jurisprudence Award." In 2013, the Florida Association of Women Lawyers (Miami-Dade Chapter) presented Ira Leesfield with the 2013 Philanthropist Award, recognizing his long-standing commitment to support rising female law students through scholarship grants. He has twice been awarded the prestigious Wiedman Wisocki medal for outstanding advocacy. He was nominated as "Lawyer of the Year" by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and selected as one of America's Top Ten Trial Lawyers. He is also rated by AVVO, SuperLawyers, Martindale-Hubbell,, U.S. News & World Report "Best Lawyers", among others.

In October, the firm celebrated its 38th year of service to the State of Florida with the addition of Daniel Diaz-Balart, son of former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart. He comes with four years of intensive trial experience at the State Attorney's Office. Danny is now in court on a regular basis, and his efforts join the very significant accomplishments of Justin B. Shapiro and Carol L. Finklehoffe.

Leesfield Scolaro continues to represent victims of negligence and wrongdoing from around the country and the world with recent results for clients from Europe, Canada, South America and the continental United States. Those results include:
$3.2 million for a neurologically injured Italian Student;
$3.25 million for a gadly burned German national;
$1.2 million for a British family injured in Ormond Beach, Fl.;
$2.5 million aviation recovery for a widow and her family from Spain;
$1.575 million for rape victim from Canada;
$900,000 for burn victim from Mexico;
Confidential settlement for rape victim from Brazil.

Ira Leesfield remains active in the American Association for Justice, having served as Florida Senior Governor on its board for over 24 years, he now chairs the organization's Stalwarts Committee for the second consecutive year, while he maintains an active trial schedule and work with the Leesfield Family Foundation and the Clinton Foundation. With 38 years of firm experience, longevity, hard work and re-commitment have become the trademark of the firm.

Maritime and cruise ship passenger cases arise from all over, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Georgia, and Michigan, according to Carol L. Finklehoffe, Chair of the Maritime Law Association Cruise Line Passenger Ship Committee. Justin Shapiro has recently completed a number of significant cases in Key West and Central Florida, as well as handling pending trials in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

"I am honored to be part of the new firm name, but our standard for excellence and results remains exactly the same," according to Tom Scolaro, now a 16-year veteran of the firm.

Firm recognition, most importantly is from both referral lawyers and clients.

"Thanks again for all the great work you do for our firm and for our clients. We absolutely look forward to continuing to collaborate with you and your firm on significant accidental injury cases. And, by the way, our legal administrative staff members likewise appreciate how good you make us look to our clients down there in Florida."
-Enrique O. Guerrero, Guerrero & Rosengarten, New York.

"Our firms in New York and California have co-counseled with Leesfield Scolaro on a number of high end important cases. Our work together could not have been more smooth, enjoyable or rewarding. We look forward to continuing this working relationship."
-James Kreindler, Kreindler & Kreindler, New York.

"When my father was injured in Florida, I did my research and due diligence, and found Leesfield Scolaro to represent him. Although the case is still pending, I get thorough updates, and I am most impressed in the pace at which they are movingt this case. I can recommend this firm without reservation."
-Andy Bokser, Client.

"Mr. Scolaro, we want to say thanks to you for being our attorney, along with the rest of the law firm knowing it was a very long road from beginning to the end. We would always keep you in thoughts if we ever need to call on you again. Again, thanks a lot for all your help. It was greatly appreciated."
-Daniel and Ovilda Lake, Clients.

Fatal boating collision during holiday weekend in Miami

On Saturday night, a two boats were involved in an accident off Biscayne Bay, one mile off Matheson Hammock in Coral Gables, Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which is investigating every single boating accident in the region has relayed minimal information through its spokesperson, Jorge Pino. What the public knows thus far is that a 68-foot motor yacht traveling north along the coast collided with a 27-foot pleasure boat that was navigating south along the coast.

5137409_G.jpgThree occupants of the smaller boat fell into the water and were injured in the accident. All three were pulled onto the yacht by some of the 21 passengers on board. Among the three injured people, Maria Del Valle, 29, was critically injured. She was initially taken to Mercy Hospital for treatment before being transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she tragically died.

Maria Del Valle was the mother of four children, with the youngest child being just 14-months-old, according to the FWC. The father of her youngest child, Maykel Perdomo, 33, is among the injured people who were on the small boat and thrown into the water. He is said to be in stable condition at this time. The third person involved is Dayron Baralt, 23, who was still in critical condition yesterday. His status remains unknown at this time.

Immediately after the collision, flares were shot into the air and alerted the many officers patrolling the Biscayne Bay area during Columbus day weekend, which is known for a popular boating day in South Florida. The FWC investigators towed the small vessel to Matheson Hammock marina, while the large yacht was anchored at the scene of the accident and is considered a crime scene. Local police enforcement agencies helped in the screening of the passengers who were on the yacht at the time.

The operator of the yacht, was escorted in by FWC investigators to conduct a sobriety test and draw blood. FWC said they will not know the results of the toxicology report for approximately two weeks (it will probably only take 2-3 days for the investigating officers to obtain the results) and see whether alcohol played a role in the accident. The father of Maria Del Valle, Lazaro Del Valle, told reporters during an interview shortly after the incident that his three grandchildren "found out through Facebook they have no mother."

Whether alcohol played a role in the tragedy, investigators seem to believe the operator of the yacht was negligent and responsible for causing the collision. The next step will consist of gathering information relative the accident itself, such as the speed of each vessel and whether the yacht operator was negligent. If the FWC finds that he was negligent, he may be charged criminally for causing the death of Maria Del Valle and the other two injured people on the small vessel.

Leesfield Scolaro has represented many victims who were involved in boating accidents across the state of Florida, especially in Miami, Key West, and throughout the Florida Keys. While each boating accident has its own set of circumstances, breach in safety and negligent acts are always present whether alcohol was a factor or not.

Should you have information about the incident that occurred Saturday night, contact the FWC immediately or your local authorities in helping them to determine the circumstances of this collision.

Addressing the Perils of Parasailing - by Ira H. Leesfield

Among all water-based recreation activities that Floridians participate in year-round, parasailing has proven to be the most dangerous. By the very nature of parasailing, accidents invariably result in either catastrophic injuries or death. Leesfield Scolaro with other key advocates have been at the forefront of promoting the passage of laws and regulations to increase parasailing safety. After numerous articles and blogs, answers have finally come with the recent passage of the White-Miskell Act, and, now, this week's release from the NTSB's Special Investigation Report: Parasailing Safety.

ira-leesfield1.jpgPromoting parasail safety has become a priority of mine since 2007 while representing the family of two teenage-sisters, injured and killed during a flawed parasail ride. This was national news and rightly so. Witness videos and photos showed the boat towing the parasail as it was pushed ashore due to strong currents and very high winds, and on the end of the towing rope, you could see the two sisters in the parasail, dangling dangerously high up in the air, at the mercy of the elements. Seconds later, the towing rope snapped and both girls were catapulted against several buildings, dragged across rooftops, and falling lifeless into palm trees.

After speaking with members of the Coast Guard, it became clear that human error was the common denominator in almost every single parasailing accident. Faulty equipment, inadequate weather-tracking equipment, operator error, or lack of training are always contributing factors of parasailing tragedies. There was no protection from the State of Florida nor did the Federal Government have any regulation in place to safeguard the public from irresponsible operators at the time. For years, the parasailing industry was a modern version of the wild wild west: Buy a boat, a rope, a chute, you are in the parasailing business! Things had to change.

In 2013, about 325 vessels were conducting parasailing operations in the United States and its territories, and about one-third of the overall activity takes place in Florida. The NTSB became involved when the Coast Guard joined in on the investigation of several parasailing fatalities and kept a very close eye to incidents occurring in the State of Florida. Among the cases the NTSB monitored was our case in 2011 occurring in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. A 60-year-old woman died and her daughter was seriously injured when the towline parted in high winds, and the women landed hard in the water. The vessel master had hoisted the women into the air even though the weather conditions were deteriorating and the winds increasing. Leesfield Scolaro recommended remedial steps from our now growing parasail experience.

Based on our success in passing laws protecting the public from carbon monoxide poisoning at hotels, we strongly encouraged the Florida Legislature to act again for public safety. Two years after that hotel incident, the State of Florida adopted a new set of laws making carbon monoxide detectors mandatory for new buildings and, now, we have parasailing protection as well.

After seven years and three failed attempts at passing regulations later, Governor Scott finally signed the White-Miskell Act this June, which will impose and implement parasail safety regulations for the first time in Florida. In particular, the law requires that operators keep a weather log, and install adequate weather equipment to receive weather updates and weather warnings in case of rapidly forming storms which make parasailing unsafe.

While the new law is a major victory for Floridians and millions of tourists who travel to Florida every year, it is by no means a perfect solution. These regulations are a stepping stone to increase parasail safety, but much more needs to be added. That is why we will remain at the side of all the safety advocates and push for legislation requiring minimum standard equipments that parasail operators must use in order to offer rides in Florida, as well as a minimum level of experience and professional competence for those who operate parasailing vessels.

As Chair of the Leading National Resort Tort Litigation Group, the latest report and recommendations for stricter requirements to be imposed upon parasailing operators by the NTSB are much welcome and we must all continue to advocate for greater parasailing safety. The goal is simple: Safer parasailing experiences for consumers and to eliminate human errors associated with parasailing activities.

Ira H. Leesfield is the Founding Partner of Leesfield Scolaro. P.A.

4-year-old child killed by dog in Miami

Dog bite cases are among the saddest and most tragic cases when representing victims and families in personal injury cases. Today in Miami, a four year-old was apparently mauled to death by a dog at 12301 SW 230th Street. The details of this horrific incident have yet to be known or released by Miami-Dade responding police officers. It seems that the identities of the dog or the dog owner are unknown at this time. A still photograph taken by a helicopter shows a teddy bear laying on the grass, and a small size sheet draped over the child's tiny body.

The dog laws in Florida favor all victims of dog bites, making the dog owner strictly liable for the injuries the dog inflicted upon the victim. In cases involving a child younger than 6-years-old, Florida Law disposes that the child cannot be held responsible for any comparative fault. There is a standing comparative negligence question regarding the parents and the potential lack of supervision of the child which may or may not have contributed to the child falling a victim of the animal.

The tragedy of losing a child under such ignominious circumstances is even worse knowing that, so far, the dog owner and the dog are unidentified. Even if the police recovered their identity, the parents of the small child will be in an extremely difficult position to recover for their unspeakable loss.

In Florida, dog owners are not required to carry liability insurance in case their dog attacks an innocent victim. For a long time, dog owners were covered under their homeowner's insurance coverage. But insurance companies have since made the business decision to specifically exclude coverage and insurance benefits to victims of dog bites from homeowner's insurance policies. In effect, it means that in most cases the victims and their families will not recover for their loss.

Should you have more information about the dog attack that killed the small child today in Southwest Miami-Dade County, please contact the authorities immediately.

Fatal boating collision on takes four lives

In May, Ira Leesfield underlined the increased dangers in all water-related activities, including boating, during national holidays when he wrote: "Memorial Day boating and water sports highlight safety issues in the Florida keys." This past weekend, during the 4th of July festivities, tragedy struck when three boats collided, resulting in the death of four people, and seven more severely injured.

Investigating officers for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have released several answers as to what exactly happened on Friday night at around 10:40pm. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jorge Pino said yesterday that it is typical for boaters to go out on the bay to watch the July 4th fireworks from the water. When the fireworks end, it is also typical that the majority of these boats sprint back to land, and the dark conditions always make heightened the dangers of a potential boat collision or accident. It would only take a leap to hear the investigators look to the operator of the Contender as the potential responsible person for the three-boat collision.

miami-boat-accident.jpgAccording to witnesses aboard the Carrera, the Contender was "coming straight toward" them at high speed and crashed into the Carrera before any evasive maneuvers could be undertaken by either captains. The Contender spun out of control after the first impact and ended its course after colliding with a third boat, the Boston Whaler.

This violent accident took the lives of 3 young people who were aboard the Contender, including its supposed captain, Andrew Garcia, 23. The other two fatally wounded victims are Victoria Dempsey, 20, and Kelsie Karpiak, 24. The remaining two passengers on the Contender, Catherine Payan, 24, and Samantha Rolth, sustained catastrophic injuries as well and to date, Catherine is still fighting for her life at Ryder Trauma Center.

One young man on the Carrera lost his life, Jason Soleimani, 23, from Old Westbury, New York. He was in Miami with his girlfriend, Heather Hanono, 22. The Hanono family was also on the boat with them, including two toddlers, Emma, 5, and Ella, 2. Both were uninjured in the incident. Thankfully, none of the passengers on the Boston Whaler were injured other than a minor leg injury.

As we have discussed on this blog many times in the past, Florida is the number one State in total numbers of registered vessels, and reportable boating accidents. Across the State of Florida, Miami-Dade county has the highest number of accidents and injuries.

That is why the law firm of Leesfield Scolaro has handled many boating accidents cases throughout the State, the majority of which involved fatal accidents, including a seven-figure settlement for the death of a 20-year-old girl who was a passenger in a speedboat that crashed into a dock on a lake in the middle of the night. In that case, speed and alcohol were involved.

South Florida Roads: Six fatalities under 24 hours

In less than 24 hours, South Florida roadways have witnesses four motor vehicle accidents which caused the death of six people. While the number of traffic accident fatalities is in somewhat decline in the State overall, last weekend's events are a brutal reminder that traffic safety remains the greatest cause for unnatural deaths in Florida.

Ambulance_iStock_000011321000Medium.jpgIn Miami Beach, a woman was killed while crossing the street at Rue Granville and Normandy Drive. She was struck by a car on Sunday night and was emergently transported to the hospital. She succumbed to her serious injures at the hospital.

Earlier that day, two women crossing Alligator Alley were killed when they were struck by an SUV near mile marker 63. According to the driver of the vehicle who struck them, the police said the deceased were walking along the median of Alligator Alley and began crossing the road in the direction of their car that was parked in a rest area along the road. The driver of the SUV was unable to avoid them and after hitting the windshield, they both died at the scene.

In Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Highway Patrol responded to another traffic fatality. According to investigators and witnesses, a person had stopped his car on Interstate 75. A tractor-trailer failed to see the stopped car and rammed his truck into the car, killing its occupant who was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Finally in Miami-Dade County, Duane Billie, 37, drove into oncoming traffic on Tamiami Trail and hit another car. In the other vehicle, Teresa Osceloa, 54, was driving eastbound. Billie crashed his car head-on into Teresa's vehicle and both driver were killed upon impact. Both decedents were Miccosukee tribal members, and Billie was an off-duty Miccosukee police captain.

Sadly, these tragedies that took the lives of 6 people collectively were all avoidable. Some are caused by distracted drivers, others by people taking chances rather than slowing down and avoiding danger. As a result of empirical bad behaviors and bad driving by drivers, Florida is one of the deadliest state in the country, and while the trend over the last 20 years is overall positive, the year-by-year numbers are a cause for concern.

In 2012, there were 281,321 traffic accidents throughout the state of Florida. That is more than any year in the last 20 years. That translates in over 770 accidents per day. Thankfully, the large majority of these are non-fatal accidents. Among them, almost 7 accidents per day will involve a fatality. In 2012, there were 2,430 fatalities on the roads throughout the State of Florida. In a vacuum, that number is quite encouraging when compared to the 2,999 fatalities in 2000, or the 3,533 in 2005. But experts sound the alarm and point to the counter-intuitive trend these numbers show. With car safety improving, and the Florida legislature passing tougher laws, the trend fails to go down as rapidly as it should, and as it was expected.

The outlier the latest fatalities statistics show is the new and generalized behavior adopted by most drivers in the country and also in Florida: the use of cell phones while driving. In the last decade, the apparition of smart phones has been attributed to causing a very large share of traffic accidents and fatalities.

It is too early to say that cell phone and distracted driving behaviors were the cause or at least contributing factors to the six fatalities that occurred this past weekend in South Florida. But the fact that since 2010, the number of smartphone users has almost tripled, goes to show that behavior modification of drivers will soon become, if it hasn't already, the number one concern to challenge in the name of road safety.

Children poisoned by carbon monoxide at Daycare sent to Hospital

Yesterday, 72 children and 10 adults were emergently transferred to the hospital after a carbon monoxide leak was discovered at a daycare facility. Among all the small children, five were clearly more affected by headaches and vomiting. The authorities advised that the leak at "Les Petits Explorateurs" daycare in Quebec was contained and thankfully a tragedy had been avoided. The investigation continues as to how the leak had occurred the first place.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after inhalation of carbon monoxide, a toxic, odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas. Minimal exposure can affect a person in many ways, including fatigue, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. If carbon monoxide poisoning is prolonged over a significant period of time, severe symptoms and health risks will occur such as losing consciousness, permanent brain damage, and death.

In 2008, a Florida law finally passed with the help of Ira H Leesfield, which requires that every building for which a building permit is issued for new construction on or after July 1, 2008, and having a fossil-fuel-burning heater or appliance, a fireplace, or an attached garage shall have an approved operational carbon monoxide alarm installed within 10 feet of each room used for sleeping purposes. (Fla. Stat. § 553.885)

The law was passed soon after the fatal carbon monoxide incident which occurred in a large hotel in Key West, Florida, where a young man and his father were found unresponsive in their hotel room. The room shared a wall with one of the hotel's boiler room. The investigation led by the authorities and different bodies of agency found that the boiler had been operated without the proper permits and had failed to be inspected after several repairs had been done in-house. The young man was fatally poisoned while the father survived.

Despite many states now espousing the same approach than the Florida legislator, fatalities attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning continue to increase:

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The avoided-tragedy in Quebec yesterday is a reminder that carbon monoxide poisoning can occur anywhere and can affect family through no fault of their own. The responsibility to prevent such incidents rests on property owners and members of the public to demand safe premises, especially when the members of their family are small children.

Read more about our coverage of carbon monoxide incident here.

Read more about Leesfield Scolaro' results here.

Settlement in personal injury construction case involving toppled crane and operator error

Construction cases are among the most complex and difficult to win often for factual reasons, and always for legal reasons.

This week in Hallandale, a horrific construction site incident occurred when Christopher Ricci, 27, was killed after a crane toppled and fell on him in the Golden Isles neighborhood of Hallandale Beach. At the time, Christopher Ricci was working on a sea wall. "The crane started to topple over. Construction workers noticed what was taking place and they took off running" said Hallandale Beach police Capt. Sonia Quinones. Christopher took off running as well according to witnesses, but he was fatally hit by the boom before he could run for safety.

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Leesfield Scolaro successfully resolved a very similar case than the tragic Hallandale incident of Thursday morning.

In 2008, our client, a labor foreman, was working on a construction site, in charge of setting loads onto the cranes for lifts. One late afternoon, the crane operator decided to lower (or dog) the crane down for the night. The crane was equipped with a 150 foot main boom and 180 luffing boom, the crane operator had to follow a certain procedure in order to properly and safely lower the crane: First the operator must lower the luffing boom and make sure it is not extended before lowering the main boom.

complaint_Page_01.jpgThat day however, instead of lowering the luffing boom first, the operator lowered the main boom while the luffing boom was still extended way too high. Several workers at the site noticed that the crane operator was improperly lowering the main boom with the luffing boom still sticking up. Some yelled and tried to wave off the operator from lowering the crane in this manner. It was too late. A split second later, the crane began to tip forward. Our client, who was setting another load on the crane, was in the direct path of the collapsing crane. Alerted by others' screaming warnings, our client began to run for his life. But while running away, the crane boom struck our client on his hard hat knocking him to the ground. The boom then bounced off the end of a beam, ricocheted to the ground demolishing and crushing our client's right leg.

Thomas Scolaro and Ira Leesfield filed a lawsuit in this case and were successful in reaching a settlement with all parties despite the tough worker's compensation laws in Florida. A copy of the lawsuit can be obtained by contacting Leesfield Scolaro.