Ferguson, the First Amendment, and the Freedom to Film

golden scales of justice
The week following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer has been met with protests and rioting. Reports from the Ferguson police department indicate that law enforcement officers have been brusque in their treatment of media representatives who have filmed protest events on cameras or smart phones. Some officers allegedly confiscated a phone and erased footage of a fatal beating.

Journalists Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize winner from the Washington Post, and Ryan Reilly, representing the Huffington Post, were arrested on August 13th at a protest in a Ferguson McDonald’s. Lowery tweeted that they were arrested because the police “decided we weren’t leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn’t have been taping them.”

Legally, citizens have the right under the First Amendment to film public events. Protests and riots are public events, and as such, police behavior at these events is considered public. The only instance where filming an officer at a public event is illegal is if the act of filming obstructs the officer in the line of duty.

Active duty officers often treat this type of First Amendment issue fluidly. Clay Calvert, Professor of Mass Communication at the University of Florida, saw no evidence that the journalists were impeding with police work and saw no legal basis for the officers to arrest the journalists. However, according to Calvert, officers who are under extreme stress or who fear their authority will be undermined in a sensitive situation will often overlook First Amendment issues.

While events in Ferguson are still unfolding, the NYPD is all too aware of its officers having a disdain for being filmed. Shortly after the strangulation of Eric Garner by an officer, which was filmed by a witness and released online, the NYPD department chief released a memo to all officers.

“Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment.”

Experts seem to agree that filming police activities is legal. But Christopher Pisciotta, Eric Garner’s attorney for his previous legal troubles, advises caution. While he believes that when used properly, taping police incidents can serve as a valuable courtroom tool, officers can still view the act of filming as interference and use it as grounds for arrest. “If you do it too close…they will arrest you.”

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Written by Shayna Keyles

Metlife Pays $23 Million to Settle Fax Blast Lawsuits

fax machine
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Metlife agreed to pay $23 million to settle two class action lawsuits alleging a company representative blasted out millions of faxes that violated the federal do not call law. The faxes were advertising low cost life insurance and were sent to as many as 2.8 million individuals and businesses throughout the US. Metlife disputes any liability but is settling to avoid the uncertainties associated with going to trial.

Scott Storick, the representative accused of sending out the mass faxes, was terminated by Metlife. He admits no wrongdoing and his attorney stated that the faxes did not violate the federal consumer-protection act. During his time at Metlife, Storick was a top performer and part of the Million Dollar Round Table, an elite industry group.

According to a fax entered into court records, there was an opt-out clause at the bottom of the page with a fax number recipients could use to unsubscribe from future faxes. However, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, this opt-out clause did not meet FCC regulations.

Plaintiffs involved with the litigation can expect to receive between $50 and $3,500 per claim. The award amount is based on the quantity of faxes received as well as the number of phone lines in place.

To read the full article, visit http://online.wsj.com/articles/metlife-to-pay-23-million-to-settle-blast-faxing-litigation-1407432583.

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The Tennessean Newspaper Covers Legal Funding

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The Tennessean Newspaper recently published an article about legal funding, which is when an individual or business seeks a third party funding source to back their claim in return for a portion of the settlement or verdict. The article in the Tennessean focuses on commercial lawsuit funding and business versus business claims where legal financing would play a role.

The subject of legal funding has been slowly gaining traction throughout the years in the media while simultaneously growing as an industry. It should be noted that compared to other industries, the legal finance industry is small, and there are many nuances to it. The two main branches are commercial and consumer legal funding. Within those spheres, there are different types of financing like pre-settlement, post-settlement, appeal, and verdict funding.

The legal finance industry should not be confused with the structured settlement industry, which is similar, but very different in certain respects. Publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times have all covered the growing industry and the different players in the field. Law focused blogs like AbovetheLaw.com and the Lawyerist.com have also published articles about the industry.

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Written by Lulaine Compere

Seastreak Pays $1 Million to Settle Claims

ferry
Seastreak, LLC has settled some lawsuits with plaintiffs who suffered from the January 2013 crash that left more than 80 people injured. As of today, the company has paid approximately $1 million to settle between 40 and 50 claims, but there are more claims pending. In April 2014, four more people reached settlements with the company. Those plaintiffs received between $25,000 and $50,000 on their settlement.

Seastreak, LLC is a ferry service that operates in New York City, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. There were approximately 320 passengers on the ill-fated ferry. While espousing their eagerness to settle the claims, Seastreak pushed for a limitation of liability for injuries suffered by passengers aboard the ship. They wanted to limit the damages to the value of the ship, which was $7.6 million.

So far, individual plaintiffs have received five figure payments as settlement for the claims. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say the ferry captain, Jason Reimer, lost control of the ferry while trying to dock and accidently left it running. When he tried to regain control, he had little time to adjust the error, which led to the crash.

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Written by Lulaine Compere

$75 Million NCAA Settlement

football helmet
The NCAA has settled a lawsuit with former student athletes for $75 million over head injuries. The money will be provided by the NCAA and its insurers. Of the $75 million, $70 million will be designated to create a fund and $5 million will go toward concussion-related research. A Medical Monitoring Fund will give athletes the opportunity to receive a neurological screening that would examine brain functions and any signs of brain damage.

The settlement would also change the procedures student athletes are subject to if they suffer any head trauma. According to news stories about the settlement, the schools are required to change their policies and institute “return to play guidelines.” The settlement does not bar any athlete from pursuing litigation against the NCAA.

The issue of concussions has been in the spotlight in recent years, specifically the deaths of some high profile athletes from the NFL and the connection of their deaths to head trauma attributed to their playing. The NFL settled a lawsuit with former players for $765 million and a federal judge recently removed the $765 million cap. According to the settlement, the Medical Monitoring Fund will be conducted for 50 years.

Find out more by clicking here.

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Written by Lulaine Compere

IWP Delivers Peace of Mind in Addition to Excellent Prescription Care

The below article is a guest blog post courtesy of IWP:

iwp logoAs THE Patient Advocate Pharmacy, IWP provides convenient home delivery prescription medications to those injured on the road, on the job and everywhere in between so they can return to a productive life. Our simple, hassle-free process is designed to give your clients the highest quality prescription care with little to no upfront cost. By delivering peace of mind to your clients, IWP allows you to keep your focus where it belongs – your firm.

We eliminate the headaches associated with obtaining prescription approvals and take the administrative hassles off your hands with a team that is well versed in the state-specific nuances and clinical needs of workers’ compensation, auto and personal injury claims. Our dedicated account team manages the claims process and monitors prescription shipments ensuring your clients are never without their medications. For you this means fewer calls from distressed patients, fewer interactions with the insurance carrier, and a lot less paperwork.

We are experts in not only providing quality care, but working on behalf of injured individuals and our business partners to ensure their rights are never compromised. Our Government Affairs team monitors pharmacy-related legislation and regulations and works closely with policymakers to benefit you and your firm. We take action so that any legislative reforms are favorable to attorneys, medical providers, and ultimately the interest of the patient.

IWP makes it our mission to deliver peace of mind in addition to prescription medications, so your clients can focus on what’s important – getting better. For more information about IWP and our services, please visit www.IWPharmacy.com.

Cancer Increases Among Ground Zero Workers

american flag in the wind

The New York Post reported over the weekend that 2,500 9/11 First Responders have gotten cancer and are seeking compensation for their illnesses. Many may remember the fight to have cancer recognized as part of the illnesses covered in the Zadroga Act. That fight led to 50 types of cancers being added to the list of illnesses covered.

According to the New York Post story, the World Trade Center Health Program tally is 1,655 responders with cancer. That number increases to over 2,500 among the firefighters, EMT, and NYPD officers who were at Ground Zero. While the Victim Compensation Fund is working through the thousands of applications, the process has still been too slow for the responders. Some who are gravely ill are hoping to get approved so their families can use the money. According to the story, 115 claimants with cancer have received over $50 million.

The way the VCF is structured, qualified applicants will receive only 10% of their award amount initially. The remaining larger portion will be distributed in late 2016, which can make it difficult for those who have expenses piling up. As a solution to this potential cash flow dilemma, RD Legal Funding is offering advances on the second payment. For more information, please contact Joseph Genovesi, President of RD Legal, at 201-568-9007, ext. 140. Or visit http://www.legalfunding.com/eligible-cases/zadroga-bill-settlement-funding/ for further details.

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Written by Lulaine Compere

9/11 Victims Unaware of Tax Breaks

taxes road signThe New York Daily News reported over the weekend that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had not adequately informed 9/11 victims that their disability income was not taxable. Since that information was not disclosed, many of the victims were unable to claim tax breaks to which they were entitled.

According to the story, a law passed that designated disability income as not taxable. Because the IRS did not update their public guidance, clients of tax preparers, tax firms, and individual filers did not receive tax breaks since they failed to file within the three year window. In the story, several 9/11 victims were quoted stating that IRS agents were not helpful in assisting them find information about the breaks.

Senator Gillibrand, a strong advocate for the community, is pushing the IRS to update their guidance so victims and survivors can get the benefits of the tax break. It does not appear that victims who missed the window will have the opportunity to claw back and get what is owed to them.

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Written by Lulaine Compere

Urethane Antitrust Litigation (04-md-1616)

golden gavel
Currently, Dow Chemical is appealing the $400 million verdict and judgment they were handed regarding their polyether products. There are estimations that the appeal will take years to resolve but in the interim, Dow was required to post a $400 million bond in exchange for putting the judgment on hold while the judgment is on appeal. No distribution will be made to class members until the appeal is resolved.

In 2013, The Dow Chemical Company lost a class action lawsuit against plaintiffs who accused them and other companies of fixing the prices of Polyether Polyol Products during the period of January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2004 in violation of the federal antitrust laws. The company was handed a $400 million dollar verdict by a jury and a court entered a final judgment against Dow of over $1 billion which includes the interest generated since the verdict was rendered.

Dow along with other companies like Bayer AG, BASF Corporation, and Huntsman International, LLC were defendants in the lawsuit. The plaintiffs reached settlements with all the other defendants except Dow, who took the case to trial and lost. According to the settlement website, the plaintiffs received two distributions of settlement funds.

Below are some additional sources of information that may be of interest:

http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/urethane-antitrust-litigation/

http://polyetherpolyollitigation.com/

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Written by Lulaine Compere

NFL Settlement Cap Removed; Deal Better for Both Sides

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The ongoing litigation involving former NFL players whose game-related head injuries have led to or may lead to cognitive and neurological damage has recently reached a tentative deal that makes concessions to both the former players and the NFL. This deal uncaps the damages fund allocated to former NFL players who will require future medical treatments, yet will allow the NFL more discretion in deciding which claims are deserving of attention.

Now that the cap is removed from the tentative settlement, at least $765 million will be set aside to cover future medical costs of the 20,000 retired NFL players who may be affected by game-related concussions and head traumas. The amount of money allocated to each player will be determined by a “compensation grid [, which] weighs a man’s age, cognitive condition and NFL experience. A young retiree with Lou Gehrig’s disease would receive $5 million, a 50-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease $1.6 million, and an 80-year-old with mild dementia $25,000. Those numbers are discounted for those who played fewer than five years.”

The concession fund is intended to exist as a potentially refillable account that will cover current and future NFL players who, under the allegations of this case, were not properly warned about the dangers of head traumas. Brett Romberg, who played center for Jacksonville, St. Louis and Atlanta between 2003 and 2011, claimed that the most protection players received was painkillers from the trainers.

According to New Jersey attorney Craig Nitnick, who represents approximately 1,400 of the players involved in the lawsuit, lifting the cap off of the settlement amount allows the fund to act as a sort of insurance policy for former players. “They’re protected,” he says of players whose symptoms have not developed fully, but who may see more serious diagnoses in the future. “They may not get financial recovery right now, but as soon as those symptoms get any worse…they will be financially compensated and medically treated.”

The tentative settlement now also includes terms that would allow plaintiffs to participate in suits involving other professional football associations for a failure to adequately warn players about the dangers of concussions and head traumas. This is significant, as there is currently a lawsuit against the National Federation of State High School Associations for this reason. Because of this, and because of the concessions granted to both the plaintiffs and the defendants, it seems more likely that Judge Anita Brody will sign off on the most recent terms of the settlement.

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Written by Shayna Keyles