Injuries Abroad

“I was injured on a jet ski during a recent trip to the Bahamas. Can I sue the hotel for my injuries?”

This is a very complicated question. The answer is going to be probably not. But, the question is so complicated, it would probably take a a long consultation to give you a more precise answer with reasons why you probably couldn’t  sue the hotel.

You will have to consider jurisdiction, the applicable law, the doctrine of forum non conveniens, as well as forum selection clauses, mandatory arbitration clauses, and choice of law clauses. Each of these issues could fill up several law review articles, so I will only attempt to highlight the issues.

If you are injured in the Bahamas, there are substantial questions if an American court has the jurisdiction or authority to hear the dispute between the parties. An American court can have jurisdiction if the hotel or booking agent had marketed itself to people in the State. This may not be difficult, especially considering the internet allows easy international marketing, but this is only the first step.

Second, even if the American court has jurisdiction over the matter, the Court may be compelled to apply the law where the incident occurred. In the Bahamas, there are no jury trials or contingent fees where lawyers can represent victims for fees payable out of the victim’s recovery. (Doe v Sun International Hotels, Ltd., 20 F.Supp.2d 1328 (SD Fla. 1998))

Third, if the case survives the first two hurdles, it must survive a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. Essentially, the American court may have jurisdiction, but may decline to exercise that jurisdiction because which court is better suited to interpret the laws of a foreign country, an American court or the Courts in the foreign country?

Finally, if the case can move forward after those three issues, the booking agreement may have a clause or clauses buried in it which may dictate that any disputes be settled in a specific forum (country), or disputes must be settled using only the law of another country, or disputes be settled with arbitration for compensatory damages (medical bills) with no claims for pain and suffering.

Thus, without further information, it is impossible to say with certainty. But chances are, any claims you may have will be derailed by one of the above mentioned issues.

Zone of Danger

Last year this website wrote a blog that touched on the issue of negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals recently wrote an opinion clarifying an issue surronding these claims: Green v Esplanade Venture Partnership, 2021 NY Slip Op 01092.

This sad story occurred May 17, 2015 when two year old Devere Green was a pedestrian killed by debris that fell from the front of a building owned by defendant. Devere Greene was in the company of her grandmother, Susan Frierson, at the time of this accident. Frierson wanted to make her own claim for damages against the defendant for emotional distress. The Court had previously held that Frierson could make such a claim if she was in the “zone of danger” and she was in the “immediate family” of the injured party.

There was no issue that Frierson was in the “zone of danger” since she was right next to her grandaughter when the debris struck. But prior cases limited recovery to a parent as part of the “immediate family.” This Court in Greene, found that a grandparent could be part of the injured party’s “immediate family.” However, the Court also mentioned there was an “emotional bond” between Frierson and Greene. Frierson was activerly involved in the child’s life with frequent visits and sleepovers at Frierson’s home.

So now this opens additional questions regarding negligent infliction of emotional distress (or “zone of danger”) cases. If an injured party is accompanied by an aunt, or a cousin, or close friend at the time of an accident, could that uninjured person that witnessed the accident make a claim for emotional distress if they have an “emotional bond” with the injured party?

Excess Insurance

“My son was seriously injured in a bicycle accident, but I was disappointed with the recovery he received because my lawyer told me there was a problem with insurance coverage. What can I do to help my son?”

All cars are required by law to carry minimun liability coverage for all accidents. Excess insurance is a term used to describe additional insurance coverage for motor vehicle accidents. If the owner/operator of a car purchased an “umbrella” policy, then the “umbrella” policy would afford additional coverage for a motor vehicle accident. If the owner of a vehicle is different than the operator, then the operator may have his or her own insurance coverage in addition to the policy covering the vehicle. If a tractor/trailor was involved in the accident, then sometimes trailors have their own policies different than the tractor which could provide additional coverage for your accident.

If your son’s case is settled, then there is nothing anybody can do.

But if your son’s case is not settled, your attorney must look for all of the available insurance covering an accident to maximize your son’s recovery. Many defendants simply do not have assets worth attaching to collect a judgment. If your son did obtain a large monetary judgment against the driver that struck him, bankruptcy laws will allow the defendant to discharge that debt through bankruptcy. Your son may be in better position if he had settled his case for the available insurance coverage. But your attorney must look for all available insurance coverage.

A Tale of Crossing Guards

“My child was struck by a car while walking home from school.  Shouldn’t the City also be responsible for the accident as well as the driver of the car that struck my child for failing to provide crossing guards so children can get home safely on busy New York Streets?”

As with most questions presented, the answer really lies with the details of the accident if the City is negligent for failing to provide crossing guards. The lead case with crossing guard accidents is probably Florence v Goldberg, 44 NY2d 189 (1978).  This was a 1978 case in which a jury found the City responsible for failing to replace a civilian crossing guard assigned to a busy Brooklyn intersection who called in sick.  The 6 year old plaintiff was struck walking home.  The key fact in the case was the intersection was protected by a crossing guard for the first two weeks of school.  The plaintiff’s mother accompanied the plaintiff for the first two weeks of school.  She then accepted a job after two weeks and relied on the crossing guard to help her child get home safely.

The Court found that the crossing guard created a special duty of the police to insure the child would get home safely.  But the Court repeated the rule that there is no general duty to insure citizens are never the victims of accidents or crimes. Municipalities have limited resources so they are not responsible for every act violating its citizens.  A mugging victim cannot claim the City should have had more of a police presence to prevent a crime from occurring.  Similary, if an adult was struck in that busy Brooklyn intersection, there would be no claim because there was no special relationship between the vicitim and the police force.  Similarly, if the young victim in the Florence case was injured by a bandit who beat the child up or by a friend who pushed him down, there would be no claim.  The civilian crossing guard was only there to insure safety against cars in the intersection, not against all tragedies that can occurr on a City street.

The question, as it is written, never states if the intersection in question was normally covered by crossing guards or not. If the intersection in question never had a crossing guard to begin with, then the City would not be responsible because no special duty existed bewteen the City and your child.

Notice to Insurance Carrier

“I received a letter from an attorney notifying me that someone fell outside my home when I wasn’t there. The letter is asking me to turn it over to my homeowner’s insurance carrier.  But why should I do that if I don’t even know if the accident really took place? Won’t my homeowner’s insurance rate go up?”

Yes, you should turn the letter over to your homeowner’s insurance carrier. The whole point of having homeowner’s insurance is to cover you for losses that arise on your property, even if you are not there. The insurance carrier has an entire claims department, eager to investigate the claim against you. The carrier also have attorneys that they are paying that will defend if the case against you goes to court. And, if you have a damages judgment entered against you, the carrier will indmenify you for your loss.

You should not worry about your insurance rate, you should worry about giving your insurance carrier timely notice of the claim against you. If you do not turn the letter over to your insurance carrier, you may lose the right to have the carrier investigate and defend the claim against you. All policies insist that the carrier receive timely notice of any potential claims against you covered by the policy. If you fail to turn over that letter from the attorney to your insurance company, and then, you receive a summons a year later, you could be facing a disclaimer.  A disclaimer means, you pay for your own lawyer and investigator and you pay any judgments against you.

The risk is not worth it.  It is much easier to fight a rate hike assesed against you for a bogus claim, than it is to fight the insurane carrier to defend you in a lawsuit because you failed to give it timely notice.