Why your car insurance rates are going up

Rate hikes and the “loyalty discount” myth

Allstate quietly announced that auto insurance rates are going up, starting in June 2015. The company claims the price hike is due to an increase in car accidents and resulting accident claims.

In other words, people paying for a service – insurance – are punished when they actually use it.

Meanwhile, Allstate Corp. reported a net income of $2.85 billion dollars in 2014, and a 13% increase in profits for first-quarter 2015.

GEICO, which holds about 10% of the car insurance market, will also reportedly be raising rates this summer.

When insurance prices rise, some consumers are forced to reduce coverage to pay for (legally required) car insurance.

Reducing your insurance bill often means “opting out” of provisions like UM/UIM coverage. Opting out is almost always a bad idea. It may save a few dollars a month, but the minimum insurance policies will rarely cover all your costs from an injury accident.

The rate increase could also hurt anyone who has to make a claim for a car crash in 2015. Even if there are no serious injuries, and minimal property damage, making a claim for just one accident will cost you.

Allstate Insurance Company

You’re in good hands…if you’re an Allstate shareholder who never has to make an accident claim.

 

Are you a loyal customer with no accident claims? Your insurance cost could still go up – or you could already be paying more.

How insurance company loyalty could cost you

Your insurance rate is determined by your risk factors. The insurance company uses your age, address, driving history and other things to calculate how likely you are to make a claim on your insurance.

Some insurance companies are also calculating how likely you are to switch to another company.

If you are likely to stay loyal to your insurance company, your rate goes up.

That’s called “price optimization.” It means that two people with the same risk factors – same age, location, driving record– would pay different prices for the same policy.

A long-time policyholder could pay more than a new customer for the exact same policy.

This is classic unfair discrimination and is illegal in every state.”

Consumer Federation of America (CFA) Director of Insurance, J. Robert Hunter

Price optimization is complicated, and it’s very hard to tell if insurance companies are using it. According to NPR, State Farm and Progressive representatives state they do not use price optimization. In December 2014, Nationwide admitted to using this tactic. And Allstate claimed to use price optimization in a federal report.

This illegal practice could affect 60% of auto insurance policyholders. The other 40% are considered likely to switch carriers or at least comparison-shop in any given year.

While your carrier should notify you if your insurance rate goes up, it would be very hard to find out if price optimization affected your policy. Consumer groups recommend comparison-shopping before renewing an automobile insurance policy.

 

Death on the job: lawsuit filed for Oregon worker forced to use bucket in truck as toilet

As reported by the Oregonian, attorneys Tom D’Amore and Nick Kahl of D’Amore Law Group have filed lawsuit on behalf of a worker who died from carbon monoxide poisoning on a job site.  

Andrew Lane was only 22 years old when he died.

He was one of nine employees of an Oregon company that provides roof and gutter-cleaning services. On May 13, 2014, workers were sent to a jobsite with no access to toilet facilities.

The workers, including Andrew, who suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, had been instructed to use a bucket as a toilet.

The bucket was kept in the back of the work truck. It was near the gas-powered power washer, which was bolted to the floor — and releasing carbon monoxide.

Image 027 (00113810xD67F0)

The truck that Andrew Lane was found dead on May 13, 2014.

A toxic amount of carbon monoxide filled that space in less than a minute.

Andrew’s coworkers found him dead in the back of the truck.

His employer was fined $840 for OSHA safety violations, including exposure to fumes from that gas-powered pressure washer, and failure to provide proper toilet facilities.

See the full story, and download a copy of the complaint here: Death of worker told to use bucket as toilet spurs $4 million lawsuit

Please contact Tom D’Amore of D’Amore Law Group with questions: 503-222-6333, or @damorelaw.com

Dermatologist who sexually molested patients is still practicing in New Jersey

Dr. Gangaram Ragi is a dermatologist in Teaneck, NJ. He’s been accused of sexual molestation by more than a dozen female patients, with charges dating back over a decade.

State Medical Board Investigation

After receiving patient complaints of excessive inappropriate touching during examinations, the State Medical Board investigated Dr. Ragi.

They determined that the accusations were “strikingly similar” and concluded that Ragi “sexually groped nine female patients.”

In their detailed report, the board said Raji’s acts were:

…among the very worse that can be committed by a physician – sexual groping, manhandling – all in the guise of a medical exam.”

Eventually, the board permanently banned Ragi from treating female patients. They ordered him to complete a course in “boundary violations” and pay over $30,000 in fines and legal costs.

No trial for sexual assault charges

A sexual assault is very serious, particularly for a physician acting in the course of duty. The county prosecutor, acting on the same information as the State Medical Board, filed criminal charges.

Ragi was indicted three times on separate charges related to criminal sexual assault. Apparently, indictments were dropped for unknown reasons. And instead of going to trial, Ragi was diverted to a Pretrial Intervention Program.

Twice.

This is very unusual, as these programs are for first-time non-violent defendants, not for serious crimes or multiple offenses.

This case has quietly flown under media radar for over a decade. The only reason it has reemerged now:  discovery in a recent corruption trial suggests that the doctor may have had some help in escaping criminal charges and keeping his medical license.

It’s a bizarre, complicated saga– see the full investigation here – but it is clear that someone has been protecting this doctor, instead of protecting his patients.

How many people are sexually assaulted in U.S. hospitals? No one knows.

Many more patients reported hospital sexual abuse in the United Kingdom in the last three years. Police data counted 1,600 attacks recorded: a 50% increase, and an alarming number.

Do you want to know how that compares to sexual abuses in U.S. hospitals?

Too bad—somehow, no one has counted the number of rapes and assaults in U.S. hospitals.

Unfortunately, that’s not because sexual abuse isn’t happening in medical facilities across the U.S.

Just recently…

  • A contract nurse was transferred from hospital to hospital, trailed by accusations of molestation and sexual abuse. The contractor didn’t fire him until he was finally caught and arrested.
  • A California nursing assistant has been accused of sexually assaulting brain injury patients. One of them reported an attack to hospital staff and was called “delusional”…even though a different patient had made a similar complaint the year before.
  • A hospital employee has confessed to sexually assaulting unconscious or semi-conscious patients. Police say there may be nearly 100 victims.

There are hundreds of isolated stories about rape and sexual abuse in medical facilities.

But we don’t know how often sexual assault occurs in hospitals, or how often it is reported. We don’t know who the perpetrators are, or what the repercussions are for victims.

Here are some disturbing commonalities in many of these cases.

1. Victims are in a vulnerable state.

Abuse and assault by people in positions of power is not an anomaly. Sexual abusers and rapists often seek victims who are vulnerable. That’s why hospitals and nursing homes must be vigilant in monitoring and reporting: patients can be ill, heavily medicated, confined.

2. Victims are often assumed to be lying or delusional. 

Sadly, this is often true for victims of sexual violence. But medical facilities have a duty to patient safety: therefore, you err on the side of the accused, rather than the accuser. Since there are seemingly no statistics about rape and assault in hospitals, there also is no evidence of false accusations.

3. There are people on staff who know or suspect the abuser. 

The medical profession has a reputation for a “code of silence”. Patients are often harmed by undocumented medical errors. Nurses cover for dangerous doctors. Administrators go to great lengths to protect hospital staff instead of protecting patients. All of this may contribute to covering up of sexual abuse occurring in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities.

We can’t reduce and prevent sexual violence by ignoring it.

Read a real victim’s story of hospital sexual abuse here

If you know of statistics on sexual abuse in U.S. hospitals, please share with us @damorelaw

 

 

Jury gives justice to sex abuse victim – while hospital pretends it never happened

Anesthesiologist Fred Field, MD, sexually assaulted at least 12 women at Mid-Columbia Medical Center. His victims were drugged, unconscious or semi-conscious during the assaults.

It is likely Field sexually assaulted many other women—who may not know, or understand, what happened to them. Nationally, it is estimated that more than 60% of women who are sexually assaulted do not come forward out of shame or fear.

This is one victim’s story. To protect her privacy, she is identified here as “L”.

“L” was a surgical patient at Mid-Columbia Medical Center (MCMC), a hospital in The Dalles, Oregon. After her surgery, she had a severe spinal headache. She went back to the hospital for a procedure called a blood patch to alleviate her pain.

The anesthesiologist that participated in her surgery would also take part in the blood patch procedure. That anesthesiologist was Fred Field.

L was sedated, incapacitated and vulnerable. While she was under the influence of anesthesia, Field sexually abused her.

During the procedure, L started to come out of anesthesia while Field was sexually abusing her. Field realized she was becoming conscious, and quickly put her back under.

L remembered Field’s assault, but the affects of the anesthesia made her uncertain: she did not know if it was a terrible dream.

She told a nurse what she remembered. But L was hesitant to accuse the doctor; she did not want to falsely accuse someone of a serious crime.

L wasn’t only a patient: she was also a nurse at MCMC. She was afraid of losing her job.

MCMC wasn’t just a hospital to her, but also a workplace and home-away-from-home. She trusted her colleagues and the doctors that worked at the hospital. And because of that trust, L told herself that what she remembered must not have happened.

L didn’t know that she wasn’t alone. Other patients had accused Field of assault, too.

Safe haven for a sex abuser

By the time of L’s assault, Field had been assaulting women under anesthesia at MCMC—and sexually harassing hospital staff—for at least three years.

There had been multiple patient and staff complaints of sexual abuse and harassment by Field.

You would think that the hospital would take such allegations very seriously. The primary concern of any hospital is patient safety.

You would think the hospital administration would do everything possible to protect their patients, their staff, and their reputation.

The hospital did nothing.

Instead of listening to women who reported sexual abuse, hospital administrators and staff told the patients they had been “hallucinating” because of the drugs.

Instead of contacting police to investigate serious felony sexual assaults, the hospital had only internal “investigations.” These investigations, done by Field’s colleagues and friends, did not seek truth, but exoneration.

Instead of protecting patients, the hospital protected a serial sex abuser.

Denying and Defending

Field’s abuses were not a secret in his four years at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.

D’Amore Law Group represented several women that MCMC allowed Field to sexually assault. We counted at least 20 people in hospital staff and administration who admitted to knowing or at least suspecting his behavior.

L was not the first victim to file a lawsuit. Several women have won verdicts against Field and MCMC. Several others have settled out of court.

MCMC refused to even attempt to settle L’s case, and spare her the pain and humiliation of a public trial.

The Dalles is a small, close-knit city of around 15,000 people in Wasco County, Oregon. Several of the victims live there.

In a public courtroom, in her hometown, L faced very personal attacks by MCMC and their lawyers. They asked degrading questions and tried to humiliate L and the other victims who came to trial to testify on her behalf.

In 2012, Field pleaded guilty to 11 counts of first-degree sexual abuse and 1 count of first-degree rape. He is serving a 23-year jail sentence.

Yet, they refused to admit that any sexual assault, of any woman, had actually occurred.

MCMC’s lawyers proceeded to defend the hospital administration’s inexcusable “investigations” and incredibly incompetent handling of victim complaints.

MCMC acknowledged ­that Field had pleaded guilty, and was convicted.

They defended the very actions that had exposed all of these women to a dangerous sexual predator.

It was a shameful display by the hospital and their attorneys.

Jury sends a message to the hospital

Last week, at the end of L’s month-long trial against MCMC, the Wasco County, Oregon, jury came to a decision.

The jury concluded that the hospital was negligent. The hospital’s behavior was so offensive, and the hospital administration had failed so badly, that jurors felt an additional punishment was warranted.

The jury found by “clear and convincing evidence” that the hospital acted with a reckless, outrageous, and conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare of others.

The jurors awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages, and another $150,000 in punitive damages – basically, a fine meant to punish the hospital.

With this verdict, the jury sent a message to the hospital administration: you are responsible for patient safety, and the hospital administration has failed miserably in protecting patients.

Sex abusers often seek out victims where they are most vulnerable—in places like hospitals. It is the hospital’s job to safeguard against this abuse.

Yet, the hospital boldly asserted at trial that it has not changed its procedures. No one has been fired. No one has been punished.

This verdict was intended to send a message to MCMC.

We hope that it will cause the hospital’s Board of Directors to reevaluate the administration and their commitment to public safety.

Let’s hope MCMC gets the message.

 

 

L was represented at trial by Attorneys Tom D’Amore and Nick Kahl of D’Amore Law Group.

See news and articles about the sexual abuse lawsuit and trial.

Questions or inquiries: please contact the firm at 503-222-6333.

 

Are these guardrails safe? A flawed government investigation into Trinity Industries

Imagine you’re driving along an Oregon highway, headed home after a long day. It’s getting dark outside, and a light rain is falling.  

In your rearview mirror, you see the lights of a truck in the next lane swerve … then you feel the sharp impact against the side of your car.

The force of the impact makes your tires skid. You veer to the side and strike the end of a guardrail.

What happens to you in this scenario? Do you walk away? Does the guardrail severe your legs?

It depends on the guardrail end.

Guardrails are meant to keep vehicles on the road, and lessen the impact of collisions just like the crash described above.

Picture a guardrail. They are long and narrow, with flat plates at the end. When a vehicle strikes that guardrail end, the guardrail is supposed to curl back and absorb the impact.

If it doesn’t work, that guardrail is a giant spear piercing your car.

One guardrail company tried to save a few bucks by making the ends of those guardrails smaller— 4” instead of 5”. It sounds small, but it changed the structural integrity of the guardrail, leading to many serious injuries and deaths.

They didn’t test the change. And they didn’t tell the government about the change.

That company, Trinity Industries, Inc., was fined $575 million in a federal whistleblower lawsuit last year. The jury found that the company defrauded the government by not sharing safety information about their guardrails.

The lawsuit forced a federal investigation by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Trinity had to conduct new safety tests of the new guardrail ends.

“Sham tests rife with flaws” find guardrails are safe

Last month, the crash tests conducted on the 4” guardrail ends were released. Guardrails had to pass eight crash tests to be considered safe. The FHWA analyzed the results, and said the guardrails passed all of the tests.

ABC News filmed the car crash tests from overhead after reporters were denied access. By all accounts, the first seven tests showed the guardrails to be safe.

The eighth test showed the guardrail endplate jamming, turning the guardrail into a car spear.

An FHWA statement said the likelihood of injury from this crash was .03% … so the guardrail ends passed the safety test.

Do you think this crash would cause serious injuries? Trinity and the FHWA say it's unlikely...

Do you think this crash would cause serious injuries? Trinity and the FHWA say it’s unlikely…

The FHWA has disregarded safety “after allowing the manufacturer to conduct sham tests rife with flaws,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal. A group of Senators has requested a Government Accountability Office review of these tests. They say the tests were improper, standards were clearly outdated, and the whole operation calls into question the FHWA’s handling of the Trinity guardrail investigation.

Meanwhile, an independent study done by universities found that Trinity’s 4″ guardrail end was nearly 4 times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as the 5″ end.

As of now, 35 states including Oregon, Washington and California, have suspended the purchase of new Trinity guardrails pending this federal investigation.

Should Oregon Speed Limit be Raised to 75 mph?

Two bills pending in the Oregon House of Representatives would increase the speed limits for passenger vehicles.

  • Current speed limit on state highways: 55 mph
  • Current speed limit on interstate highways: 65 mph

Oregon House Bill 3094 proposes to change the speed limit for passenger vehicles on interstates—I-5, I-84, I-82—from 65 miles per hour to 75 mph. State highway speed limits would go up to 65 mph.

A similar measure, Oregon House Bill 3402, would increase the speed limit to from 55 to 70 mph: but, only for sections of eastern Oregon highways, like Highway 97 and Highway 20.

“Yes, Oregon needs to increase the speed limit!”

Current speed limits are unrealistic, the bills’ proponents argue, as people already drive 70 mph on highways. Limits of 55 and 65 mph are unnecessary: the number of car crashes resulting in serious injuries and fatalities has been on a downward trend for years.

State Representative Knute Buehler is sponsoring HB 3402. In a statement to a Bend, Oregon news station, he cited the improvements in Oregon rural highways, as well as improved car safety technology, as factors rendering the current speed limits “unnecessarily low in selected rural areas of the state.”

Proponents point out that Oregon is one of only 12 states—and the only Western state—with a maximum speed limit of 65 mph or slower. A few years ago, Utah’s legislature raised speed limits to 80 mph in some rural areas. State officials say the accident rate has actually dropped. They attributed the improved safety to more vehicles traveling at the same speed.

This will help Oregonians explore the beautiful rural parts of Oregon more efficiently and allow businesses to ship their goods quicker to the distant corners of our state.”

– Rep. Knute Buehler

Commuters and businesses that ship goods across the state may have a particular interest in the speed limit increase. A review by the Oregon Transportation Commission in 2004 looked at one 300-mile stretch of I-84 between The Dalles and Ontario. They found that estimated value of time saved for drivers in that area would be approximately $17 million per year.

“No, increasing the speed limit is dangerous!”

Speeding is a factor in almost a third of fatal motor vehicle crashes.

There’s a direct correlation between speed and the likelihood of fatality. The faster you are driving, the more likely you are to die in the event of a car crash.

The bills’ opponents say that part of the reason for that downward trend in car accident injuries and fatalities is speed limits and police enforcement. And any economic benefit for the drivers saving a couple of minutes a day would be negated by the high cost of traffic deaths.

Studies have indicated that when we increase speed, you increase the potential of risk and it does show itself in increased lives lost and serious injuries sustained.”

-Oregon Department of Transportation safety division administrator Troy Costales

Another concern cited by opponents: the speed spillover effect. Will drivers exiting off of I-5 easily transition from 80 mph down to 30 mph? Are exit ramps and stoplights set up to handle vehicle traffic at high speeds?

Citizens in rural areas of Oregon are more likely to support the speed limit increase. There are fewer cars and less congestion; however, farmers move equipment at slow speeds, and livestock line the roads. Additionally, it takes emergency responders longer to get to the scenes of serious car accidents in rural areas.

A Beaverton police officer expresses concern about vehicle speed and accidents

A Beaverton police officer expresses concern about vehicle speed and accidents

What do you think?

Is it time for Oregon to catch up with the rest of the West? Or is a speed limit increase unnecessarily dangerous?

Both speed limit bills are currently in committee in the Oregon House. Track the bills’ progress, and let your state representative know what you think about the proposed speed limit increases here: http://gov.oregonlive.com

It’s worse than we thought: terrifying video study of teen distracted driving crashes

NHTSA estimated that about 15% of teen driver car crashes are caused by driver distraction.

AAA researchers pulled in-car event recorders and analyzed almost 1700 teen drivers in the six seconds before a crash.

Distraction was a factor in 58% of teen car crashes.

That’s a huge difference: four times more teen car crashes could be attributed to distracted driving, making it a much bigger problem than suspected.

Damore_Law_Group_Teen_Distracted_Driving_Crash_Video

The above video is absolutely terrifying. Half of the teen drivers who caused rear-end accidents didn’t reduce their speed, or attempt to avoid the collision.

And these were drivers who knew they were being filmed. What are teen drivers doing when there’s no one watching?

Teen drivers who have more than one passenger in the car were the most likely to cause a crash.

Another big culprit, of course, was cell phone use.  Researchers found that teen drivers with a hand on their cell phone had their eyes off the road for an average of more than four out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers.  AAA is urging states to use the alarming results of this study to pass stricter laws on distracted driving and graduated driver licensing programs.

 

What we can (and can’t) learn from Oregon’s fatal crash data

The Oregon Department of Transportation started collecting information on fatal motor vehicle accidents back in 1946.

Last week, The Oregonian created a searchable map using this data. It shows the location of every crash that resulted in 5 or more fatalities.

Damore_Law_Group_Fatal_Crashes_Oregon_Map

See the map on OregonLive

That’s 47 crashes in nearly 70 years— just a fraction of the total number of traffic deaths. There’s not much to gather from the patterns or locations unless you are a traffic safety engineer.

The real value is in the crash details and news articles about the victims.

…The lone survivor was a 6-month-old girl.

A carload of Portland-area teenagers died when they hit a station wagon head-on. The husband and wife in the front seat of the wagon died; their five children in the vehicle were injured—and witnessed their parents’ deaths.

Eight women were in a van that collided with a truck; six of them died. The other two were injured, but protected by the bodies of their friends.

Each dot represents a crash in which at least five people died. That’s a minimum of 235 people who died tragically and unexpectedly.

That’s thousands of mourning parents, children, relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Those who survived these accidents are also deeply, permanently affected.

So far this year, there have been 79 traffic fatalities in Oregon. That’s up more than 40% from the same time in 2014.

It’s an ominous number. And around that number is the enormous circle of people whose lives have been changed by these losses.

We can tally up the number of car accident deaths, put them on a map, and enumerate the causes. But there is simply no way to calculate the ripple effect of a violent and sudden death.

Benzene in the water: fracking and an impending public health crisis in California

Benzene is a naturally occurring chemical, but a known human carcinogen: overexposure can affect your blood and immune system. Benzene exposure is linked to both acute and chronic myelogenous leukemia, and acute lymphocytic leukemia.

In short, it’s not a chemical you want in your water.

Fracking in California causing benzene water pollution

The process of hydraulic fracturing—“fracking” — to release natural gas and petroleum deep in the ground is a complicated and dirty process.

Here’s how it works: oil and gas companies drill holes deep into the ground until they hit shale rock.

A map of the shale rock across the United States.

A map of the shale rock across the United States.

Then, they pump in huge quantities of water and fracturing fluid to create enough pressure to crack the deep-rock formations. Natural gas, petroleum and brine flows through the cracks; the oil companies extract it and sell it.

So what happens to the water and chemicals that fractured the rock?

California oil wells end up with about 10 gallons of fracking wastewater for every gallon of oil they extract.  Between 60-80% of that wastewater is pumped back out of the ground.*

Oil companies are supposed to treat the wastewater to prevent it from contaminating groundwater, then dispose of it by dumping it into a pit or a disposal well.

In 2013, California public health officials, concerned about the mass quantities of chemical-laden wastewater, ordered water tests. The results, recently published by the LATimes, found

On average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow…

How California let oil companies pollute the water

There are rules and laws dictating how oil companies are to dispose of the benzene-laden fracking wastewater.

So how could the wastewater end up in California’s drinking water?

Back in 1983, federal Environmental Protection Agency officials put California’s oil field regulators — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — in charge of enforcing a federal law: the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Instead of protecting California’s drinking water, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources have allowed oil companies to inject their wastewater into hundreds of protected aquifers that hold public water.

California’s state regulators say the errors were “inadvertent”, and due to mismanagement. The federal Environmental Protection Agency calls the errors “shocking.”

In fact, it’s hard to tell how the state agency allowed this to happen, since they have almost no data on wastewater. Evidently, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources keeps paper records, and doesn’t even have a complete record of where oil wells are releasing the contaminated wastewater.

Even worse, the same incompetent state agencies that allowed the benzene contamination to occur are now in charge of fixing the problem.

“Every citizen of California has the right to pure and safe drinking water…”

California State Health and Safety Code, Section 116270-116293

Instead of upholding it’­s own law (and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act), California’s state government has potentially exposed millions of its citizens to incredibly toxic levels of benzene, putting them at risk for fatal diseases.

 

 

* What happens to the 20-40% of fracking wastewater left underground? It’s cause for another major public health concern: earthquakes induced by fluid injection from the fracking process. See The Legal Examiner: What the Frack? Man-made earthquakes are for real

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