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Wisconsin Passes Tougher Law For Unlicensed Drivers December 27, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Drunk Driving, Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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Wisconsin passes tougher law for unlicensed drivers

A recent bill passed by the Wisconsin legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker will make it much more difficult for unlicensed drivers who cause injuries on the road. Prior to the passage of the new law, if a driver was unlicensed and caused a death on the road, but was not drunk, negligent, or reckless, the most the driver could be charged with was a Class A misdemeanor.

That is what happened last year when Lucia Torres-Bisarraga’s Toyota Corolla collided with the body of a volunteer worker picking up litter on the side of a Wisconsin highway. Torres-Bisarraga did not have a driver’s license at the time of the accident. She was attempting to avoid a car that had pulled out in front of her. She lost control of the wheel and hit 70-year-old Cornelius “Corky” Van Handel. He eventually died from his injuries.

Torres-Bisarraga was sentenced to two years probation and is also required to spend four days per month in jail during the time she is serving her probation. The possible maximum sentence under the old law was 9 months in prison. Under the recently enacted law, the possible sentence jumps to 6 years. The new law makes it a felony to cause a death by vehicle while knowingly driving without a license. The new law also bumps up the punishment for causing serious injury on the road while knowingly driving without a license. That charge will now carry a possible 3 and ½ year prison term.

Everyone, however, is not as excited about the new law as the legislature and the governor. Torres-Bisarraga’s lawyer does not think that the change is a good idea. His problem with the new law is that it has no regard for which driver caused the accident. He is reported as saying, “I could fail to pay some parking tickets, have my license suspended and, through no fault of mine, be looking at a felony… It could be the other person’s fault, 100 percent.”

He believes that the status of a driver’s license should not determine whether one of the drivers should be charged with a felony or misdemeanor. The felony/misdemeanor determination should be based on which one of the drivers caused the accident and whether the accident could have been prevented had the one who caused the accident taken a different course of action.

On the other side of this debate are the legislature and the district attorney who believe the law is what is best for the state which has a compelling interest in protecting its highways. The District Attorney conceded that the new law might amount to putting a bandage on a broken arm, but says that the new law is important because it sends a message to drivers about how serious the state is regarding its license requirements.

The passage of this new law demonstrates the changing legal landscape in Wisconsin. Sometimes a simple car accident may lead to more serious consequences, especially now that Wisconsin is cracking down on unlicensed drivers. As the law continues to change, those who are not familiar with it would be wise to contact someone who is skilled in the area. The attorneys at the Groth Law Firm, S.C. will be happy to advise you on your best course of action should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Source:Wisconsin targets unlicensed drivers,” by Paul Srubas, published by www.greenbaypressgazette.com

Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Investigate Hit-and-Run Detectives December 22, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Injury Law, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Investigate Hit-and-Run Detectives

The Journal Sentinel recently reported on the story of Nikki Harris-Brown’s fight to get the officers who investigated the hit-and-run against her disciplined for their failure to properly investigate her case. Back in 2010, Brown and her fiancé got into a verbal altercation with another patron at a bar. When the confrontation spilled into the parking lot, the patron became irate and took his frustration out on Brown. He got into his Ford Expedition, drove onto the sidewalk, and struck Brown. He then proceeded to back up over her, run over her again, and drag her nearly 40 feet under his Expedition until she was finally let loose from the underside of the massive SUV.

 

Brown believes that the detectives assigned to her case did not thoroughly investigate the accident and did not actively pursue the assailant. Brown spent two days in intensive care and then was transferred to a standard hospital room. During that time, she did not hear from the investigating officers and no one came to the hospital to take pictures of her injuries.

 

After Brown was released from the hospital, she began her own investigation. She called the police department attempting to get a copy of the incident report that should have been filed on the same day as the hit-and-run, but was told that one had never been filed. She talked to people from the bar where the hit-and-run occurred and found out the suspect’s name. She looked him up in court records and found that he was on probation for dealing cocaine at the time of the hit-and-run. Brown called the police and tried to give them his name, address, and birth date, but no one returned her call until she called her local alderman and the District Attorney’s office. Finally the police called back and took down the information she had for them. The suspect denied being in the area and offered to allow the investigating officer to inspect his car. The officer thought his supervisor would not approve the overtime so decided to put off the car inspection until the next day. When he finally got around to the inspection, both the suspect and the car had disappeared.

 

It was not until Brown called the suspect’s probation officer that he was arrested and charged with the hit and run. Brown then filed a complaint against the investigating officers with the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission. She claimed that the officers did not follow department policy because they did not fully investigate the hit and run. The Commission’s investigator concluded that the officers indeed did not fully investigate. The suspect was charged and pled no contest. He was convicted and will be sentenced in January.

 

The Commission is expected to meet again and determine whether the officers violated department policy. If they have, then the Commission will meet to determine the officers’ punishment. If the Commission finds that the police acted within department policy, the officers will be cleared. Brown is then entitled to file a law suit against the officers in civil court.

This case shows that even those who are charged with protecting us can do harm. While the police were not the ones who caused Brown’s injuries, they exacerbated them by failing to properly investigate her case.

 

While the investigating officers were slacking on their duties, Brown, with severe injuries, was trying to find the man who callously ran her over in the middle of a parking lot. She may have to continue this fight in the courts and if she does, she should retain the services of a skilled Wisconsin personal injury attorney. If you or someone you know has been injured and needs the advice of an experienced Milwaukee personal injury attorney please do not hesitate to contact the Groth Law Firm  at 1-877-375-7001 for a free consultation.

 

Source: Injured hit-and-run pedestrian finds assailant, wants officers disciplined,” by Gitte Lasby, published by www.jsonline.com

Congratulations Wisconsin Super Lawyers and Rising Stars November 15, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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A special congratulations to all of Wisconsin’s Super Lawyers and Rising Stars.  The Groth Law Firm is privileged to have two Wisconsin Rising Stars.  Attorney Jonathan Groth and Attorney Jacqueline Chada Nuckels were once again named to the list of the top Personal Injury Attorneys in Wisconsin.

How are attorneys chosen?  Wisconsin lawyers are asked to nominate the best attorneys who are under 40 or who have been practicing for 10 years or less.  Only the top 2.5% of the lawyers in the state are chosen and named to the Rising Stars list.

Congrats to everyone:

Matthew Allen, Platteville

Jeffrey Berzowski, Neenah

Jesse Blocher, Waukesha

Byron Conway, Green Bay

Robert Crivello, Brookfield

Brandon Derry, Madison

Brett Eckstein, Brookfield,

Allan Foeckler, Brookfield,

Michael Gibbs, Fond du Lac

JONATHAN P. GROTH, BROOKFIELD

Eric Haag, Middleton

Ryan Hetzel, West Bend

Paul Jacquart, Milwaukee

Eric Knobloch, Milwaukee

Jason Knutson, Madison

Chad Kreblin, Milwaukee

JACQUELINE CHADA NUCKELS, BROOKFIELD

Jason Oldenburg, Milwaukee

Andrew Parrish, Madison

Nicholas Petty, Milwaukee

Gregory Pitts, Racine

Jacob Reis, Appleton

Jason Richard, Milwaukee

Amy Risseeuw, Appleton

Randall Rozek, Milwaukee

Eric Ryberg, Madison

Erich Scherr, Milwaukee

Jacob Schrinsky, Milwaukee

Christopher Strohbehn, Milwaukee

Erin Strohbehn, Milwaukee

Jason Studinski, Stevens Point

Brendy Sunby, Wausau

Lance Trollop, Wausau

Benjamin Wagner, Milwaukee

Robert Welcenbach, Milwaukee

Geoffrey Wilber, Milwaukee

Peter Young, Rhinelander

We are proud to be included with such well respected and knowledgeable attorneys.  Thanks to everyone who put their trust in us over the years.   It is really something special that our attorneys are chosen by their peers as the top 2.5% of personal injury attorneys in Wisconsin.

Don’t Spill Your HOT COFFEE! October 27, 2011

Posted by Andrew Christman in FAQ Personal Injury, Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Injury Law.
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HBO has produced a new documentary that aired entitled “Hot Coffee.”  This film discusses the now infamous case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s in which a woman spilled coffee on herself and was eventually awarded millions of dollars in compensation.  The case has become a sticking point for those in favor in tort reform and has been hoisted up as an example greedy people taking advantage of the legal system in our overly litigious society by businesses and insurance companies.  The documentary explores whether or not the reputation this case holds is fair and exposes how the case has been twisted to make it seem like and over the top award.  “Hot Coffee” is a compelling film and has already won numerous film awards.  Two trailers and more information for the film can be found at the website: www.hotcoffeethemovie.com.

Groth Law Firm Featured in Brookfield Now Newspaper October 25, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Groth, Personal Injury Law.
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Thanks to reporter Aaron Martin for this nice story about our firm:

You won’t see attorney Jon Groth touting his expertise in personal injury lawsuits in television commercials with celebrities standing at his side.

Still, the Milwaukee native’s reputation and knack for litigating intricate cases has brought growth to the law firm he started last year with his wife, Erin.

In nine short months, Groth hired four full-time employees and moved from one basement office to another basement office before settling into his new Bluemound Road location (with windows, he notes) in September.

It’s rare for start-up businesses to see that kind of growth, but perhaps even more rare in the world of personal injury litigation, where revenue comes in the form of contingency fees from settling sometimes lengthy cases.

“You might not get a settlement for two or three years, and all the while we are fronting all the costs for that client,” he said. “The growth plan was to wait until we had some money and then move on, but in the first nine months we have been swamped with new clients and new cases.”

After graduating from Marquette Law School in 2000, Groth developed a talent for handling complicated cases while working for law firms in Milwaukee and Chicago.

“Cases that other attorneys can’t or won’t handle, they refer them over to us,” he said.

Much of Groth’s caseload has come from referrals, but he’s also among the most-reviewed personal injury attorneys in the state on websites.

That has become a recipe for fast success.

“This is where we thought we would be in five years,” he said. “We didn’t expect it to happen this fast at all.”

Modification to the Direct Action Law in Wisconsin October 25, 2011

Posted by Andrew Christman in FAQ Personal Injury, Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Injury Law, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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In May of last year I wrote a blog post about the direct action statute in Wisconsin. This is the law that allows an injured party to sue the insurance company of the at fault party directly. The Supreme Court has recently modified this law in its decision in Casper v. American International South Insurance. There was previously case law in Wisconsin that said in order for the direct action statute to apply, the insurance policy must have been delivered or issued in Wisconsin. In the Casper case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously overturned this case law now stating that for direct action to apply the subject injury need only take place in Wisconsin. In Casper, an automobile accident, the at fault driver was operating a truck as part of his job duties. The insurance policy covering the employer was issued out of state. More information about the case can be found at the State Bar of Wisconsin website.

Feel free to contact Groth Law Firm, S.C.  if you have any questions or would like to discuss your need for a personal injury attorney.  Groth Law Firm, S.C. has offices to meet with clients in Brookfield, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Marinette.

New Study On Driving Under the Influence July 28, 2011

Posted by Andrew Christman in Drunk Driving, FAQ Personal Injury, Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Injury Law, Wisconsin Auto Accidents.
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On Saturday, USA Today posted this article about new research from the University of California – San Diego, that says even one alcoholic beverage can increase the likelihood of a driver being involved in a serious collision. The study found that drivers with a small amount of alcohol in their system, an amount under the legal limit for driving, had accidents on average that were 36.6% more serious than sober drivers. While it is extremely unlikely that a single drink would cause a person’s blood alcohol level to climb above the legal limit of .08 thus subjecting the driver to possible charges for driving under the influence, a single drink can influence a drivers concentration, and speed of travel. The study showed that drivers that had consumed alcohol were more likely to drive over the speed limit than those drivers who had not consumed alcohol.

Please remember to always drink responsibly and never to drive under the influence. If you have been injured in an automobile accident by a driver under the influence please contact Attorney Jonathan P. Groth at 877-375-7001. Groth Law Firm, S.C. has offices to meet with clients in Wauwatosa, Brookfield, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Marinette.

Wisconsin Personal Injury Settlements for Minors March 21, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney, Personal Groth, Personal Injury Law.
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Under Wisconsin law settlements for a minor may not be enforced without the appointment of a guardian ad litem and the approval of the court.  Supreme Court Justice Gordon put it best when he said “we are aware that settlements are sometimes made in cases involving the claims of minors wherein releases are taken from the parent, but court approval is not sought.  This practice is ordinarily found only in cases in which the injuries are modest and the settlement is correspondingly small.  Since it is clear that a minor cannot be bound by an extra judicial settlement, a calculated risk is taken in striking a bargain without the benefit of judicial approval.”  In re: Matter of Lee O. Anderson, minor, et al. v. Mutual Service Casualty Insurance, 17 Wis.2d 380, 382, 117 N.W.2d 360, 361 (1962).  In Anderson a minor child was represented by an attorney at a summit hearing at which a settlement was approved in the Circuit Court of Douglas County.  The minor settlement took place without there having been a guardian ad litem appointed.  The Supreme Court held that even though an attorney had represented the minor, the settlement was not valid because a guardian ad litem had not been appointed for the benefit of the child.  The court went on to say that “the legislature has wisely directed a guardian ad litem be appointed for a minor who does not have a general guardian.  This is a desirable way of assuring that in every case the infant’s rights will be fully protected.”  See Id.  The logic behind the legislature’s actions is strongly in favor of protecting a minor.

The most common situations in which minor settlements are needed is that of a motor vehicle accident or dog bite case where a minor was injured and the insurance company asks for a minor settlement hearing.  Because it is the insurance company’s neck that is on the line, it is their prerogative to ask for a minor settlement hearing.  Again, they assume the risk set forth in Anderson.

When a settlement has been reached involving a minor and the insurance company requires the settlement to be approved by a circuit court the ball is usually in the attorney’s court to get the settlement approved.  It is important to ask the insurance company to pay for the filing fee for the petition for approval.  These fees change from county to county but they are usually approximately $155.00.  The documents filed with the court are pretty standard.  If you don’t have copies of these documents, please feel free to contact me and I will e-mail them to you.  My standard letter to the Clerk of Circuit Courts in the county where the injury occurred encloses an original (1) Petition for Approval of Minor Settlement, (2) Affidavit from the attorney in support of the Petition, and (3) an original and a copy of an Order for Approval of the Minor Settlement.  I always ask the clerk to contact me if a settlement hearing is not necessary.  Sometimes the court will review the petition, pictures, medical records and bills or any other documents attached and sign the Order and forward it back.  That’s why it’s important to ask to avoid the extra expense of court time.  Be sure to call the court about a week after sending the documents just to make sure that the court understands the matter and to explain why you think the matter needs to have a hearing or whether you would like the court to read the documents and approve it without a hearing.  If the court requires a hearing, then it is very important to have the client present along with the client’s parents or legal guardian.  When it comes to people present at the hearing, the more the merrier.  If father and mother are divorced and both have custody of the child I strongly encourage both parents to attend the hearing.  The last thing we need is a battle after the fact if only one parent came.  Also, you don’t want that embarrassing question from the judge about why only one parent is in attendance.  If because of work or other conflict only one parent can attend, it is a good idea to get a written consent by the absent parent and bring that with you so the court is aware that the other parent has read through the documents and consents to the approval of the minor settlement.

Minor settlement hearings themselves don’t change much injury to injury.  Hopefully the judge you are appearing before will have enough time on his or her calendar to make the child feel at home.  I have had judges allow the child to play with the gavel and ask questions of anyone on the judge’s staff.  Court reporters seem to get the most questions.

The purpose behind a hearing is to make sure that everyone is aware of the ramifications of the settlement.  Evidence needs to be presented so that the court is aware of the extent of the injuries.  That is why it is important to forward to the court in advance of the hearing documents that substantiate the injury.  A motor vehicle accident report, pictures, medical bills, and records are a good start.  I usually send everything that I sent as a demand to the insurance company to the judge in advance of the hearing.  Be sure to prepare the minor client for a few questions about how the accident happened, his or her past injuries and present injuries, and how the injuries affected their life since the accident.

Next, one should ask questions of the parents or legal guardians of the child who are present.  Again, if someone cannot attend, it is important to have an Affidavit to present to the court to show the court that everyone is in agreement about the settlement.  The parents/legal guardians need to set forth that they understand that a settlement has been reached regarding a certain injury.  They need to state that they understand that this settlement is full and final.  For example, “do you understand that this is a full and final settlement for all of the injuries that your child has suffered on the injury date and he/she can never again claim compensation for those injuries?”  They must state that they are aware and approve that the funds will be placed in a “secure” bank account until the minor reaches the age of 18 or older.  Recently I have heard of judges being very concerned about the type of account that a minor’s funds are placed.  I am not going to tell you where to place your client’s funds other than be sure to place them in an insured interest bearing account.  Again, structured settlement companies like the ones that advertise in The Verdict are highly recommended.

For your sake and for the sake of your client it is important to confirm on the record that the parent/legal guardians understand that they will not have access to the funds.  It’s often a good idea to make them aware that they will only be able to get access to those funds if they petition the court at a later date for certain things.  At this point you can use the court to tell the parents/legal guardians about what things they can ask for.  Judges will usually be helpful in this matter by stating that it is only for extreme situations that they will release funds for the benefit of a minor prior to that minor’s 18th birthday.  Asking for a new pair of socks or a new keyboard for a computer (these are things that I have heard clients ask judges and me about) will most likely not be allowed prior to that child’s 18th birthday.

For your benefit and the benefit of your minor client, it is important to ask the parents about every item on your settlement disbursement form.  Be sure to have copies for everyone present and go through it with them line by line asking them if they understand and agree with the settlement disbursement form.  For example, “Do you realize that the settlement amount is $15,000.00?  Do you consider this to be a faire and reasonable settlement for the injuries your child sustained?  Do you know that our firm’s fees are this amount and the costs are this amount?  And do you feel that the fees and costs are fair and reasonable?”

In the end a minor settlement hearing is the government’s way of insuring that minors are not taken advantage of.  It also has the ancillary benefit of making sure that minors or their parents are fully aware of the settlement and in that matter protects trial lawyers who represent these victims.  Finally, don’t forget to do your duty as guardian ad litem.  You must state to the court that you approve the settlement for the minor based upon the documents presented and testimony given.

 

 

Update On “Milwaukee’s Crumbling Concrete” March 14, 2011

Posted by Attorney Jonathan Groth in Milwaukee Litigation Attorney, Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney.
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A while ago I wrote a post about the “Crumbling Concrete” of South East Wisconsin.  One concrete contractor sued Central Ready Mixed (owned by Prairie Material) and obtained a verdict of $1.1 million from a Waukesha County jury.  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article:

Central Ready Mixed refused to disclose its “batch tickets,” the recipe from each load of concrete, claiming they contained proprietary information. The company eventually had to produce them as part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, and it was determined the formula contained too much water and not enough cement for this region.

More than a dozen affected customers testified about the flaking, scaling and crumbling top surfaces of their driveways, Schultz said.

“You could drive on them, but it was a nuisance and not what you paid for,” he said.

 

Thanks to Sara for the tip about this story!