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Distracted driving is a huge issue across the United States. Texting while driving is the riskiest of the distracted driving behaviors, but other distractions include applying makeup, adjusting the radio, drinking coffee, and talking on your phone. When you allow distractions to take over your train of thought when you are behind the wheel, you rob yourself of those few seconds that you may need to avoid a close call or a deadly accident. 

This was the case of Liz Marks. Like most of us, she always had her phone close by, and thought texting while driving was no big deal because everyone does it. Sadly, she learned just how big of a deal texting while driving can be. While she survived, she now has life altering injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving accounted for 2,841 lives in 2018. Here is the breakdown of those killed: 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians and 77 bicyclists. The NHTSA leads the national effort to save lives by preventing distracted driving. That is why this April, as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the NHTSA is teaming up with State and local law enforcement to save lives and make our roads safer by combating distracted driving through their U Drive. U Text. U Pay. campaign. They are working together, along with road safety organizations and advocates, to remind Americans that distracted driving can result in costly consequences. From April 11 to 15, law enforcement will also be making a special effort to identify and ticket anyone who insists on risking their safety and that of others by driving distracted.

Our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton fully support the NHTSA’s mission to put a stop to distracted driving. We want everyone to take National Distracted Driving Awareness Month as a time to regroup and take responsibility for making safe choices every time we get behind the wheel. The NHTSA recommends the following safety tips to get to and from your destinations safe and sound: 

  • If you need to send or read a text message, pull over and park your car in a safe location. This is the only time it is safe to send or read a text.
  • Make your passenger be your “designated texter.” Give them access to your phone to respond to calls or messages.
  • Just like texting and driving is dangerous, so is engaging in social media. Like Liz Marks, many of us struggle with texting and driving. Our cell-phone use can be habit forming, so if you cannot put the phone down, then put it somewhere you cannot access it while driving. You can put your phone in the trunk, glove box, or back seat of the vehicle until you arrive at your destination.

Florida Wireless Communications While Driving Law

Section 316.305, Florida Statutes allows law enforcement to stop motor vehicles and issue citations to motorists that are texting and driving. A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers or symbols into a wireless communications device to text, email and instant message.

Section 316.306, Florida Statutes, is a prohibition on using wireless communications devices in a handheld manner in school and work zones.  A person may not operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device in a handheld manner in a designated school crossing, school zone or active work zone area. Active work zone, as it pertains to Section 316.306, Florida Statutes, means that construction personnel are present or are operating equipment on the road or immediately adjacent to the work zone area.

Educate Others of the Dangers of Texting and Driving 

Please remind your friends and family that if they are driving, then their focus needs to be on the road. They should not be taking phone calls, texting, eating food, or doing anything else that distracts them from driving. 

  • If you are a passenger in a vehicle and your driver is texting or otherwise distracted, tell them to stop and focus on the road.
  • Ask your friends to join you in eliminating distractions while driving. While this may seem like a small effort, you could actually save a life.  
  • The NHTSA urges you to share your pledge on social media to spread the word—#JustDrive.

Our Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are supporting the NHTSA this April, and throughout the year, to work together to spread this life saving message: U Drive. U Text. U Pay. 

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veteran-2698167_640-150x150A military veteran who contracted coronavirus in mid-March at a Florida VA nursing home in Pembroke Pines has died, state officials confirmed Saturday.

The deceased veteran, who was not identified, was one of two men living at the nursing home for veterans in Pembroke Pines who were hospitalized last month after they tested presumptive positive for the coronavirus, according to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. They were transferred to a local hospital.

The two residents at the Alexander Nininger State Veterans Nursing Home were tested after they showed signs of a low-grade fever, according to officials. They have been the only veterans at the state’s seven veteran nursing homes and domiciliary facilities who have contracted the disease since the coronavirus outbreak in Florida last month.

With more coronavirus test results rolling in, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among veterans at the Miami VA hospital has more than doubled to 36 as of Saturday, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs records. One of those veterans, a man in his 90s, died last week, according to the Miami VA officials.

About half of those patients are being treated at the downtown Miami VA hospital and the other half are quarantined at home, records show.

The Miami VA hospital now surpasses the Orlando VA facility, with 34 positive COVID-19 patients, for the most coronavirus infections in Florida.

Statewide, 104 veterans have tested positive for the viral disease at federal VA hospitals as of Saturday, up more than 30 percent this past week.

That figure, however, represents less than 1 percent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide, according to Florida Department of Health records. As of Tuesday, there have been 13,629 positive test results and 254 deaths in Florida due to the highly contagious respiratory disease.

The 372-bed Miami VA hospital, which serves 58,000 veterans in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, has also had four staff members test positive for the viral infection, and the employees are all in isolation, mitigating further risk of transmission to other patients and staff, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The Miami VA hospital was among dozens of veterans’ facilities nationwide recently cited by a federal inspector general for failing to maintain adequate equipment and supplies, including critical N95 masks for healthcare workers. The reality is, hospitals in and outside the VA system are reporting shortages of the N95 masks as well as traditional surgical masks.

On Monday, Miami VA officials started requiring employees to use and reuse surgical masks for one week, unless they are treating patients with COVID-19 or their masks become soiled. In those instances, they can ask supervisors for a replacement.

“These masks are expected to be used for a week at a time, longer if possible,” Miami VA Healthcare System Director Kalautie JangDhari told staff in an email Sunday that was updated with the same message Wednesday. “Masks may be removed while eating or drinking, but must be immediately put back on.”

Despite the new policy, Miami VA healthcare workers say surgical masks are not as thick or effective as the N95 masks that were found to be in short supply at the hospital by federal inspectors during a visit last month. 

Sadly, nursing homes are habitually understaffed. With the novel coronavirus pandemic, staff shortages are even worse. However, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are known to keep resident to staff ratios high, and staff numbers low, in an effort to boost profits. These facilities are notorious for placing profits over people, which can ultimately lead to serious injuries and death.

The staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities are not always properly trained on infection control measures, which means they are often unaware of the policies and procedures to prevent infection. It has been documented that Florida nursing homes have struggled with infection control. There have been repeated instances of workers failing to wash their hands as they move between patients.

The CDC has released new regulations for how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in nursing home and assisted living facilities, which include:

  • Implementing symptom screening policies
  • Restricting visitors and nonessential personnel
  • Active screening of health care personnel, including documenting respiratory symptoms and temperature
  • Training staff on infection control
  • Restricting resident movement and group activities

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ball-2585603_640-150x150A nursing home in Baker County that saw a sudden spike of 10 coronavirus cases said the illness was bought into the facility from someone who was recently moved to the facility.

The Macclenny Nursing and Rehab Center suddenly found that 10 patients in the facility had been infected with COVID-19 as of Thursday. Only one other case of the infection had been reported in the county prior to the outbreak in the nursing home, the Florida Department Health data showed on the coronavirus dashboard.

Susan Kaar, vice president of compliance and quality management for the nursing home’s owning company Southern Healthcare Management LLC, said the facility’s first confirmed case was a resident who was admitted to the center after being at a local hospital. While monitoring residents, the center noticed others displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19 and tested them. The virus spread rather quickly. All victims of coronavirus were transferred to a local hospital. 

As a proactive and preventative measure, all patients and staff were tested for the virus. This is when the additional cases were found. 

It is unclear how many of the 10 victims were elderly patients and how many were staff. 

The facility says it is collaborating with the local Department of Health. .

Baker County Commission Chair James Bennett Friday said county first responders have handled the situation and the jurisdiction is taking the outbreak in stride.

As of Monday, the DOH coronavirus dashboard said Baker County had 12 victims of the illness with no deaths. The dashboard indicates the age range of the 12 victims is 24 to 97. 

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Florida is at 12,350, as of Monday. The number of residents that have tested positive for coronavirus are 11,961. The number of hospital admissions are 1,555 and the number of deaths are 221. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes are experiencing a shortage of caregivers. Regulators are now allowing “personal care attendants” to perform more hands-on functions normally handled by certified nursing assistants, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. In addition, the state of Florida is temporarily waiving a live-scan fingerprinting requirement for new employees who work with residents because fingerprinting vendors are shut down, according to an emergency order. Instead of fingerprinting, nursing homes are required to conduct background checks through several sources, according to the order. The waiver is in effect for 30 days and is due to expire April 27 unless extended.

Nursing Homes Still Have a Duty of  Care to Residents 

Florida nursing home and assisted living facilities owe their residents a duty of reasonable care to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Elderly nursing home residents and residents with underlying health issues are at an increased risk of dying from coronavirus. Because of this, nursing homes and assisted living facilities must take extra precautions to prevent coronavirus from spreading throughout their facilities. 

When nursing homes and assisted living facilities do not take the necessary steps to protect their residents from coronavirus, this could translate to negligence. Any residents who suffer harm or die from being infected with coronavirus have a legal right to bring a lawsuit against a negligent nursing home or assisted living facility.

Nursing Homes Must Take Extra Precautions

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), advises healthcare employees to follow very strict procedures for preventing the spread of viruses, including the following:

  • Staff should wear personal protective equipment
  • Staff should restrict visitors from coming into contact with infected patients
  • Staff should practice proper hand hygiene
  • Staff should prevent potentially infected or infected staff members from coming into contact with nursing home patients

Filing a Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit After Contracting Coronavirus

Nursing homes that fail to take the necessary steps to prevent coronavirus from spreading can be held legally responsible for any suffering and death caused by the virus. Let’s say an infected nursing home staff member contracted the virus and exposed a resident to it after failing to wear protective gear around the resident. The resident may very well have a valid claim for a negligence lawsuit.

Contact Our Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Attorneys at Whittel & Melton 

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care-4083343_640-150x150A Washington state nursing home that had at least 37 Covid-19 deaths faces a fine of more than $611,000, according to federal inspectors. 

The facility could also lose Medicare and Medicaid funding if it does not correct a plethora of deficiencies that led to the country’s first major outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

In a letter Wednesday to Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote that the nursing home failed to report an outbreak of respiratory illness to local authorities for two weeks as required by law, gave inadequate care to its residents during the outbreak and failed to provide 24-hour emergency doctor services.

The inspectors said that if the nursing home northeast of Seattle “does not correct all deficiencies and return to full compliance by September 16, 2020, then CMS will terminate your facility from participating in the Medicare/Medicaid program.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Life Care had not responded to a request for comment on the inspection findings and the penalties. The company has a right to appeal.

Inspectors levied a per-day civil penalty of $13,585 for the alleged deficiencies, dating to Feb. 12, around the time that the outbreak is thought to have taken hold, and continuing through March 27. They said the fine could be raised, or lowered, depending on the facility’s compliance with its correction plan.

In addition to losing its federal payments under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the facility also could lose its Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program and forfeit federal payment for the patients it admitted from March 21 to March 27.

Officials said that 129 residents, staff and visitors were infected with the coronavirus, which causes mild-to-moderate symptoms in most people but can prove fatal to the sick and elderly. As of March 23, 37 people associated with Life Care had died. 

In figures updated April 1, the county said that 2,496 people had tested positive for covid-19 in total and that 164 people had died due to covid-19 illness.

In a summary of its findings issued last month, CMS said inspectors had found that Life Care failed to swiftly notify regional authorities that it had a surge in respiratory infections, and continued to admit new patients and hold events such as a Mardi Gras party for dozens of residents and guests.

King County said it received notification of an increase in respiratory illnesses at the nursing home late on Feb. 27. Life Care has said it also left a voice message with county officials the day before. State law and county regulations required Life Care to report any suspected flu outbreak within 24 hours.

The Seattle region was the site of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. Authorities said on January 21 that a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, which neighbors King County, had tested positive after traveling from the Wuhan region of China, where the virus is thought to have originated. The man has since recovered.

Managers at the facility held quality-assurance meetings on Jan. 27 and Feb. 19, after the virus had already been detected in a neighboring county.

The home’s director, who joined the facility in January, told CMS inspectors: “Normally if there are concerns in infection control it would have been discussed in the QAPI meeting.”

CMS said infection concerns did not come up at either meeting, including the one in February, which was held days after Life Care said it posted signs warning visitors about the respiratory outbreak that staff thought was the flu.

“Further review of the 02/19/2020 monthly QAPI meeting minutes under the nursing section revealed: no reports of infection concerns at the facility,” the CMS report said.

The nursing home’s medical director, who was not identified, did not attend either of those meetings, the report states. Life Care’s “Infection Preventionist” nurse attended the January meeting, but did not attend the Feb. 19 meeting.

The executive director and two unidentified administrative staff members said “it was very chaotic” inside Life Care, as patients and dozens of staff members fell ill in February and March. Patient records were incomplete. Staff members were sick and unable to tend to the residents, they told inspectors.

“We were triaging residents as the residents were crashing, so there wasn’t going to be a lot of documentation,” one nursing home official, who was not identified in the report, told CMS inspectors.

CMS said the facility “did not have effective systems in place” to prevent the infection or respond to it. Life Care officials did not notify health-care authorities of the outbreak until Feb. 26 and did not have a 24-hour emergency physician or adequate staff to respond to the outbreak.

The facility lacked a “clear medical plan of action,” inspectors said, leading to a “systemic failure.”

Nearly a month after the outbreak, on March 7, inspectors said two certified nursing assistants, a man who had worked at Life Care for 15 years and a woman who had been there for four years, said they had not been trained to properly sanitize items with bleach wipes.

Also that day, inspectors spotted a laundry staff member who delivered clothing to residents in multiple rooms without changing her gown, gloves and other protective gear despite warning signs that patients might have been contagious.

CMS Guidance for Limiting the Transmission of COVID-19 for Nursing Homes 

CMS has released a guidance labeled as QSO-20-14-NH to respond to the threat posed by COVID-19.

For ALL facilities nationwide: Facilities should restrict visitation of all visitors and non-essential health care personnel, except for certain compassionate care situations, such as an end-of-life situation. In those cases, visitors will be limited to a specific room only. Facilities are expected to notify potential visitors to defer visitation until further notice (through signage, calls, letters, etc.). 

Note: If a state implements actions that exceed CMS requirements, such as a ban on all visitation through a governor’s executive order, a facility would not be out of compliance with CMS’ requirements. In this case, surveyors would still enter the facility, but not cite for noncompliance with visitation requirements. 

For individuals that enter in compassionate situations (e.g., end-of-life care), facilities should require visitors to perform hand hygiene and use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as facemasks. Decisions about visitation during an end of life situation should be made on a case by case basis, which should include careful screening of the visitor (including clergy, bereavement counselors, etc.) for fever or respiratory symptoms. Those with symptoms of a respiratory infection (fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat) should not be permitted to enter the facility at any time (even in end-of-life situations). Those visitors that are permitted, must wear a facemask while in the building and restrict their visit to the resident’s room or other location designated by the facility. They should also be reminded to frequently perform hand hygiene.

Nursing Homes Are Still Obligated to Meet Residents Needs During a Global Pandemic

The coronavirus is a very serious condition that can be fatal to elderly residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The CMS is working hard to provide the guidance nursing homes need to protect their residents. This is no time for nursing homes to place profits over people. Instead, nursing homes need to step up and protect the elderly in their care and place their safety as top priority.

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drink-girl-glass-hands-576831-150x150The US Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that it is requesting manufacturers pull all prescription and over-the-counter ranitidine drugs, known by the brand name Zantac, from the market immediately. 

The FDA noted that an ongoing investigation has determined that levels of a contaminant in the heartburn medications increase over time and when stored at higher-than-normal temperatures, poses a risk to public health.

The contaminant, N-nitrosodimethylamine or NDMA, is a probable human carcinogen and the FDA has been investigating levels of it in ranitidine since the summer of 2019.

The director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Dr. Janet Woodcock, made the following announcement today: 

We didn’t observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested. However, since we don’t know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be available to consumers and patients unless its quality can be assured. The FDA will continue our efforts to ensure impurities in other drugs do not exceed acceptable limits so that patients can continue taking medicines without concern.

According to the FDA’s announcement, letters are now being sent to all manufacturers of ranitidine requesting that they withdraw products from the market, and consumers are advised to stop taking any ranitidine tablets or liquid medications they currently have. 

The FDA said to dispose of them properly and not buy more.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA said don’t return your medicines to a “drug take-back location,” but rather follow disposal instructions in the medication guide or follow the FDA’s recommended safe disposal steps on its website.

The FDA urges consumers who wish to continue treating their condition to consider using other approved medications. 

To date, the FDA has not found NDMA in some other products, such as famotidine or Pepcid, esomeprazole or Nexium, or omeprazole or Prilosec.

For patients taking prescription ranitidine, the FDA recommends speaking to your doctor about other treatment options before stopping the medicine.

“There are multiple drugs approved for the same or similar uses as ranitidine that do not carry the same risks from NDMA,” according to the FDA.

In September, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Walmart all announced they would no longer sell Zantac and other over-the-counter ranitidine medications due to concerns they might contain NDMA.

Then in October, drugmaker Sanofi voluntarily recalled Zantac OTC sold in the United States and Canada. At the time, the company said it issued the recall “due to inconsistencies in preliminary test results.”

You should be able to trust that the medicines you purchase over the counter or through a prescription are safe when used as directed. Sadly, this is not always the case and when medications are deemed unsafe, the manufacturers of the drugs may be held liable for injuries caused by the medication. Our Florida Defective Drugs and Devices Class Action Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are committed to helping consumers who were harmed by dangerous drugs hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their negligence. If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer after regularly using over-the-counter Zantac or prescription Zantac, you may have a right to file a Zantac cancer lawsuit or join a Zantac class action lawsuit.

Our Zantac Lawsuit Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are currently reviewing potential legal claims involving Zantac. There are already several Zantac class action lawsuits underway that allege the manufacturers of Zantac, a pharmaceutical company Sanofi, were aware of the cancer risks associated with ranitidine, but failed to warn consumers of the risk. We are expecting many more claims to be filed. 

What is Ranitidine?

Ranitidine is an over-the-counter and prescription drug better known by the brand name Zantac. Millions of Americans have used ranitidine as it is approved in over-the-counter medications to relieve heartburn related to acid indigestion and sour stomach. The medication is part of a class of drugs that decrease the amount of acid created by the stomach.

As this article shows, the FDA has confirmed that the brand name drug Zantac contains impurities that may cause cancer in humans. The impurity is called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which can cause cancer after exposure to high doses of the compound over a long time period. 

The following are a list of side effects of ranitidine: 

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Rashes
  • Pneumonia
  • Liver damage
  • Exposure to high levels of probable carcinogen

NDMA poisoning can cause stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. It can affect the following organs: 

  • Bladder
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach

Legal Liability for Zantac Drug Injuries and Illnesses

Drug makers have a legal duty to produce and market drugs that are safe and effective when used as directed. Manufacturers are required to warn the public of any known or potential risks associated with the products.

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royal-caribbean-665682_640-300x181Two Royal Caribbean crew members — one from the Symphony of the Seas and one from the Oasis of the Seas — were “medically evacuated” from their respective ships Monday at Port Everglades, the cruise line confirmed.

Even though Royal Caribbean would not confirm whether the members have been diagnosed with COVID-19, a spokesman for the company said the crew members were evacuated “for observation and treatment of respiratory issues.”

Ellen Kennedy at Port Everglades said: “It’s a Coast Guard mission. Port Everglades is not involved.”

Late Monday the Coast Guard confirmed that Coast Guard Sector Miami watch standers monitored two medical evacuations, one from each of the cruise ships. “The vessels arranged commercial transfer ashore of each patient for further transportation to local area hospitals,” the Coast Guard said.

Both ships were located just outside the port Monday. Royal Caribbean canceled all cruises March 13 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Miami Herald, a crew member on Oasis said Monday that “the ship is coming into port due to a crew member who’s really ill but not the coronavirus.” 

It is known that there are 14 people on board who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Coronavirus & Cruise Ships

Cruise ship lawsuits involve an injury or illness of some kind. When only one person on board falls ill it can be difficult to prove fault with the cruise ship, making it tough to build a winning case. But, when a massive outbreak is involved, it can be much easier to prove that the cruise ship was at fault for the spread.

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus currently classified as a global pandemic, has already caused lots of commotion on several cruise ships, and the virus was only discovered last December. As of now, lawsuits have started emerging against cruise ship companies for their negligence and recklessness in the way they handled the spread of the disease on board.

Falling ill on a cruise ship is already hard enough, but these warning signs could indicate there is a much bigger problem on board: 

  • How many other people on board are sick
  • If any passengers are quarantined
  • If the ship’s hospital is at or over max capacity
  • If the crew issues any health warnings or announcements
  • If the crew members on board start taking extra precautions about spreading an illness 
  • If the ship deviates from its original itinerary in any way

Were you on board a cruise ship that failed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while you were on board? Our Florida Cruise Ship Injury and Maritime Law Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can help you file your own lawsuit or join a current lawsuit, like those against the owner of the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess.

Accidents on Cruise Ships are Common 

While the spread of the coronavirus on cruise ships is currently a new and widespread issue, accidents aboard luxury liners are nothing new.  

Other reasons for filing a lawsuit against a cruise ship may include one of the following scenarios: 

  • Food poisoning from food or another illness from unsanitary conditions
  • Legionnaires’ Disease, which is caused by a bacterium which is common in settings like cruise ships
  • Medical malpractice
  • A passenger getting lost at sea or falling overboard 
  • Physical or sexual assault by a crew member or passenger
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Swimming pool and waterslide injuries

Whittel & Melton Can Help You 

There are six cruise ship terminals throughout the state of Florida that thousands of people travel to and from every year. These include: 

  • PORT OF MIAMI (Miami)
  • PORT EVERGLADES (Fort Lauderdale)
  • PORT CANAVERAL (Orlando)
  • PORT TAMPA BAY (Tampa)
  • JAXPORT (Jacksonville)
  • PORT OF PALM BEACH (Palm Beach)

Cruise lines with ports in Florida include:

  • Carnival Cruise Line
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Hapag-LLoyd Cruises
  • MSC Cruises
  • Virgin Voyages
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Azamara Club Cruise 
  • AIDA Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • P&O Cruises 
  • Regent Seven Seas
  • Balearia Caribbean
  • Costa Cruises
  • Cunard
  • Holland America Line
  • Princess Cruises
  • Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection
  • Silversea Cruises

If you have suffered an injury or illness, including the coronavirus, while aboard one of these or any other cruise lines cruise ship, contact our Florida Cruise Ship Injury and Maritime Law Attorneys at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible. Cruise ship cases generally have a short and strict statute of limitations.

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truck-1499377_640-150x150The federal administration that oversees regulations for America’s six million professional drivers has temporarily suspended a trucking safety law that’s been in place since 1938

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said Friday evening that truck drivers who are moving goods “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks” will temporarily not have to follow the hours-of-service laws, which mandate how many hours a truck driver may work. 

This is the first time since 1938, when the rule was developed, that it’s been suspended on a national level. It’s common for states and local governments to lift the rule amid natural disasters, when consumers “panic buy” household goods and hospitals need medical supplies. 

“Waivers of this type are a common response by FMCSA to natural disasters and crises because trucks delivering food, fuel and medicine are a critical part of the response,” America Trucking Associations spokesperson Sean McNally said in a statement to Business Insider. “This waiver will help keep loads of medicine, supplies and food moving as the country manages this current pandemic.”

Around 70% of the nation’s goods by weight is moved by a truck — so ensuring that they can get to your local grocery store or hospital ramps up in times of crisis. 

In its current edition, HOS requires truck drivers to drive only 11 hours within a 14-hour work period. They must then log 10 hours of “off-duty” time. The safety law, which is aimed at eliminating exhausted truck drivers from the nation’s highways so they do not endanger others, is disliked by many drivers. Some say the strict regulations actually disrupt their sleep schedule and make them more likely to drive tired. 

According to the FMCSA’s Friday evening emergency declaration, here are the types of loads that are exempt from HOS laws:

  1. Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19
  2. Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants
  3. Food for emergency restocking of stores
  4. Equipment, supplies, and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19
  5. Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes
  6. Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response

The coronavirus outbreak, which has been ruled by the World Health Organization as a global pandemic, has seen “panic buying” envelop the nation. 

Shipments to grocery and discount retailers increased by 25% last week, according to freight data visibility company Project44. On March 14, a Saturday, that boost was 60%. 

Across the country, US sales of hand sanitizer jumped by 228% during the four weeks ending on March 7, compared to the same period last year, according to the most-recently available dataset from retail sales tracker Nielsen.

During January and February, Adobe Analytics, which tracks 80 top online retailers in the US, said sales of cold, cough, and flu products popped 198%, toilet paper grew 186%, canned foods jumped 69%, and “virus protection” items like gloves and masks jumped 817%.  

Recent studies show just how damaging coronavirus can be. About 0.1% of people who get the seasonal flu die, but the coronavirus’ death rate is now at about 3.4%. Even those who recover from coronavirus may have 20% to 30% less lung capacity, causing survivors to gasp for breath while walking, doctors in Hong Kong have found. 

While there is a demand around the country for supplies ranging from pasta to toilet paper, drastic measures have been necessary. While HOS has lifted regulations, saying putting more trucks on the road and for longer should help, there is a downside to all of this—the very real potential for more truck accidents.

Some of the most deadly motor vehicle accidents involve semi trucks and tractor trailers. The sheer size and weight of these trucks are no match for smaller vehicles such as cars and motorcycles. An accident with a big rig can easily lead to catastrophic injuries and even death

There are two main factors, aside from weight and height, that are likely to cause deadly truck accidents:

 

  • Truck drivers being fatigued and driving for too long, which decreases their focus. 
  • Improper loading, which can create an imbalance that can cause the truck to tip over.

 

Encouraging truck drivers to ignore how long they are driving as well as lifting weight restriction on these vehicles could truly be a recipe for disaster. Governments are creating dangerous conditions that could result in a surge of truck accidents. 

Our Tampa Bay Truck Accident Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know the stress that is on many Americans during this difficult time. If you must be on the road, we urge you to exercise more caution than usual, especially around large trucks. Should you or a loved one get into an accident with a semi truck during this time, you can rest easy that we are working around the clock to help all injury and wrongful death victims. Our offices remain open.

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traffic-4524710_640-150x150A 21-year-old woman died Tuesday when her car was struck by a Brightline train in Pompano Beach, authorities said.

The crash happened shortly after 11 a.m. at the railroad crossing at Northwest Sixth Street and Dixie Highway. 

On Wednesday, the Broward Sheriff’s Office identified her body.

cruise-1578528_640-150x150As countries are sealing off their borders to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, cruise ships have been left stranded in the Caribbean, South America and Europe, with local governments denying permission to disembark as more cases of infected passengers have come to light.

Some ships have been denied port, leaving them to anchor off the coast of a country. Other cruises have docked with quarantined passengers aboard.

Three cruise ships have confirmed cases of coronavirus on board: the MS Braemar, Silver Shadow and Silver Explorer.

Here is the status of the cruise ships stranded. 

MS Braemar

Status: In the Bahamas, heading towards Cuba

A cruise ship with confirmed coronavirus cases is headed to Cuba after days of searching for a place to dock after it was refused several ports of entry in the Caribbean.

Five people aboard the MS Braemar tested positive for the virus, according to a statement from British company Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which owns the Braemar.

22 passengers and another 21 crew members, including a doctor, are in isolation after displaying influenza-like symptoms while traveling on the ship, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines said.

Until Tuesday morning, the Braemar was anchored about 25 miles offshore in the Bahamas, being resupplied with vital food, fuel and medication.

The United Kingdom entered into discussions with authorities in Cuba and the US to find a suitable port for the Braemar, according to British government sources familiar with the efforts.

Cuba said it will receive the ship. Braemar is now en route to the port of Mariel. The captain Jozo Glavic announced on board that all guests will be repatriated back to the UK by air.

The cruise line said those who are infected will have their own plane.

The cruise line is working with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to firm up details, and with Public Health England to confirm further requirements once passengers are back in the UK.

Fred Olsen’s UK office has set up a dedicated Braemar Relative Support team, for those anxious about family members on board.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines said that once all ships currently at sea return home, the “cruise operation will then pause all ocean cruise operations until 23rd May.”

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office expressed gratitude to the Cuban authorities for their support.

Silver Shadow

Status: Docked in Brazil, passengers in isolation

A Canadian passenger tested positive for coronavirus Saturday on the Silver Shadow, which is docked off the port of Recife in Brazil, according to Brazil’s state news agency Agencia Brasil.

Royal Caribbean confirmed the case on the Silver Shadow on Sunday.

“Two guests aboard the Silver Shadow have been medically disembarked in Recife, Brazil, and one has tested positive for COVID-19,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

The ship’s 609 passengers have been in isolation since Thursday when a passenger showed symptoms similar to coronavirus, Agencia Brasil said on Friday.

One of the passengers who disembarked, a 78-year-old man from Canada, had a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. He was sent to a private hospital in the city.

Silver Explorer

Status: Docked in Chile, one passenger tested positive

The Silver Explorer docked in Castro, Chile, on Saturday after a passenger tested positive for coronavirus, Chile’s Health Minister Jaime Manalich said during a press conference in Santiago Saturday.

An 83-year-old British man is in “good condition” and being treated at the Coyhaique Hospital after testing positive, Manalich said. Royal Caribbean, which owns the Silver Explorer, confirmed the coronavirus case on Sunday.

“One guest aboard the Silver Explorer has been medically disembarked in Castro, Chile, also testing positive for the virus,” the statement said.

The cruise ship is carrying 111 passengers and 120 crew members, according to Chilean officials.

Golden Princess

Status: Cleared to set sail for Australia

While no one has tested positive for coronavirus on the Golden Princess anchored off New Zealand, at least three passengers have been quarantined by the ship’s doctor, according to local health officials.

One passenger developed symptoms similar to coronavirus and was being treated as a suspected case, according to the Canterbury District Health Board. Two other passengers had contact with a confirmed case in the past two weeks.

The ship is anchored in Akaroa Harbor near Christchurch so there could be “precautionary health testing” of guests who traveled on an international flight from Los Angeles. The flight had a passenger who later tested positive for coronavirus in Australia. The cruise line said the airline passenger who tested positive has never been on board its ship.

The passenger with respiratory symptoms tested negative for coronavirus. The Golden Princess was cleared to leave and set sail for Australia.

Norwegian Jewel

Status: Stranded in the South Pacific Ocean, no cases reported

The Norwegian Jewel is searching for a port in the Pacific Ocean after being denied permission to dock at two previously scheduled ports, Norwegian Cruise Line said.

The ship is at sea in the South Pacific Ocean off the coast of Suva, Fiji, as of Sunday evening.

The cruise was scheduled to disembark Sunday in Papeete, French Polynesia, but the port was canceled, the company said. Another scheduled port of Lautoka, Fiji, on March 17 was also canceled.

“We are actively working to find an alternative port and are communicating with guests regularly as we have further information,” the cruise line said in a statement.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced suspension of services from March 13 – April 11. “Voyages that are underway will conclude and guests will be disembarked as soon as possible and assisted with travel arrangements,” said the cruise line in a statement

Pacific Princess

Status: At sea in the Indian Ocean, heading to Fremantle, Australia, but docking rights uncertain

Pacific Princess, owned by Princess Cruises, departed in January for its 111 day around the world voyage.

Stopovers at Bali, Singapore and Phuket were canceled, due to fears over coronavirus.

The Pacific Princess was later refused entry by Sri Lanka while en route.

The ship was refused at the Seychelles, and abandoned its subsequent trek to Zanzibar, as more ports started to close.

The ship is currently heading to Fremantle, Australia, due to arrive March 21.

But Australia has closed ports to cruise ships, so this destination remains uncertain.

Costa Luminosa

Status: En route to Marseille

Two guests on board this ship, one German and one Danish, tested positive for coronavirus, according to Costa Cruises.

These passengers were placed in isolation after displaying symptoms, and later disembarked in Puerto Rico on March 8, where they were hospitalized.

“A third guest was also disembarked after being identified through the temperature check that is performed on board according to protocol,” said Costa Cruises in a statement.

The cruise company said it has suspended operations until April 3, and Luminosa is currently heading towards Marseille, France.

Costa Cruises confirmed that a 68-year-old male passenger with a history of cardiac issues contracted coronavirus. He was disembarked in Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, on February 29. The passenger later passed away.

The Cayman Islands government press release dated March 14 states the patient had two cardiac arrests while on board the cruise ship and was resuscitated, before he passed away in intensive care on Grand Cayman.

Families of those on Luminosa have been active on social media, expressing their frustration.

Cruises to Disembark

The Celebrity Eclipse is anchored in San Antonio, Chile. Celebrity Cruises is working with government officials to provide a controlled disembarkation plan to make sure guests have a way to leave the country, a spokesperson said.

The Azamara Pursuit, which is off the coast of Chile, is working on a plan to disembark passengers and get them home safely. The ship left Ushuaia, Argentina, on March 8 carrying 675 passengers and 389 crew members, Chile’s Health Minister Jaime Manalich said Saturday.

P&O Cruises announced suspension of any new cruises until April 11, 2020, with current cruises currently heading back to Southampton, England.

The Balmoral, another Fred Olsen Cruise Line ship, arrived in Southampton on March 18. Fred Olsen’s Boudicca ship is due to arrive in Dover, also in England, on March 19, while the Black Watch is currently cruising to Southampton, due to arrive on March 17.

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vaping-4508927_640-150x150Florida is poised to raise the minimum age for smoking and vaping to 21.

The state Senate on Thursday joined the House in approving a measure that would also ban the sale of vaporized nicotine products used in so-called e-cigarettes. 

The legislation now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration.

Health advocates said the measure is necessary to protect public health, particularly among young tobacco users.

While smoking among youth has been on the decline in recent years, vaping has surged. The rise has alarmed health advocates who worry about nicotine addiction and the stunting of brain development.

Vape shop operators have asserted that vaping is safer and helps wean smokers off cancer-causing cigarettes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has joined other federal and public health agencies in investigating an outbreak of deaths and lung injuries that appear to be associated with e-cigarettes.

As of last month, more than 2,800 such cases have been reported across the United States and its territories in the Caribbean. The CDC said 68 deaths have been confirmed in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. E-cig devices work by heating a liquid, typically containing nicotine and other additives and flavorings, into a vapor, which users then inhale. When the aerosol is inhaled this is referred to as vaping or juuling, a reference to a particular brand, Juul e-cigarettes. 

E-cigarettes come in many different shapes and sizes and are called various names including e-cigs, vape pens, e-hookahs, vape mods, and tank systems. Vaping has become popular with millions of young people, which is why the state of Florida is taking such measures to try and curb the problem.

E-cigarettes pose a number of avoidable health risks. Most e-cigarettes and vape pens contain nicotine, and no matter how nicotine is delivered, it is addictive and can harm the development of young people’s brains. Likewise, the vapor from e-cigarettes contains harmful chemicals, heavy metals and flavoring additives associated with serious lung disease. Some e-cigarettes contain acrolein, a weed killer, that can cause acute lung injury and may cause lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury from an e-cigarette or developed breathing problems after using a vaping device, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation for injuries and illnesses that result because of these dangerous products. Our Florida JUUL and E-Cigarette Injury Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can fight to hold JUUL and other e-cigarette companies accountable for any harm they have caused you or your loved ones. The best first step is to educate yourself about your legal options by meeting with us for a free consultation.

Our attorneys and affiliated law firms at Whittel & Melton have the resources and experience to conduct a thorough investigation of all vaping or e-cigarette related injuries and illnesses. We will fight tirelessly to hold the at-fault parties accountable. You may seek financial compensation for the following types of damages related to an e-cigarette injury:

  • Medical bills, such as emergency room bills, surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery
  • Lost wages and future lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

You may have the right to pursue a lawsuit on your own or take part in a class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette companies. Our Defective Drug and Devices Lawyers are happy to review the specific facts of your case and discuss your legal options for seeking compensation. Our goal is to make sure you are fairly compensated for your suffering. 

The first step in obtaining compensation for harm caused by an unsafe e-cigarette product or vaping device is to establish that the manufacturer of the product acted negligently and that resulted in harm to you or your loved one. Our Florida Vaping Lawsuit Attorneys Whittel & Melton understand the types of evidence needed to meet the burden of proof in a product liability case.

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