Cooking oil left out on the stove resulted in a fire in a Winter Haven apartment building, leaving several families without a home.  

Four apartments were evacuated, and power company TECO cut electricity to the building.

The blaze was contained to the single apartment that caught fire, but others incurred water and smoke damage.

There were no injuries, but a dog that was rescued from a second-floor balcony was taken to a veterinarian as a precaution.

About three dozen firefighters responded to the scene.

If you like to deep fry with oil or cook with grease to prepare your meals, you are certainly not alone. While these are effective methods that often result in tasty meals, many dangers can arise out of these cooking techniques. Home chefs must take extra precautions when using oil or grease to prepare their meals.

As this article shows, using oil for cooking or frying can be very dangerous. More than 40 percent of range or stove fires begin as a result of cooking oil ignition. Another 25 percent of all home fires get started by fat or grease. When cooking with oil or grease, not all risks can be avoided, but being prepared can greatly reduce the likelihood of injury.

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Memorial Day is approaching and that means a long weekend and the start of summer! Whether it is at the pool, on a boat, or at a barbecue, plans are usually made to enjoy this time and relax with good friends and family.

We should not forget that this is a time to pay tribute to the brave men and women in the military who died in the line of service to the United States and defending our freedoms.

Spending the time with loved ones may mean a celebration at home or travelling to other places. Regardless of your plans, safety and common sense should be utilized to keep everyone free from harm. No one wants to have to spend their long weekend in the emergency room!

Our Florida Injury Lawyers at Whittel & Melton have compiled a few safety tips to get you through the Memorial Day Weekend safely:

  • Grill Safely: Make sure your grill is cleaned of grease, dust, and checked before use. Do not grill in an enclosed space that could catch fire.
  • Swimming or Boating: Refrain from consuming alcohol when swimming or boating. Do not swim alone. Wear lifejackets on boats. AND ALWAYS supervise young children at all times to avoid drowning and near drowning tragedies.  
  • Travel Safely: In 2017 the National Safety Council estimated that holiday traffic injuries and deaths have climbed upward in the last two years. Because of this, we urge you to never drink and drive, wear your seatbelt every time you get inside a car, make sure children are in the proper safety seats for age and weight, refrain from distractions while behind the wheel, and make sure you are well rested before making a long trip.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured or suffered a wrongful death, call us immediately at 866-608-5529 or contact us online. We offer free initial consultations and are available 24/7, so you can ask all of your questions and get the help you need.  

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Rain tends to send many drivers into a panic as driving conditions become more hazardous.

While it might seem like a good idea to turn on your emergency lights while driving in heavy rain, our Florida Auto Accident Attorneys at Whittel & Melton urge you not to do it.

Please note: using your hazards in rainy conditions is illegal, and also dangerous. You could actually cause a crash that you think you are avoiding.

We want to remind you of this fact because not every state follows the same law as Florida does. Some states allow it in emergency situations, and some states have no restrictions. You can view the rules state-by-state, via AAA.

What do we mean when we are talking about the wet season? The wet season in Florida starts in late May and continues through October.

Here are some rainy weather driving tips we have compiled to help you through:

  • Check your tires.
  • Stay away from cruise control: while this is good in dry conditions, when it is raining, it only increases your chances for losing control of your vehicle.
  • Use your headlights, but not your high-beams: this keeps you from blinding other drivers, and the extra light could reflect off the rain and reduce your visibility.
  • Drive slow and leave plenty of room for other drivers: driving slower in wet conditions can be critical to reduce your chances of hydroplaning. If you think you are in no longer contact with the road, start to pump your brakes until you come to a complete stop – do not slam them!

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Four more states are reporting illnesses in a food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, and Florida is one of them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its numbers on the outbreak Wednesday, revealing that 149 people in 29 states had gotten sick.

At this time, It is unclear if new illness are still occurring. The most recent illness began two weeks ago.

Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota and Texas have now joined the list of states reporting at least one E. coli illness linked to the outbreak.

At least 64 people have been hospitalized, including 17 with kidney failure. One death occurred in California.

Health officials have tied the outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the U.S. during the winter.

Symptoms of E. coli food poisoning linked to romaine lettuce could include severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Most healthy adults can fully recover within a few weeks, however, children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to severe injury or even wrongful death.

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A tourist is suing Sea World, claiming their negligence led to injuries.

The woman filed a complaint April 18 in Orange County Circuit Court against Sea World of Florida LLC, doing business as Sea World, and Sea World LLC, alleging the company failed to reduce, minimize or eliminate foreseeable risks before they manifested themselves as dangerous conditions on the premises.

According to the complaint, on May 17, 2014, the woman was legally on the Sea World premises in Orlando as a customer when she slipped, tripped and fell on poorly maintained flooring.

As a result, the woman says she sustained bodily injury resulting in pain and suffering, permanent aggravation of a pre-existing condition, plus the expenses of hospitalization, and medical and nursing care and treatment.

She also accused Sea World of failing to warn anyone of the dangerous condition as well as failing to properly provide training to its employees regarding the proper maintenance and inspection of floors, so as to prevent a danger to a guest.

Large amusement parks like Sea World are no stranger to personal injury lawsuits. In fact, many have involved slip and falls, trip and falls and other premises liability issues. Filing a lawsuit against an amusement park is similar to filing suit against any other party: an injury occurs, a suit is filed, an investigation into the claims is conducted and a trial is held if no settlement can be reached.

Big companies like Sea World have a legal duty to keep their premises safe and free from foreseeable accidents. This includes a constant safety sweep of the grounds as well as proper training, screening and supervision of staff. When amusement parks fall short of this responsibility, they may be held liable for their negligence by victims through personal injury lawsuits. Victims may be able to recover for their medical bills, hospital expenses, lost wages from missing work, physical pain and suffering, and mental anguish.

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A CNN investigation has found that at least 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. have been accused of sexually assaulting or secually abusing their passengers. The allegations date back to the past four years.

The results of the investigation have shown that the questionable drivers were either arrested, are wanted by police, or have been named in civil suits related to the incidents.

Shockingly, nearly 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and at least a dozen more have criminal and civil cases that are pending, according to CNN analysis.

This is strictly coming from analysis conducted by CNN involving in-depth review of police reports, federal court records and county court databases for 20 major U.S. cities. There is no publicly available data for the number of sexual assaults by Uber drivers or for drivers of other rideshare companies.

Most of these cases involve the passengers being intoxicated or passing out in their Ubers. Some of these cases have even lead to opened investigations into other potential crimes,

A few of the cases have resulted in a class action lawsuit against Uber.

One woman is even suing Uber for representing its services as “safe.”

Uber launched in 2010 in San Francisco as “everyone’s private driver,” and is currently valued at $70 billion and operates in 630 cities worldwide. Uber provides an estimated 15 million rides a day.

It will be interesting to see how the company further responds to this CNN investigation.

According to CNN, last week the company posted a sexual assault prevention video on its website on “how to create a safer community.” Uber also announced plans to host 50 community forums nationwide for advocates, leaders, drivers and riders across to talk about the issue.

An Uber spokesperson said safety is the company’s top priority this year and cited recent protocol updates such as rerunning driver background checks on an annual basis moving forward. The company also told CNN it plans to roll out a dedicated “safety center” within the Uber app where riders can designate contacts they want to share trip details with while they ride and they will also have an emergency button allowing users to call 911 from inside the app.

Lyft, an Uber competitor that provides an estimated one million rides daily in the United States and Canada, is also dealing with some allegations of sexual assaults by its drivers. A similar CNN review using the same methodology found 18 cases of Lyft drivers accused in the past four years. Of those cases, four drivers have been convicted.

Keep in mind that it is quite common for Uber and Lyft drivers to work for both companies simultaneously. However, each company is required to perform its own background checks.

While using a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft to avoid a potential DUI seems like a safe, economical decision, these sexual assault reports raise some major red flags for passenger safety. If using your phone to get a ride in about 3-5 minutes sounds too good to be true, you could be correct as you are virtually relying upon a stranger to get you to your next destination safely. Our Florida Injury Lawyers at Whittel & Melton have compiled a few safety guidelines for you to follow if Uber or Lyft is your go to:

  1. Before getting in to the vehicle, make sure you identify your driver and car. Uber sends you your driver’s name, photo, vehicle make, model, and plate number once you have booked your trip. Always compare that information with your ride when it arrives. If something does not match up, do not get in.
  2. Never get into an Uber car that you didn’t order. If you are intoxicated, have someone you trust wait with you and check the the driver and car upon arrival.
  3. Share your ETA with a friend or someone you trust. Uber sends you a destination link once the driver is on their way. Share it with someone so they know where you are and where you are supposed to end up.
  4. Always go with your gut. If you are not 100% comfortable when your Uber driver arrives, don’t take the ride. The minor $5 cancellation fee is absolutely worth your safety.
  5. Know the accident coverage liability: If you are injured while in an Uber accident and the driver is at fault, be aware of who is responsible and the limits to Uber’s $1 million liability amount. Familiarize yourself with Uber’s Terms & Conditions you agreed to during registration.
  6. Rate your driver: Leave comments and feedback about your Uber experience. If you felt unsafe, share the information. Remember, these can be anonymous.

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A 73-year-old woman was killed after being hit by a pickup truck while she was riding a moped in Groveland Sunday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The Winter Haven woman was driving a 2005 Honda scooter north on State Road 33 behind a Honda pickup.

The truck driver drove onto the road’s shoulder before making a U-turn to drive south on S.R. 33. The truck collided with her scooter about 10:55 a.m.

The woman was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the truck was taken to South Lake Hospital with minor injuries.

The crash is under investigation and charges are pending.

When drivers are making a turn of any kind they have an obligation to look out for other vehicles. Unfortunately, they are often focused on cars and trucks and fail to see motorcyclists, bikers, moped drivers and pedestrians. When cars make a left turn or U-turn without seeing a rider they are not giving the rider enough time to react and can hit the motorcycle, scooter or moped causing severe injuries or even wrongful death. Even if the rider is able to maneuver in a way where they avoid a collision, they can still be injured or killed for taking such evasive action.

When a motorcyclist or a moped driver is involved in an accident with a larger vehicle, the motorcyclist will suffer the most serious injuries in the majority of instances. Moped riders and bikers are much more vulnerable than automobile drivers and lack the protection of a metal frame.

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A Polk County woman is suing a Disney theme park, alleging breach of duty and negligence led to her injuries.

The woman filed a complaint April 10 in Orange County Circuit Court against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc,. alleging failure to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the public.

According to the complaint, on Nov. 9, 2017, the woman visited the Magic Kingdom theme park with her family to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which included a fireworks show. She alleges that during the event there were employees who were walking at a very rapid pace and were zigzagging through the overcrowded venue in a negligent manner. The suit says the Disney employees ran into the woman, knocking her down.

She says she sustained bodily injury, resulting in pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement and expense of hospitalization, medical and nursing care and treatment.

The suit alleges Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. failed to train and/or inadequately train its employees regarding safe maneuvering through the park when it is crowded and/or overcrowded so that employees do not make contact with guests and cause injury.

As an invitee of the park, you are considered a guest, which means you have a right to be reasonably protected against any safety risk while in the park under Florida’s premises liability law. Failure on the park’s part to protect you or anyone else may be considered negligence. An experienced Florida Amusement Park Injury Attorney at Whittel & Melton can investigate the matter of negligence for you and help you understand what steps to follow to seek financial compensation for pain and suffering.

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A Pembroke Pines homeowner is suing an insurance company, alleging breach of contract.

The man filed a complaint March 23 in Broward Circuit Court against Universal Property and Casualty Insurance Company, alleging failure to provide coverage after a hurricane.

According to the complaint, on Sept. 10, 2017, the man sustained damaged property and repair costs when his property was substantially damaged by Hurricane Irma while his insurance policy was in full force and effect. However, the suit says, despite the man’s efforts to perform all obligations to recover under the policy, Universal Property has refused to provide coverage for his claim.

The man claims that Universal Property and Casualty Insurance has refused to pay to replace and/or repair the full amount of damage to his dwelling, and forced him to retain and pay for an attorney’s services in bringing legal action.

Hurricane Irma was the largest storm to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. With mandatory evacuations and 185 mph winds, the aftermath of this storm left many homes and properties destroyed. Our Florida Hurricane Insurance Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know that even if you have homeowners insurance and did everything in your power to protect your home, insurance companies may still refuse to payout for damages. We can protect your interests when insurers refuse to pay valid claims.

Most homeowners insurance policies require that you give notice to the insurance carrier immediately after the damage occurs. If you wait too long to contact your insurance company, they could deny your claim because of your failure to act promptly.

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A canon lawyer has recently spoken out about a widespread cover-up of clergy sex misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She is claiming that archbishops and their top staff are lying to the public and of ignoring the US bishops’ pledge to have no tolerance of priests who abuse.

Her claims go on to share that the church used a chaotic system of record-keeping that helped conceal the backgrounds of guilty priests who remained on assignment.

She said that when she started examining records in 2008 of clergy under restrictions over sex misconduct with adults and children she found “nearly 20” of the 48 men still in ministry. She said she repeatedly warned the church about the risk of these placements, but they took action only in one case. As a result of raising alarms, she said she was eventually shut out of meetings about priest misconduct. She resigned last year.

The archdiocese has for years pledged it was following the national bishops’ policy, known as the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which lays out a series of requirements — from conducting background checks to alerting parishioners about offender priests and barring guilty clergy from parish assignments.

However, this woman alleges she discovered in 2008 that the archdiocese hadn’t conducted background checks on most priests since the early 1990s. When she drew attention to the lapse, she said she was told to eliminate references to the date of background checks in a form pledging a priest is suitable for ministry.

The woman also claims she found important information scattered among storage locations throughout the archdiocese, such as priests’ records, including the history of allegations against them, their compliance with the monitoring program, and evidence of their misconduct that did not make its way into various priest’s personnel files.

She is the highest-level official from a US diocese to make claims of a cover-up. A canon lawyer educated at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, she served as a judge on church tribunals in Minnesota and was trained through the US bishops’ conference on child safety and monitoring guilty clergy.

The Catholic Church plays a significant role in the growing number of child sex abuse claims, especially with all the scandals and cover-ups. At Whittel & Melton, our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys stand ready to help those who have been subjected to inappropriate acts by clergy members. If you or a loved one have been abused by a member of the clergy, we are ready to advocate on your behalf and help you pursue the restitution you deserve.

We are well aware of the Catholic Church’s approach in these sexual abuse cases and the tactics they will employ to minimize the claims of victims. We firmly believe  that no authority, religious or otherwise, is excused from responsibility when sexual misconduct or any abuse occurs. We will fight aggressively to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions.

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