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Archive for the category: US Supreme Court
  • Enhancing Juror Engagement / Banning Social Media In The Courtroom

    Starting  July  1st 2012 Illinois jurors will be allowed to submit written questions for witnesses on the stand in civil trials. More than half the states, and all federal circuit courts, allow this practice; this rule, recently approved by the Illinois Supreme Court, offers another opportunity for jurors to actively participate in the trial.  One of the justices stated that this rule would hopefully enhance juror engagement by focusing their attention on the testimony. Jurors would be asked to submit questions to the judge who would consult with the attorneys away from the jury and then decide which, if any, questions could be posed to witnesses while still complying with court procedures and the rules of evidence. Some attorneys are already applauding this new rule as they find that jurors are often frustrated when they have unanswered questions. In another court decision, a Cook County judge has banned tweeting or the use of other social media in his courtroom during a criminal trial. The judge felt that allowing reporters, spectators and jurors access to social media would prove to be too distracting during testimony. The judge is allowing reporters to bring cell phones into the courtroom but has stated that he has assigned the sheriff’s department to track their Twitter accounts while court is in session. Journalists were asked to disclose their Twitter account names in order to receive accreditation’s to cover the trial. This action does not seem to violate First Amendment rights as Twitter feeds are open to all. Nationwide, courtroom judges continue to deal with ever evolving technology as well as striving to improve the accuracy and fairness of all trials.

  • After the Supreme Court’s AT&T Ruling, Are Consumer Class Actions Dead?

    According to many sources, the United State’s Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Concepcion v. AT&T decision is anything but favorable for consumers. The decision allows corporations to ban class actions by using the mandatory arbitration clauses that are now found in most contracts for the delivery of goods and services. In essence, the Court concluded that  the Federal Arbitration Act barred states from protecting residents from the arbitration clauses. As explained in a recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog post, Vanderbilt Law Professor Brian Fitzpatrick has predicted that this outcome could result in the end of the consumer class action: (T)he consequences could be staggering. It could be the end of class action litigation. . . . [V]irtually all class actions today occur between parties who are in transactional relationships with one another: shareholders and corporations, consumers and merchants, employees and employers. Because they are in transactional relationships, they are able to enter arbitration agreements with class action waivers. Once given the green light, it is hard to imagine any company would not want its shareholders, consumers and employees to agree to such provisions. In other words, this is anything but a consumer-friendly decision. Fortunately, there is the small chance of a light at the end of the tunnel. As explained in this PopTort blog post, a number of Democrat senators are introducing legislation that would overrule the effects of the decision in Concepcion: “U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said today they plan to introduce legislation next week that would restore consumers’ rights to seek justice in the courts. Their bill, called the Arbitration Fairness Act, would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases, and would allow consumers and workers to choose arbitration after a dispute occurred.” Let’s hope that this bill become legislation. Otherwise, the consumer class action, one of the best tools available to consumers seeking to fight corporate wrongdoing, may be a thing of the past. Howard Ankin of Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles  workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 346-8780 and howard@ankinlaw.com. Related articles Supremes Uphold Arbitral Class-Action Waivers (lawprofessors.typepad.com) Supreme Court rules in favor of AT&T in arbitration case (intomobile.com) Supreme Court: AT&T can force arbitration, block class-action suits (arstechnica.com)

  • Graduation Parties And Supplying Alcohol To Minors

    With spring approaching so is graduation season and with it– graduation parties. Many people wonder about their responsibility and liability when they serve alcohol in their homes for a graduation party where minors and young adults are attending. The State of Illinois considers a host of the party to be a “Social Host” or those who supply alcohol gratuitously or “out of courtesy or politeness.”

  • United States Supreme Court Allows Rear Seatbelt Lawsuit to Proceed

    Last week, in Williamson v. Mazda Motors of America,the United States Supreme Court reversed a California appeals court decision and allowed a California personal injury motor vehicle lawsuit to proceed. The lawsuit was grounded in allegations that the defendant failed to install lap and shoulder seatbelts in the rear seats of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding. It was alleged in the lawsuit the plaintiff was riding in the rear seat of a Mazda vehicle and that the lack of shoulder and lap seat belts caused the plaintiff’s death following a car accident. As explained in this New York Times article, the court disagreed with the defendant’s assertion that a federal regulation preempted the lawsuit: Mazda, which made the minivan, had argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the company had complied with federal safety regulations, which allowed it choose to install simple lap belts or lap-and-shoulder belts in some rear seats. The company relied on a 2000 Supreme Court decision in a case involving a similar regulation that gave automakers the option of installing air bags. In that case, the court ruled that the regulation foreclosed the filing of injury suits under state law by people contending that manufacturers had made the wrong choice. Therefore, the lawsuit can now proceed in California and the family will now be able to pursue a claim against Mazda for the very unfortunate and untimely loss of their loved one. Howard Ankin of Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles  workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 346-8780 and howard@ankinlaw.com. Related articles Supreme Court allows lawsuits over seat belts (reuters.com) UPDATE 1-U.S. top court allows lawsuits over seat belts (reuters.com) Supreme Court: Mazda Can Be Sued for Lack of Backseat Belts in Vans (blogs.abcnews.com) Court allows suit against Mazda over lack of rear seat belts (seattletimes.nwsource.com)

  • US Supreme Court Considers Validity of Lawsuits Against Vaccine Producers

    Image via Wikipedia In March we discussed the pending United States Supreme Court case,  Bruesewitz v. Wyeth,  No. 09-152, a case in which the parents of a child who suffered injuries after receiving her 6-month DPT vaccine are seeking to overturn the current administrative processes established for lawsuits of this type. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case about whether lawsuits could proceed against companies that produce childhood vaccines. At issue was whether legislation passed by Congress 24 years ago shields vaccine producers from lawsuits alleging that serious injuries resulted from the administration of childhood vaccines. The law, National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, was intended to limit the ability to seek recovery for injuries related to vaccines. This Act sets forth an administrative process that must be followed for claims stemming from vaccine-related injuries. The intent behind the Act was to ensure a stable market supply, and to provide cost-effective arbitration for vaccine injury claims. The rationale behind the passage of this Act boils down to balancing our societal interest in reducing the occurrences of childhood diseases against the likelihood that that there will occasionally be negative reactions to these life saving vaccines. At issue in Bruesewitz is whether the Act protects companies that produce vaccines where the vaccine design defects and subsequent injuries were likely due to negligence in the preparation and storage of the vaccine, as opposed to unavoidable side effects unrelated to quality control in the production of the vaccine? How the case will be decided is anyone’s guess, since during oral arguments the Court seemed split, as explained in this Chicago Tribune article: Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the family’s side, arguing that because a safer vaccine was available in the early 1990s, the drug maker could be sued for selling a more dangerous type of vaccine. But Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia said Congress had passed the law to shield manufacturers from lawsuits. “There is a tremendous expense” to defending against lawsuits, Kennedy said. The worry was that vaccine makers would get out of the business if they were exposed to massive lawsuits, he said. As we explained previously, this is an important case and one that may have negative long term ramifications should the court rule in favor of vaccine producers and conclude that the Act covers all design defects, regardless of their cause. Howard[READ MORE…]

  • SCOTUS Issues Ruling Affirming 2d Amendment Rights

    Image via Wikipedia In March we discussed the fact that the Supreme Court of the United heard oral arguments in McDonald v. City of Chicago (08-1521). At issue in McDonald was whether the Second Amendment is incorporated into the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thus making it applicable to the States and invalidating ordinances prohibiting possession of handguns in the home. Last week, the Court issued its decision essentially reaffirming that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, stated: It is clear that the Framers . . . counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty. However, as explained in this Washington Post article, the decision was deliberately vague and raised more questions that it answered. In fact, it didn’t even specifically address the Chicago gun laws at issue in the case: The 5 to 4 decision does not strike down any gun-control laws, nor does it elaborate on what kind of laws would offend the Constitution. One justice predicted that an “avalanche” of lawsuits would be filed across the country asking federal judges to define the boundaries of gun ownership and government regulation. You can learn more about this decision from the following sources: SCOTUS wiki: Chicago v. McDonald SCOTUSblog: McDonald v. City of Chicago and the Standard of Review for Gun Control Laws Wikipedia: McDonald v. City of Chicago Howard Ankin of Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles  workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 346-8780 and howard@ankinlaw.com.

  • Should the government protect drug companies from vaccine-related injury lawsuits?

    Image by alvi2047 via Flickr The United States Supreme Court will soon hear Bruesewitz v. Wyeth,  No. 09-152, a case in which the parents of a child who suffered injuries after receiving her 6-month DPT vaccine are seeking to overturn the current administrative processes established for lawsuits of this type. (Hat tip: Day on Torts) Most people are unaware of the fact that the ability to seek recovery for injuries related to vaccines is limited by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. This Act sets forth an administrative process that must be followed for claims stemming from vaccine-related injuries. The intent behind the Act was to ensure a stable market supply, and to provide cost-effective arbitration for vaccine injury claims. The rationale behind the passage of this Act boils down to balancing our societal interest in reducing the occurrences of childhood diseases against the likelihood that that there will occasionally be negative reactions to these life saving vaccines. The issue in Brueswitz is: Whether Section 22(b)(1) of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 — which expressly preempts certain design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warning” — preempts all vaccine design defect claims, regardless whether the vaccine’s side effects were unavoidable. In other words, should the Act protect companies that produce vaccines where the vaccine design defects and subsequent injuries were likely due to negligence in the preparation and storage of the vaccine, as opposed to unavoidable side effects unrelated to quality control in the production of the vaccine? Another interesting issue is whether a decision in favor of the defendant would essentially give pharmaceutical companies the green light to lower standards in vaccine production. This is definitely a case worthy of note and one that may have negative long term ramifications should the court conclude that the Act covers all design defects, regardless of their cause.

  • SCOTUS hears arguments in McDonald v. City of Chicago

    Image via Wikipedia McDonald v. City of Chicago (08-1521) is a highly publicized United States Supreme Court case that many guns rights activists are watching carefully. This case has generated an enormous amount of attention from both sides of the issue and, as a result, over 50 amicus briefs have been filed with the Court. At issue in this case is whether the Second Amendment is incorporated into the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thus making it applicable to the States and invalidating ordinances prohibiting possession of handguns in the home. On March 2, 2010, oral arguments were heard by the Court, a transcript of which can be found here. This decision comes on the tails of the Court’s ground breaking Second Amendment decision nearly 2 years ago in District of Columbia v. Heller. It is expected that whatever the determination  in this case, the Court will be just as divided as it was in the Heller decision. You can learn more about this case from the following recent articles: Chicago Sun-Times: Mayor Daley ‘Optimistic’ Supreme Court Will Uphold City’s Handgun Ban (Mar. 1, 2010) New York Times: Tailgating Outside the Supreme Court, Without the Cars (Mar. 2, 2010) Wall Street Journal: The Second Amendment and the States (Mar. 2, 2010) Bloomberg: Give Us a Right to Be Free of Those Who Bear Arms (Mar. 3, 2010) Wall Street Journal: New Ammunition for Gun Rights (Mar. 3, 2010) Washington Post: Supreme Court Does More Wrangling With Gun Laws (Mar. 3, 2010)

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