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Legal Review: Research Offers New Hope for Those That Have Been Paralyzed

By Spine Surgeon Dr. Victor Hayes, MD of Trinity Spine Center

It has long been thought that those suffering from paralysis would never walk again. However, new research is turning that idea on its head and giving paralysis patients new hope.

The research was conducted by two different groups of researchers. They found that when electrical stimulation was applied to the spinal cord, some paralysis patients were able to walk again.

Electrical stimulation on its own is not enough. Patients that regained walking capabilities underwent extensive physical therapy after the stimulation. So far, three patients have been able to give up their wheelchairs, at least temporarily, and walk.

The news has garnered national interest, and praise from others in the field.

“This research is life-changing for patients” says Dr. Victor Hayes, MD. “To be able to tell a patient that thinks they have lost the use of their legs that there is hope will be a very good day. Everyone will be watching to see how this technology advances in the future to help even more patients.”

While the work is certainly progressive, more studies need to be done before it is commonly applied. Electrical stimulation will also not provide a person with full function right away.

Every patient that was able to walk after the the studies were conducted required a walker to do so. Two patients participating in the research were still not able to walk, indicating it may not be appropriate for everyone.

The physical therapy sessions were so intense one participant sustained a broken hip during them. Only one of the patients that can walk once again has done so outside of the laboratory setting.

Even with the limitations of the technology, doctors, researchers and professors are looking at it as the future of medicine. Instead of simply trying to make things as easy as possible for paralysis patients, Gregoire Courtine, professor at the Center for Neuroprosthetics and Brain Mind Institute, states this method could become the first line of treatment for those that are paralyzed.

Once this new technology is studied further and improvements are made, it could change the lives of thousands of people living with paralysis.


Legal Review: Former Assistant Superintendent of D.C. Archdiocese Charged with Embezzlement

By White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney Glenn Ivey of Price Benowitz LLP

The individual charged with assisting the Archdiocese in Washington with the operation of 95 Catholic Schools was arrested in September on three counts of mail fraud.

The charges allege that the individual used fake businesses and fraudulent invoices to embezzle at least $45,000 from the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese believes that the individual took more than $45,000, but the statute of limitations prevented prosecutors from including additional amounts.

“The penalties for mail fraud are severe — up to 30 years in prison depending on the specific characteristics of the charges,” said Glenn Ivey, a Washington, D.C. White Collar Crime Attorney with the law firm of Price Benowitz, LLP.   “By using the United States Postal Service to conduct his operation, the individual charged here has exposed himself to federal criminal charges,” he said.

Anyone that attempts to obtain money or property through fraud, deception, or misrepresentation and uses the US Postal Service to carry out the attempt can be charged with mail fraud.

Although the maximum penalty for mail fraud is 30 years, it only applies to situations where the defrauded company is a financial institution. For all other situations, including the individual in this case, the maximum penalty is 20 years and/or a monetary fine.

If you have been charged with a white collar crime like mail fraud, it is incredibly important that you retain the services of an experienced Washington, D.C. white collar crime attorney. Your attorney will be able to communicate on your behalf with the prosecutors assigned to the case, and can work to try and have the charges dismissed.

If dismissal is not an option, your attorney will be able to advocate for a reduced sentence or plea bargain. Additionally, your attorney will be able to advise you regarding the possible fines and jail time associated with the amounts alleged to have been embezzled.

Do not attempt to navigate these charges or the court system on your own. The laws related to crimes such as mail fraud are complex, and care must be taken to ensure that your rights are protected at each stage. An experienced white collar crime attorney will be able to identify any potential pitfalls early on, and guide you through the process.


Legal Review: Virginia Ratchets Up the Pressure on Distracted Driving

By Criminal Defense Attorney Thomas Soldan of Price Benowitz LLP

The Virginia legislature has taken the step of doubling the fines associated with distracted driving offenses when those offenses occur in highway work zones, from the standard $125 fine for a first offense to $250 for a first offense.

Distracted driving is illegal and dangerous, and is considered a “primary offense”, meaning that a police officer can stop you if they believe they see you texting.

“These laws are important to protecting the safety of highway workers as well as drivers,” said Thomas Soldan, a Virginia Traffic Lawyer. However, Virginia has not outright banned the use of mobile phones for voice calls in a vehicle, nor have they banned the use of phones for GPS or other online services.

This means that questions can arise about the action being taken by a driver when pulled over. Answering a call can look like texting, as can dialing a number or typing in an address on your phone’s GPS.

If you have been ticketed for distracted driving and believe that ticket was improper because you were completing some other allowed action on your phone, you should consult with a Virginia Traffic Attorney. Though distracted driving tickets do not carry heavy criminal penalties, they do carry fines that increase with each subsequent ticket.

That means that if you are incorrectly ticketed the first time but decline to challenge the matter, and then you are properly ticketed at a later date, you will end up paying double the fine on the second ticket when you should only be paying the fine for a first offense.

Additionally, if you were not guilty of distracted driving, there is no reason for your record to reflect being charged with such. The prosecutor is responsible for ensuring that all elements of the charge levied are met in order to be successful. Failing to assert your rights and challenge the ticket is essentially doing the prosecutor’s job for them.

It is never a good idea to allow your rights to go unenforced, even with something that may seem as trivial as a the fine associated with a ticket. Contact a Virginia Traffic Lawyer if you have been ticketed for distracted driving to see that your rights are protected.


Legal Review: Virginia Declines to Install Speed Cameras in School Zones

By Criminal Defense Attorney Karin Riley Porter of Price Benowitz LLP

A bill in the Virginia legislature that would have installed speed cameras to take photos of vehicles traveling in excess of 12 miles per hour above the speed limit failed to advance out of committee, despite having no public opposition.

The cameras proposed are the same ones that Virginia uses for catching drivers running red lights. Pictures are generated that show the vehicle’s license plate and other information regarding the violation. The tickets are then mailed to the address associated with the license plate.

“Legislators, in discussing the bill, seemed concerned that allowing ticket enforcement through the mail would reduce the seriousness of school zone speeding violations,” said Karin Riley Porter, a Virginia Speeding Ticket Lawyer with the firm of Price Benowitz, LLP.

School zone speeding violations are treated very seriously in any jurisdiction, but in Virginia, any speeding violation can be treated one of two ways: as a standard traffic offense, or as reckless driving. The differences are substantial.

A speeding ticket that is issued as a traffic offense has a fine and only affects your driving record, which may have an impact on your insurance rates. A ticket for reckless driving, however, is considered a Class I misdemeanor, which is criminal in nature. It is not only accompanied by fines of up to $2,500, but it can result in jail time.

Unfortunately for drivers, a speeding ticket issued for reckless driving looks no different than a speeding ticket that is a traffic infraction. In some instances, the officer will write “RD” on the ticket to indicate that it is a reckless driving charge, something that drivers may not even recognize.

The issue this creates is that some drivers simply choose to pay the fine on speeding tickets. Failure to appear in court for a reckless driving ticket could result in the driver not only being fined but could also result with a criminal conviction that could impact an individual’s long-term future.

If you have been cited for speeding in Virginia, do not simply pay the fine. Contact a Virginia Speeding Ticket Attorney and allow them to review your citation in order to determine the best course of action.

If you have been cited for reckless driving, the attorney will be able to ensure that you are represented in court and argue on your behalf. Do not take the chance that the prosecutor or judge will be lenient — especially if you were ticketed in a school zone. Allow a Virginia Speeding Ticket Attorney to help.


Legal Review: The Fight for Equal Rights Heats Up in Virginia Beach

By Employment Attorney Tom Spiggle of The Spiggle Law Firm

Four bills that would have perpetuated discrimination against the LGBTQ community in housing and public employment decisions were struck down in the Virginia House of Delegates in February. Advocacy groups say they will not stop pressuring GOP legislators who continue to push for discriminatory bills.

Those groups, Virginia Beach for Fairness and Equality Virginia, held an awareness and advocacy campaign in Neptune Park at the Oceanfront in July.

During that campaign these groups tried to build awareness for how the LGBTQ community is currently discriminated against, with a focus on housing and employment in the public sector. They would like to not only pressure the legislature to change the current laws, but they are also encouraging residents and businesses to do the same.

Their hope is that by the time elections are held in November, lawmakers would have listened to what they had to say. And more importantly, that they will start passing the laws that could greatly help this community.

“Whether or not someone gets a job or is accepted into housing should not have anything to do with their sexual orientation or what gender they identify with, ” says Tom Spiggle of The Spiggle Law Firm. “It is illogical and shameful that either of those factors would ever be considered — but especially in 2018.”

Historically, marginalized communities have struggled to overcome a variety of barriers to access housing and professional opportunities, though great strides have been made in the past decade.

Robert Roman, a co-owner of a furniture store in Norfolk, pointed to Fortune 500 companies that are intentional in implementing inclusive hiring practices. Due to the fact that they often want to set up their headquarters in states that have anti-discrimination laws, Roman argues that passing such laws in Virginia could have an impact on the entire state and its economy as companies decide where to open new locations.

Lawmakers should consider their obligation to constituents is deeply tied to their stance and protection of anti-discrimination laws and take swift action accordingly.


Legal Review: Virginia Schools Teaching Child Abuse Prevention this Fall

By Criminal Defense Attorney Nicholas Braswell of Price Benowitz LLP

Math, science, history and English are all subjects expected to be taught in school. This school year, however, students will also be getting an education in child abuse prevention in some Virginia schools.

The move comes after Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill back in April, allowing the new program to be added to the schools’ curriculum. However, schools will not be required to include the new material in their family life education curriculum.

That is a step away from what the law currently requires of schools. All schools must already provide education on issues such as dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Many, such as the bill’s sponsors Senator Jennifer McClellan and Senator Jennifer Wexton, did not think that was enough and pushed to move this latest bill forward.

The bill went into effect on July 1, 2018, and included guidelines for the program. The guidelines suggest that the education be focused on preventing child abuse, recognizing child abuse, abduction and sexual abuse and exploitation. All programs are to be made age-appropriate for the grades these subjects will be taught in.

The new law, says Wexton, is a great step forward for Erin’s Law, a movement that is gaining attention around the country and asking schools to implement sexual abuse prevention programs. While Wexton does not believe this constitutes enough to comply with Erin’s Law, she does believe it is greatly paving the way.

“Many children do not know what to do if they are being abused or are not even aware that it is happening,” says Nicholas Braswell of the Richmond Defense Group. “Being accused of these kinds of abuses can be life-changing, so it’s important that we educate our youth on what healthy relationships and behavior look like so they are armed with solid information that keeps us all safe.”


Legal Review: U.S. Gun Violence Prompts Connecticut Walkouts

By Criminal Defense Attorney Sean Barrett with the law firm Billings & Barrett.

Students and faculty across Connecticut participated in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence in schools. The focus of the walkout was to bring attention to a lack of action on gun laws and also raise awareness and avoid incidents like Sandy Hook and Parkland in the future.

Connecticut has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. The state has passed a “red flag” law, which allows friends, family and certain medical professionals to file petitions with the court and ask that an order be entered removing firearms from the possession of individuals who are found to pose a present danger to themselves or others.

Additionally, Connecticut requires that anyone seeking to purchase a firearm obtain a permit and all transfers of hand guns and long guns must be authorized by the state, creating a de-facto gun registry. Magazines with capacities in excess of ten rounds are no longer legal to sell or transfer, though their possession has not been outlawed.

In terms of concealed weapons, Connecticut’s laws do not differentiate between the open carry and concealed carry of hand guns, but they do require a permit, regardless of the carrying desire of the individual. The authorities issuing that permit are, based on court decisions, required to issues those permits in the absence of a compelling reason not to do so, but those authorities still have some discretion in making that ultimate determination.

“Running afoul of these laws in Connecticut can be expensive and the punishments can be severe,” said Sean Barrett, a New Haven, Connecticut Gun Crimes Attorney with the law firm of Billings & Barrett. For example, possession of a firearm that has been banned by the state can result in up to three years in prison and up to $500 in fines. Additionally, possession of firearms during the commission of certain felonies can add five, non-suspendable, non-concurrent years to any prison sentence being faced.

Connecticut is a state that takes its gun laws seriously and treats those who violate those laws harshly. If you have been charged with a gun crime in the state, experienced counsel is critical to a positive outcome.


Legal Review: “Dancing Doctor” Faces Suspension and Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Dr. Windell Davis-Boutte, more commonly known as the “Dancing Doctor,” has had her license suspended and faces several lawsuits for medical malpractice for not using proper standards of care while treating patients. That was the reason given by the Georgia Composite Medical Board in June when they initially suspended her license.

The suspension came after many complaints were filed against Davis-Boutte. One of her patients has suffered permanent brain damage while under the care of the doctor. Others have cited infections after being treated by the doctor.

The most recent case involved a woman that suffered respiratory distress and severe bleeding from the lips after Davis-Boutte performed liposuction, breast augmentation, and a Brazilian butt lift on her on May 30.

These are just a few cases in the last two years that prompted the Board to take action. The fact that she has posted video of herself online dancing in the operating room only served as further proof that she was not tending to patients properly while they were under her care.

In one video, which has now been taken down, she can be seen with medical instruments in her hands while she raps and leans over a patient’s half-bare buttocks.

However, it is not just the suspension Davis-Boutte is facing. Several of her patients have also filed civil lawsuits against the former surgeon, claiming medical malpractice. Currently, four of those lawsuits have been settled.

“The suspension will keep any future patients from harm, at least for the time-being,” says Lyle Griffin Warshauer of Warshauer Law Group. “But there are so many patients out there that she has hurt over the past two years. Many of their injuries are serious and they have a right to seek compensation for those injuries.”

While the Board suspended her license in early June 2018, it was later that month that an agreement between Davis-Boutte and the Board was filed. Within that document was a consent order signed by Davis-Boutte, agreeing to give up her license temporarily for the next two and a half years. Once that time period has passed, she can then apply to have the suspension lifted.

In the meantime, she cannot call herself a doctor or in any way practice medicine. More lawsuits may also be filed as former patients continue to come forward.


Legal Review: Why 2018 May be the Year of Divorce

Couples that are considering getting a divorce may want to finalize things before the end of 2018. And with new tax laws that have recently been enacted, many may do just that, possibly making 2018 the year of the divorce. There are four new tax laws that will impact a family’s finances after any divorce that is finalized on or after New Year’s Day 2019.

The most talked-about new tax law affects alimony payments that were once tax-deductible by the spouse making the payments. While Texas law does not provide for alimony, in certain cases spouses may be entitled to spousal maintenance, which is treated as alimony for tax purposes.

While spousal maintenance payments have previously been claimed as income by the spouse receiving the payments, that spouse typically fell in a lower income tax bracket, so the total taxes on alimony were lower than if the payor spouse had claimed the same income.

That will change in 2019. As of January 1, spouses paying spousal maintenance payments will have to claim those amounts as income. That will not only hurt the person paying maintenance, but also the person receiving it, as they may face lower maintenance payments to make up for the increased tax cost.

The division of assets has also been affected by new tax laws. As of the new year, the amount of interest on mortgage payments and the amount of property taxes that can be deducted on tax returns will be reduced. This will make home ownership more expensive.

To make matters worse, those who sell a home while married can make a profit up to $500,000 without tax penalties. Single individuals can only realize half of that, up to $250,000. Those who will not be able to afford a home after divorce may wish to sell it before their divorce is finalized, depending on the anticipated net profit.

When children are involved in a divorce case, it always makes things much more difficult. The new tax laws have not helped here, either. The new code strikes out the exemption rule for children during the years 2018 — 2025.

While this will be true for any parent that claims children on their tax returns, that parent may also be eligible for new child tax credits in the new year. As of 2026, the exemption will revert to $4,000+ allowed per child.

Finally, the new tax laws also affect those who have already divorced or are considering it and also have pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements. The new laws may have nullified some of the arrangements outlined in these contracts, meaning couples that hold them should review them with a family lawyer that can explain what will and will not stand when the new tax laws come into play.

“It is important that any couple serious about divorce finalize the proceeding before 2019,” says Sharon Ramage of The Ramage Law Group. As there is a 60 day waiting period, it is important that couples wishing to finalize divorce during 2018, file before October 15, 2018. “While this may sadly make 2018 the year of divorce, acting now can potentially save families thousands of dollars down the road.”


Legal Review: Republican Plans for Paid Family Leave Look to Tap Social Security

Paid family leave has become a hot-button topic for politicians of all stripes. However, at its core, paid family leave is a concept that affects the tens of millions of Americans who each year have to take unpaid time off from work to care for sick children, sick parents, sick spouses; not to mention to give birth.

Because of this massive impact, Republicans and Democrats have advanced plans designed to provide some form of paid family leave for all Americans.

“With any plan like this, one of the biggest questions is determining exactly how to fund it,” said Sara Khaki, an Atlanta Social Security Disability Attorney with The Khaki Law Firm, LLC. “The Republican plan, which due to the current makeup of Congress and the White House has the most likelihood of success, seeks to use future Social Security retirement benefits to make those payments.”

The proposal would allow new parents 12 weeks of paid leave. It would not allow individuals who are sick or have sick family members to participate. Those 12 weeks would be paid for using the individual’s Social Security retirement fund — in essence, borrowing from one’s future retirement benefits to provide income now.

Critics of this proposal see it as forcing individuals to decide when that money will be more important: now or in the future. Choosing the “now” means that the individual is reducing the amount that may be available to them in the future, although the plans proponents assert that it would only result in a minimum deferral of the start date of Social Security Retirement benefits.

Critics also argue that this proposal simply takes more money from an already underfunded and depleted Social Security program, while proponents point out that an individual will not actually receive more than they otherwise would under their Social Security benefits.

While the program tries to find a revenue-neutral approach to an obvious need, it assumes that the income replacement rate of 45 percent will be sufficient because there are two parents living together, not just one parent, and that both parents do not have health issues of their own.

With the average monthly payment per person under this plan being $1,145, it is unlikely to provide the amount of monetary support necessary to cover an average family’s expenses, let alone a family with a disabled parent or child whose expenses are naturally higher.

Ultimately, the breadth of any paid family leave program will come down to cost and politics. If the public supports the idea, and politicians are elected because they support the idea, the plan is likely to be broader in scope than were the reverse to be the case.

If paid family leave is instituted, it will be incredibly important to sit down with an Attorney familiar with Social Security Retirement Benefits and Social Security Disability benefits to ensure that you make an informed decision about your options.


Legal Review: Lawmakers in Virginia Considering Legislation That Would Ban Sanctuary Cities

By Immigration Attorney James O. Hacking, III, founder of Hacking Law Practice, LLC.

Lawmakers throughout Virginia have been considering legislation that would ban sanctuary cities in the state. The House of Delegates pushed the bill to the Senate with a 7-6 vote from a committee within the House.

The bill was introduced by Delegate Ben Cline, a Republican from Rockbridge and it is known as House Bill 1257. If the bill is voted into law, it would prevent local governments from establishing sanctuary cities in Virginia.

“Sanctuary cities are cropping up all over Virginia and the rest of the country and provide much-needed protection to immigrants,” James O. Hacking, III, of Hacking Law Practice, LLC, said. “Seeking sanctuary in the United States can help victims avoid persecution and abuse in their home countries.”

The bill would also require local governments to cooperate more with federal law regarding immigration, going as far as creating more of a cooperation between local governments and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The House of Delegates almost voted down the legislation due to a tie vote. A second vote was conducted and passed 51-49, which moved it to the Senate Committee on Local Government.

Proponents of the bill are concerned that gang members would be protected from deportation if sanctuary cities were to be legalized and created in Virginia. Those who have spoken out in favor of the bill have specifically mentioned the presence of the gang known as MS-13.

In response to the discussion of gangs, Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan, of Richmond, said “this bill is not about MS-13, although I know that is what gets trotted out all the time as the boogeyman. This bill sends a message to certain people: ‘You’re not welcome here.'”

She continued, saying that the bill was created to send a message. McClellan noted that there are laws already on the books in Virginia that help identify the immigration status of people imprisoned.

Virginia’s current Governor, Ralph Northam, has spoken out publicly against the proposed legislation. His predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, vetoed similar legislation last year when it came across his desk. Governor Northam has said that sanctuary cities have not been a problem in Virginia but did not elaborate any further on his opposition to the bill.

Hopefully, legislators can stop this bill from becoming law. If not, it will likely have disastrous effects for the protection of those fleeing violence in their home countries. This legislation can force individuals to suffer the human rights abuses they are trying to flee.


Legal Review: In the Face of New Allegations, Harvey Weinstein Denies All

By Criminal Defense Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman.

It may seem like much longer to some, but October 2017 was when the first sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein came out.

From then until the summer of 2018, more and more women have stepped forward. In total, over 70 have stated that Weinstein sexually assaulted them in some way. Until July 2018, only three of the allegations turned into formal charges. And in the beginning of July 2018, more charges were laid against Weinstein.

If these new charges turn into convictions, Weinstein could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Weinstein was already facing three charges of sexual assault in July of 2018 when three more charges were laid. The new charges come from a woman Harvey allegedly had contact with in 2006. After her testimony Weinstein was charged with two counts of predatory assault, and one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree. The predatory assault charges each carry a ten year sentence alone.

Weinstein is being accused of various sexual assault crimes against the women that have currently led to charges being laid. However, there is little corroborating evidence in any of the allegations. And because many of these cases go back later than a decade, there likely never will be any evidence other than the testimonies of the accusers. Weinstein has denied all allegations since the first accusations came out, and was released from jail after posting $1 million in bail.

“These accusations are incredibly serious,” says sex crimes attorney Jeffrey Lichtman of the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman. “While those who accuse others of these crimes are to be respected and treated fairly under the law at all times, the same applies to the accused until proven guilty. This new movement shows just how easy it is to destroy another person and their career with one statement.”

In an arraignment on July 9, 2018, Weinstein pleaded not guilty to the three new counts brought against him. He had already pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape and one of first-degree criminal sexual acts. He continues to be out on bail under the same conditions.


Legal Review: Almond Recall Shows Just How Dangerous Everyday Products Can Be

By Personal Injury Attorney Joseph P. Awad with Silberstein, Awad, & Miklos, P.C..

People are surrounded by, and use, a number of different products every day. In most instances, those products are safe and will not cause any harm. But in some cases, something as seemingly harmless as a bag of almonds can be very dangerous to people. This is the lesson Aldi stores, and food manufacturer Kanan Enterprises, have recently learned.

Kanan Enterprises and Aldi issued a voluntarily recall of bags of Southern Grove Unsalted Almonds in early June due to a food packaging error. After receiving reports from customers they learned that wasabi almonds were included in some packages of the unsalted almonds.

The wasabi almonds contain soy and wheat, two of the most serious allergens that can be fatal for those that have an allergy to them. Even if a customer with an allergy did not consume the wasabi almonds, the very fact that they were packaged with the unsalted almonds could be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

“Failure to warn is one of the most common mistakes manufacturers make in product liability cases,” says Joseph P. Awad of Silberstein, Awad, & Miklos, P.C.. “Kanan Enterprises and Aldi both did the right thing by issuing the recall and getting the packages off the shelves. In doing so, they protected their customers, as well as themselves.”

While it was only the 14-ounce packages that were affected, they were distributed in 13 different states primarily along the Eastern coast and at Aldi stores.

No one was reportedly hurt in the instance of this recall. However, it does show just how easily a seemingly harmless product can become dangerous to some.

Consumers are advised to check the Food and Drug Administration’s website regularly for recalls of packaged foods. As the case of Kanan Enterprises’ unsalted almonds proves, this is especially important for people with food allergies that may be consuming packaged foods.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission also regularly updates its list of all products that have been recalled and it is important that consumers regularly check their website as well. After all, recalls only work when customers know about them.


Legal Review: Social Security Cuts Eyed by Congress

By Georgia Social Security Disability Attorney Sara Khaki, founder of The Khaki Law Firm.

Cuts to social security are being proposed in the White House’s recently released 2018 budget and are only aimed at the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. It does not propose changes to the Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance (RSDI) program.

“The acronyms can sometimes be overwhelming but understanding the programs and what each one does should not be,” said Sara Khaki, a Social Security Disability Attorney with The Khaki Law Firm. Generally speaking, benefits from any of the Social Security programs are based on an individual’s work history, and whether they have earned wages from which Social Security taxes were deducted.

If an individual has a disability that prevents them from working, he or she will likely apply for disability payments under Social Security. The two programs that make payments to disabled workers based on work history (or lack thereof) are SSI and SSDI.

If an individual has been disabled and unable to work since birth, or if they have become disabled and have a limited work history, he or she will likely apply for SSI. The SSI program makes payments to a qualifying individual regardless of whether they have ever earned wages or paid Social Security taxes.

In order to qualify, the person must be determined to be disabled under Social Security’s regulations, and also have a very limited amount of assets (normally less than $3,000). The benefit amount is small (roughly $750 per month) but often includes automatic eligibility for health care through Medicaid.

If the individual has a work history, he or she will likely apply for SSDI. Eligibility for SSDI is based upon the amount of work credits the individual has earned during their lifetime and whether the person qualifies as disabled under the Social Security regulations. Amounts paid under SSDI are generally larger than SSI payments, and eligibility does not take into consideration whether the individual has other assets. The determination of eligibility for payments is based solely on an individual’s ability to work.

The RSDI program is the program that most people are thinking about when they use the phrase “Social Security”. RSDI is available to individuals age 62 or above, and payments are based on that individual’s average earnings during their lifetime, unless benefits are being paid to a surviving spouse or child, in which case payments are based on the earnings on the deceased spouse or parent.

The changes being considered by Congress, as noted above, will only affect the SSI and SSDI programs. These cuts are likely to have a negative impact on the ability of injured and disabled individuals to apply for benefits through the Social Security program. If you are considering applying due to a disability, do not delay. Starting the process now may allow access to benefits unavailable in the future.


Legal Review: Amtrak CEO Claims Recent Collision Fault of CSX and Federal Government

By South Carolina Wrongful Death Attorney Gary Christmas, a senior partner and founding member of the law firm Howell & Christmas Injury Lawyers.

A recent fatal Amtrak accident has been blamed on the freight railroad CSX and the Federal Government’s failure to install Positive Train Control on the track in question by Amtrak’s president and CEO.

Richard Anderson, CEO of Amtrak, claimed in a statement that the accident was the result of a CSX crew redirecting the main line to a side track where the CSX train was parked, and not switching it back.

Additionally, said Anderson, this portion of track was not equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), which is designed to automatically slow or stop a train in situations where it is speeding or heading down the wrong track. Anderson said that the accident, which claimed the lives of three Amtrak employees, could and should have been avoided.

“The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) is currently investigating this accident, and hasn’t reached any conclusions about who was at fault,” said Gary Christmas, a Mount Pleasant personal injury attorney with the law firm of Howell & Christmas Injury Lawyers. “However, the NTSB Chairman has been quoted as saying that PTC would have eliminated most, if not all, of the recent fatal train accidents.”

Though statements like this certainly support the claims of Amtrak’s CEO, any probable cause findings issued by the NTSB are specifically barred from use in civil litigation by Federal law. What is not barred are the findings of fact included in the NTSB report, which can assist a claimant in making his or her case regarding any claim for injuries.

“Accidents such as these,” said Christmas, “raise questions about the best approach to take in filing suit from a wrongful death standpoint.” As employees of Amtrak, the three individuals that lost their lives would be covered by the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), which is much more favorable to claimants than standard workers’ compensation claims.

FELA allows recovery for pain and suffering and uses the pure comparative negligence standard as opposed to contributory negligence. Pure comparative negligence allows recovery for an individual claimant even if their own negligence contributed to their injuries. This is better than South Carolina’s standard, which says that if a claimant is more than 50 percent responsible for their own injuries, they are barred from recovery.

Many elements go into any claim for injury, including choice of law, the order in which to file claims, and how to use evidence provided by other parties. The involvement of a South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney can be incredibly beneficial.


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