New Lawsuit By Students Targets Legislators Who Do Nothing About Climate Change

There are a lot of talking points regarding climate change. You’ve probably heard one more than any other: “97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.” But opponents of this idea will say it’s not true. That’s because, technically, it isn’t. The real quote should read that “97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.” But because people forget to include that one crucial word, the argument rages on and on.

But the facts are facts whether people believe in them or not. Neil deGrasse Tyson said as much.

Now, a handful of Florida students have brought the fight directly to the governor and several state lawmakers who they believe aren’t doing much of anything to fight man-made climate change. They’re suing.

This is a big deal for Floridians, whose state high point is barely 400 feet — and the lowest high point out of any of the states. Much of Florida lies much lower, of course, which means rising sea levels will almost certainly render much of the state uninhabitable over the next century.

Dozens of children recently tried to sue as well, but a federal appeals court dismissed their case.

Delaney Reynolds, one of the students who organized the new lawsuit said, “The lawsuit has been filed because we basically believe that the Florida government, the governor, Commissioner of Agriculture and the Cabinet are not upholding their duties that are outlined in the Florida Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine. Within these documents, it says that the Florida government has the legal obligation to protect our environment and our public trust resources. That’s land, that’s water, and we believe it also includes the atmosphere.”

He continues, “We don’t want any money. None of the lawyers are getting paid. It’s all pro bono. All we want is action on climate change and reducing fossil fuels.”

The group is all between the ages of 12 and 21, and all of them believe in the fight they’re bringing directly to Florida state government.

When approached about the fact that Governor Ron DeSantis seems to be more invested in environmental conservation and climate change, Reynolds said it wasn’t enough.

“It’s definitely better,” he acknowledged. “And they’re great first steps. But the keyword is first step. The only way that we’re ever going to address and solve the climate change crisis is by completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels. We have to transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on sustainable energy. And while all of these mitigation and resiliency efforts are important and necessary for South Florida and Florida as a whole, our long-term survival, we need to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.”

Strict Mandatory Florida Drug Laws Come Under Fire

Drug laws have been routinely questioned in the past few years, in part due to many new studies proving how little effect strict sentencing policies have on the rulebreakers. It was 1999 when Florida put into place stricter, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines — for the second time. It had repealed a similar set of sentencing guidelines all the way back in 1993. Now the laws are once again under fire because of their ineffectiveness.

The drug trafficking laws have raised the most eyebrows. 

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s (JJIE) Gregory Newburn writes: “For example, illegal possession or sale of seven hydrocodone pills was ‘drug trafficking’ punishable by a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence. At 27 pills, the mandatory minimum jumped to 15 years. At 54 pills — a few days’ supply for an average user — the mandatory minimum for 25 years, the same sentence mandated for importing 30 kilograms of heroin, and 10 years longer than the sentence for importing 150 kilograms of cocaine.”

Those laws become even more painful when one compares them to mandatory sentencing guidelines for first degree murder. They’re particularly eye-opening today, when most medical specialists agree that we shouldn’t be putting people in jail for drug crimes at all. Most of these people need medical help and therapy — not jail time. 

The laws recently changed to become more sensible, but most argue they don’t go nearly far enough (because they still exist). Newburn said that, “the Legislature raised the trafficking threshold for hydrocodone again earlier this year, so under current law one must possess or sell roughly 200 pills to trigger a 15-year sentence, and around 600 pills for a 25-year sentence.” 

That’s still a lot of time draining tax dollars for a nonviolent offense.

And then there’s another problem: Offenders who are currently serving sentences imposed before the new change in law are still subject to the old law. James Caruso was sentenced to 25 years in prison 17 years ago — but today, the same offense would have likely put him on probation. He said in 2017, “A person in Florida could literally do the exact same thing today that I did in 2002 and still get out of prison before me.”

New legislation might change that retrospectively, if passed. Representative Alex Andrade (R-FL) filed HB 339 with bipartisan support. Senator Darryl Rousin (D-FL) filed SB 902. Should the legislation be enacted into law, they would allow past offenders to be granted new sentencing hearings. 

But proponents of legal change want mandatory sentencing axed for good. The money, they say, should be invested into programs that make more of a difference for drug users, like counseling.

Are Automated Vehicles Legally Allowed On Florida Roads?

Testing automated or driverless vehicles is a difficult task for the big tech companies building the software necessary to run them. Most of the testing is done in southwestern states where sun is the norm and rain is unusual. That’s because the weather makes it much more difficult for the software to work properly — it’s just not that good yet. It’s also why many analysts have suggested that full automation is decades away.

But that hasn’t stopped car manufacturers or legislators from trying to jumpstart the transition.

Legislators in Florida recently drafted a bill to allow autonomous vehicles on the state’s roads. It was subsequently signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. This law is different from many others because it allows those vehicles to operate without a human driver behind the wheel. 

Many autonomous vehicle accidents have blamed the underlying technology, when in fact the human overseer just wasn’t paying attention. No one believes the technology is perfect, so it’s a scary moment when legislators accept the fact that, sooner or later, we need to let the human element of the driverless equation go away.

That means the ultimate responsibility for ensuring public safety while using these automated vehicles rests squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers and software programmers who are supposed to make these cars work.

A lesser known company called Starsky Robotics has already put driverless vehicles on Florida State roads. The company operates out of San Francisco and knows that it needs to test vehicles in environments outside of California and other southwestern states where weather is mostly uniform.

Starsky Robots isn’t interested in purely consumer-based driverless vehicles, though. Recent reports on driverless vehicles have promoted the idea that, maybe, the first wave of truly automated vehicles will be big rig trucks. Starsky Robotics wants to have at least 25 of them on the road by the end of 2020.

But don’t worry about your safety just yet — the company is only testing these trucks on a closed course. They’re no danger to other motorists.

Governor DeSantis said, “With this bill, Florida officially has an open-door policy to autonomous vehicle companies, and I encourage them to relocate from California to Florida. This helps chart a course to a bolder, brighter, and smarter future in transportation and embraces the innovation revolution that will bring high-paying jobs to the state, while making our roads safer.”

The bill went into effect in July.

If you suspect you were in an accident with a driverless vehicle, you should call a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Liability laws are not yet in place for these kinds of accidents.

Climate Change In Palm Beach: What Does The Law Say?

Recently, the Extinction Rebellion — a massive group of environmentalists protesting inaction against climate change by the leaders of governments around the world — held a series of global protests to attract attention to their cause. The protestors weren’t afraid to break the law, either. In fact, part of the point was to enact non-violent acts of civil disobedience because annoying people now is better than watching people suffer and die later.

To many Floridians, this wave of protests has passed unseen and unheard. The effects of climate change continue to be ignored. At the very least, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber planned a speech for one September event. 

Gabriella Marchesani watched the news around the country and saw that many NYC students were excused from school so they could attend the events and take part in the action. She said, “Missing one day, not even a full day of school, to do something that could possibly change the way our lawmakers, politicians, how our government works, they should encourage that. They should encourage students to take action.”

She continued, “For people who say we’re just a bunch of kids, we’re a bunch of youth who believe in science and we want action.”

Even though some Floridians continue to ignore the climate crisis, it hasn’t been ignoring them: High tides in Palm Beach recently flooded land near the popular Flagler Museum, a scary phenomenon set to become extremely common in the wake of climate change. 

Many people don’t understand that the warming temperatures will affect how ocean water circulates around the globe, or what will happen if the water becomes too acidic for some fish to thrive in. For them, these issues are potential problems in the future, not in the here and now. But the problems are here and it’s time to face them. We can see it in the increasing strength of our hurricane season.

Unfortunately the laws on climate change in Florida will likely not be changing anytime soon. Not for the better, anyway. Florida recently elected a new Republican governor, Ron Desantis. His immediate enacting of new directives in the wake of climate change showed some promise: he appointed a new chief science officer to continue research. He opposed fracking. He opposed offshore drilling for coal and oil, and industry that has wreaked havoc on marine wildlife in recent years.

But all that action might be moot if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gases. More regulation is needed before anything will change.

Should Florida Reform Tort Law To Limit Personal Injury Damages Won In Court?

Many advocates for tort law reform are arguing that personal injury damages that should be proportional to medical costs usually have little to do with those costs, especially because of insurance awards and reduced rates under Medicare or Medicaid. That’s why they want a new bill passed that would set strict limits to personal injury awards won in court.

Ryan Banfill, who works as a spokesman for the Florida Justice Association, said, “Florida’s courts are fully capable of dealing with these issues and do so successfully every day.”

House Bill 17 reads that “medical damages in certain tort actions [need] to be accurately calculated, based on actual amounts.”

The reason why damages aren’t always proportional to medical costs is simple: there are a variety of other difficult-to-calculate variables involved in making a judgment and judges are given a lot of wiggle room in the verdicts they reach for that reason. For example, those injured in an accident can sue a negligent party not only for medical costs, but also for lost wages or reducing earning potential, and more importantly for emotional and psychological pain. If medical treatment is ongoing, future costs are considered as well.

Advocates of HB17 also say that “Florida has the highest tort system costs among U.S. states as a percentage of state gross domestic product, at 3.6 percent.”

That might be why tort reformers also want to reduce and cap damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits.

But new laws would do more than just limit how much money plaintiffs could win from negligent parties — because of contingency policies, they could also limit the growth of law firms trying to build their reputations or client lists.

And because personal injury attorneys usually work on contingency — meaning they don’t get paid unless you win your case — the new legislation would drastically cut their earning potential. An unintended consequence (or maybe a completely intentional consequence) might push lawyers to be more creative in how they bill for services, including no longer working on contingency. 

If attorneys start requiring clients to pay for services up front, that means poor clients (or even some middle class clients) might be less likely to file a lawsuit at all, preferring to simply swallow the already life-changing costs of a bad accident rather than take the chance that they might have to pay those same costs in addition to a lawyer’s fees when they lose their case.

And that might be the point: the legislation could reduce the total number of lawsuits by making it harder for people of lower means to file them in the first place.

Can I Put A Camera In My Loved One’s Room In A Nursing Home Facility?

Elder care abuse and nursing home abuse are the terms we use to describe what happens when a loved one who lives in a senior care facility falls prey to someone trying to take advantage of their physical or mental state — they might take advantage physically, psychologically, or even financially. Often the people who are guilty of this terrible crime are the people who are supposed to be most trusted: the caretakers. 

How do we prevent this from occurring?

A topic of conversation that seems to be getting more popular is the idea of surveying individual rooms in care facilities where foul play is suspected, or to deter it altogether. Placing cameras in nursing homes is legally allowed in Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. These laws are written for the families; in Utah, facilities themselves are allowed to install cameras.

A Minnesota case shed more light on the epidemic of elder abuse cases in the United States. When one 75-year-old’s daughter became concerned that her mother was not receiving the appropriate standard of care, she took it upon herself to install an expensive camera in her mother’s room — even though there were no laws to provide her with legal backing for this action.

When the nursing home’s staff started to manually point the camera away from her mother’s bed, the woman grew increasingly concerned. She bolted the camera to a piece of heavy furniture in her mother’s room, and then complained to the Minnesota Department of Health, which proceeded to rule in her favor: the nursing home was no longer legally allowed to tamper with the camera that had been placed there for a person’s protection. 

The new laws have led others to wonder if legally allowed camera surveillance of nursing home residents and caretakers might go too far, though.

After all, there are obvious privacy concerns that aren’t always properly addressed by fresh legislation. Many of those who are being surveilled have dementia — about half of nursing home residents suffer from the disease — and are unable to provide consent. While it might seem like a simple issue of requesting consent from a resident’s power of attorney instead, things are rarely so easy.

Many nursing homes assign residents two to a room in order to conserve resources. A camera placed in one of these rooms might be legal in the aforementioned states, but is it ethically right? The camera won’t just capture potentially intimate and personal footage of the intended resident — it’ll capture footage of that resident’s unsuspecting roommate, who may not have given any form of consent whatsoever. 

It’s easy to see how quickly this might become an even trickier legal situation. One thing’s for sure: the conversation isn’t over yet.

Can I Sue For Medical Malpractice For My Breast Cancer In Florida?

Moving to Florida after retirement is the dream of a lot of people who live and work in the United States, and many people follow through on that dream. Because we have so many retired folk who reside in our great state, though, it’s not a big surprise that we have higher rates of age-related diseases and illnesses, cancer chief among them. Of course the rates of medical malpractice are proportionally higher as well — and you should be ready to spot the signs, because chances are you or someone you know will find themselves in just such a situation.

Breast cancer is extremely common among older women, and it’s also a hereditary disease. That means if your mother or grandmother had breast cancer, you’re a lot more likely to come down with it yourself. That means first and foremost you should be checking yourself as often as possible. If you find any abnormalities or unexplained lumps in your breasts, it’s time for a trip to the doctor’s office.

If your healthcare provider follows through the right way, then your concerns will never be understated. Your doctor might order more tests and diagnose you with a disease or illness unrelated to breast cancer, but he or she will never dismiss your symptoms. If that happens, then this is a sign the doctor isn’t committed to your health. Find a second opinion.

If your doctor finds evidence of breast cancer, he or she will ask for a family history. If you know there were other victims of breast cancer in your family, then discuss the details with your doctor in depth. These details will determine the array of tests you will undergo later, so they are extremely important. If your doctor fails to obtain the needed details or orders the wrong tests, you may become a victim of medical malpractice.

Once tests have been ordered, the number of people involved in your medical case will grow — and that means the opportunity for communication issues to arise will also grow. Your doctor must transfer information to a lot of people, and this can also result in mistakes.

A mistake in reading medical tests might result in misdiagnosis. If you have breast cancer but were first diagnosed with a different illness or disease, you may have a good case. If you were diagnosed with either breast cancer or another illness or disease but prescribed the wrong medication (or in the incorrect dose), then you may have a case because of unnecessary side effects.

Scot Peterson Charged For Inaction During Parkland Shooting

A recent lawsuit against deputy Scot Peterson by survivors and families of the Parkland High School shooting in February 2018 failed to deliver. Peterson’s attorney argued that he did not bear a legal responsibility to protect the children whom it was his job to protect. 17 people died in the Parkland shooting, and another 17 were injured. U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the students’ 14th amendment rights were not trampled by Peterson’s inaction and agreeing with Peterson’s attorney.

Where civil litigation may have failed, the criminal justice system might succeed.

Peterson was arrested nearly a week ago, and charged with 11 separate criminal counts, including child neglect, perjury, and culpable negligence, because of his inability to fulfill his sworn duty during the shooting.

Video footage shows Peterson rushing toward the school building with a couple of other staff members when the shooting began. Peterson drew his sidearm. And then he stood there, unwilling or unable to go any farther.

The 11 charges against Peterson are the result of a drawn-out, exhaustive investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). 184 witnesses were interviewed. Dozens of hours of video surveillance were analyzed. 212 investigative reports were compiled.

According to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, “There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives.”

Families of the victims believe that this is as close to the justice they deserve as anyone is going to get. “We are happy to see some accountability for this tragedy,” said Tony Montalto, whose daughter was killed on that terrible day.

Senator Rick Scott said, “Now it’s time for justice to be served.”

Peterson’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment from investigative journalists who understandably bombarded him and Peterson with questions following the long-sought arrest.

Peterson was suspended following the Parkland shooting, but he opted to retire instead. Now it seems as if he may spend a large part of that retirement behind bars if convicted on the charges. It remains in the realm of possibility that Peterson will be cleared on all counts, because a jury will have to decide whether or not his inaction showed a complete disregard for the safety of the students he was charged to protect if the case moves forward to trial.

It’s important to recognize that Peterson’s attorney will likely argue once again that he had no legal obligation to protect the students, the same argument that resulted in the dismissal of civil litigation, the standard of proof for which is significantly lower. There is a strong possibility Peterson will remain a free man after all is said and done.

Two other members of the Broward Police Department were also fired following the shooting, but neither face criminal charges.

New Florida Bill To Protect The Rights of Animals

Republican Senator Joe Gruters sponsored a new animal welfare bill (Bill 1738) which prohibits residents from restraining their dogs outside or leave them unattended during a man-made or natural disaster including but not limited to hurricanes, tropical storms, tornados or after a warning has been issued by the National Weather Service or if there is an official evacuation order issued from the government. This bill is introduced as Hurricane Season rapidly approaches. A manmade is defined in the bill as “notice from a local or government authority that an event attributed in part or entirely to human intent, error, or negligence, or involving the failure of a manmade system.”

The Bill States that anyone who fails to evacuate with their dog and leaves them outside or restrained (whether by rope, leash, or cable) inside will be committing animal cruelty which a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. Penalties for violating this bill consist of a year of jail time, a $5,000 fine or both.

The goal of the Bill is to put more responsibility on pet owners to care for their pet so emergency resources do not need to be used on abandoned animals after many animal rescuers had to scramble to save abandoned pets before Hurricane Irma in 2017. According to the Beach County, Animal Care & Control – 49 dogs and two cats were rescued before Hurricane Irma. Some were not so lucky. In March of 2018, police officers from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office found the bodies of three dead dogs inside a home that was abandoned during Hurricane Irma. The bill also authorizes veterinarians to report any suspected violations anonymously.

The Bill was introduced on March 20th and passed in the Agriculture Committee with a 5-0 vote. It has been referred to the Criminal Justice Committee. If the bill is passed, it will take effect on July 1st, 2019.

The bill does not include other pets such as fish, turtles, birds or cats.

What Does The Separation Of Church And State Actually Mean?

When you ask someone about the separation of church and state, you’ll get an answer. Ask someone else, and you’ll receive a different answer. Someone else, and another different answer. Rinse and repeat. Does anyone really know what the separation of church and state is? What does it mean? Who coined the phrase? Not the United States Constitution. Not the Bill of Right. And not the Supreme Court. The separation of church and state is technically mentioned by none of these.

It was Thomas Jefferson who first used the phrase. It’s so meaningful today because Jefferson was a proponent of religious freedoms–whether you were Christian or not.

A lot of religious folk see the separation of church and state as a way to keep government out of their church’s affairs, and not the other way around. A lot of non-religious folk see the separation of church and state as something that should prevent the government from making commentary on any and all affairs involving religion (like preventing Trump from calling Muslims rapists or suggesting that they all want to kill Americans).

Who’s right? Again, it depends on who you ask. It’s best to give everyone a little bit of credit for their opinions, because the divisiveness is actually what keeps the wall in place.

The First Amendment opens with a concise line, which is almost impossible to interpret wrongly because of how straight-forward it is: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It’s about law, and nothing else. So Trump can say what he wants. Unfortunately the freedom of religion has been used as a means to unjustly discriminate against any number of people. Claim that something is contrary to your religion, and you can get away with a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise–especially if you’re Christian.

The First Amendment was never intended to provide those the religious zealots among us with any special rights. It also wasn’t meant to take away anyone else’s freedoms. In 1947, this amendment’s meaning was transferred from the Federal government to all state governments as well. This ruling effectively prevented religious organizations from any privileges they once enjoyed.

If you think the First Amendment has been used to attack you or someone you love (whether through freedom of religion or freedom of speech), then it may be the time to take a strong legal defense. Speak with a lawyer about the options available.