Friday, January 16, 2015

Chronic Pain: Interview With Lawyer Albert Conforzi

Do you need a lawyer for chronic pain following an injury in a car accident, slip and fall, or other event?

Chronic pain injuries, such as injuries to soft tissues, can be difficult to detect by X-ray or MRI. This makes them hard to diagnose and treat, but also quite hard to litigate. Even the definition of chronic pain can be in dispute:
Chronic pain is defined as pain that has lasted longer than three to six months, though some theorists and researchers have placed the transition from acute to chronic pain at 12 months. Others apply acute to pain that lasts less than 30 days, chronic to pain of more than six months duration, and subacute to pain that lasts from one to six months. A popular alternative definition of chronic pain, involving no arbitrarily fixed duration, is "pain that extends beyond the expected period of healing".
Toronto lawyer Albert Conforzi discusses the complexities of chronic pain cases in this interview with Rod West from 97.7 FM in Collingwood:

RW: So today we're going to be discussing the issues involved in chronic pain cases and what victims of chronic pain can do to get help. Well let's start off with a definition. What is the definition of chronic pain?

Lawyer Albert Conforzi
AC: Chronic pain is pain that doesn't go away. Typically, in the types of cases that we deal with, it's pain that lasts longer than six months and has no real sign of letting up, quite simply.

RW: Okay. But in the article about chronic pain I was reading here, you say that the greatest challenge is that chronic pain cases come under the label of subjective complaint. How would you define that? Subjective?

AC: Well subjective is, again, quite simply when someone says, "I hurt."

RW: Right.

Subjective complaints

AC: And the question is whether or not you believe them or you don't believe them. And typically in the work that I do, we're dealing with situations where insurance companies, for the most part, are the ones that are saying we don't believe that you're in pain. And you turn around as a victim and say, "But I am in pain." So how do you resolve that kind of a dispute? That becomes the issue for chronic pain cases. Those typically then go on to deal with issues of credibility and whether or not you can be believed because chronic pain cases don't have objective findings. When you have a broken bone, you can get an x-ray. You know that it's objective because you can see it on the x-ray. When you have pain arising from a soft tissue injury, for example, a whiplash in a motor vehicle case, those are things that don't show up objectively on x-rays or CT scans or MRIs, so that as a result, someone is left to complain and the only basis for accepting that they do have pain is whether or not you believe them.

RW: Okay, if there are no x-rays or MRI scans that can definitely prove that the person is suffering from chronic pain, how do you prove to insurance companies and judges that this person really is in pain?

Proving Chronic Pain
AC: I think the way that we typically go about doing it is by chronicling their changes in function post-accident. When someone has a good work history, for example, and they've worked at a factory job for example, something with a repetitive type of... Packaging job on an assembly line in a factory, for example. And then post-accident, they're having difficulty functioning in a job that they did well beforehand. It may cost them income. It may cost them overtime. It may cost them job opportunities that typically and historically that they've taken advantage of in the past. That's one of the ways that we look at changes in function. We also look at changes in function when an individual has things that they've enjoyed doing in their life. Perhaps a sport, perhaps a recreational activity that they've partaken in, but they're unable to do that. So they report to their family doctor or they report to their physiotherapist that they're having difficulties doing various things. We pull together the diverse threads of their life and we try to create the picture for the insurance company to look at as to the changes in their overall function.

RW: So what changes, the rules of diagnosing chronic pain, do you think would help accident victims, if you change it a bit?

Diagnotic Tests For Chronic Pain

AC: Well, it would be wonderful if we could develop a diagnostic testing that could provide some objectivity. But I'm not sure that that is anywhere close on the horizon but at the same time, when I look back at my own career which spans about 30 years doing personal injury litigation, we've seen changes from x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, each one becoming more sophisticated. So I think that in the future, what I'm hoping will become more of the case is some type of objective testing perhaps in greater degrees of electromyography, EMG testing, which can help measure the ways in which current is travelling through different types of tissue to become testing that could be looked at by medical practitioners with a greater sense of objectivity as opposed to simply accepting someone's complaints.

RW: Someone's word, yeah. Because the picture with the x-ray, there it is. You see the broken bone. It's evidenced right there.

AC: It's easy.

RW: But a pulled muscle or soft tissue damage, you can't really take a snapshot at. You might see a dark spot, but that could be interpreted any way.

AC: Any number of ways, absolutely.

RW: And a doctor's opinion can say or can be credible for so much, but not without actually having proof of, "Well, it hurts here."

AC: That's right. The doctor does the same thing as the insurance adjuster does. You go and you say it hurts. The doctor says, "Patient says it hurts."

RW: Yeah. "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." "So don't do that."

Working Through Chronic Pain
AC: You have to be able to take it one step further. But you know, when you think about someone who isn't able to work because they've got pain, when they've spent their whole life working, when they've spent their whole life paying off their mortgage or paying their mortgage down, when they've spent their whole life planning for their kids to go to college or university and all of a sudden because of the pain, they stop working or they limit the amount of work that they do. And they go on disability or LTD, long-term disability benefits, and they get 66% of their income. What person in their right mind would accept 66% of their income when they've worked all their lives to create a good work history if they weren't in pain? What person would see their kids not go to college when they've worked their whole life to be able to give their kids better opportunities?

RW: Exactly.

AC: These are the types of diverse threads that we try to pull together to create the image of what the person is really going through on a day-to-day way. Ultimately, if the insurance company representative was living with the victim, they might be able to see it on a day-to-day basis.

RW: Right, but they're not.

AC: But these people are doing their jobs at an insurance company, but they do it with a degree of scepticism of the veracity of the complaints that are being made.

RW: You mentioned in your article that a victim could actually be victimized a second time by people trying to diagnose their chronic pain. Does that mean they can get hurt the second time or how does that work?

Victimized A Second Time
AC: Well it's really a case of the person endures the pain of the original injury. The further injury is more in the nature of the insult to their overall wellbeing caused by the scepticism that they're being treated with. They're being treated as though they're lying. They're being treated as though they're trying to put one over on somebody.

RW: Okay.

AC: And that is the second type of injury that takes place and that can sometimes take a huge emotional toll on an individual.

RW: Oh, big time, yes. Yeah.

AC: And as a result of that, that emotional toll can cause a person to spiral even further down the drain in terms of their overall function of life. And that's I think what I mean when I'm talking about a second injury being put upon the person as a result of the way in which the system treats that person.

RW: Exactly. So if I come to you, I had a car accidents... Say I have whiplash, what is the best way to begin this process?

How To Begin The Process

08:47 AC: Well the best way to begin the process is by following your doctor's advice first of all. You need to pay attention to what your body is telling you. You've been hurt. Your body is telling you that you're in pain. So you need to find ways in which to respond to that call and that's usually with forms of therapy. Now, the insurance system in Ontario has been modified as of September of 2010 to minimize the amount of therapy that you have access to. It's somewhat counterintuitive because your body is telling you you need assistance, your doctors are telling you, you need assistance, but the source of funding for that kind of assistance has gone the other way. That is it's been minimized down to a rather small amount. So at that point when the insurance company says, "No more funding," the challenge is how do you get more assistance when you need it? And that's usually going to be something that your legal representation is going to be able to help you with.

RW: I understand.

AC: That's what we do.

RW: If people have more questions to find out more, how can they contact you?

AC: They can contact us through our website www.pacelawfirm.com. They can call us on the telephone at 1877-236-3060. And they can access legal representation through those avenues principally.

RW: Albert Conforzi, Pace Law Firm. Thanks for coming in today.

AC: Thanks very much.

Distracted Driving As Dangerous As Drunk Driving

In this article, the Ottawa Citizen asks the public to view distracted driving the same way as drunk driving:
Across Canada, the cellphone has become the new beer bottle. Instead of being incapacitated by booze, drivers are immobilized by their mobile devices. 
In 2013 in B.C., distracted driving caused 77 of 269 road deaths. Speed contributed to 78 deaths, and alcohol/drugs led to 63 fatalities. During 2014, almost 58,000 tickets were issued for distracted driving in B.C. The Ontario Provincial Police said that distracted driving was the number one killer in road deaths they investigated in 2013, suggesting that it has surpassed drunk driving as a risk on our roads. 
Yet distracted driving still doesn’t carry the social taboo or the penalties that drunk driving does. How do we stop smartphone addicts from behaving not-so-smart behind the wheel?
Good question. There's probably no easy answer since, as the article points out, people are never without their phones. They even go to sleep with them. They are a pervasive part of our everday lives. Hopefully, texting while driving will draw the same negative attention as drinking and driving, but it's probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Speaking of B.C., a recent report claims that since distracted driving laws came into effect in 2010, over 209,000 tickets have been handed out for the offense:
In a recent crackdown in North Vancouver on distracted drivers, there was no shortage of people seen breaking the law. 
That’s one reason a whopping 209,000 tickets for distracted driving when using a cellphone have been issued since it became illegal in B.C. in January 2010. 
Each month this year, an average of 4,800 tickets have been written for talking, texting and other activities using electronic devices while driving.
Obviously, distracted driving and using handheld devices does not carry the same stigma as drinking and driving. Yet.

Pace Law Firm's personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims since 1980.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pedestrians Risk Accidents By Trying To Beat The Clock

Do you know what the pedestrian signals on Toronto streets mean? According to police, pedestrians are breaking the law - and putting their safety at risk - thousands of times per minute:
Green means go. Amber means proceed with caution if you can’t stop safely. Red means stop. 
But it’s not nearly as obvious when you observe pedestrians at a controlled intersection. Toronto police say thousands of pedestrians violate the letter of the law every minute of every day. They’re either indifferent to or ignorant of the law. 
Stop means stop.
Constable Clint Stibbe tells Global News you are not supposed to step off the curb into the intersection if the countdown clock has begun or you see the flashing red hand. But most people we spoke to for our story thought the clock and the flashing hand was simply a warning to let you know you were running out of time... 
While it may sound trivial, Toronto Police say pedestrians who disregard the rules actually contribute to the traffic congestion problems in the downtown core. Among other things, pedestrians racing against the countdown clock often delay vehicles attempting to make right turns from clearing the intersection.
Safety becomes a concern in these situations because if a pedestrian rushes to beat the clock against a turning car, disater can result.

Take care on the roads and follow the rules in order to avoid an accident, whether you are a driver or a pedestrian.

Pace Law Firm's personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims since 1980.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Did You Know Your Right To Sue After An Accident Is In Jeopardy?

With Bill 15 - the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act - having recently passed a second reading, Pace Law Firm's lawyers are reaching out to MPPs and asking them to fight for accident victims' rights.

As Toronto Sun writer Alan Shannoff has written, "[T]here’s nothing in the bill that fights fraud in the insurance system. Worse, there’s little in the bill that would protect drivers. Indeed, there’s much in the bill that would harm drivers, especially those injured in auto accidents."

Stand Up For Victims' Rights

Pace Law Firm supports the initiative of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association in attempting to have this bill changed before its third reading and before it becomes law. We ask that you do the same.

Below is a letter which the lawyers of Pace Law Firm are sending to their representatives, in the hopes of a securing a meeting so we can let victims be heard. To contact your MPP to express your concern as well, follow this link.

Our Letter To Our MPPs

Dear MPP:

I am a member of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, and today I am writing to you about Bill 15, the auto insurance legislation currently before the Ontario Legislative Assembly at the Standing Committee on General Government.

While OTLA has welcomed the majority of the legislative proposals in this bill, we have concerns about the following:

1. Ensuring that accident victims have access to the courts and,
2. Setting a fair prejudgment interest rate to ensure timely access to justice

Removing the accident victim's right to sue is going to lead to duplicated effort and unnecessary costs. Constituents who are injured in auto accidents may be forced to participate in two similar adjudicative processes - one at the Licence Appeals Tribunal for accident benefits disputes, and then a trial involving a Tort claim where the same issues may be litigated a second time, using the same medical experts!

We are asking MPPs to consider a simple amendment that would allow in some circumstances the option of combining a victim's two separate cases to avoid this needless duplication and added cost. Since the Tort claim must go through the courts, it only makes sense to provide for some flexibility to allow the Accident Benefits case, which deals with identical issues, to be heard at the same time as the Tort issue.

The prejudgment interest rate has historically provided incentive to settle cases in a timely manner. With the interest rate for pain and suffering damages in MVAs reduced from 5% to 1.3%, there will obviously be little incentive for insurers to deal expeditiously with claims for pain and suffering.

Instead, insurers will keep their money in the bank for as long as possible, make additional income from their investments, and starve out innocent plaintiffs.

Currently, insurance companies make 3% on their investments, and therefore they can expect to earn at least 1.7% profit holding on to an innocent victim's compensation for damages for every year that they put off settlement. It's really just simple math.

In the wake of this legislation, we are further concerned about the Ministry of Finance's proposal to enact a similar drastic interest rate reduction on overdue or denied Accident Benefits. That proposal, while not part of Bill 15, is obviously part of the broader insurer-driven agenda to cut costs at the expense of the accident victim.

I would like to schedule a meeting to discuss OTLA's concerns.

I urge you to raise these concerns with the Minister of Finance and with your colleagues in the Legislative Assembly.

Please let me know if you can accommodate a meeting prior to Bill 15's third reading.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How To Find A Lawyer That's Right For You

Elaine Bright - Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora: You have decided you need a lawyer … now how do you find one? Do you ask people you know for suggestions? Do you look in the phone book? And how much will it cost? Can you afford a lawyer?

I am often asked to help people find a lawyer for matters such as divorce, making a will, or finding out their rights in a workplace. I only take personal injury and abuse cases, so I can’t help with other types of cases. This is what I suggest to people who are looking for a lawyer:

Where to find Legal Aid

In Ontario, you can obtain assistance for some matters without charge at legal clinics throughout the province. The legal clinic nearest you will be able to tell you whether they handle the type of matter you want help with, and whether you qualify for their assistance.

If you cannot get assistance through a legal clinic, then you need to find a lawyer who is in private practice. Ideally, you want a lawyer whose style is a good fit for you and whose fees you can afford. You can get names of lawyers in your area who handle the type of matter you need help with from a variety of sources: the local law association, the phone book, or the Law Society of Upper Canada. In smaller communities, there may be only one lawyer who handles certain types of cases.

If you have a choice of several or many lawyers to contact, how do you select one? Your friends can tell you whether you are likely to be comfortable with the personality and approach of any lawyers they know. Otherwise, the first meeting will give you an opportunity to get to know the lawyer.

How much do lawyers cost?

Most law offices will tell you their lawyers’ rates over the phone. Some matters, such as making a will, cost a standard fee unless there are unusual circumstances. Other matters are billed on the basis of an hourly rate – anywhere from about $200/hour to $500/hour or more. This hourly rate pays for the office, support staff, equipment and supplies, as well as the lawyer’s fees. You should consider that a more experienced lawyer who charges a higher rate may be able to complete a matter in less time than a lawyer with less experience who charges a lower hourly rate.

Lawyers will usually give you a range as to what the total fees will be for any type of matter. In general, you need to pay in advance for your legal fees. For some types of cases, such as the cases I handle, it is common for lawyers to work on a “contingency fee” basis – that is, our legal fees come out of any settlement or award and you do not have to pay in advance.

Be prepared

In most cases, lawyers charge a fee for a first meeting with you to review your case, provide some initial advice and let you know whether they can help you. To get the most out of this meeting, it is important to prepare.

First, bring with you to the meeting any papers you have that relate to your legal matter. Second, you should write out some of the pertinent information in advance. For example, if you want help with an employment matter, write out the proper name of your employer and their contact information, the date you started in the position, your salary, the name of your direct supervisor, and the history of any issues with the employer. Include as much detail as possible. Third, prepare a list of your questions in advance, and don’t hesitate to ask about fees. You might want to ask what you can do to keep fees down.

Do you need a lawyer? In most cases, you can find someone to help you. And though we have heard almost all of the lawyer jokes, if you have a new one – we can take it!

Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace's personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims in Toronto and throughout Ontario since 1980.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Safety Blitz Launched By Toronto Police

Hoping to raise awareness of pedestrian accidents in Toronto following the time change, police are launching a safety blitz. 680 News reports:
Toronto police launched a week-long pedestrian safety awareness campaign on Monday following the time change over the weekend.
As part of Step Up and Be Safe — which ends at midnight Sunday — police will be paying special attention to crosswalks, intersections and school zones with a focus on seniors.
There have been 23 pedestrian fatalities this year, accounting for over 66 per cent of traffic fatalities.
Nine of the fatalities have been senior citizens, representing 39 per cent of pedestrian fatalities.
Increase in accidents due to decrease in afternoon sunlight.
Studies indicate that the first few days after a time change can increase the risk of car and pedestrian accidents. While it may be that people are more tired after a time change, the reason for increased accidents is probably due to the decrease in afternoon sunlight:
Another study, by two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 2007, found that daylight time has a significant impact on the number of pedestrians killed by vehicles in the immediate aftermath of the time switch in the fall.
People walking during rush hour in the first few weeks after the clocks fall back in the autumn were more than three times as likely to be fatally struck by cars than before the change. Time of day was a factor in the findings - there was no significant difference in pedestrian accidents at noon, but number rose around 6 p.m. after clocks were moved back an hour.
The researchers, who looked at seven years of U.S. traffic statistics, also found there was a decrease in deaths when clocks spring forward.
It isn’t the darkness per se that increases the number of deaths in the fall, the researchers suggested. Rather, it's that drivers and pedestrians have spent the previous months getting used to the light conditions, and don’t immediately adjust their behaviour to account for less light during morning rush hour.
Be sure to take an extra moment at cross walks and intersections to make sure that you can cross the street safely.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Respect for Our Courts is of Paramount Importance

Elaine Bright - Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora: Many people - particularly lawyers - are up in arms about comments made by the Prime Minister of Canada about the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada:
There's a great deal of puzzlement about why Prime Minister Stephen Harper waited nine months before letting it be known he feels Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin should not have tried to approach him about a Supreme Court appointment... 
Tom Flanagan, once a campaign manager and confidante of Harper's, said in an interview, "It's unprecedented as far as I know for a prime minister in office to make public a professional conversation with the chief justice, same with the Governor General, you just don't do it," Flanagan said.
11 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association penned a statement in the CBC in response to the Prime Minister's remarks:
The recent comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claiming that the Chief Justice of Canada attempted an inappropriate conversation with him, demonstrate a disrespect by the executive branch for the judicial branch of our constitutional democracy, and for the Chief Justice of Canada as the most senior member of the Canadian judiciary. This is so despite the fact that the discussion in question involved a possible new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, a topic well within guidelines for appropriate conversations between prime ministers and chief justices.
The PM's comments seemed to call into question both her integrity and her judgment. Why does this matter? What’s the big deal?

I think that respect for our judiciary matters enormously. I think our safety and security depend on it.

One of the cornerstones of our form of democracy is the “rule of law”. The rule of law means that no one is above the law, not even the ruler. We don’t see ourselves as having any kind of divine ruler that can tell us all what to do. Nations that are governed by the rule of law generally agree that laws should be created where needed to manage our relations; they should be made democratically; they should be made public and that they should apply to everyone, including governments.
Respect for our courts, then, is an essential component of our way of life – our safety, our freedom and our security. 
The rule of law only works if we respect our courts enough to let them settle our disputes according to the laws, rules and practices that have been created by our democratically elected representatives. If we don’t trust our courts to do that, people could choose other means, such as violence, to settle disputes. If the dispute is with the government we could see citizens taking up arms against a government with terrible consequences for us all.

The rule of law also requires that governments respect the courts. If governments don’t respect the courts’ decisions, we could see elected officials or government staff telling employees to do things that are illegal. If such actions expand, our democracy starts to fall apart.

Respect for our courts, then, is an essential component of our way of life – our safety, our freedom and our security. If that respect is weakened or lost, we should all be worried.

Let’s look at the current situation – was there a good reason for Prime Minister Harper to publically criticize Chief Justice McLaughlin in the way he did? The response from the legal community has been a resounding "no." Harper suggested that the Chief Justice of Canada tried to initiate a conversation with him about a matter that she might have to hear in her court.

It is clear, though, that the Chief Justice was doing something she was expected to do: consult with the government about the appointment of a judge to her court. All Chief Justices of Canada have done so. She had no way of knowing that the government was considering bringing the issue of this appointment to court. Even though she is in a powerful position, she cannot see into the future.

Most of us have expressed opinions on court decisions – sometimes we think a sentence for a criminal conviction was too lenient or too harsh; sometimes we think an injured person should have got more compensation or was given too much. But I rarely hear anyone say that a court’s decision should not be respected.

I hope that the Prime Minister of Canada will respond to the chorus of voices calling for him to retract his criticism of the Chief Justice of Canada. We must retain our respect for the judiciary – a lot depends on it.

Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace's personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims in Toronto and throughout Ontario since 1980.