Westport Boating Accident Raises Boating Safety and Liability Issues

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693177_speedboat.jpgA 21-year old man was seriously injured in a boating accident in the waters off Compo Beach near Westport recently. Police say that the driver of the boat, who was friends with the victim of the accident, allegedly put the 26-foot Sea Ray Sun Deck into reverse and cut the victim’s legs with the propeller of the boat when the boat ran over him. The boat operator was charged with reckless operation of a vessel while under the influence.

Alcohol-related boating deaths have been rising in Connecticut to 22 between 2006 and 2012, from only 6 between 2001 and 2005. Nearly one third of all boating deaths in Connecticut are alcohol related, greatly exceeding the national average of one in five.

Connecticut has worked to reduced alcohol-related boating deaths, including passing a law that mandated tougher penalties in 2009; however, boaters continue to engage in unsafe boating practices. A Coast Guard review found that of the 34 people who passed away from alcohol related accidents from 1998 to 2012, none wore life jackets. Surprisingly, one third of all alcohol-related boating deaths in Connecticut occur in non-motorized watercraft.

Connecticut has many programs in place to encourage safe boating. In addition to requiring a Safe Boating Certificate to operate recreational vessels excluding personal watercraft such a Jet skis, Connecticut offers Personal Watercraft certifications for Jet skis and similar watercraft, as well as canoe and kayak safety classes.

Recreational boat operators often do not realize that they have the same obligations when operating their boats that they do when behind the wheel of an automobile. Boat operators must follow all laws, including not operating the vessel under the influence of alcohol and otherwise operating the vessel safely. If a recreational boat operator injures another person while operating their vessel dangerously or recklessly, they may be liable for damages they cause to other boats and for the injuries they cause to other people. Compensation for injuries can include compensation for medical expenses, payment for pain and suffering caused by the injuries, compensation for time away from work, and payment for expenses needed to fully recover from the injury or future medical expenses.

Investigations of Rehabilitation Facility For Brain Injured Patients Raise Questions About Quality Of Care, Proper Licensure

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156461_green_room.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.7 million people suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year. People living with the long-term effects of a traumatic brain injury can suffer from difficulty with memory and speech, emotional problems, problems controlling their movement, and cognitive difficulties, according to the Brain Injury Association of America. Brain injured individuals often require extensive long-term care and rehabilitation after their initial injury. The Brain Injury Association also reports that many Americans with brain injuries have difficulty obtaining the rehabilitation they need because insurance benefits don’t always cover adequate care.

Bloomberg recently reported on multi-state investigations of one of the largest centers for rehabilitation and care for brain injuries in the nation, the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation (FINR). According to the Bloomberg article, 20 current and former patients have made complaints against the facility, criminal charges have sometimes been against three former employees, and advocates for the disabled have become involved. Allegations have been made that five patient deaths since 1998–two in less than the last two years–have been due to abuse or neglect. Patients have described being hit repeatedly by staffers, families have alleged that health care plans such as the use of feeding tubes have not been followed, and the aggressive behavior often seen as a symptom in those recovering from a brain injury has allegedly been dealt with harshly by FINR staff.

In addition to investigations in its home state of Florida, FINR was recently investigated by the Connecticut Fatality Review Board for Persons with Disabilities after the death of a patient who had been placed at FINR by the state of Connecticut due to mental illness complications suffered after abuse as a child, rather than a brain injury. According to a report by the Fatality Review Board, FINR had used a technique called Brief Assisted Required Relaxation, where patients were taken down to the floor by FINR staff and restrained, on the Connecticut woman 29 times in her 5 months at FINR. The woman alleged that the FINR staff hit her and called her names, and a Florida sheriff’s report documented physical injuries, although it concluded that she had not been abused.

The Connecticut woman had a history of harming herself, and FINR staff had a plan of care that required two staffers to be watching her closely at all times. However, on February 10th, 2011, employees arriving for the morning shift found her with her hair wrapped around her neck and not breathing. According to the Florida investigations, one of the employees who was supposed to be watching her was asleep and the other had not checked on her in at least 15 minutes.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration is investigating, as FINR’s license doesn’t allow it to treat patients such as the Connecticut woman, who suffered from a mental illness rather than a brain injury. However, James Siemianowski, a spokesman for Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services considers “FINR to be a safe and effective placement.”