The Legal Insider

July 2013

Grilling Your Food Without Tort Liability

Most Americans enjoy a good barbecue, especially during the summer holidays. However, caution should be taken around the grill unless you want to be burned – literally. Every year, about 18,000 Americans go to the hospital for a barbecue related burn, and another 128,000 will go to the hospital because of food poisoning from grilled meat.

These accidents are unfortunate, but preventable. The owner of the grill can be held liable to anyone injured, but liability doesn't stop there. If the grill itself was defective or if the food was spoiled, the victim can hold the companies responsible for distributing the defective product.

Here are some tips to help you enjoy this summer’s barbecue without the fear of getting into an accident:

  • Follow the instruction manual – The best defense that companies have to a lawsuit is to claim that they did not cause the accident. The easiest way to prove this is to show that the consumer did not use the product as intended. So follow the instruction manual. Only use the lighter fluids that the manual recommends. Don’t use the grill in your garage if the warnings tell you the grill is only for outside use.
  • Grill in a Suitable and Legal Location – The location of your grill can affect whether there might be a fire. You should keep the grill away from your home at the minimum distance required by your instruction manual. If you live in a rental unit, you should check your lease and with your landlord before grilling. It would also be prudent to check local ordinances to make sure it is legal to grill in that area.
  • Properly Dispose of the Ashes - If you use a charcoal grill, the risk of fire is not limited to the fire. Never throw the ashes into a regular trash bag or into dry grass. Charcoal ashes are also flammable, and failure to properly dispose of them could result in a large lawsuit. In 2012, the University of Idaho suffered $1.4 million in property damage because the U.S. Navy Officer Trainer Corps negligently left their charcoal ashes behind after their barbecue on the campus.
  • Wash Your Hands and Keep Foods Clean – The hot dogs might not contribute to a fire, but they can still present serious health concerns. Food poisoning can be prevented though. First, make sure everyone washes their hands before eating or cooking the food. Second, keep cooked and uncooked meat separate. Exposing raw meat to cooked meat can result in bacteria from the raw meat being in the cooked meat you serve. Third, do not leave food in the heat too long. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause food to become spoiled quickly.
  • Common Sense – Finally, use your common sense. Keep children away from the fire and the fire away from areas where children will play. Do not drink alcohol while the fire is burning. This includes both the cooks and guests, because people who are drunk are also uncoordinated, regardless of the reason for their presence at the barbecue.

Barbecues are a great way to celebrate the summer, but like everything in life, care should be taken. If you need help with a barbecue related accident, a personal injury attorney can help you.


Liability for Children’s Sports Injuries

Each year, approximately 35 million kids under the age of 18 participate in an organized sporting event in the United States. Since most sports necessitate a certain level of aggressive physical contact, injuries are considered a natural part of athletic competition. Children ages 5 to 15 are particularly prone to sports injuries, accounting for approximately 40% of all sports-related hospital visits. In fact, as many as 8,000 children require emergency room treatment every day for sports injuries.

Can you sue if your child is injured playing sports? At what point does physical abuse during a sporting event raise to the level of legal liability?

The answer to these questions depends upon the level of injury that one would expect from a given sport. Courts often differentiate between contact and non-contact sports. For example, a football player would expect (and assumes the risk of) a significantly higher level of physical contact than would a volleyball player.

Children (or their parents) do not generally need to worry about liability for causing sports injuries. The one exception is if a person causes intentional harm beyond the scope of the game (for example, by starting a fight), he or she might be liable for the harm caused.

When faulty sports equipment leads to an injury, possible liable parties include the manufacturer, the school, the coach, and personnel responsible for equipment maintenance. The manufacturer may be found liable under the theory of products liability, while the school and coach may be held liable for negligence. Legal action under these theories may result in the recovery of medical bills or lost wages, plus compensation for pain and suffering.

If legal action is taken against your child for a sports-related injury, or if you seek legal action on behalf of your child, an attorney experienced in tort law or sports injuries will provide the best legal guidance.


Modifying a Child Visitation Order for the Summer

Child visitation orders are never entirely permanent. Over time, it may be necessary to modify an existing child visitation order. The child and parents will often encounter changes to their schedules and circumstances that require a modification of the visitation order. This is a normal aspect of any child visitation arrangement.

Some reasons that might require a modification of a child visitation order for the summer include:

  • A change of summer residence
  • An extended summer vacation
  • The child is going to summer camp or will be participating in summer sports activities
  • A parent’s “change in circumstances” such as new employment

The modification process enables parents to receive notice of any changes to the visitation schedule. Often, conflicts arise when a parent is not given adequate time to prepare for upcoming changes. This is especially true for major changes occurring during the summertime months. The order can always be readjusted again after the summer months if necessary.

Violations of visitation guidelines are treated very seriously. In some cases, they can even lead to criminal charges (especially where one parent fails to transfer custody of the child at the appointed time). In such cases, ignorance of the visitation order is no excuse, so all parties involved are obligated to stay up-to-date on the status of the child’s visitation schedule.

Some states allow what is called “30-Day Summer Possession” or “Extended Possession”. This allows one parent to have custody of the child for one month during the summer. You may wish to inquire if your jurisdiction allows such arrangements. This is often a completely different request from a simple modification of a visitation order.


Asking Your Employer for a Disability Accommodation

In 2012, 17.8% of Americans who identified themselves as “disabled” were employed. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled employees have a right to "reasonable accommodations," but it is unclear how many employees received these accommodations. Disabled employees are often reluctant to ask for anything for fear of embarrassment or a possible employer retaliation. Others may not seek an accommodation simply because they are unsure if they qualify.

Below are important tips to help you understand your legal rights and, if applicable, receive appropriate workplace accommodations:

The rights of the disabled are set forth in both state and federal laws. Workplace disability law generally only covers employers with 15 or more employees, leaving out many small businesses. But the definition of “disabled” is very wide and includes any mental or physical impairment which limits a physical life activity. People who have a physical handicap, cancer, AIDS, or any mental condition which makes it difficult to work are considered disabled and are thus entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

Next, be specific about the accommodation you request. Do not just tell your employer about your disability or be overly general about what you need. For instance, if you require wheelchair access, you should state that you need sinks and your desk to be at your height, in addition to needing access in and out of the building. If you have dyslexia, ask for weekly oral meetings instead of saying that you have trouble reading.

Similarly, limit your requests to work related activities. The accommodation must be “reasonable,” which is commonly interpreted as an accommodation that does not significantly burden the employer. Although the definition of “reasonable” will vary from case to case, asking your employer for unnecessary changes is not helpful. An employee with vision impairment, for instance, should limit his or her need for a computer screen magnifier to his or her computer alone.

Finally, be confident. If you are disabled and the disability interferes with your ability to work, your employer should not hesitate to provide you with a reasonable accommodation. Although the accommodation might be an additional expense to the employer, the employer is not permitted to retaliate against the disabled employee.


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