Law Offices of Peter E. Hutchins PLLC
  • Top Personal Injury Lawyer in New Hampshire – Business NH Magazine (2010)
  • Selected as a New England Super Lawyer for Plaintiff Personal Injury in 2015-2018
  • Top Personal Injury Lawyer in New Hampshire – Business NH Magazine (2010)
  • Selected as a New England Super Lawyer for Plaintiff Personal Injury in 2015-2018
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Injuries Archives

Hillsborough County Jury in Manchester Awards $250,000 to Bedford Man Sexually Assaulted at Cheshire Medical Center

On December 19, 2013, after 7 days of trial and 2 full days of deliberations, a twelve person Hillsborough County Superior Court jury sitting in Manchester, New Hampshire returned a verdict in favor of a former Bedford man who was raped while a patient in the adolescent mental health unit at the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, NH in March of 2007.   Cheshire Medical Center is affiliated with the Dartmouth Hitchcock Health System.   The victim was represented by Attorney Peter E. Hutchins of Manchester, NH.  The hospital was represented by the Sulloway & Hollis lawfirm of Concord, NH.  The victim of the assault was 15 years old at the time, and was raped by his roommate on the last night of his 5 day inpatient admission at the hospital.   The perpetrator, who had a history of violence, suicide attempts, sexually inappropriate conduct and who admitted to having been a sexual abuser, had just been admitted to the hospital that day.  The perpetrator was 17 years old, and outweighed the plaintiff by 70 pounds. The plaintiff, now 21 years old, alleged that the hospital and its staff was negligent in placing the dangerous new patient in his room that night without performing additional fact finding on the perpetrator and his history of violent and sexually inappropriate conduct.  The perpetrator had received psychotherapy previously, but the hospital failed to obtain those records or determine the nature and extent of that therapy.  The perpetrator was also on probation at the time of his admission for attacking his father with both a car and a maul (ax / sledgehammer type tool).  The plaintiff also alleged that the hospital violated the New Hampshire Patient's Bill of Rights, RSA 151:21, by failing to keep him free from "physical and sexual abuse."   The hospital's primary defense at trial was that the rape did not occur, and that the victim was lying.  The hospital further claimed it was not negligent, and that it was reasonable medical practice to have placed the perpetrator in the victim's room that night.  The jury found that the assault did take place, and further found that the hospital was both negligent and had violated the patient's statutory rights.   At trial, the victim plaintiff asked the jury for "closure and validation."  Medical professionals testified that the victim had suffered from PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks and increased anxiety as a result of the attack.  The victim disclosed the rape 5 months after the assault to a social worker / psychologist when he was brought back to the Cheshire Medcial Center emergency room by his mother for increasing rage and acting out.   The victim testified he never planned to disclose the assault to anyone ever, however feared being readmitted to the mental health unit again due to what had occurred to him months before.    The jury awarded the plaintiff $250,000.00 in compensatory damages.   It is the hope of the plaintiff that the hospital and Dartmouth Hitchcock will abide by the verdict of the jury and promptly pay the judgment so that he can close this chapter of his life and move forward.   The hospital, under New Hampshire law, has a right to appeal the verdict to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, however only on alleged errors in legal rulings made by the trial judge during the trial.  Attorney Hutchins has represented over 200 victims of sexual abuse in claims and cases against institutional defendants in the last 10 years.   The Sulloway firm is highly experienced in the defense of hospitals and doctors in medical malpractice cases.  Attorney Hutchins was assisted by Attorney Donna-Marie Cote of Manchester during the trial.   Three nurses testified during the trial, as did Dr. Joseph Bergman, head of the mental health department at Cheshire Medical Center.   Each side produced testimony from two expert witnesses.   The plaintiff along with his parents testified, as did the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist from the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester.   The perpetrator did not testify at the trial.

Auto Accidents on Slippery Winter Roads in New Hampshire

It is winter in New Hampshire.    Roads can be covered with snow and ice.    When this happens, we witness what can often be a dramatic increase in winter related automobile accidents.  The question may be if you sustain a personal injury, do I have a case?   Just because you are struck in your motor vehicle and are injured, does not mean that you automatically have a case.   It is necessary to prove that the person who hit you was legally at fault.  This can be complicated by slippery roads, allowing the other driver to claim that his or her loss of control and the resulting accident was caused by the slippery conditions, and not negligence.    In these cases, it is critically important to make sure the police are called to investigate the accident, and if you noticed driving on the part of the other driver that was negligent but not winter related, i.e., speeding, texting, swerving, etc., make sure the police officer is aware of that.   Make sure your insurance company is aware of that.   Take photos of the tire marks in the snow if possible.  There is a strong chance that if you do not develop your case early and properly, you could lose due to the "slippery road" defense.    If in doubt, contact a New Hampshire personal injury lawyer to assist you as early in the process as possible.

Sexual Abuse and Assault Civil Litigation in New Hampshire

In addition to seeking criminal prosecution against the perpetrator, victims of sexual abuse in New Hampshire have the right to bring a civil case to obtain just compensation for their injuries.   In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations for such claims is three years.  However, if the victim is under the age of 18, they will typically have until their 30th birthday to bring a civil lawsuit against those responsible.   Typically, the perpetrator of the sexual assault, rape or abuse does not possess personal assets sufficient to justify long and difficult civil litigation.  Moreover, even if the perpetrator has insurance, such as a homeowners policy, such insurance will not provide coverage for intentional wrongful conduct such as sexual assault. The cases which carry the highest chances of a successful result are those brought against institutional defendants.  This class of defendants include employers of the perpetrator, schools, day care centers, boy scout troops or camps, churches and religious organizations, agencies who provide services to children or disabled adults, and a variety of other companies or institutions who wrongfully employ or harbor perpetrators.   Generally, in order to succeed in one of these cases, it is necessary to prove that the institution exercised a certain level of control over the perpetrator, i.e., hiring, training and retaining.   It is also necessary to show that the institution knew or should have known of the propensity of the perpetrator to sexually abuse others.  Finally, it is also typically necessary to show that the institution owed a duty of care to the victim - a duty to protect.  These cases are always very emotional, and can be difficult to prove and to litigate.  In a case where the allegations can be proven, however, and where the legal requirements of civil liability can be established, the filing of a civil action can provide the sexual abuse victim both with validation and a sense of closure, and also financial compensation from the responsible party for the terrible and life long impact of sexual abuse.  A personal injury lawyer or attorney experienced in these cases and familiar with New Hampshire law can provide sound advice and counsel to a victim survivor of abuse about their potential right to seek civil justice.

Damages in a New Hampshire Wrongful Death Personal Injury Case

Wrongful death cases in New Hampshire are controlled both by statute statute and common law interpreting those statutes.  A wrongful death case is, quite simply, a personal injury negligence case in which the injured party dies as a result of the negligent act or occurrence.   As such, the liability considerations are the same as an injury case in which the victim survives, i.e., legal fault or negligence must be proven against the responsible party.   Damages in a wrongful death case, however, are quite obviously different than in a typical bodily injury claim.  A wrongful death case is brought by the Estate of the decedent.   Therefore, it is necessary to have an administrator appointed by the Probate Court before proceeding.   Once a claim or lawsuit is brought, the Estate is entitled to claim monetary damages for: (1) any medical bills associated with the treatment of the decedent; (2) conscious pain and suffering; (3) funeral expenses; (4) economic loss to the Estate; and (5) loss of the enjoyment of life of the decedent.   Economic loss to the estate requires expert testimony.   The damages are calculated by determining the life expectancy of the decedent.   Then, the decedent's educational and work background are considered, as well as their income prior to death.    That "income" factor is then roughly multiplied by the number of working years before retirement - a factor which may vary depending upon the person.   Interest rates and calculations for loss of benefits are included to come up with a figure representing the "income" the decedent would have "brought into" his or her Estate.   Then, a discount is applied for "retirement years" when the person would have been consuming, and not earning.   The final figure is what would have been left in the Estate had the person lived to their normal life expectancy.   The calculations can vary significantly depending upon the person's age, education, earning history, working years remaining, and general health prior to death.   This is why economic and sometimes medical forensic expert testimony is necessary to establish this element of loss.  The element of "loss of enjoyment of life" is relatively new, having been established by Supreme Court decision in the 1990's.   This is an open ended damage claim which allows the Estate to receive compensation for the loss of the decedent's life, i.e., the years of enjoying life that the decedent lost as a result of the accident.  This element can be significant in the case of a child or young person who does not yet have an solid earnings history to prove the "loss to the estate" element.   It is also significant in cases of retired individuals since it is during retirement years that a person, while not earning income, is theoretically freed to enjoy life without the burden of working.  The key in these cases is in the manner in which the damages are developed and presented to an insurance company for settlement, or to a jury for a verdict.   These cases are complex, and typically very emotional for the family involved.   Therefore, it is recommended that a highly regarded New Hampshire personal injury lawyer be consulting as soon as possible so that case investigation and development can proceed in such a manner as to maximize the value of the claim.   Also, by retaining counsel early, much of the emotional work and worry can be removed from the family members and turned over into the hands of a professional.

What Should You Do if You Are Involved in an Auto Accident in New Hampshire?

Being involved in an automobile or motor vehicle accident can be a very confusing and traumatic event.   Many times, especially if an accident victim has never been in an accident before, they are very unsure of what to do.   If you or a passenger are injured in an auto crash that is not your fault, or if you are struck by a car while on a bicycle or walking as a pedestrian, you should do the following if possible:  (1)  Call the police to the scene while the other driver is still there so that the officer can conduct an investigation, preserve evidence, and issue a report;  (2) If there are witnesses to the accident, try to obtain their contact information, or at least ask them to stay until the police arrive; (3) Obtain the name and contact information of the person that hit you, and take down their license plate number;  (4)  Obtain the insurance information of the person that hit you; (5) If you believe you are injured at all, contact an ambulance or accept transportation by ambulance if offered by the police officer; (6) Do not tell the police officer or anyone else that you are "OK" if you are not; (7) Take photographs of the accident scene, skid marks and the vehicles involved or, if you are unable, ask someone else to do it; (8) If you are injured, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital; (9) Contact your own insurance company to report the accident and to advise them you are injured; (10) Follow up with your family doctor or a medical specialist for treatment; and (11) Keep copies of all paperwork involving the accident, damage to your car, and your injuries. Remember, even if the person that hit you does not have insurance, you can make an uninsured motorist claim for your injuries against your own insurance company.  It is a right for which you have paid premiums, and it will not cause your premiums to increase.   Therefore, in any accident where you or a passenger are injured, you do have a right to be compensated and covered for your injuries and other damages, such as lost wages.   Also, given the complexities of the various insurances that will be involved, and given the danger that you could inadvertantly say or do something that may prejudice your case, it is advised that you contact a New Hampshire personal injury attorney as soon as possible to represent you and guide you through the process in order to take the stress off of you, and to make sure that things are done correctly and in accordance with the law, regulations and procedures so that you get the compensation you deserve, and don't lose or forfeit any rights you may have.

The Collateral Source Rule in New Hampshire Personal Injury and Auto Accident Cases

The New Hampshire superior courts have consistently applied what is known as the "collateral source rule" to claims for medical bills in negligence, personal injury, auto accident, slip and fall and dog bite cases.   What that means is that if you are injured through the fault of another, you and your lawyer are entitled to claim the full gross amount of medical bills as part of your damages in the case agains their insurance company.   This is true even if your health insurer, whether private or government, actually pays less than the full amount of the bill.  For example, if you have an MRI for $1,000, your health insurance will likely pay only $400 or so, with the rest being written off per the agreement between the health carrier and the hospital.  However, in your case against the negligent party, you can claim the full $1,000 as damages, and a jury will never be told that a lesser amount was actually paid.   This is a good rule because why should a negligent person and their insurance company benefit from the fact that you were wise enough to make sure you had health insurance to protect yourself and your family.   Insurance companies and their lawyers consistently challenge this rule, however the trial courts have consistently applied it, and the issue has yet to be squarely presented to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

President Obama's Extension of Current Health Insurance Plans Under the Affordable Care Act Causes Confusion in New Hampshire

President's Obama's announcment this week that he is extending the ability of people who have had their individual health plans canceled by one year is causing confusion among policy holders and govenment officials in Hampshire.  In early October, thousands of New Hampshire residents with individual health insurance plans from health carriers such as Anthem received notices that due to the restrictions and conditions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, their current policies were no longer available and were being canceled.   These people were directed to contact the health carrier for options, or to search for new coverage in the "exchange," through the now infamous healthcare government website.  In the fact of extreme political pressure, particularly in light of the President's prior promise that "if you like your current health plan, you will be able to keep it," Obama announced this week that policyholders will be allowed to keep their current plans for an additional year.   The problem that I have been hearing with this new twist, however, is that the plans that have been canceled are no longer available.   In other words, trying to extend your old plan is like trying to purchase a product that is no longer being manufactured, and is no longer available for purchase on store shelves.   Therefore, while the President's proposal may soften political pressure from some circles (although that appears doubtful), the question is will it have any effect for the policyholders that have already had their coverage canceled?   The New Hampshire Insurance Commission was also caught by surprise by this announcement, and must now determine whether such a retroactive extension of canceled health insurance plans is possible under New Hampshire law and New Hampshire's insurance regulatory scheme.    Stay tuned.   The problem with all of this is that people are facing a potential "gap" in their health coverage, which could have catastrophic results in the event of a serious personal injury from an auto accident or through the negligent conduct of others.   This is all the more reason that, at the very least, people should make sure that their personal auto insurance policies and homeowner's policies, and in particular medical payment limits and uninsured motorist limits are sufficiently high to cover the anticipated medical expenses associated with such accidental injury.

New Hampshire Judge Rejects Plea Bargain in Stephen Coco Hit and Run Accident Case

A Superior Court judge has today rejected a proposed plea bargain agreement in the hit-and-run auto accident case involving off duty Manchester Police Sgt. Stephen Coco.  Coco was accused of hitting two Bedford NH teens in a Manchester Police vehicle, causing personal injury, and leaving the scene.  The proposed plea had been the subject of recent heated debate in the social media, newspapers and blogs.  The case will now continue to proceed to trial.

Affordable Care Act in NH - Don't Let Your Health Insurance Lapse

It would be well worth the time to contact your current health insurance company to see what if any effect the ACA, also known as Obamacare, will have on your health coverage and existing plan.   This is especially true if you are the holder of an individual policy.   Many have recently received notices that their insurance will be canceled because the terms and coverages do not fully comply with the Affordable Care Act.   The good news is that most health carriers in New Hampshire, including Anthem Blue Cross, do offer new alternative health plan options which comply with the ACA.   Some of these plans have higher deductibles than current plans, however there can be savings on monthly premiums.   While shopping for new coverage in the Exchange is certainly an option as well, a good first step would be to contact your existing carrier to see what new plans are being offered so you will have the peace of mind that if you choose, you can stay with your current health insurance company and avoid a potentially catastrophic lapse in coverage, particularly in the case of a serious injury or illness.

Make Sure you have Enough Automobile Liability Insurance Coverage

Many people believe they are "fully insured," when in reality they have only minimum or close to minimum coverage.   The minimum liablity and uninsured motorist limits in New Hampshire are $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident.  With the cost of medical care and the potential financial devastation caused by a serious accident, these minimum limits are woefully inadequate.  I advise my clients to purchase $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident.  I also advise my clients to strongful consider purchasing excess coverage, known as an umbrella policy, with $1,000,000 in coverage.   This umbrella coverage is layered on top of your primary automobile insurance policy, providing you with substantial coverage and protection not only if you are sued in an accident that is your fault, but also for the protection of yourself and your family if you are injured through the fault of an uninsured or underinsured motorist. An umbrella policy is also layered on top of your homeowner's insurance policy, providing the same $1,000,000 in additional coverage for injuries arising from causes other than an automobile or pedestrian accident.  And, you will typically find with most insurance companies that the increase in premiums due to raising your liability limits and purchasing an umbrella policy is relatively minimal.   For your own protection, you should review your coverages with your insurance agent this week.

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Law Offices of Peter E. Hutchins PLLC - Manchester Personal Injury Attorneys Law Offices of Peter E. Hutchins PLLC - Manchester Personal Injury Attorneys