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Throwing a graduation party? Know your legal liability as a social host before serving alcohol

Throwing a graduation party? Know your legal liability as a social host before serving alcohol

As graduations, weddings, reunions and other milestones are celebrated this time of year, A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella, P.C., reminds adults who are planning to host parties that the State of Michigan has a Social Host Liability Law which holds them responsible if underage drinking occurs, regardless of who furnishes the alcohol.

“Many well-intentioned parents do not realize that they can be held criminally liable if minors are served alcohol. They could also face damages from a civil lawsuit if an underage guest is served alcohol and subsequently becomes injured or injures someone else,” Colella said. “Importantly, the setting of the party does not have to be at the host’s home; it can be offsite at a meeting hall or even a park.”

According to MCL436.1701:
1. Alcoholic liquor shall not be sold or furnished to a minor
2. A person who is not a retail licensee and charged with the violation will face a misdemeanor of up to a $1,000 fine and imprisonment of not more than 60 days for a first offense; subsequent offenses have penalties of up to $2,500 in fines and up to 90 days in prison, in addition to a possible order to perform community service and potential loss of a driver’s license.

“Michigan’s law is not intended to quash the fun, but instead designed to keep minors safe and ensure that all guests have the opportunity to enjoy the celebration unharmed,” Colella said. “It reminds hosts to be conscious of their responsibilities and aware of what is happening at their get-togethers.”

Colella offers some advice on how to help deter underage drinking at these social gatherings:

  • Hire a professional bartender who can control the flow of alcohol and monitor for underage drinkers.
  • Make it known that once minors leave the party, they are not allowed back to dissuade underage drinking at another location and returning potentially inebriated.
  • For those of legal drinking age, make sure certain guests have been named designated drivers ahead of time.
  • If no designated drivers are available, consider rideshare services.

For more information about this law, visit the Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) http://alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/Home.html, which provides detailed state-by-state information on 35 alcohol-related policies and the recreational use of cannabis.

About Moss & Colella
Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death. The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims. To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is April 9 – 15; know your rights if you’ve been the victim of a dog attack in Michigan

National Dog Bite Prevention Week is April 9 – 15; know your rights if you’ve been the victim of a dog attack in Michigan

A recent article by the Associated Press notes that dog attacks on postal carriers are on the rise due in part to an increase in online shopping and corresponding package deliveries. A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella, P.C., says dog bite statistics nationwide are alarming.

“Nearly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year and 50% of dog bite fatalities occur among children under 10 years old,” Colella said.

Colella said that more than half of the fatalities from dog bites and dog attacks were inflicted by Pit Bulls and Rottweiler breeds, with Rottweilers statistically being the most fatal. Other dog breeds in Michigan considered to be most statistically likely to bite are German Shepherds, wolf hybrids, Chow Chows, and Dobermans. Nearly 2% of the population are nipped or bitten by dogs in their lifetime, either vicious dogs or merely undisciplined.

The Michigan statute [MCL 287.321] defines “dangerous animal” as a dog or other animal that bites or attacks a person, or a dog that bites or attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under the control of its owner. However, a dangerous animal does not include any of the following: an animal that bites or attacks a person who is knowingly trespassing on the property of the animal’s owner; an animal that bites or attacks a person who provokes or torments the animal; or an animal that is responding in a manner that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude was intended to protect a person if that person is engaged in a lawful activity or is the subject of an assault.

Under Michigan law, a dog owner is liable for a bite or attack, regardless of whether the dog displayed vicious tendencies. However, in some cases, an owner may argue “provocation,” according to Colella.

“Our lawyers have filed and won these cases, successfully defeating the “provocation” defense on countless occasions,” Colella said. “The key is for individuals who have been bitten or attacked to know their rights.”

Colella notes that fatal dog attacks usually occur at or near the family home.

“Parents must always put their children’s safety first when it comes to protecting them from dog bites or attacks,” Colella said. “The experience is traumatic and can lead to serious injury or death, as well as life-long anxiety and a crippling fear of dogs.”

About Moss & Colella
Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death. The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims. To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.

New Michigan zipline regulations reflect the risk of recreational adventure activities, often supervised by inadequately trained young adults

New Michigan zipline regulations reflect the risk of recreational adventure activities, often supervised by inadequately trained young adults

A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella, P.C., says that new Michigan regulations that went into effect last month adding zip-lines to the regulation guidelines of the Michigan Carnival-Amusement Safety Act may not go far enough to protect people engaging in risky adventure activities.

“Zip-lining is a fun adventure activity, yet because of its inherent risks, it is now rightly regulated by an existing Michigan law,” Colella said. “However, I often deal with gross negligence cases in recreational waivers and have found that it isn’t always the risk of the activity itself that endangers participants, but operator error.”

A recreational waiver, a critical legal protection document to prevent lawsuits and used by organizations involved in offering activities that carry varying degrees of risk, such as skiing, snowboarding, zip-lining, sky diving, canoeing and rock climbing, is commonplace and most participants sign off without question.

“Individuals generally sign the document because they understand that, on the face of it, the activity is indeed risky. At the same time, the individual places trust in the company or organization offering the service, believing that every precaution within reason has been taken to keep participants as safe as possible,” Colella said.

Colella, who is currently involved in a lawsuit with a client who failed to have his rock-climbing harness properly secured by an employee of Lifetime Fitness, says participants need to go beyond consideration of the risky activity itself and pay close attention to the individuals actually operating the adventure activity – not just the legitimacy of the company or venue that is offering it.

“Legitimate businesses like ski resorts and theme parks often hire young adults to direct or assist with activities like zip-lines, chair lifts and other recreational adventures,” Colella said. “From the numerous gross negligence cases I’ve handled, I see a common thread of untrained or under-trained employees, frequently college students picking up hours during school breaks, in charge of potentially dangerous activities. That’s often where the greatest danger lurks.”

Colella offers the following advice to those engaging in an activity that requires a signed recreational waiver.

“Do not participate in risky adventure activities if you encounter clueless employees, shoddy equipment or poorly maintained grounds,” Colella said. “They can be indicators of additional unnecessary risks that can cause death or permanent harm.”

About Moss & Colella
Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death. The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims. To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.

Attorneys for family of  Janet Wilson respond to Wayne County Prosecutor’s decision not to charge Dearborn Police officer in her death

Attorneys for family of Janet Wilson respond to Wayne County Prosecutor’s decision not to charge Dearborn Police officer in her death

A. Vince Colella, civil rights attorney and partner with Moss & Colella, P.C., responded to the announcement today by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy that Dearborn Police Officer James Wade will not be charged in the Jan. 27, 2016 death of Janet Wilson, who was shot multiple times while unarmed in her car near Fairlane Mall.

“Today marks another dark day in the criminal justice system. Janet Wilson’s family is deeply disappointed in the prosecutor’s decision and disagrees with her analysis of the evidence, notably the discrediting of valid eyewitness testimony,” Colella said. “Janet Wilson did not pose a threat of harm to Dearborn Police or Fairlane Mall security. The Michigan State Police thoroughly investigated this case and, fully aware of the elements that must be established to obtain a conviction, verbally told me months ago that they recommended charges be filed against the officer.”

On Aug. 4, 2016, Colella filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the City of Dearborn and Officer Wade on behalf of Wilson’s family. On Jan. 4, 2017, the stay of proceedings in the civil case will be lifted; Colella says the family has full faith the civil system will bring justice and that a jury will hold Officer Wade liable for the death of Janet Wilson. At the same time, the family believes the City of Dearborn’s hiring, training, supervision and deadly force policies will be found inadequate and unconstitutional.

“Prosecutor Worthy’s decision not to charge is another example of how the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with fatal police shootings and rogue police officers who use excessive force against citizens,” Colella said.

Colella, who is joined by criminal defense attorney Neil Rockind as co-counsel on the Wilson civil case, said both attorneys are prepared to engage in lengthy and exhaustive discovery of the matter to expose the uncontroverted facts that led to the tragic death of their client. Rockind affirms Colella’s frustration with the criminal justice system as it applies to police officers.

“The Rodney King incident and recent South Carolina police shooting case, both captured on video, are prime examples of how the criminal justice system is incapable of bringing officers to justice,” Rockind said. “Since 2006, nearly 10,000 people have lost their lives to deadly force, with only 54 prosecutions nationwide. The criminal justice system has failed to police these police officers.”

Both Rockind and Colella not only disagree with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s decision not to charge, but are also disappointed by the fact that Prosecutor Worthy issued a summary of facts and law via a press release in an attempt to justify her decision as well as the officer’s actions.

“The officer that fired into Wilson’s car did so while backing away from her vehicle and fired multiple times into the front windshield AND side passenger window,” Rockind said. “Were the shooter not wearing a uniform, he’d be charged. This is particularly true where the officer involved has a documented history of excessive force and inappropriate behavior, as Wade does.”

Colella added that the aforementioned are just some of the facts not included in the press release issued by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, noting that the civil case will have fewer legal barriers to justice.

“The criminal justice system has obstacles that protected the officer involved in this case,” Colella said. “The federal legal process, where this case is headed now, does not. Justice for Janet will be obtained with or without the help of the State of Michigan or Wayne County.”

About Moss & Colella
Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death. The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims. To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.

Court of Appeals reverses Oakland County Circuit Court decision in Lifetime Fitness recreational waiver case

Court of Appeals reverses Oakland County Circuit Court decision in Lifetime Fitness recreational waiver case

A. Vince Colella, managing partner of Mich.-based personal injury and civil rights law firm, Moss & Colella, P.C., announced that the Court of Appeals on Nov. 30, 2016 overturned a decision by the Oakland County Circuit Court, allowing a gross negligence case against Lifetime Fitness to proceed to trial.

On February 17, 2014, David Alvarez accompanied his wife and daughter to Lifetime Fitness in Novi, Mich. to utilize its climbing wall; none had every climbed the wall before. Upon arrival at Lifetime, they signed a standard recreational waiver releasing Lifetime of all claims of negligence.

The gross negligence claim at issue centers around the fact that Lifetime personnel failed to make certain that David Alvarez was harnessed correctly. Alvarez testified that after climbing 30 feet to the top of the wall, he was told to “let go” by the Lifetime employee. Because the harness was not properly secured to the locking mechanism, it gave way, causing Alvarez to fall to the ground and sustain serious injury to his back and both legs.

A lawsuit was filed in the Oakland County Circuit Court; shortly after the close of discovery, Lifetime filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming there was no evidence that its employee’s actions were grossly negligent. The trial court granted Lifetime’s motion and dismissed the case finding “…the plaintiff failed to present any evidence establishing that Lifetime was grossly negligent in failing to take precautions for plaintiff’s safety.”

Alvarez appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, remanding the case for trial. The Court of Appeals held that Lifetime:

  • “Ignored a clear visible indication that Alvarez was climbing in an unsafe manner”;
  • “Took no steps to avoid the danger associated with climbing the rock wall with an improperly secured harness”;
  • “Instructed (Alvarez) to push of the wall,” disregarding signs that the harness was placed on backwards.

“Recreational waivers are rarely defeated, but this case is the second time in two years that Moss & Colella has done so,” Colella said. “Our success in overturning the trial court was in convincing the Court of Appeals that gross negligence is not an insurmountable or absolute defense and emphasizing that establishing gross negligence does not require an admission by the grossly negligent actor that there was no regard for a substantial risk.”

About Moss & Colella
Established in 1997, Moss & Colella represents the victims of personal injury, civil rights violations, discrimination and wrongful death. The firm is recognized as a leader in complex tort litigation, including excess and deadly force, jail death, sexual abuse and harassment, auto and truck accidents, and other serious injury and wrongful death claims. To learn more about the firm and its diverse areas of practice, visit the Moss & Colella website.