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New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Attorneys Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month has now begun, and runs from September 15th through October 15th. This month is a time to celebrate the important presence of the Hispanic Americans and Latino Americans in the United States. The significance of the start date (September 15th) is the Independence Day of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The countries of Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate their Independence Days during this month of celebration. This important event began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, and was expanded in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to encompass a full month.

Airbag Recall Mirrors GM Ignition Switch Debacle

Late in 2008, Honda recalled 4,200 vehicles it believed might be equipped with faulty air bags. The air bags had the potential to explode and send metal shrapnel flying into the vehicle. The recall came four years after the first reported incident of an exploding air bag leading to injury. The defective air bags, manufactured by Takata, are now responsible for 14 million recalled vehicles. The recalls cover 11 different auto manufacturers and numerous vehicle types. As with the GM ignition switch recall, people are asking why the defect has been allowed to endanger so many people over such a long period of time.

The first time the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took up the issue of the defective air bags was 2009. The NHTSA closed that investigation before it had even received full documentation from Takata. Honda dutifully fired a standard form each time a ruptured air bag was identified as the cause of an injury. Still, 10 years later, new recalls are being announced and more people are being hurt by shrapnel hurled at them by defective air bags.

An Investment In Distracted Driving Technology

General Motors may be the latest auto manufacturer to look to technology to reduce the number of distracted driving and fatigued driving accidents. GM has purchased tracking devices that analyze the faces and eyes of drivers. Similar technology is used in the commercial trucking industry to identify when a truck driver's eyes are not on the road, either due to a distraction or to drowsiness. GM's initial investment is for 500,000 of these devices. The company has not yet released the details of which vehicles will receive the devices or of how they will be used.

Accidents caused by tired or distracted driving are not easy to identify. While a drunk driver can be tested following an accident, there is often an absence of evidence that can demonstrate a driver who was dozing or not paying attention. Tired drivers are often not aware that they have reached a dangerous level of inattention to the road.

Practice Tip: I Insist on Full Voir Dire of Any Potential Jury

by Dan T. Silverman, Esquire; Costello & Mains 

During the pre-trial conference, one of the most significant battles that an attorney can wage is over how voir dire will be conducted. Voir dire is the process by which attorneys determine if potential jurors are fit to participate in the case. The phrase derived from the Latin verum meaning, "that which is true." In some states, attorneys are allowed to directly question potential jurors; however, in New Jersey, the questions are asked by the Judge.

Judges in New Jersey are constantly attempting to make sure that their Court Rooms are moving cases along in an efficient manner. For this reasons, judges, and some attorneys, look down upon extended voir dire as an annoyance that slows jury selection and the eventual trial. Some judges may attempt to tell lawyers that they have their own voir dire which they use and insist that the parties use such a model. Too often, those limited voir dire compose only yes and no questions. It is critical that all attorneys stand up and insist upon full voir dire including open ended questions. It is only through such open ended questions that the parties and their attorneys will be able to gain a true sense as to whether or not a potential juror is fit for that specific matter.

The New Jersey Appellate Division has once again weighed in on the subject and again insisted that the trial courts must use full voir dire, including open ended questions. In Erga v. Chalmers, A-2632-12T4 (July 16, 2014), the Appellate Division held that it was reversible error to fail to ask jurors open ended questions during voir dire. "Compliance with Directive #4-07 is required of all trial judges, and the trial judge's failure to do so here mandates reversal." In doing so, the Court relied upon Directive 4-07 promulgated on May 16, 2007 which provides, in part, that open ended questions must be asked in every voir dire. The Appellate Division noted that the trial court appeared concerned about the length of time associated with such questions, but cited another Appellate Division decision, State v. Morales, 390 N.J. Super. 470 (App. Div. 2007) as stating, "we recognize that the Directive may cause jury selection to take longer, but that has been deemed an acceptable price to pay for a jury without bias, prejudice, or unfairness with regard to the trial matter or anyone involved on the trial."

Motorcycle Accident Safety Report

A drop in motorcycle fatalities in 2013 is being attributed to bad weather, rather than to a safer environment for motorcyclists in a report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association. After increasing by more than 7 percent from 2011 to 2012, motorcycle fatalities dropped 7 percent in 2013. Unfortunately, what appears to be a safety gain might be entirely the result of fewer miles driven by motorcyclists due to inclement weather. The GHSA report concluded that 2013 marks the 15th consecutive year of stagnant motorcycle safety numbers.

The report on motorcycle crashes revealed several interesting factors. Over the last decade, the profile of the typical victim of a motorcycle accident fatality has changed. Older riders, operators over the age of 40, make up a larger percentage of accident victims than they once did. In 2011, 56 percent of those killed in motorcycle accidents were over 40. This may reflect the increase in people over the age of 40 taking up motorcycling as a hobby or as a means of transportation. As in auto accidents, inexperienced drivers are more likely to make deadly mistakes.

Helpful tips for new fathers seeking time off

The roles fathers have with newborn children has gradually changed over time. Nowadays, fathers are more involved with changing diapers, preparing food, bathing and comforting their young children. More importantly, more companies are recognizing the benefit (and fairness) of offering paternity time; essentially time off for new fathers to establish a bond with their children directly after the birth.

However, not all companies do this. In these circumstances, new fathers must know what to do to secure their time. This post will offer some helpful tips.

New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Attorney Discuss the "Ban the Box" Bill

Governor Chris Christie signed the "Opportunity to Compete Act" into law on August 11, 2014, also known as the "Ban the Box" law. This new law will no longer allow employers to ask applicants to check a box saying whether they have been convicted of a crime. This is a needed fix to a "silent" problem which has long existed, but which has gone unaddressed because the victims are ex-cons, a constituency most people don't much care about.

So often, the minute an employer sees the box "convicted of a crime" checked, the applicant is out of luck, no matter their other qualities, no matter their earnestness. The new law prevents the employer from making this initial "cut" in the application form process. Yet there are limitations to the law. Employers are only barred from asking during the initial application process whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime. That means that background checks can still occur after the initial process. Past criminal histories can still be a determining factor as to whether or not an individual will be considered for a position by an employer but at least those individuals will be initially considered if qualified for that position. And if an employer violates the law, there's no lawsuit which can be filed by a victim discriminated against in this fashion. It's a law without teeth, but at least there's gums.

Study Focuses On Truck Driver Salary And Safety

It is no secret that employers will pay employees as little as possible to maximize profits. The law sets a floor for hourly wage, though some companies attempt to get below even that paltry figure. The impact of wages, particularly low wages, on employee health and morale is concerning in many industries. In the trucking industry, pay practices may even have a detrimental impact on safety. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is now conducting a study to better understand the relationship between how much drivers earn and how safely they operate their vehicles.

Trucking industry representatives have bemoaned a shortage of qualified truck drivers for some time. The problem is expected to grow in the future as the industry grows and the current crop of drivers retire or lose the ability to drive safely. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average commercial driver in the U.S. is 55. The industry has had significant trouble attracting younger drivers to accept the working conditions and salary offered by most companies.

New Jersey Employment and Civil Rights Attorney Discusses "Nelson Mandela Day"

Or . . . Everything I need to know about being a lawyer I learned from Nelson Mandela. 

Of course, I don't really mean that Mandela taught me to be a lawyer, or that his lessons, above those of any others (including my parents, for starters) are the "primary" reasons I became a lawyer or guide my practice toward certain behaviors and values.

On the other hand, when someone says "everything I need to know I learned from...", what they're really saying is that they consider the particular source to be an important moral, ethical, political or other lesson to which people ought pay heed.

And Mr. Mandela has earned some heed, worldwide.

Nelson Mandela lived quite a long and distinguished life. If we measure the most valuable wisdom as that coming from the greatest pain and suffering, then Nelson Mandela had a deep well of hard-won wisdom by the time he left the world. His wisdom emerges from some of his most memorable statements. I recently had the pleasure of reading an excellent blog from a fellow trial lawyer who spoke about Nelson Mandela. Shamelessly copying his approach, I've taken the same quotes and applied them to my life and my practice, as he did.

What impressed me the most about Nelson Mandela was the dignity with which he endured what he endured, and the grace with which he conducted himself when his durance ended. Far too often, the first thought that someone has when "durance vile" ends is to seek revenge, to vent your anger on the world. As we see in the world today, anger is too often the prime driver of individual, group and national conduct. Nelson Mandela embodies a lesson from which everyone can benefit.

Three things every pregnant employee should know

While the U.S. economy appears to be adding more jobs this summer, the struggles that pregnant women have in finding (and keeping) jobs is largely ignored. Basically, not every employer wants to hire a pregnant woman. Additionally, some employers do not understand the rules that protect pregnant workers and prohibit certain actions against them. Because of this, it is important for pregnant workers to know their rights and be able to protect themselves against overzealous employers.

This post will provide some helpful tips.

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