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Cell Phone Distraction

In the United States, over 35,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015 alone. Currently, cell phone distractions are causing accidents in epic proportions. The National Safety Council’s Annual Injury and Fatality Report found that one out of every four accidents was caused by drivers distracted due to cell phone usage. While a study from Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) found over half of all automotive accidents in the United States, a full 52%, occurred due to some form of cell phone distraction.

The automotive industry has attempted to curtail cell phone related accidents by introducing voice-to-text applications and hands-free cell phone options in new vehicles. However, these attempts to make cell phone usage safer in vehicles may be in vain. A study performed by the Texas A&M Transpiration Institute found that there is no evidence, at this point, to prove that voice-to-text applications offer real safety advantages over manual texting. Driver response times were significantly delayed regardless of whether the individual was manually texting or using a voice to text application. While the individual felt safer using the voice to text application, the driver’s performance suffered equally for both methods.

photo_10166_20090419-150x150You pay your insurance premiums for years, on time, every month, every year.  When you pay your premiums, you hope you never need your insurance because that means something bad has happened – a car wreck, a tree has fallen on the home, a water pipe has burst and flooded your home, a hurricane has wrecked your home, an illness or death has struck your family.  Yet you take comfort in knowing that your insurance company will uphold their end of the bargain and pay your claim when tragedy does strike.  Unfortunately, many Alabamians have found out the hard way that insurance companies don’t always uphold their end of the bargain.  Despite paying premiums for years, people are sometimes left stranded by their insurance companies when they need them most.  Fortunately the law has a way to handle this situation, though it is often not easy or quick.

In Alabama there are two causes of action against insurance companies when they wrongfully deny a claim.  You can sue for breach of contract, and you can sue for bad faith.  Breach of contract is pretty straightforward.  You have a contract and the insurance company did not uphold their end of it.  There is good and bad news for consumers about this.  The good news is that if the claim involves your home, you get to not only ask for the claim to be paid, but you get to ask for extra damages for mental anguish and emotional distress.  These are legal terms for the aggravation, stress and hardship you have suffered by having an insurance company leave your home unrepaired.  The bad news is that claims for breach of contract for any other type of insurance are limited to simply asking for your claim to be paid.  This often leaves people out significant amounts of money or without a way to go to court because they either have to pay a lawyer to take their case to court, or it does not make sense to hire a lawyer to handle the claim if the amount is small.

Fortunately, Alabama also recognizes insurance bad faith.  Bad faith can be proven when an insurance company either refuses to investigate a claim or uses questionable methods for denying coverage.  If an insurance company makes up a reason to deny a claim or uses ambiguous language in the policy to deny a claim, they can be liable for bad faith.  Insurance policies are often drafted in ways that make it difficult for consumers to understand them.  Insurance companies are supposed to interpret their policies in such a way as to find coverage when it could possibly be available.  However, insurance companies often take advantage of the complex language in their policies to deny coverage and leave people in a real bind.  The good thing about insurance bad faith is that people can sue to have their claim paid, they can sue for mental anguish and emotional distress, and they can also sue for punitive damages to punish companies for acting against their policyholders’ interests.

Lawsuits are being filed against Monsanto alleging that its product, Roundup, causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The active ingredient in Roundup is a chemical called glyphosate. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide. It is toxic to both broadleaf plants and grasses. It restricts the plants from making proteins that are necessary for life.

Glyphosate was developed in about 1974. It was found to be a very effective herbicide. There are over 700 products that contain this chemical. It can be absorbed through the skin, although at very low rates. It can also be ingested if care is not taken to clean up after using it. Monsanto and other big chemical corporations have developed roundup resistant seeds. This has been a boom to agriculture because the application of roundup to resistant crops will kill the weeds without effecting the useful plants.

Because roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world it is ubiquitous in the environment. Many of us have probably been exposed to this chemical. Roundup has been assumed to be safe. But more recently the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic.” Studies have shown that glyphosate may cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Wikipedia defines ethics as:  A branch of philosophy that involves systemizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.  Alabama citizens in general, and the Alabama legal community in particular, can take pride in the fundamental role Alabama played in the development of modern-day codes of ethics across many disciplines.

Thomas Goode Jones, a nineteenth century railroad builder, lawyer, politician and Civil War hero, wrote our nation’s first code of legal ethics, which was adopted by the Alabama State Bar Association in 1887 and the American Bar Association in 1908.  Every state bar association in the nation has now followed suit with a Code of Professional Conduct based on Jones’ original work.  Jones went on to become Governor of Alabama in 1890, and his name lives on at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama.

As drafted and revised throughout the last 150 years, ethics rules expand on the foundational and timeless Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  The rules, through prescription and proscription, provide for truthfulness, honesty, integrity, fair treatment of colleagues, adversaries and clients alike, and respectful decorum toward the institutions of government and society at large.

Cancer kills.  In the United States, it is estimated that cancer kills 600,000 adults and 1200 children each and every year.  The good news is that cancer deaths are declining.  According to the American Cancer Society, the cancer rate for men and women declined 25% from 1991 to 2004.  That translates to 2.1 million fewer deaths in this period of time.

While this is great news, the truth is that even fewer people should have died from cancer during this period of time.  Round up, made by Monsanto, has a key ingredient called glyphosate.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently announced its determination that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

California has a law known as Prop 65.  This law requires California to mandate manufacturers of any cancer causing product to label those products as carcinogenic.  Based on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, California is requiring glyphosate manufacturers to label the herbicide as a carcinogen.  The question becomes which products would require labels – some worry that Round Up – the most popular product on the market with glyphosates in it – would not be required to carry a label because of its low percentage of glyphosates.  California’s current proposal is that products that have the potential to expose consumers to 1.1 milligrams of glyphosates per day would be required to have warnings but there is no guarantee that is what the final regulation will be.

ezra-jeffrey-149574-150x150It should go without saying that wet weather driving can be dangerous.  A recent analysis of available federal data shows that rain is the leading cause of weather-related driving fatalities.  Even in Alaska, rainy weather causes more fatal accidents than snow.  Unfortunately, as the wet weather continues to come, people grow accustomed to driving in it and minimize the risks of doing so.  In Alabama, especially during the tropical weather season, drivers should be extra careful when heading out on the roads.  Here are a few tips and reasons to be extra cautious.

  1. Decreased visibility – Rain on your windshield and rain in your line of sight both cause decreased visibility for drivers, making it harder to keep a proper lookout. Dangerous conditions or inattentive drivers are much harder to recognize in low visibility situations.
  2. Hydroplaning – Hydroplaning is a serious risk for auto accidents. When tires are not able to force the water away between them and the road, the vehicle begins to float on the water and the driver loses complete control of the vehicle.  The risk for hydroplaning is as high when it first starts to rain and soon after it has stopped as it is when it is pouring.  Too many people assume that hydroplaning can only occur during a heavy storm and minimize the risk after the rain has stopped.

 CONVERSION VEHICLES

                Converted vehicles and be fun and seem luxurious.  The most common type of converted vehicle is the conversion van, but conversions can also be made to limousines, campers and for special needs uses.  When a motor vehicle is manufactured, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards require that it be built so as to reasonably protect the occupants in case of a crash.  This crash worthiness requirement is met by the design and component parts of the vehicle.  All crashes involving motor vehicles produce energy, or force, which can harm the occupants if these forces get into the occupant compartment.  The design standards required by the FMVSS allow the occupants to “ride down” the forces in a crash.  The restraint system (seat belts and airbags) can be very effective in protecting people in a crash.  Likewise the sides, front and roof of a motor vehicle are all designed to absorb the energy of a crash.

Unfortunately, when motor vehicles are converted, such as in a conversion van, the vehicle can lose some of these design and manufacturing elements that are intended to protect the occupants.  For example, it is popular to replace the seats in a van with more luxurious looking captain’s chairs.  This modification can affect the efficacy of the restraint system.  It can also result in a situation where the converted and modified seating lacks the strength of the original design.  Other modifications or so-called up-grades, such as raised roofs, enlarged windows and decorative panels can also reduce the crashworthiness of the vehicle.

Monsanto Roundup Litigation Update

Roundup is a herbicide used to kill weeds that compete with agricultural crops. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, works by inhibiting a specific enzyme required for plant growth.  By 2001, Roundup weed killer was the most-used active ingredient in American agriculture, with an estimated 85-90 million pounds used each year. In 2007, that number reached 185 million pounds annually and today, Roundup remains the most widely used herbicide in the United States and worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), glyphosate has been linked to serious forms of cancer, including:

accident-300x225Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.  Studies have shown that as many as 3 in 10 accidents happen within one mile of a person’s home.  There are certain areas, however, that have unfortunately developed a reputation for being dangerous roadways where not only do accidents occur with higher frequency, but they often involve significant injuries or fatalities.

One area in Alabama that has developed such a reputation for dangerous accidents is Interstate 85 in Macon County near Shorter and Tuskegee.  A google search for I-85 accidents in Alabama will lead to several news articles about fatal or serious accidents in this area. These accidents often involve multiple cars and/or 18 wheelers or large trucks.  These accidents can involve 18 wheelers overturning, cars crossing into the oncoming lane of traffic, and an accident ahead leading to accidents further back down the interstate.  I-85 is a major thoroughfare for commercial traffic, taking goods on large trucks from Atlanta and the East Coast down to other parts of the South and back.  Once outside of Atlanta, traffic flows pretty steadily until about Opelika, and then more residential traffic joins the flow all the way to Montgomery.  While this happens on interstates all over America, it seems that serious car accidents tend to occur on this stretch right near Shorter with more frequency and with more loss of life.

There are things we can do to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.  First, keep up to date on local news.  Fatal accidents can happen anywhere, but when you hear of one, inform your family to pay extra attention while driving in these areas.  Human error is usually to blame, but there are areas where human error tends to crop up with more  frequency.  Second, stay alert to the road in front of you.  We all have a tendency to set our cruise control and go with the flow of traffic, but the flow of traffic can change in an instant, and other drivers on the road are getting more and more distracted.  When 18 wheelers, large trucks, and other cars are travelling at a high rate of speed, a small change in traffic patterns or a small distraction can quickly turn into a deadly situation.  Take breaks if you need to to stay alert when driving in a dangerous area.  Finally, take action.  If you see dangerous behavior on the road, call the highway patrol.  There are too many good people trying to peacefully follow the law and safely get to where they are going for a few dangerous drivers to ruin it.  If a heavy truck or 18 wheeler is driving aggressively, report it for the benefit of all of us.  If a driver is riding down the road typing on their cell phone, report it.  The less dangerous drivers riding through dangerous areas, the better for all of us.

When automobile and truck tires fail because of design defects or manufacturing defects the results can be catastrophic. Permanent injury or death is foreseeable results. When a lawyer begins to evaluate a potential tire failure/defect case there are several things that are of great importance. First, a good working knowledge of tire design and the manufacturing process is critical.

A typical radial tire has eight component parts. The tread is the outermost part of the tire. It is the component that is designed to meet the road. The design elements that make up an adequate tread can be complicated. Thin cuts in the rubber surface of the tread are called sipes. They help to improve traction on wet roads. Groove ratio and shape are also important. The ability of a tire to keep traction in various road conditions depends of the efficacy of the design of these elements. Below the tread is the cap ply. This component helps to maintain the shape of the tire and control heating. Below that are the belts, a layer that strengthens the tire. These are rubber bonded with steel cords. It helps improve the performance of a tire during turning. The carcass ply is similar to the belts. Fiber cords bonded with rubber help strengthen the tire. The inner liner has a function similar to an inner tube. It is an airtight layer of rubber. The sidewalls, beads and lower beads are the parts of the tire that form the sides, help conform the tire to the metal rim and keep the tire properly attached. As can be seen, a tire is a complex product and defects in the design and manufacture of the various components must be carefully evaluated.

For example, a poor design or faulty construction of the inner liner can lead to tread separation. Improper curing, the use of corroded materials in the manufacturing process, contamination by foreign materials and the use of aging rubber stock can also lead to tread separation. Tread separation usually results in loss of control or a blowout. This can be devastating. Underinflating or overinflating tires can also lead to tire failure. It is very important to check the air pressure in tires on a regular basis to guard against this. But even if tires are properly maintained and serviced, design and construction defects can still lead to tire failure. This is especially true with respect to the issue of under inflation. Tires can leak air. This can be caused by tires that are more permeable than they should be.

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