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.

Under Alabama law, an individual  who operates a vehicle is not liable for injuries or damages sustained by a non-paying passenger within the vehicle unless the injured passenger can show that his or her damage resulted from willful or wanton conduct on the part of the driver. Alabama Code Section 32-1-2.  Although this law can be beneficial for some drivers, it can leave injured passengers without any recourse for recouping losses received due to the negligent actions of drivers.  For this reason, most states have abandoned these types of “guest” or “passenger” statutes.

The Alabama Guest Statute was passed in 1935. The law provides that the guest must be transported without payment in order for the statute to apply.  Therefore, if the evidence shows that the driver received any payment or other benefit (such as an Uber, cab or bus driver would), then the driver would not be shielded from liability under the Guest Statute. Additionally, if the injured passenger can show that the driver’s improper conduct was willful or wanton, the Guest Statute does not bar recovery.  Generally, “willful or wanton” is improper conduct that is greater than “mere negligence”.  Examples include drinking and driving, excessive speeding and other types of reckless driving.

The Guest Statute does not apply to a claim for negligent entrustment or supervision.  Therefore, in situations where the driver of the vehicle was entrusted the vehicle by another person or entity, an injured passenger may still have a valid claim against the owner of the vehicle in certain circumstances.  Additionally, an injured passenger may be able to recover damages under the Uninsured Motorist Statute where coverage is available.

workplace-150x150Last week’s blog addressed the increase in work place injuries.  While worker’s compensation is generally the exclusive recovery source from the employer, there are other potential sources of recovery. Below are some common scenarios from work place injuries that may result in your ability to recover for your injuries:

Motor Vehicle Accidents/Car Wrecks:

A very common type of third-party claim arising from a workers’ compensation action is when someone gets into a motor vehicle accident or car wreck while driving for work.  Many people drive as part of their jobs: truck drivers, package delivery personnel, sales people who make on-site client visits, construction workers who haul materials, home health workers, even lawyers who have to drive to and from court.

injury-form-150x150
In 2015, 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the United States.  That means, on average, 13 workers die because of injuries on the job every day in the United States.  This is more than the numbers were in 2013 and 2014.  Further, an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases.  This means that, in effect, 150 workers die each and every day from hazardous working conditions.

Older workers are at a greater risk. Thirty-five percent of all fatalities occurred in workers age 55 or older, and workers 65 or older have three times the risk of dying on the job as younger workers.

Temporary workers are at an even higher risk of injury.  Temporary workers often receive insufficient training or are inexperienced with how to protect themselves on the job site, but don’t want to complain about the lack of training for fear of losing their job. Temporary workers tend to be younger, less educated and disproportionately consist of minority workers, many of whom might be immigrant workers, according to researchers with the University of Massachusetts.  At the same time, temporary workers are employed in some of the country’s most hazardous jobs, including waste recycling, fish processing and construction.

heastone-150x150Lawsuits involving the death of a person in Alabama are generally governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  Alabama handles lawsuits regarding a death in a unique way.  This article will address what is unique about Alabama’s wrongful death statute and the importance of hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney.

When someone is killed in a motor vehicle accident, or dies using a product like an ATV, or otherwise dies because of the fault of someone else, the civil case will be governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  In Alabama, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is appointed by the probate court and is entitled to pursue the claim on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.  Unlike many other states, any recovery made for a wrongful death in Alabama does not actually pass through the estate of the deceased person.  If a person has a will, the will does not determine who gets the proceeds of any recovery of the wrongful death case.  If the person’s estate owes money to creditors, the creditors are not allowed to recover any of the money won in the wrongful death case.  Instead, recovery from the wrongful death case is governed by the laws of intestacy in Alabama that govern how a person’s estate would be distributed if they did not have a will.  The typical order of preference under the intestacy statue is for proceeds to go to a spouse, to children, to parents, and then to other relatives in order of relation.  There are special rules, for instance, when someone dies with a spouse and children that are not from that spouse.

Alabama’s wrongful death statute is also unique in the kind of damages that are awarded.  In most states, a person’s lost income they would make in life had they not died comes in as damages.  In this way, different lives are valued differently.  Alabama does not even allow for such damages to be considered.  Alabama takes the view that all life is sacred and of equal worth.  Thus, the only damages that are awarded are punitive damages.  Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish the party who caused the death for their conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in conduct that may lead to someone else’s death.  Alabama treats all lives equally, and so the focus in an Alabama wrongful death case is on the conduct of the defendant rather than how much earning potential was lost when the person died.

a-hand-holding-and-aiming-a-pistol-150x150Some politicians, and some gun manufacturers, think that there is complete immunity for such manufacturers for negligent or wrongful behavior, no matter the circumstances.  Here’s why:  in 2005 Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).  This statute does give the gun industry broad immunity.  But it is not absolute.

The PLCAA has a few exceptions that can be used to find gun manufacturers liable.  If a manufacturer or seller knowingly falsifies federal or state records, sells a gun to someone who is prohibited from owning a gun or manufacturers a gun with a design defect that results in injury or death, there can be civil liability.

The issue of civil liability for gun sellers and manufacturers has become very controversial because of the power of the gun lobby and the efforts of the gun control lobby to stem the proliferation of assault weapons.  The tragedy of mass shootings and the rise of terrorist activity have also heightened this controversy.  Some efforts have been made to circumvent the reach of the PLCAA by using causes of action that may not be in violation of its provisions.  For example, following the horrible tragedy of the mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut some families filed suit based on the cause of action for negligent entrustment.  The Trial Court dismissed the case and it is now before the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

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