Articles Posted in Unrecognized Risks

It 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.

Accidents 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.

Last 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.

Samsung recently announced the recall of its popular Note 7 smartphone. After its batteries were shown to overheat and cause fires, the company issued a recall to replace the batteries. Unfortunately, the recall was not able to fix the overheating problem, and Samsung did the right thing and pulled the items from the shelf.

More recently, Samsung was forced to recall 2.8 million washing machines due to a defect that allows the drum to become loosened on the inside of the machine and come into contact with the user, causing significant injuries. Given the speed and force with which new washers spin clothes, the danger of the drum coming loose is severe.

Samsung has faced complaints and lawsuits about injuries from these products, and fortunately they are doing the right thing at this point by recalling the dangerous items. Sometimes companies find defects on their own and recall products. More often, it takes complaints, and often injuries, from many consumers before recalls are issued. And unfortunately, even after numerous complaints, injuries, and even lawsuits, sometimes companies still refuse to recall dangerous products.

When a loved one is in an automobile accident that results in a serious injury or even death, it is not uncommon for a family to hire a law firm to represent their interests.  Medical bills, lost wages, the inability to pay for basic things in life because of a loss of income, pain, rehabilitation, loss of life or loss of the enjoyment of life – these are all things that no one is truly able to understand until they have to go through it.  If a serious injury or death is caused by the bad driving or bad decisions of another driver, that person needs to be held accountable for the harm they caused.

Unfortunately, most people driving the roads are not adequately insured to cover a serious injury or death claim.  In Alabama, the minimum insurance limits that are required by law for a driver is $25,000.  If a person with minimum limits seriously injures or kills your loved one, $25,000 is all that is available from the opposing driver’s insurance, which is a drop in the bucket for a serious injury or loss of a loved one.  Many people carry their own underinsured motorist coverage that can also pay, but it is extremely rare for these policies to provide adequate coverage for a serious injury or loss of life.

While most people assume the insurance of the opposing driver and your own insurance is the only possible source of recovery, there are always others avenues that need to be explored by a lawyer in a serious injury or fatal car accident.  One of the main areas our firm researches when helping a family with a serious injury or loss of life is defects in the vehicles themselves.  An issue with steering or a defective tire that blew out may have cause the other car to lose control.  There may have been a defective part on one of the cars that could have prevented the accident from happening in the first place.

Every year, approximately 36 million people are injured and 34,000 people are killed by using everyday consumer products.  This includes everything from falls off ladders to appliances that malfunction and catch fire.  These are staggering numbers.  While many of the injuries and deaths are the result of someone misusing a product, many also result from dangers built into the products themselves that could be prevented.

There is a concept in design engineering called the safety hierarchy.  It is also called the hazard control hierarchy.  It is supposed to govern decisions about how products are made, tested, and redesigned before they come to market and are used by the public.  It is a set of checks to eliminate or drastically reduce the number of injuries and deaths associated with using a product.  If a danger is found in a product, the hierarchy goes like this:  1. Design out the danger, 2. Guard against the danger, 3. Warn against the danger.  Unfortunately, the hierarchy is not always followed.

Design out the danger

Products are not supposed to hurt people. When products injure people, lawyers are often asked to look into whether a recovery can be made against the manufacturer and seller of the product. In Alabama, products liability law is governed by the Alabama Extended Manufacturers’ Liability Doctrine (AEMLD).

To be able to pursue a product liability claim in Alabama, you’ve got to show generally that you were injured and that the product was dangerous. The first part, being injured, may seem obvious, but people often call lawyers when a product destroys itself or it proves to be dangerous and almost hurts them. These are times to count your blessings that you were not hurt.

The second part, proving that product was dangerous, involves several things.

First, you have to show that you were using the product either as it was intended to be used or in a way that was reasonably foreseeable that it would be used. People have different ideas for how to use products than the original idea of the manufacturer, and sometimes pieces go missing from products after use and people use them with pieces missing – that is just life, and manufacturers know this, and the law places a duty on them to try to protect people in ways they could foresee the product being used. However, there is also a concept in Alabama called contributory negligence which means that if you were doing something you knew was dangerous with the product, then you will not be able to recover.

A product is defective and unreasonably dangerous if it creates an unforeseen hazardous condition when put to its normal or foreseeable use. There are several ways this can happen and that lawyers prove these cases.

The first is a design defect. This simply means there is something about the design of the product that is defective and makes it dangerous. You can think of a saw that was designed without a guard or a guard that can easily break and fall off. This would be a dangerous condition because the saw can obviously hurt someone if it comes into contact with them. There are product defects in all types of consumer products – lead in toys, ladders that are not made strong enough or with certain fall protections, smoke detectors that don’t go off or warn when the battery is out, ATVs that roll over, electronic appliances that can catch fire. These are a few examples.

The next way to prove a product is defective is a manufacturing defect. The product could have been designed safely, but it was not put together correctly. A faulty weld, missing screws or missing pieces of a product can turn an otherwise safe product into one that can cause serious injury or death.

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            When corporations that manufacture consumer products put profit ahead of safety innocent people can be killed or sustain catastrophic, permanent injuries.  For example, when a car manufacturer like GM keeps quiet about problems with an ignition system that it knows can cause accidents and fails for many years to recall these defective cars, dozens of people can die.  Or when drug manufacturers play fast and loose with the FDA drug approval process, severe injury and death result.

                Corporate governance describes the way in which the company is managed.  It also has everything to do with the culture in which the corporation exists and in which it designs, manufactures and markets its products.  Every corporation has a structure that enables it to operate and have continued existence.  There are several different models for corporate governance.  Some models focus almost exclusively on the interests of the stockholders and other models focus on the interest of all the stakeholders of the corporations, such as workers, creditors, suppliers, customers and the environment, in addition to the stockholders.  The model that the management of a particular corporation adopts can have a great effect on the safety of the products that the company designs, manufactures and sells.  Here’s why:

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Few things can raise your blood pressure like having traffic go from a steady flow to a complete standstill due to road construction. It is only after the roadwork is completed that we can relax and enjoy the comforts of a newly paved road. Road construction work is vital to the continued safety of our roadways; yet, road construction defects can be the cause of serious and often deadly accidents. Drivers should be cautious when driving through construction zones and on newly repaved roads.

The dangers from road construction begin when the construction begins and continue for years after the road is completed if not done properly. Road construction companies are required to take safety measures while construction is ongoing. A flagman and a pilot car are familiar examples. When new paving has been done, road construction crews are also required to paint the lines before leaving the jobsite for the day so travelers at night can be protected. Unfortunately, this is not always done correctly. The travelling public relies on striping to ensure safe driving, especially on curves and areas with turn lanes.

Construction crews are also required to build up the shoulder of the roadway each day after completing paving. This is also not always done. It is not uncommon for a person’s tire to briefly leave the roadway and go onto the shoulder when travelling on a two lane highway. It happens so often we sometimes don’t even notice. However, when the shoulder has been cleared off for paving and new asphalt has been poured, a large drop off can occur between the roadway and the shoulder, making recovering from veering slightly off the road extremely difficult. Many single vehicle accidents have happened along two lane highways at night because a car has gotten slightly off the road and was unable to recover because the shoulder drop off was not built back up after construction.

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Thanksgiving is less than a week away and the holidays often give rise to something that no one is thankful for – more drinking and driving.  Every 90 seconds, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash, with 28 Americans being killed each day in drunk driving crashes.  Unfortunately, the rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25 year olds, who also are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident than any other way.  Drunk driving deaths increased in 2012 over 2011 nationwide.

This has come to the forefront with the recent Texas case against Hooters where it is alleged that Hooters over served 2 customers to the point that they became visibly intoxicated and then left the restaurant.  To no one’s surprise, the customers then raced down I-10, lost control of their vehicle and hit the center concrete median.  An innocent driver that was in the other lane of traffic was killed as a result.

Hooters is a defendant in the action because of laws known as Dram Shop laws.  Dram Shop laws are laws that allow injured parties or their families to sue establishments that serve visibly intoxicated people or minors.  38 states, including Alabama, have Dram Shop liability, although liability differs by state.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been instrumental in attempting to get legislation passed or strengthened across the country.

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