Articles Posted in Vehicle Accident

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.

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.

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.

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.

car-accident-2-14492951-e1449528550287When 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.

car-accident-2-14492951-e1449528550287Car accidents can result in serious injuries in Alabama and elsewhere. If you are in a car accident, the first thing you should do is check on everyone involved in the accident. You should also take photographs of injuries and property damage. These photographs may be useful in a subsequent lawsuit for damages.

Drivers involved in a car accident must remain at the scene. It is a felony to commit a hit and run, or flee the scene of an accident in which an injury or death occurs. Under Alabama Code section 32-10-2, a driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage must give his or her name, contact information, and registration number to someone who is struck. He or she must also show a driver’s license if requested. In addition to providing information, drivers are required to render reasonable assistance to those who are injured. This includes making arrangements to get victims transported to a doctor or hospital for medical care if it’s obvious that help is needed or the victim asks.

You should call the police in accidents involving injuries, death, or significant property damage. Evidence gathered by the police and a police report can be useful in a civil claim. Later, you can get a copy of the accident report from the office that investigated.

very shallow depth of field and very low perspective

Our firm has handled an increasing number of roadway danger cases over the last several years.  Most people look out for dangers from other drivers and take for granted that the roadway they are driving on will be built to standards and specifications and will not lead to a serious accident.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  This is especially true for roads that are under construction or newly repaved.  Here are a few examples of hidden roadway defects and when to look for them:

Low Shoulder / Road Edge Drop Off

The shoulder of the road is one of the most important safety features on a roadway and must be built properly to work.  Drivers do not realize how often their tires may drift of the road edge because, if the shoulder is built properly, they are able to easily steer back onto the roadway without really noticing it.  Tragedy can happen, though, when the shoulder is not built properly and leaves a large drop off between the road and the side of the road.  Standards require that the road edge drop off be three inches or less.  If it gets above this, the drop off can thrust your vehicle further off the road.  A drop off over 3 inches can also be difficult to get your tire to overcome to get back onto the road.  Road edge drop offs are responsible for many horrific accidents.  Road edge drop offs are a hazard during construction when new asphalt is being laid that raises the height of the roadway, on newly constructed roads if the shoulder is not properly pulled up when the work is done, and on old roads if not properly drained.

Unmarked Turns / Dangers

Proper signage is important for a safe roadway.  There are standards in place for when and where signs are to be installed.  The standards also require that signs meet certain visibility requirements and use certain symbols or words to make sure they are properly understood.  Dangers can occur when road hazards are not properly marked.  Turns over a certain degree of curvature needs signs so drivers will know they need to slow down.  Dangers over a hill that cannot be easily seen need a sign so drivers will know to slow down to take precaution.  Road construction requires numerous signs to make drivers aware of all the hazards of construction equipment and unfinished roadway conditions.  Problems arise when road contractors do not follow the plans and specifications for signage and therefore do not make drivers aware of such dangers.

Dips / Humps

Dips and humps in the roadway are another hazard that needs to be fixed or at the very least needs to have signage to warn of their existence.  A dip or a hump on the roadway where drivers are travelling at a high rate of speed can cause a driver to lose control or be thrown to the left or to the right without any warning.  The fact that many people are able to make it through a portion of the roadway without crashing does not mean that a danger isn’t there.  Many people have driven through a roadway condition where they’ve said to themselves, “Wow, that is a dangerous thing that really should be fixed before someone gets hurt.”  Dips and humps in the road can develop over time on old roadways.  They can also be present on newly repaved roads if the contractor does not take steps to correct an existing problem with the road. Continue reading

shutterstock_165665912Look at this picture.  It’s called a stereogram, also known as a 3D image within an image.  They were popular in the 90s and have been around ever since.  Within the beautifully colored image is hidden the words “Happy New Year.”  It takes practice and a lot of time to be able to see the image, but it’s there.  You may have to cross your eyes and uncross them, or get real close to the screen and slowly back away, but eventually you can see the hidden image.

Being a trial lawyer can be a lot like looking at a stereogram.  Some of the greatest results we’ve ever had for clients came from cases that, on the surface, may not have looked like much of a case.  People have a natural tendency to see what is on the surface and not look much further.  They also have a natural tendency to not want to keep looking to see if the situation really is as it initially appears.  But any good trial lawyer will tell you that you’ve got to keep staring at the picture, and if you stare long enough, if you dig into the facts deep enough, you can often find another picture hidden in plain sight.*  Here are a few examples:

A car gets blindsided by a big truck, killing the occupants of the car.  The driver of the 18 wheeler says the car pulled right out in front of him, and he never had a chance to stop or put on the breaks.  The officer then writes the accident up as the car pulled out in front of the big truck.  Many families, struck with grief over the situation, will accept what the officer reports and move on.  Some, however, will hire a lawyer to look into it.  We have seen this scenario many times.  When this case comes to us, we hire a professional engineer to do an accident reconstruction to tell us exactly where the vehicles were, how fast they were going, where the impact took place on the road and on the vehicles, and what happened in the accident.  We hire a trucking expert to look at the records of the trucking company and driver to see if they have any major safety violations.  In short, we do a very thorough job of investigating the case.  And what we’ve found out many times is at odds with what was reported – the 18 wheeler was exceeding the speed limit; the driver was over his time driving and was rigging his log books so he could drive more; the big truck veered into the other lane and hit the car instead of staying in his lane and missing it; the 18 wheeler driver, had he been paying attention, had 5 or 6 seconds to see the car and avoid the collision; the truck driver was distracted and on his cell phone.  What was reported as an accident that was our client’s fault turns out to be a really good case against the trucking company.

Earlier this week, Trinity Industries Inc. was ordered to pay $663 million in damages for failing to tell the government about design changes to highway guardrails that critics say made the systems more dangerous.  This was after a jury in Marshall, Texas, decided last October that Trinity defrauded the government by failing to tell regulators about changes to its ET-Plus guardrails, which are designed to fold up when hit by a car, reducing the chance of death or injury to car occupants.  Instead of folding up, critics claim that Trinity’s modified ET-Plus end terminal—which is a steel mechanism mounted onto the end of a guardrail to absorb the impact of a crash—was impaling cars instead of slowing them down safely.

Between 2002 and 2005, Trinity changed the design of its ET-Plus guardrail system without notifying federal and state safety regulators as required by law.  Trinity changed the rectangular piece at the “head” of the guardrail, called an end terminal. Trinity reduced the dimensions of a metal part called a “feeder chute” that helps the end terminal cushion the impact from a crash so the guardrail bends away from the colliding vehicle. As a result, the guardrail can malfunction and jam upon impact, causing it to slice into vehicles.

The likelihood of an increased risk of injury or death because of the defective guardrail design has been confirmed by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Engineering. In September, it released a study performed that examined eight years of severe injury and death data for crashes that occurred in Missouri and Ohio.  The UAB study found that the ET-Plus design was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality than the ET-2000 design, also manufactured by Trinity.

When beginning to evaluate a potential automotive product liability case, a good place to start is with the applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) are regulations published by the United States Government for motor vehicles related to design, construction and performance. The purpose of these standards is to insure “that the public is protected against unreasonable risk of crashes occurring as a result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles and is also protected against unreasonable risk of death or injury in the event crashes do occur. “ The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the agency of the federal government that is responsible for enforcing the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

During the 1960s Congress held public hearings regarding highway safety. Out of these hearings came legislation that eventually created NHTSA. The FMVSS, which had already begun to be written and published, beginning with a requirement for the installation of seat belts, fell under the preview of NHTSA. In addition to enforcing the FMFSS, NHTSA has also, from time to time, conducted investigations into safety related issues with motor vehicles, including the ford explorer rollover problem and the Toyota sticky accelerator problem.

The federal safety standards are minimum safety performance requirements. These can form the basis for a thorough investigation and evaluation of a potential crashworthiness case. The regulations themselves are found at 49 C. F. R. 571. These safety regulations address crash avoidance (the 100 series), crashworthiness (200-series), and post-crash survivability (300-series).

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