Articles Posted in Vehicle Accident

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).

It happens much more often than most people think.  According to recent census data, every year 9.5 million vehicles are involved in automobile accidents injuring 2.2 million people and claiming the lives of over 33,000 people.  Over 800 people die every year from car wrecks in Alabama alone.  Car wrecks can range from the minor inconvenience of a banged up car to complete devastation for a family who lost a loved one.

The most important advice about accidents involves avoiding them and protecting yourself and your family.  Drive defensively, always looking out for other drivers not paying attention or acting recklessly, and buckle up (and make sure everyone in the car is buckled up before starting).

If tragedy does strike and a loved one is involved in an accident, here are a couple of reminders to protect their rights and make sure they or their family are compensated for their injuries.

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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Everyone dreads the first few mornings after the spring time change because of the loss of an hour of sleep. We all know sleep is important to our overall health. Data from a recent study on daylight savings time shows that even a little change in sleep can have deadly consequences for drivers.

A paper presented at the American Economic Association tracked fatal car crashes from 2002 to 2011 and found vehicle fatalies increased 6 percent over the 6 days following the “spring forward” time change. The data did not show a significant change in crashes after the “fall back” time change.

This and other evidence led researchers to conclude that it was the loss of one hour of sleep and the disurption to sleep patterns caused by losing an hour of sleep that led to the increase in fatal crashes. This added up to more than 300 additional traffic deaths over the ten year period studied.

Motor vehicle accidents, while unfortunate, are foreseeable. Manufacturers of motor vehicles know this. Most motor vehicle collisions are survivable. Manufacturers have a duty to design vehicles that will not catch on fire after a collision occurs.

Three things must be present for a post collision fire to occur: 1) Fuel, 2) Oxygen and 3) a source of ignition. The second element, oxygen, is always present as this exists naturally in the environment. In a post collision situation, there are several fuel sources that come into play. The most obvious of these is gasoline or diesel fuel. These liquids are highly combustible. However, transmission fluid, brake fluid and motor oil are also combustible.

The average temperature on the surface of the manifold of an ordinary passenger car is 1200 to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the lowest ignition point of any of the fluids named above is only approximately 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is imperative for manufacturers of motor vehicles to design systems which ensure that, in a crash, none of these fluids come into contact with the manifold or any part of the electrical system of the car that could ignite a fire.

            Motor vehicle accidents, while unfortunate, are foreseeable. Manufacturers of motor vehicles know this. Most motor vehicle collisions are survivable. Manufacturers have a duty to design vehicles that will not catch on fire after a collision occurs.

            Three things must be present for a post collision fire to occur: 1) Fuel, 2) Oxygen and 3) a source of ignition. The second element, oxygen, is always present as this exists naturally in the environment. In a post collision situation, there are several fuel sources that come into play. The most obvious of these is gasoline or diesel fuel. These liquids are highly combustible. However, transmission fluid, brake fluid and motor oil are also combustible.

            The average temperature on the surface of the manifold of an ordinary passenger car is 1200 to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the lowest ignition point of any of the fluids named above is only approximately 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is imperative for manufacturers of motor vehicles to design systems which ensure that, in a crash, none of these fluids come into contact with the manifold or any part of the electrical system of the car that could ignite a fire.

Have you ever looked away from the road for a moment to read a text, use your navigation system or type a email, only to look up and find yourself staring down the brake lights of the driver in front of you?  If you are like many of us, you have experienced a “close call” because of distracted driving more than once in recent memory.  

While distracted driving has been around since the Model T, our growing reliance on cell phones, ipads and navigational systems has greatly contributed to distracted driving, and with dangerous outcomes. Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,060 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. 

There are three main types of distracted driving: visual (taking one’s eyes off of the road), manual (taking one’s hands off of the wheel) and cognitive (taking one’s mind away from driving), all of which can endanger the driver and others. Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. The federal agency reports that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent — when traveling at 55 mph — of driving the length of an entire football field while blindfolded.

In emergency medical situations, time is everything. With a catastrophic injury, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between recovery and permanent injury, or even between life and death.

The same principle is often true in investigating an accident involving a catastrophic injury or death to protect yourself and your right to recovery. Critical evidence can become lost or damaged if not preserved in the days immediately following an accident. Having an experienced catastrophic injury attorney begin the investigation immediately is like emergency medical assistance – it can mean the chance at preserving all the evidence and your chance for a complete recovery. Our firm has years of experience and a team of experts on hand to begin investigating virtually any catastrophic injury or fatality. Here is a brief summary of our firm’s approach to auto accident investigation, why we do what we do, and why it is important to begin this process immediately.  The same principle is true for how we investigate fire and product defect cases as well.

We receive a call about a terrible automobile accident the day before. Our client’s family member is in ICU with a traumatic brain injury. Our first meeting is one of prayer and compassion with the family and to tell them to focus all their attention on caring for their loved one while we take care of investigating the accident. Our firm handles all the expense and manpower needed to investigate the accident while allowing the family to focus 100% on their loved one’s recovery.

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An Alabama woman was killed when her 2006 Chrysler 300LX was struck on the driver’s side by a tractor trailer. The representatives of her estate sued the manufacturer, claiming that she could have survived the crash if her car had been reasonably crashworthy,  equipped with side curtain airbags and side impact protection, including side/torso airbags. The 300LX had been manufactured by Chrysler Canada.

Chrysler Canada asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming not to be subject to the Alabama federal court’s jurisdiction. Its position was that it had no physical presence in Alabama: no offices, telephone numbers, bank accounts, or  employees. Chrysler Canada also denied ever seeking business from potential customers in Alabama, since it did not advertise here.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama considered whether it could try the plaintiffs’ claims under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine (the “AEMLD”), as well as for negligence, wantonness, and breach of warranty, after Chrysler Canada moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

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