Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Buy a new car today and it’s likely to be missing something you traditionally expect with a car — a key.  Starting about 5 years ago, keyless ignition systems became very popular with vehicle manufacturers.  Consumers were drawn to the system because of the convenience of not fumbling around for your keys while you’re entering your car plus safety factors of not being distracted while you’re approaching your car. Who hasn’t been frustrated by not being able to find your keys in your purse (or your wife not being able to find her keys in her purse)?

A problem quickly became apparent, though, once the systems hit the market.  People would get out of their cars without turning them off.  This was even more prevalent with the gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles when the motors might not be running and making noise when the passenger left the car.  Thus, the driver could believe the car was off and not realize it was still running.

Early accounts of this problem arose in 2010, when a 29 year old Florida woman died after she left her vehicle running in her garage.  This was followed by a death in New York and, in 2012, the death of Harry Pitt, a former superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, who died in his Washington, D.C. home after accidentally leaving his vehicle running in his garage.   In these instances, carbon monoxide filled the garage and the homes where the vehicle owners were sleeping, causing their deaths. Continue reading

Look 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.

The laws of Alabama that govern wrongful death cases is unique in the jurisprudence of this Country. In Alabama, the only damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death case are punitive damages. The policy behind this rule is the belief that all human life is equally precious and that it is impossible to put a value on anyones life.

                In other states, in order to prove damages in a wrongful death case, it is necessary to prove the lifetime earning capacity of the person who died. In those states, when someone is killed through the negligence or wrongful act of another, the damages that can be recovered depend upon the work history, education, background, and profession of the person who was killed. This is not true in Alabama. It has long been held by Alabama courts that the purpose of the Alabama wrongful death law is the preservation of human life. In fact, when Judges charge juries at the conclusion of wrongful death case the juries are always told that the purpose of the law is the preservation of human life. Here is how this works: If someone commits a negligent act or wrongful act that results in a death of another person a jury may assess punitive damages against the wrongdoer. Punitive damages are for the purpose of punishment, the idea being that the defendant and other people similarly situated will be deterred from committing similar acts in the future. Thus, the law, as a deterrent, encourages people to behave more responsibly and more safely.

                The only person who can initiate a wrongful death lawsuit in Alabama is the personal representative of the deceased. Therefore, an executor or administrator must be the one to file the lawsuit. Damages that are recovered from a wrongful death case in Alabama are not subject to the payment of the debts or liabilities of the deceased and they must be distributed directly to the heirs according to Alabama law. In other words, the provisions of a Will regarding distribution of the estate of the deceased would not govern the distribution of wrongful death proceeds.

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.

Structured settlements are a series of periodic payments that can have numerous benefits for persons affected by wrongful death or personal injuries.  Structured settlements may be negotiated pre-trial and can facilitate settlement.  Structures may also be tailored to an individual claimants’ needs and may be set up to provide payments over a certain number of years, the lifetime of the claimant or even the joint lifetime of the claimant and his or her spouse.

Another benefit to utilizing structured settlements is that they can provide a stream of payments to claimants that are tax-free at both the federal and state level. A structured settlement may be only one component of a viable settlement solution. It some cases, it may be preferable to negotiate a lump sum payment in addition to a structure. In any case, the recommended size of the structured settlement may depend on a realistic assessment of how much the claimant will require to meet monthly expenses throughout his or her lifetime.

Be wary of “reverse” structures or companies that offer to “buy” your settlement. As stated, payments received in a structured settlement are generally tax-free and by selling your structure in return for a lump sum you will likely lose any tax benefit, thus reducing the settlement’s value. Additionally, the companies that buy settlements tend to be predatory and make money by underpaying you for the actual value of your settlement.

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.

You cannot drive down the interstate anymore without seeing a billboard for a lawyer’s office. Lawyer advertising is not new, but it has come a long way in recent years from just being on the back of the phone book.

There is an ongoing debate in the legal community about whether legal advertising is positive or negative for the profession. The one underlying question that rarely gets asked is: Why is there so much lawyer advertising? The obvious answer is simple enough: it works. The next question then has to be: Why does lawyer advertising work?

The answer to this question may surprise people. Many people simply do not know a lawyer. This can be easy to forget if you go to church with a lawyer or have a cousin who is a lawyer. Much of the population simply does not know a lawyer to call when they need one, and so they call the lawyers that advertise.

A view of the Alabama legal landscape can shed some light on this. There are roughly 17,000 Alabama licensed attorneys. This seems like a lot. However, there are only about 900 lawyer members of the Alabama Association for Justice, the interest group for lawyers representing injured people. With a population of over 4.8 million people, that’s under two trial lawyers per 10,000 people. Uneven distribution of lawyers throughout the state makes it even less likely that some people will know a trial lawyer. Simply put, there are large portions of the population that do not come into contact with lawyers on a regular basis, especially ones that represent people in personal injury and wrongful death cases. So, lawyers advertise for these cases, and people who do not know a lawyer call the lawyers who advertise.

Our firm’s approach to client engagement is different. Instead of billboard advertising, our firm focuses its energy on client satisfaction, community involvement and consumer education. We strive to provide exceptional service for our clients, and most of our new clients come as referrals from satisfied previous clients and from lawyers who know the work we do and refer clients to us. Continue reading

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.

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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