July 30, 2015

New Data: Traffic Fatalities in 2014 Reveal Injury Risks

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released early estimates for the total number of traffic fatalities in 2014.
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Statistical projections indicate 32,675 people were killed on our nation's roads last year. That is a very marginal decrease of just 0.1 percent as compared to 2013, when a total of 32,719 traffic deaths were reported.

While traffic deaths were down slightly last year, in almost every area, the numbers actually shot up by 5 percent in the last quarter. That is when 11,396 people were killed in collisions, as compared to 10,813 reported in the fourth quarter of 2013.That is the first quarterly increase in auto accident fatalities since the third quarter of 2012.

While there has been an overall trend of declining motor vehicle accident deaths in the U.S. since 2006, there have been markedly different statistics when broken down by region.

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July 21, 2015

NHTSA Fines Vehicle Manufacturers $44M for Failure to Recall, Report Danger

Two large, heavy-duty truck manufacturers are being slapped with a $44 million fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failure to timely recall defective vehicles that posed injury risk to the public.
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Spartan Motors, Inc., based in Michigan, and Forest River Inc., based in Indiana, conceded they did not initiate timely recalls on defective vehicles, as required by federal law. They also did not report important information, such as Early Warning Report data and technical service bulletins.

Most of that penalty will be deferred if the firms agree to bring their respective companies into compliance with federal regulations. For example, Forest River was given a $35 million civil penalty, but $30 million can be deferred. Meanwhile, Spartan has been given a $9 million penalty, but it will only have to pay $1 million if it complies with the consent order. It will, however, have to spend $3 million bringing the company into compliance.

Forest River first grabbed the attention of federal safety officials following a church bus crash six years ago. The crash, which occurred in Louisiana, resulted in two deaths and 21 injuries.

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July 15, 2015

Beals v. Michigan - Liability for Child Drowning Weighed

With summer in full swing, many families and young children will gather around the pool. Usually, this is the stuff of memories. But tragically, absent the proper supervision, it can end in a nightmare.
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The fact is, there are an average of 62 unintentional drowning deaths of children under 14 annually. In fact, drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in Alabama (and the U.S.) after motor vehicle accidents.

Forty percent of these incidents happen in pools and 37 percent happen in open bodies of water. Nearly one-fifth happen in or around the home. Much of the time, adults either believe someone else is supervising the child or are nearby but engaged in distracting behavior, like reading or talking.

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July 7, 2015

Report: Alabama 13th Highest Nationally for Injury-Related Death

A new report indicates over the last four years, the number of injury-related deaths spiked significantly in 17 states, while remaining relatively steady in 24 states and falling slightly in nine states.
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Injuries are the No. 1 cause of death for people in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 44, resulting in nearly 195,000 fatalities annually.

While Alabama was one of those states that saw the injury rate remain relatively stable over the last four years, the state ranked 13th highest nationally for injury-related deaths.

The analysis, "The Facts Hurt: A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report," was prepared by Trust for America's Health, a D.C. health policy non-profit organization.

On a national scale, the No. 1 cause of injury-related death was drug overdoses, killing on average 44,000 annually. Researchers learned over the course of nearly 15 years, the number of people who died as a result of drug overdoses doubled. Approximately 50 percent of those - or about 22,000 each year - can be attributed to prescription drug overdoses. In fact, prescription drug overdose deaths now exceed deaths caused by motor vehicles in 36 states and Washington, D.C.

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June 30, 2015

Mathis v. Huff & Puff Trucking: Proving Extent and Causation of Injuries

Large trucks pose a significant threat to drivers in Alabama and throughout the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports nearly 4,000 people were killed in 95,000 injured in accidents involving large trucks in 2013.
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The majority of those people who suffered injury or death were occupants of other vehicles.

In the recent case of Mathis v. Huff & Puff Trucking, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, plaintiff was struck by a semi-tractor trailer while in a tow truck.

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June 20, 2015

Cain v. Lee - Punitive Damages Weighed in Injury Lawsuit

In an injury lawsuit, there are often two kinds of damages: Compensatory and punitive.
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Compensatory damages are those incurred by plaintiff for actual losses. These can range from medical bills and lost wages to pain and suffering and loss of life enjoyment. They are not necessarily tangible, but the goal is to restore those injured to whatever extent that's possible.

Punitive damages, meanwhile, are those intended to punish defendant. It's still the plaintiff who benefits from these damages, but whether plaintiff may seek them has little to do with his or her injuries and more to do with the egregiousness of defendant's conduct. Punitive damages are often far in excess of compensatory damages, particularly if defendant is a larger entity.

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June 12, 2015

Kent v. City of Columbia Falls - Bike Path Accident Lawsuit to Proceed

In a 4-3 decision, justices of the Montana Supreme Court remanded the case of Kent v. City of Columbia Falls to trial to be decided on its merits. bikepath.jpg

At its heart, this is a premises liability case. All other defendants aside from the local city government settled with plaintiff. Now, the primary question is whether the city is liable for negligent oversight of design and development of a subdivision where this tragic accident occurred. Initially, a trial court granted city's motion for summary judgment on the public duty doctrine, which holds government entities can only be held liable for individual injuries when there was a breach of duty owed to the individual, rather than the public-at-large. It's a tough hurdle because generally, the government owes a duty to the public, rather than individuals.

A number of states now refuse to recognize the public duty doctrine, but Alabama is not among them. The Kent case shows the tide may be turning within the courts.

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June 3, 2015

Report: Children Injured, Dying Due to Improper Car Seat Use

Auto collisions are a top cause of death for children, which is why Alabama's Child Restraint Law has stringent requirements for use of child safety restraints for those under age 15.
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However, it's been well-documented that child safety seats aren't properly used. In fact, the Alabama Department of Public Health reports 4 out of 5 children are improperly restrained in their safety seat. The seats either aren't the right size for the child, the child isn't properly belted in or the seat is incorrectly installed.This is despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued research indicating proper use of child safety seats can reduce the risk of death for infant passengers by more than 70 percent and for toddler passengers by 55 percent.

Now, a new study published in the August issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine underscores that point, finding that older children and minority children were the most likely to be improperly restrained while riding in a vehicle.

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May 31, 2015

Kelly v. State Farm - Establishing Bad Faith by Auto Insurance Firm

Auto insurance companies have a responsibility to deal fairly and in good faith with both insureds and claimants, and to make reasonable efforts to settle claims. A breach of these duties by the insurer will result in the company being responsible for damages sustained as a result - and in some cases, it could mean treble (triple) damages.
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While insurance companies are notorious for cutting corners to reduce the possibility of a payout, even in legitimate cases, claims asserting bad faith by an insurer can be difficult to prove.

Alabama has recognized "bad faith" as a tort claim since the 1981 state supreme court decision in Chavers v. Nat. Sec. Fire & Casualty Co. Essentially, the court found there are two ways an insurer can be found to have acted in bad faith.


  • Refusal to settle when there is no lawful basis for the refusal, along with actual knowledge of that fact.

  • Intentional failure to determine whether there was any lawful basis for such refusal.

Continue reading "Kelly v. State Farm - Establishing Bad Faith by Auto Insurance Firm" »

May 24, 2015

Ross v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp. - Slip-and-Fall Not a Medical Liability Claim, Court Rules

Not all injuries that occur in a hospital are medical liability claims.
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This may seem an obvious point, but it's one a fair amount of health care providers make when faced with premises liability claims.

It's a key distinction because claims of medical liability are bound to a very stringent standard of filing and notification requirements, as well as a higher proof burden. Although state guidelines vary on these requirements, this is generally true across the board in all 50 states.

For example in Alabama, the evidentiary and procedural laws are quite extensive. While most civil cases simply requires proof to the jury's reasonable satisfaction, a medical malpractice claim requires proof by substantial evidence. And a poor outcome is not enough. It must be shown the medical professional breached the applicable standard of care for someone in his or her position.

Continue reading "Ross v. St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp. - Slip-and-Fall Not a Medical Liability Claim, Court Rules" »

May 15, 2015

Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson - $63M Product Liability Verdict in Child Injury Case Affirmed

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has affirmed judgement for a family awarded a total of $63 million in damages - including $13 million for loss of consortium -- following a child's severe reaction to multiple doses of Children's Motrin.
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Contrary to points asserted by drug manufacturer/defendant, the Supreme Judicial Court found the failure to warn claim was not preempted by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, that a pharmacologist who testified as to causation evidence was qualified to do so, and that damages awarded to the child and each of her parents were not grossly excessive or unsupported by the record.

This is a tragic tale of what can happen when medical labels we trust don't contain the information we need. It's also an important case in that it reaffirms that just because a company has deep pockets and extensive resources doesn't mean it will prevail in civil court. The civil court system is one of the few places victims can expect an even playing field, and where large companies can be held accountable for failing to uphold its duties to consumers.

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May 8, 2015

Connors v. GEICO - Pedestrian Accident Compensation

Customers can always count on insurance companies to play hardball, and the case of Connors v. Gov't Employees Ins. Co. was no different.
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Two pedestrians, husband and wife, were struck by a motor vehicle while on a walk. The driver was backing out of a driveway while the husband and wife strolled past. The wife hit the vehicle with her hand and screamed. The driver initially stopped, and later conceded he saw the wife laying on the ground screaming. Still, he continued moving the vehicle back again, this time running over the husband.

Both pedestrians sustained serious injuries. The husband suffered a traumatic brain injury, as well as injury to his neck, body and limbs. He was taken to a nearby hospital and later to a rehabilitation center, where he died two years later. His wife sustained injuries to her neck, back, leg and arm - not to mention the deep emotional scars she suffered as a result of watching her husband being run-over.

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April 30, 2015

Cline v. Homuth - Accident Settlement Language Must be Carefully Examined

While injury lawyers must be fully prepared to take an auto accident lawsuit to trial if necessary, the reality is many -- or at least portions pertaining to certain defendants -- are settled out-of-court before trial.
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Such cases are concluded through what are commonly known as settlement agreements, and they are contractual and binding. They often contain stipulations on release of liability for current and future claims stemming from the accident, and in some cases they will contain confidentiality clauses.

Don't take these as boilerplate forms. t's very important for you and your attorney to carefully read these documents before signing. There may be important information regarding inability to collect future payments or pursue litigation against other parties.

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April 20, 2015

Breathalyzers in All Cars Would Slash DUI Deaths, Injuries by 80 Percent

It's been well-established that ignition interlock devices, now mandatory for DUI offenders in many states, reduce instances of drunk driving, drunk driving injuries and drunk driving deaths. beergarden.jpg

These devices are installed inside a vehicle and require the operator to pass a breath-alcohol test to determine impairment. If the driver's breath-alcohol content is measured above a certain threshold (usually 0.04 percent, or half the legal limit), the ignition locks and the vehicle will not start.

However, the positive effects of these systems are limited to how long they are actually in place. Because they are imposed as a penalty for DUI conviction, they are almost always temporary. But researchers with the University of Michigan Health System wanted to know what would happen if the devices came standard in all new model vehicles - permanently, and not just for those drivers who were being punished.

The results, published in the American Journal of Public Health, are astonishing. Over the course of 15 years, we could potentially reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities and injuries by 80 percent. In real terms, that would be 59,000 lives saved. It would be 1.25 million people spared serious injuries. It would mean $340 billion saved in injury-related costs associated with drunk driving accidents.

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April 12, 2015

Tri-National v. Canal Ins. Co. - Trucking Firm Insurer Must Pay for Accident

The Alabama truck accident that spurred the federal case of Tri-National, Inc. v. Canal Ins. Co. did not result in any severe personal injuries, though it very well could have. trucking.jpg

There was extensive property damage when a semi-tractor and trailer driver collided with another truck. However, no one was seriously injured. Still, the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reveals how trucking companies are regarded under the Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980, and the obligations they have when crashes happen.

While the act was largely an effort to deregulate the trucking industry, it did impose additional requirements for motor carriers that transport property. This includes the responsibility of the carrier to make sure it has the required limits of insurance to cover public liability in the event of a crash. Even if the victim has their own insurance, it does not absolve the trucking company and/or its insurer of responsibility for paying damages caused from negligent operation of these large vehicles.

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