March 3, 2015

Back Seat Passengers No Safer Than Front Seat Passengers

South Carolina's seat belt law requires, with few exceptions, that every driver and every occupant of a motor vehicle being operated on a public street or highway be fastened into a safety belt.
However, there are many other states in which back seat passengers are not required to wear seat belts, or exceptions are made for those traveling in livery cabs or other public transport vehicles. This lends to the erroneous assumption that backseat passengers are somehow safer than those seated in the front.

For years, this was true. It's why the front passenger seat position was often referred to as the "death spot." Those in the front were simply closer to the impact of the crash, and often had few protections, whereas at least those in the back had the front seat to slow or stop their ejection.

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February 28, 2015

Winter Weather Road Conditions Spell Peril for North Carolina Motorists

A 19-year-old girl from Hertford County was killed after she reportedly lost control over vehicle after hitting a patch of ice on a recent Tuesday night.
The fatal crash prompted Gov. Pat McCrory to issue a warning to motorists regarding the dangerous winter weather road conditions.

Officials say the teen in this case was approaching a slight curve. She slid into oncoming traffic, and was struck by a pickup truck traveling the opposite direction. The other driver was unhurt.

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February 26, 2015

Piltch v. Ford Motor Co. - Injury Lawsuit Fails for Lack of Expert Witness

There are many car accident lawsuit that do not require the aid of an expert witness. The facts are straightforward enough that lay witnesses can describe the facts of the case to satisfy the legal standards of negligence and liability.
However, car accidents that result from product defects often do require the input of an expert witness, especially with regard to the issue of causation. The reason is that one must be able to prove first that the defect existed, and secondly that the claimant's injuries were caused or substantially worsened as a result of that defect.

These are not usually elements that can be legally satisfied absent the testimony of an expert.

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February 24, 2015

Combs v. NC Division of Motor Vehicles - DUI License Revocation Upheld, Even as Criminal Case Tossed

Drunk driving is a major problem nationally, but especially here in North Carolina. Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates deaths related to drunk driving cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year, not to mention the personal emotional losses suffered by survivors and those injured.
Still, it can be tough to prosecute a drunk driving case in criminal court, and that makes it easier for offenders to skate by with few consequences and likely re-offend - putting everyone else on the road at risk.

The burden of proof in a civil negligence lawsuit is lower than what it would be in a criminal case, but such lawsuits are only filed once someone has been seriously injured or killed. There is, however, one civil avenue that state officials have to pursue action against DUI violators, even if the criminal case isn't successful. That's license revocation.

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February 22, 2015

Train Accidents Problematic in North Carolina, Nation

Investigators in New York are working to piece together what happened in a fatal Metro-North Railroad crash that killed six people and injured more than a dozen in a suburb of New York City when a train collided with a sport-utility vehicle on the tracks.
It was the deadliest train crash in the country recent memory, though it is far from the only one.

In December, an Amtrak passenger train in Mebane struck a minivan that was in its path, resulting in the death of the 80-year-old driver after the vehicle was pushed roughly two blocks before the train could stop. Witnesses said they saw the woman on the track and tried to get her to move her car, but she reportedly panicked and could not get the vehicle in motion fast enough. There had been two prior accidents at that very same crossing in the last three years.

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February 20, 2015

Rental Car Safety and Liability Questions

In 2014, there were a record 60 million automobiles recalled in the U.S., ranging from reported exploding air bags to faulty ignition switches to seat belt failures.
Consumers are taking the recalls seriously, and many have been flocking to dealerships in droves to have their faulty parts repaired or replaced.

What's unclear is how frequently commercial vehicle fleets are being repaired in compliance with this flood of recalls. Specifically: Rental car companies.

A recent report by USA Today indicates there is a huge whole in the consumer safety net, which was exposed following a 2004 crash that claimed the lives of two sisters.

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February 18, 2015

Harb v. City of Bakersfield - Alleged Improper Police Response to Crash Warrants New Trial

It would seem a man involved in a relatively minor, single-car crash precipitated by his own medical emergency might not have sufficient grounds to pursue litigation against anyone.
But in fact, he may have ample grounds for pursuing a claim against the city employer of police officers who responded to the scene and failed to immediately get him medical attention. Instead, the evidence presented in Harb v. City of Bakersfield tends to suggest officers early on determined driver was drunk, when in fact, he'd had a stroke and was suffering a continuing brain bleed while treatment was delayed. A paramedic called to the scene cleared the man medically, and left the scene without referring him for further care.

However, the driver, a pediatric intensive care doctor still in his scrubs, on his way home from a 12-hour shift, ultimately suffered serious brain damage. While he survived, is no longer able to care for himself.

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February 16, 2015

Moses v. Drake - Car Accident Injury to Pregnant Woman, Baby

Research has shown the immediate actions of an expectant mother following a car accident are key to ensuring the best overall outcome for both her and the unborn child. The increased risk of complications following a crash can be significant, which is why pregnant women should always seek immediate medical attention following a crash, no matter how seemingly minor. bellybump.jpg

If there is any evidence of injury to mother or child, it's imperative to consult soon after with an experienced civil litigation lawyer. The reason is adequate proof of causation regarding the baby's injuries (including premature birth) may require numerous expert witnesses. The law firm to handle such a claim should have not only extensive experience but ample resources.

This is important not only to cover the immediate costs (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) but also to accurately determine the full scope of the long-term impact.

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February 15, 2015

Miller v. Thibeaux - Father May Stake Claim in Child School Bus Accident

School buses are relatively safe forms of transportation with a generally low accident risk. However, when incidents do occur, children face high risk of injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports from 2003 to 2012, there were 174 school children killed in school-transportation related crashes. Of those, 55 were occupants of school buses and 119 were pedestrians.

Of the 348,000 deadly motor vehicle crashes that occurred during that same time frame, 1,222 were classified as school-transportation related.

One of those was the decedent in Miller v. Thibeaux, a six-year-old boy who died tragically after his arm got trapped in a bus before he got himself dislodged and fell under a wheel.

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February 12, 2015

Vargas v. FMI, Inc. - Graves Amendment Protection Not Granted to Motor Carrier

The "Graves Amendment," 49 U.S.C. 30106(a) was passed by the federal legislature several years ago to protect owners of rental car companies from vicarious liability for negligence of their customer/drivers.
However, since it's introduction, many trucking companies have attempted to utilize the law for their own purposes. The structure of many motor carriers lends itself to this, as trucks or trailers owned by one company may be operated by another or even independent contractor drivers.

But many courts are rejecting this argument, finding it is not only against the intent of the legislature, but further that existing laws require commercial trucking companies and trailer owners to have control of and be responsible for such vehicles. This is specifically stated in 49 U.S.C. 14102, with the express purpose of protecting the public from negligent conduct "of the often judgement-proof truck lessor operations."

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February 9, 2015

Hough v. McKiernan - Vehicle Insurer Not Liable Following Physical Attack

There are numerous situations in which a vehicle owner - and by proxy, the owner's insurer - can be held vicariously liable for injuries or fatalities occurring in the course of consensual use or operation of a vehicle.
North Carolina's interpretation of the vicarious liability statute is a bit stricter than in some other jurisdictions, requiring per North Carolina General Statutes 20-71.1 proof the driver was acting in agency of the owner.

Commonly, the theory of vicarious liability is applied to situations in which the driver was operating a commercial vehicle owned by an employer. There may be some instances in which private vehicle owners too could be held liable, but it will depend heavily on the circumstances.

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February 6, 2015

ACUITY v. Johnson - Insurance Dispute Following Truck Crash

Commercial auto insurance policies tend to offer some of the best protection in the event of a crash when fault is clearly attributed to the commercial driver.
In the recent case of ACUITY v. Johnson, the carrier paid damages to the estate of a woman killed when a tractor trailer owned by its insured landed on top of her vehicle. However, the insurer disputed the vehicle involved in the crash was in fact covered, and sued its insured for recovery of those damages - approximately $560,000.

The outcome did not impact the decedent's estate, but it's worth examining to further understand the ways in which insurers will always seek to bolster their bottom line. It's also noteworthy in the sense most drivers assume commercial operators are fully insured at all times. This case shows that particularly smaller outfits may not carry full coverage at any given time, and if there is an oversight, this could negatively impact one's ability to collect full compensation from the insurer.

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February 3, 2015

Gonsalves v. Li - $1.2M Crash Verdict Reversed for Trial Errors

A test drive of a high-end, luxury sports vehicle went horribly wrong when the son of a prospective purchaser crashed the brand-new vehicle with the salesman in the front passenger seat. sportscar1.jpg

The salesman suffered significant injury as a result, and he was successful in securing a $1.2 million personal injury verdict against the driver. Unfortunately, he will not be able to collect that money without enduring another trial, barring some type of settlement agreement.

Multiple trial court errors and purported misconduct resulted in the appellate court finding these acts amounted to cumulative prejudice against defendant, and thus it was only fair to reverse the jury findings and remand for a new trial.

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January 31, 2015

Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan - Court Puts Brakes on Defective Vehicle Lawsuit

A $14 million dollar product liability judgment favoring the parents of a teen severely injured when his vehicle side air bag failed to inflate in a crash was reversed recently by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found plaintiff's expert witness testimony lacking.
Specifically, the court found the expert witness had failed to conduct adequate testing proving his theory that if the airbag sensor had been moved to a different location in this model of vehicle, it would have prevented the teen's injuries. The expert had opined the location of the side airbag sensor had rendered the vehicle unreasonably dangerous.

The case, Hyundai Motor Co. v. Duncan, stemmed from a single-vehicle crash in which the teen lost control of the car, careened off the road, struck two snow banks, a bale of hay and finally, a tree. His side air bag did not deploy, and the teen suffered serious and debilitating head injuries.

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January 30, 2015

Road Deaths Fall... But Are South Carolina Drivers Safer?

The number of people dying in motor vehicle accidents has dropped throughout the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle accident fatalities have fallen about 25 percent over the past decade and the number of people dying in car crashes in this country is historically low. car accident 2.jpg

While it is good news that fewer people are dying in car crashes, a Spartanburg auto accident attorney knows that there is still lots of work to be done in terms of saving lives. Every car accident fatality leaves devastated family members behind and results in significant financial and non-financial losses. The NHTSA needs to do more to prevent fatalities and drivers need to do more to prevent needless collisions caused by things like distracted driving and drunk driving.

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