September 29, 2015

General Motors to Pay $900M for Deadly Vehicle Defects

American auto manufacturer General Motors (GM) knew for years that its vehicles were deadly. Officials were aware that the ignition could suddenly disengage mid-ride, causing the power to cut to the engine, resulting in system failure of airbags and power steering. They knew people were dying and being seriously injured, and they also knew that all they needed to fix this problem was a $2 repair. carkeys1.jpg

But for years, they kept it quiet. They concealed it. When lawsuits were filed, they quietly settled them out-of-court in confidential agreements, hoping to limit public knowledge of the issue. In all, at least 124 people died as a result of the defect. One was convicted of a felony after she was faulted for a crash later attributed to the defect. Others have been maimed forever.

It wasn't until a new CEO took over that the issue was pushed into the daylight. Recalls were issued. More lawsuits were filed. The CEO apologized to the public, to the families. She fired a number of those connected with the alleged cover-up. She set aside a fund to pay further settlements to victims.

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September 27, 2015

Court: Brain Damage to Student Hit by Drunk Driver Not School's Fault

A freshman in college was walking single file with her row team crew members down a dark road. They were headed back to their vehicles after a late practice. They would have used the parking lot where the equipment was kept, but school administrators had previously blocked it off.
In the same spot where just three months earlier, a pedestrian had been struck and killed, a drunk driver came barreling down the dark road. He struck one of those students, the 19-year-old freshman. She was propelled 20 feet into the air. She suffered severe brain injuries, and had to undergo numerous surgeries. She is now incapacitated, and guardianship has been granted to her parents.

Meanwhile the driver, a habitual drunk driver who had a suspended driver's license, sped off. Surveillance video from a nearby store helped authorities track him down, and he's now serving a seven-year prison sentence.

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September 24, 2015

Parker v. Town of Erwin, et al. - Town Liability for Child Parade Death Weighed

A Christmas parade ended in tragedy in 2011 when a 3-year-old child was struck and killed by a vehicle, driven by a 21-year-old. The children had participated in the parade, and when it ended ended, the young boy, his older brother and other family members and friends had exited the parade area and were passing in front of an alley near a privately-owned building on their way to a nearby restaurant. darkalley.jpg

Suddenly, the boys' mother heard her older child scream at her 3-year-old to "Get out of the way!" Then she and the other group members saw the young child being struck with the front right bumper of a vehicle that was driving up the alley.

It was just after 8 p.m. The sun had set three hours earlier, and no public or private street lights illuminated the area. Witnesses alerted the driver the child was underneath the car and she backed up so he could be freed. He was conscious, crying and severely injured.

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September 22, 2015

Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp. - Improper Bridge Repair

Driver error is the No. 1 cause of auto accidents in South Carolina. However, there are some cases in which a feature of the road - something poorly designed or a hazard for which there is no warning - is the cause. bridge2.jpg

In these situations, it is appropriate to find out which entity owns the roadway (i.e., state, county, city, etc.) and whether it may have been improperly designed, built or maintained. Of course, anytime litigation involves a government agency, the process is going to be more arduous. There are stringent notification requirements, on top of the need to overcome assertions of sovereign immunity.

Still, it's often worthwhile to pursue action, especially if the property damage and extent of injuries involved were extensive. This was the case in Logan v. Miss. Dept. of Transp., recently weighed by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

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September 20, 2015

Product Defect Lawsuit Claims Car Keyless Entry "Deadly"

Many injuries stemming from the use of motor vehicles are the result of some human error behind the wheel.
However in a growing number of cases, we are seeing product defects play a role too. From faulty airbags to sticky gas pedals to malfunctioning seat belts - there are many elements of a vehicle that must be in proper working order in order to prevent accidents and also minimize injuries in the event one does happen.

This is something an injury lawyer cannot overlook when analyzing what went wrong in an accident.

A recent class action lawsuit filed by a group of individuals who allege a vehicle defect with keyless ignition systems has resulted in 13 deaths and numerous other near-misses. However, unlike most product liability cases against motor vehicle companies, this issues didn't involve collisions with other vehicles or fixed objects. They did, however, involve operation of the vehicle.

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September 17, 2015

21st Century Insurance v. Super. Ct. - Bad Faith Insurance Lawsuit

Auto insurance companies are required by law to willingly pay legitimate claims both properly and promptly. This is called acting in "good faith."
When an insurance company fails to pay legitimate claims, issues low-ball settlement offers or significantly delays a payment or creates unnecessary hurdles for insureds, this is called acting in "bad faith."

The penalties for bad faith actions by insurance companies are stiff, and can result in treble damages owed to plaintiff. Unfortunately, even this is sometimes not enough to make insurers fall in line. In these instances, those covered by the policy (including victims of a car accident) may file a bad faith lawsuit.

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September 15, 2015

Jones-Smith v. Safeway Insurance Co. - Misrepresentation Impact on Insurance

When purchasing auto insurance, consumers owe a duty to provide accurate information. If they do not - and the insurer relies on that information when setting the premiums - the policy may later be deemed void. atthewheel1.jpg

The general idea is that insurance companies, in making underwriting decisions and setting premium rates, has the right to rely on information provided by the insured as true. But in order for the policy to be void on these grounds, the misrepresentation must be:

  • Material (i.e., would reasonably affect the insurer's decision to enter into the contract or its evaluation of the degree or character of risk);

  • Relied upon by the insurer.

It usually doesn't matter if the misrepresentation was intentional or not.

Some examples where courts have previously found misrepresentations to be material:

  • In 1984, an applicant applied for a policy denied he'd been convicted of prior DUI offenses, when in fact he had.

  • An applicant in 1994 indicated she would be the primary driver, without indicating her son, whose license had been revoked, would in fact be the primary driver.

  • In 1996, an applicant seeking a disability insurance policy misrepresented his income.

  • In 1998, an applicant listed only herself as resident and driver on the policy, when in fact there were five people living in the home - including the injured plaintiff.

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September 12, 2015

Frazier v. Drake - Sudden Emergency and Unavoidable Accident

Two legal doctrines that may limit a plaintiff's ability to recover from an at-fault driver in a crash case are "sudden emergency" and "unavoidable accident."
With regard to sudden emergency, the courts in South Carolina recognize that in certain emergency circumstances, drivers can't be held to the same level care as individuals who act without the time pressure of an emergency situation. It doesn't mean plaintiff won't have remedy, but defendant will only be held to to the standard of what a reasonably prudent driver would do under the circumstances of the specific emergency. That can significantly reduce the amount of compensation a plaintiff might receive.

An unavoidable accident, meanwhile, is one in which no one is liable and no one acted negligently or willfully to cause the accident.

In the recent case of Frazier v. Drake, defendant asserted the sudden emergency defense, citing a bee that had flown into the cab of his tractor-trailer.

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September 9, 2015

JAMA: Bicycle Injuries Double in Last 15 Years

A new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals the number of bicycle injuries over the last 15 years has nearly doubled, attributed largely to a huge increase in the number of over-45 riders.
More people are riding in that age group, researchers say, and older riders are more susceptible to injury.

The conclusion is based on hospital admission figures tallied from 1998 to 2013. While in the 1998-1999 year, hospitals admitted 8,791 patients for bicycle injuries, by the 2012-2013 year, that figure had spiked to 15,427.

Of those, researchers found:

  • 52 percent of injuries involved an extremity

  • 16 percent of injuries involved the head

  • 17 percent of injuries involved the torso

  • 16 percent of injuries involved another body part

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September 7, 2015

North Carolina Dram Shop Lawsuit in Drunk Driving Crash

A North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit against a drunk driver was amended recently to add as defendants two local bars that allegedly served alcohol to an underage person who was visibly intoxicated. wreckedcar3.jpg

That driver, a 20-year-old man from Asheboro, reportedly patronized two Chapel Hill bars using a fake identification before climbing behind the wheel of his Jeep and driving the wrong direction on I-85 in Hillsborough. He was traveling north in the southbound lanes in July when his vehicle collided with a passenger vehicle, killing three people - including a 6-year-old girl - and seriously injuring a 9-year-old girl.

Authorities later determined the Jeep driver had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.17, which is more than twice the level of North Carolina's threshold for drunk driving, which 0.08. He also allegedly had marijuana in his system.

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September 4, 2015

Teens in North Carolina Accident Were Traveling 80 mph in 55 mph Zone

The five Corinth Holders High School students had departed together after their fourth day back to school. It's not clear exactly where they were going, but we know the 16-year-old driver was determined to get there fast.
According to authorities in Johnston County, the teen was driving 80 mph in a 55 mph zone on Thanksgiving Fire Department Road in Selma, N.C. When the teen entered a curve about a half mile south of a nearby highway, he was traveling too fast to properly negotiate it. He lost control of the car, which launched onto the road shoulder and then into a field, overturning at least once before striking a utility pole. This resulted in one of the backseat passengers being ejected from the car.

The ejected passenger, 16, was transported to a hospital in Raleigh in critical condition. No one in the back seat had been wearing their seat belts. The other three passengers - two age 16 and one age 15 - were also treated at the Raleigh hospital, though their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

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September 2, 2015

NHTSA Updates Alcohol-Impaired Driving Statistics

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has updated its alcohol-impaired driving estimate statistics with the latest figures available, which are from 2013.
The numbers as revealed by the Traffic Safety Facts: State Alcohol Impaired Driving Estimates are largely consistent with what we have seen in years' past, which is that alcohol-impaired driving accounts for nearly one-third of all fatal traffic accidents. The percentage of impaired drivers in fatal crashes in South Carolina was much higher than the national average, while those in North Carolina were slightly lower.

Although the NHTSA released a preliminary report on 2013 drunk driving statistics in December, this new report reflects updated state-level information that gives us a more accurate picture of what we know is a very serious problem.

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August 30, 2015

Report: South Carolina Crash Investigations Arduous, Highly Technical

This summer has been a deadly one on South Carolina roads. Officials report there have been a string of fatal hit-and-run pedestrian accidents as well as a number of multiple-vehicle crashes that turned deadly. crimescene.jpg

In each case, officials explain, they must spend weeks meticulously sifting through the evidence, using on-call response teams, the latest technology and careful scientific analysis.

The process can take weeks or even months, and law enforcement officials do know that this causes anxiety and even anxiousness over the results. People don't understand why it's taking so long, and they just want to know what happened. The process sometimes seems unnecessarily dragged out.

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August 28, 2015

Fatal North Carolina Bus Accident Results in Criminal Charges

A fatal bus accident in North Carolina on I-95 was allegedly caused by a driver falling asleep, resulting in a collision between a car.
A 54-year-old grandmother from Florida was killed and eight others were injured, one critically, as a result of the collision, which is being investigated by the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

The bus was carrying 48 passengers who were on their way to a spiritual conference from Queens, NY to Fayetteville. Authorities were later able to ascertain that the driver drifted to the right side of the road as briefly dozed off near the I-40 interchange, about a half hour south of Raleigh. Investigators say when the driver snapped-to, he over-corrected, which resulted in the bus crossing the median, heading south in the northbound lanes and slamming into a guardrail.

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August 25, 2015

NSC Report: Traffic Deaths On The Road to Rise

For the first time since 2007, the number of traffic deaths in the U.S. could exceed more than 40,000. If this happens, it would be the highest number of motor vehicle deaths in eight years. caraccident4.jpg

That's according to a new report by the National Safety Council, which that in the first six months of the year, nearly 19,000 people had died nationally and another 2.2 million were seriously injured.

Traffic deaths were on the rise in 34 states, with some of those reporting increases of more than 20 percent from June 2015 compared to June 2014. It was up to nearly 60 percent higher in Oregon. Florida, Georgia and Minnesota saw increases of between 26 and 29 percent.

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